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 Maximilien Robespierre 
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Post A Strange Feeling
I am studying at University here in the UK History from 1400 -1900. I come on here and read and write and exchange ideas. I agree that this man really was one of the earlier serial killers, but like dictators he managed to do one better, by getting other people to do the work for him. How sad are we as a human race to do this, or allow someone on our behalf in the name of jusitce ? I dont think I need to expalin where this is going. How many times have we done it since. Strangley we all lament those episodes.


Fri Mar 16, 2007 5:57 pm
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Post agreed, MA was fighting against the odds
Baron de Batz,
you are saying two different things -
1) MA did not have the training and was not intended to be a politician, so her mistakes are understandable;
2) when she was called to the line, she did surprisingly well, and showed talent and merrit.
I completely agree with the first. Marie Antoinette, as queen of France, was not destined to be a politician and was not trained for it. She was also faced with alarming circumstances and as you said she was fighting not just for herself but for her children, which would make the situation much more desperate (and she comported herself with courage and dignity to be admired). that can explain her weaknesses. It doesn't mean they were not there. One can be very sympathetic to the lonely woman struggling for life and still acknowledge her mistakes and weaknesses.
One question is to what degree was MA an independent politician during the revolution vs. following her husband's lead, and I'll address that in another post, if I find a more suitable thread, since it came up several times.
I do not agree that she learned quickly. I agree that she was attempting to play a double jeu with Barnave and simultaneously plot with Fersen and others; I don't think she was doing it very well. the revolutionaries - including Barnave - knew she was plotting. it hurt the royal couple, making them seem untrustworthy. an incompetent plotter is not a good politician.
I do, however, agree with you that she was better at projecting a face for the royal couple - she had grace and charm the king lacked, and was better at getting people on their side.


Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:10 pm
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I do not agree that she learned quickly. I agree that she was attempting to play a double jeu with Barnave and simultaneously plot with Fersen and others; I don't think she was doing it very well. the revolutionaries - including Barnave - knew she was plotting. it hurt the royal couple, making them seem untrustworthy. an incompetent plotter is not a good politician.

I wonder how far I could agree with this. I mean... did they know for sure that she was plotting ? Or did they imagine that she was, whatever she did ? Didn't they in advance consider that she would not be reliable ?

I don't know... I am just wondering...

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Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:16 pm
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Its difficult to tell...I would like to see Dorit's evidence that Barnave knew she was plotting, after all his collusion cost him his life! Its' possible but I know of no proof, he certainly started to suspect her of playing with him, and of being moderately sincere, but quite late on! In a sense its irrelevant, for me the one thing that pervades all that voluminous correspondence between the Queen and Barnave, from her side, is BUYING TIME.

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Fri Mar 16, 2007 9:48 pm
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Post Barnave's view
Dear de Batz,
I have not read the correspondence between barnave and the queen, so am using secondary sources. but these are pretty clear. the connection between Barnave and the queen began after the return from Varenne, June 1791. on October 1791 Barnave already writes to Maire Antoinette complaining about her double dealing (See Bertiere, p. 554). by the end of the year he left for Dauphine (sorry, no accents in this annoying keyboard). She couldn't keep the game up six months!!!! is that a tallented intriguer?


Fri Mar 16, 2007 10:14 pm
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Dear Dorit,

Wading through the Barnave-MA correspondence is believe me not just a virtuous pastime, but also the only way to catch my drift. You will see, I guarantee it, the double dealing of really quite a clever plotter, using Barnave's obvious attachment to her, to gain time and to pass messages to the Assembly, either to test out their reaction or to try and use him as their advocate, as they couldn't plead their cause in person, And all this time, chronologically sometimes next day letters or soon after, she was urging Fersen or her brother or Mercy or others to help them, which really meant only one thing. At this stage, strictly speaking according to the new imposed laws, MA was clearly committing treason against France, but I don't blame her for it. However good Bertière's book is , she cannot convey the full subtleties of this protacted correspondence, where one sees the Queen fighting her cause in her own way, and this BEHIND and INSIDE the strict text itself. Maybe Louis XVI was aware/behind of some of it, we cannot know. MA was behving like someone at war, protecting those dear and with a genuine belief that the ancien regime was the best for the wellbeing of the country, even if some change was now evidently necessary to her and the King

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Fri Mar 16, 2007 10:50 pm
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Post :-)
well, now I'll have to read that correspondence. can you direct me to a good source?


