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Robespierre

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Robespierre

Post  Elena on Fri Nov 11, 2011 12:10 pm

From http://fromtherecamier02.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/daily-update-july-28-2010/:
Born as Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre in 1758 in Arras, France, out of wedlock (his parents later married), after his mother’s death when he was six years old he was raised by his maternal grandmother and aunts. In October of 1769, on the recommendation of the bishop, he obtained a scholarship at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. At the age of seventeen he was chosen from five hundred pupils to deliver a speech to welcome King Louis XVI to the school, shortly after the king’s coronation. On the day of the speech, Robespierre and the crowd waited for the king and queen for several hours in the rain. Upon arrival, the royal couple remained in their coach for the ceremony and immediately left thereafter. After having completed his law studies, Robespierre was admitted to the Arras bar. The Bishop of Arras appointed him criminal judge in the Diocese of Arras in March 1782. This appointment, which he soon resigned to avoid pronouncing a sentence of death, did not prevent his practicing at the bar. He quickly became a successful advocate and chose in principle to represent the poor. During court hearings he was known to often advocate the ideals of the Enlightenment and argue for the rights of man: i.e. his clients. Later in his career he read widely and also became interested in society in general and became regarded as one of the best writers and most popular young men of Arras. In December 1783 he was elected a member of the academy of Arras, the meetings of which he attended regularly. In 1784, he obtained a medal from the academy of Metz for his essay on the question of whether the relatives of a condemned criminal should share his disgrace. He and Pierre Louis de Lacretelle, an advocate and journalist in Paris, divided the prize. Many of his subsequent essays were less successful, but Robespierre was compensated for these failures by his popularity in the literary and musical society at Arras. In 1788 he took part in a discussion of how the French provincial government should be elected, showing clearly and forcefully in his Addresse à la nation artésienne that if the former mode of election by the members of the provincial estates were again adopted, the new Estates-General would not represent the people of France. It is possible he addressed this issue so that he could have a chance to take part in the proceedings and thus change the policies of the monarchy. King Louis XVI later announced new elections for all provinces; although only thirty, comparatively poor and lacking patronage, Robespierre was elected fifth deputy of the Third Estate of Artois to the Estates-General. When he arrived at Versailles, he was relatively unknown, but he soon became part of the representative National Assembly which then transformed into the Constituent Assembly. He was a frequent speaker in the Constituent Assembly; he voiced many ideas for the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Constitutional Provisions, often with great success. The flight on June 20, 1791, and the subsequent arrest at Varennes of Louis XVI and his family, resulted in Robespierre declaring himself at the Jacobin Club to be “ni monarchiste ni républicain” (“neither monarchist nor republican”). On September30, 1791, on the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the people of Paris crowned him as one of the two incorruptible patriots in an attempt to honor their purity of principles, their modest ways of living, and their refusal of bribes. With the dissolution of the Assembly he returned to Arras for a short visit, where he met with a triumphant reception. In November he returned to Paris to take the position of Public Prosecutor of Paris. In September 1792 he was elected first deputy for Paris to the National Convention. In December 1792, King Louis XVI was put on trial; the position of Robespierre was that if one man’s life had to be sacrificed to save the Revolution, there was no alternative: it had to be that of King Louis. The King was guillotined in January 1793. On March 11, 1793, a Revolutionary Tribunal was established in Paris. On April 6, 1793, the nine-member Committee of Public Safety replaced the larger Committee of General Defense. On July 27, 1793, the Convention elected Robespierre to the Committee, although he had not sought the position; the Committee of General Security began to manage the country’s internal police, and the election of Robespierre election marked the beginning of the Reign of Terror. Though nominally all members of the committee were equal, Robespierre has often been regarded as the dominant force and, as such, the de facto dictator of the country and the driving force behind the Reign of Terror. As an orator, he praised revolutionary government and argued that the Terror was necessary, laudable and inevitable. It was Robespierre’s belief that the Republic and virtue were of necessity inseparable. He reasoned that the Republic could only be saved by the virtue of its citizens, and that the Terror was virtuous because it attempted to maintain the Revolution and the Republic. Robespierre believed that the Terror was a time of discovering and revealing the enemy within Paris, within France, the enemy that hid in the safety of apparent patriotism. Because he believed that the Revolution was still in progress, and in danger of being sabotaged, he made every attempt to instill in the populace and Convention the urgency of carrying out the Terror. He expanded the traditional list of the Revolution’s enemies to include moderates and “false revolutionaries”. Anyone not in step with the decrees of Robespierre’s committee is said to have been eventually purged from the Convention, and thoroughly hunted in the general population. Throughout his Report on the Principles of Political Morality, Robespierre assailed any stalling of action in defence of the Republic. In his thinking, there was not enough that could be done fast enough in defence against enemies at home and abroad. A staunch believer in the teachings of Rousseau, Robespierre believed that it was his duty as a public servant to push the Revolution forward, and that the only rational way to do that was to defend it on all fronts. To secure his aims, another ally on the Committee, Georges Couthon, introduced and carried on June 10, 1794, the drastic Law of 22 Prairial. Under this law, the Tribunal became a simple court of condemnation without need of witnesses, and in the next 57 days 1,285 victims were guillotined in Paris. In the wake of the unrest caused by this law, Robespierre appeared at the Convention on July 26, 1794 (8th Thermidor, year II, according to the Revolutionary calendar), and delivered a two-hour-long speech. He defended himself against charges of dictatorship and tyranny, and then proceeded to warn of a conspiracy against the Republic. The Convention ordered his arrest the next day; he tried to kill himself with a pistol but only managed to shatter his jaw. The next day he was guillotined without trial in the Place de la Révolution, along with his brother and some fifteen followers; only Robespierre was guillotined face-up. When clearing his neck the executioner tore off the bandage that was holding his shattered jaw in place, producing an agonised scream until the fall of the blade silenced him and ended the year-long Reign of Terror, which killed at least 16,000 people, and perhaps as many as 40,000 (died 1794): “Pity is treason.”


