Monday, 31 July 2017

A 21st-century portrait of Maximilien....

Maximilien de Robespierre by Julien Lasbleiz
"Digital work of Maximilien Robespierre using the death mask and some of the paintings as references.  The purpose was to get the most realistic, accurate and plausible face as much as I could" ©2014-2015 JulienLasbleiz

This marvellous image is the work of Canadian film and animation artist, Julien Lasbleiz.  It is based on the same death/life mask used by Philippe Froesch in his facial reconstruction of 2013, plus data from existing artworks, finished to create the impression of an oil painting.

 Of course, no-one knows if the portrait is actually true to life, but it is certainly a valuable corrective to Philippe Froesch's harsh image.  Julien Lasbleiz is obviously sympathetic towards his subject; the colouring seems right - though perhaps a little to florid? -  and he successfully incorporates evidence from the mask, with its pitted skin, without making of Robespierre a monster.


Julien LaBleiz, Robespierre - presentation and comments on

Friday, 28 July 2017

Arras, Robespierre and modern memory

A new Robespierre museum is promised in Arras.  Some might say, "At last".  To the outsider, unaware of the fraught legacy, it comes as a real surprise to learn that Arras does not already have a Robespierre museum.  The ARBR, set up in 1987,  has campaigned for 30 years.  In December 2016 the Mayor of Arras and his Council  finally agreed that the Arras Office of Tourism should take direct control of the Maison Robespierre and a committee of experts was set up to steer the museum project.....

Is this the end of a fraught conflict?

The SER and the plaque on the Maison Robespierre

"Arras has never felt comfortable with its most illustrious native son" (Kaplan, p.450). This is something of an understatement.   Rejected throughout the nineteenth century as a bloodthirsty monster, in the nineteenth century Robespierre was held responsible for local as well as national depradations.  Plans to erect a statue to his memory in Arras, formulated in 1848 and reiterated by Louis Blanc in 1870s, fell on deaf ears.

In the early years of 20th century Albert Mathiez and Charles Vellay founded the Société des Études Robespierristes, with the objective of rendering Robespierre "the justice that is due him", mainly through critical editions of his work and scholarly studies.  In October 1723, after sixteen years of lobbying,  the SER succeeded in having a plaque erected on the Maison Robespierre.  The ceremony was presided over by by Mathiez and the Left-wing mayor of Arras. Gustave Lemelle.  The favourable press reported that five hundred persons attended;  according to opponents,  there were fifty "drinkers of blood", "mostly foreigners".

For  a commemorative statue...

 Mathiez's further plan to erect a statue continued to meet with stiff opposition.  In 1925, just as he was on the brink of success, the plaque on the Maison Robespierre was vandalised and had to be removed removed. (It was later replaced but so high up that no-one could read it.).  Finally in 1932 the municipal council, which was controlled by the Radical Socialists, agreed to a monument to be furnished by the SER and annonced a solemn ceremony of dedication to be held on 15th October 1933.  The road in which the Maison stood was also renamed rue Maximilien Robespierre. Local politicians tried  to play down political significance of the move, casting Robespierre as a distinguished local lawyer, academician and member of the Rosati.

A bitter quarrel ensued. A committee of opposition was formed and the head of the order of lawyers and the president of the Academy both refused to participate in the dedication ceremony.  When members of the Rosati agreed to co-operated, their president, Émile Poiteau, resigned. The Arras newspaper Le Courrier published lists of local victims of the Terror - 1,675 names in all - and there were demandsfor the ceremony to be banned in deference to the dead.  Poiteau's call for a boycott was seconded by the bishop of Arras.

Clodel's Robespierre in the Hôtel de Ville -
sternly ignoring the flowery wallpaper

On the morning of the dedication, the anti-Robespierrists set up three model wooden guillotines, filled with cement and weighing two hundred kilograms each, at the site of the Revolutionary executions and on the major squares; cardboard heads were hung on  lamposts and  red paint poured in the streets to simulate blood.  Although was claimed that the guillotines were bobbytrapped with bombs, the police successfully dismantled them and arrested a royalist lawyer who had tried to paint the mayor's house.

The president of the SER,Georges Lefebvre and his delegation were greeted at the railway station by three Socialist deputies of the region and the ceremony passed without incident, though most of the elected officials of Arras avoided the luncheon banquet. The gathering was addressed by the mayor and by the great grandson of the physician who had attended to Robespierre's wounds in Thermidor.  Lefebvre's keynote lecture, delivered to an audience of several hundred in the municipal theatre, praised Robespierre as the apostle of social democracy and a pragmatic defender of the nation.

