During the French Revolution, between 5 September 1793 and 28 July 1794, a period known as The Terror, it has been estimated that at least 40,000 people were executed, although official records cite 16,594 deaths. Those sentenced to be executed were usually guillotined the following morning after their trial. As was customary, the condemned were tied together, in sets of two, by the hands with a cord, and accompanied by a guard to the site where they were guillotined. Continue reading
Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman born in Dublin. He is remembered for his support of American revolutionaries and his objections to the French Revolution. In 1790, he wrote the pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France, And on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event. In a Letter Intended to Have Been Sent to a Gentleman in Paris. Some of his quotes from that pamphlet follow:
ABILITY: “Men who undertake considerable things, even in a regular way, ought to give us ground to presume ability.”
ANTAGONISM: “He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.” Continue reading
After the royal family was imprisoned in the Temple, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette worried about their fate and worried that the Dauphin (Louis-Charles) might be taken from them. Louis-Charles was born 27 March 1785 at Versailles and was the second son of the King and Queen, but he became the Dauphin after his older brother died of tuberculosis. Louis-Charles was described by one historian as having large blue eyes, a mouth “like his mother’s, and … her bright colour of hair and skin.” He was said to be delicate in frame and excitable in temperament. He was also described in the following way
“[Louis-Charles was] courteous and affectionate, but impatient of control. His mother’s intelligent devotion earned from him, baby as he was, a love and respect which never failed to influence him.”
To ensure that Louis-Charles would not be taken, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette refused to let him be separated from them or go outdoors, even for a walk. Thus, his days at the Temple became routine and involved his father teaching him writing, history, mathematics, geography, and spelling until the Commune one day declared that the Dauphin could no longer study mathematics. It seems they thought that “this was a hieroglyphic language which might be used for correspondence in cipher.” Continue reading
After Marie Antoinette was imprisoned, Royalists and friends were always on the lookout hoping to free the imprisoned Queen. Although there were many plots to save the Queen, some appear to be more legend than fact. One plot that seems to be more legend than fact is a plot by Lady Charlotte Walpole Atkyns, who is supposedly related to Britain’s famous Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.
The story goes that Atkyns had a short-lived career as an actress on the London stage at the Drury Lane Theatre. Her career lasted for two years, beginning in 1777 and ending in 1779, and it ended because Sir Edward Atkyns, of Ketteringham Hall, Norfolk fell in love with her and married her in June of 1779. Unfortunately, Atkyns was not accepted by Norfolk society and as her husband was suffering under heavy debts, the couple decided to move to France. Continue reading
Born in 1774 in Paris, Cécile-Aimée Renault arrived at the foot of the guillotine on 17 June 1794 in what is now the Place de la Nation. It all began one day when the 20-year-old seamstress presented herself at the home of the Duplay family, where Maximilien Robespierre was temporarily staying. She asked to speak to him, and as she was young and appeared harmless, she was ushered into his anti-chamber. She waited for a long time and was eventually told that he was unavailable and that she should leave. She replied:
“A public man … ought to receive at all times, those who have occasion to approach him.”
Because Renault would not leave and because she became insistent that she needed to see Robespierre, a guard was called. He conducted a search and supposedly discovered she was carrying two small knives. Although the knives were hardly large enough to kill anyone, it was decided she had intended to murder Robespierre and was taken before the Committee of Public Safety where she was asked to explain herself. Eventually, the committee learned her name and that she was the one of seven children and the daughter of a paper maker, who was a royalist supporter. Continue reading
Grace Dalrymple Elliott was considered a great beauty in her times, but a bad omen accompanied her birth in 1754. She had been educated in France at a convent, returned to Scotland, and met and married Sir John Elliot,* a respected physician. Yet, despite being married, she fell in love with a Lord Valentia, whom she ran away with in 1774. Elliot was bitter over the affair and divorced her. Soon after her divorce, Grace found herself back in France at the convent, but convent life was not for her, and after a short stay, she returned to England.
It was around this time that the Prince of Wales saw a miniature of Grace. The miniature so enamored the Prince that when Grace arrived in England, he met her. He found to his delight a warm-hearted, well-mannered, and fascinating young woman. His interest in her also resulted in them having an affair and a daughter, who was born on 30 March 1782 and baptized at St. Marylebone as Georgiana Augusta Frederica Seymour.
Reine Audu, a heroine of the French Revolution, was born Louise-Renée Leduc. She became a French fruit seller in Paris and first gained recognition in October of 1789, when she and others led the Women’s March on Versailles. The marchers were upset about the constant threat of famine and the high prices and scarcity of bread.
What started as a demand for bread soon took on a much more ambitious goal. Marchers decided they wanted several things: First, they wanted an assurance that bread would once again be plentiful and cheap; and, second, they wanted to replace the King’s guards with National Guardsmen, a group loyal to middle-class interests and under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette. Additionally, the marchers wanted Louis XVI and his court to reside in Paris so that the King would be nearer to the people. Continue reading
Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793. Three weeks after his execution, a revolutionary journal called Thermomètre du jour published an inaccurate account claiming the King was led to the scaffold with a pistol to his temple, the guillotine struck his neck instead of his head, and the King died without courage. Because the newspaper story was so inaccurate, the executioner’s account of Louis XVI’s execution was published.
Louis XVI’s executioner was Charles-Henri Sanson. Sanson’s reply to the editor of the Thermomètre du jour provided what Sanson called an “accurate” description of what happened. Sanson dated his account 20 February 1793, and here is that account almost verbatim. Continue reading
In 1793, during the Reign of Terror, Jean-Baptiste Carrier, a member of the Revolutionary Tribunal, was sent to Nantes to suppress a revolt by anti-revolutionaries. Later, in his capacity as the représentant en mission, Carrier set up what was called the “Legion of Marat.” The Legion of Marat was composed of soldiers who received “ten livres a day.” Their job was to watch the inhabitants of Nantes and give mandates of arrest against persons they suspected of being disloyal to the revolution. Moreover, the soldiers could search any suspect’s house and request doors be broken down if inhabitants did not willing open them. Continue reading
Located in a department in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west-central France is the region called Vendée. It was in Vendée in 1793 that a peasant revolt occurred. Those revolting formed an army, which became known as the Royalists. The Royalists opposed the Republicans and saw those revolting as counter-revolutionaries. Because the Republicans disliked anyone who held royalist sentiments, they gathered an army to put down the revolt and that army became known as the “Bleues.” Continue reading