There are many people buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. However, this post provides a list of fifteen famous people buried there that made a mark on French history in the 1700 or 1800s. Among them are Peter Abelard, Hubertine Auclert, Paul Barras, Sophie Blanchard, Sophie de Condorcet, Benjamin Constant, George Cuvier, Jacques-Louis David, Stéphanie Félicité (comtesse de Genlis), Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, Gérard de Nerval, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, Jean-Lambert Tallien, François-Joseph Talma, and Marie Walewska.
Peter Abelard’s story is one of the most famous and tragic love stories of all times. He was a French medieval scholastic philosopher and theologian who fell in love with Heloise d’Argenteuil. They eventually had an affair and she became pregnant. Because she was unmarried Heloise’s uncle sent her away to protect her and supposedly arranged a secret marriage between Peter and her. However, it was ruse as the uncle wanted to keep his niece for himself.
Peter and Heloise soon discovered the ruse and she then escaped to a convent. Unfortunately, Peter was attacked by her uncle and castrated. Peter then became a monk and encouraged Heloise to become a nun, which involved her giving up their child for adoption. The two lovers then corresponded for years until they had a chance encounter, temporarily reunited, and promised to stay true to one another forever.
After their deaths, their love letters were discovered, and their story was popularized. It also resulted in them being reunited in death because her remains were placed in his coffin. Years later, Josephine de Beauharnais heard their story and told her husband, Napoleon Bonaparte. That prompted him to order Peter and Heloise to be entombed together at the famous Père Lachaise cemetery in 1817, which today is their greatest and most popular attraction.
Besides Peter and Heloise being buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery, another famous person buried there is Hubertine Auclert. She was a well-known French feminist of the Victorian Era who was born in April of 1848. She originally planned to be a nun but became caught up in feminism activism after the Third Republic was established. She also began publishing a feminist newspaper titled La Citoyenne that championed a variety of causes affecting women and she lobbied for changes to the Napoleonic Code.
Auclert was always on the lookout to forward female equality, and one controversy that involved her involved the guillotine. It had long been a French policy not to inflict capital punishment on women, and French suffragists began to demand that women be allowed the right to be guillotined when sentenced to death. Auclert supported this stance and wrote, “Both sexes must be equal before the ballot box — and before the guillotine.”
Another person who make a mark on French history and is buried at Père Lachasie Cemetery is Paul François Jean Nicolas, vicomte de Barras, commonly known as Paul Barras. He was a politician during the French Revolution and the main executive leader of the Directory regime of 1795–1799. He was also likely the person who introduced Josephine to Napoleon. In addition, Barras is a controversial character. He allegedly took dozens of mistresses and dozens of male lovers, with the latter often of dubious social standing. His administration was also exceedingly corrupt, an allegation at the time that was extraordinary even in France. However, it was not his corrupt administration but rather his reputed immorality in public and private life that people cite as the major contributor to the downfall of the Directory and the creation of the Consulate.
One person who was not controversial but is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery is the famous French aeronaut Sophie Blanchard. She was the wife of ballooning pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard. Although Blanchard was not the first woman balloonist nor the first woman to ascend in an untethered balloon, she was the first to fly a balloon solo and she conducted experiments with parachutes.
After she became a balloonist as part of her entertainment, she launched spectacular fireworks and dropped baskets of pyrotechnics attached to small parachutes. This helped her became a favorite of Napoleon and he appointed her to replaced André-Jacques Garnerin in 1804 after Garnerin disgraced himself by failing to control his balloon at the Emperor’s coronation in Paris. In addition, Blanchard was well-known throughout Europe and drew large crowds whenever she performed.
Her last flight happened on 6 July 1819 at Tivoli Gardens in Paris. She had been warned about using fireworks in her performance but on this night despite warnings she still decided to use them. Things went wrong when her balloon suddenly appeared from behind some clouds and was on fire. Blanchard descended rapidly but the balloon was caught by the wind and struck a house. She was thrown overboard and trapped in the netting so that when it crashed to the street, she was killed instantly.
Another famous Sophie who is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery is Sophie de Condorcet. She was a salon hostess, like Madame Récamier. Sophie de Condorcet was also a prominent and charming Parisian who maintained her own identity and remained influential before, during, and after the French Revolution. She married a famous mathematician and social philosopher named Marie-Jean Antoine Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet.
The couple embraced an active political life until the Marquis de Condorcet opposed the execution of King Louis XVI and then criticized the Montagnard’s Constitution. Opponents branded him a traitor and he was forced to go into hiding. He then encouraged his wife to divorce him and once she complied with his wishes, he came out of hiding, was arrested, and put in prison. Unfortunately, he was found dead a few days later and his wife began to publish his works to keep his memory alive.
