Maximilien de Robespierre

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Maximilien Robespierre (anonymous portrait, around 1793 , Musée Carnavalet )
Signature maximilien robespierre.png

Maximilien de Robespierre ([ maksimiˈljɛ̃ də ʀɔbɛsˈpjɛːʀ ]; * May 6, 1758 in Arras ; † July 28, 1794 in Paris ; baptized Maximilien-François-Marie-Isidore ), often just Maximilien Robespierre , also known as "the incorruptible", was a French lawyer, revolutionary and leading politician of the Jacobins . He had an impact on the first phase of the French Revolution from 1789 and gained an increasingly formative influence on its development until shortly before his execution in 1794.

After the beginning of the First Coalition War he was at the domestic political level of the first French Republic, proclaimed in 1792, one of the main initiators for the reign of terror (French: la Terreur ) of 1793/94, founded as the “Defense of the Republic” .


Origin, education and professional life

Robespierre was born as the first of four children of the respected lawyer Maximilien-Barthélémy-François de Robespierre (1732–1777) in what is now the Pas-de-Calais department . His siblings were Charlotte Robespierre (1760–1834), Henriette Robespierre (1761–1780) and Augustin Robespierre (1763–1794). The paternal family originally came from Ireland , but had emigrated to France due to religious persecution under Henry VIII . His mother was Jacqueline Margarethe Carrault (1735–1764), the daughter of a wealthy brewer . In July 1764, when he was just six years old, his mother died in childbed. His father died on November 6, 1777 in Munich; a few years earlier he had left Arras for unknown reasons and had only returned sporadically. As an orphan , Robespierre was a model student at the Collège von Arras and received one of four scholarships for the renowned Parisian Collège Louis le Grand , which he attended from 1769. After twelve years of study, divided into seven years of general studies and four years of legal studies , Robespierre passed his lawyer exam ( Bachelor of Law) in 1780 and was licensed in 1781 . In the years 1772 and 1774 Robespierre was considered the best in his class, in 1775 he was also honored and selected as the best student of the university, the welcoming speech when Louis XVI visited. to keep. As a student he visited and spoke to Jean-Jacques Rousseau , whom he admired, in 1778, the year he died.

A plea from the lawyer Robespierre: Mémoire pour les sieurs Antoine Pepin, fermier au village de Baillœul lez-Pernes, lieutenant dudit lieu; [...]. Contre le nommé Jacques Dubois, maquignon, demeurant au village de St. Hilaire (around 1786).

In 1781, Robespierre settled in his hometown of Arras as a lawyer. Here he took on a wide variety of cases and earned a reputation as an “advocate for the poor”. To some extent contradicting this position is Robespierre's legal career in Arras, which he made with the approval and continued support of those in power. He achieved national fame in 1783 through the so-called "lightning rod case", in which he defended a man who had provided his house with a lightning rod against prejudices that would endanger the general public and instead presented him as a promoter of scientific knowledge. For a short time Robespierre also worked as a judge at an episcopal patrimonial court , but soon resigned because he was supposed to sentence a criminal to death, but at the time he was a strict opponent of the death penalty .

Mostly after his admission to the Academy of Arras in 1783, Robespierre published pamphlets and pamphlets in which he spoke out against the privileges of the nobility and the clergy, at the same time condemning clan liability and advocating for the rights of children born out of wedlock and for women's and human rights in general . In 1786 he was elected chairman of the academy.

Finally, he saw the possibility of his political commitment, the company form of the Paris monarchist transform France after the theory of the state of his spiritual mentor, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: 31 years old, he was equal to the delegates of the Third Estate for the town of Arras in the meeting of the Estates-General elected by Louis XVI. 1789 was originally called up to solve the tax problem of the state.

Political rise

Election to the National Assembly (1789–1790)

On June 17, 1789, the representatives of the third estate (citizens and peasants) declared themselves to be the National Assembly . After the accession of representatives of the clergy and the nobility , the representatives of the three estates abolished the privileges of the priests and nobles. This was the hour of birth of the French Revolution .

