1793-94: Terror For the People and Death for the Monarchs

This period saw France’s descent into outright chaos, with political violence on a scale never seen before.

Georges Danton

The king’s trial and execution

After the abolition of the monarchy and establishment of the Republic, it became increasingly clear to many revolutionaries that the continued existence of the former royal family was a problem. As long as they were alive, counter-revolutionaries would feel justified in fighting for them to be reinstated.


The king was finally put to trial at the end of 1792. On December 11, 1792, the National Convention declared him guilty of treason and sentenced him to death by guillotine. Most historians agree that the trial was a complete sham.

The execution took place on January 21, 1793 in front of a large crowd at Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde).

The Montagnard convention

In 1792 up to the king’s trial, the ‘moderate’ Girondins had the upper hand.

By mid-1793, however, the Montagnards would take power by branding the Girondins enemies of the state and sentencing them to distant exile or to the guillotine.

This marked the beginning of the era known as the ‘Reign of Terror’ – a period between 1793-94 where the extreme Montagnards took complete control of France. Thousands were arrested or executed without trial under suspicion of treason or counter-revolutionary activities.

Danton and Robespierre

The foremost Montagnard leader was Georges Danton in 1793.


His main rival emerged to be Maximilien de Robespierre. Robespierre and Danton battled over the heart of the Jacobin movement. While they were both radicals who were unafraid to use violence, Danton became disillusioned with the more extreme actions of the Montagnards in the summer of 1793. He left the movement and sought to persuade the radicals to take a more moderate approach.

Robespierre took the opportunity to paint Danton as weak, and himself as a true believer. He replaced Danton as leader – eventually imprisoning him and sentencing him to death in 1794.

The queen’s trial and execution

Queen Marie-Antoinette was also judged and beheaded in 1793.

The former queen, who had been held prisoner since August 1792, was put on trial for treason in October 1793. Despite her pleas of innocence, she was found guilty and sentenced to death by guillotine. On October 16th, 1793, Marie Antoinette was executed.

The royal children stayed in prison for years where the young heir, called Louis XVII by the monarchists, died in 1795, aged 10. His sister was freed a few years later and would live into her 70s, famous – unsurprisingly, perhaps – for her difficult moods.

The Reign of Terror

Robespierre’s time in power is indelibly linked to one word: Terror. His reign saw the implementation of harsh laws such as the Law of Suspects which allowed for anyone suspected of being an enemy of the revolution to be arrested and executed without trial. This resulted in thousands being sent to their deaths, including many innocent people who were simply caught up in the chaos.


From the fall of 1793 to the next summer, around 17,000 people were killed by the guillotine or otherwise executed. Another estimate puts the total number of dead at around 40,000. The Reign of Terror was, in part, a response to the foreign threats that France was facing. But it was also a way for Robespierre and his allies to consolidate power and to stamp out any internal dissent. The methods used were brutal, and the death toll was high.

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