When the King Took Flight

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Overview

On a June night in 1791, King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette fled Paris in disguise, hoping to escape the mounting turmoil of the French Revolution. They were arrested by a small group of citizens a few miles from the frontier and forced to return to Paris. Two years later, they would both die at the guillotine. Through this extraordinary story, and the events leading up to and away from it, Timothy Tackett recounts in gripping novelistic style the dynamics and trajectory of the French Revolution. The king's flight opens a window to the whole of French society. Each chapter spotlights the drama as it was experienced by a different segment of the population: from the great orators of the National Assembly to the Revolutionary officials and national guardsmen of small-town France; from Louis and Marie-Antoinette -- and Marie's Swedish lover -- to the ordinary men and women of Paris passionately committed to transforming their world. Tackett shows how Louis's flight reshaped popular attitudes toward kingship, intensified fears of invasion and conspiracy, and helped pave the way for the Reign of Terror. Tackett brings to life an array of characters, celebrated and humble, commoner and king, as they grappled with the monumental transformations set in motion in 1789. In so doing, he offers an important new interpretation of the Revolution. By emphasizing the unpredictable and contingent character of this story, he underscores the power of a single event to change irrevocably the course of the French Revolution, and consequently, the history of the Western world.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Historian Tackett (UC-Irvine) skillfully shows how Louis XVI's infamous failed flight from his revolutionary captors in Paris in 1791 led to the eventual victory of radicalism and strengthened those calling for terror to "protect" the revolution from its enemies. Attempting to escape across the border to the Austrian Netherlands, the king planned to march a counterrevolutionary army back into France and reestablish Bourbon rule. As Tackett's dramatic account makes clear, Louis very nearly succeeded. He was famously halted in Varennes, a few miles from the border, and forcibly returned to Paris. Tackett describes the nation's reaction to the king's flight and return, not just in Paris but also in the provinces, where widespread fears of foreign invasion immediately followed news of Louis's escape. The whole nation felt betrayed by their "father," and Louis's public image was destroyed. The flight to Varennes, Tackett shows, strengthened republicanism and weakened those moderates favoring a constitutional monarchy. Louis's flight also created factionalism in the Assembly and was thus a harbinger of the Terror to come. Jacobins called for the king's immediate removal, but the moderates won the day in the short term, and Louis was reinstituted as a constitutional monarch. The Jacobins bided their time, and in September 1792, they voted to dethrone Louis and declare a republic; a few months later, they voted to execute the king. Tackett has penned a highly accessible popular history that should appeal to those wanting to learn more about one of the central events of the French Revolution. 24 illus., 3 maps. (Mar. 15) Forecast: This joins two other excellent recent books on revolutionary France: The Road from Versailles (Forecasts, Nov. 18) and The Great Nation (Forecasts, Dec. 16). Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
According to Tackett (history, Univ. of California, Irvine; Becoming a Revolutionary), Louis XVI's aborted escape from the clutches of revolutionary Paris led to the rise of radical republicanism and the bloody excesses of the Reign of Terror. In many respects, his book is a rebuttal of a prevalent school of thought that views the French Revolution as an abhorrent event from beginning to end (see Simon Schama's Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution). Tackett contends that the political culture of 1789 had placed the revolution on an essentially moderate course and that it was the duplicitous recalcitrance of the king and his network of supporters that unleashed the demons of extremism. Tackett is a lucid writer, and he presents his unique thesis in a scholarly and lively style that will appeal to both specialists and general readers. Recommended for academic and public libraries.-Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Tackett (History/Univ. of California, Irvine) describes the failed attempt by Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to escape revolutionary France in June 1791, astutely assessing the consequences. Beginning with the climax-the capture of the French king and his party in Varennes ("not a particularly distinctive town")-the author then flashes back two years and leads us forward once again to that astonishing moment. Tackett cogently sketches the two principals and displays a fine historian's eye for engaging detail: e.g., Louis killed nearly 200,000 animals in his active career as a hunter (he kept meticulous records in a hunting diary), and as many as 40,000 of 700,000 Paris inhabitants were prostitutes. The author sketches as well the revolution's early days, the removal of the royal family from Versailles to virtual house-arrest at the Tuileries, and the dilatory king's dawdling in planning his escape. Count Axel von Fersen and Marquis François-Claude-Amour Bouillé, who organized the escape from Tuileries and the journey toward the Austrian border, get fuller treatment than usual. Tackett outlines such royal errors and miscalculations as the decision to flee in an ostentatious coach and relates in suspenseful fashion the actual hours of escape and the ensuing chase. (Lafayette's unannounced arrival for a late-evening chat with the king nearly forestalled it all.) When the news of the king's disappearance began to spread throughout Paris, loud waves of shocked conversation washed through the city's neighborhoods. Even more compelling than his account of the escape, however, is Tackett's analysis of its myriad effects. It turned the average citizen against the still-popular king and createdsurges of paranoia and hysteria: mail was opened, strangers were imprisoned without due process, hard-won rights were suspended. Exciting, provocative, instructive: popular history at its finest. (3 maps, 24 halftones and line illustrations)
Booklist

