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 Billaud-Varenne and the Trial of Marie Antoinette 
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Post Billaud-Varenne and the Trial of Marie Antoinette

Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne was one of the members of France's Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror.

While relatively obscure, when his name is unearthed, it drips with venom.

In 1795, one deputy of the Convention broke decorum for a moment and blamed the hemhorrage of the Terror in 1794 on the actions of one man: Billaud-Varenne.

Historians, when they stumble upon Billaud, have not been kinder. Jan ten Brink shared the Convention deputy's belief that the blood of the Terror was spilt at the behest of Billaud, and even insisted that Billaud and his partner Collot had been the true dictators of France in 1793-1794.

John Morley said of him:

"[Billaud was] the most powerful member of the Committee of Public Safety. His pale, sober and concentrated physiognomy seemed a perpetual menace. He had no gifts of speech, but this silence made people shudder, like the silence of thunder when the temper rages at its height. It was said by contemporaries that if Vadier was a hyena, Barere was a jackal, and Robespierre a cat, Billaud was a tiger."

My bias underlined and Billaud introduced, I wanted to talk about his role in Marie Antoinette's trial. Billaud-Varenne had been elected to the Committee of Public Safety after great pressure from the streets. Until this point, the Committee of Public Safety had been oddly reluctant to place the ci-devant queen before the Tribunal. I speculated a few days ago that this may have been because one of its members, Herault de Sechelles, had once been in Marie Antoinette's intimate circle at Versailles and so was using his power to protect his friend. The election of Billaud-Varenne and his friend, Collot d'Herbois, to the Committee of Public Safety would make this protection difficult, if not impossible to uphold.

Elected in September 1793, Billaud was eager to assert his sway in the Convention in early October. He decided to display his strength and demanded a creation of appel nominal which was to identify Girondin supporters for future vengeance.

It was Maximilien Robespierre who defeated this bloody proposal.

One of Billaud's supporters tried a different tactic. There were some-70 Girondin deputies currently rotting in prison. When would their execution be? He demanded a scheduling.

Once again, Robespierre defeated the motion and saved the deputies' lives.

After two defeats, it has been speculated - and indeed it is worth speculating - that Billaud-Varenne's final gambit was less a sign of irreconcilable bloodlust or twisted ideology than it was his need to assert dominance and illustrate that his faction did have sway in Revolutionary politics.

Billaud-Varenne demanded that the Convention immediately schedule the trial of Marie Antoinette. Since Robespierre was often being bombarded with charges of royalism during this time frame, it could even be interpreted that he was challenging the Incorruptible to object to this final proposal.

Robespierre, either out of survival instinct or human apathy (I suspect the latter), this time raised no objection - nor did anyone else - and the trial was scheduled.

I just thought it would be interesting to note the circumstances behind Marie Antoinette's trial - because it would be this motion of Billaud's that escalated into her execution, as previously the Committee as a whole had seemed disinterested in the affair. But Billaud-Varenne went to the Convention on October 3 determined that heads would roll. Robespierre had refused him the Girondins, so he would have the queen's.

I just thought I would share this story because I've never seen it in a Marie Antoinette biography (not that I've read all of Marie Antoinette's biographies) so I figured the politics behind her execution were less-known here than some of the other facets. :)

History is written by the victors - Winston Churchill

Mon Sep 17, 2012 7:46 pm
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Joined: Thu Dec 20, 2012 6:40 pm
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Post Re: Billaud-Varenne and the Trial of Marie Antoinette
Alot of Marie's biographers seem to emit her lead persecutor, which is odd, but I have read one that accounts for her trial and makes mention of this shady character. If only I could remember which of her biographies it was :s

'She as yet knew nothing of the crown but its flowers ...' Marquis de Ségur

Thu Dec 20, 2012 8:11 pm
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