"The King of the Third Estate" (June 1789)


"The King of the Third Estate" (June 1789)


The King’s decision to accept the idea of a "National Assembly" and to order the deputies of all three orders to debate and vote as a single body met with sharp opposition within the royal entourage, especially among the aristocratic faction close to the Queen. In this passage, one of these hard–liners, the Countess d’Adhémar, expresses contempt for the idea of allowing any significant role for the Third Estate in the government. She seems here almost to pity the King for his unwillingness to preserve the traditional prerogatives of the crown and the higher–ranking nobility.


Comtesse d'Adhémar [E. L. Lamothe-Langon], Souvenirs sur Marie-Antoinette, archduchess d'Autriche, reine de France et sur la cour de Versailles, 4 vols. (Paris: L. Mame, 1836), 4:156–57.


June 1789






We [the Queen's circle of friends] never ceased telling the King that the Third Estate would ruin everything—and we were right. We begged him to keep them in line, to use sovereign authority to block party intrigue. The King told us: "But it is not clear that the Third Estate is wrong. Different procedures have been used each time the Estates have met, so why reject joint verification? I am for it."

The King, it has to be admitted, numbered among the revolutionaries at that time—a strange twist of fate that can only be explained by admitting that the hand of Providence was involved. Meanwhile rumors spread in Paris and Versailles was only slightly more peaceful. The Comte d'Estaing, who was soon to be commander of Versailles' National Guard, was already playing an important role there. The King readily listened to him. . . .

Deceived on the one hand by the Genevan [Necker] . . . the King paid no attention to the Queen's fears.

This well-informed princess knew all about the plots that were being hatched against the government. She brought them to the attention of Louis XVI, who told her: "But when all is said and done, is the Third Estate not also my children—and the greatest in number? And will I not still be their king even though the nobility may lose some of their privileges and the clergy a few snatches of their income?"



“"The King of the Third Estate" (June 1789),” LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY: EXPLORING THE FRENCH REVOUTION, accessed June 13, 2024, https://revolution.chnm.org/d/308.