Thursday, 9 July 2009

Off with their heads...

From Ancestry...


Records date from the infamous ‘Reign of Terror’ when nobody was safe from an appointment with ‘Madame Guillotine’. The executions of 37 nuns are documented, as is the executions of 247 people on Christmas Day 1793. The oldest person in the collection was 92 and the youngest just 14 years of age

To mark Bastille Day, today launched online a collection of records detailing the executions of over 13,000 people during the French Revolution.

Included in the French Deaths by Guillotine, 1792-1796 are key characters from the infamous Reign of Terror – the period of violence that occurred for 50 months from the start of the French Revolution. These include King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the ‘Terror’ himself, Maximilien Robespierre.

The collection provides a harrowing insight into what was a momentous and bloody period in history and will be of particular interest to six million Britons with French ancestry - some of whom will be descended from the 32,000 French citizens who fled to Britain during that period1. Famous Brits with French heritage include TV presenters Davina McCall and Louis Theroux, comedian Noel Fielding, and Harry Potter star Emma Watson.

The French Revolution inspired sweeping social and cultural change across the world, including fuelling demands for increased democracy across the British Empire. The events of the Reign of Terror recorded in the collection also inspired famous English novels including Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel.

During this period, a huge number of executions were carried out by rival Jacobin and Girondin factions, with between 20,000 and 40,000 ‘enemies of the revolution’ executed between 1793 and 1794 alone.

The British Royal Family also has a direct connection to the records – the Queen’s 3xGreat Grandmother, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was a close friend of Marie Antoinette and had prepared apartments in the UK ready for royal French refuges. After Antoinette’s execution, Queen Charlotte was said to be ‘shocked and overwhelmed’ that such a thing could happen in a kingdom, prompting King George to lower taxes to prevent unrest in Britain.

A number of famous historical figures, both aristocrats and revolutionaries, appear in the collection, including:

King Louis XVI – Louis XVI was suspended as King and arrested during the insurrection of the 10th August 1792, where he was found guilty and executed by guillotine on the 21st January 1793. After he was executed, witnesses ran forth to have their clothes soaked in the late King's blood, dripping from his head

Marie Antoinette – Marie Antoinette was the wife of Louis XVI, infamous for the quip ‘let them eat cake’. During the reign of terror, Marie Antoinette was convicted of treason and executed on the 16th October 1793

Maximilien Robespierre – Robespierre was one of the best known and influential figures of the French Revolution. He was instrumental in the period of the revolution known as ‘The Reign of Terror’ that ended with his arrest and execution in 1794

Antoine Laurent Lavoisier – Lavoisier was known as the ‘father of modern chemistry’, who recognised and named Oxygen (1778) and Hydrogen (1783), helped construct the metric system and wrote the first extensive list of elements. At the height of the revolution he was accused of selling watered-down tobacco, among other crimes, and beheaded on the 8th May 1794

Nicolas Jacques Pelletier – Pelletier was a French highwayman who was the first person to be executed by guillotine on the 25th April 1792

The details of the executions have been taken from a six-volume work compiled in 1796 by French journalist and newspaper publisher Louis-Marie Prudhomme, entitled ‘Dictionary of individuals condemned to die during the Revolution’. Despite his outspoken views and imprisonment, Prudhomme managed to avoid the guillotine.

The French Deaths by Guillotine, 1792-1796 also list the individuals condemned to be executed by hanging, firing squad and even drowning and include the name, occupation, age, residence of the victim and the date of the execution. Managing Director Olivier Van Calster comments: “The French Revolution was a brutal and gruesome period of history, with repercussions that were felt both in France and across the world socially, culturally and politically.

“The collection will be of huge interest to the six million Brits with French ancestry, who may be able to trace a severed link to an aristocrat or a revolutionary.”

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