On Sunday September 2, 1792, because they fear a “plot in prisons” and a Prussian invasion, Sans-culottes storm Paris prisons and summarily slaughter hundreds of inmates said to be against the revolution. This is the beginning of the September Massacres that will occur from September 2 to 6, 1792 in Paris and around.
It has been a month or so since the Sans-culottes took over the Tuileries palace, marking the end of royalty and the fall of the monarchy ruling over France for over a thousand years. August 10, 1792 actually marks the beginning of the second French Revolution, as a response to the coalition of the European monarchies showing bulletproof support to the French monarchy and the invasion of France by Prussia and Austria.
As a matter of fact, France declared war on April 20, 1792 to two European monarchies close to the French royal family: Austria and Prussia. In July 1792, the Prussian and Austrian armies eventually start invading France, and on July 25, 1792, the Brunswick Manifesto – granted to the leader of the Prussian army Charles-Guillaume-Ferdinand duke of Brunswick – is sent to the people of Paris.
Actually put together by a French noble who emigrated during the Revolution – Knight Geoffroy de Limon – this manifesto aims at intimidating Paris and is part of the Allies’ will to put the King back on the throne and give him the full powers back, threatening the monarch’s opponents of the worst reprisal, arguing that anyone against would be considered as a rebel and punishable by death penalty according to the martial law.
In Paris, the people get hot and bothered. Since the Tuileries palace has been stormed, three powers are fighting to rule the city: Paris Insurrectional Commune – behind the Tuileries insurrection and now led by Robespierre – the Legislative Assembly – from the September 1791 elections – and last but not least the Temporary Executive Council – led by Minister of Justice and Prime Minister Danton.
Yet, while waiting for the election of a national Convention, the Paris Commune stands out. Furthermore, to try and stop the latter’s power, the Assembly radicalizes their political positions and creates on August 17, 1792 an extraordinary criminal court to judge the defenders of the King. In turns, nobles and Swiss guards are condemned and locked up in Paris prisons as they defended the royal family and shot the people during the Storming of the Tuileries.
But this new court is considered too indulgent by the Insurrectional Commune. On September 1, 1792, member of the Commune’s Surveillance Committee journalist Jean-Paul Marat has posters displayed claiming for justice by the people, and imploring the latter to “purge the Nation before running to the borders”. Fearing the inmates could start a rebellion, and while the capital city is left by many volunteering men to the front at the border, leaving their wives and children defenseless, fear takes hold.
The news of the rendition of the north-eastern fortress in Verdun on August 29, only a few days after the Longwy rendition, does nothing but escalates the terror. The people is sure, the capital city is about to be invaded by foreigners, while a “plot in jail” is being made in secret: as the capital city has been abandoned by 30,000 volunteers, the counter-revolutionary inmates will manage to escape prisons, slaughter patriots and free Louis XVI locked up at the Prison du Temple and give the capital to the Prussians.
This is more than the Sans-culottes can handle and they decide to go ahead. On September 2, 1792, several sections, led by the one in Faubourg Poissonnière, storm Paris prisons, armed with bludgeons, axes, mallets, sabers and pikes. For five days, the “septembriseurs” hold sham trials in a people court at the Prison de l’Ababye, and mercilessly slaughter prisoners said to be ruling for the king’s return at the Prison de l’Abbaye, the Couvent des Carmes, in Saint-Firmin, at the Conciergerie, at the Force, at the Tour-Saint-Bernard, in Châtelet, at the Hôpital-Prison de la Salpêtrière and at the Hôpital de Bicêtre.
In all, over 1,300 victims including multiple aristocrats, Swiss guards, and refractory priests, as well as many common criminals and ordinary citizens are murdered by the “septembriseurs”. Prisoners jailed for debts, family quarrels or minor offences are yet generally freed, so are most women. Neither authorities nor the national guard, nor the government, nor the Assembly, nor the Commune stand against the slaughter and do not intervene during the climax of the revolutionary violence.
Among the most famous names, Princess Marie-Thérèse de Lamballe, the queen’s former confident and children’s governess, locked up in the Prison de la Force. Killed by the Sans-culottes, torn into pieces, her head is put on a spike and carried under the queen’s cell window. The scuffles quickly spread to province, Meaux, Lyon, Caen, Gisors and even Reims, making an extra 150 deaths.
Prelude to the First Terror, the September Massacres place the French Revolution in its most violent phase.
En-tête : Episode des massacres de septembre 1792, Sylvestre et Cie, Musée Carnavalet
Les massacres du 2 au 7 septembre 1792 à la prison de l'Abbaye, Jules-Adolphe Chauvet, Musée Carnavalet
Massacres des 2 et 3 septembre 1792 des prisonniers par les septembriseurs, tribunal arbitraire dans la prison, Auguste Raffet, Musée Carnavalet
Mort de Madame de Lamballe, Antoine Johannot, Musée Carnavalet