Benjamin Constant was a Swiss French political activist and writer on political theory and religion. He became enamored by Madame de Staël, a woman a year older than himself. He fell madly in love with her and was also greatly influenced and encouraged by her to pursue writing. They had a passionate and volatile relationship that ended badly after she asked him to repay what he owed her because of his uncontrollable gambling habit.
Like Madame de Staël, Constant attacked Napoleon and his ideas. In Constant’s case he thought Napoleon was illiberal and believed that if liberty were to be salvaged from the aftermath of the French Revolution, then the chimera of Ancient Liberty had to be reconciled with the practical to achieve Modern Liberty. As a member of the Council of State, Constant also proposed a constitutional monarchy and during the Hundred Days of Napoleon, who had become more liberal by that time, Constant was invited to the Tuileries to set up changes for the Charter of 1815. However, although Constant may have been political, he is perhaps better known for his novels that include the autobiographical Adolphe, about a younger man in love with an older woman.
Constant began to suffer from increasing infirmity as he aged but when he died on 8 December 1830 it was unexpected. He was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery and afterwards the Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent published information from a French newspaper, the Journal des Debats, that stated of him:
“The Chamber and the French nation will lose in him an orator, an eloquent defender of constitution principles, a writer who added to a powerful display of sound logic, the ornament of an enlivened, striking, and original style. It is not six days since his voice was heard in the Legislative Assembly, where the news of his death excites, even now, feelings of the most painful regret, and which must be shared by every friend of public liberty, no matter what nation gave him birth.”
Georges Cuvier was also buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. He made a mark on history becoming known as the father of paleontology because of his devotion and work as a naturalist and zoologist. Cuvier’s work is considered the foundation of vertebrate paleontology, and he expanded Linnaean taxonomy by grouping classes into phyla and incorporating both fossils and living species into the classification.
Despite his work in paleontology, he opposed the idea of evolution and did not support the idea of gradual transmutation. That was partly because he found that nearly all the animal fossils, he examined were remains of species that had become extinct. In addition, he studied articles brought back from Napoleon’s expedition and determined they were no different from their living counterparts, which furthered his belief that fossils did not evolve over time. Cuvier was so well-respect and so critical of gradual transmutation of species, he discouraged naturalists from speculating on it until Charles Darwin came onto the scene and published On the Origin of Species in 1859.
Another person who greatly affected French history is Jacques-Louis David and although his body is not buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery people claimed that his heart is as it was interred with his wife after her death. David was a French painter in the Neoclassical style whose brand of painting in the 1780s helped move people away from Rococo frivolity. Because of him people began to embrace classical austerity, severity, and heightened feelings that harmonized with the moral climate of the final years of the Ancien Régime.
David became an active supporter of the French Revolution and a friend to the Maximilien Robespierre, who is perhaps best known for his role during the Reign of Terror when he oversaw the arrest and execution of numerous political opponents and those who opposed the Revolution. David had great influence under the French Republic and effectively became a dictator of the arts. However, when Robespierre fell from power, David wasted no time in aligning himself with Napoleon. Under the First Consul of France David then developed his Empire style, which is notable for its use of warm Venetian colors. When Napoleon fell from power and the Bourbon revival took place, David went into exile in Brussels and then moved to the Netherlands, where he died. However, during his lifetime, he strongly influenced French art partly because he taught numerous students, which thus influenced French art into the early nineteenth century.
David’s died on 29 December 1825 after he left a theatre and was struck by a carriage. He was severely injured and never recovered. After his death, some of his works were auctioned off but sold for little money. His corpse was also not allowed to be returned to France because he had been part of the regicide of King Louis XVI and therefore his corpse was buried in Brussels and moved in 1882 to the Brussels Cemetery.
Another person buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery is Caroline-Stéphanie Félicité, better known as Madame de Genlis. Her relative, Madame de Montesson, married the Duke d’Orléans in 1773 and with her support Madame de Genlis became a lady-in-waiting to the wife of her stepson Louis Philippe, known at the time as the Duke of Chartres. He was married to the Princesse de Lamballe’s sister-in-law, Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon.
Once employed by the Duchess of Chartres, Madame de Genlis began an affair with Louis Philippe that resulted in rumors that he fathered one of her two ‘adopted’ daughters, although today that is not believed to be true. Although their affair was short-lived, the Duke liked Madame de Genlis’ educational ideas and appointed her governor over his sons, one of whom went on to become Louis Philippe I, King of the French. As Madame de Genlis was uncompromising in how she wanted to educate the boys, it quickly resulted in the resignation of their existing tutors and rumors swirled that she was having an affair with the Duke.
