Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau

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The Count of Mirabeau
Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau

Portrait of Mirabeau by Joseph Boze (1789)

Member of the Constituent Assembly
from Provence
In office
July 9, 1789 – April 2, 1791

Member of the Estates-General
for the Third Estate
In office
May 5, 1789 – July 9, 1789

Born March 9 1749(1749-03-09)
Le Bignon, Orléanais, France
Died April 2 1791 (aged 42)
Paris, Seine, France
Constituency Aix-en-Provence
Political party National Party (1789–1791)
Spouse Émilie de Covet,
Marchioness of Marignane
(m. 1772; div. 1782)​
Children Victor (d. 1778)
Alma mater Aix University
Profession Soldier, writer, journalist
Signature Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau's signature

Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau (March 9, 1749 - April 2, 1791) was a leader of the early stages of the French Revolution. A noble, he had been involved in numerous scandals before the start of the Revolution in 1789 that had left his reputation in ruins. Nonetheless, he rose to the top of the French political hierarchy in the years 1789–1791 and acquired the reputation of a voice of the people.

A successful orator, he was the leader of the moderate position among revolutionaries by favoring a constitutional monarchy built on the model of Great Britain, where he had spent time. When he died (of natural causes) on April 2, 1791, he was a great national hero, even though support for his moderate position was in decline. Later it was discovered that he was in the pay of King Louis XVI and the Austrian enemies of France beginning in 1790, which tarnished his reputation.

Family history and early life

Bust of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti de Mirabeau at Palace of Versailles

The family of Riqueti, with possible distant origins in Italy, became wealthy through merchant trading in Marseilles. In 1570, Jean Riqueti bought the château and seigniory of Mirabeau, which had belonged to the great Provençal family of Barras. In 1685, Honoré Riqueti obtained the title "marquis de Mirabeau."

His son, Jean Antoine, grandfather of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, served with distinction through all the later campaigns of the reign of Louis XIV. At the Battle of Cassano (1705), he suffered a neck wound so severe that he had to wear a silver stock afterwards. Because he tended to be blunt and tactless, he never rose above the rank of colonel. On retiring from the service, he married Françoise de Castellane, with whom he had three sons: Victor (marquis de Mirabeau), Jean Antoine (bailli de Mirabeau) and Louis Alexandre (comte de Mirabeau). Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau, was the son of Victor.

Honoré-Gabriel Mirabeau was born at Le Bignon, near Nemours, the eldest surviving son of Victor de Riqueti, marquis de Mirabeau, who was a prominent French economist and member of the Physiocratic school, and his wife Marie-Geneviève de Vassan. He was the couple's fifth child and second son. When he was three years old, a virulent attack of smallpox left his face disfigured. Along with Mirabeau's resemblance to his maternal ancestors and his fondness for his mother, it contributed to his father's dislike of him.[1] At the age of five, his father had him sent to the strict boarding school of Abbé Choquart in Paris under the assumed name of "Pierre-Buffière" according to the estate possessed by his mother. Destined for the army, at age eighteen, he entered the military school in Paris in the regiment of Berri-Cavaleria at Saints.[2] On leaving school in 1767, he received a commission in a cavalry regiment that his grandfather had commanded years before.

Youthful exploits

Mirabeau's love affairs are well-known, owing to the celebrity of the letters to Marie Thérèse de Monnier, his "Sophie." In spite of his disfigurement (or perhaps because of it), he won the heart of the lady to whom his colonel was attached. This led to such a scandal that his father obtained a lettre de cachet, and Mirabeau was imprisoned in the Île de Ré. Upon his release, the young nobleman obtained leave to accompany the French expedition to Corsica as a volunteer. During the Corsican expedition, Mirabeau incurred several more gambling debts and engaged in another scandalous love affair. However, he proved his military genius in the Corsican expedition, and also conducted a thorough study of the island during his stay. The study was most likely factually incorrect, but his desire to learn of a country that had been previously unstudied demonstrates Mirabeau's endless curiosity and inquisitiveness, particularly into the traditions and customs of society. Mirabeau learned the value of hard work in the French army. This aspect of Mirabeau's personality contributed to his popular success in later years, during the Revolution.[3] After his return, he tried to keep on good terms with his father, and in 1772 he married a rich heiress, Marie–Marquerite–Emilie de Covet, daughter of the marquis de Marignane. Emilie, who was 18 years old, was apparently engaged to a much older nobleman, the Comte de Valbelle. Nonetheless, Mirabeau pursued her for several months, expecting that their marriage would benefit from the money that the couple would receive from their parents. After several months of failed attempts at being introduced to the heiress, Mirabeau bribed one of the young lady's maids to let him into her residence, where he pretended to have had a sexual encounter with Emilie. To avoid losing face, her father saw that they got married just a couple of days afterwards. Mirabeau received a small allowance of 6,000 livres from his father, but never received the expected dowry from the marquis.

