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Lucille Desmoulins, Horace, Camille Desmoulins.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais
Publication date: December 2008
The beginnings of the French Revolution
In France in the 1780s, the new ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers, defenders of an English-style parliamentary monarchy, of the rights of the citizen and of the idea of nation, spread to the upper social layers, while the privileged and privileged people began to show signs of discontent with royal power, with the nobles demanding the return of their traditional political prerogatives and the increase of feudal rights, the bourgeoisie the recognition of its rights and the establishment of a English monarchy, and the third estate an improvement of its living conditions, strongly degraded because of the fiscal pressure and the bad harvests of 1788. Very quickly, a standoff begins between the monarchy and the third estate which proclaimed itself on June 17 "National Assembly", and riots broke out following the dismissal of Necker and the refusal of the king to give in to the demands. In the midst of this effervescence, the common destiny of two characters fully devoted to the cause of the nation, Lucile and Camille Desmoulins, takes shape.
Lucile and Camille Desmoulins, the same fate
Born in Paris in 1770 in a well-off bourgeois environment, Lucile Duplessis-Laridon divides her life between the two family estates of rue de Condé, in Paris, and Bourg-la-Reine. In the early 1780s, she met the one who would become her husband, Camille Desmoulins, a young Parisian lawyer dreaming of playing a role in the emerging new France.
In December 1790, after having assiduously frequented Lucile's family, he finally obtained her hand, and their marriage was celebrated in the Saint-Sulpice church. Among the witnesses is Robespierre, former fellow student of Camille. From then on, Lucile Desmoulins' life merges with that of her husband, whose antiaristocratic ideals and dating she fully shares. From their union will be born a son, Horace Camille, July 6, 1792, as shown in a portrait of the Desmoulins family painted by Jacques-Louis David.
Leader of the committed neoclassical and revolutionary movement, David has produced a large number of portraits of emblematic figures of the Revolution, including this one which features Camille Desmoulins sitting at his desk, surrounded by his wife and their young son. In this pyramidal construction, the tender gestures and the exchange of glances between the three protagonists suggest a blossoming family happiness.
From the start of the French Revolution, Camille Desmoulins enthusiastically entered politics. Elected to the Estates General of 1789, he became one of the most popular orators in the gardens of the Palais-Royal and published brochures and political journals. In 1792, after having campaigned alongside Robespierre in favor of peace, he changed sides and joined forces with Danton and Marat, supporters of the war.
After the fall of the monarchy on August 10, 1792, in which he played a crucial role, Danton was appointed Minister of Justice, and Camille Desmoulins became its secretary general. Soon deputy of Paris at the Convention, he sits with the Montagnards; destabilized by the condemnation of the Girondins on October 30, 1793, Desmoulins became the spokesperson for the Indulgents, a movement in which Danton was the leader, and in December launched a new newspaper, The Old Cordelier, who violently attacks the Hebertists, supporters of the Terror to the limit.
On March 31, 1794, he was arrested with the Dantonists and executed at the same time as Danton and Fabre d´Églantine on April 5. The day before, Lucile Desmoulins had been arrested and imprisoned in the Luxembourg prison. There, she is accused of wanting to stir up a rebellion in her husband's favor with General Arthur Dillon, with whom she had been in contact in the past. Judged on April 13, 1794 for having conspired against the safety of the people, she was guillotined the same evening, along with Arthur Dillon and the widow of Jacques-René Hébert.
A modern couple?
United even in death, Camille and Lucile have transmitted to posterity the image of two heroes of tragedy, in love with freedom and romanticism, and victims of revolutionary turmoil. Both succeeded in building a couple in which both were placed on an equal footing, far from the model of reigning marital despotism that the Napoleonic era only reinforced, despite the revolutionary advances in promoting women's civil rights (right to divorce, inheritance equality, etc.). Lucile made her husband's struggles her own, participated in his enthusiasms and fears, in his joys and sorrows, tempering his ardor and helping him acquire the determination that was sometimes lacking. The diary that she kept between 1788 and 1793 is full of anecdotes on the life she led alongside her husband and on the revolutionary events that she followed from near and far, such as that terrible night of 9 to 10 August that she lived with the Dantons, while awaiting news from Camille, and whose narration captures the dramatic atmosphere that then reigned in the streets of the capital. Like other women of her time, Lucile frequented the new revolutionary places of sociability that were the Parisian salons, herself holding a salon of which the Dantons were regulars, and attended the meetings of the Convention, without claiming a political role for women, joining in this the position taken by Madame Roland who considered that women should be confined to the private sphere.
- Desmoulins (Camille)
- Desmoulins (Lucile)
- revolutionary figures
Jean-Paul BERTAUD, Camille and Lucile Desmoulins, a couple in turmoil, Paris, Presses de la Renaissance, 1986. Lucile DESMOULINS, Journal 1788-1793, ed. Philippe Lejeune, Paris, Éditions des Cendres, 1995. Marie-Paule DUHET, Women and the Revolution, 1789-1794, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Archives", 1979. Jean-René SURATTEAU and François GENDRON, Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, P.U.F., 1989. Jean TULARD, Jean-François FAYARD and Alfred FIERRO, History and dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, Laffont, 1987.
To cite this article
Charlotte DENOËL, "Lucile Desmoulins"