Madame de Genlis besides being a creative educator also wrote books and theorized about educating children. She also suggested innovative educational methods, such as using flash cards, visiting historical sites, and embracing various teaching aids. In addition, she wrote numerous works for children that presented many of Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s methods but attacked his principles. She also emphasized mothers as powerful educating heroines and many women embraced her educational and social philosophies. Moreover, Jane Austen was familiar with her novels and Austen’s nieces, Anna and Caroline, drew inspiration from them.
Another interesting person buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery is Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. You may think he invented the guillotine, but he did not. The actual inventor was a man named Tobias Schmidt, who worked with the king’s physician, Antoine Louis, to create it. Interestingly, Guillotin, who was a French physician, politician, and freemason, did not believe in the death penalty, but nonetheless, when he was pressed, he decided that the best form of humane capital punishment was a decapitation machine.
Guillotin therefore proposed on 10 October 1789 the use of such a device. A few months later, on 1 December 1789, he addressed the Assembly where a debate was taking place about capital punishment. He spoke about such punishment and then remarked, “Now, with my machine, I cut off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it!” His remark quickly turned into a joke. A few days after the debate a comic song about Guillotin and “his” machine began to circulate and before long it was called the guillotine. He thus became the person forever tied to the decapitation machine.
Gérard de Nerval is another famous Frenchman buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. He was a major figure in French romanticism and is best known for his novellas and poems. He also played a large role in introducing French readers to the works of German Romantic authors that included Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Gottfried August Bürger. His later works merged poetry and journalism in a fictional context and influenced Marcel Proust.
He suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of thirty-three and continued to suffer from intermittent bouts of insanity, at points being hospitalized. Despite his mental issues, his peers thought of him as un fol délicieux (a delightful madman), partly because he readily talked and wrote about his mental instability. He was also fixated by dreams, transcendent emotions, and romantic misfortune. He committed suicide on 26 January 1855 and was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery at the expense of his friends because he was destitute.
Antoine-Augustin Parmentier is the man who made potatoes famous in France. Unlike Russians who were willing to eat potatoes, Frenchmen considered them hog feed, and, in fact, in 1748, the French Parlement forbade people from cultivating them because they thought potatoes caused leprosy. When Parmentier returned to France in 1763, he decided the potato had great nutritional value and began to consider how he might overcome the prejudices of the French public against the humble potato.
He made advances with the potato’s popularity, but it still was not that popular in France until Napoleon came onto the scene. The Emperor wanted the Republic to be self-sufficient and he saw the potato as one way to achieve such a desire. It also resulted in him embracing Parmentier’s ideas that encouraged the raising and eating of potatoes.
On 13 Dec ember 1813, about the time the potato began to take off in France, Parmentier died. He was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in a plot ringed by potato plants. He also received many accolades for his contribution to the French people, and, in the 1870s, many potato dishes were named in honor of him. Some of these dishes include crème Parmentier, hachis Parmentier, brandade de morue parmentier, pommes or garniture Parmentier, purée Parmentier, and salade Parmentier.
Jean-Lambert Tallien was a French political figure of the revolutionary period who made a mark on history and who after his death from leprosy on 16 November 1820 was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tallien initially supported the revolution but came to oppose Robespierre after he showed his readiness to strike at some of his colleagues. This included Tallien who then took the lead in a movement that became known as the Thermidorian Reaction that resulted in the ouster and execution of Robespierre and his friends.
Another famous person whose buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery is François-Joseph Talma. He was considered one of the greatest tragedian actors of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. In addition, Napoleon considered him his favorite actor. Besides being a great actor Talma had a way with woman as it was reported that Napoleon’s sister Pauline was greatly attracted to him and that her attraction for him lasted some time until she fell for another man.
When Talma died on 19 October 1826, French newspapers declared they had lost one of their greatest actors of all times. Even Englishmen were distraught by his death and mourned him. In fact, English newspapers compared him to their “careful and finished” actor, John Kemble, by stating that Talma was to the French what Kemble was to English theatregoers.
Marie Walewska may not be French, but she became connected to the French because of Napoleon. She was his mistress and had a son with him whom she named Count Alexandre Joseph Colonna-Walewski. She made her mark on history because she is the person credited with pressing Napoleon to make important pro-Polish decisions during the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1816, Walewska married her longtime admirer and lover, Count Philippe Antoine d’Ornano and they settled in Liege. She gave birth to the Count’s son a year later but then died shortly afterwards from a prolonged kidney illness. Her husband had her heart buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery where it was placed in his family’s tomb and her other remains, he returned to her native Poland.
-  Belfast News-Letter, “A Remarkable Controversy,” August 4, 1913, p. 11.
-  Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent, “Death of M. Benjamin Constant, of the French Chamber of Deputies,” December 16, 1830, p. 4.
-  Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: William and Robert Chambers, 1844), accessed April 29, 2020, p. 219.