Sunday 5 January 2014

An Attempted Regicide

If you're a French monarch then you should run for cover today as we have an assassin on the loose and he is out to put paid to Louis XV of France. Though unsuccessful, the would-be killer suffered a terrible fate for his actions, this time at the hands of the state.

On 5th January 1757, Robert-François Damiens, whose erratic behaviour had earned him the nickname, Robert le Diable, had not enjoyed a happy life. His somewhat sorry existence was to reach its final act on a cold winter evening at Versailles, where Louis XV was preparing to leave the palace in the company of his guards.

Robert-François Damiens
Robert-François Damiens

As Damiens skulked in the darkness of the grounds, at around six o'clock in the evening, Louis emerged from the guardhouse and began to walk towards his waiting carriage. Seizing the moment, Damiens leapt from his hiding place and shoved his way through the king's bodyguards, slashing at Louis with a knife. The king's thick winter coat provided protection when the knife struck his torso and he gave a cry of alarm, his bodyguards leaping to his defence.

The assassination attempt had failed and the king was left with nothing more serious than a scratch. Damiens made no attempt to flee the scene and was immediately taken into custody, where he suffered dreadful tortures in an effort to extract the names of any accomplices he might have. When Damiens refused to name anyone, he was given the dubious honour of being the last man to be drawn and quartered. 

The one thing that the courts and torturers were never able to explain was exactly why Damiens had attempted to assassinate Louis. Some claimed that he was a member of an anti-monarchist Jesuit conspiracy, whilst others held that he was working on behalf of the king's opponents in the Parlements. Damiens himself gave no confirmation, not was he ever linked to another, wider conspiracy against Louis.

On 28th March 1757 he met his hideous fate before an enormous crowd that had gathered to watch the would-be regicide go to his death. The already-broken man suffered further tortures as his gruesome sentence was carried out in the name of justice. After his gruesome public execution, the remains of Damiens were burned and he entered the annals of French infamy.

Robert-François Damiens was only the second man in a century and a half to be drawn and quartered in France and he would be the last. As his ashes were scattered to the four winds, the archaic punishments he suffered were finally consigned to history.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
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Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


Anonymous said...

I wonder how accurate the picture of him was. It seems to me that it was designed to show madness and vile character. He probably looked little like this.

Catherine Curzon said...

I think you're right; he has been drawn to look like a dangerous man but I suspect this was because it was what the public wanted to see.

Mike said...

How different history would have been if he had fulfilled hos task.

Catherine Curzon said...

Indeed; things would have been so very different!