The bust, sculpted by Maurice Clodel, was supposed to have been placed in the gardens of the Palais du Vaast. but was instead installed in the reception hall of the Hôtel de Ville.  It was then temporarily relegated to a back room where it remained for many years.

Later campaigns

In the post-War years, with the expansion and modernisation of Arras, passions lessened, but nonetheless controversy was not entirely dead.  In 1958, the bicentenary of Robespierre's birth,  a series of commemorative projects was proposed, but vetoed at the last minute by the national government despite  support from the mayor of Arras, the Socialist leader Guy Mollet. There were some concessions.  Local history teachers, campaigned to have a school named for their hero, and the Arras boys' high-school was finally rechristened after demands from the students themselves during the demonstrations of May 1968. (However, an official inauguration of the new Lycée Robespierre has never taken place).

With the bicentenary looming, a new local pressure group, the Amis de Robespierre pour le Bicentenaire de la Révolution was founded in 1987, the under presidency of a local lawyer Fernand Bleitrach. By 1989 the ARBR had 450 or so members in the region and instigated a number of different commemorations, including a "Robespierre day" organised in conjunction with the Société des Études Robespierristes.   At this event, in June 1988 ,Michel Vovelle,president of the SER , travelled to Arras in June 1988 and, evoking a lecture given by Mathiez in Arras in 1920, delivered an address:  "Why are were still Robespierrists"?  .

Discours prononcé au théâtre d'Arras le 11 juin 1988 par M. Michel Vovelle...: Pourquoi nous sommes encore robespierriste", Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 1988 274(1) p.498-506.

In 1990 the ARBR succeeded in having a copy of Claudel's statue erected in the courtyard of the Lycée Robespierre.

Towards a museum

In 1992, after a determined campaign by the ARBR, the Maison Robespierre was finally acquired by the municipality.  However,  the space was not given over to Robespierre himself but instead housed the collections of the Compagnons du Tour de France. In 2011 an Association pour un Musée Robespierre was set up to renew the issue of a museum.
In 2012 the ARBR launched an internet petition which collected six thousand signatures from across the world.  (Even in 2012 opposition ran high: a counter-petition was promptly launched by the society Vendéens & Chouans.)

The Alliance Royale posts a reminder of the victims of the Terror, 2015

In December last the Mayor and Town Council gave their support in principle to the project. According to La Voix du Nord, they were swayed by considerations of tourism;  adverse reviews on "le célèbre site Internet de voyages TripAdvisor" amply confirmed that most visitors came to the Maison Robespierre expecting to find echoes of its famous inhabitant. There was some initial suggestion that the museum should include all famous "enfants d'Arras", but this may have been a tactic to diffuse opposition.  The Comité Scientifique, which was appointed to investigate, is headed up by Gérard Barbier, long-time ally of the ARBR, and includes Robespierre's biographer Hervé Leuwers.  

The group made its initial report in May.  They stated a general intention to create "a centre of interpretation rather than a museum" and to involve other historic sites around Arras. They hope to have a preliminary exhibition available soon.

 Comité scientifique de la Maison Robespierre

M. Gérard BARBIER – President [in front of Robespierre]

• M. Bernard SENECA, former head of the Arras Office of Culture
• M. Charles GIRY-DELOISON, Professor of Modern History, University of Artois
• M. Alain NOBILOS, Arras historian and campaigner for Arras architectural heritage.
• M. Hervé LEUWERS, Professor at the University of Lille 3, director of the Annales historiques de la Révolution française, biographer of Robespierre.

• M. Larent WIART - Secretary (I think!)
• M. Guillaume MAZEAU, Maître de Conférence – Paris I Sorbonne
• Mme Catherine DHERENT, Archivist

Not in photo:
• M. Jean-Pierre JESSENNE, Professor Emeritus of Lille 3.  A specialist in history "au village" in 18th-19th France.
• Mme Martine AUBRY, Digital humanities specialist, Lille 3.

Reporting to Mayor Frédéric Leturque on 6th May


Anne Gillion, "La Mémoire de Robespierre à Arras", Revue du Nord, 71, 1989.