Mirabeau, who was still facing financial trouble and increasing debt, could not keep up with the expensive lifestyle to which his wife was accustomed, and their extravagances forced his father to send him into semi-exile in the country, where he wrote his earliest extant work, the Essai sur le despotisme. The couple had a son who died early, mostly due to their poor living conditions. Then his wife asked for a judicial separation in 1782. She was defended by Jean-Étienne-Marie Portalis, who later became one of the editors of the Civil Code. Mirabeau defended his own cause in this trial but lost, resenting Portalis from then on for his role.

Mirabeau's violent disposition led him to quarrel with a country gentleman who had insulted his sister, and his exile was changed by lettre de cachet into imprisonment in the Château d'If in 1774. In 1775 he was transferred to the castle of Joux, where he was not closely confined, having full leave to enter the town of Pontarlier. In a house of a friend he met Marie Thérèse de Monnier, known as "Sophie," and the two fell in love. He escaped to Switzerland, where Sophie joined him. They went to the United Provinces, where he lived by writing hack work for the booksellers. Mirabeau had been condemned to death at Pontarlier for sedition and abduction, and in May 1777 he was seized by the Dutch police, sent to France and imprisoned by a lettre de cachet in the castle of Vincennes.

The early part of his confinement is marked by indecent letters to Sophie (first published in 1793 by Pierre Louis Manuel), and the obscene Erotica biblion and Ma conversion. In Vincennes, he met the Marquis de Sade, who was also writing erotic works. The two disliked each other intensely.[4] It was in these writings, however, that Mirabeau developed experience as an orator. He learned how to curb his natural eloquence and his dialectic became firm, commanding and moving. The prison in which he was held was the first platform to hear his voice.[5] Later during his confinement, he wrote Des Lettres de Cachet et des prisons d'état, published after his liberation in 1782. It exhibits an accurate knowledge of French constitutional history, skillfully marshaled to demonstrate that the system of lettres de cachet was not only philosophically unjust but constitutionally illegal. It shows, though, in a rather diffuse and declamatory form, wide historical knowledge, keen philosophical perception, and genuine eloquence, applied to a practical purpose, which was the great characteristic of Mirabeau, both as a political thinker and as a statesman.

Before the French Revolution

Statue of Honoré de Mirabeau. Palais de justice d'Aix-en-Provence

His release from Vincennes in August 1782 began the second period of Mirabeau's life. Mirabeau not only succeeded in reversing the sentence of death against him, but also got an order for Sophie's husband to pay the costs of the whole legal proceedings. It seemed Mirabeau would come out of the lawsuit in Aix ruined. His past convictions in prison, scandalous relationships with women, and the bad relationship with his father the Marquis all gave him a terrible reputation among judges and adversaries. However, despite being condemned by the judge, his reputation was greatly enhanced in the eyes of the public. He had withered his opponents, crushed the opposing lawyer and turned around the death sentence. Mirabeau was now regarded as a man of the people.[6] Upon his release, he found that his Sophie had consoled herself with a young officer, after whose death she had committed suicide. From Pontarlier he went to Aix-en-Provence, where he claimed the court's order said that his wife should return to him. She naturally objected, and he finally lost in the third appeal of the case when Emilie's father produced to the court compromising letters from Mirabeau addressed to the marquess. Mirabeau then intervened in the suit between his father and mother before the parlement of Paris, attacking the ruling powers so violently that he had to leave France and return to the Dutch Republic, where he tried to live by writing. For a period he was employed by the publisher Marc-Michel Rey.