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Robespierre

Post  Rex from Australia on Sun Feb 12, 2012 5:28 am

Elena, why would the executioner have chosen to guillotine Robespierre facing up? Sheer perversity or to entertain the crowd?

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Re: Robespierre

Post  Elena on Sun Feb 12, 2012 2:12 pm

Just to be sadistic, it seems to me.

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Re: Robespierre

Post  Bunnies on Sun Dec 30, 2012 7:00 pm

There are a several gaping inaccuracies in the above biography but I'm not going to bore anyone with a 50 page thesis...

I just wanted to answer the question posed above: Assuming that Robespierre was beheaded face up, I imagine that the executioner was trying to be merciful. Robespierre's jaw was damaged and the removal of the bandage obviously caused the victim a great deal of pain. Some eye-witnesses recorded that Robespierre's jaw was literally torn from its hinges and fell onto the scaffold. This would explain Maxime's agonized scream, but I think the author of this report was using hyperbole. Still I imagine that Robespierre jaw was at the very least, ah, hanging by a thread.

In this (admittedly highly speculative) scenario Sanson would be trying to only cut Robespierre in two pieces; a head and body, rather than tear him into three; a head, body, and jaw. He would have beheaded Robespierre face up so that his jaw wouldn't fall off, gravity being what it is.

But there isn't actually any tangible evidence that Robespierre was beheaded facing up. There's some debate on whether or not the legend is even contemporary or if it sprung up sometime in the 19th century. My personal opinion is that it's just that: a legend. In later years, an anachronistic Jacobin accused Sanson of being cruel to Robespierre by tearing off his bandage. But this Jacobin didn't mention anything at all about beheading Robespierre face-up. And had he believed his beloved Robespierre had been subjected to this indignity he would have spoken up about it.

As for Sanson, he had passed away by this time but his grandson answered the accusation in his memoirs. He insisted that his grandfather had "forgot his hatreds and thought only of easing the cruel agony of those whom the law had commanded him to execute." I suppose a grandson would have good reason to protest against alleged sadism on the part of his grandfather but, to be frank, Sanson seems to have been a gentle soul who was born into a bloody profession. He removed the bandage in order for the blade to get a cleaner cut. And had he beheaded Robespierre face-up, it was only to keep his victim's face intact until it fell into the basket. I genuinely doubt Sanson would have purposefully caused Robespierre - or anyone - any more pain than he was required to under law.
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Re: Robespierre

Post  Elena on Tue Jan 01, 2013 4:57 pm

Thanks for your feedback. Very interesting!

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Re: Robespierre

Post  Bunnies on Tue Jan 15, 2013 6:39 pm

My pleasure!

