Perspective

Living the Jacobin Dream

In 1793, the Jacobins, surfing the wave of Parisian mob violence, intimidated their less resolute colleagues into eliminating both the principle of monarchy and the existence of its politically superfluous incarnation, Louis XVI.  Not content with killing a living king and pronouncing a death sentence in absentia on all the princes of the blood who had escaped with their lives, the revolutionaries were determined to rewrite the past by abolishing the enduring symbols of the French nation.  Walter Scott, in his Life of Napoleon Bonaparte observes:

The name of king being pronounced detestable, all the remembrances of royalty were to be destroyed. . . . The royal sepulchers at St.-Denis, near Paris, the ancient cemetery of the Bourbons, the Valois, and all the long line of French monarchs, were not only defaced on the outside, but utterly broken down, the bodies exposed, the bones dispersed, and the poor remains, even of Henry IV of Navarre, so long the idol of the French nation, exposed to the rude gaze, and irreverent grasp, of the banditti who committed the sacrilege.

Guidebooks casually allude to some of the devastation: the tombs of the Merovingian Franks at St-Denis destroyed; the remains of Bourbon royalty buried at Val-de-Grace dug up and scattered; the most ancient church in Paris, St-Germain-de-Près, turned into a saltpeter mill for making gunpowder (15 tons stored...

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