In the National Assembly, Robespierre stood out with radical demands, which were initially not shared by the more moderate majority. Among other things, he campaigned for the freedom of the press , the abolition of slavery in the colonies , the abolition of the death penalty, the abolition of the privileges of the clergy and the abolition of celibacy . He was also against the suspensive veto right of the king in the first constitution of 1791 and advocated universal suffrage for all men. No criteria other than “those of virtue and talent” should apply to the election of the representatives of the people. He also called for a limit on their term of office. In August 1789 Robespierre had already drafted a bill that was supposed to guarantee "calm deliberation" in the assembly, so that "everyone could express his opinion without fear of interference [...]".

Soon Robespierre was considered a radical democrat and joined the left-wingClub of the Jacobins ”, which met regularly in the Dominican monastery of Saint-Jacques in Paris. In March 1790 he was elected President of the Club and Deputy Secretary of the National Assembly. In October he was also elected judge at the District Court of Versailles.

Continuation of the revolution (1791-1793)

Maximilien Robespierre, terracotta by Claude-André Deseine (1791), Vizille Castle

Until 1791 Robespierre was a supporter of the constitutional monarchy despite his radical demands . However, he was nevertheless of the opinion that the king should not have the right to decide about war and peace. In case of doubt, the latter would always have an interest in expanding his own powers, whereas the representatives of the nation would have an interest in stopping the war. However, he changed his mind in June 1791 when Louis XVI. with the flight to Varennes secretly tried to leave France in order to destroy the revolution from outside. Louis was brought back to Paris, remained king, and continued to endeavor to reverse the revolution with the help of the other kingdoms. As a result, he continued to upset Robespierre and the Jacobins as well as the Girondists . For Robespierre, however, the revolution was less threatened by war with the other European nations than by the king's helpers in Paris and the counter-revolutionaries. In June 1791 Robespierre was - without his knowledge - elected public prosecutor at the criminal court of Paris. At the end of the year he was no longer a member of the National Assembly, having previously enforced the limitation of the term of office. In April 1792 Robespierre resigned from his office as prosecutor at the criminal court of Paris in order to preserve his reputation as "the incorruptible" (French l'Incorruptible ).

After the Tuileries storm on August 10, 1792, the King was provisionally deposed by the National Assembly. On the same day Robespierre became a member of the Paris Commune. In September 1792 the armies of the Prussians and the Austrians were on the advance. Paris was threatened, and the Parisians prepared to fight felt threatened by the king's supporters. Therefore, they caused a bloodbath among the royalists and those who were held to be in the prisons. Over a thousand people fell victim to this September massacre.

Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, the most important of Robespierre's followers, but an independent character and thus not a blind follower; Portrait of Christophe Guérin from 1793.

In this heated mood, Robespierre was elected a member of the new parliament , the National Convention , with 338 of 525 votes . The king was charged with high treason . While the Girondins and Danton sided with the king, Robespierre joined in a speech in the demand of Louis Antoine de Saint-Just for his execution because the king posed too great a threat to the revolution. He declared the king a traitor to France and a criminal against humanity. The National Convention voted on January 18, 1793 with 361 votes to 334 for the immediate execution of Louis XVI. out. On January 21, Louis XVI. beheaded by the guillotine .

The equality of all French

It was Robespierre who announced in a letter in 1792 that the aim was to establish sacred equality on the ruins of the throne. He meant equality before the law and equal opportunities in politics. He did not mean the equality of wealth that the poor dreamed of. He declared this to the National Convention in April 1793 and assured the wealthy that he did not want to touch their treasures under any circumstances. This equality was not intended for women either. In 1791, Olympe de Gouges demanded full legal, political and social equality of both sexes in a declaration of the rights of women and citizens . For this she was arrested and executed in 1793.

The welfare committee

On July 27, 1793, Robespierre was appointed by the National Convention as a member of the twelve-member welfare committee. In the following years Robespierre supported all measures against so-called "enemies of the revolution", which earned him his reputation as " blood judge " of the French Revolution. He was involved in arresting Jacques Roux and all the members of the Enragés, which he disliked , and bringing them to justice. In 1794, Robespierre had Jacques-René Hébert arrested for allegedly calling for an uprising and addressing the September murders of 1792. A large part of his supporters, the so-called Hébertists, were executed with him .

