One of the mysteries I recently uncovered has to do with how the Revolution would dispose of its victims, all these princes and dukes, these women, these young people. Until now, I believed that they would be thrown into mass graves and that their bodies would be doused in quicklime to render them unrecognizable. Apparently things were not so, and some corpses were identified so that they could be found and given maybe not proper but at least human burial.
After the Revolution and the fall of Napoleon’s Empire, the Bourbon Restoration obviously attempted to identify the more illustrious corpses. Rumour has it Marie Antoinette was very easy to identify. For Louis XVI, there were descriptions of the communal grave in which he laid and, most importantly, he was the only wearing shoes with a silver buckle. His decomposed cadaver was found, shoes with silver buckles still at his feet. It was Louis XVI.
The queen and him were buried with great pomp in the expiatory chapel Louis XVIII had built on the very site where their remains had been retrieved. In this chapel, numerous services and countless requiems were sung for the eternal peace of Louis XVI’s soul.
Only, was it really Louis XVI? And from here on, one must dive into the exciting and fascinating memories of Barras.
The man, at the head of the Directory, had immediately succeeded Robespierre who, as we all know, had been guillotined the 10th of Thermidor, one day after his fall from grace.
Barras had attended his funeral, or rather what served as such.
The decapitated corpse of the tyrant was thrown in the same communal grave in which, two years prior, Louis XIV had been thrown. Robespierre wore shoes with silver buckles. And as the last corpse of the Terror, he was obviously on top of the pile of bodies. Therefore, when the grave was opened to recover Louis XVI, a body with silver-buckled footwear was immediately found. It was Louis XVI, assured the spokesmen of Louis XVIII. It was Robespierre, assured Barras in his memoires, with, one must admit, rather convincing arguments.
We can therefore imagine that France’s tyrant, the most ferocious revolutionary, was buried in the stead of the king he had had decapitated.