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LONDON: The last words of Louis XVI of France before he was guillotined in 1793 have emerged in a letter from his executioner.
The manuscript, in which Charles Henri Sanson, chief executioner of Paris during the French Revolution, detailed Louis's final moments, was thought to have been lost.
Sanson put pen to paper because he had been angered by the distorted accounts that had begun to circulate within days of the king's execution. His beheading in January, marking France's transition from a monarchy to a republic, is considered a defining moment of the revolution.
An article in Thermometre du Jour, a revolutionary journal, soon afterwards provoked Sanson's response a month later.
He set out to contradict suggestions that Louis had to be led to the scaffold with a pistol at his temple and had let out a terrible cry. Sanson described how Louis arrived at the execution in a horse and carriage and mounted the scaffold, stretching out his hands to be tied.
Sanson wrote: "He mounted the scaffold and wanted to rush towards the front as though wanting to speak ... he then let himself be led to the place where he was tied up, and where he exclaimed very loudly, 'People, I die innocent'. Then, turning towards us, he told us, 'Gentlemen, I am innocent of everything of which I am accused. I wish that my blood may be able to cement the happiness of the French'."
Of the final moments, the executioner wrote: "He withstood all that with a composure and a steadiness that astonished us all." Sanson, who died in 1806 aged 66, was descended from a long line of executioners.
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