Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Fall of Robespierre, Edited by Daniel E. White

Glossary

Calendar

1.221 Sabbath bells

Taken in the context of the play, the song's reference to the "Sabbath bells" registers an association between natural domesticity, Christianity, and the traditional marking of time under the Gregorian calendar. As part of its rationalization of time, the new Revolutionary calendar divided each month into three Décades, or ten days, with the tenth day of each called the Décadi as a day of rest to replace the old Sabbath.

The new calendar officially came into use on September 22, 1793. According to the new calendar, this was the 1st Vendémiaire of year II, meaning that the preceding September 22 was the first day of the new style, year I. The calendar divided the year into four seasons and twelve months (see below) of thirty days each. Each month was divided into three Décades, and the ten days of each Décade were named simply Primidi, Duodi, Tridi, Quartidi, Quintidi, Sextidi, Septidi, Octidi, Nonidi, and Décadi. Because the twelve new months comprised 360 days, the remaining five days were declared festivals, or Sansculottides, all following the last day of Fructidor (from September 17-21, old style): these were the fêtes de Vértu (Virtue), Génie (Genius), Travail (Labor), l'Opinion (Opinion), and Récompenses (Rewards). Every leap year (1796, 1800, 1804), a sixth or jour complémentaire, the Festival of the Revolution, was added after the other Sansculottides. The calendar was discontinued in March 1805.

I have adapted the following chart from Carlyle's History of the French Revolution (p. 661):

Add

Days

To the

number

of the

day in

Vendémiaire

Brumaire

Frimaire

 

Nivose

Pluviose

Ventose

 

Germinal

Floréal

Prairial

 

Messidor

Thermidor

Fructidor

21

21

20

 

20

19

18

 

20

19

19

 

18

18

17

We have

the

number

of the

day in

September

October

November

 

December

January

February

 

March

April

May

 

June

July

August

30

31

30

 

31

31

28

 

31

30

31

 

30

31

31

 

Commune

1.91 commune

 The Paris Commune was the Parisian municipal government. It emerged spontaneously after the storming of the Bastille and gradually acquired legal status. It consisted of 144 elected delegates, three from each of the 48 sections of Paris. The Commune was divided into five departments, each responsible for supervising different administrative tasks (subsistence, police, national estates and finances, public institutions, and public works).

Especially through its influence over sans-culotte activism, the Commune expanded its political role as the Revolution progressed. When Girondins deputies from the National Convention denounced what they perceived to be the excessive influence of Paris in relation to other municipalities in political decisions, the Commune allied with the Jacobins to oust the Girondins from the Convention in May-June 1793. Despite the Commune's continued advocacy for the sans-culottes, its power declined as the Committee of Public Safety placed a virtual stranglehold on other institutions' political agency. The trial and execution of Jacques-René Hébert and his followers, the ultra-radical Hébertists, in March 1794 further weakened the Commune's power, as did the Thermidorian reaction. The Commune's call for popular support to save Robespierre on 9 Thermidor only generated assistance from nineteen sections, and approximately three-quarters of the Commune's members were guillotined for their loyalty to Robespierre. The Constitution of 1795 eliminated the Commune's political function altogether.

 

Convention

1.246 Convention

The National Convention was the assembly that governed France from 20 September 1792 until 26 October 1795, having been initially elected to set up a constitution after the toppling of the monarchy on 10 August 1792. Its early achievements were the official abolition of the monarch (21 September 1792) and the institution of the republic (22 September 1792); it also oversaw the trial and execution of Louis XVI and France's military defense against the antirevolutionary European coalition.

The Convention consisted of 749 deputies (elected by universal manhood suffrage), who were also known as delegates and representatives, and was divided between two factions, the Jacobin Montagnards and the more moderate Girondins, for the first eight months of its existence; between these factions was the inchoate body of deputies known as the Plain. The Montagnards aimed to extend greater political power to the lower classes, while the Girondins aimed to create a bourgeois republic and to reduce the power of Paris over French political affairs. The Montagnards, condemning the Girondins for their promotion of battles that were ultimately unsuccessful in the war against the antirevolutionary European coalition, purged prominent Girondin deputies from the convention via a popular insurrection (31 May-2 June 1793).

Thus, the second phase of the Convention was dominated by the Montagnards and increasingly by Maximilien Robespierre. The Convention established the Committee of Public Safety, which largely controlled the Convention's legislative prerogative.

The conspiracy against Robespierre culminated in the events of 9 Thermidor and resulted in the Thermidorian reaction, the final phase of the Convention, in which the balance of power shifted to the moderates (known as the Plain). Girondins who had surviving the purges orchestrated by the Jacobins were recalled to the convention and the leading Montagnards were purged in retaliation. In August 1795 the Convention ratified the constitution for the succeeding regime, the bourgeois-dominated Directory (1795-99).

 

Jacobin club

1.258 fierce club

The Jacobin club, or Jacobins, was a famous Revolutionary group, whose members dominated the National Convention from the summer of 1793 to the summer of 1794, during the Terror.