Statue of Mirabeau at the Panthéon

About this time he met Madame de Nehra, the daughter of Willem van Haren, a Dutch statesman and political writer. She was an educated, refined woman capable of appreciating Mirabeau's good points. His life was strengthened by the love of Mme de Nehra, his adopted son, Lucas de Montigny, and his little dog, Chico. After a time in the Dutch Republic he went to England, where his treatise on lettres de cachet was much admired after it was translated into English in 1787. He was soon admitted into Whig literary and political society of London through his old school friend, Gilbert Elliot, who had become a leading Whig member of the British parliament. He became close to Lord Shelburne and Sir Samuel Romilly. Romilly was introduced to Mirabeau by Sir Francis D'Ivernois, who undertook the translation of Mirabeau's Considérations sur l'ordre de Cincinnatus into English.


The Considérations, one of several works that Mirabeau wrote in the year 1785, is a good example of his method. He had read a pamphlet published in America attacking the order, founded in 1783, as a bond of association between officers who had fought in the American Revolutionary War against Britain. The arguments struck him as true and valuable, so he rearranged them in his own fashion, and rewrote them in his own oratorical style. He supplemented the work with materials provided personally by Benjamin Franklin, who shared Mirabeau's opinions on the topic, but was not in a position to criticize the "noble order" espoused by the Society of the Cincinnati directly because he was serving as the United States Minister to France at the time.[7]

Several other pamphlets Mirabeau wrote in 1785 attacked financial speculation. Among those, De La Caisse d'Escompte was prescient in correctly predicting the risky nature and ultimate demise of the French "Discount Bank."[8] This book, which condemned the fiscal politics of the state as going against the interest of the public, was one among the influential literature critical of the French government in the years leading up to the French Revolution.[9]

He soon found that such work did not pay enough to keep his retinue, and so he sought employment from the French foreign office, either as a writer or a diplomat. He first sent Madame de Nehra to Paris to make peace with the authorities, and then returned himself with hopes of getting a job through an old literary collaborator, Durival, who was at this time director of finance at the department of foreign affairs. One of this official's functions was to subsidize political pamphleteers, and Mirabeau hoped to be one of them. However, he ruined his chances with a series of writings on financial questions.

On his return to Paris he had become acquainted with Étienne Clavière, the Genevese exile, and a banker named Panchaud. From them he learned about the abuse of stock-jobbing, and seizing their ideas he began to regard stock-jobbing, or agiotage (known in English as "arbitrage"), as the source of all evil. He attacked in his usual vehement style the Banque de St-Charles and the Compagnie des Eaux. This pamphlet brought him into a controversy with Pierre Beaumarchais. While Mirabeau got the best of it, he lost any chance of employment with the government.

His abilities were too great, however, to be overlooked by the foreign minister Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes. After a preliminary trip to Berlin in early 1786, he was dispatched that July on a mission to the royal court of Prussia. Upon his return in January, Mirabeau published a full account in his Secret History of the Court of Berlin.[10] His account denounced the Prussian court as scandalous and corrupt, described the dying King Frederick the Great as weak and overly emotional, and labeled Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of Frederick the Great and a guest of the French court, as narrow-minded and incompetent. He also wrote contemptuously of Prussia's principal ministers Ewald Friedrich, Count von Hertzberg, and Joachim von Blumenthal. The resulting uproar was an extreme embarrassment for the French government, which quickly censored the book, but could not prevent its widespread notoriety. Mirabeau's episode provided inspiration to many more radical publishers who came to regard Mirabeau as a leader of the coming revolution.[11]

During his trip to Germany, he made the acquaintance of Jakob Mauvillon, an expert on Prussia whose expertise Mirabeau made use of in his De la monarchie prussienne sous Frédéric le Grand (London, 1788). In 1788, Mirabeau was approached and asked to offer himself as a candidate for secretary to the Assembly of Notables, which the King Louis XVI had just convened as a method to circumvent the opposition of the parlements to crown initiatives seeking to reform France's tax structure. His chance to be a leading voice in France as it faced political ferment seemed to be fading as he turned down the crown offer, explaining his reasoning in a letter of April 18, 1788 to the minister, Montmorin.[12] In this affair he had sought to bring his name before the public by publishing another financial work, the Dénonciation de l'agiotage, however, it had contained diatribes that harmed his chance to serve as secretary, and led him to retire to Tongeren. He further injured his prospects by publishing the reports he had sent back to France during his secret mission to Berlin. All this would change with the events of 1789. The Estates General of 1789 was summoned, and the French Revolution broke out soon afterward. As a result, Mirabeau was able to exploit a completely new set of political circumstances to expand exponentially his political influence.