Interesting thing about the "beheaded face up" myth. The more I chase it about, the even less likely it seems. I'd wager that it happened to at least one unfortunate and that a legend was born that attached itself to any famous victim of beheading because I keep finding variations. One such variation is that everyone was beheaded face up. I found one individual assert with much confidence that Marie Antoinette was beheaded face up. They provided lurid details, including how the executioner took a sadistic delight in refusing to pull the string if her eyes were closed, forcing Antoinette to both stare her death in her face and to take part in her own execution - a staring contest with a blade, if you will.

Obviously this is flatly untrue. I've never found a reputable source that reports that Marie Antoinette's execution was in any way irregular aside from the obvious inclusion of a ci-devant queen.

So the legend attaches itself to Robespierre, Marie Antoinette, every victim of the Terror... As I said, I'd be willing to bet it happened to at least one person (a legend has to start somewhere?) but I don't think that someone was anyone famous.
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Re: Robespierre

Post  Bunnies on Sat Feb 16, 2013 11:38 pm

Please forgive me for the following monster of a post, but I wanted to have fun with this.

If you will forgive my saying so, I find the treatment of Robespierre’s reputation comparable to that of Marie Antoinette’s. Both of them were scapegoated for the follies of their respective regimes, and both of them were toppled in no small part thanks to an onslaught of propaganda. Marie Antoinette’s expenditure was, in reality, no worse than that of her “modest” Aunts, the Mesdames, and Robespierre’s bloodlust – such as it was – seems wonderfully moderate I comparison to that of his colleagues, such as Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois. The difference would be that I’ve never seen a Republican historian in the past one hundred years repeat the “let them eat cake” story but I have seen Royalist historians repeat the “dictatorship” myth.

I don’t really know where to begin on this post because there is really so many places to begin. I don’t want to bore anyone so I’m just going to jump in on what seemed to be particularly grievous to me.

The author above argues that Robespierre’s election to the Committee of Public Safety marked the beginning of the Reign of Terror. This is peculiar. Now, the Reign of Terror, its definition being fluid, is debated as to its date of bith. Some historians mark its beginning as early as August 10th 1792, others argue that it began with the execution of Louis XVI. But mostly I’ve seen them argue over two principle dates: March 15, 1793, with the establishment of the Revolutionary Tribunal, or September 1793, with the ratification of the Law of Suspects. Robespierre, being elected to the Committee of Public Safety in July, falls somewhere in between. Either the Terror was around for three months before Robespierre was elected, or Robespierre would be on the Committee for two months before the Terror. Either way, his reputation on both dates must be relatively unscathed. Until his introduction of the Law of 22 Prairial, which I will briefly go over, Robespierre actually can’t be directly tied to the Terror at all insofar as legislation goes. The Revolutionary Tribunal was established by Danton – Robespierre’s role in its creation was actually to narrow its powers. And the Law of Suspects was not Robespierre’s design, nor his will, considering it had been forced on the Convention by an angry mob. The Constitution of the Terror, or the Law of 14 Frimaire, had been written by Billaud-Varennes.

Billaud-Varennes has, for some reason, escaped the scope of history. Oftentimes I’ve seen historians mistakenly reference one of Billaud’s actions as being one of Robespierre’s. Most notably, in response to the summary above, it appears that it was Billaud and Saint Just who expanded the definition of counter-revolutionaries to include the lukewarm and moderates; Robespierre had consistently been antagonistic to the idea of ‘thought crimes’, which led him to protect avowed royalists such as Madame Elisabeth from the guillotine due to a lack of proof of treasonous actions. (He failed in saving Elisabeth and scandalously complained of the judicial murder publicly.) Billaud and Robespierre were separate human beings and quarreled on more than one occasion: they were in no way synonymous.

No one on the Committee of Public Safety was. Oh, Robespierre is often called its de facto dictator, but one wonders just what he was making everyone do. We have numerous occasions when he tried to press legislation forward only to have it be debunked by the rest of the Committee. I for one wouldn’t stop the bloodthirsty dictator from legislating, but maybe I’m just cowardly. I also wouldn’t call him names to his face, or grab him by the coat-tails and shake him, or make him cry – but the Committee did all of these things, and only stopped when Robespierre threatened to tell the Convention he was being disrespected.

Employing a loftier version of “I’m telling mom!” in order to stop what amounts to schoolyard bullying also doesn’t seem tantamount to reigning as dictator.

