There were many eyewitnesses to the events of the French Revolution. The English, of course, followed its destructive path with fascination. The following is an account (no doubt biased) by one such eyewitness, Henry Essex Edgeworth, a Catholic who went to Paris to be spiritual director to the Irish who lived in the capital.
The carriage proceeded thus in silence to the Place de Louis XV,* and stopped in the middle of a large space that had been left round the scaffold: this space was surrounded with cannon, and beyond, an armed multitude extended as far as the eye could reach….
As soon as the King had left the carriage, three guards surrounded him, and would have taken off his clothes, but he repulsed them with haughtiness: he undressed himself, untied his neckcloth, opened his shirt, and arranged it himself. The guards, whom the determined countenance of the King had for a moment disconcerted, seemed to recover their audacity.
They surrounded him again, and would have seized his hands. “What are you attempting?” said the King, drawing back his hands. “To bind you,” answered the wretches. “To bind me,” said the King with an indignant air. “No! I shall never consent to that: do what you have been ordered, but you shall never bind me… .”
Many voices were at the same time heard encouraging the executioners. They seemed reanimated themselves,in seizing with violence the most virtuous of Kings, they dragged him under the axe of the guillotine, which with one stroke severed his head from his body. All this passed in a moment. The youngest of the guards, who seemed about eighteen, immediately seized the head, and shewed it to the people as he walked round the scaffold; he accompanied this monstrous ceremony with the most atrocious and indecent gestures. At first an awful silence prevailed; at length some cries of “Vive la République!” were heard. By degrees the voices multiplied, and in less than ten minutes this cry, a thousand times repeated, became the universal shout of the multitude, and every hat was in the air.