The French Revolution

Sketch of Mirabeau on a terrace


On hearing of the king's decision to summon the Estates-General, Mirabeau went to Provence, and offered to assist at the preliminary conference of the nobility of his district (the local representatives of the Second Estate), but was rejected. He appealed instead to the Third Estate and was elected to the Estates General in both Aix and Marseilles. He chose to accept the seat for Aix, and was present at the opening of the Estates General on May 4, 1789. From this time onward, Mirabeau took a very prominent role in the deliberations of the National Constituent Assembly.

"Mirabeau, deputy of the Third Estate" by Hopwood after Auguste Raffet, 1847

Among a large crowd of novice politicians in the Estates General, Mirabeau was one figure who stood out. He was widely known to the French public, and not only did the people place great faith in him, they feared him. His great capacity for work and extensive knowledge were easily seen, but the scandals of his private life, time in prison, and extensive debt were well-known.[13] At every important crisis his voice was heard, though his advice was not always followed. He possessed both logical acuity and passionate enthusiasm. From the beginning, he believed that government should exist to allow the population to pursue its daily work in peace, and that for a government to be successful it must be strong. At the same time, he thoroughly understood that for a government to be strong, it must be in harmony with the wishes of the majority of the people. He had studied the British system of government, and he hoped to establish in France a system similar in principle. In the first stages of the meetings of the Estates General, Mirabeau was soon recognized as a leader, because he always knew his own mind and was unswerving in emergencies. He is attributed with the promoting the successful consolidation of the National Assembly out of the membership of the Estates General.[14] During the royal session of June 23, 1789 of the National Assembly, Mirabeau replied to the king's envoy who had come to bring the order to dissolve this Assembly, "Tell those who send you that we are here by the will of the people and will leave only by the force of bayonets!"[15]

Mirabeau's reply to the Master of Ceremonies on 23 June 1789 by Alphonse Lamotte after Jules Dalou

Political maneuvers

After the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 Mirabeau warned the Assembly of the futility of passing fine-sounding decrees and urged the necessity of action. Mirabeau foresaw that the intervention of armed mobs would only drive the path of Revolution further and further along a destructive path of violence.[16] He declared that the night of August 4 (when members of the Constituent Assembly took an oath to end feudalism) accomplished nothing other than to give the people immense theoretical liberty while providing them no practical freedom and overthrowing the Ancien Régime before a new one could be constituted. His failure to control the theorists demonstrated to Mirabeau that his eloquence could not enable him to guide the Assembly by himself, and that he must get additional support. He wished to establish a strong ministry in the manner of an English ministry. In his view, it should be responsible to an assembly chosen to represent the people of France better than the British House of Commons represented the common people of Great Britain.

According to a story contained in the Mémoires of the duchesse d'Abrantes, Mirabeau's first thought of becoming a minister can be traced to May 1789, when Queen Marie Antoinette allegedly tried to bribe him. He refused the bribe, but expressed his wish to be a minister, which the queen strongly rejected. The Duke of Orléans, a cousin of Louis XVI, was another possible ally, and potential constitutional king, but his weaknesses were well known and Mirabeau expressed utter contempt for him. He also attempted to form an alliance with the Gilbert de Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, but the two could not agree on a personal level, and Lafayette had his own theories about a new French constitution. Mirabeau tried for a time to act with Jacques Necker, the French finance minister, and obtained the sanction of the Assembly for Necker's financial scheme, not because it was good, but because, as he said, "no other plan was before them, and something must be done."

