On this day in history…

Flight to Varennes

June 21, 1791

The French Revolution had a seismic impact on Europe, and one of its most memorable chapters unfolded on this day in 1791: the Flight to Varennes, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette’s ill-advised and failed attempt to escape Paris, which signaled to the French people that, contrary to popular belief at the time, the monarchy did not in fact support the revolution at all.

By the spring of 1791, the royal family had been confined to Tuileries Palace in Paris, where they lived in luxury and retained their titles but were forbidden to leave. As spring turned to summer, Louis XVI decided to make a break for it.

With the queen disguised as a governess and the king her valet, the family escaped Paris under cover of night, heading for the Austrian border. They made it as far as the village of Varennes-en-Argonne before a local postmaster matched the king’s face to France’s paper currency. The attempted escape shocked the people of France.

Once the royal family was dragged back to Paris, talks of a constitutional monarchy gave way to the vision of a future in which, for the first time in nearly a millennia, France had no king or queen at all. Less than two years later, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed for treason.