(Maximilian Robespierre)


Maximilian Robespierre was a key figure during the portion of the French Revolution known as the Reign of Terror, during which over a thousand political figures and falsely accused revolutionaries were beheaded by the deadly guillotine. Nicknamed “the Tyrant” by his adversaries, Robespierre served as leader of the Committee of Public Safety until 1794, when he was arrested and executed by the very instrument that he had made so popular.

Highly influenced by Rousseau’s notion of revolutionary virtue and participatory democracy, Robespierre believed that the French people were fundamentally good and needed only to speak up to improve the nation. He secured a position as a criminal judge but soon resigned to avoid pronouncing a death sentence. Still, he remained highly involved in politics, and in 1789 he was elected deputy to the meeting of the Estates-General. He joined the National Assembly—later the Constituent Assembly—and quickly rose in rank, soon becoming second-in-command. From there, he became involved with the highly influential Jacobin Club, where he found an audience sympathetic to his ideas of Revolution. After the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, Robespierre, admired for his modesty and pure principles, returned to Paris and took the position of Public Prosecutor. At this time, members of the Girondist party proposed a war against Austria, but Robespierre opposed them, as he was more concerned with the purging of enemies within the Revolution than the destruction of other nations. Later that same year, Robespierre was elected first deputy of Paris to the National Convention. He and his comrades sat on high benches the back of the meeting hall, which earned them the nickname of “the Mountain.” He was attacked by his political opponents, who accused him of wanting to form a dictatorship, but Robespierre, always a brilliant orator, eloquently defended himself.

Although originally opposed to the death penalty, Robespierre now insisted that King Louis XVI must die, as he currently posed a danger to the future of France. After the king’s execution, the Revolution’s influence increased, and Robespierre began to insist that Terror was necessary to achieve the country’s aims. His beautiful speeches led people to support his increasingly radical demands, and with their support he turned his attention to his original aim: weeding out enemies within Paris, who hid under the guise of Revolutionaries. In 1794, Robespierre helped pass the Law of 22 Prairial, which dictated that accused parties could be condemned without witness or evidence of wrongdoing. As a result, 1,285 victims, many of them innocent, were guillotined in Paris. Robespierre, meanwhile, even went so far as to establish a new higher entity, a Deist “Supreme Being” different from the Christian notion of God. The National Convention soon began to question Robespierre’s actions, and several months later his party was arrested. Robespierre tried to evade capture by killing himself but managed only to shatter his jaw. He was guillotined face-up, and his death effectively marked the end of the Reign of Terror

Key events during the life of Maximilian Robespierre:

Mother died in childbirth
Delivered a speech to Louis XVI
Father died
Appointed criminal judge
Was elected a member of the academy of Arras
Elected first deputy of Paris to the National Convention
Execution of Louis XVI
Elected to the Committee of Public Safety
Passed Law of 22 Prairial
Established a Supreme Being

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Reign of Terror and Rise of Napoleon in  France: Peeps at History  by  John Finnemore
Robespierre  in  Famous Men of Modern Times  by  John H. Haaren
Marie Antoinette Is Executed  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
End of the Terror  in  Historical Tales: French  by  Charles Morris
Reign of Terror  in  The Struggle for Sea Power  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

The arrest of Robespierre, the French Revolutionary Leader
 in The Hanoverians

 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Arrest of Robespierre
 in Famous Men of Modern Times
Maximilien Robespierre
Maximilien Robespierre
 in Back Matter
Robespierre's Arrest
Robespierre's Arrest
 in Back Matter

Robespierre trying to kill himself.
 in  Stories of the French Revolution

The last victims of the Reign of Terror
 in Historical Tales: French

Short Biography
Louis XVI King during the French revolution. Beheaded by republicans who sought to overthrow the monarchy.
Maria Antoinette Extravagant Queen of France. Beheaded during French Revolution.
Napoleon Victorious general who rose to power during the French Revolution. Crowned himself Emperor and restored France to greatness.
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.