The Comte de la Marck was a close friend of the queen, and had been elected a member of the Estates General. His acquaintance with Mirabeau, begun in 1788, developed during the following year into a friendship, which La Marck hoped to turn to the advantage of the court. After The March on Versailles of October 5, 1789, he consulted Mirabeau as to what measures the king ought to take. Mirabeau, delighted at the opportunity, drew up his recommendations. His Mémoire offers insight into Mirabeau's genius for politics. The main position was that the king was not free in Paris. He should therefore depart Paris for a provincial capital in the French interior, and there he must appeal to the people and summon a great convention. Appeal to the nobility, as the queen advised, would lead to ruin. At this great convention the king must show himself ready to recognize that great changes had taken place, that feudalism and absolutism had forever disappeared, and that a new relationship between king and people must arise, which must be loyally observed on both sides in the future. To establish this new constitutional position between king and people would not be difficult, because the indivisibility of the monarch and his people is anchored in the heart of the French people.

Mirabeau's programme

This was Mirabeau's programme, from which he never diverged, but the king lacked the skill of statesmanship to carry it out, and it altered the condition of the monarchy too much to be palatable to the queen. Mirabeau followed up his Mémoire with a scheme for a great ministry containing all the most notable men: Necker would be prime minister, "to render him as powerless as he is incapable, and yet preserve his popularity for the king," the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, La Marck, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun, Mirabeau, without portfolio, Gui-Jean-Baptiste Target, mayor of Paris, Lafayette, as generalissimo of the army, Louis Philippe, comte de Ségur, as foreign minister, Jean Joseph Mounier and Isaac René Guy le Chapelier.

This scheme was leaked, then ruined by a decree of the Assembly of November 7, 1789, prohibiting members of the Assembly from becoming a minister. This decree destroyed any chance of the sort of harmony between ministers and parliament that existed in England and dashed Mirabeau's hopes. The queen utterly refused to take Mirabeau's counsel saying, "I hope that we shall never sink so low that we shall have to ask for aid from Mirabeau."[17] La Marck left Paris, but in April 1790, he was suddenly recalled by the comte de Mercy-Argenteau, the Austrian ambassador to Paris, and became the queen's most trusted political adviser. From this time until Mirabeau's death, he was the bearer of almost daily communications between Mirabeau and the queen.

Besides his attempts to become a minister, Mirabeau also assisted the Assembly in drafting civil rights legislation. In August 1789, he played an important role in drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.[18]



In June 1790, Mirabeau met the captive Queen Marie Antoinette in Saint Cloud, where she was less watched and confined than in Paris (where her jailers followed her every step, even in her bedroom). Mirabeau retained a close connection with the queen, and drew up many state papers for her. In return, the king used money from Austria to secretly pay his debts and provide him with a monthly allowance of six thousand francs, with promises of a million or more.

Mirabeau focused his efforts on two main issues: changing the ministry and dealing with impending civil war. His attempts to form political alliances with Lafayette and Necker failed and resulted in open hostility. Necker resigned his post in September 1790 and no longer posed a threat. Lafayette, however, was very powerful due to his control of the military and the National Guard. At first, Mirabeau attempted to undermine Lafayette's power, but decided to solve the problem of the ministry, and maintain stability, by removing all ministers and placing the ministry entirely under Lafayette. In effect, Mirabeau suggested that the king distance himself from politics and let the revolution run its course, because it would inevitably destroy itself through its contradictory nature. Furthermore, Mirabeau proposed that, if his plan should fail, Paris should no longer be the capital of France. The only way to end the revolution would be to destroy its place of birth. In a meeting with the king and queen, Mirabeau maintained that not only was civil war inevitable, it was necessary for the survival of the monarchy. Mirabeau believed that the decision to go to war, even civil war, must come only from the king. In a letter of confidence to Mirabeau, Louis wrote that, as a Christian king, he could not declare war on his own subjects. However, that would not stop him from reacting in kind if his subjects declared war first. In order to avoid provoking a civil war, the king refrained from confronting the Constituent Assembly, and hoped instead for a constitution with which he could agree. Once the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790 destroyed this hope, Louis adopted a strategy of strengthening royal authority and the church's position, and accepted the use of force to accomplish this. Mirabeau's involvement with the court provides insights into the mind of Louis XVI but produced little effect on the Revolution.[19]

On the question of the royal veto, Mirabeau took a practical view and, seeing that the royal power was already considerably weakened, declared for the king's absolute veto and against the suspensive veto. The absolute veto gave the king the power to stop any law for an indefinite period of time. The suspensive veto, on the other hand, put limitations on the powers of the king. He knew from his British experience that such a veto would be impractical unless the king knew the people were on his side, and that if it were used unjustifiably, the power of the purse possessed by the representatives of the people could bring about a French bloodless revolution. The final compromise was to allow the king a suspensive veto for a period of two years.[20]

On the subject of peace and war, Mirabeau supported the king's authority with some success. Again, almost alone in the Assembly, he held that the soldier ceased to be a citizen when he became a soldier; he must submit to the deprivation of his liberty to think and act and must recognize that a soldier's first duty is obedience.

