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Open Features: Midnight Flight

Elizabeth Harper tells of an escape attempt which failed.

Despised by their subjects, and fearing for their lives, Louis and Marie-Antoinette plotted to escape.

After many false starts, midsummer night was chosen, their journey and destination hastily planned. The family had to go about life as usual to allay any suspicion; only a few confidants knew of their plans.

On the appointed night the family went to bed as usual. Close to midnight they emerged all dressed as women, the King included. Louis left a note promising to return when conditions improved. With two aides, they boarded a waiting stagecoach concealed behind the Tuileries. The exhausted children lay on the floor and slept. The coach headed for the woods, travelling at great speed. Two horses stumbled, each breaking a leg and had to be unhitched and abandoned. With many such delays, they were late for a rendezvous and missed the cavalry escort.

At a checkpoint near Varennes, an alert guard recognised the King from his picture on a banknote and raised the alarm. The stagecoach raced off, but was blocked by an overturned wagon on a narrow bridge.

The party were persuaded to accept the ‘hospitality’ of the town. The next day they were escorted back to Paris - and into history.


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