François Hanriot was born to poor parents in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris. His parents were servants to a Parisian bourgeoise which most likely helped influence his support of the Revolution later in life.
Not a man of any specific profession, Hanriot held a variety of different jobs. He lost his first employment with a procureur doing mostly secretarial work, but lost his position due to reasons of dishonesty. Next, he obtained a clerkship in the Paris octroi in 1789 doing tax work. His position here was also ill-fated, as he was again fired after leaving his station the night of 12 July 1789, when angry Parisians attempted to burn the building down. After his string of unfortunate professions, Hanriot remained unemployed and subsequently very poor. His next string of occupations is rather hazy in history; many people of the time connect him to a variety of professions including a shopkeeper, a peddler, and a stint as a soldier in America serving under Lafayette (whom he would later speak against to other patriot sans-culottes). He was eventually an orator for a local section of sans-culottes.
First roles in the Revolution
After generating a more substantial fortune and moving to Rue de la Clef, a Parisian quarter inhabited by royalists and sans-culottes alike, in January 1792, Hanriot soon became well known for his anti-aristocratic outlook. He was strongly in favor of imposing taxes on the aristocracy, presenting them "with a bill in one hand and a pistol in the other." With this attitude he gained a loyal following of local sans-culottes and they would adopt him as their section leader in the September Massacres later that year. It was during those riots that he's alleged to have raped, murdered and mutilated Princess Marie Louise of Savoy, Queen Marie Antoinette's friend and lady-in-waiting.
His involvement in the September Massacres secured his place as a soldier in the Parisian National Guard, gradually rising up to the rank of captain. His position here seemed to remain stagnate, until the night of 30 May 1793. Overnight, Hanriot was promoted from a regular captain to the position of "Commandant-General" of the Parisian National Guard by the council of the Paris Commune. This placed thousands of men under his command, making him a very formidable force in Paris.
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On the following morning, 31 May 1793, he was chosen by the Paris Commune to lead the Parisian National Guard to the National Convention and demand the dissolution of the Committee of the Twelve and the arrest of select Girondists. There were twenty-two chosen members that the Commune, mostly selected by Jean-Paul Marat, that were to be taken into custody. Hanriot was to lead the National Guard, demand the accused to exit, and prevent bloodshed. The deputies of the Convention only came out after Hanriot threatened to burn the entire building down. When they exited, the deputies were prepared to fight. However, the Paris National Guard was also prepared to fire on any who opposed them. The intimidated deputies went back inside, and formally voted to hand over the accused in three days. Though some members of the Paris Commune thought the events of 31 May to be a waste of time, it actually proved to be an important turning point in the forming of the Republic. Paris had avoided another mass riot, like that of the September Massacres, preserving hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of lives. It was one of the first “peaceful” negotiations to take place during that tumultuous time.
Instead of waiting the agreed three days, the Commune decided to take the selected Girondin into custody on 2 June. The Commune, however, was skeptical of the safety of the Convention, worried about any moderate supporters who may deter them from making the arrest. As a solution, Hanriot had close to 100,000 men organized to surround Tuileries Palace; only about five thousand of those troops were Hanriot’s select troops that knew what was going on. The rest are said to have been clueless as to why they were there. Every possible exit was blocked and with so many guardsmen, there would be little room for a riot to break loose. As the president of the Convention came out, he was reluctant to hand over the Girondin. Hanriot said nothing, but stoically waved to his guard, a signal to draw their weapons. The president, realizing his perilous situation, then agreed to (again) to hand over them over. The Girondin had fallen, thanks to Hanriot.
On 11 June he resigned his command, declaring that order had been restored. On 13 June he was impeached by the Convention, but the motion was not carried, and on 1 July he was elected by the Commune permanent Commander of the Armed Forces of Paris. His fame in the eyes of Parisians would not last long though.
End of the Revolution
The Convention ordered the arrest of Robespierre, his brother Augustin, Georges Couthon, Louis de Saint-Just, Philippe-François Le Bas, Hanriot and twelve other robespierrists. Troops from the Commune, under General Coffinhal, arrived to free the prisoners and then marched against the Convention itself. The Convention responded by ordering troops of its own under Barras to be called out. When the Commune's troops heard the news of this, order began to break down, and Hanriot ordered his remaining troops to withdraw to the Hôtel de Ville, where Robespierre and his supporters had also gathered. The Convention declared them to be outlaws, meaning that upon verification the fugitives could be executed within twenty-four hours without a trial. As the night wore on, the forces of the Commune quietly deserted the Hôtel de Ville and, at around two in the morning, troops of the Convention under the command of Barras arrived. To avoid capture, Augustin Robespierre tried to escape out of a window but slipped off the ledge and fell three storeys, breaking many bones; Couthon was found lying at the bottom of a staircase; Le Bas shot himself in the head. Robespierre tried to kill himself with a pistol but managed only to shatter his lower jaw; although some eye-witnesses claimed that Robespierre was shot by Charles-André Merda. Saint-Just was taken without a struggle.
Hanriot fell from a side window and was found later in the day, unconscious, in a pile of manure. He was taken to the guillotine shortly after Robespierre on 28 July 1794, only semi-conscious when led to the platform.
- "François Hanriot". NNBD, Soylent Communications, 2008, <http://www.nnbd.com/people/021/000101715> (20 January 2008).
- Lenotre, G. Romances of the French Revolution: From the French of G. Lenotre. Translated by George Frederic William Lees. Vol. II. (London: W. Heinemann, 1908), 270.
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- Slavin, Morris. The Making of an Insurrection. (London: Harvard University Press, 1986), 99-116.
- Andress, David. The Terror. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006), 341-344.)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.