Lastly, in matters of finance, he attacked Necker's "caisse d'escompte", which would have given him control of the taxes, as usurping the Assembly's power of the purse. He heartily approved of the system of assignats, with the reservation that the issue should be limited to no more than one-half the value of the lands to be sold.

He saw that much of the National Assembly's inefficiency arose from the members' inexperience and their incurable verbosity. To establish some system of rules, he got his friend Samuel Romilly to draw up a detailed account of the rules and customs of the British House of Commons, which he translated into French, but which the Assembly refused to use.

Jacobin Club

Comte de Mirabeau, H. F. Helmolt (ed.): History of the World. New York, 1901.

In addition to his place in the National Assembly, Mirabeau also served as a member of the Jacobin Club until his death. In the end, the Jacobins stood in his way of restoring royal authority, but in the early years of the revolution, Mirabeau was actually a leading figure in the Jacobin Club, although he did not share all their goals. "He was a Jacobin in name only and regarded the society as one of the chief obstacles in the way of his plans for the restoration of royal authority."[21] Mirabeau reached the height of his influence within the club when he was elected its president in December 1790.

During his time in the Jacobin Club, he would have a lasting impact on the selling of church land, the slave trade, and which citizens could serve in the National Guard. Mirabeau argued for the selling of church lands to private individuals in order to rescue the country from its financial troubles. This argument would be strongly supported by his fellow Jacobins. Although Mirabeau argued for the abolition of slavery, "in spite of their oft-expressed devotion for liberty and equality, the clubs long remained indifferent to the horrors of slavery and the slave trade"[22] until later in the revolution, after Mirabeau's death. As for the National Guard, the National Assembly passed a decree on December 6, 1790 stating that only active citizens could serve on the National Guard. Due to "an article of the electoral law of October, 1789, only persons whose annual tax amounted to the equivalent of three days' work were recognized as active citizens,"[23] leaving the decree of December 6 to restrict the right to bear arms to the middle and upper classes.

The decree of December 6 led to heated debates within the clubs of the Jacobins, especially in Paris. It also pitted Maximilien Robespierre, a rising political figure, against Mirabeau. The evening after the decree was passed, Robespierre would attempt to give a speech against the decree at the Jacobin Club in Paris only to be stopped by Mirabeau. He "attempted to stop him on the grounds that no one was allowed to challenge a decree already rendered"[24] by the National Assembly. After an hour and a half of uproar Robespierre was allowed to finish. Historians believe that Mirabeau tried to stop Robespierre because he had begun to notice the change in the revolution to a more radical form led by the radical members of the Jacobin Club. Mirabeau was a member of the more moderate group called the Société des amis de la Révolution de Paris, which was formed in November 1789. This group would disappear by 1790 due to conflict within the Jacobin Club.

After Mirabeau's death, there would be no greater place of mourning than in the Jacobin Clubs throughout Paris. It is said that at "Alençon tears ran from every eye and members fainted"[25] over hearing the news of his death.

Foreign affairs

"Portrait of Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti" by Philippe-Auguste Jeanron, 1840

In foreign affairs, he no foreign nation had any right to interfere with the country's internal affairs. But he knew that neighboring nations were disturbed by the progress of the revolution, fearing its influence on their own peoples. Foreign monarchs were being petitioned by French émigrés to intervene on behalf of the French monarchy. To prevent this intervention, or rather to give no pretext for it, was the guiding principle in his foreign policy. He was elected a member of the comité diplomatique of the Assembly in July 1790. In this capacity he was able to prevent the Assembly from misadventures in foreign affairs. He had long known Armand Marc, comte de Montmorin, the foreign secretary. As matters became more strained, he entered into daily communication with the minister, advising him on every point, and, while dictating his policy, defended it in the Assembly. Mirabeau's efforts showed him to be a statesman; his influence is best demonstrated by the confused state of affairs in this area after his death.