The first instantiation of the Jacobins was the Club Breton at Versailles, where the deputies representing Brittany on the Estates General (later the National Assembly) of 1789 met with deputies from other parts of France to create a united front. When the National Assembly was formed, the group was renamed the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, commonly known as the Jacobin Club because of its meetings at a former convent whose Dominican inhabitants had been known in Paris as Jacobins. Affiliate clubs soon sprung up all over France.

In September 1792, when France was declared a republic, the Club renamed itself the Society of the Jacobins, Friends of Liberty and Equality. Its leanings became increasingly leftist and popular as it admitted Montagnard deputies from the National Convention and began to fashion itself as the voice of the Parisian working class. The Club, particularly under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre, played a central role in the execution of Louis XVI in January 1793 and in the purging of the more moderate Girondin deputies from the National Convention in June 1793.

Jacobin clubs throughout France imposed the Terror on alleged enemies of the Revolutionary government in 1793-94. They also facilitated the dechristianizing movement and gathered supplies for the army.

After the overthrow of Robespierre, the Parisian Jacobin Club was temporarily closed, then reopened as a focal point of resistance to the Thermidorian government, only to be permanently closed on 11 November 1794.

 

Law of 22 Prairial

1.142 Couthon's decree

The Law of 22 Prairial (10 June 1794). Couthon was instrumental in getting the National Convention to pass the Law of 22 Prairial, which inhibited debate and thus sped the trials of anti-revolutionaries.

 

Lyon

1.79 Lyons

The second-largest city in France in 1789, with approximately 140,000 inhabitants, Lyon was the capital of the Rhône département. Due in part to its proximity to the Swiss and German borders, Lyon was a haven for émigrés and a power base for moderates and royalists. In 1789-90, the city was first plunged into violence as royalists and supporters of the revolution fought for control of the local militia and supply of arms. The September Massacres in 1792 led to more violence when Jacobins gained control of the city. Moderates and royalists, however, gained the upper hand in May 1793, and the city then supported the federalist revolt against the National Convention in the summer and fall of 1793 following the purge of the Girondins deputies. Republican forces laid siege to the city, which fell in October, upon which (on 12 October) the Convention declared, "Lyon made war on Liberty; Lyon is no more." The Committee of Public Safety sent Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois and Joseph Fouché as representatives on mission to impose the Terror in Lyon and punish the rebels. In the six months from October 1793 to March 1794, nearly 1,900 Lyonnais were executed, most by guillotine and many in mass executions by grapeshot fired from cannons. The city was temporarily renamed Commune-Affranchie (Liberated Commune).

 

sans-culottes

1.36 mob

3.15 Paris

A heterogeneous group composed of laborers, shopkeepers, journeymen, and craftsmen, often but not exclusively without wealth or property. The name sans-culottes refers to the fact that, unlike the aristocracy, these commoners did not wear breaches. Originally derogatory, the term was appropriated by a range of revolutionaries and made into a badge of honor. Among their more coherent positions were their support for direct democracy and the expression of the popular will through insurrection, for equality of possession through the redistribution of wealth, and for government regulation of the economy, especially the establishment of a maximum on the price of wheat and flour in order to keep the cost of bread down. The sans culottes were loosely organized through the sectional assemblies, the municipal organizations of the 48 sections into which Paris was divided, and through various popular societies. Their agency was crucial to the major journées of the early revolution — 14 July 1789 (the fall of the Bastille), 5-6 October (the march to Versailles), 20 June and 10 August 1792 (the invasions of the Tuileries), 2-6 September (the prison massacres), 31 May-2 June 1793 (the overthrow of the Girondins), 4-5 September (the uprising prompting the declaration of terror and the passage of the general maximum).

In this light, the crowd plays an interesting role in the play, as it did in the events of Thermidor, by not acting. William Jewett insightfully proposes that the play dramatizes the crowd's "strategic nonact of refusing to serve as a personifiable agent. It was perhaps the first time that the revolutionary crowd declined to play the role of the people, so that it decided the course of events not by intervening as an actor but by standing by as disaggregated spectators. One can imagine British onlookers following the process by which agencies of representation aiming to unite the masses into the people — the rising popular press, generally, and on this occasion also the enforced spectatorship of Robespierre's Festival of the Supreme Being, which preceded Thermidor by a short two weeks — reversed field to turn the people back into the masses, depriving the people of the identity and mission that had been manufactured for it" (Fatal Autonomy, p. 47).

