French history

The men of blood get their comeuppance in Revolutionary France

Colin Jones’s hour-by-hour reconstruction of the fall of Maximilien Robespierre, the French revolutionary most associated with the Terror, is inspired by Louis-Sébastien Mercier, who believed that only by getting ‘up close’ to the ‘infinitely small’ details would it be possible to understand the truth about a Revolution that was stranger than fiction. Mercier (1740-1815) was an early science fiction novelist, a journalist, politician and Parisian. He was not an eyewitness to the fall of Robespierre because he was in prison in 1794, one of 73 moderate members of the governing Convention who had been arrested and held as ‘Robespierre’s hostages’. The Convention was a representative body of 749 deputies, charged

France will always have a love-hate relationship with its heroes

The French have a love-hate relationship with heroes. For the great 19th-century historian Jules Michelet, the French Revolution was supposed to have inaugurated the age of the people: ‘France cured of individuals,’ he wrote in the preface to his history. But that same Revolution created a pantheon for its grands hommes. Anyone who has spent time in France will be familiar with the names of those figures celebrated endlessly in street names: Hugo, Gambetta, Pasteur, Jaurès, Moulin and so on. Many French people might now be hard-pressed if asked who some of these heroes were. But the two names everyone knows — even if neither is actually in the Panthéon