"Let us weep for the loss of Mirabeau": commemorative plate, c.1791 (Carnavalet Museum, Paris)

Mirabeau's health had been damaged by the excesses of his youth and his strenuous work in politics. In 1791, he contracted pericarditis. With the continuous medical attention paid to him by his friend and physician Pierre Jean George Cabanis, Mirabeau survived to perform his duties as president of the National Assembly until his death on April 2, 1791 in Paris. Even close to the end, he directed debates with eloquence that further increased his popularity. The people of Paris cherished him as one of the fathers of the Revolution.[26] He received a grand burial, and it was for him that the Panthéon in Paris was created as a burial place for great Frenchmen. The street where he died (rue de la Chaussée-d'Antin) was renamed rue Mirabeau.

During the Trial of Louis XVI in 1792, Mirabeau's dealings with the royal court were brought to light, and he was largely discredited by the public after it became known that he had secretly acted as an intermediary between the monarchy and the revolutionaries and had taken payment for it.[27] His bust in the Jacobin Club was destroyed and Robespierre denounced him as "an intriguer and political charlatan unworthy of the honor of lying in the Pantheon."[28] In 1794 his remains were removed from the Panthéon and were replaced with those of Jean-Paul Marat.[29] His remains were then buried anonymously in the graveyard of Clamart. In spite of searches performed in 1889, they were not found.

Funeral of Mirabeau in the Church of St Eustache, 4 April 1791, (Musée de la Révolution française).

Historians in the twenty-first century discovered secret documents in the archives of Vienna that demonstrate that the Austrian ambassador, Florimond-Claude, comte de Mercy-Argenteau, orchestrated the meetings with the king and queen. The ambassador was the queen's political advisor, with advice tailored to the needs of Austria, not France.[30]

"Honoré Gabriel Riqueti de Mirabeau" by Joseph Boze, 1789


Mirabeau proved himself as one of the strongest early leaders of the revolution. His energy captivated his audience, his leadership was often at the forefront of revolutionary ideas. Mirabeau's early life, though filled with the ideas of a young man revolting against a stern father, helped shape these leadership qualities.[31]

With Mirabeau's death the task of saving the monarchy became much more difficult, as the king was less reconciled than ever with the Revolution, and thus revolutionary leaders became less willing to share power with a king who proved so unwilling to compromise.

Revelations about his work with the king stained Mirabeau's image for many. Robespierre called him a traitor. Some historians argue Mirabeau was not the traitor that many believed him to be. It is true that he supported a constitutional monarchy, like England, and not a republic until his death, but his position during the early years of the revolution was shared by other revolutionaries who became radicalized after his death. He tried, unsuccessfully, to make possible a bridge between the king and the revolutionaries.[32][33][34] Some historians, such as Francois Furet, however, believe that even had he lived, the outcome would not have changed, as it would have been extremely difficult to remake the old monarchy in harmony with the growing democratic ideals of the age.[35]

His legacy is, in part, a reflection of the attitudes of the historians. They are deeply split as more liberal historians see him as a great leader who almost saved the nation from the Terror. Those more sympathetic to the revolutionaries, especially the Marxist historians, see him as a venal demagogue lacking political or moral values, or a traitor in the pay of the enemy.[36]


