An account of the arrest of Robespierre (1794)


This excerpt from a pamphlet published in Paris in August 1794 recounts the arrest of Robespierre and the nature of his injuries:


“They went into the Hotel de Ville and found Robespierre in a room near the session chamber. He was lying on the ground, a pistol shot through his jaw. They picked him up, and some of the sans culottes carried him by his feet and his head; there were at least a dozen round him. They tore off his right sleeve and the back of his blue coat. Meanwhile a gendarme found Couthon and fired a pistol into his body. They searched for the rest of the conspirators.

Robespierre was taken to the Committee of Public Safety, still carried by the same men in the same way. He hid his face with his right arm. The procession paused briefly at the foot of the main stairs. Inquisitive people joined the crowd; several of the nearest lifted his arm to look at his face. One said, ‘He isn’t dead, he’s still warm.’ Another said, ‘Isn’t that a fine king?’ Another: ‘And suppose it was Caesar’s body? Why hasn’t it been thrown on the rubbish dump?’

The men carrying Robespierre did not want him touched and the ones at his feet told the others at his head to keep it well up, so as to save what little life he had left. They carried their load up at last to the main committee chamber and put it down on a large table opposite a window. They laid his head on a box full of mouldy ration bread. He did not move but he was breathing heavily, and put his right hand on his forehead. Clearly he was trying to hide his face (disfigured as he was, he still showed signs of vanity). Sometimes his forehead contracted and he frowned. Although Robespierre seemed half conscious, his wounds were clearly causing him great pain.

Among those who brought him in there were a gunner and a fireman, who never stopped talking to him. They made jokes constantly. One would say, ‘Sire, your majesty is in pain,’ and the other, ‘Well, I think you have lost your tongue, you haven’t finished your proposal, and it began so well. Ah, the truth is, you utterly deceived me, you scoundrel.’ Another citizen said, I only know of one man who understood the art of tyranny, and that is Robespierre.’

Soon afterwards Elie Lacoste of the Committee of General Security arrived. They showed him the prisoners and he said ‘They must be taken to the Conciergerie, they are outlaws.’ They were removed. Next he spoke to a surgeon and told him to ‘dress Robespierre’s wounds and make him fit for punishment’. The surgeon said that the lower jaw was broken. He put several wads of linen into his mouth to soak up the blood which filled it. Several times he passed a probe through the hole the ball had made, bringing it out through the mouth; then he washed his face and put a piece of lint on the wound. On this he placed a bandage which went round his chin; then he bandaged the upper part of his head.

During this operation, everyone offered his comments. When they put the bandage round his head, a man said, ‘Now they are crowning his majesty’. He must have heard all this, for he still had some strength and often opened his eyes. When the wound was dressed they laid him down again, taking care to put the box under his head as a pillow until, they said, ‘it was time for him to put his head through the little window’ [of the guillotine].”