There is no evidence to indicate that the Committee was in any way cowed by the tyrant except their own words when they were on trial for their lives trying to explain their activities. Sounds reasonable enough…except a few of them, like Billaud-Varennes and Bertrand Barere, later admitted that they had been lying.

Huh.

Now, it could be said that he could have buffered his authority on the Committee by having Saint Just and Couthon always support him. But the argument is flawed on multiple fronts, not the least being that this would give him at most a claque of three people versus a majority of nine, which would still end in his being cowed. There’s also the fact that Saint Just, Robespierre’s alleged toadie and disciple, acted contrary to Robespierre’s interests on more than one occasion, such as by allowing Carnot to send a squadron of Robespierrists troops to the front line. There are also surviving letters of Saint Just giving Robespierre orders, implying that the pair just had the sort of bossy friendship and put up with that from one another – they’d send each other stern advice, and follow it or flagrantly disobey it at their own discretion, which doesn’t seem like a particularly rigid party line.

But had Robespierre been ordering Couthon and Saint Just around, what came of it? Saint Just established a Revolutionary Tribunal on his mission but the 90% of the “Angel of Death’s” defendants were spared execution. Couthon’s Tribunal had similar odds. If Robespierre was giving these men orders this actually reflects wonderfully on his character, and implies that the Robespierrist group on the Committee was presumably less bloodthirsty than their colleagues.

So basically, when it comes to the Robespierrist Triumvirate there is one of two options:

Either Robespierre is not a party leader and each of the three men operated independently…

or Robespierre was a party leader and inclined his adherents in favor of moderation.

Neither is damning.

After all, Collot d’Herbois’ Tribunal…didn’t have a 10% execution rate. I don’t even think it had a 10% acquittal rate, if you get me.

As for the purges? There were three great purges. Girondin, Hebertist, and Dantonist.
The Girondin Purge was Marat’s brainchild. Robespierre had straddled the line as to how he felt about it. On its eve, he had given speeches both for and against it before he finally confessed that he didn’t know what to do and left the decision to more able patriots; his opinion was probably that he wanted the Girondins expelled from the Convention via legal means rather than the sans-culotte rising that was employed. In any case, when the Girondins were finally tried Robespierre spared 77 of them from execution.

So his role in the first purge was actually one of mitigation, and that is hard to begrudge.

The Hebertist Purge is one that Robespierre has never been seriously accused of orchestrating. It has even been argued by a hostile biographer of Robespierre’s, John Hardman, that the Incorruptible had actually been roused from his sickbed by the rest of the Committee and wasn’t even entirely cognitive when he signed the warrant. I wouldn’t go that far, although Robespierre had been in the middle of a fitful illness at the time. But the fact remains that all the arrangements for the Hebertist Purge had been made without him and he seems to have been presented with a fait accompli, although once again he did mitigate the casualties and spared a few individuals.

The Dantonist Purge… Well, it’s a little more complicated. Robespierre’s role in this one was much more direct. As the same time, whereas Robespierre had seemed uninterested in previous Girondin and Hebertist purges, Robespierre had actually protested against this purge with an unusuall energy. In point of fact the Dantonist Purge had first been proposed by Collot d’Herbois as early as December 1793. They were executed April 1794. The main reason that it took the Committee so long to get around to it was that Robespierre was being quarrelsome. But finally he was pressed upon by a nearly unanimous Committee and threw his weight behind it. Still: the Dantonist Purge can’t be blamed on Robespierre’s intransient need for perfection, or even his mad need to kill all dissenters. He actually hadn’t minded their dissension (he actually read their protest against the Terror out loud at the Jacobin Club and quoted it fondly on more than one occasion). He consented to the majority of the Committee’s will but he had not connived at their deaths.

And I just wanted to indulge myself here, with the question of the Dantonist Purge, to bring up on of the most pristine moral questions the French Revolution has to offer us. We could make a very persuasive argument that the Committee of Public Safety was inherently tyrannical. But since Robespierre was so entirely identified wth the Committee, he found himself between a rock-and-a-hard-place that few historians seem to have recognized. Any conceivable action he could have taken in early 1794 would have condemned him before posterity. If he allowed the mechanisms of the trial to proceed, he has identified himself with the institutional abuses of the Committee; if he opposed the actions of the Committee, he was absorbing all authority into his person and would be reigning as a tyrant.

