The Execution of Maximilien de Robespierre, July 28, 1794

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This painting is by an unknown artist and hangs today (more likely it’s in a drawer) in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France) in Paris. The beheaded man whose head is held up to the soldiers standing in formation is not Robespierre, but Couthon, Robespierre’s ally on the oddly-named “Committee of Public Safety.” No greater danger to the French public existed than this “committee.”

Robespierre is shown sitting in the cart, dressed in brown, wearing a hat, and holding a handkerchief to his mouth. He had tried to commit suicide with a pistol earlier that morning but succeeded only in shooting his jaw nearly off. My later study of the French Revolution reveals that he did not shoot himself but was shot by someone else. The part about his jaw being shot off is true. The actual execution was cruel because the executioner rapped a rag around his head to reattach his jaw and Roberpierre died in agony.

In the painting, Robespierre’s younger brother Augustin is being led up the steps to the scaffold of the Guillotine, and it appears Robespierre is be executed next.

Note the line of carts behind Robespierre containing about a dozen others on their way to the Guillotine.  Once an arrest warrant was issued by the 9-member “Committee of Public Safety” and the person named was captured the execution was carried out in 24 hours without trial. It appears the headless bodies were thrown off the scaffold to collect on the ground until carts had been emptied into the Guillotine.  Then, I suppose the bodies were piled into the carts and hauled off to be buried in mass graves.

I’ve been reading about Robespierre and especially wanted to find out why his fellow Jacobins Guillotined him. I think I found a lot of balderdash and convoluted nonsense without any clear answer to that question. Historians should never be accused of writing with clarity. I conclude that what I’ve always thought is the correct answer. It’s quite simple: the Jacobins Guillotined Robespierre to keep him from Guillotining them.

That’s the problem when you ride with the devil. The devil may turn round on you.

Roughly 17,000 were Guillotined during the Terror of 1792-1794.  Most of the executions were carried out in Paris, Lyon and Marseille.

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