The very letter hand delivered to King George; The only one of such great consequence from monarch to monarch we recall seeing, and among the most important of pieces.
He offers the British a plum they had long sought – influence in the affairs of Continental Europe – in return for British neutrality in Revolutionary France’s war with Austria and Prussial “I thank you that at a time when certain Powers have come together against France, you have not allied yourself...
He offers the British a plum they had long sought – influence in the affairs of Continental Europe – in return for British neutrality in Revolutionary France’s war with Austria and Prussial “I thank you that at a time when certain Powers have come together against France, you have not allied yourself with them…Together we must bring peace to Europe”
Britain and France had historically been enemies and competitors for the mantle of power in Europe. Most recently, France had sided with America against Britain in the American Revolution. But this was just the most recent example of a centuries old rivalry. The French Revolution and its aftermath altered the balance of power and diplomatic calculations so much that many things that were once unthinkable now were in the realm of the possible.
European monarchs eyed Revolutionary France with suspicion. They had seen the overthrow of Louis by the French people, and were worried that revolutionary fervor would spread to their countries. Austria in particular, France's traditional enemy and the native country of French Queen Marie Antoinette, showed itself hostile to the Revolution and gave shelter to many noble émigrés, who wanted to have the Revolution rolled back. By March 1792, many in France felt threatened by this opposition and felt it was unsafe for France to stand passively by while her enemies planned her destruction. They called for war with Austria, which in reality meant with Austria’s allies too (such as Prussia). The clamor increased, and by the next month Louis realized that war was inevitable, and that it would enflame passions. He knew that such a war posed a grave personal threat to him, as if pro-monarchy armies invaded France to restore him to power, he would be automatically seen as pro-Austrian and a traitor, and become the focus of revolutionary anger. On the other hand, if French forces were successful, it would bolster the argument that kings were irrelevant and that his very presence was an inducement to France’s enemies to remain hostile to her.
As bad as his situation would be if France went to war with Austria, it would be immeasurably worse if the British joined in the coalition against France. The British wielded immense power, and unlike the Austrians had the ways and means to certainly bring the war home into France. They were a traditional enemy of France, which was still smarting over the loss of the Seven Years War, and a war with them would rally Frenchmen in a way that a war against Austria might not. They had the world’s greatest navy, and interests and colonies all over the globe. British presence in the war guaranteed a long and very difficult war, whereas in their absence a war with Austria might possibly be short and more easily settled by negotiation. None of this was lost on the French King, whose safety (and that of his family) would be jeopardized by British involvement. And in addition to his personal reasons, Louis was after all a Frenchman, and he would have wanted to avoid the dangerous contest involved in again tangling with the British lion.
Louis determined to take action. He sent his two ambassadors – Francois Chauvelin, a former Marquis turned revolutionary, and the wily Anglophile diplomat Charles Maurice Talleyrand – to England with a letter addressed directly to King George III. In it he appealed to George not merely to keep England out of the war, but offered a grand alliance of the two nations to together maintain the peace of Europe. Since the Middle Ages, Britain had sought an outpost on the continent, and influence in continental affairs, often unsuccessfully. Many of its wars were designed with this intention and its diplomats always had this goal in mind. France had historically opposed this push, but now Louis would offer this plum to George if he would just join with him rather than with France’s accumulating foes.
Autograph Letter Signed, one of the most remarkable we have ever read, in French, 2 pages, Paris, 18 April 1792, to King George III, whom he addresses as “My Brother”, covering one crucial point after another. He first thanks the King (and British nobles) for their sympathy, then expresses gratitude that the British have not already allied themselves with the Austrians. “I give this letter to M. Chauvelin whom I have named my Minister Plenipotentiary with you. I take this opportunity to express how touched I am by all the public signs of affection which you have displayed towards me. I thank you that at a time when certain Powers have come together against France, you have not allied yourself with them; I see from this that you have better understood our true interests, and better judged the position of France.” He continues with his startling proposal: “A new relationship must be established between the two countries. I believe that every day I see the disappearance of the remnants of that rivalry which has done us both so much harm. It is fitting that two Kings who have distinguished their reign with a continual desire for the happiness of their people, should form between them bonds which will become ever more lasting as the interests of the two nations become increasingly clear. I have only praise for the ambassador you have sent me; if I do not give the same character to the person I send you, you must nevertheless know that having included in this mission M. de Talleyrand, who by the terms of the Constitution cannot have any titles. I have placed the greatest importance in the success of the alliance to which I wish to see you agree with as much zeal as myself. I see it as necessary to the stability of the respective constitutions of our two states, and to maintain internal tranquility, and I would add that together we must bring peace to Europe. I remain with the most constant friendship and the most perfect esteem, Your Maiesty’s good Brother, Louis.” The integral blank leaf is annotated on the verso in English: “Paris, April 18, 1792. Most Christian King to His Majesty.” it goes on to indicate that the letter was “Presented 2nd May by M. Chauvelin”, and was written “manupropria” [with Louis’s own hand]. We also note with interest that this letter, from monarch to monarch, shows the importance still attached to personal contact between crowned heads. Louis is frank enough to admit to a lack of conﬁdance in his own ambassador Chauvelin, who had been his Master of the Wardrobe and whose defection to the revolutionaries had deeply hurt him.
This letter was hand delivered by Chauvelin and Talleyrand. In his instructions to those two, Louis told them that their primary goal ought to be to bring England to side with France, either directly or indirectly. England must be made to see how this positively impacts her.
Two days after the date of this letter, on April 20, Louis was required to appear before the French Assembly and accede to the popular demand for war with Austria, which was declared the same day. This initiated a period of conﬂict in Europe which would only end twenty-three years later at Waterloo. When Chauvelin and Talleyrand presented Louis’s letter on May 2, it was known that France had declared war on Austria – and revolutionary Chauvelin in particular met with a cool reception. Talleyrand’s notes show that he sought “a defensive alliance by which both states could guarantee to each other what they actually possess in Europe, as well as in India…”
The Chauvelin/Talleyrand mission failed in one of its stated goals, as it did not result in an alliance. But Louis’s other main goal – keeping Britain out of the conflict – was achieved. On May 25 Britain declared its neutrality, and Talleyrand returned to Paris in triumph. But events on the battlefield soon undermined that neutrality and justified Louis’s fears. The French armies lacked organization and discipline, as many noble officers had emigrated. The allied Austrian and Prussian forces under Duke Charles William Ferdinand quickly crossed the frontier and began to march on Paris. The Duke issued a manifesto threatening to raze Paris should the royal family be harmed. This manifesto angered the French and contributed to the insurrection of the Jacobin radicals on August 10.
On that day the National Guard and a mob of Parisians invaded the residence of the royal family at the Tuileries in Paris. Although the royal family had already fled the palace for the relative safety of the Assembly's meeting place, the Swiss guards that were stationed at the palace opened fire on the crowd. They were quickly overpowered, and most of the Swiss soldiers were hacked to death by bystanders – it was the bloodiest day of the Revolution so far. The King and his family remained unscathed, but he no longer had any authority. The crowd swept through Paris destroying all images of and references to the monarchy, and the Assembly suspended the monarchy's powers. In September of 1792, a new governing body was elected. The National Convention was the body that declared the abolition of the monarchy and established France as a republic on September 21, 1792. The British no longer considered themselves neutral. But perhaps pursuant to the wishes Louis expressed in this letter, Britain did not then join France’s enemies against her. It was not until after Louis’s execution, on January 21, 1793, that Britain broke off diplomatic relations, prompting the French to declare war.
Frame, Display, Preserve
Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.Learn more about our Framing Services