Cover image for When the king took flight
When the king took flight
Tackett, Timothy, 1945-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2003.
Physical Description:
xi, 270 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DC137.05 .T33 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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 Belgian border and forced to return to Paris. Two years later they would both die at the guillotine. It is this extraordinary story, and the events leading up to and away from it, that Tackett recounts in gripping novelistic style.

Author Notes

Timothy Tackett is Professor of History at the University of California at Irvine

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

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." In the little town of Varennes, in northeast France near the border of what is now Belgium, townspeople halted the progress of Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette and the rest of the royal family on their disguised flight from the country to escape the growing frightfulness of the Revolution. The entire planning process of their run for freedom is explained here with almost thriller-novel-like tension. The royal family's disguise was seen through by the time they arrived in Varennes, and their forced return to Paris proved traumatic. 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

Publisher's Weekly Review

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). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Tackett (Univ. of California-Irvine) recounts the famous, failed attempt of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to flee revolutionary Paris. This engrossing account not only tells a famous story exceedingly well, but also argues persuasively that this botched escape was the defining moment of the French Revolution. The king who escaped from the Tuileries Palace was a monarch still respected, even loved, by most Frenchmen; the "flight to Varennes" destroyed this image, replacing it with one of a duplicitous, even traitorous, sovereign who would never again have the trust, much less the respect, of his people. Based on extensive research in the French archives, in contemporary newspaper accounts, and in published memoirs, the volume makes a compelling argument that this episode suggested to the revolutionaries that the Revolution itself was in danger and created both the psychology and the responses--paranoia and the denial of rights the revolutionaries had fought for--that underwrote the Great Terror. The book is a compelling example of the continued power and utility of narrative history. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels and collections. G. P. Cox Gordon College

Table of Contents

Maps and Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Prologuep. 1
1 Sire, You May Not Passp. 3
2 The King of the Frenchp. 26
3 The King Takes Flightp. 57
4 Our Good City of Parisp. 88
5 The Fathers of the Nationp. 119
6 Fear and Repression in the Provincesp. 151
7 To Judge a Kingp. 179
8 The Months and Years Afterp. 203
Conclusion: The Power of an Eventp. 219
Abbreviationsp. 227
Notesp. 229
Bibliographyp. 247
Indexp. 259