The People v. Louis XVI
The people of France grew tired of being ruled by an absolute monarch. The absolute authority of King Louis XVI has been overthrown with the fall of the Bastille -- a French prison that served as a symbol of oppression against the people -- and the French Revolution. A new semi-democratic government has been formed.
Recently King Louis has allegedly been conspiring with neighboring monarchs to find a way to overthrow the newly established government and regain control of France. The government has uncovered the plot and has decided to put the king on trial for conspiring against the government and crimes against the French people while he was king. If convicted, he will be either executed or exiled.
With the fall of the monarchy on August 10, 1792, a new National Convention has been formed and a Republic has been declared. In the time leading up to the trial on January 21, 1793, three distinct factions have developed and grown in importance for the trial’s outcome: the Girondins (against the conviction and execution of King Louis), the Jacobins (also known as the Mountain, they are for conviction and execution), and the Plain (undecided common people who must be convinced to join one side or the other).
Putting the king on trial at all, not to mention executing him, is highly unusual and will certainly have long-lasting effects on all of France no matter how it all turns out.
We will re-enact King Louis’ trial by taking on historical roles, and the King and his Girondin defense attorneys must convince the members of the Plain and persuade the members of the Girondins and the Jacobins to side with the King. The Jacobin prosecution attorneys will work to convince these same groups that the King must be convicted and executed for his guilt under the following charges:
Charges: Louis Capet (King Louis XVI) is charged with:
1. Tyrannical rule
2. Disregard for the wishes of the French people, as written in the Declaration of the
Rights of Man and Citizen and the Constitution of 1791
3. Committing acts of treason against the French nation through his conspiracy with
Primary Trial Roles will deliver one page speeches/testimonies to be prepared BEFORE THE TRIAL BEGINS. These must be emailed to the firstname.lastname@example.org address. Each individual will deliver their speech at the appropriate time and have a chance to ask the King cross examination questions when appropriate.
Secondary Trial Roles will serve as the “jury” for this trial, and therefore must be convinced by either the prosecution or defense of the King’s fate. You will take notes over the trial proceedings, the evidence presented in the speeches, and what you believe the King’s fate should be now that the evidence has been presented. After you have voted for or against conviction, you will decide to either execute or exile the king if convicted. You will then prepare a one page description of the evidence and a detailed description of the verdict and how you feel about this decision. This will need to be emailed to the email@example.com address BEFORE THE START OF THE NEXT CLASS SESSION.
Primary Trial Roles:
The following characters will type a one page speech introduction and closing statement and prepare interrogation questions that will be delivered at the appropriate time during the trial (label your typed copy that you will turn in to me via email so that I know which part you played):
President Barere (Fairbanks): for conviction and execution,
although he was supposed to be impartial
Jacobin Attorneys: for conviction and execution; will ask the National
Convention to bring a case against Louis for the
Girondin Attorneys: against conviction and execution; will plead for
reason and clemency, and will articulate the
fearful ramifications (results) of putting the King
The following characters will type a one page testimony that will be delivered at the appropriate time during the trial (label your typed copy that you will turn in to me via email so that I know which part you played):
Saint Just (pros): for conviction and execution
Danton (pros): for conviction and execution
Robespierre (pros): for conviction and execution
Jacque Louis David (pros): for conviction and execution
King Louis XVI (defendant): against conviction and execution
Queen Marie Antoinette: character witness for King Louis; against
conviction and execution
Raymond De Seze (def): against conviction and execution
François Tronchet (def): against conviction and execution
**If you struggle to find information on these characters or witnesses, write your testimony based upon the historical circumstances and what a witness would have felt about these issues at the time, given your assigned perspective.
Secondary Trial Roles:
The following characters will NOT read a part in the mini-mock trial. You will view and take notes over the course of the trial, and after the trial’s conclusion you will write a one page paper that summarizes the arguments for both sides (should King Louis be convicted and why? What should his punishment be, exile or execution, and why?). Make your arguments and decisions appropriate for your role, and be sure to label your paper so that I know what character you were:
Member of the Jacobins: for conviction and execution
Member of the Girondins: there should be no trial; if there must be
a trial and conviction, Louis should be exiled, not executed
Member of the Plain: undecided and must be convinced by the
National Convention is called to order (President Barere)
Jacobin speaker’s opening statements
Girondin speaker’s opening statements
Saint Just’s testimony
De Seze’s testimony
Marie Antoinette’s testimony
King Louis XVI’s testimony
King Louis XVI’s speech (final plea)
National Convention votes for or against conviction
National Convention votes for execution or exile (if convicted)
France Before the Revolution of 1789.pdf