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The Rumble of the Tumbrel

As you know, the title of one of my books will be Where Did They Put the Guillotine?” It’s about buildings, places, sites and people significant to the French Revolution. I’ll take you on walking tours of Paris and show you these sites. One of the walking tours will be entitled: “The Rumble of the Tumbrel: Marie Antoinette’s Last Ride.”

The steps leading up to the Cour du Mai where the carts would wait for the prisoners (photo by Dan Owen)

So on our recent trip to Paris, we decided to walk the exact route that Marie Antoinette’s tumbrel (i.e., cart) took to the guillotine.

We began at the Conciergerie, the former medieval palace turned prison. Prisoners were brought here from other prisons scattered around Paris. This was their last stop before getting into the tumbrels that would take them to the guillotine. A typical stay was one or two nights. Marie Antoinette was an exception as she spent over two months in this prison. Once the bell rang (it is still there), the condemned prisoners would congregate in the “Corner of the Twelve” before being loaded into the carts (each cart could hold twelve people ergo the name of the segregated courtyard).

We walked from the Cour du Mai (where the carts departed from) down along the Quai de la Megisserie, turning right onto rue de la Monnaie and then left onto rue Saint Honoré. This would take us to rue Royale and after turning left, we would be at the Place de la Concorde (known as the Place de la Revolution during that time). It was here that the scaffold and “national razor” were set-up. Depending on the size of the crowds along the route, it would take between one and two-hours for the carts to make the one-way trip. Those of you familiar with Paris might ask why the carts didn’t turn left on rue de Rivoli as that seems a more direct route. The rue de Rivoli did not exist during the Revolution. It was built during the reign of Napoleon III and was part of Baron Haussmann’s “little” project.

Along the way we stopped to see the Duplay residence (this is where Robespierre, his brother and sister resided for much of the Revolution). We also saw the site of the Café de la Regence where Jacques-Louis David stood on the balcony and sketched Marie Antoinette as she rode to the guillotine. A pharmacy has existed at 115 rue Saint Honoré since before the Revolution. It was here that Comte Axel de Fersen would buy his invisible ink to write his secret correspondence to Marie Antoinette.

We ended on the Place de la Concorde. We were successful in identifying the exact spots where the guillotine had been erected on January 21, 1993 and October 16, 1793 for the executions of the king and queen, respectively.


Do we have a lot of stories? Of course we do. I’m looking forward to sharing these with you. Please continue to visit our blog.

Thanks so much for following my blog and my little journey through this incredibly interesting process of writing a series of niche historical travel books and then getting the bloody things published.

– Stew

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Copyright © 2013 Stew Ross


8 thoughts on “The Rumble of the Tumbrel

  1. Where can I purchase the book The Rumble of the Tumbrel?

    1. Hello Cynthia;

      Thank you so much for your interest in my books. What you are referencing is Walk #1 of the second book, “Where Did They Put the Guillotine? Marie Antoinette’s Last Ride.” There are two volumes dealing with the French Revolution. The first volume has two walks through Versailles and then I take you to Paris for the other two walks. You can purchase both books through Amazon. If that doesn’t work out for you, let me know and you can buy them directly through me and I will autograph both copies for you. Again, I appreciate your interest in the books and my blogs (


  2. Hi Stew, are you able to confirm the point where the King was executed? Going by contemporary prints it seems to have been lined up between the Champs Elysee and the (destroyed) Louis XV statue in the centre of the square. But the Royalists place their flowers around the base of the Rouen statue and elsewhere I’ve heard that the other north-western statue, Brest, is the ‘exact spot’. Can you help?

    1. Hi Daniel.

      Thanks for your question! It is an excellent one and one that I researched quite a bit. Your reference to the base of the Rouen statue as well as the Brest statue are potential spots that I did run across in my research. Your comment about the exact spot being “lined up between the Champs Elysee and the (destroyed) Louis XV statue in the centre of the square” is dead on (sorry for the pun). After extensive research, using contemporary written accounts, and the contemporary prints (in my collection), I was able to determine the exact spot to be in the middle of the roundabout road – approximately half way between the current obelisk and where Champs Elysee dumps into the Place de la Concorde. I had some others confirm my “theory” and so we feel confident about the exact spot where the guillotine was set up. We had to do the same type of research on where Marie Antoinette’s guillotine was placed (different than her husband’s). I hope that helps. Let me know if there is anything else I can answer for you. I appreciate your interest in my books and blog site.


      1. Thanks Stew, that’s fantastic! Georges Bataille also maintained that the location was at the centre of a ‘triangle’ between the current site of the obelisk and the two Marly horses, which seems to be more or less what you’re confirming (geometrical exactitude notwithstanding!)

        Really appreciate you getting back so quickly. The next time I’m in Paris I’ll be taking your tour!
        All best, D

        1. Hey Daniel,

          One thing I forgot to mention was about the plaque next to the obelisk. It is embedded in the sidewalk and supposedly marks the exact spot where the guillotine was set up. I think, based on my earlier comments, that it is wrong. Not by far but when you’re like me and you, we want to know the exact locations. During my various research projects, I have found that historical plaques are not always in the right spot. Example: the location of the assassination of Louis, Duke of Orleans (my new book, “Where Did They Burn the Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar,” will highlight that story.


  3. Thanks Stew. Much appreciated!

  4. This is fantastic! I am going to Paris for the first time on Monday and I have my itinerary full of French Revolution sites.

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