The Storming of the Tuileries on 10 August 1792

Historical background III

Several hundred Swiss Guards and some 1,000 assailants died on 10 August 1792 during the storming by the people of the Royal Palace of the Tuileries in Paris – the symbol of absolutist rule and the Ancien Régime.

In August 1792 the position of the French King Louis XVI came increasingly under threat. The final straw was the appeal by the Prussian Commander in Chief to the French Revolutionaries to submit to their king again. In the event of violence being used against the royal family and the royal Palais des Tuileries the Manifeste de Brunswick threatened bloody retaliation including the destruction of Paris. The furious French population and the Revolutionaries took this as proof that their king was collaborating with the kings of Prussia and Austria. They demanded that the National Assembly depose him by 9 August. When parliament could not make up its mind, on 10 August the impassioned population of Paris and the National Guards who had gone over to the Revolutionary side marched on the Palace of the Tuileries to the sound of the Marseillaise.

  • Henri-Paul Motte, Affrontement entre les Suisses et les insurgées, 1892
  • Jean Duplessi-Bertaux, Sturm auf die Tuilerien, 1793
  • L. Bang und O. Lorch, Sturm auf die Tuilerien, 1889 (detail)
    Monumental painting, formerly installed in the Oblichtsaal of the Alpineum Diorama, Lucerne. Photography © Jürg Stadelmann, Office for History, Culture and Contemporary Events, Lucerne

Only a total of around 900 Swiss Guards remained to protect King Louis XVI. Early on the morning of 10 August the king and his family, accompanied by the Commander of the Swiss Guards Karl Josef von Bachmann and 150 members of the Swiss Guard, had fled to the National Assembly. That morning the 750 or so remaining Guards, under the command of the Lucerne officer Jost Dürler, continued to defend the empty palace as discipline decreed. The assailants, a wild crowd but far superior in number– according to source there are supposed to have been up to 40,000 of them – forced the Guards back into the Palace. Faced with the salvoes from the approaching cannons of the attacker, the king ordered the Guard to put down their weapons. Some officers went with 200 Guards to the National Assembly, where they were disarmed. But the order to retreat did not reach all the men. Surrounded by the intruders, they continued to fight.

Napoleon who was an eye-witness to the storming, later told his brother Joseph that the carnage he saw that day affected him more profoundly than any of the subsequent killing fields he witnessed. (Cf. David P. Jordan, Napoleon and the Revolution, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

The defeat was devastating. Several hundred Swiss Guards lost their lives or were sentenced to death by guillotine by the Revolutionary court – as were the king himself and his wife, Marie Antoinette. In 1817, 387 surviving Guards were awarded the commemorative medal of loyalty and honour by the Swiss parliament. The figures for the numbers of deaths on both sides are widely divergent; according to different sources there are said to have been between 600 and 4000 fatalities on the sides of the Paris population and the National Guard.