Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 21 January 2011

King Louis XVI

Today is the anniversary of the death on the guillotine of King Louis XVI in 1793.


King Louis XVI aged 20 in 1775

The course of his reign is well known, although revisionist historical work has not always filtered through to many popular perceptions of the causes and course of the terrible events which unfolded from 1789 onwards. Within the national tragedy inflicted upon France by the revolution there is also the personal tragedy of the King himself. Louis XVI's innate decency and moderation, not so say temperament, did not enable him to react as he might otherwise have to events. In many ways he was more suited to the role of King within the contemporary British model of George III rather than trying to resolve a system in need of a major overhaul, and pressures and politicians that did not, would not, wait.


King Louis XVI in 1786

Louis XVI and his family paid a terrible personal price for whatever failings there were in the Ancien Regime. France as a nation has paid a more terrible price for its rebellion against its historic roots and wellsprings. The sheer ingratitude expressed by so many of the French then and since to the institutions which had called into being - the Crown and the Church - is something I find shocking.

On January 21st 1815 the remains of the King and Queen were reinterred at St Denis, and in 1830 a memorial to the King and his Queen was erected nearby within the basilica.

The memorial to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette,
sculptures by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot in St Denis

Today is one on which I always seek to remember King Louis at Mass and to wear the fleur de lys badge I purchased when I was last in France. On a previous visit I was struck by the depiction of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette kneeling, and in the presence of the Risen Christ, which decorates the apse of the Basilica of Sacre Coeur in Paris.