The killing of Foullon and Berthier (1789)


On July 22nd the Paris mob captured and executed the finance minister Foullon and his son Berthier, then paraded their heads around the city on pikes. This account appeared in the revolutionary newspaper Les Re?volutions de Paris:


“The details of Wednesday [July] 22nd…

This day was frightening and dreadful. It was a sign of the people’s vengeance against their oppressors. As early as five o’clock in the morning it was announced that Foullon, full of ambition, who, so many times, incited public hatred through his odious speculations and the incredible growth of a fortune… had just been arrested five leagues from Paris, on the Fontainebleau road…

Vainly did the Electors come down from the city, and seek to harangue the people. Words of peace had no effect on a people in a state of fury, who desired only blood. Bailly got up before them, his eloquence, which was always persuasive, was lacking for the first time; he was not heard. What else could one hope for from a people who were no longer moved by expressions of feeling?

The rope was waiting for him [Foullon]. He was already under the fatal street lamp whose post has served as a gallows to so many traitors. He was already suspended, the cord broke, and suddenly it was mended, one thousand hands, one thousand arms were busy with his execution. In brief, he was no more, and his severed head separated far from his body presenting the horrific spectacle of the bloody proscriptions. This head was carried at the end of a pike through all the streets of Paris. A handful of hay was in its mouth, a striking allusion to the inhumane sentiments of this barbarous man. His body that was dragged through the mud and carried all over the place announced the terrible vengeance of a people rightly angry towards the tyrant…

The Intendant of Paris, Monsieur Bertier, having been recognised in Compie?gne by a man of the people, was immediately arrested… The cruel joy of the people is painted on every face. Doors, balconies, windows, along his path they are all full, everything is occupied, their desirous expectation increases their interest. Finally he appears, this iniquitous Intendant. His face is still tranquil. Thus a habit of infamy, as well as innocence, also inspires tranquillity.

No, Bertier did not imagine he was walking to his execution: but what horrible scene has just begun. Who would believe it? The bloody head of that loathed outlaw, his father-in-law, is presented to him. O what a dreadful spectacle! Bertier is trembling…

Already, Bertier is no more. His head is already nothing more than a mutilated mass, separated from his body… Oh the gods! The barbarian tears out his heart from his palpitating entrails. What do I say? He is avenging himself on a monster! This monster had [allegedly] killed his father… I feel it, oh my fellow citizens. I feel to what extent these revolting scenes grieve your souls. Like you, they have penetrated me. But consider how ignominious it is to live and to be a slave!”