On March 30, 1794, the Welfare Committee arrested Danton and his supporters and guillotine them on April 5 for allegedly part of a " foreign conspiracy " aimed at restoring the monarchy. In the National Convention criticism of the arrests was initially loud, but Robespierre silenced it with threats:

"I claim that whoever trembles at this moment is guilty, for innocence has nothing to fear from public surveillance."

In total, there were 258 executions at the behest of the committee that April. In June 1794 there were 688 executions, because the welfare committee, dominated by Robespierre and Saint-Just , passed a new law on June 10, 1794 or 22nd Prairial II with the so-called Prairial Decree , according to which the accused were not allowed to receive legal assistance and everyone - even convention members - could be brought before the revolutionary tribunal without a majority decision of the convention . He was supported by his closest confidants - including Couthon and Saint-Just, who, however, had initially been against this law. However, Robespierre exceeded his claim to power in the welfare committee and finally lost his support in the convention.

The arrest of Cécile Renault on May 22, 1794 in front of Robespierre's apartment on Rue (Saint) Honoré. The girl had made herself suspicious of her behavior. The first two windows on the left above the porch belong to Robespierre's rooms, in which he lived from July 1791 until his death. On the right of the picture in the background you can see the joiner of the carpenter Duplay at work. Engraving by Matthias Gottfried Eichler from 1816 after a drawing by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux .
The fall of Robespierre in the National Convention on July 27, 1794
The arrested Robespierre in a room of the Tuileries : He is lying on the table on the left and has bedded his badly injured head on a box.

The rationale for terror according to Rousseau

In all of his political activity, Robespierre endeavored to implement Rousseau's enlightenment ideals as he understood them. According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau , all members of a community create a common will by voluntary agreement, the volonté générale . The common will is based on the common good and is always right. It applies absolutely, even if individuals reject it. It is not simply the will of the majority, but of those who are virtuous and in possession of the truth. Anyone who attacks the common will places himself outside the enlightened community.

For Robespierre this meant that the opponents of the republic could only choose between changing their convictions and death. The more cruel the government is towards the traitors, the more benevolent it is towards the good citizens, Robespierre announced in 1793. The reign of terror was, according to him, a necessary evil to the people for the recommended Rousseau social contract ready to make. Without virtue, said Robespierre, terror is fatal; without terror, virtue is powerless. From the spring of 1794 Robespierre also propagated the cult of the highest being , which was enshrined in the constitution in May 1794.

End of Terror, Fall and Execution

In the 15 months between March 10, 1793, when the Revolutionary Tribunal was founded , and June 10, 1794, when the so-called Prairial Decree was introduced, the Revolutionary Tribunal had sentenced 1,579 to death. In just 49 days from the introduction of the decree, which de facto suspended the rights of the defense and only allowed death or acquittal as a verdict, to the fall of Robespierre on July 27, 1794, 1,376 people were sentenced to death.

On July 26th Robespierre appeared - for the first time in weeks - to address Parliament. This speech lasted about two hours. Robespierre reiterated his belief that only terror against crime can bring security to innocence. But he was unable to come up with a programmatic blueprint for a way out of the political crisis. By this time the military situation had stabilized, the economy recovered, and the Welfare Committee had established itself as a de facto central authority. In the last few months in particular, terror had only been used as a means of maintaining power and, in part, to eliminate personal opponents and rivals. Robespierre's program, however, resulted in an ever worsening of terror. He alluded to traitors who should be punished with all severity. He knows them, but he doesn't want to name them. With that he announced a new " wave of purges ".

Now everyone in the Convention could be affected. After the Prairial Decree, which also exposed members of the Convention to the unprotected arbitrariness of terror, after this announcement there were hardly any supporters of maintaining Robespierre's power. The following night, a coalition of politicians of different stripes met. Many feared they would be labeled traitors and executed. Others strived for power themselves and wanted to shape politics according to their ideas. Some saw Robespierre betray the revolution. Robespierre himself had contributed to this coalition with his politics.

The execution of Robespierre

The next day, the 9th Thermidor , parliament debated the welfare committee. They wanted to put an end to the maddened terror and disempower their leader. Robespierre wanted to defend himself, but his words were drowned in the agreed-upon voices tumult. Eventually the arrest of him, Saint-Just and Georges Couthon was called for and, to everyone's amazement, decided almost unanimously. Robespierre was taken away - the measures established by him and his supporters, which largely deprived “suspects” of rights, now turned against them. However, Robespierre managed to free himself and to gather in town hall with friends who had been freed from dungeon .

