September Massacres and French Fashions

Death of Princesse de Lamballe during September Massacres, by Leon Maxime Faivre, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Death of Princesse de Lamballe, by Leon Maxime Faivre, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Between the 2nd and 7th of September of 1792, a slew of massacres took place in Paris that became known as the September Massacres. The massacres were caused by exaggerated fears that foreign and royalist armies were posed to attack Parisians and France. Parisians also thought inmates in local jails would join the foreign and royalists armies and that all Parisians would be slaughtered.

The September Massacres began on 2 September when twenty-four non-juring priests were being transported to the prison of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A mob attacked them as they attempted to enter the prison. The attack was described in a dispatch from the English Ambassador as a “barbarity too shocking to describe.” The frenzy spread. More priests were executed later that afternoon — primarily by sans-culottes — and over the next two days mobs breached Paris prisons and demanded blood.

The English Ambassador’s same dispatch also claimed that “four thousand” people had been massacred. His numbers were grossly overestimated, and while the number of dead is still shocking, in actuality, estimates now show the number was closer to 1,400 people condemned and executed by the Parisian tribunal. Moreover, among the dead where several hundred priests, a hundred Swiss guardsmen, and Marie Antoinette’s friend, the Princesse de Lamballe.

In response to these massacres, one English newspaper published an article titled “French Fashions.” Here it is verbatim:

Idealized Version of the Sans-culotte by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761–1845), Courtesy of Wikipedia

Idealized Version of the Sans-culotte by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761–1845), Courtesy of Wikipedia

THE MEN

The hair dishevelled and dirty, ornamented with a THRUM-CAP, tied round with a RED GARTER OF WORSTED. The garments for the most part, spotted with a mixture, called the blood of their countrymen—SANS CULOTTES.

THE LADIES

Their hair A LA BELLONA.—Gowns half torn off,—owing, we suppose, to their frequent engagements; short petticoats, and sagged half boots, a dagger on one side, and musket on the other. The lower class of women have spits, which, it is said, they wield with uncommon dexterity.

CURTESIES are entirely out of fashion, the French Ladies holding it to be against the new system of LEVELLING, for any one to kneel to another; the common way of salutation is, therefore, either by a fist clenched, or a kiss,—as love or hatred may inspire.

FIRST CLASS

A good coat, a waistcoat, a pair of breeches, a shirt, a pair of stockings, a pair of shoes, a powdered head, a cockaded hat, murder in their looks, an assassin’s dagger in their pockets. The men without a principle of honour, honesty or virtue: The women divested of charity, tenderness, and humanity.

SECOND CLASS

A tattered coat, ragged waistcoat, broken breeches, sleeves without a body, long ruffles, dirty stockings, high cocked hat, worsted cockade; the sallow tinge of horror in their looks, and the internal agents of remorseless cruelty in their bosoms.

THIRD CLASS

SANS COAT, SANS VESTE, SANS CULOTTE, the instruments of fortune in their hands, hell in their countenances, and blood and massacre in their ideas. The men worse than beasts of prey—the women more savage than the tygresses of the forest.

References:

  • Browning, Oscar, etal., The Despatches of Earl Gower, English Ambassador at Paris from June 1790 to August 1792, 1885
  • French Fashions, in Kentish Gazette, 2 October 1792

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