For scholars and general readers alike, the French Revolution remains a perennially favorite historical event. And one of the most intriguing as well as pivotal occurrences in the whole revolutionary period took place on the night of June 21, 1791, when "something quite extraordinary did happen" that "changed the history of France"...Tackett explores the ramifications of the event on the direction the Revolution subsequently took—namely, toward terror and republicanism. The book's approachable style, clear ideas, and excellent pacing guarantee general readership interest.
— Brad Hooper

Boston Herald
In a taut, quickly paced narrative, Timothy Tackett tells the captivating story of [the] flight, an event that changed the course of the French Revolution and set in motion an extraordinary chain of actions and reactions.
The Guardian (UK)

In his excellent and well-researched book Timothy Tackett makes the most of the story [of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette's flight from Paris], neatly broadening it from human melodrama to the stuff of high politics.
— Hazel Mills

History

Tim Tackett ably demonstrates [that], in unprecedented detail, [Louis XVI's flight from Paris to the Varennes in June 1891] also produced a panic akin to the Great Fear of summer 1789 and induced a climate of violence that would worsen in the future, a consequence of contingency rather than of revolutionary ideology. This book is beautifully produced, extremely well written, lavishly illustrated and modestly priced, Tackett has already made some splendid contributions to the study of the revolution and this accessible volume will both enhance his reputation and attract a broad readership…Tackett has conducted a great deal of research in the departmental archives, to show how support for Louis drained away in the provinces as well as Paris.
— Malcolm Crook

John Merriman
The royal family's attempt to flee France in 1791 was one of the defining events of the French Revolution. Timothy Tackett, the most accomplished historian of the Revolution now writing, tells the story of the great flight memorably. The reader will feel that he or she is accompanying the disguised royal family out of the Tuileries in Paris and riding along with them in the big black coach as it falls further and further behind schedule. This is the story, brilliantly told, of how the decision to flee Paris changed the course of the Revolution.
Donald Sutherland
Timothy Tackett has written a superb book. Not only is this a spellbinding story well-told, Tackett restores the centrality of Louis XVI to the history of the Revolution and shows how the royal betrayal had incalculable consequences for the monarchy and for the tragedies that lay ahead.
Isser Woloch
A meticulous work, combining smooth-flowing narrative with cogent analysis. He thereby demonstrates how far the Revolution had progressed by June 1791, and how the king's flight helps to explain its subsequent radical and repressive turns.
Booklist - Brad Hooper
For scholars and general readers alike, the French Revolution remains a perennially favorite historical event. And one of the most intriguing as well as pivotal occurrences in the whole revolutionary period took place on the night of June 21, 1791, when "something quite extraordinary did happen" that "changed the history of France"...Tackett explores the ramifications of the event on the direction the Revolution subsequently took--namely, toward terror and republicanism. The book's approachable style, clear ideas, and excellent pacing guarantee general readership interest.
The Guardian (UK) - Hazel Mills
In his excellent and well-researched book Timothy Tackett makes the most of the story [of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette's flight from Paris], neatly broadening it from human melodrama to the stuff of high politics.
History - Malcolm Crook
Tim Tackett ably demonstrates [that], in unprecedented detail, [Louis XVI's flight from Paris to the Varennes in June 1891] also produced a panic akin to the Great Fear of summer 1789 and induced a climate of violence that would worsen in the future, a consequence of contingency rather than of revolutionary ideology. This book is beautifully produced, extremely well written, lavishly illustrated and modestly priced, Tackett has already made some splendid contributions to the study of the revolution and this accessible volume will both enhance his reputation and attract a broad readership…Tackett has conducted a great deal of research in the departmental archives, to show how support for Louis drained away in the provinces as well as Paris.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674010543
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/14/2003
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.42 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Timothy Tackett is Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine.
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Table of Contents

Maps and Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xiii
Prologue 1
1 Sire, You May Not Pass 3
2 The King of the French 26
3 The King Takes Flight 57
4 Our Good City of Paris 88
5 The Fathers of the Nation 119
6 Fear and Repression in the Provinces 151
7 To Judge a King 179
8 The Months and Years After 203
Conclusion: The Power of an Event 219
Abbreviations 227
Notes 229
Bibliography 247
Index 259
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