During the National Guard's assault on City Hall led by Léonard Bourdon , Robespierre's lower jaw was shattered by a bullet. Some of his comrades holed up with him committed suicide by shooting themselves or jumping out of the window. The seriously injured Robespierre received makeshift medical treatment. Whether he had tried to kill himself with a shot in the mouth or whether he had been hit by a stray bullet could never be clearly determined.

On July 28, 1794, Robespierre and 21 of his followers were guillotined without trial; 83 more followers followed in the following days. Charles Henri Sanson acted as executioner.


Robespierre, painted in 1860 by Pierre Rock Vigneron (1789–1872), after a contemporary pastel (around 1790) by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard .


Robespierre was one of the "most brilliant and sharp-tongued speakers of the French Revolution". His 650 or so speeches, which he made from May 1789 to his death in July 1794 in the National Assembly, in the convent, in the Jacobin Club and on the occasion of various Paris Section Assemblies, attracted the attention of many of his listeners and contributed to his had a politically prominent position among the revolutionary greats.

His uncompromising political line, but above all his advocacy of terror in the name of virtue, ultimately not only led the revolution into its bloodiest phase, but also to its own downfall. His increasingly radical demands, which also tried to give in to the pressure of the sans-culottes movement, inevitably ended the alliance between the so-called “constitutional revolution” supported by the bourgeoisie and the “people's revolution”. Robespierre and the Convention failed to politically channel and pacify the radicalized popular movement. This did not see their wishes for a comprehensive distribution of property and far-reaching social measures sufficiently fulfilled. With an ever-growing part of the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, to which the Jacobins themselves could be assigned, the fear of a complete redistribution of property relations and thus the dissolution of the social order grew steadily. Robespierre and the leadership of the Welfare Committee became estranged on both sides. Robespierre's permanent demand for an emergency dictatorship to save the republic, which actually only reflected the helplessness of the welfare committee in the face of domestic and foreign political threats, soon no longer had a supporting basis. In the end, those sections of the bourgeoisie for whom social upheaval had become the main threat and the return to law and order the most pressing task saw only the option of eliminating Robespierre and his supporters, who were now completely politically isolated.

The necessity and justification of the terrorist measures were discussed by contemporaries and later researchers. The views of historians such as François Furet and Denis Richet on the one hand and, for example, those of Albert Soboul on the other, were opposed to one another. While the former were of the opinion that the revolution was ultimately completely discredited by the excesses of violence of the emergency dictatorship, Soboul saw in the terror measures a state-political necessity, without which the achievements of the revolution threatened from all sides could not have been saved. Such divergent interpretations often reflect not only different scientific approaches, but also the political backgrounds of their representatives.






Robespierre is intended for research of forensic scientists in his last four years of life under the rare immune disease Philippe Charlier and Philippe Froesch sarcoidosis have suffered. Contemporaries reported symptoms such as persistent fatigue, jaundice, nosebleeds and recurrent leg ulcers.