Steven Laurence Kaplan, Farewell, Revolution:  disputed legacies, France 1789/1989 (Cornell,1995) [Extracts on Google Books]

On plans for a new museum:

"La Maison de Robespierre : Communiqué de presse", ARBR 21 March 2017

Articles in La Voix du Nord:

Géraldine Csizmadia , "La Maison Robespierre va accueillir les « enfants d’Arras »",  14.12.2016.

Achille Thomas, "Le comité scientifique en route pour penser le futur de la Maison Robespierre". , 12.02.2017.

Thomas Bourgeois, "Et si demain, les touristes débarquaient pour… visiter la maison de Robespierre?", 08.05.2017

_____,  "Et si le révolutionnaire Robespierre attirait les touristes dans la région?" 28.05.2017.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Robespierre's Arras cont.

It is hard to find many traces of Robespierre in Arras. The Association des Amis de Robespierre pour le Bicentenaire de la Révolution [ARBR] has produced a bilingual walking guide with various sites itemised which I have followed it diligently on Google maps but, apart from the imposing central squares, it is mostly a tour of shopping streets, road works and wheelie bins.  Nor is there much official recognition of the town's most famous son - a 19th-century statue stands in the the Hôtel de Ville but there are no municipal plaques and, to the surprise of many visitors, no real Robespierre museum.

Here, such as they are, are the highlights:

Early years

Robespierre's early childhood is a matter of parish records. His parents were married in January 1758 in the church of  St.-Jean-en-Ronville, in the prosperous parish in the south of the old town, and  Robespierre himself was baptised on 6th May 1758 in the church of La Madeleine. The family moved around within the confines of the town: François de Robespierre is recorded living in four different parishes in as many years: St-Géry, Ste-Marie-Madeleine, St-Etienne (where Augustin was baptised) and St-Aubert (where Robespierre's mother was buried in 1764). At the time of Augustin's baptism, François gave his address as the rue des Jésuites.
(Jeunesse, p.13-14).

Register entry for Robespierre's baptism, Church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine
 Archives départementales du Pas-de-Calais (on fr.wikipedia)
None of the churches survive today. The church in the place de la Madeleine where Robespierre was baptisted was demolished in his own time, swept away in the reconstruction of the Abbaye Saint-Vaast.

Robespierre as a boy: "After Boze", c.1800
(No clues as to where this strange painting might be )
12 rue Ronville

 Robespierre's maternal grandfather Jacques Carraut ran a small brewery in the rue Ronville on the edge of the parish of St-Jean.  After their mother's death in July 1764 Maximilien and Augustin went to live with their grandparents whilst the two girls were taken in by their paternal aunts: "So, although born into a long line of lawyers and officials, Maximilien was now to be brought up in a milieu of manuel work, with the sound of carts and workers shouting in the local Picard dialect in the rue Ronville."(McPhee, Robespierre, p.4-5)

This image is pretty hard to conjure up in the modern rue Ronville, a pedestrianised shopping street.  A plaque erected by Société des Études Robespierristes in 1994, marks the site of the house (no.12).

The Collège d'Arras  

The former Jesuit school, the Collège d'Arras, run by the Oratorians after 1775, counted both Robespierre brothers and Joseph Le Bon among its pupils.  Robespierre, who received a bursary from the Abbaye Saint-Vaaste, attended as a day pupil from 1765 until 1769 when he moved to the Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris.

It was in the church  of the Collège  that the corporations of the Third Estate of Arras assembled in March 1789 to begin the process of electing deputies to the Estates-General.

The Oratorians were proscribed in August 1792 and the College closed a year later through lack of pupils. The buildings were sold as biens nationaux.  The school functioned for a time inside Abbey precinct, but in 1795 under the influence of Pierre Daunou the main departmental Collège was re-established in Boulogne rather than Arras.

Today the school is recalled only by the existence of the rue du Collège and rue des Jésuites.

Notice sur le Collège d'Arras, Les rues d'Arras (1856)

History on the Lycée Robespierre website

The "Maison Robespierre"

The so-called "Maison Robespierre" is the only substantial piece of Robespierre heritage in Arras.