 

1.110 sections

The term refers to the 48 sections of Paris both as geographical divisions and as political institutions (the "section assemblies"). During the administrative reorganization of France in 1789, major towns and cities were divided into sections to facilitate elections. In May and June 1790, Paris, with a population of 525,000 the largest city in France, was divided into 48 sections. Each of the section assemblies elected three delegates to the Commune. Typically, section assemblies met annually for electoral purposes, but in July 1792 the Legislative Assembly granted the sections of Paris the right to meet en permanence, meaning that they could convene themselves by their own authority. Because attendance among voting citizens was low, on 9 September 1793 the Convention suppressed permanence, limiting meetings of the section assemblies to two per décade (the ten-day unit of time that replaced the old seven-day week under the Revolutionary Calendar) and subsidizing poorer citizens. Section assemblies were typically the hotbeds of direct democracy and sans-culotte militancy. Although the different sections were not always coherent or united, the ability to organize the sections, and to coordinate with the Jacobin and Cordeliers clubs, was a crucial factor in the invasion of the Tuileries on 10 August 1792 and the uprising against the Girondins deputies in May and June 1793. Robespierre relied on them for support on 9 Thermidor, but they ultimately failed to rally against the Convention, thus passively backing the conspiracy against him. After Thermidor, the Convention abolished the section assemblies in October 1795.

 

Revolutionary Tribunal

1.91 stern tribunal

The Revolutionary Tribunal, created in March 1793, was a response to heightening fears of counterrevolution following a series of military defeats, the treason of General Dumouriez, and the beginning of the royalist uprising in the Vendée. As decreed by the Convention, the Tribunal would have jurisdiction over "all counterrevolutionary activites, all attacks on liberty, equality, unity, the indivisibility of the Republic, the internal and external security of the state, and all plots tending to reestablish the monarchy or any other authority hostile to liberty, equality, and the sovereignty of the people" (qtd. in Scott and Rothaus, 823). The Tribunal consisted of five judges, a jury of twelve men, and a public prosecutor — Antoine-Quentin Fouquier-Tinville, who held the office from April 1793 until he himself was guillotined on 6 May 1795. In the six months between its inception in March 1793 and the following September, the Tribunal deliberated with relative care, sentencing forty-nine people to death. After 5 September, when Terror was declared the order of the day, the number of judges was increased to sixteen and of jurors to sixty, the staff of the prosecutor was expanded, and the Tribunal was divided into two sections so that each could deliberate separately and simultaneously. The Law of Suspects (17 September) dramatically broadened the definitions of those who could be tried as suspected counterrevolutionaries, thus increasing the numbers who came before the Tribunal. An estimated 70,000 suspects were arrested over the following year. In the final phase of the Terror, the Law of 22 Prairial (10 June 1794) further broadened the range of who could be brought before the Tribunal as a suspect, divided the Tribunal into four sections, made the death penalty the only sentence other than acquittal which the Tribunal could hand down, eliminated cross-examination of witnesses, eliminated defense counsel for conspirators (retaining it only for "calumniated patriots"), and allowed juries to consider "either material or moral proofs." In the six weeks from 10 June until the end of July, the Tribunal sentenced 1,594 people to death. By the time the Tribunal was abolished in May 1795, it had sentenced over 2,700 people to death.

 

Toulon
1.98 Toulon

Town and port, capital of Var département, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of southeastern France. As in Lyon, Jacobins took control of the city in the summer and fall of 1792, but Toulon sided with the federalists in July 1793, and in August the royalists surrendered the city, along with its strategic port and arsenal, to the English, an act which came to be seen as one of the great betrayals of the Revolution. In the three-month siege which followed, Napoleon Bonaparte commanded the republican artillery. The siege ended on 19 December with the withdrawal of the Anglo-Spanish forces. In retreat, they blew up the arsenal and burned 42 French ships, taking as many royalists with them as space permitted. Revolutionary troops recaptured the town, which was temporarily renamed Port-la-Montagne (Mountain Gate). From 20-23 December, 800 rebels were shot outright, without trial, and another 300 were sentenced to death between then and April 1794.

 

Tuileries Palace

1.1SD. Thuilleries

The Palais des Tuileries, or Tuileries Palace, adjacent to the Louvre in Paris, had been uninhabited by the royal family for the preceding century when it became the residence of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, their two children (the dauphin Louis Charles and Marie Thérèse Charlotte), some servants, several courtiers, and the Swiss Guard after the family's coerced return to Paris from Versailles on 6 October 1789. Over the next two years, the family was confined to the palace and forbidden to travel. On 20 June 1791, the family attempted to flee to the eastern frontier, but they were apprehended in Varennes and returned to the Tuileries, where they were placed under close guard. A year later, on the anniversary of the "Flight to Varennes," a crowd of sans-culottes, angered by the king's use of his veto power and his dismissal of Jacobin ministers in favor of the constitutional-monarchist Feuillants, invaded the Tuileries and forced Louis to wear a Phrygian cap, an emblem of liberty (in antiquity signifying a freed slave) used during the French Revolution and in earlier societies, and to drink the health of the people. In the second invation of the Tuileries, culminating on 10 August 1792, the king fled to the Legislative Assembly, where he was placed under arrest, after which many of the king's loyal Swiss Guard were killed by sans-culottes militants, encouraged by the "Insurrectionary" Commune (city government) of Paris, and the Marseille fédérés. The palace was severely damaged. Beginning in May 1793, the Tuileries housed the National Convention, and the Committee of Public Safety shortly thereafter. Royal decorations were replaced by symbols of the Revolution. The palace was destroyed by fire in 1871.

Published @ RC

March 2008

Person

City

Country