Web links

Commons : Maximilien de Robespierre  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The Robespierre family was not noble. The addition "de", which can be used without any further conditions, only indicated that they were not manual workers.
  2. ^ Brunnemann: Maximilian Robespierre. 1885, pp. 1-2.
  3. ^ A b Max Gallo : Robespierre . Ed .: Peter Schöttler (=  biographies on the French Revolution ). Ernst Klett, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-608-94465-6 , pp. 24 (French).
  4. It is unclear whether Robespierre received that scholarship for his achievements or because of proclaimed family ties to the church that awarded the scholarships.
  5. ^ Brunnemann: Maximilian Robespierre. 1885, p. 2.
  6. ^ John Hardman: Robespierre (=  Profiles in Power ). Pearson Education, Harlow, England 1999, ISBN 0-582-43755-5 , pp. 8 (British English).
  7. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, pp. 27-29.
  8. ^ Jean Massin : Robespierre. 4th edition, Berlin 1976 (French original edition 1956), p. 17; Winkler 2009, p. 224. When Robespierre became politically active in 1789, he remembered this encounter by noting: “I want to continue your highly esteemed work, should my name be forgotten in the centuries to come; I am happy when, on the dangerous path that an unprecedented revolution has opened before us, I remain faithful to the inspirations that I have drawn from your works. ”Quoted from Massin: ibid., p. 18.
  9. NuBIS, HLFA 4 = 241, pièce 1, online at the library of the Sorbonne , accessed on November 17, 2017.
  10. ^ John Hardman: Robespierre (=  Profiles in Power ). Pearson Education, Harlow, England 1999, ISBN 0-582-43755-5 , pp. 8 (British English).
  11. Max Gallo: Robespierre . Ed .: Peter Schöttler (=  biographies on the French Revolution ). Ernst Klett, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-608-94465-6 , pp. 36 (French).
  12. Ruth Scurr : Fatal Purtiy . Robespierre and the French Revolution. Vintage, London 2007, ISBN 0-09-945898-5 , pp. 8 (British English).
  13. ^ Brunnemann: Maximilian Robespierre. 1885, pp. 7-8.
  14. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, pp. 39-41.
  15. ^ Brunnemann: Maximilian Robespierre. 1885, pp. 16-23.
  16. Westdeutscher Rundfunk : 250 years ago: Maximilien de Robespierre born in Arras: Terror for virtue , May 6, 2008
  17. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, pp. 72-73.
  18. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, pp. 60-67.
  19. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, p. 58.
  20. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, p. 68.
  21. ^ Gallo: Robespierre (1989), p. 75.
  22. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, p. 71.
  23. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, p. 96.
  24. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, pp. 91-92.
  25. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, p. 108.
  26. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, pp. 133, 147.
  27. French Revolution. Deadline August 10, 1792 - Storming of the Tuileries in Paris. In: Retrieved May 15, 2013 .
  28. Jan Knupper: September Massacre . In: Retrieved May 15, 2013 .
  29. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, p. 149 ff.
  30. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, pp. 166-167.
  31. Gallo: Robespierre. 1989, p. 170.
  32. "Je dis que quiconque tremble en ce moment est coupable; car jamais l'innocence ne redoute la surveillance publique ”, quoted from Jacob Talmon : The history of totalitarian democracy. Volume I: The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2013, p. 190.
  33. ^ Alfred Hirsch: Right to violence? Traces of the philosophical justification of violence according to Hobbes. Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Paderborn / Munich 2004, ISBN 3-7705-3869-2 , pp. 116-117 (Zugl .: Hildesheim, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 2002).
  34. Erich Pelzer : Maximilien Robespierre. The revolutionary government (1793). In: Kai Brodersen : I have a dream. Great speeches from Pericles to Barack Obama. 2., ext. Edition. Darmstadt 2009, ISBN 978-3-89678-813-9 , pp. 68–82, here: pp. 68 f., Urn : nbn: de: 0263-97838967894339 .
  35. See the corresponding chapters in: François Furet and Denis Richet: The French Revolution. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 1981 (original title: La Révolution. 2 volumes, Paris 1965 and 1966) and Albert Soboul: The Great French Revolution. An outline of their history (1789–1799). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1983, p. 353.
  36. ^ Gertrud Kolmar: Das lyrische Werk , Munich, Kösel 1960, p. 375ff
  37. German by Kathrin Razum and Sabine Roth. DuMont, Cologne 2012, ISBN 978-3-8321-9661-5 (Original title: A Place of Greater Safety. 1992)
  38. Also known as The Black Book , the feature film is known in Germany under the name "Demon of Paris", "The Black Book" or "Guillotine" and in Austria under the name "Herrschaft des Schreckens". IMDB. In:, accessed on August 12, 2017.
  39. ^ Bernadette Arnaud: Robespierre retrouve sa tête. Et ses maladies. In: December 20, 2013. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  40. Sandrine Cabut: La sarcoidosis de Robespierre, diagnostic contests. In: January 20, 2014, accessed November 17, 2017.
predecessor Office successor

Marie-Jean Hérault de Séchelles
Claude-Antoine Prieur
President of the French National Convention
August 22, 1793–7. September
4, 1793 June 4, 1794-19. June 1794

Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne
Élie Lacoste