Frankly, I am of the opinion that Robespierre did have a moral obligation to supersede the will of the majority in the case of the purges. A dictatorship (or absolute monarchy, or what have you) is not an intrinsic evil – it is the actions that are performed under such an institution. In any case, Robespierre made the most damning possible decision. He antagonized the Committee of Public Safety by seizing extraordinary powers and suspending the trial for so long and then proceeded to antagonize the Convention by finally surrendering to the will of the Committee. The Left was furious that Robespierre took so long to be convinced, the Right was furious that Robespierre was convinced.

And now for the Law of 22 Prairial. Factually speaking, everything the above said is true about it. But here’s something that it neglects to mention. There were 1,200 some executions in Paris, yes. But throughout the rest of France, with very few exceptions, the Terror had come to a halt. All convicts were now being executed in Paris, which naturally makes for a disproportionate execution rate, considering Paris had a monopoly.

And that 1,200 executions was a lower rate than the average throughout the Terror. As monstrous as Prairial was, factually speaking less people were being executed under its legislation than the average during the Terror.

Robespierre may well have been planning to do more. It is often forgotten that Robespierre had wanted to use the Prairial Law in conjunction with the Laws of Ventose. Ignoring the exaggerated Socialist aspects of Ventose for a moment: the Laws of Ventose would have established mini-Tribunals. That is, before you were sent to the Great Tribunal that would chop your head off, you would have to pass through as many as half-a-dozen littler tribunals who would decide whether or not there was enough evidence to try you in the next court up.

So, yeah, by the time you got to the Great Parisian Tribunal you wouldn’t have access to witnesses, but at the same time: you had just gone through six courts where the rules of evidence weren’t so harsh. Your odds would actually improve.
But Robespierre’s enemies were very hostile to the Laws of Ventose, for a myriad of reasons. Ventose was supposed to go into effect but it never did, and people’s heads were falling off. See why Robespierre was so furious? It was more than an economic policy for him – people were dying.

And so Prairial Law operated on its own, which was not Robespierre’s intention and he gave more than one speech criticizing the unchecked Terror.

Speeches that do not contain such catchy phrases like “Pity is treason” and so are quoted less. But for every sentence of Robespierre’s that dripped with venom I can find two that favored moderation.

“Everywhere acts of oppression and tyranny have been multiplied to extend the system of terror and calumny; impure agents were prodigal in unjust arrests, destructive projects of finance menaced every moderate fortune, and brought despair upon a countless multitude of families attached to the Revolution.”

“Peaceable, unobtrusive men, and men of no account, are tormented, patriots are every day plunged into dungeons without cause…”

“Everywhere the Terror has been put in force: peaceful citizens have been attacked; prejudices have been construed into crimes!’”

“It would be better to spare a hundred guilty people than to sacrifice one innocent.”

“Be merciful to innocence, pardon the unfortunate, show compassion for human weakness.”

“Remember that unless justice alone rules in our Republic – love of equality, love of the fatherland…there begins the arbitrary rule of officials and that the People has changed its masters without changing its final destiny.”

And this one I’ve always been fond of because it was impromptu and off the cuff. Robespierre had given a speech criticizing some Jacobins’ economic policies and the Club had immediately rose and demanded that the poor man be sanctioned. Robespierre was shocked:

“What is all this talk of the guillotine? Citizens, not everyone can understand this yet - people are trying to destroy the Revolution by excesses…When I condemned a mistake I was far from calling for the proscription of the man who had committed it. I merely wanted to point out that, for the moment, he had left the right road. Let us try not to inflate the ranks of the guilty... let us avoid bloodshed. I shall be accused of moderation but remember that we must always act in accordance with what is useful to the Revolution."

And I’m growing weary of typing and I doubt anyone even read this monster of a power in any case. But I did want to close with commentary on the allegation posted above that Robespierre shot himself: that has been heavily debated. But I always found a London hospital’s Lecturer of Forensic Medicine analysis of the contemporary report of Robespierre’s wounds enlightening:

“All the details point strongly to a homicidal as opposed to a suicidal wound. If Robespierre was right-handed the position of the wound points to a homicidal shot and is quite inconsistent with a self-inflicted injury. The direction of the wound points to a homicidal shot, its direction passing downwards rather than upwards. The position - in line with the lip - is inconsistent with a deliberate attempt at suicide, even in the case of a left-handed man. The small size of the entrance wound would favour the view that the shot was fired from a slight distance and not in immediate proximity. But the wounded man was not seen till several hours after the shooting so it is impossible to be certain on this last point.”

