Victims, Authority, and Terror: The Parallel Deaths of d'orlaeans, Custine, Bailly, and Malesherbes

By George Armstrong Kelly | Go to book overview

5. Nightmares of a Royal Republican

Found innocent of complicity in the events of 5- 6 October 1789, d'Orléans took little further part in the proceedings of the National Assembly. Polemics continued to rage around him. "I will take you on in your own palace as soon as I manage to assemble complete proof of your abominable conspiracies," one of them declared.1 Radicals who hated Lafayette answered in kind: "That traitor wishes to rule alone like a despot; he is afraid that M. d'Orléans, who is jealous of neither him nor his place, will topple him under his white horse."2 After the king's ill-advised flight to Varennes on 21 June 1791, his subsequent recapture, and temporary suspension from the throne, a new possibility for the Orleanist regency arose: few were yet vowed to the adventure of republicanism. Philippe's opponents fought back venomously against "le petit Cromwel [ sic ] de Monceaux."3 "Monster that hell has vomited forth for the sorrow of the human race...no, you shall not reign; no, France is not yet debased to that excess of evil and shame."4

Was there a chance of d'Orléans reigning in 1791? Not much: for the Fayettists and Old Left (soon to be called the Feuillants), making common cause, determined to rehabilitate their humiliated monarch by proclaiming the fiction that he had been kidnapped by the ultra-Right and by winning his approval of their constitution. Rather than run the risk of d'Orléans on the throne, moderates like Lafayette and La Rochefoucauld even began contemplating as a last resort the inauguration of a conservative république à l'américaine in France.5 The revolutionary Left, vocal but not yet sure of its mass of maneuver, was divided on the question of regimes. Though there was Roman-style republican sentiment in the Cordeliers Club and the radical press, as well as a profound desire to eliminate Louis XVI and judge him for treason, the more polite and powerful Jacobins could not reach a settled position. Eventually the repression of 17 July (the "massacre of the Champ de Mars") threw the democrats on the defensive.

There had been a certain swell in the Revolutionary press in favor of d'Orléans. He had two particular supporters in Fréron, who typically called attention to such things as the applause the Duc had received at the funeral of Mirabeau on 4 April 1791,6 and Marat, who wrote in the wake of Varennes: "Louis XVI is unworthy to recover his throne.... He is a

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