The Road From Versailles

Overview

What becomes of leaders when absolute power is wrested from their hands? How does dramatic political change affect once-absolute monarchs? In acclaimed historian Munro Price’s powerful new book, he confronts one of the enduring mysteries of the French Revolution—-what were the true actions and feelings of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as they watched their sovereignty collapse?

Dragged back from Versailles to Paris by the crowd in October 1789, the king and queen became ...

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Overview

What becomes of leaders when absolute power is wrested from their hands? How does dramatic political change affect once-absolute monarchs? In acclaimed historian Munro Price’s powerful new book, he confronts one of the enduring mysteries of the French Revolution—-what were the true actions and feelings of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as they watched their sovereignty collapse?

Dragged back from Versailles to Paris by the crowd in October 1789, the king and queen became prisoners in the capital. They were compelled for their own safety to approve the Revolution and its agenda. Yet, in deep secrecy, they soon began to develop a very different, and dangerous, strategy. The precautions they took against discovery, and the bloody overthrow of the monarchy three years later, dispersed or obliterated most of the clues to their real policy. Much of this evidence has until now remained unknown.

The Road from Versailles reconstructs in detail, for the first time, the king and queen’s clandestine diplomacy from 1789 until their executions. To do so, it focuses on a vital but previously ignored figure, the royal couple’s confidant, the baron de Breteuil. Exiled from France by the Revolution, Breteuil became their secret prime minister, and confidential emissary to the courts of Europe.

Along with the queen’s probable lover, the comte de Fersen, it was Breteuil who organized the royal family’s dramatic dash for freedom, the flight to Varennes. Breteuil’s role is crucial to an understanding of what Louis and Marie Antoinette secretly felt and thought during the Revolution. To unlock these secrets, The Road from Versailles draws on highly important unpublished and previously unknown material.

Meticulously researched and utterly fascinating, The Road from Versailles provides fresh insight into some of the most controversial events in modern history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...an example of narrative history at its best...Price deserves high praise..."—Michael Hochedlinger, International History Review

"Important and engrossing."—Antonia Fraser, Sunday Times (U.K.)

"It is very rare indeed to get a genuine historical scoop in a period as well trodden as the French Revolution, but that is undoubtedly what Munro Price has achieved here. Fascinating and genuinely groundbreaking . . . .a truly revolutionary book."—Andrew Roberts, Sunday Telegraph (U.K.)

"Resurrecting a wealth of historical documentation, [Price] has scrupulously detailed the previously unknown underground diplomacy of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, creating a significant contribution to the analysis of the French Revolution."—Margaret Flanagan, Booklist

"In this engrossing work of historical scholarship, Price has managed to unravel a complex web of intrigue that has baffled historians since the demise of the ancien régime. Through brilliant detective work, Price has uncovered documents that shed a definitive light on the French Crown's policy toward the revolution. Specifically, he has located among other significant archival materials a 'large buff ledger' that itemizes secret missions that the Marquis de Bombelles undertook on behalf of Louis XVI . . . Up to now, a paucity of documentary evidence has made it very difficult for students of the French Revolution to determine the Crown's true intentions during the critical early years of revolutionary turmoil. Price proves that the French king and queen made a concerted effort to undermine the work of the Constituant Assembly and to gain foreign support for restoration of royal authority. This definitive study moves well beyond such works as Michel Vovelle's The Fall of the French Monarchy. Highly recommended."—Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Library, Rome, Georgia, Library Journal

"This exhaustively researched study should be the definitive diplomatic history of the fall of Louis XVI . . . Historians have long argued about the true intent of Louis XVI regarding the French Revolution. Was the king prepared to accept a limited monarchy or did he intend to 0restore the old regime? Price, a specialist on 18th-century France, has unearthed a treasure trove of vital material—memoirs, diaries, official documents and correspondence—connected with the diplomatic representatives of the king, in particular the Baron de Breteuil, the king's prime minister in July 1789, when a Parisian mob stormed the Bastille. With the royal family in prison, Breteuil secretly traveled all over Europe with two goals: to help the royal family escape from Paris and to restore the absolute monarchy. Price takes us inside the world of 18th-century diplomacy, showing Breteuil's attempts to win financial and military backing from Austria, Sweden, Russia and other European monarchies . . . What Price proves beyond doubt is that Louis had numerous chances to compromise with the revolution. He refused, choosing instead an ill-fated agenda of restoring absolute monarchy."—Publishers Weekly

"New, lively, and stimulating . . . [The Road from Versailles] returns to familiar events with the skills both of the sleuth and novelist."—Times Literary Supplement (U.K.)

"The most important book written on the subject for a very long time."—T.C.W. Blanning, author of The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture

"Munro Price has carried out considerable research to discover what the royal couple hoped to do and what they did. The result is a fantastic book. A well-argued narrative."—Literary Review (U.K.)

