Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Melvyn on the Reign of Terror

 Click here for the In Our Time discussion of the Reign of Terror.

Guillotined ancestors

Thanks to a fairly recent website, French people can now discover whether any of their ancestors were guillotined between 1792 and 1795.

The creator of the site, Raymond Combes, a computer programmer and amateur genealogist, believes that his work will force historians to reappraise the period. According to the official figure 17,500 people were guillotined in this period but M. Combes already has more than 18,000 names on his site, which is based on lists compiled for the bicentenary of the Revolution in 1789 and from documents sent in by users. He says:
'A lot of these guillotined were never registered in official records. I'm adding names all the time. But I don't put anyone down unless they are accompanied by documentary evidence.'
Nor has he included the tens of thousands of people massacred during the Revolution.
'It was an important part of out history. But I'm not sure all that violence really served a purpose.'

The Ideology of the Terror

Louis Antoine St Just, ideologue of the Terror
The Terror was about establishing purity, patriotism and virtue. In September 1792 at the time of the first meeting of the Convention, Robespierre wrote:
‘It is not enough to have overturned the throne: our concern is to erect upon his remains holy equality and the imprescriptible Rights of Man. It is not in the empty word itself that a republic consists, but in the character of the citizens. The soul of a republic is vertu – that is love of la patrie, and the high-minded devotion that resolves all private interests into the general interest. The enemies of the republic are those dastardly egoists, those ambitious and corrupt men. You have hunted down kings, but have you hunted out the vices that their deadly domination has engendered among you? Taken together, you are the most generous, the most moral of all peoples…but a people that nurtures within itself a multitude of adroit rogues and political charlatans, skilled at usurpation and the betrayal of trust.’ [quoted Ruth Scurr,  Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution (Vintage, 2007, 219-10]
‘The point was to ensure the triumph of the good, pure, general will of the people – what the people would want in ideal circumstances – and this needed to be intuited on their own behalf until they received sufficient education to understand their own good.’ [Scurr, 211]

Louis Antoine de St Just, February 1794:
‘The republic is built on the ruins of everything anti-republican. There are three sins against the republic: one is to be sorry for State prisoners; another is to be opposed to the rule of virtue; and the third is to be opposed to the Terror.’

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Melvyn on the French Revolution

You can hear the 'In Our Time' discussion of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror here.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

La Marseillaise on You Tube

If you want to join in the singing of La Marseillaise this is your chance!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The French Revolution: I

For an overview, see a fantastic site here.  There is also lots of information here.

The death of the Ancien Régime
The ‘ancien régime’ is the name given to the French government before the Revolution. It was marked by privilege, inequality, injustice and economic inefficiency. With its population of 28 million (compared with 13 million in Britain) the country ought to have been prosperous, yet many of its inhabitants lived in terrible poverty,