A Marseilles Lawyer: His Escape During the Reign of Terror

During the Reign of Terror, a period during the French Revolution that lasted from 1793 to 1794, Marseilles* was a highly patriotic city filled with revolutionaries. These revolutionaries were so patriotic they began to sing a catchy tune on Marseilles street corners and when they marched into Paris, they sang it there too. This catchy tune soon caught on, and as revolutionaries fought against tyranny and foreign invasion, the song, known as La Marseillaise, was adopted and became the French Republic’s national anthem on 14 July 1795.

Marseilles lawyer - La Marseillaise in 1792, Courtesy of Wikipedia

La Marseillaise in 1792. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Besides La Marseillaise and the city’s reputation for revolutionary fervor, Marseilles also became known for being a place where thousands of ordinary citizens perished after they were accused of being unpatriotic: “political feeling was made a cloak of every deed of public violence and even private revenge.”[1] Everyday citizens throughout France sometimes found their names on anti-patriotic lists or people were accused of traitorous deeds like Eliza de Feuillide‘s husband or Jean-Marie Roland and his wife, Madame Roland.

Maraseilles lawyer - Rouget de Lisle, Composer of La Marseillaise,

Rouget de Lisle, Composer of La Marseillaise, Singing the Song. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One innocent Marseilles lawyer (avocat) was thought to be a traitor and accused of having betrayed the revolution. He was then sought out by a group of revolutionaries, but when they arrived at his doorstep and questioned his wife as to his whereabouts, she told them that he had been absent for several days and that she did not know where he had gone. The revolutionaries insisted on searching the house and, despite a thorough search, found not a single trace of him. For that reason, they left in search of other unpatriotic souls whose names were written on their list.

Shortly after the revolutionaries departed from the lawyer’s house, one of them returned. He found the lawyer’s front door open and without hesitation stepped inside. He then hastened up the stairs and began knocking on a wainscot panel demanding fiercely, “Open, open quickly.”

As the panel opened a double-barreled pistol was discharged and then the lawyer, who had been hiding inside, emerged. To the lawyer’s surprise he found the visitor to be no revolutionary, and, fortunately, for the visitor, he found he had not been shot and cried out, “I come to save you, and you would kill me.”[2] The gun’s discharge also brought the lawyer’s wife, and the visitor said to her, “Hear me madam … I have associated myself with those men who were recently here, only that I may save my fellow-citizens.”[3]

French Flintlock Pistol Circa 1790-1795, Courtesy of Wikipedia

French Flintlock Pistol Circa 1790-1795. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Apparently, during the search, the visitor had noticed the wife trembling when the revolutionaries passed the wainscoting. He then deduced that her husband was hiding behind the wall. The visitor now told the wife that her husband would never be safe “in this house, or even in the town,”[4] and he related he wanted help the lawyer escape and had a plan.

Later that night, after dark, the visitor put his plan into action. The visitor spirited the Marseilles lawyer out his house and took him to his house where the lawyer remained hidden for several days. In the meantime, the visitor arranged to consign the Marseilles lawyer to a Genoese vessel. With everything readied, the lawyer was taken to the Port of Marseilles where he board the ship and sailed away, far out of reach of the revolutionaries and their guillotine.

 Marseilles lawyer - Port de Marseilles

Intérieur du Port de Marseille, by Joseph Vernet (1754). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

*Spelled Marseille by the French.


  • [1] Macaulay, James, Strange Yet True, 1892, p. 91.
  • [2] Ibid., p. 95.
  • [3] Watts, Joshua, Remarkable Events in the History of Man, 1825, p. 22.
  • [4] Ibid.

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  1. Gloria Robards on August 17, 2016 at 6:21 am

    Bad men love using mob mentality to their advantage. This has happened many times through history. So sad.

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