It should also be recalled that Barere, the Committee’s noted propagandist, was the first to spread the story of Robespierre’s attempted suicide and days after-the-fact at that, in the face of a man who insisted to the day he died that he had shot Robespierre.

Certainly not absolutely conclusive evidence but it should at least be discussed.
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Re: Robespierre

Post  Elena on Sat Feb 16, 2013 11:57 pm

Thank you for sharing your invaluable research with us! I have skimmed your post but will give it the study it requires when I have more time! Very Happy

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Re: Robespierre

Post  Bunnies on Sun Feb 17, 2013 1:53 am

Hurray! Thank you so very much!

I know I said I wouldn't bombard everyone with a 50 page thesis, but I just started typing and...5 pages isn't bad, is it? Laughing
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Re: Robespierre

Post  Bunnies on Sun Feb 17, 2013 7:47 pm

Well I guess it wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't continued:

I principally focused on Robespierre’s role in the government during the Terror in my last monster but I’ll just close on the other, more minor, inaccuracies in the above.

Robespierre was born in wedlock. The controversy was that he was born four months after his parents had tied the knot, implying that theirs was a marriage of convenience. But for all that he was not legally considered a bastard and so had all the rights and privileges of the firstborn son.

Also, he never resigned from his position as judge, and had he done so it certainly was not because he was reluctant to sign a warrant of execution. The legend comes from the memoirs of his sister, who desperately loved her brother and so wanted to flatter his memory.

This is not to say that he was not reluctant to sign, and the truth of the matter may actually be far more interesting. Charlotte was lying about his ultimate refusal but there is likely much truth in her reminiscence that Robespierre went off his food for days and paced around the house mumbling, “Of course he is guilty, of course he is a wretch, but to sentence a man to death?” as her testimony is buffered by other witnesses who also reported that Robespierre had something of a nervous breakdown.

Finally, one of the senior judges named Guffroy took Robespierre to his office and sat him down. During Robespierre’s own lifetime, when Robespierre could have objected had the story been untrue, Guffroy wrote that “the elder Robespierre will remember my firmness when we were judges together in the Salle Episcopale at Arras, and condemned a murderer to death.” He goes on to briefly reminisce about their philosophic discussions but the summary seems to be that Guffroy was able to convince Robespierre that he need not feel any guilt for signing the warrant and that he is merely doing his duty to Arras.

One wonders if Guffroy ever regretted teaching Robespierre how to steel his nerve to kill.
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Re: Robespierre

Post  Elena on Sun Feb 17, 2013 7:57 pm

This is all very fascinating stuff! Very Happy

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Re: Robespierre

Post  Bunnies on Mon Feb 18, 2013 3:00 am

I probably should have put this up earlier, but I found the quote from Charlotte Robespierre's memoirs in regards to the incident in question:


The consideration my elder brother enjoyed in Arras, made him named a member of the criminal tribunal by the bishop of this city. This prelate had the nomination of these sorts of charges. He exercised the functions which had been confided in him with exemplary equity. But it always cost him to condemn. An assassin having one day come before the tribunal of which Maximilien was a member, against him the strongest penalty needed to be pronounced, and that was death. There was no way to modify this dreadful penalty; the charges were too damning. My elder brother returned home with despair in his heart, and took no food for two days. I know well that he is guilty, he always repeated, that he is a villain, but to put a man to death!!... This thought was insupportable to him; no longer wishing to have to fight between the voice of his conscience and the cry of his heart, he resigned from his functions as judge.


As I said, Robespierre never resigned and Charlotte Robespierre is being dishonest - or at least not telling us the whole truth. Perhaps Robespierre said he would resign but he never did and as Guffroy said, he finally signed the warrant.

Hard to begrudge Charlotte for trying to flatter her big brother though. Poor woman seems to have loved him a lot.
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Re: Robespierre

Post  Bunnies on Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:44 pm

I do hate to keep bumping this thread but I received a question on my blog today that seemed to fit the Antoinette-theme of this forum and wanted to post it.

The question was:

I haven't been able to find much information regarding Robespierre and Marie Antoinette's execution. What was his role in her trial and what were his feelings about her execution?

