June 20, 1791: Louis XVI on the Subject of His Flight

  • Paul H. Beik
Part of the The Documentary History of Western Civilization book series (DHWC)


The flight of the royal family through an unguarded door of the Tuileries Palace on the night of June 20, 1791, their arrest at Varennes in eastern France on June 21, and their humiliating return to captivity in the palace by the Seine on June 25 dramatized questions of extreme gravity. The monarchy was confronted with the possibility of a republic; the makers of the constitution were faced with the possibility of revision in a democratic direction; into France’s foreign policy there suddenly intruded the possibility of armed foreign intervention; and relations of State and Church, already plagued by increasing resistance to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the punitive backlash which it was exciting, were worsened by the king’s counterrevolutionary effort and its failure. For the king and queen, who had considered themselves as being under coercion ever since the failure of the king’s program of June 23, 1789, and therefore felt justified in resorting to extraordinary means, the flight was a carefully planned act of policy. The king’s position was argued in detail in a remarkable document which he signed and left behind on June 20, translated below from the Archives parlementaires, Vol. XXVII (Paris, 1887), pp. 378–383. The main body of the Declaration, containing all of the king’s political and constitutional arguments, has been retained, together with the conclusion. For lack of space, several pages concerning the discomforts, dangers, and lack of freedom of the royal family have been omitted.


Royal Family Estate General False Friend Internal Administration Constitutional Argument 
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© Paul H. Beik 1970

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  • Paul H. Beik

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