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HistoryThe big dates

1757 Assassination attempt of Damiens against Louis XV

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5 January 1757

Since Ravaillac in 1610, no one had ever tried to attack the holy person of the king. In 1757, when Louis XV was leaving the Château, a man jumped at him and stabbed him in the side. His name was Robert-François Damiens.

On this 5 January 1757, in the palace of Versailles, a carriage awaited Louis XV in the covered passage between the royal courtyard and the North Parterre. At about 6 pm, the king walked down his inner staircase and crossed the room of his bodyguards. He was accompanied by the Dauphin, the captain of the king’s guards, and equerries. It was dark. As he left the room, the king was attacked by an individual who struck him forcibly. Because he had kept his hat on, the assailant was overpowered because he should have taken it off in the presence of the king!

Touching his right side, the king thought that he had received a blow. But his hand was bloody. The knife had penetrated between the 4th and 5th ribs, causing a long but superficial would. Louis XV was carried up to his bedchamber bleeding profusely. He went into shock and fainted. When he came to his senses he thought he was about to die. He called for a priest, entrusted the kingdom to the Dauphin and asked pardon of the queen for any distress he had caused her.

The attacker was a domestic named Damiens. Born in Arras, he was 42 years old and had served several advisers to the Parliament who regularly inveighed against the king and the Marquise de Pompadour. Easily influenced and excitable, Damiens had become obsessed with these criticisms. Arrested, he was tortured to find out if he had any accomplices. He revealed nothing. Transported to the Conciergerie prison, like Ravaillac, his trial was held from 12 February to 26 March, the date of his sentencing. He was to be quartered and burned alive! Damiens was guilty of the supreme crime: lese-majesty!

From the beginning, the king knew that it was an isolated act. Although he recovered from his wound after 8 days, he was still shaken up. The assassination attempt had an effect on him and he resolved to change his attitude. He wanted to win back the trust of his subjects, give up his mistresses and prepare the Dauphin for his succession. But these wise resolutions led nowhere: Mme de Pompadour continued to dominate the king’s mind until his death in 1764 and Louis XV, who began his reign as the “Well-Loved” king, died very much unloved by his people!