I responded:


Your research has yielded little because there is little to yield. Robespierre’s had virtually no role in the trial of Marie Antoinette beyond a few, comparatively mild, requests for the Convention to schedule it. His feelings never grew into anything more poignant than pragmatism and he was more often disinterested, his attitude always having a tinge of apathy. He genuinely believed Antoinette to be a traitor but he rarely targeted her specifically and he never asserted himself as her lead prosecutor.

Robespierre first demanded that the queen be tried shortly after her recapture from the Flight of Varennes. He pointed out, with some justice, that it was nonsense for the Convention to punish the accomplices of the royal family who had helped them escape but not the royal family itself. His request was unheeded and Robespierre did not carry the matter further, soon absenting himself from official government work and taking a vacation to Arras. Clearly, her plight did not preoccupy him inordinately.

But that was in regards to the Flight of Varennes. He would bring up the matter once again immediately before the trial of Louis XVI when Robespierre gave a speech advocating merits of executing the king without legal formalities. He closed with a request that the queen be tried, sneaking her in the final paragraphs of his diatribe. But like before she was treated as a footnote in a larger agenda.

Once again Robespierre did not pursue the issue. Quite the opposite, there is evidence to indicate that Robespierre was aware of and approved of Danton’s attempts to ransom her off in early 1793. Whatever his opinions of her treason he was intuitive enough to realize that she had more value as a hostage than as a corpse.

For all that, he did insist that her trial would be a just result of the People’s vengeance around this time at the Jacobin Club but his context is difficult to impeach, whatever your political bias. During a session, Robespierre gave a speech criticizing the espoused economic policy of one of the other Revolutionaries. Apparently there was a tumultuous reaction, with many Jacobins interpreting Robespierre’s criticism as a denouncement of treason and subsequently demanding the poor economic bungler’s head. Robespierre responded:

“What is all this talk of the guillotine? Citizens, not everyone can understand this yet - people are trying to destroy the Revolution by excesses…When I condemned a mistake I was far from calling for the proscription of the man who had committed it. I merely wanted to point out that, for the moment, he had left the right road. Let us try not to inflate the ranks of the guilty, let us punish the tyrant’s wife [Marie Antoinette]... and afterwards let us avoid bloodshed.”

This could be interpreted as another demand for the trial but given the context it almost seems as though Robespierre is offering the riotous Jacobins a carrot and used Antoinette as a metric to measure treason in order to ensure that the less culpable always come up short. The life Robespierre saved was of no less intrinsic value than that of the queen’s and to use this instance as evidence of his singleminded determination to decapitate the queen misses the mark.

He then was elected to the Committee of Public Safety on July 27 1793. This would not be of any importance but for the fact that the queen did not lose her life until October 16. The interval is wide for a period of Revolution and it is worth wondering whether the Committee as a whole was interested in continuing Danton’s policy of ransom.

But whatever the Committee of Public Safety’s diplomatic overtures and whatever Robespierre’s private feelings the public feeling was in favor of Antoinette’s execution and the government found itself buffered with constant demands for her trial. Some of the most eloquent were by Billaud-Varennes, who promised his constituents, among other things, that he would give them Antoinette’s head. That the Committee still proved reluctant in light of the public outcry is more evidence that they were pursuing Danton’s policy but this crumpled into failure when the mob rose in September and invaded the Convention, listing the trial of Marie Antoinette among their litany of demands. Bertrand Barère, speaking on behalf of the Committee of Public Safety, promised that the trial would soon begin.

To this end Billaud-Varennes was elected to the Committee of Public Safety and he wasted little time in fulfilling his campaign promise. On October 3, Billaud proposed that an appel nominal be voted in to identify former Girondin supporters for future vengeance. Robespierre raised an objection and managed to have the proposal tabled. One of Billaud’s political adherents, Amar of the Committee of Genera Security, wanted to name over 70 Girondin deputies who had protested against the purge, but once again Robespierre objected and in this respect saved their lives.

It was then after two consecutive defeats that Billaud induced the Assembly to vote for the immediate trial of Marie Antoinette. This time Robespierre raised no objection.

And here Robespierre’s aloof role becomes nonexistent. The trial fell into the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Tribunal and the mechanisms of the Terror operated without him.