Fri Mar 16, 2007 10:54 pm
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FYI, new thread has just been started about the political role of MA during the revolution. At the request of a member:

http://www.marie-antoinette.org/forum/v ... .php?t=743

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Fri Mar 16, 2007 11:04 pm
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Post Ruth Scurr's biography of Robespierre
I'm putting this here rather than in the literature section because I think like this it will get to those interested.
I just finished Ruth Scarr's biography of Robespierre, and I strongly recommend it, both to those interested in the revolution and to those interested in the king and queen (who may stop reading after MA's execution)(and so miss the part about his visit to the temple to see the royal kids). Scurr is sympathetic to Robespierre, but she is also very detailed and objective. her sympathy translates into seeing him as meaning what he said - and there is quite a bit of evidence that Robespierre believed what he said even when it was contradictory or plain weird.
She sees Robespierre as the man who identified with the revolution to an extreme degree. an astute politician, but also an idealist. a man who, towards the end, "lost it". She also does a good job in showing the fall of the monarchy and the move of the revolution from a movement aimed at constitutional monarchy to a republic. She describes the court's fight for its survival; the feeling of threat the revolutionists felt; and the deterioration of the terror, ending with the extreme terror in Paris in June 1794-July 1794. She does address the Vendee and the war.
it's well written, well researched, careful and very descriptive.


Wed Mar 21, 2007 4:15 pm
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Thanks for the review ! Seems quite interesting indeed ! :D

Some questions that you might find very naive... But I read Julian's "Louis et Maximilien" and Cabanes' "Lamballe", so, I wonder... Did Robespierre actually meet princess de Lamballe for trying to get closer to the king ? Did he really wish to become the dauphin's governor ? Or is it a legend ? Was Robespierre cryptoroyalist ? They say so for he hide relics under his matrass, Marie Antoinette's last letter, for instance.

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Wed Mar 21, 2007 4:23 pm
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Post Robespierre and the monarchy
:-) not naive at all. Scurr doesn't raise a meeting in Lamballe or wanting to become the dauphin's govenor, but it may be because she prefers the documents, and that was not documented, and she sees the testimony of the doctor Julian relies on as untrustworthy. who knows? she does quote Robespierre as sounding monarchist until the June 1791 flight to Varennes.
however, after that she says, and I think she makes a good case,that he was far from royalist (his position on religion was more complex). he did, however, have the habit of collecting titbits of information about all kinds of people which may be useful later - so the letter of Marie Antoinette may have been collected in order to use against someone else completely - I'm not sure who. I think there is no reason to think him a crypto royalist after 1792. he identified with the republic and exhaulted it. but it's really hard to prove one way or another, isn't it?


Wed Mar 21, 2007 4:35 pm
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Thank you, Dorit ! Yes, I think Robespierre is a rather complex character ! In Enrico two parts series "La révolution, années lumières, années terribles", they show him not wanting to have his curtains open on the day Louis was executed... although he voted death... The actor says that "something is happening that is not to be seen". I guess it is a quite insight view of the character, isn't it ?

I identifies himself with the republic and yet he said that monarchy is just a republic with a king. He could thus been perceived as somewhat royalist by his comrads and yet he voted for the king's death...

I never read any serious biography of him, but I "feel" him as an extremely anxious guy. Even if he deeply loved his ideals, he could live with the fear of another change, couldn't he ? Maybe so he collected things that could be useful...

After all, from Antoinette's letters, you can also see how events and regimes were fragile. To us, it all appear so clear, for we consider the French revolution knowing its end, already. But, for those people, living all those quick changes day to day ? :? Aging so rapidly, as you said... because of the intensity what they were going through...

Maybe we are on the verge of enormous changes too ? And we don't feel it yet ? I sometimes wonder about that...

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Wed Mar 21, 2007 5:35 pm
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Scurr also mentions that incident, Robespierre's closing the curtains. she also mentioned he did it when Danton went by, and Danton was very upset about it.
I think he had an idealistic view of the political system he wanted - and as you said, it was not about monarchist v. republican, it was about an ideal system.
yes, most biographies show him as a very high strung individual.

