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After the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 Louis XVI eventually became a constitutional monarch. However, Louis’s conservatism and belief in the divine right of kings made that possibility that a Constitutional Monarchy in France would be successful, less and less a possibility.

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Louis XVI, King of France & Navarre

The other monarchies of Europe looked with concern upon the developments in France, and considered whether they should intervene, either in support of Louis XVI or to take advantage of the chaos in France. The key figure was Marie-Antoinette’s brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II. Initially, he had looked on the Revolution with equanimity. However, he became more and more disturbed as it became more and more radical. Despite this, he still hoped to avoid war.

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Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor
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Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia

In the summer of 1792 Emperor Leopold II and King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, in consultation with émigrés French nobles, issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, which declared the interest of the monarchs of Europe in the well-being of Louis and his family, and threatened vague but severe consequences if anything should befall them. Although Leopold saw the Pillnitz Declaration as an easy way to appear concerned about the developments in France without committing any soldiers or finances to change them, the revolutionary leaders in Paris viewed it fearfully as a dangerous foreign attempt to undermine France’s sovereignty.

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Carl-Wilhelm-Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick

While the revolutionary government frantically raised fresh troops and reorganised its armies, a Prussian-Austrian army under Carl-Wilhelm-Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick assembled at Coblenz on the Rhine. In July, the invasion began, with Brunswick’s army easily taking the fortresses of Longwy and Verdun. The duke then issued on July 25, a proclamation called the Brunswick Manifesto, written by Louis’s émigré cousin, the Prince de Condé, declaring the intent of the Austrians and Prussians to restore the king to his full powers and to treat any person or town who opposed them as rebels to be condemned to death by martial law.

Contrary to its intended purpose of strengthening Louis XVI’s position against the revolutionaries, the Brunswick Manifesto had the opposite effect of greatly undermining his already highly tenuous position. It was taken by many to be the final proof of collusion between the king and foreign powers in a conspiracy against his own country. The anger of the populace boiled over on August 10 when an armed mob – with the backing of a new municipal government of Paris that came to be known as the Insurrectional Paris Commune – marched upon and invaded the Tuileries Palace. The royal family took shelter with the Legislative Assembly.

Louis XVI was officially arrested on August 13, 1792 and sent to the Temple, an ancient fortress in Paris that was used as a prison. On September 21, the National Assembly declared France to be a Republic and abolished the monarchy. Louis XVI was stripped of all of his titles and honours, and from this date was known as Citizen Louis Capet.

The Girondins* were partial to keeping the deposed king under arrest, both as a hostage and a guarantee for the future. Members of the Commune and the most radical deputies, who would soon form the group known as the Mountain**, argued for Louis’s immediate execution. The legal background of many of the deputies made it difficult for a great number of them to accept an execution without the due process of law, and it was voted that the deposed monarch be tried before the National Convention, the organ that housed the representatives of the sovereign people.

* From 1791 to 1793, the Girondins were active in the Legislative Assembly and the National Convention. Together with the Montagnards, they initially were part of the Jacobin movement. They campaigned for the end of the monarchy, but then resisted the spiraling momentum of the Revolution, which caused a conflict with the more radical Montagnards.

** The Mountain were the most radical group and opposed the Girondins. The term, first used during a session of the Legislative Assembly, came into general use in 1793. By the summer of 1793, that pair of opposed minority groups divided the National Convention. That year, led by Maximilien Robespierre, the Montagnards unleashed the Reign of Terror.