Robespierre returned to his hometown from Paris in 1781 to begin practising law.  By this time both his maternal grandparents had died and the family was in a dispute over Jacques Carraut's inheritance,  with Robespierre's paternal aunt Henriette and her doctor husband François du Rut laying claim to a share of his dead sister's legacy.  For a year Robespierre lived independently with his sister in the rue du Saumon, but in Autumn 1782, he gave a receipt for the residue of Henriette's legacy and accepted rooms at the Duruts' house in the rue des Teinturiers, close to the newly completed Abbey complex. In 1786 as his income improved, he and Charlotte moved back to the Basse-Ville, to the rue Lepelletier, then the rue des Jésuites.

It was in 1787 at the earliest that he took possession of what is now the Maison Robespierre. 

The house is situated at the angle of the rue des Rats-Porteurs (now rue Maximilien Robespierre) and the little rue des Rapporteurs, only a few minute's  walk away from the  Palace of the Conseil d'Arras in the place de la Madeleine where Robespierre pleaded. His neighbour was the Chevalier de Mardre the Second President of the tribunal, for whom he acted as secretary.  Robespierre did not own the property, which belonged until 1830 to Defétel family.  Nonetheless, according to the ARBR, the choice of the quarter and the substantial nature of the house itself, were signs of "une certaine aisance"

It must have been here that Robespierre wrote his Adresse à la nation artésienne. He left the house in 1789 but Charlotte and Augustin presumably remained there until September 1793 when both moved to Paris after the elections to the Convention.  It would also have been to this house that Robespierre returned during his brief sejourn in Arras in October 1791.

The house was built in 1730; the date still survives on a brick under the eaves.  Early engravings, confirmed by modern investigations, show that it originally had a central doorway and rooms disposed off central corridor.  The bill of sale from 1830 also describes it as built round a court, with five rooms on each floor plus attic and cellars;  the ground floor consisted of a dining-room, sitting-room, ante-room and kitchen, with bedrooms and attics above.  The property survived the bombardments of 1914-18 but was extensively altered and long left neglected;  from the 1950s it served, under different owners, as premises for a private typing school.  (A"Sténo-dactylo Madame J Leprand" is listed on one website as having opened there in 1968.)

It was not until 1992 that the municipality was finally persuaded to secure the house for posterity.  In 1997 it was given over to the Compagnons du Tour de France, a society of traditional craftsmen, which the defrayed cost of renovations and converted it into a  museum. Only the lobby area was reserved for a modest Robespierre display - a copy of the statue in the Hôtel de Ville, and a few cases containing information.  However, finally there is promise of better things.  At the end of 2016 the Compagnons vacated the house and returned it to the town of Arras.  A committee of experts has since been appointed to investigate options for a new museum centred on Robespierre.

Postcard from before the First World War, showing the house with shutters
Recent photograph of the modest Robespierre display
Further photographs of the house can be found on the "Petit-patrimoine" website:

"Maison Robespierre",

Some impressions:

 [The rue des Rapporteurs] is a long, crooked, dark street, at the end of which, and at the corner of a little street lit by a smoky lanterns, stands a two-storied grey house. Three steps lead to the door; the first floor has six high, narrow windows; the ground-floor has five, with ill-fitted shutters which do not close completely.  The whole place has an air of sadness;  it is grey and lugubrious, melancholy and distressing.
Fleischmann, Robespierre et les femmes (1909), p.19.
John Haycraft visited the Maison Robespierre in 1989 or shortly before. He describes the building as "sombre, with layers of red brick and grimy white stone, standing in a line of similar houses".  It had a first floor, attic windows in the roof, and the date 1730 visible under the eaves.  A dog or perhaps a drunk had urinated on the steps. A sign showed that even at this time it was still a school of shorthand-typing; the door was locked and Haycraft was told that the school closed for the holidays  He imagined it "normally full of young girls, who perhaps brought it the giggles and high spirits which Robespierre shunned".
John Haycraft, In search of the French Revolution, Secker & Warburg, 1989, p.245-6

The hôtel Dubois de Fosseux

The hôtel Dubois de Fosseux , in the rue du Marché-au-Filé was the  winter residence of Ferdinand Dubois de Fosseux, municipal counseller and leading member of the Academy of Arras.  It was bought by the State in 1952 and is now the seat of  the Chambre régionale des comptes.  Dubois de Fosseux was a sponsor of Robespierre - according to Peter McPhee, the Carrauts may have had links with him through his estates in Fosseux; in 1786 he wrote to Robespierre for missing a session of the Academy,"gambollng about in our district".  In 1785 Robespierre ran against him unsuccessfully as the Academy's perpetual secretary.  In 1789 he fell out with him over attempts by the nobles of the municipal council to dominate the deliberations of the Third Estate .(McPhee, p.30; 57) Dubois de Fosseux became the first elected mayor in 1790; he held various offices under the Revolution and Empire;  he was imprisoned during the Terror but narrowly survived to be liberated after Thermidor.