I think your point about fearing change applies to many of the people who lived under the revolution - as you say, they did not know which way change will go, and given the result of the time, they must have been dealing with a lot of fear. I know many of the people here do not sympathise with the revolutionaries, but I think they honestly believed it was fight or die, that if their enemies won they would all be killed, and that killing the anti revolutionaries in paris was the only way to defend themselves. I am not sure they were wrong about the result if they lost - would the revolutionaries have been spared if the austrian armies got to Paris?
Robespierre in particular was known as paranoid, as seeing plots and conspiracies everywhere, and I think Scurr does a good job of showing that he really believed that, and believed it consistently from 1789 on - which drove him to worse and worse acts of cruelty...


Wed Mar 21, 2007 6:46 pm
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I do not sympatize with the revolutionaries, but I sure try to see it from their point of view.
I can't help thinking of (some) of them - in the early years of the revolution - as idealistic young men, who wanted a better future for themselves and for their children. It brings tears to my eyes to read the hopes of many of these young men and women. In a way it is so naive... but it only seems naive because - as one of you wrote - we now know how it all turned out...

This is a little outtake of something Camille Desmoulins wrote in a pamphlet just before July 14th:
[i]“It happens, it happens! Yes, all good is coming. Yes, the happy revolution, this rebirth will be enforced. No power on earth is capable to withhold it. It is the embossed result of philosophy, liberty and patriotism. We have become unconquerable. Even shy as I was – I admit that openly – now feel like a new and better man. Like Otryades who stands alone and hurt on the battlefield, raises and with his weak hands show a sign of victory and writes in his blood: ‘Sparta has prevailed!’ I feel the same – I can die for a cause equally beautiful, and penetrated with thrusts I too will write in my blood: France is liberated!”[/i]

They wanted a better future - they wanted to get rid of that feudal yoke that had been hanging over their heads for centuries. They were not all madmen like Marat, Robespierre, Simon and Hébert. But it all got out of control and turned into that most terrible blodshed.
I believe that many of them were horrified about the setember massacres.

Madame Roland wrote this to a friend about the september massacres and I think that it really sums up how many people viewed their revolution gone wrong:
[i]“My friend Danton controls everything; Robespierre is his puppet. Marat holds his torch and his dagger: this wild tribune reigns… If you knew the awful details of the killing expeditions! Women brutally raped before being torn to pieces by these tigers; guts cut out and worn as ribbons, human flesh eaten dripping with blood. You know my enthusiasm for the revolution: Well, I am ashamed of it! These scoundrels tarnish its reputation. It is becoming hideous! In a week from now… who knows what will happen? … Adieu. If it is too late for us, save the rest of France from the crimes of these madmen.”[/i]

I will never ever sympatize with what they did. All the killing and horrible, horrible acts they commited - and I could never in a million years approve of what they did to Marie Antoinette and her family - and all the other families. Such horrors - but I do try to understand what drove them - and try to understand what made them act like they did. In the beginning they were friends who had the same goal. (Robespierre / Desmoulins / Danton / Brissot) and they ended up killing eachother. The greed for power and influence took over and destroyed their idealistic hopes.

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Thu Mar 22, 2007 12:52 am
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Bravo Princess Lamballe. Obviously the cause itself was in some ways, in many ways just, the old system was weighed far too much in the favour of the noblemen and the clergy. However what horrifies me about the French revolution and about even modern social conflict in this country is the mob rule element. Once the French have decided to demonstrate or riot you can't stop them and I hate that. No-one with opposing views is free to put them. Why do we see so few counter-demonstrations in this country?The revolution is the history of some intelligent men with ideas manipulating the common people who acted in the most scandalous fashion, look what they did to your namesake. I cannot sympathize with that, any movement proning such unthinkable violence is doomed and cursed from the start. And we have not mentioned here the more sinister side of the revolutionary freemasons and their struggle for control of the system. When you see the tacit support from some parts of the nobility and even the court, then was the political divide as clear cut as that? Many aspects of the 'Terror" make me think of Nazi Germany, they even had their equivalent of "Der Stürmer", the "Père Duchesne" by Hébert, not anti-semite this time but anti-nobility/royalty, but the same kind of hate filled pampleteering to stir up the undiscerning masses. And the revolutionaries had with King Louis XVI a King who would have accepted sweeping reforms and who would have combatted injustice and poverty with all his might. After the Revolution people starved in the same way, if not worse.

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Thu Mar 22, 2007 2:11 pm
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