"In this lightly written and grippingly told account, Munro Price uses an impressive range of fresh archival material to shed light on Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette."—The Mail on Sunday (U.K.)

Publishers Weekly
Historians have long argued about the true intent of Louis XVI regarding the French Revolution. Was the king prepared to accept a limited monarchy or did he intend to restore the old regime? Price, a specialist on 18th-century France, has unearthed a treasure trove of vital material-memoirs, diaries, official documents and correspondence-connected with the diplomatic representatives of the king, in particular the Baron de Breteuil, the king's prime minister in July 1789, when a Parisian mob stormed the Bastille. With the royal family in prison, Breteuil secretly traveled all over Europe with two goals: to help the royal family escape from Paris and to restore the absolute monarchy. Price takes us inside the world of 18th-century diplomacy, showing Breteuil's attempts to win financial and military backing from Austria, Sweden, Russia and other European monarchies. In June 1792, the royal family attempted its famous failed escape to Varennes. Breteuil eventually gained military support from Marie Antoinette's native Austria. Both Austria and Prussia invaded France in 1792, but were surprisingly defeated at the Battle of Valmy. The king was tried and executed in January 1793, Marie Antoinette shortly thereafter. What Price proves beyond doubt is that Louis had numerous chances to compromise with the revolution. He refused, choosing instead an ill-fated agenda of restoring absolute monarchy. This exhaustively researched study should be the definitive diplomatic history of the fall of Louis XVI. 16 pages of color photos not seen by PW. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this engrossing work of historical scholarship, Price has managed to unravel a complex web of intrigue that has baffled historians since the demise of the ancien r gime. Through brilliant detective work, Price (senior lecturer, Univ. of Bradford; Preserving the Monarchy) has uncovered documents that shed a definitive light on the French Crown's policy toward the revolution. Specifically, he has located among other significant archival materials a "large buff ledger" that itemizes secret missions that the Marquis de Bombelles undertook on behalf of Louis XVI. (Bombelles was the prot g of Baron de Breteuil, who was the French monarch's designated envoy to the Courts of Europe from 1791 until the collapse of the French monarchy.) Up to now, a paucity of documentary evidence has made it very difficult for students of the French Revolution to determine the Crown's true intentions during the critical early years of revolutionary turmoil. Price proves that the French king and queen made a concerted effort to undermine the work of the Constituant Assembly and to gain foreign support for restoration of royal authority. This definitive study moves well beyond such works as Michel Vovelle's The Fall of the French Monarchy. Highly recommended for both academic and public libraries.-Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA
Kirkus Reviews
British scholar Price (History/Univ. of Bradford) scrutinizes a little-studied episode of the French Revolution and solves a couple of minor mysteries in the bargain. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette may have lost their lives to the guillotine, but they didn’t go down without a fight. Price takes up a challenge posed by 19th-century German historian Max Lenz to "continue what I have begun" in tracking down documentary evidence of the life and work of one French aristocrat who tried to save the monarchy. Baron de Breteuil’s appointment as prime minister seems to have touched off the storming of the Bastille, but Price reckons he was a fairly decent chap all the same. In the early days of the revolution’s triumph, the baron and a handful of capable royalist associates undertook a series of negotiations with more moderate members of the new government in the hope, it appears, of coming to a constitutional accommodation whereby Louis and his queen would be allowed some sort of figurehead role, or at least could keep their heads. Those negotiations were underdone on both sides, the moderates having been chased into hiding by more radical revolutionaries, and the hidebound conservatives among the royalists insisting that any constitutional monarchy be one "in partnership with the privileged orders, not the third estate"—in other words, one that would deprive the people of any share of power. The revolutionaries, naturally, rejected this option. "Under the circumstances," Price writes, "the royal authority could only have been restored by civil war or foreign invasion"—and, indeed, de Breteuil did try to forge an alliance of European powers to invade France, get rid of the pesky sans-culottes, andrestore the king to the throne. All of which soon happened, but with a different cast of characters and for entirely different reasons. Drier than dust—a shame, given the inherent interest of the materials—but nonetheless useful to historians of the period.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312268794
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 12/18/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Munro Price was born in London in 1963. He was educated there and at Cambridge, where he received his Ph.D. He specializes in eighteenth-century France and the French Revolution and has lived and taught in Lyon and Paris. He is currently a Reader in History at the University of Bradford. The Road from Versailles is his third book.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgements
Introduction
Map
1 The King and his Family 1
2 The Monarchy in 1789 18
3 Breteuil in 1789 35
4 The Summer of 1789 55
5 The Turn of the Screw 101
6 Mirabeau Versus Breteuil 119
7 Preparations 136
8 The Flight to Varennes 169
9 The King's Secret 192
10 The King and the Constitution 206
11 Winter 1791: Breteuil, The Powers and the Princes 231
12 Endgame 263
13 Royal Blood 304
14 After the Deluge 342
Appendix 369
Notes 373
Bibliography 402
Index 412
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