The grande salle of the hôtel was the meeting place in the town of the Society of the Rosati, an fashionable, somewhat effete literary society of which  Dubois de Fosseux was a leading member.  Founded in 1778, the Rosati had first come together in a garden at nearby Blangy, "from friendship, through their taste for poetry, roses and wine";  Robespierre became a member in 1787,  welcomed by his fellow lawyer Legay to share "the  grassy bank on which we become intoxicated, with the cup of Bacchus in our hand, by the volumptuous scents of the rose, born from the blood of Adonis". It was probably in the Rosati that he first encountered Lazare Carnot and Joseph Fouché, who from 1788 was a science teacher at the Collège (McPhee.p.45-6)

L'hôtel Dubois de Fosseux, bijou du XVIIIe siècle et lieu de rencontre des Rosati, Arras, post of 26.07.2008.

L'hôtel Dubois de Fosseux au 14 de la rue du Marché-au-Filé à  Arras

Monument to the Rosati, sculpted by Augustin Lesieux in 1928.
A monument commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the Rosati, formerly in the jardin des Allées can be seen today in the place de La Vacquerie behind the Hôtel de Ville. The figures were decapitated in 1996, apparently by vandals in 18th-century dress; an anti-Robespierre motive was suggested but never proven.


Association des Amis de Robespierre pour le Bicentenaire de la Révolution :

Text of the ARBR walking guide in English:

For Robespierre's early life, I have mostly followed Peter McPhee, Robespierre: a Revolutionary life (Yale University Press 2012)

Robespierre family genealogy

This site gives the following chronological summary:

Maximilien-Marie Isidore (de) Robespierre. Born 06/05/1758 (baptised in the Church of Sainte-Madeleine; parents François Derobespierre, a lawyer, and Jacqueline Carraut). 

Day pupil at the Collège d’Arras (1765), then scholar (450-500 livres per annum) of the Abbey 
Saint-Vaast at the Collège Louis-Le-Grand in Paris (10/1769 to 1782), Bachelor of  Law (31/07/1780), Licensed (15/05/1781, with a gratuity from the Collège of 600 livres).

Avocat of the Parlement of Paris (02/08/1781) then at Arras (1781; first case pleaded 02/1782);  avocat to the Conseil Supérieur of Artois (registered  08/11/1781), secretary to  M. de Madre, 2nd President of the Conseil d’Artois (1781), judge of the Siège de la Salle épiscopale (09/03/1782-1788, nominated by the Bishop of Arras Mgr Couzié).

 Member of the Rosati (literary club); member (1783) then elected Director of the Academy of Arras (06/1786).

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Robespierre's Arras

The Arras which Robespierre knew in the 1780s was a bustling provincial capital. Following annexation to the French crown in 1652 the Artois had flourished, with a thriving textile trade and one of the biggest grain markets in the country. In the years after 1730 the clergy and nobility of Arras, with their vast rural estates, benefitted from a boom in grain production and an accompanying rise in land prices. The town was still on a relatively small scale, with population of just over 20,000 and, within the confines of its medieval ramparts, could be traversed in fifteen minutes.  Nonetheless, it was already divided into distinct districts: well-to-do central parishes; the crowded streets of the poor along the River Scarpe and its tributary the Crinchon, the military "citadelle" and the "town" which housed a plethora of lawcourts and administrative buildings.

Almost none of the original buildings survive today. The Hôtel de Ville, with its famous belfry, and the elegant 18th-century Flemish-style houses which adorn the two central squares are all replicas, the originals destroyed in the bombardments of 1915.  A sense of how the town once looked is conveyed by the Vauban relief plan preserved in the Musée des Beaux-Arts:

This beautiful maquette by the engineer Ladevèze in 1716 was constructed as part of Vauban's plan for the defence of the north-east frontier. It is constructed of wood, cardboard paper and silk, to a scale of 1/600. It was bought by the town of Arras from the collection in Les Invalides in 1904  and has been patiently studied and restored  by M.Honoré Bernard over a thirty-year period.  The model shows clearly the cathedral, the central city around the abbey of Saint-Vaaste, the squares, the belfry, the crowded mass of houses, and the many churches and religious houses of the town, almost all of which were already destroyed in the Revolution.

