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To consider how different the world would be if Louis XVI’s flight to Varennes had not ended in farce in 1791, is to recognise how a chance encounter can send human affairs careering off in one direction or the other. The only thing which stood between the king’s triumphant return and the humiliating failure which in fact ensued, was a postman who happened to recognise him on the way. The postman is the true saviour of the French revolution-but what if he had been short-sighted? What if he had simply not been there?

Similarly, if Louis XV had not bought…

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