Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Severed Heads During the French Revolution

From Geri Walton, via History's Untold Treasures:
Suppose you see a severed head dripping blood on a pike. What do you feel? Revulsion? Terror? Severed heads were often a common image associated with the French Revolution. Why were they so prevalent and how prevalent were they?

One of the first stories related to severed heads occurred two days before the storming of the Bastille on 12 July 1789. Madame Tussaud reported that protestors arrived knocking on the door of Philippe Mathé Curtius, her uncle and owner of a wax museum called the Salon de Cire. The museum was home to numerous wax figures that included a display of the French royal family dining or rather “exhibited in a ceremony called Grand Couvert [where] “the good  honest people from the country, after visiting the menageries to see the lions, tigers, and monkeys … hastened to the palace to see the king and queen take their soup.”[1]

According to Madame Tussaud, the protestors wanted two wax heads to carry in protest march. One was the Duke d’Orléans and the other was Louis XVI’s popular finance minister Jacques Necker, whom Louis XVI had dismissed. The protestors also wanted a full-size figure of the king, but Curtius refused stating that it would fall apart if carried, and, so, the protestors settled for the heads of d’Orléans and Necker.

After the protestors got the heads, they placed them on pikes, held them aloft, and marched through Parisian streets beating drums. A journalist and dramatist named Louis-Abel, Beffroy de Reigny was informed about the protests and left the safety of his home to investigate. When he reached the Boulevard du Temple, he reported:
“There I saw about five or six thousand men marching fairly fast and without any order, some of them armed, others with sabers, spears, and pitchforks. They triumphantly carried the wax busts of the Duc d’Orléans and of M. Necker, whom they had asked of M. Curtius.”[2]
An engraving of the event soon surfaced. On 12 July, after journalist and politician Camille Desmoulins learned that Necker had been dismissed, he leapt onto a table and delivered an impassioned speech, calling the people to arms. Soon after the above engraving circulated showing Desmoulins rallying the protestors and them carrying the wax heads of Necker and the Duke. (Read more.)

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