Maximilien Robespierre

Closely associated with the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, Maximilien Francois Marie Isadore de Robespierre was born in 1758. He controlled the Committee of Public Safety as its Deputy and became one of the best known figures of the revolution. In terms of history, Robespierre is one of France’s most controversial figures. He was immensely influenced by the Enlightenment ideals of Rousseau, but his own idealism became fanatical resulting in the executions of more than a thousand in Paris. His policies finally led to his own execution by the guillotine in 1794.

Robespierre was born in Arras which is located in northern France. His father was a lawyer and his mother’s family owned a brewery. Robespierre was the oldest of four children. After the death of his mother in 1764 due to childbirth complications, Robespierre and his siblings were largely raised by his mother’s family. His father began to wander Europe after the death of his wife and died in 1777.

Robespierre attended school in Arras eventually winning a scholarship to study in Paris. He was influenced by the ideals of the Roman Republic as well as figures such as Rousseau. Robespierre was admitted to the Arras Bar and by 1782 had become a criminal judge. Although he resigned his position as judge, Robespierre became one of the leading men of Arras due to his success as a lawyer, speaker, and writer. In 1789 Robespierre traveled to Versailles after he was elected as Deputy for the Third Estate. He and like-minded supporters to the far left in their political theories formed the Jacobin Club. Robespierre, over the course of the subsequent revolution, became one of the most powerful patriots in Paris.

In 1792 Robespierre argued for the death of Louis XVI believing it was essential in order to safeguard the revolution. Afterward, he and his supporters exerted increasing political influence and began to order the arrests of opposing factions which would grow into the Reign of Terror whereby anyone who opposed Robespierre and his committee were regarded as counter-revolutionaries and executed by the guillotine. As the elected Deputy of the Committee of Public Safety, Robespierre was so dominant that he operated much as a de facto dictator.

Robespierre used his power to push his political ideas as well as his Deist beliefs. During the last phase of his power, his Tribunal began to order executions based on simple condemnations and no longer required witnesses or legal evidence. His Deist beliefs were also unpopular with the Convention and helped fuel a mood of distrust. A year later Robespierre faced charges of tyranny. He was arrested in 1894 and guillotined without a trial along with his brother and other close followers.