Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Anne Joseph Théroigne de Méricourt

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Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition
Anne Joseph Théroigne de Méricourt

From volume XXIII of the work.
See also the Project Disclaimer.

THÉROIGNE DE MÉRICOURT, Anne Joseph (1762—1817), was born at Marcourt (from a corruption of which name she took her usual designation), a small town in Luxembourg, on the banks of the Ourthe, on 13th August 1762. She was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, Peter Théroigne. She appears to have been well educated, having been brought up in the convent of Robermont; she was quick-witted, strikingly handsome in appearance, and intensely passionate in temper; and she had a strong and almost volcanic power of eloquence, which she used with great effect upon the mobs of Paris during that short space of her life (1789—93) which alone is of historical interest. The story of her having been betrayed by a young seigneur, and having in consequence devoted her life to avenge her wrongs upon aristocrats, a story which is told by Lamartine and others, is unfounded, the truth being that she left her home on account of a quarrel with her stepmother. She went to Paris, and, on the outbreak of the Revolution, she was surrounded by a coterie of well-known men, chief of whom were Pétion and Desmoulins. She belonged to their party to the last,—became in fact the “Fury of the Gironde." On 14th July 1789 she came prominently into notice at the fall of the Bastille, and for about four years thereafter she was seen in many of the stormiest scenes of the Revolution, being known as “la belle Liégoise,” and singularly attired in a riding habit, a plume in her hat, pistols in her belt, and a sword dangling by her side. Early in October she took a leading part in the march to Versailles, and the return journey with the king and queen to the capital. No horror appalled her, and the violence of her language and her power with the mob were no less remarkable than the influence which she was able, by combining cajolery, threats, and money, successfully to exert on the royalist soldiers, so winning them over to the Revolution. Being justly accused of dangerous conduct, her arrest was ordered in the following year (1790), and she left Paris for Marcourt, whence after a short stay she proceeded to Liége, in which town she was seized by warrant of the Austrian Government, and conveyed first to Tyrol and thereafter to Vienna, accused of having been engaged in a plot against the life of the queen of France. After an interview, however, with Leopold II., she was released; and she returned to Paris, crowned of course with fresh laurels because of her captivity, and resumed her influence. In the clubs of Paris her voice was often heard, and even in the National Assembly she would violently interrupt the expression of any moderatist views. She commanded in person the 3d corps of the so-called army of the faubourgs on 20th June 1792, and again won the gratitude of the people. She shares a heavy responsibility for her connexion with the riots of the 10th of August. A certain contributor to Desmoulins’s journal, the Acts of the Apostles, Suleau by name, earned her savage hatred by associating her name, for the sake of the play upon the word, with a deputy named Populus, whom she had never seen. On the 10th of August, just after she had watched approvingly the massacre of certain of the national guard in the Place Vendôme, Suleau was pointed out to her. She sprang at him, dragged him among the infuriated mob, and he was stabbed to death in an instant. But the time came when her party was in peril at the hands of one more extreme, and she now wildly urged the mob to more moderate courses. Then the furies of the “Mountain” seized the fury of the Gironde, and they stripped her naked, and flogged her in the public garden of the Tuileries. The infamous affront drove her mad. She was removed to a private house, thence in 1800 to La Salpetrière for a month, and thence to a place of confinement called the Petites Maisons, where she remained—a raving maniac—till 1807. She was then again removed to La Salpetrière, where she died, never having recovered her reason, on 9th June 1817.