The French Revolution was a tumultuous ten-year period from 1789 to 1799 that had far-reaching social and political affects. During this time, there were many social and political groups at odds because of conflicting wants and needs. Exacerbating the situation was financial issues, frequent famines, and Enlightenment ideals. Because of the upheaval many deaths occurred: some were ordered by the Revolutionary Tribunal, some occurred during revolts, and others were assassinations. The story of these tumultuous times can be told in the words of those who died.
Here are their words:
I am cold.
These were the dying words of Louis-Michel le Peletier, marquis de Saint-Fargeau. He was a member of the National Convention and cast one of the deciding votes in favor of Louis XVI’s execution. Because of his vote, a member of the King’s Garde du Corps assassinated him the evening before Louis XVI’s execution, on 20 January 1793, while the marquis was dining at a restaurant in the Palais Royal.
Je meurs innocent de tous les crimes qu’on m’impute. Je pardonne aux auteurs de ma mort, et je prie Dieu que le sang que vous allez répandre ne retombe jamais su la France …
I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge. I forgive the authors of my death, and I pray God that the blood which you are about to shed may never fall on France….
These were the last words heard by the crowd before Louis XVI was guillotined.
Puisse mon sang cimenter votre bonheur!
May my blood cement your happiness!
These were supposedly Louis XVI last words on 21 January 1793. However, they were unheard by the crowd as they were drowned out by beating drums.
Grâce aux, prisonniers, Bonchamps l’ordonne!
Pardon for the prisoners, Bonchamps commands it!
The Vendean insurrection pitted royalist supporters against republicans, who favored the revolution. At the bloody Battle of Cholet on 18 October 1793, the royalist supporter Charles-Melchior Arthus, marquis de Bonchamps, was wounded. He is credited with saying these dying words, which referred to the republican prisoners (about 5,000 of them) who were to be killed.
Plûtot la mort que l’esclavage, C’est la devise des Français.
Rather death than slavery, is the motto of the French.
Jacques Pierre Brissot was an influential leader of the Girondists movement. He and 21 other Girondists sang this refrain at the foot of the scaffolding on 31 October 31 1793 before they were executed.
They applauded me!
Attributed to Louis Philippe Joseph, Duke of Orléans (later known as Citoyen Philippe Égalité). He is said to have said these on his way to the guillotine on 6 November 1793 in reference to his loss of popularity among the French people.
O Liberté! O Liberté! que de crimes on comment en ton nom.
O Liberty! O Liberty! what crimes are committed in thy name.
Marie-Jeanne Phlippon Roland, simply known as Madame Roland, was a supporter of the French Revolution and influential member of the Girondist faction. However, she fell out of favor during the Reign of Terror, and these words are claimed to have been uttered by her when she passed a statue of Liberty on the way to her execution.
Ah! liberté, comme on t’a jouée!
Ah! liberty, how they have cheated thee!
Madame Roland was guillotined on 8 November 1793 and these are considered to be her last words.
Tu trembles, Bailly? — J’ai froid.
Thou tremblest, Bailly? — I am cold.
Jean Sylvain Bailly was the mayor of Paris from 1789 to 1791. He was ultimately guillotined during the Reign of Terror, and supposedly as he mounted the scaffold on 12 November 1793 someone cried out, “Thou tremblest, Bailly,” and a stoic Bailly replied, “I am cold.”
Voilà donc le prix tout de ce que j’ai fait pour la liberté.
This then is the price of what I have done for liberty.
Although sometimes erroneously attributed to Camille Desmoulins, this was said by the French politician, Antoine Barnave. He corresponded with Marie Antoinette in an attempt to set up a constitutional monarchy, and his sympathies for the royal family and his desire to stop the revolutionary violence, brought him under suspicion with revolutionaries. After papers were found at Palais des Tuileries that showed Barnave’s extensive clandestine correspondence with the Queen, he was condemned and guillotined. He is alleged to have said this on 18 November 1793 while standing on the scaffold.
Mon ami, veux-tu bien permettre que je finisse ma dernière douzaine d’huitres?
My friend will you let me finish my last dozen oysters?
Once a great friend to Marie Antoinette, Armand Louis de Gontaut, Duke of Biron, was convicted of incivisme (lack of civic virtue). When the executioner came and told him everything was ready for his execution, these were his last words to him.
J’ai été infidèle à mon Dieu, à mon Ordre, et à mon Roi; je meurs plein de foi et de repentir.
I have been unfaithful to God, to my Order, to my King; I die full of faith and repentance.
As the cart neared the guillotine, the Duke of Biron, is claimed to have said these words on 31 December 1793.
Tu montreras ma tête au peuple; elle en vaut le peine.
Thou wilt show my head to the people; it is worth the trouble.
Georges Jacques Danton was a leading figure in the early stages of the French Revolution. However, like others he found himself in trouble and was accused of various financial misdeeds, as well as using his position within the Revolution for personal gain. This was his request on 5 April 1794 to the executioner before his death.
Oh! Oh! voilà qui s’appelle un mauvais présage. Un Romain à ma place serait rentré.
Oh! Oh! that’s what is called a bad omen. A Roman in my place would have gone in again.
These words were reputedly said by Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, often referred to as Malesherbes. He supposedly said this on 24 April 1794 when he stumbled as he was leaving the Conciergerie prison to mount the fatal cart for the guillotine.
Je me nomme Élisabeth de France sœur du roi.
My name is Elisabeth of France, sister of the king.
These are the last words spoken by Madame Élisabeth on 10 May 1794 before her execution.
Pourtant, j’avais quelque chose là!
Yet I had something there!
These words were uttered by the poet André Marie Chénier as he stood on the scaffold on 25 July 1794. He said them to his friend, the poet Jean-Antoine Roucher, who was also guillotined the same day. Both men were accused and convicted of “crimes against the state.”
Général, pourquoi versez-vous des larmes? Je suis heureux de mourir pour mon pays.
General, why do you shed tears? I am happy to die for my country.
These were the dying words of 27-year-old François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers, better known as General Marceau. He was a French general in the Revolutionary Wars and said this on 9 September 1796 to General Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, whose retreat he had protected during the Battle of Limburg.
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