Le plan relief de la ville d'Arras, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Arras

Honoré Bernard, "La restauration du plan en relief d'Arras ", Bulletin archéologique du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, no 12-13,‎ 1976-1977, p. 99

The ecclesiastical establishment

Adam Frans Van der Meulen, Arras Cathedral in the late 17th-century.
The Cathedral was entirely demolished in the Revolutionary period 
Arras was above all an ecclesiastical centre, a "city of a hundred steeples" dominating its flat hinterland.  Foundations included the great Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Vaast, the cathedral, twelve parish churches, eighteen monasteries and convents, plus a myriad of smaller chapels and houses. There were as many as eight hundred clergy in all. The Bishop of Arras, Monseigneur de Conzié, was one of the best-remunerated prelates of the kingdom; the cathedral chapter alone had thirty-nine canons, forty-four chapelains and eleven curates, and an annual income of 150,000 livres from rents, tithes and dues.(McPhee, Robespierre, p.2-3)  Many of the shopkeepers and craftsmen were directly or indirectly dependent upon them - Robespierre's relative on his mother's side, depicted by Dominique Doncre, is referred to as "Carraut, brewer of the l'abbaye de Saint-Vaast."

Plan of the parishes of Arras in 1710.  All these churches have since been destroyed
In Robespierre's day, the Abbey, which had stood for generations,  was reduced to a "vast building site", entirely demolished and in the process of being rebuilt following collapse of the belfry in 1742. The Abbey church, the present-day cathedral, was begun in 1778 in neo-classical style by Contant d'Ivry, the architect of the Madeleine in Paris.

Almost all the churches of Arras were destroyed during the Revolution.  St-Nicolas-des-Fossés alone survived, transformed into a Temple of Reason - renamed St-Jean-Baptiste, it served as Arras cathedral until 1833. The present church, however, dates only from the 1920s.

Abbey of Saint-Vaast, now the Musée des Beaux-Arts
Present-day cathedral, the former Abbey church
Entrance to the Abbey in the place de la Madeleine, "Arras Cathedral"

Fabrice Mrugala, "L'abbaye Saint Vaast d'Arras" -,_Pas-de-Calais,_Arras,_Abbaye_Saint-Vaast/

The entrance to the Abbey in the  place de la Madeleine  Lithograph by Charles Desavary, 1877.
 Archives départementales du Pas-de-Calais, 4 J 484/83

An administrative and legal centre

In Arras the military, royal and provincial administrations of the Artois converged.  The great citadel to the southeast of the town made the army a constant presence; the garrison held up to 5,000 men and many more were billeted in the town.  The military hierarchy was closely integrated into Arras society : it may be observed that one of the two witnesses at Jacqueline Robespierre's burial was Antoine-Henry Galhant, lieutenant-major of the garrison (McPhee, p.9). In addition, Arras was the seat of the provincial Estates of Artois, an aristocratic body which met annually under the presidency of the Bishop. The Palais des États also housed the Arras Royal Academy of Belles-Lettres. The site, in the Place des États d'Artois, is now occupied by the High Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance).

The complexity of local administration was reflected in Arras's interwoven complex of legal jurisdictions;  there were no less than four ordinary and five Royal courts serviced by a professional body of 85 lawyers. (Paris, Jeunesse de Robespierre, p.30-31).  The supreme court, the Conseil d'Arras, was located in the rue de la Gouvernance, off the place de la Madeleine, in a site now occupied by the Collège Saint-Joseph.

In 1722  Maximilien de Robespierre, grandfather of the revolutionary, moved to Arras to become a lawyer in the Conseil d'Artois. He enjoyed income from property and settled in the prosperous parish of Saint-Aubert. (McPhee, p. 3).  He was to be followed in due course by his son François and in 1781 by his grandson and namesake.

Private luxury

Arras in the 18th century was a  place of busy construction, both public and private. In the thirty years before Robespierre's birth,  1,500 permits for building or rebuilding were issued in the town (McPhee, p.8).  The great central squares had already taken on their 18th-century appearance.  An ordinance of  1692 required new owners on both squares to match the facades of their gabled homes to those of the newly completed  Maison de l'Ecu d'Or (now destroyed).  A further ordinance of 1718 stipulated  that all rebuilt facades be identical "brick for brick or stone for stone". 