But there is some evidence to show how Robespierre felt about how the trial. Admittedly, the source for this comes from the memoirs of a man named Vilate who is not always reliable, but the scene has a ring of truth to it. The night after the trial of the queen was finished, Vilate was invited to dine with three members of the Committee of Public Safety: Robespierre, Barère, and Saint Just. Over dinner Vilate was asked to relate details of the queen’s trial.

That he had to be asked indicates that the members of the Committee were not following the trial very carefully. Had they had a particular interest beyond the conversational it would have been a simple matter to have the court's minutes reported to them throughout the day. As it was the question was of informal curiosity.

Vilate did as he was bid but when he mentioned the charge of child molestation and Marie Antoinette’s dignified reply Robespierre snapped: “That idiot Hébert! It is not enough that she really is a Messalina, he has to make her an Agrippa too and to give her this triumph of public interest at her last moment!”

Robespierre criticized Hébert’s attack on the mother but apparently had no quarrel with the attacks on the queen. Robespierre feared Hébert’s groundless charges would incite the public to sympathize with the queen it had so wanted to kill – and perhaps encourage the public to blame the Committee of Public Safety, the Committee it itself had induced to begin the trial! In this respect, Robespierre’s political insight proved accurate.

All in all, it seems that Robespierre never had any emotional investment in the death of Marie Antoinette. He had denounced her for political reasons. When Danton tried to ransom her, Robespierre turned a blind eye for practical reasons. When the Committee proved reluctant Robespierre toed their party line. And when the people rose and Billaud demanded her head, Robespierre cut his losses and permitted the Tribunal to take its course.
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Re: Robespierre

Post  Bunnies on Mon Apr 01, 2013 1:37 pm

Oh, look. Bunnies is bumping that Robespierre thread again, surprise surprise.

I was speaking with a friend of mine and were looking at different prints and when we got to this one:

And we noted how it was inaccurate insofar as the artist did not include Robespierre's wounds and that Robespierre is also portrayed as struggling, which is something he simply did not have the strength to do. From there we somehow snowballed into the Robespierre-Totally-Got-Beheaded-Face-Up-Myth. I reiterated much of what I posted above, but my friend added his own theory which, although tingled with the fellow's Jacobin bias, might have a grain of truth in it.

Anyway, my friend actually did his Master's Thesis on the Legends of Robespierre, so I figured what he said might have some value. Basically, like me he was unable to trace the source of the legend, and notably could not find a single French account addressing the idea. That said, he suspects that exaggerating Robespierre's suffering is a narrative mechanism to add more horror and “justice” (as in, Ancien regime justice) to his death because many believe Robespierre, comparatively speaking, beat the rap. And it is true that the accounts of his death get progressively more gruesome as time goes on, even ignoring the advent of novelized accounts.

What his theory ignores, I think, is how the legend also attaches itself to Marie Antoinette, whose suffering does not, according to Ancien Regime sympathizers, need to be magnified in order to give it an aura of justice. Unless this is just the inversion of the Robespierre Legend - whereas Robespierre's agony is exaggerated in order to argue that the tyrant paid for his crimes, Marie Antoinette's are exaggerated in order to underscore the depravity of the Republican Regime. Robespierre's suffering are "good" because he's a bad guy, therefore giving the subsequent regime legitimacy, and Marie Antoinette's sufferings are "bad" because she's a good guy, therefore illegitimizing the Jacobin government.

Or or or!! We were overthinking the matter, and the legends grew, not out of any subconscious or conscious desire to sway public opinion, but out of humanity's tried-and-true habit of exaggerating to make a story seem more interesting.
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Re: Robespierre

Post  Bunnies on Sat Jan 04, 2014 11:30 pm

Oh, golly lolly! Lookit what this http://cidre-de-glace.tumblr.com/post/72028702000/maximillian-roberspierre-september-1st-1794]lovely tumblr user recently shared:



I do so love the commentary scribbled into books by our forebears. It's as though they're leaning forward through the centuries to grumble their opinion into our ear. It's not a published thesis, not a political pamphlet, just an offhand notation in a book. In this case it looks like it reads This cursed villain murdered thousands of his countrymen at the French Revolution. Thank God he was beheaded so justly for his iniquitous cruelties.
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Re: Robespierre

Post  Elena on Sat Jan 04, 2014 11:39 pm

Fascinating! Thank you for all of your contributions! Very Happy 

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