Biography of Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794)

Maximilien de Robespierre.

Lawyer and French politician, born in Arras 6 may 1758 and died guillotined in Paris on July 28, 1794. Maximilien Marie Isidore de Robespierre became one of the most controversial characters during the events that wracked France during the French Revolution. Leader of the so-called middle-class radical party Jacobin (also known as the mountain due to its location at the top of the seats of the Assembly), in may 1793 got master under its authority the Committee of public safety, main body of the revolutionary Government during the reign of Terror.


Son of the marriage between Maximilien François Robespierre and Jaqueline Margueritte Carrault, Robespierre and his three brothers María, Agustín and Henrietta were abandoned by his father on the death of his mother in 1764. Since that time Robespierre was sponsored by the Archbishop of Arras, who gave him the possibility of completing their education thanks to a scholarship of law at the College Louis-le-Grand in Paris, in law school, which allowed him to enter the College of lawyers of Artois in 1781. Until their final transfer to Paris, after being elected as Deputy of the third estate in the elections to the States General, convened by King Luis XVI in may 1789, Robespierre just had excelled in the area of public life, while he/she had been a member of the criminal court until 1788, belonging exclusively to the society of the rosatis who was devoted to literary productionmainly poetry. His writings at this early stage of his life were imbued with all social theories of French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, influence that never abandoned, but they nonetheless reflected some Catholic and royalist sentiment.

His political activity and its progressive role in the history of France were the product of the consequences of the convening of the aforementioned States General, transformed into the National Constituent Assembly after the assault on the Bastille on 14 July 1789, round with which began the revolutionary process which the bourgeoisie travelled to the nobility as main and privileged political class. Robespierre was noted for his oratory brilliance and its innate ability to conviction, as well as recognized one of his most illustrious political enemies as Mirabeau. During 1790 the influence of his Jacobin party delivered more than a hundred speeches at an Assembly in which each time was more meaningful as it became clear to be elected Secretary in June of that same year.

Then, from the ideological point of view, Robespierre had clearly opted for two positions: on the one hand, as a fervent defender of democratic reforms and, secondly, as enemy number one of the monarchical institution. In reference to the first point, in general terms, its political program claimed the need to implement universal suffrage, the abolition of any restriction to enter in the National Guard, or in any other public office, as well as the removal of the ability of the so-called Royal veto and ministerial abuses that the law allowed. Dedicated, in addition, extensive efforts to make the Declaration of rights of man and of the citizen in the preamble of the French Constitution of September 3, 1791 adopted to respond to the wishes of moderate transformation of the Gironde, main opposition political and that then-majority in the constituent Assembly.

With regard to its anti-royalist conception, this was assimilated outright after the unsuccessful escape attempt of the Royal family, which sought to reach Austria and win for their cause to the remaining European absolute monarchies. The arrest of Luis XVI at Varennes resulted in around an outbreak of demonstrations and street violence that culminated in the massacre of the Champ de Mars. Robespierre, who had publicly stated the need to judge the monarch as an offender, left his home for fear of the reaction of the royalists, and stayed for several months in the House of Maurice Duplay.

He thus became one of the first defenders of the Republic representatives, because although the King had with majority support, not only of the nobility and clergy, but even within the Jacobin group, Robespierre got that people saw their monarch as a traitor, which made extend a Republican sentiment unknown so far.

In April 1792, France was at war with Austria, war that would soon spread throughout Europe. At the same time and given the new exceptional situation, the Legislative Assembly of 1791 was suspended, the monarchy abolished in August of that same year and in September is called elections for a National Convention, in which Robespierre was elected as a member of. Events rushed in parallel to the increase of the influence and power of Robespierre and the more radical Jacobins, supported by the people, mainly by the sans-culottes. That's how Robespierre called for and got, not by legal principles but by reason of State, the death penalty for Luis XVI - who ran the 21 January 1793-, which ended up expelling Convention on May 26, 1793 the political opposition. Important figures belonging to the moderate and monarchic French revolutionary bourgeoisie represented by the Gironde were arrested, while others such as Condorcet fled Paris.

Since then, the Convention program, which Robespierre helped draw up, consisted mainly of suppressing anarchy, civil strife and internal and external counterrevolutionary forces. He/She prepared a new Constitution, Republican and democratic, while creating a new body of direct revolutionary action as it was the Committee of public safety which, with its twelve members, became the centerpiece of the governmental power of an emergency basis.

Robespierre, Louis de Saint-just, Georges Couthon and Carnot, Jean Jacques Danton and René Hébert were some of the most influential characters throughout a year that went down in history as the reign of Terror, as the guillotine became almost in exclusivity in the unique method for the defense of the revolution. Symbol of this period, about forty thousand people of different social and political origin died as a result of the abuse and the indiscriminate use of this instrument. Realists, such as María Antonieta, Gironde, Jacobins or Highlanders of extreme left, such as Hébert and his followers, or more moderate, like Danton, members of the sans-culottes and its more radical factions, known as the enragés, died guillotined until July 28, 1794 (9 Thermidor, according to the revolutionary calendar) Robespierre and his most loyal followers and colleagues followed the same pathguillotined in the Plaza of the revolution, current Place de la Concorde, after having been taken prisoner by order of bars and other members of the Convention, opening a new stage which became known as thermidoriana reaction.

Maximilien Robespierre was for historians one of the most contentious and controversial of contemporary history, as that was for their peers. He/She left written few works, among which it is worth to highlight some as mémoire sur les infamous Combs, mémoire pour le Sieur Dupond, as well as some articles published in Les Lettres à ses commettant, newspaper whose existence was too short. For many, Robespierre was a despotic centralism that drowned the popular movement, responsible for indirectly favouring middle-class counterrevolution; for others, however, Robespierre represented the Alliance of bourgeois revolutionary spirit with the plain people, unsuccessful in its goals as a result of the combination of two factors: the disastrous economic situation inherited of the congealed structures of the ancien régime and the international context to see France forced to maintain a war against all the European powers.


BOULOISEAU, M. Robespierre (Paris: 1957).

-Le Salut Public Committee, (1793-1795). (Paris: 1962).

THOMPSON, J. M. Robespierre, ([2 vol.] 1969).

GALLO, M. de l'homme Robespierre. Histoire d'une solitude (Paris: PLON, 1994).