British Reaction to the Execution of Louis Capet

April 26, 2012 | | Comments Off on British Reaction to the Execution of Louis Capet

In Britain, initial reports of the beginning of the French Revolution were greeted with excitement by many observers, who saw a nation abandoning absolutism for a liberal constitution similar to the British model. Parliamentary Whigs, who’s attempts at gaining political power were being stifled by William Penn, were especially sympathetic. In 1789, a sermon delivered by Richard Price openly praised the events unfolding in France. This provoked a prominent Whig Edmund Burke, who was growing uncomfortable with the reformist leanings of his fellow Whigs and feared that revolution would spread to England. Controversy over political issues both in France and at home increased, and British reformers responded to criticism with the dissemination of pamphlets appealing to the masses. The most famous of these is Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man.” In May 1792, the government responded with a Royal Proclamation against seditious writing. As government fears of popular insurrection increased, it established the Association for the Protection of Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers in November 1792, which helped turn the tide of public opinion by denouncing radicals and distributing loyalist pamphlets. (

To a British government fearful of insurrection and the spread of revolution and reform movements, the execution of Louis was especially alarming. The news was also received unfavorably by the majority of the public. Freedom of the British press ruled at that time,and The Times had no direct ties to the government and was free from censure. It is unclear whether The Times, one of Britain’s most read newspapers, shaped government and popular stances on the Revolution, or if it merely followed the prevailing trends. However, it is clear from the newspaper’s vitriolic reaction to the execution of Louis Capet that The Time’s stance and that of the prevailing public sentiment regarding the event were the same. The article denounces not only the execution of Louis, but also the fundamental ideals of the French revolutionaries. In the article, The Times wrote that “Posterity, in condemning these infamous judges who have sacrificed Louis to the fury and ambition of the vilest of men, will extend their censures yet further… Posterity will condemn those members of the Constituent Assembly, who allured by the meteor of false philosophy, madly burst asunder the bonds of popular subordination; [and] tore down the pillars of monarchy and religion… (Gilchrist and Murray, 229)” The article then goes one step further by calling for vengeance for Louis’ death, stating that “All potentates owe it to their individual honour, but still more strongly to the happiness of their people, collectively to crush these savage regicides in their dens, who aim at the ruin of all nations, and the destruction of all governments. (Gilchrist and Murray, 230)” Given that The Times is representative of the views of the British government and the majority of the people, it is clear that there was a strong British movement in favor of taking action against France.

Philip, Mark. Britain and the French Revolution. BBC, 17 February, 2011. Web. 17 April, 2012. <>

Gilchrist, J., and Murray, W.J. The Press in the French Revolution. New York, St Martin’s Press Inc., 1971. Print.

– Gabriel Hunter-Chang


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