Madame Roland

(Marie-Jeanne Phlippon Roland)


Madame Roland was a central driving force behind the avalanche that became the French Revolution. Despite her adherence to what was expected of a woman in that time period, Madame Roland’s political savvy, ambition, and constant support of her husband propelled her into the center of the political turmoil. It was through Madam Roland that one gained an entrée into the inner circle of the Girondin party’s influentials.

From an early age, Madame Roland displayed an avid interest in politics and political ideals. She never supported the idea of an absolute monarchy, advocating instead the idea of a constitutional republic. After her marriage to the philosopher Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière, Madam Roland’s drive and ambition propelled her husband (and by extension, herself) into the thick of the intrigue that was the French Revolution. Her salons, exclusive parties held for intellectuals, played host to prominent revolutionaries such as Brissot, Pétion, and Robespierre.

It was ultimately Madam Roland’s idealism and ambition that brought about her downfall. She and her husband were members of the moderate Girondin party, which condemned the excesses of the Reign of Terror. Madam and Monsieur Roland’s outspoken opinions (as well as their positions as the two of the founders of the Girondin party) caused them to be targeted in Robespierre’s purges. Although Monsieur Roland escaped, with the aid of his wife, Madam Roland was captured and condemned to the guillotine. As she died, Madam Roland exclaimed, ‘Oh, Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!’

Key events during the life of Madame Roland:

Born only child of Gratien and Madame Phlippon.
First trip to Versailles, displays first interest in politics and beginnings of anti-royal sentiments.
Marries Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière, noted philosopher, who is 20 years older than she.
Obtains a promotion for her husband, the Rolands move to Lyon.
Monsieur Roland elected to represent Lyon in Paris.
The Rolands move from Lyon to Paris. Madame Roland's social and political influence grows; her salons become central gathering place of Revolutionary leaders.
The Rolands defect from the Jacobin party due to idealogical differences, and form the Girondin party with Jacques-Pierre Brissot.
Monsieur Roland installed as Minister of the Interior after the surrendur of Louis XVI.
Madame Roland's letter to the King in June urges him to publicly pledge his loyalty to the new Republic. This costs her husband his post.
The Roland's popularity declines after Monsieur Roland made a stand against the worst excesses of the Revolution.
Madame Roland arrested for treason and 'as a woman who had betrayed her gender, for her political activism'. Monsieur Roland escapes to Rouen with his wife's help.
Madame Roland writes her memoirs in prison. She is tried on false charges of harbouring Royalist sympathies.
November 8th, Madame Roland is executed via guillotine. Her last words; 'Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!'

Short Biography
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Georges Danton Key figure of the French Revolution who was eventually lost his head.
Jean-Paul Marat Radical Doctor who became Leader of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.
Maria Antoinette Extravagant Queen of France. Beheaded during French Revolution.
Louis XVI King during the French revolution. Beheaded by republicans who sought to overthrow the monarchy.