François Hanriot

François Hanriot, portrait, Canarvalet Museum.

François Hanriot (3 September 1761 – 28 July 1794) was a French Jacobin leader and street orator of the Revolution. He played a vital role in the Insurrection and subsequently the fall of the Girondins.


Early years

François Hanriot was born to poor parents in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris.[1] His parents were servants to a Parisian bourgeoise[2] which most likely helped influence his support of the Revolution later in life.

Not a man of any specific profession, Hanriot held a variety of different jobs. He took his first employment with a procureur doing mostly secretarial work, but lost his position due to reasons of dishonesty. Next, he obtained a clerkship in the Paris octroi in 1789 doing tax work. His position here was also ill-fated, as he was again fired after leaving his station the night of 12 July 1789, when angry Parisians attempted to burn the building down. After his string of unfortunate professions, Hanriot remained unemployed and subsequently very poor.[3] His next string of occupations is rather hazy in history; many people of the time connect him to a variety of professions including a shopkeeper, a peddler, and a stint as a soldier in America serving under Lafayette (whom he would later speak against to other patriot sans-culottes). He was eventually an orator for a local section of sans-culottes.

First roles in the Revolution

After generating a more substantial fortune and moving to Rue de la Clef, a Parisian quarter inhabited by royalists and sans-culottes alike, in January 1792, Hanriot soon became well known for his anti-aristocratic outlook. He was strongly in favor of imposing taxes on the aristocracy, presenting them "with a bill in one hand and a pistol in the other." With this attitude he gained a loyal following of local sans-culottes and they would adopt him as their section leader in the September Massacres later that year. His involvement in the September Massacres secured his place as a soldier in the National Guard in Paris, gradually rising to the rank of captain.[4]

The Fall of the Girondists

The Spring of 1793 was a period of great political tension in Paris as the radical voices in the Commune and the Montagnards in the Convention became more overtly hostile to the ruling Girondist faction.[5] The authorities' decision to arrest Jean-Paul Marat in April brought matters to a head, and precipitated the Fall of the Girondists in which Hanriot played a major part. On 30 May 1793 the Commune appointed Hanriot to the position of "Commandant-General" of the Parisian National Guard,[6] and ordered him to march his troops the next day to the Palais National.[7] The purpose of this move was to force the Convention to dissolve the Committee of the Twelve and the arrest of twenty-two select Girondists. Hanriot's troops surrounded the Convention with cannon while it was in session and throngs of sans-culotte soldiers entered the building and disrupted the sessions.[8] The President of the Convention, Herault de Sechelles, came out to appeal to Hanriot to remove his troops, but he refused. There was no violence, but the Convention voted the arrest of 29 Girondist deputies, effectively removing that faction from power.[9][10] On 11 June he resigned his command, declaring that order had been restored. On 13 June he was impeached by the Convention, but the motion was not carried. On 1 July he was elected by the Commune permanent Commander of the Armed Forces of Paris.[11]

End of the Revolution

During the Spring of 1794 there were increasing tensions between Robespierre and the Committees on the one hand, and the Paris Commune and the sans-culottes on the other. This culminated in the arrest of Hebert, Momoro and their associates on 13 March. On 27 March the sans-culotte Revolutionary Army was disbanded and its artillery units brought under Hanriot's control.[12] Although he was broadly supportive of the radical ideas of Hebert and his associates, Hanriot remained loyal to Robespierre.[13]

In July 1794 a group of Convention members organised the overthrow of Robespierre and his allies in what was known as the Thermidorean Reaction. Robespierre was first shouted down when he tried to speak at the Convention, and then the deputies voted for his arrest, along with others, including Hanriot.[14] The deputies were held under arrest, but as Hanriot was not a deputy he remained free. When the Paris Commune heard of the arrests it began mobilising forces to free Robespierre and his allies and to take control of the Convention. Hanriot instructed the prisons of Paris to refuse admission to any prisoners sent to them by the Convention[15] and took charge of military preparations for taking the Convention.[16]

Hanriot then took a unit of mounted policemen to the Tuileries Palace to try to find Robespierre and the other prisoners, intending to release them. He found them being held in the rooms of the Committee of General Security. However instead of freeing them, Hanriot was himself arrested.[17] Robespierre and the other prisoners were taken away to various prisons, and eventually went free because none would admit them. Hanriot was kept at the Tuileries, but when the Commune learned of his arrest, they sent Coffinhall with soldiers to release him that evening, which proved easy.[18]

By 1 am on 28 July, Robespierre, Hanriot and the other liberated prisoners had gathered at the Hotel de Ville which was now their headquarters. The Convention responded by declaring them outlaws to be taken dead or alive, and ordering troops of its own under Barras to suppress them. Within an hour, the forces of the Commune quietly deserted the Hôtel de Ville and, at around two in the morning, troops of the Convention under the command of Barras arrived. Robespierre and a number of others were arrested. Hanriot fell from a side window and was found later in the day, unconscious, in a neighbouring courtyard.[19] He was taken to the guillotine in the same cart as Robespierre and his brother[20] and was executed shortly after Robespierre on 28 July 1794, only semi-conscious when led to the platform.[21]


  1. "François Hanriot". NNBD, Soylent Communications, 2008, <> (20 January 2008).
  2. Lenotre, G. Romances of the French Revolution: From the French of G. Lenotre. Translated by George Frederic William Lees. Vol. II. (London: W. Heinemann, 1908), 270.
  3. The Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th Edition. Vol. XII. (New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company, 1910).
  4. Andress, David. The Terror. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006), 396.
  5. Schama, S. Citizens pp.714-722, Penguin 1989
  6. Stevens, Henry Morse. A History of the French Revolution. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1891), p.242.
  7. Chronicle of the French Revolution p.341 Longman Group 1989
  8. Schama, S. Citizens p. 722 Penguin 1989
  9. Chronicle of the French Revolution p.341 Longman Group 1989
  10. Slavin, Morris. The Making of an Insurrection. (London: Harvard University Press, 1986), 99-116.
  11. Paxton J. Companion to the French Revolution p.98 Facts on File Publications
  12. Scurr, R. Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution p.279 Vintage Books 2006
  13. Thompson, J.M. Robespierre p.460, Basil Blackwell 1988
  14. Schama, S. Citizens p.844 Penguin 1989
  15. Scurr, R. Fatal Purity p.320 Vintage Books 2007
  16. Thompson, J.M. Robespierre p. 573 Basil Blackwell 1988
  17. Scurr, R. Fatal Purity p.320 Vintage Books 2007
  18. Thompson, J.M. Robespierre p. 573 Basil Blackwell 1988
  19. Chronicle of the French Revolution p.436 Longman Group 1989
  20. Scurr, R. Fatal Purity p.324 Vintage Books 2007
  21. Andress, David. The Terror. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006), 341-344.)
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