  1. Fred Fling, "The Youth of Mirabeau," The American Historical Review 8(4), 1903, 658, 660–661, 664, 667–670, 672, 678.
  2. Henri Beraud, Twelve Portraits of the French Revolution (New York, NY: Books For Libraries Press Inc, 1968), 5.
  3. Fling,
  4. Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau, L'Œuvre du comte de Mirabeau, Paris, France, Bibliothèque des curieux, 1921, 9. Retrieved December 5, 2022.
  5. Beraud, 5.
  6. Beraud, 9.
  7. Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin (New York, NY: The Viking Press, 1938), 709–710.
  8. Comte de Mirabeau, "De la caisse d'escompte," 1785. Retrieved December 5, 2022.
  9. Richard Whatmore and James Livesey, "Étienne Clavière, Jacques-Pierre Brissot et les fondations intellectuelles de la politique des girondins 1," Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française 321 (2000): 1–26. Retrieved December 5, 2022.
  10. William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0199252985), 97.
  11. Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau, Memoirs and Secret Chronicles of the Court of Berlin (Ohio: St. Dunstan Society, 1901), 1–15.
  12. François Furet and Mona Ozouf, A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989, ISBN 978-0674177284), 267–271.
  13. Beraud, 14.
  14. Darius von Guttner, French Revolution: The Basics (Milton Park, UK: Routledge, 2021, ISBN 978-0367744243), 102–104.
  15. Robert Arnoux, "Count Mirabeau, the revolutionary nobleman," Iter newsline 52, October 6, 2008. Retrieved December 5, 2022.
  16. François Quastana, Politics of Mirabeau 1771–1789 (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010), 4.
  17. Beraud, 21.
  18. Keith Baker, "The Idea of a Declaration of Rights" in The French Idea of Freedom: The Old Regime and the Declaration of Rights of 1789, ed. Dale Van Kley, (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0804728065), 154–196.
  19. Munro Price, "Mirabeau and the Court: Some New Evidence," French Historical Studies 29(1) (2006): 42–52, 62–64.
  20. Lord Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution edited by John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (Dodo Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1409951926), 156.
  21. Charles Kuhlmann, Robespierre and Mirabeau at the Jacobins, December 6, 1790 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, 1911, 343–361.
  22. Michael L. Kennedy, The Jacobins Clubs in the French Revolution: The First Years (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691053370), 204.
  23. Kuhlmann, 343.
  24. Kennedy, 253.
  25. Kennedy, 50.
  26. Norman Hampson, Prelude to Terror: The Constituent Assembly and the Failure of Consensus, 1789-1791 (New York, NY: Basil Blackwell, 1988, ISBN 978-0631152378), 42.
  27. David Andress, The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005, ISBN 978-0374273415), 24, 140, 398.
  28. Barbara Luttrell, Mirabeau (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0809317059), 275.
  29. Doyle, 283.
  30. Price, 37-75.
  31. Beraud, 31-32.
  32. Beraud, 21.
  33. Price, 37–75.
  34. Acton, 157.
  35. Furet and Ozouf, 264-272.
  36. David M. Epstein, "Mirabeau and The French Revolution: A Reappraisal," The Historian, 32(4) (1970): 576–577.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Acton, Lord. Lectures on the French Revolution edited by John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence. Dodo Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1409951926
  • Andress, David. The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005. ISBN 978-0374273415
  • Beraud, Henri. Twelve Portraits of the French Revolution. New York, NY: Books For Libraries Press Inc, 1968. ASIN B0006BUQ16
  • Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0199252985
  • Epstein, David M. "Mirabeau and The French Revolution: A Reappraisal," The Historian 32(4), 1970, 576–594.
  • Furet, François and Mona Ozouf, eds. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989, ISBN 978-0674177284
  • Hampson, Norman. Prelude to Terror: The Constituent Assembly and the Failure of Consensus, 1789-1791. New York, NY: Basil Blackwell, 1988. ISBN 978-0631152378
  • Kennedy, Michael L. The Jacobins Clubs in the French Revolution: The First Years. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982. ISBN 978-0691053370.
  • Kuhlmann, Charles. Robespierre and Mirabeau at the Jacobins, December 6, 1790. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, 1911. 343–361.
  • Luttrell, Barbara. Mirabeau. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0809317059
  • Price, Munro. "Mirabeau and the Court: Some New Evidence," French Historical Studies 29(1), 2006, 37–75.
  • Van Doren, Carl. Benjamin Franklin. New York, NY: The Viking Press, 1938.
  • Van Kley, Dale (ed). The French Idea of Freedom: The Old Regime and the Declaration of Rights of 1789. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0804728065
  • von Guttner, Darius. French Revolution: The Basics. Milton Park, UK: Routledge, 2021. ISBN 978-0367744243
  • Warwick, Charles F. Mirabeau and the French Revolution. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2005. ISBN 978-1417901760

External links

All links retrieved December 5, 2022.


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