France: Protesters clash with police on streets of Paris
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On January 5, 1757, King Louis XV saw his life flash before his eyes. As he walked through the courtyard of the Grand Trianon Versailles, a domestic servant launched himself at the King, blade in hand. The plot to kill Louis was soon unravelled, but a crucial turning point in the history of France’s monarchy had already been made.
Louis XV was among the country’s most enduring monarchs and took over from his great-grandfather, Louis XIV, who had ruled over the nation for an astonishing 72 years until he died in 1715.
Throughout his reign, Louis won numerous wars including the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. But he also saw his fair shares of losses too, including ceding New France in North America to Britain and Spain when the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763.
Many historians have also been criticial of his tenure, with some claiming the corruption he brought to the centre of the monarchy made it an institution no longer trusted by the people.
His attempts at demonstrating France’s influence through pomp and extravagance also left France dealing with soaring costs, alongside the price of war, with little gained in combat.
The kingdom he left his successor Louis XVI was greatly different to the one he himself had inherited, with France desperate for political and financial reform.
The disastrous consequences of his six decades in power would ultimately spark the monarchy’s downfall, paving the way for the French Revolution of 1789.
Years before France’s royals crumbled Louis himself may have succumbed to a similar fate had French domestic servant Robert-François Damiens been successful in his plot to murder the King.
As Louis made it towards the carriage 266 years ago, Damiens pushed through the monarch’s guards, and stabbed him in the side with a small blade. He was immediately seized, though Louis demanded his guards not kill him.
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Despite the wound’s small size, Louis began bleeding heavily as he walked back towards his room. Once there, he demanded a doctor and priest join him, before fainting.
It later emerged that the thickness of his winter clothing had actually saved his life. News soon filtered through France that their monarch had been stabbed, and across the world influential figures of the time, such as the Pope, the Empress of Austria, and King George II sent messages of support.
In order to ascertain the circumstances of the assassination bid, Damien was tortured and later tried before Parliament, and was executed two months later on the Place de Grève in Paris.
The public execution would become the last time in France’s history that someone was killed by drawing and quartering, his body burned on a bonfire after his death.
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Damien’s family also faced the consquences of his actions: the house where he was born was burned to the ground, and his father, wife, and daughter were banished from France.
One of Louis’ chief courtiers, Duford de Cheverny, wrote after the monarch’s recovery: “It was easy to see that when members of the court congratulated him on his recovery, he replied, ‘Yes, the body is going well’, but touched his head and said, ‘but this goes badly, and this is impossible to heal.’
“After the assassination attempt, the King invited his heir, the Dauphin, to attend all of the Royal Council meetings, and quietly closed down the chateau at Versailles where he had met with his short-term mistresses.”
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