François de Robespierre

François de Robespierre

Birth
Death Nov 1777 (aged 44–45)
Burial Altstadt, Stadtkreis München, Bavaria (Bayern), Germany
Memorial ID 12939810 · View Source
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Father of the French revolutionaries Maximilien (1758-1794) and Augustin (1763-1794) de Robespierre, himself born probably in 1732.

Lawyer at Arras, Picardie. When his wife died in 1767, he abandoned the family and spent his life wandering around Europe. He tried to survive as teacher of French in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Burial in Munich probably on 6.11.1777.

Several earlier biographies erroneously claimed that Maximilien de Robespierre (and his younger brother Augustin) became orphans at an early age. The flight of his father described above had been ignored.

The background of the Robespierre family is described in detail e.g. in the biography written by Max Gallo.

Info about his final resting place on a Munich churchyard, later dissolved, on http://www.muenchen.de/Rathaus/raw/Tourismusamt/sehenswuerdigkeiten/Kirchen/124226 (which is also the source of the church photo). The church today is used by the Greek orthodox parish of Munich.

As concerns his son Maximilien de Robespierre, common wisdom has it that he was hysterical, blood-thirsty and eager to kill his opponents on the guillotine. The estimated 5000 victims of the terreur 1793/1794 are imputed to Robespierre and his Welfare committee.

Accordingly, he became a sort of bogeyman, only defended to a certain extent by communist and other totalitarian historians.

This simple picture however - as well as strange apologists - does not do justice to a man whose actions and errors must be assessed in the historic context and whose rhethoric is among the finest French language produced.

First of all, it would be fair, before judging too harshly about the French revolutionary leaders, to have some empathy for their individual, psychologic situation. Most of them had been "propelled upwards" within weeks or months by historical events unseen hitherto. Whereas princes, courtiers or other noblemen had always been educated to assume leading positions in government or in military leadership, the French revolution brought a swift career to men completely unprepared - intellectually and mentally. Robespierre, Danton or others had been small town lawyers whom popular masses and an early version of democracy made leaders of a great nation. They had to act swiftly in a strange and often hostile world, trying desperately to use the power of government, certainly for their own ambition but also with the genuine will to create a more just and equal society based on the principles of Enlightenment.

Robespierre himself once makes the somewhat moving statement, in the Convention, that "the rule of the people has been born one day ago - the rule of tyrants embraces the centuries".
This is not an excuse for the vindictiveness, hysteria or fanatism such leaders are often criticized for but an approach of partial explanation for a personal situation difficult to cope with. Another question is whether all excesses during the Revolution in an anarchic time can be imputed to that sort of untrained, unprepared élite which could not govern with the repressive but reliable and efficient centralist 'machine' on which absolutist France had been based till 1789.

Brutality was implanted into French society by hundreds of years of feudal reign, most obviously so in the era of absolutism - culminating in the Bourbon kings' bloody persecution of religious minorities (abolition of the Nantes edict/ persecution of Hugenots). Nor is the question frequently asked how many died every year in dungeons and on the galeres of Louis XVI.

The French revolution, its brutality and its excesses, including the terror during Robespierre's reign (1793/1794) must be judged against this background. Radicalisation grew when the constitutional state was under pressure from within and abroad. The monarch never accepted the constitution of 1791, and France was soon under pressure from its neighbour countries, with which many French noblemen collaborated ('Coblence'). Louis was beheaded after having tried to leave the country illegally, after conspiring, thus being a traitor against his nation (and not necessarily a 'good man' as Camus claimed). High treason is in every system punished by the severest penalty at hand.

It must be emphasised that in 1792, when revolutionary France initiated the war against its neighbour countries in order to 'export' her ideas, this decision was taken by Girondins and a majority of Jacobines. At that moment it was Robespierre, nearly alone in the Convention, who warned against war, evoking the bad memories e.g. Germans would have recalling former French invasions ("personne n'aime les missionaires armés", alluding to Louis XIV´s invasion and devastation of the Palatinate). Accordingly, he wanted to prevent the worst of all crimes, i.e. war. Nor was it Robespierre who was responsible for the heinous September massacres of prisoners (1792), in which Marat, Fabre and Danton had their part.

When war was waged, France found herself quickly in the defensive. At that moment, Robespierre was called. His government has, from the French point of view, the merit of reorganising military action, resulting in several successful battles, up to the Fleurus victory (26.6.1794).

This being achieved, the Convention, also intimidated by Robespierre's terror, got rid of him (27 July = 9 Thermidor). By blaming Robespierre and his men alone, the Thermidoriens, themselves responsible for many crimes and connivence, tried to legitimise themselves. One of the results was the cult around Danton persisting till today. Soon after Robespierre's demise, France was to fall into the hands of a man responsible for two decades of war, till today revered by many as a hero ....


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  • Created by: Dieter Birkenmaier
  • Added: 9 Jan 2006
  • Find a Grave Memorial 12939810
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for François de Robespierre (1732–Nov 1777), Find a Grave Memorial no. 12939810, citing Salvator Churchyard, Altstadt, Stadtkreis München, Bavaria (Bayern), Germany ; Maintained by Dieter Birkenmaier (contributor 46785965) .