The to widespread rumours of Louis’ traitorous actions.

The war with Austria gave even more reason for those suspicious of a austrian conspiracy to hate Louis, with rumours that not only had the war been started by L’Autrichienne, Marie-Antoinette, but that Louis was deliberately sabotaging the war effort in order to regain his position of power. This would make sense, due to the strong family connection between Louis and the Austrian Royals, as well as the belief that Austria and other nations were afraid of revolution and king-less countries incase of revolt in their own countries. Furthermore, there was also the  preceding declaration of Pillnitz, in which the entire Holy Roman Empire (Austria, Germany, Croatia Hungary, Bohemia, Tuscany) and Prussia all declared their unanimous support of Louis as King of France. This declaration, alongside the Padua Circular after the flight to Varennes, had many convinced that it was beneficial for Louis to lose the war, leading to widespread rumours of Louis’ traitorous actions. During the war, the Brunswick Manifesto reignited people’s belief that Louis and the Royal Family were acting as traitors, and that they were using their international connections to regain their place of power. These suspicions turned out to be true, with secret letters being sent between the French Royals and the Duke of Brunswick, who would go on to release the Manifesto with Louis’ approval.

This in effect sealed Louis fate, as many saw it to be confirmation that Louis had conspired with foreign nations for his own good. In this regard it is extremely significant, however it could be argued that it can be blamed on Louis as opposed to the war, despite only having occurred due to the war, as if Louis had not encouraged the attempted intimidation of the Parisian people then there would not have been suspicion of collusion. The war also contributed to rising civil uprest, with many seeing the order to fight for a king who didn’t represent them as being tyrannical and unreasonable. This lead to many seeking greater representation and control of international affairs, driving people to further radical extremes and anti-royal viewpoints. Considering this, I would argue that the lead up to and eventual outbreak of war was extremely significant as it further fueled the rumours surrounding the Royal Family, and drove the opponents of the king to greater radical extremes.

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One could argue that increasing radicalism was the main factor in the execution of Louis, with poor socioeconomic circumstances and disenfranchisement with royalty leading to many feeling betrayed by the king. This sense of betrayal pushed people away from a belief in traditional monarchy towards a democratic government. However, I would argue that this is not enough on its own to lead to the execution of the king, as we see that other nations have had stable, effective constitutional monarchies, such as the english system. Furthermore, the bad economy of france following successive failed harvests, whilst leading to desperation and starvation for many, barely influenced the lifestyle of the royals, with Louis continuing to live lavishly. This lavish lifestyle help to demonise him in the eyes of the peasants who starved whilst he threw banquets for his court. This could be blamed both on the economic situation and his actions, but in this circumstance i consider the poor economy was the prevailing factor for people turning to extremist views, as the people needed a scapegoat for the negative aspects of their life, with the obvious target being the king, even though his feasts would have almost certainly not influenced the overall economy in any major way.

It is worth considering also the effect of the overton window. As ‘normal’ views drifted left, more extreme left views moved from ludicrous to acceptable, and once tolerable right wing views became extreme. Furthermore, the acts of violence against the general population, such as the massacre at the Champ de Mars helped to push the once celebrated national guard into villany, with many of the traditional leaders in society being demonised by those who felt they were being oppressed by the traditional establishment. Despite the huge pressure applied to Louis by the impact of war and the rise of radicalism, it is extremely important to recognise that much of the hatred for Louis came as a result of his own actions. Louis had effectively shot himself in the foot repeatedly in the build up to and start of the conflict with Austria, particularly the Armoire de Fer, which legitimised rumours of treason and made it seem as if he wanted the revolution to fail, and in effect making himself the enemy of the revolutionaries once again. This could be attributed to the war, as without the war with Austria the letters would have neither been written nor found, however I would argue that Louis should have acted with greater discretion and worked to dispel rumours which discredited him.

I would argue that Louis greatest mistake, and likely the action which led to his death, was the failed flight to Varennes. The flight to Varennes not only made him seem like a traitor, but reinforced the belief that he was deliberately undermining the French war effort, especially as he was fleeing to the border of one of his nations enemies. I would argue that this was hugely responsible for the rapid rise in radicalism during this time, as many felt betrayed by the King. This made it clear that he did not back the revolution and its ideals, especially after it was revealed he had left a note when he left denouncing all of the changes made during his reign, as well as insulting the capabilities of the national assembly, by saying that he did not think “it would be possible so large and important a kingdom as France by the means established by the National Assembly”.