The surrounding area was home to the elegant townhouses of a wealthy landed elite, mostly drawn from the fifty noble families of Artois. A dozen or more grand hôtels are recorded in the district of  known as the petit-Saint-Germain, bounded by the modern rues Gambetta,  Pasteur and Emile-Legrelle.  The best surviving examples are the hôtel Dubois de Fosseux in the rue du Marché-au-Filé and the hôtel de Guînes, rue des Jongleurs, formerly the residence of the First President of the Conseil d'Artois, now a cultural centre.  

The hôtel de Guînes
The duc de Guînes, governor of Artois from 1788, is
the chosen guide for modern tours of the historical town
Also of note is the Corne d'Or guesthouse, just round the corner from the Grand-Place, which boasts an intact set of 18th-century wallpaintings. 

Outside the medieval walls, in the marshy ground in front of the citadel the municipality was developing a whole new quarter, the Basse-Ville, with wide tree-lined avenues and an imposing octagonal central square; at time of Augustin's birth the Robespierre family lived in the rue des Jésuites (rue du Collège) in parish of St Etienne on the edge of the new district.

The present-day place Victor Hugo, centre of the Basse Ville
To be continued.

Historic Arras on the internet: 

En voiture pour une visite d' Arras - YouTube video, published June 2017

Monumentum. fr  - Pas-de-Calais

Arras - Histoire (
Website of Fabrice Mrugala - photographs of Arras and the Pas-de-Calais, including parish plan (,_Pas-de-Calais,_Arras/index.php?page=4

Arras -Flickr album

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Who invented the tricolour cockade?

Greetings on Bastille Day!

To celebrate, here is one of the most enduring symbols of the Revolution, the tricolour cockade.

The following is taken from the website of the historian and illustrator, Bernard Coppens.

There are two popular theories for the origins of the cockade. The first dates it to Louis XVI's reception in the capital on 17th July 1789 three days after the fall of the Bastille. The King was presented by Mayor Bailly with a cockade in the red and blue of Paris, and fixed it onto his existing white one thereby creating the tricolour cockade.  In the second version the invention is credited to Lafayette who proposed the adoption of the tricolour as the official symbol of the Revolution to the Hôtel de Ville,  on 16th July or shortly after, in the context of  the creation of a uniformed National Guard.

Reception of Louis XVI by Bailly , Painting  of 1891 by Jean-Paul Laurens in the Hôtel de Ville, Paris. 
Bernard Coppens show that neither explanation is wholly satisfactory.  Red-white-and-blue cockades are clearly documented in accounts of the popular movement before the 17th July.  For instance, the journals of two deputies of the Third Estate, Adrien Duquesnoy and J.-A. Creuzé-Latouche,  both mention its existence on the 15th.  The design of the cockade presented to the King on the 17th is also uncertain.  According to Lafayette's Memoirs it was the plain red and blue of the citizen militia, but the Gazette de Leyde  quotes a letter written on the evening of the 17th which states clearly that  Bailly presented the King with "la cocarde royale et bourgeoise",  which was "blue, white and rose" in colour.  See also Histoire parlementaire de la révolution française, Volume 1, p.415, where it is stated that  the King accepted " a cockade like the one which the citizens had adopted". (At this time the personal colours of the King were already red, white and blue, hence perhaps his willingness to accept a tricolour cockade.)

What is the truth of the matter?

In reality though the idea of cockades spread rapidly, there was at first a great deal of confusion and variation in colours between the different districts.  However, the sources agree that there were three main designs adopted   -  a green cockade, a plain blue and red one and finally the tricolour, which combined the colours of Paris with the white of France.
As Bernard Coppens emphasises, the three did not follow in simple succession.  The green cockade was adopted spontaneously on 12th July by supporters of the Third Estate on the initiative of Desmoulin, who was said to have grabbed a leaf from a tree and placed it in his hat. (On 13th July a noble deputy from Marseille noted that it was necessary to have a green rosette in one's hat to remain untroubled by the new Revolutionary authorities.)

