A major figure of the French Revolution
. A lawyer from the town of Arras, he was an advocate of human rights as defined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom he admired deeply. As a "lawyer for the common people", he gained respect and prominence among the locals, who eventually elected him to represent them in the Estates-General, France's pre-revolutionary representative body. Shortly after the Estates-General convened in 1789, the Revolution began with the Tennis Court Oath, in which the representatives of the common people decided to push for a constitution and governmental reform for France. Robespierre was influential in the formation of the intended new government and became a prominent member of the radical Jacobin Club (political "clubs" were in some ways parallel to political parties in modern democratic states).
During the short lived constitutional monarchy, many revolutionaries including the moderate Girondins advocated going to war in order to spread the ideas of the French Revolution. Robespierre took a hardline stance against the war, warning that, "No one loves armed missionaries." However, despite his protests France declared war a few months later on Austria and Prussia.
As revolutionary France faced various problems within and without, the legislative assembly suspended its newly written constitution and formed a de facto emergency government, the Committee of Public Safety. Robespierre was chosen to join the committee. It was this Committee that instituted the Law of Suspects, which provided the legal justification for the Terror
, as an emergency measure to bring the country under control. Robespierre was never actually the dictator or in any way the sole leader of France. He was
the intellectual and moral backbone for the Committee while it ran the country; however, his influence within the Committee was subject to the machinations of other members and tended to ebb and flow.
While Robespierre is usually portrayed (and not without reason) as the personification of the worst excesses of the Revolution, he actually fought as ferociously against radicals as he did royalists. While no devout Christian himself, he eventually came to despise the atheistic bent of many in the French government and had quite a few of them guillotined. He later presided over a Festival of the Supreme Being, which celebrated a kind of middle path between old-style Catholicism and atheism; his performance there led many of his enemies to allege that he considered himself a God. Robespierre also ordered the execution of many proto-socialists, who wanted the new France to abolish private property and share all wealth in common.
In short, he considered himself a man walking a narrow, winding path through a dangerous forest, with enemies on both left and right plotting the destruction of France. Seeing foreign plots to snuff out the Revolution everywhere, he violently lashed out at those enemies using the power of the Committee. Eventually, as his former colleague-turned-enemy Danton (who he had guillotined) predicted, the machinery of death he set in motion consumed him, and he was himself guillotined in July ( Thermidor) of 1794.
Personally, Robespierre was a slight, somewhat fastidious man who maintained immaculate dress and cleanliness at all times, although said dress was perpetually worn and out of fashion. His nickname was "The Incorruptible," and it was not ironic in any way. One biography of Robespierre is entitled "Fatal Purity."
A highly controversial person, the level of sympathy allotted to him depends on the work. Compare with Richard of Gloucester
, the English king similarly known for falling anywhere between a villain and a Silent Scapegoat
depending on the author's perspective. He also has a number of similarities with Vladimir Lenin
It's worth noting that many of the morality tropes listed here differ in different works/character representations.
Provides examples of:
- Accidental Misnaming: At the beginning of his political career, journalists chronicling the goings-on at the National Assemby called him everything from Robespierrot to Robests-piesse, Robertz-Pierre to Rabesse-Pierre.
- Affably Evil
- A God Am I: During the Festival of the Supreme Being, as he came down with the festival procession, Jacques-Alexis Thuriot is quoted as saying "Look at the bugger; it's not enough for him to be master, he has to be God."
- Alternative Character Interpretation: in different works.
- Anti-Hero: Type III during the first years of the revolution, type IV after the murder of Marat and type V during his last year.
- Asexuality: One popular theory.
- The Dandy
- Dark Messiah: The real-life poster boy.
- Draco in Leather Pants: He seems to be fairly popular in France.
- Not really in the media though. Most articles and books about him are very negative.
- Many left-wing intellectuals in France have/had a sordid tendency to idealize the Reign of Terror and Robespierre. To them, anyone who thinks he was tyrannical and/or represented the rising liberal bourgeoisie is labelled... a right-wing bourgeois reactionary, a collaborator of capital, etc. Left-wing criticisms of Robespierre and the French revolution tend to come from the anarchist/left-libertarian tradition, which has a history of clashing with authoritarian Marxism as well (Marxist-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc).
- Everyone Went to School Together: Robespierre and his friend-turned-political-enemy Camille Desmoulins were schoolmates, and even classmates. Robespierre then had Camille Desmoulins' head off. Napoleon and Robes' younger brother Augustin were friends, as well.
- In fact Robespierre served as best man at Desmoulin's wedding.
- Also, he was the best Latin student at his school. This meant he was supposed to give a welcoming speech to the newly crowned....King Louis XVI.
- Four Eyes, Zero Soul
- French Revolution: Obviously.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Who would have thought a pale, meek milquetoast would become one of the most feared revolutionaries in history?
- Full-Circle Revolution: His downfall was related to one.
- God Is Dead: He took part to the dechristianisation of France when he tried to establish the Cult of Reason and the Supreme Being. That is, state deism. He did so because while he saw christianism (especially the Church) as a threat for the Revolution, he also disapproved of atheism which was promoted by hard-liners revolutionnaries (like Hébert) in the Cult of Reason.
- He Who Fights Monsters: He was actually against the death penalty in his younger ages but during the French Revolutionary Wars he began to use the guillotine against France's enemies, including the royal family. It got worse when Marat was murdered by a supporter of the rival Girondin Club.
- Historical-Domain Character - Historical Villain Upgrade in most works.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: He was eventually executed via guillotine, the fate he and his regime assigned to so many others.
- Irony: Despite the vast number of people he had beheaded, he couldn't stand the sight of blood.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Going from 'lawyer highly respected by the common people' to 'main figure in a Reign of Terror who winds up being Hoisted By His Own Petard' would be bad enough, but a little bit of irony makes it worse: in the early phases of the Revolution, Robespierre wrote a little pamphlet about how the death penalty is wrong, and should not be usednote .
- More generally, his actions throughout his revolutionary career were directed at creating a just society and preserving a nation in crisis. He jumped off the slope (according to some) by using terror to achieve this.
- Just the First Citizen: Deputy and Member of the Committee of Public Safety.
- Knight Templar
- Mis-blamed: He actually vehemently opposed a lot of the actions that were attributed to him (like the drownings in Nantes) and was by no means the main instigator of The Terror originally. He wasn't even the one who signed the most execution orders among the Committee.
- Off with His Head!: The Terror regime he served brought many, many people to the guillotine. And it was his ultimate fate.
- Overly-Long Name: See Unfortunate Names below.
- Pure Is Not Good / Good Is Not Nice (depending on one's perspective).
- Scary Shiny Glasses
- Reign of Terror: A participant in the original; notably, he and his allies actually called it by that name.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized
- Full-Circle Revolution: Was brought down by the former Trope Namer, The Thermidor.
- Unfortunate Names: Maximilien François Marie Isidore Robespierre.
- Justified in context as 18th Century French names were like this. Compare Lafayette's real name: Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette.
- The Republic of Virtue Justifies The Means
- Well-Intentioned Extremist
Works featuring this character: