The Last Will and Spiritual Testament of Louis XVI, King of France

“I finish by declaring before God and ready to appear before Him, that I do not reproach myself for any of the crimes which are brought against me.”

As many know, January 21st marks the anniversary of France’s regicide. King Louis XVI of France was condemned to death on January 20th 1793, and the next day went to the guillotine.

This event is rich in significance for us today. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself referred to it in the context of the Fatima apparitions and the fate of the Church and the world. It also shows us the importance of praying for a good death – as we shall in see in the life of his heroic confessor, l’Abbé Henry Essex Edgeworth.

But before that, let us read the very moving words of the King’s Spiritual Testament, written on Christmas Day, 1792. At that time – as we can see – his fate was uncertain, and he was without a Catholic priest to fortify him with the sacraments, in preparation for his death. Let us read and be edified by his words.

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Image: Funerary monument of Louis XVI & Marie-Antoinette. Wiki Commons

The Last Will and Spiritual Testament

In the name of the Most Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Today is the 25th day of December, 1792.

I, Louis, XVI of that name, King of France, having been locked away for more than four months with my family in the Tower of the Temple in Paris, by those who were my subjects, and deprived of any communication whatsoever, even with my family since the 11th of the current month, and moreover involved in a Trial whose outcome is impossible to foresee because of the passions of men, and for which no pretext or means are to be found in any of the existing Law, having only God as witness to my thoughts, and to whom I can address myself:

I hereby declare in his presence my last wishes and feelings:

I leave my soul to God my Creator, and I beg him to receive it in his mercy, not to judge it by its merits, but by those of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered himself as a sacrifice to God his Father, for us men, however unworthy we may be, and I first of these.

I die in the union of our holy Mother the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, which holds its powers by an uninterrupted succession from St. Peter, to whom Jesus Christ entrusted them. I firmly believe and confess all that is contained in the Creed and commandments of God and the Church, and in the Sacraments and the Mysteries such as the Catholic Church teaches them and has always taught them. I have never claimed to be a judge of the different ways of explaining the dogmas which are tearing the Church of Jesus Christ apart, but I have referred and will always refer, if God grants me life, to the decisions which the ecclesiastical superiors, united with the Holy Catholic Church, give and will give, in accordance with the discipline of the Church, followed since Jesus Christ. I pity with all my heart our brothers who may be in error, but I do not pretend to judge them, and I do not love them any less, in Jesus Christ, according to that which Christian charity teaches us.

I pray God to forgive me all my sins. I have sought to know them scrupulously, to detest them and to humble myself in his presence, not being able to avail myself of the Ministry of a Catholic Priest.

I pray God to receive the confession I have made to him, and especially the deep repentance I have for having put my name (though it was against my will) to acts which may be contrary to the discipline and belief of the Catholic Church – to which I have always remained sincerely united in heart.

I pray God to receive this firm resolution which I have, that if he grants me life, to avail myself as soon as I can of the ministry of a Catholic Priest, to accuse myself of all my sins, and to receive the Sacrament of Penance.

I pray all those whom I may have inadvertently offended (for I do not remember knowingly offending anyone), or to whom I may have given bad examples or scandals, to forgive me the evil they believe I may have done to them.

I pray all those who have charity to unite their prayers with mine, to obtain from God the forgiveness of my sins.

I forgive with all my heart those who have become enemies of mine, without my having given them any cause: and I pray God to forgive them, as well as those who by a false or misunderstood zeal, have done me much harm.

I commend to God my wife, my children, my sister, my aunts, my brothers, and all those who are attached to me by blood ties, or in any other way. I pray God especially to cast eyes of mercy on my wife, my children and my sister who have long suffered with me, to sustain them by his grace if they come to lose me, and so long as they remain in this perishable world.

I recommend my children to my wife. I have never doubted her maternal tenderness for them; I exhort her above all to make them good Christians and honest men, to make them look upon the greatness of this world (if they are condemned to experience it) only as dangerous and perishable goods, and to turn their eyes towards the only solid and lasting glory of Eternity.

I beg my sister to continue her tenderness to my children, and to take their place of mother, if they should have the misfortune to lose their own.

I beg my wife to forgive me for all the pain she suffers for my sake, and the sorrows I may have given her during our union – as she can be sure that I will not hold anything against her, if she believes she has something to reproach herself for.

I strongly recommend to my children, after what they owe to God who must come first, to remain always united among themselves, submissive and obedient to their mother, and grateful for all the care and pains she takes for them, and in memory of me. I beg them to look upon my sister as a second mother.

I recommend to my son, if he should have the misfortune to become King, to remember that he owes it all to the happiness of his fellow citizens, that he must forget all hatred and resentment, and in particular all that has to do with the misfortunes and sorrows that I am experiencing. He must remember that he can only make the People happy by ruling according to Law: but at the same time, that a King can only make the Law respected, and do the good that is in his heart, as long as he has the necessary authority – and that otherwise, being bound in his operations and not inspiring respect, he is more harmful than useful.

I recommend to my son to take care of all the people who were attached to me, as much as the circumstances in which he will find himself will give him the faculties, to remember that it is a sacred debt which I have contracted towards the children or the parents of those who have perished for me, and then of those who are unhappy for me. I know that there are several of those who were attached to me, who have not behaved towards me as they should, and who have even shown ingratitude: but I forgive them, (often, in times of trouble and turmoil, one is not master of oneself) and I beg my son, if he finds the opportunity, to think only of their misfortune.

I would like to be able to express my gratitude to those who have shown me a true and disinterested attachment. On the one hand, if I have been touched by the ingratitude and disloyalty of people to whom I had never shown anything but kindness, to them and their relatives or friends; on the other hand, I have been consoled by the attachment and the gratuitous interest that many people have shown me. I beg them to receive my thanks; in the situation in which things still stand, I would be afraid of compromising them if I spoke more explicitly, but I especially recommend my son to look for opportunities to be able to acknowledge them.

I would think I was slandering the feelings of the Nation, however, if I did not openly recommend to my son Messrs de Chamilly and Hue, whom their true attachment to me had led to shut themselves in with me in this sad stay, and who thought they were the unfortunate victims. I also recommend Cléry [my valet] to him, whose care I have had every reason to praise since he has been with me. As it is he who has remained with me until the end, I beg MM de la Commune to give him my clothes, my books, my watch, my purse, and the other small effects which have been deposited with the Council of the Commune.

I still very willingly forgive those who were guarding me for the ill-treatment and the embarrassments which they thought they had to use towards me. I have found some sensitive and compassionate souls: may they enjoy in their hearts the tranquillity which their way of thinking must give them.

I beg Messrs de Malesherbes, Tronchet and de Sèze to receive here all my thanks and the expression of my sensitivity for all the care and pains they have taken on my behalf.

I finish by declaring before God and ready to appear before Him, that I do not reproach myself for any of the crimes which are brought against me.

Made in duplicate at the Tower of the Temple, 25 December 1792.

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