The blue and red cockade, on the other hand, was officially decreed by the electors of the Hôtel de Ville in an arrêté of 13 July, as the official  insignia of the citizen militia, which at this time had no other uniform.  Its use by unauthorised persons was strictly forbidden:
Since it is necessary for the Parisian militia to be distinctive, the General Assembly has adopted the colours of the town; as a result each member will wear a blue and red cockade.  Any man found with the cockade who has not been registered in one of the districts will be referred to the justice of the permanent committee.

At a certain point  green, which was the personal colour of the comte d'Artois, was abandoned for the popular cockade and red-white-and-blue adopted in its stead.

When and why did this happen?

Bernard Coppens has assembled various pieces of  evidence, which establish that the use of the tricolour cockade for ordinary citizens was ordered by Hôtel de Ville late on the 13th July and was the subject of a formal arrêté, probably issued on the 14th or 15th (the text of which is no longer extant):
  •  A letter written by a merchant called Failly, dated  23 July 1789, observes that on 13th July the authorities were arresting anyone found armed on the streets and imprisoning them if  they failed to name their district.  Cockades were given out as passports; at first these were green but by evening, after it was realised that green was the colour of Artois's livery, they were "rose, blue and white".
  • The bookseller Hardy wrote in his Journal on the 14th that, "They are beginning to change the colour of the cockades, substituting the rose, blue and white for the green colour."
  •  The printed chronicle La Quinzaine Mémorable  has an entry dated 14th July at 8am in the morning, in which the author observes that "the great and small, from all ranks of society, are sporting, by order of the town, the blue, red and white cockade."
  • A MS letter to Mayor Bailly from M. de Gouvion, Major-General of the National Guard, dated 28 March 1790, notes that the three colours had been fixed by an order of the Assembly of Electors dated either 14th or 15th July 1789. 
  • An arrêté of the Commune, dated 4th October 1789, confirms previous orders, and repeats the declaration that the red, blue and white cockade is the only one permitted to citizens to wear.
It is possible that the prévôt de marchands  Flesselles, killed on the 14th,  was instrumental in the initiative.  A letter in his hand was said to have been found on the body of the governor of the Bastille, Launay, instructing  him to stay put until evening and await reinforcements, while Flesselles "amused the Parisians with cockades and promises".

Jean-Baptiste Le Sueur, A Citizen is obliged to wear a cockade,  c.1790.  Musée Carnavalet

Why the tricolour?

This is not in fact absolutely explained, though it may be supposed that the Assembly anticipated Lafayette's idea of incorporating white as a symbol of the French nation as a whole, or else sought to assimilate the Revolutionary colours to those of the King.

It may be noted that Lafayette's proposal that the tricolour cockade form part of the National Guard uniform had the incidental consequence of abandoning the distinction between official and popular cockades;  in future there would be a single revolutionary emblem common to both the military, civilian officials and ordinary citizens.


Bernard Coppens, entries on
"Le Mystère de la Cocarde"[original article published in 1989]
"1789 : La cocarde tricolore"

Account from the Memoirs of Lafayette, vol. 2,  p.252-3
When the king had received at the Hotel de Ville, from the mayor, the cockade of the revolution, which was only, at that time, of two colours, he was conducted by the commander-in-chief to the picket of the gardes-du-corps, which had remained outside the gates of the city.

At the end of the deliberation of the assembly of electors of the 16th, a project of organisation was fixed upon by Lafayette, in concert with the military committee, the staff of the provisional guard and General Mathieu Dumas, reporter.  It was from his proposal that, after the new colours had been adopted by the king, the Hotel de Ville added to them the ancient white colour*

In this manner was formed the tricoloured cockade, which had become the national one.  Lafayette, when presenting to the Hotel de Ville the project of organising with that cockade a national uniform, pronounced these words:

I bring you a cockade that will traverse the whole world, and an institution, both civil and military, that must triumph over the ancient tactics of Europe...

Note  *The cockade was at first red and blue; these were not only the colours of the town but, by a singular accident, those of the livery of Orleans.  Lafayette, struck by this circumstance, and wishing to nationalize the ancient French colour by uniting it with the colours of the revolution, proposed to the Hotel de Ville the tricoloured cockade, which was adopted.  (Note of General Lafayette)

Robespierre, Letter to Buissart, 23rd July 1789
Robespierre describes with evident pleasure the popular enthusiasm which greeted the King's entry into  Paris on 17th July.  He noticed cockades on the cassocks of monks and even on the stoles of robed and surpliced clergy.  Sadly he does not specify the colour.