Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau

Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau

Portrait of Mirabeau
Member of the French Constituent Assembly
In office
9 July 1789  2 April 1791
Constituency Aix-en-Provence
Member of the Estates-General
for the Third Estate
In office
5 May 1789  9 July 1789
Constituency Aix-en-Provence
Personal details
Born (1749-03-09)9 March 1749
Le Bignon, France
Died 2 April 1791(1791-04-02) (aged 42)
Paris, France
Political party Jacobin (1789–1790)
Patriotic (1790–1791)
Spouse(s) Emilie de Covet de Marignane
Parents Victor Riqueti de Mirabeau and Marie-Geneviève de Vassan
Occupation Politician, journalist, writer, freemason

Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau (9 March 1749  2 April 1791) was a leader of the early stages of the French Revolution. A noble, he was involved before 1789 in numerous scandals that left his reputation in ruins. However, during the early years (1789–91) of the French Revolution he rose to the top and became a voice of the people. A successful orator, he was the leader of the moderate position, favoring a constitutional monarchy built on the model of Great Britain. When he died (of natural causes) he was a great national hero, even though support for his moderate position was slipping away. The later discovery that starting in 1790 he was in the pay of King Louis XVI and the Austrian enemies of France caused his disgrace. Historians are deeply split on whether he was a great leader who almost saved the nation from the Terror, a venal demagogue lacking political or moral values, or a traitor in the pay of the enemy.[1]

Family history

The family of Riqueti with 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 he thereafter had to wear a silver stock. 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.

Early life

Honoré Mirabeau was born at Le Bignon, near Nemours, the eldest surviving son of the economist Victor de Riqueti, marquis de Mirabeau, and his wife Marie-Geneviève de Vassan. He was also the fifth child and second son of the couple. When he was three years old, a virulent attack of smallpox left his face disfigured. This, combined with Mirabeau's resemblance to his maternal ancestors and his fondness for his mother, contributed to his father's dislike of him.[2] At the age of five, he was sent by his father to a boarding school by the name of "Abbe Choquard." Destined for the army, at age eighteen, he entered the military school in Paris in the regiment of Berri-Cavaleria at Saints.[3] Of this school, which had Joseph-Louis Lagrange for its professor of mathematics, there is an amusing account in the life of Gilbert Elliot who met Mirabeau there. On leaving school in 1767 he received a commission in a cavalry regiment which his grandfather had commanded years before.

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 scandal that his father obtained a lettre de cachet, and Mirabeau was imprisoned in the Île de Ré. On being released, the young nobleman obtained leave to accompany the French expedition to Corsica as a volunteer. During the Corsican expedition, Mirabeau contracted 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 emphasizes 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.[2] 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 the poor living conditions they were experiencing at that time. Then his wife asked for 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, holding resentment against Portalis forever.

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 then went to the United Provinces, where he lived by writing hack work for the booksellers; meanwhile 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), and the obscene Erotica biblion and Ma conversion. In Vincennes, he met the Marquis de Sade, who was also writing erotic works; however 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 (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

His release from Vincennes (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 M. de Monnier to pay the costs of the whole law proceedings. It was thought 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 the cards in his favor regarding the death sentence, and from this day forward Mirabeau became 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, and attacked 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.

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, having been translated into English in 1787, and where he was soon admitted into the best Whig literary and political society of London, through his old school friend Gilbert Elliot, who had become a leading Whig member of parliament. Of all his English friends none seem to have been as close as Lord Shelburne and Sir Samuel Romilly. Romilly was introduced to Mirabeau by Sir Francis D'Ivernois (1757–1842), and undertook the translation of Mirabeau's the Considérations sur l'ordre de Cincinnatus into English.

It was one of several works Mirabeau wrote in the year 1785, and it is a good specimen 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—because he was serving as the United States Minister to France at the time—was not in a position to criticize directly the "noble order" espoused by the Society of the Cincinnati.[7]

Several other pamphlets Mirabeau wrote in 1785 attacked financial speculation. Among those, De La Caisse d'Escompte[8] was prescient in that it correctly predicted the risky nature and ultimate demise of the French "Discount Bank."[9] This book—which condemned the fiscal politics of the state as going against the interest of the public—was among the influential literature critical of the French government in the years leading up to the French Revolution.[10]

He soon found such work did not pay enough to keep his retinue, and sought employment from the French foreign office, either as a writer or a diplomat. He first sent Mme de Nehra to Paris to make peace with the authorities, and then returned himself, hoping to get a job through an old literary collaborateur of his, Durival, 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 so employed. 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 learnt 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, and to attack in his usual vehement style the Banque de St-Charles and the Compagnie des Eaux. This pamphlet brought him into controversy with Caron de Beaumarchais, who certainly did not get the best of it, but it lost him any chance of employment with the government.

However, his ability was too great 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; returning in January, Mirabeau published a full account in his Secret History of the Court of Berlin (1787).[11] This account denounced the Prussian court as scandalous and corrupt, described the dying King of Prussia 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 minister, von Hertzberg and 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.[12]

Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as the United States Minister to France during this period, wrote to Mirabeau, complimented Mirabeau's "writings and talents," and provided Mirabeau with materials that Jefferson wanted Mirabeau to use in future publications.[13][14]

During his journey he had made the acquaintance of Jakob Mauvillon, an expert on Prussia; Mirabeau made use of his expertise in his De la monarchie prussienne sous Frédéric le Grand (London, 1788). While this six-volume work gave him a good reputation as a historian, in the same year he lost a chance of political employment. He had offered himself as a candidate for secretary to the Assembly of Notables, which the King Louis XVI had just convened. To bring his name before the public, he published another financial work, the Dénonciation de l'agiotage, which contained such violent diatribes that he not only lost his election but was obliged to retire to Tongeren. He further injured his prospects by publishing the reports he had sent in during his secret mission at Berlin. But 1789 was at hand; the Estates-General was summoned; Mirabeau's period of probation was over.

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, but was rejected. He appealed to the Third Estate and was elected to the Estates in both Aix and Marseilles. He chose to accept the seat for the former city, and was present at the opening of the Estates-General on 4 May 1789. From this time the record of Mirabeau's life forms the best history of the first two years of the National Constituent Assembly. Among a large crowd of unfamiliar politicians in the Estates General, Mirabeau was one figure who stood out. He was famous 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 with women, time in prison, and extensive debt were all well known.[15] 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 recognized 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 yet distinct. In the first stage of the Estates-General, Mirabeau was very important. He was soon recognized as a leader, to the chagrin of Jean Joseph Mounier, because he always knew his own mind, and was prompt in emergencies. He is attributed with the successful consolidation of the National Assembly.[16]

In August 1789 he played an important role in drafting "The Declaration of the Rights of Man."[17]

After the storming of the Bastille, he warned the Assembly of the futility of passing fine-sounding decrees and urged the necessity of action. Although the cause of liberty had triumphed, Mirabeau foresaw that the intervention of armed mobs would only drive the path of Revolution further and further along a destructive path of violence.[18] He declared that the night of 4 August was but an orgy, giving the people immense theoretical liberty while not assisting them to practical freedom, overthrowing the old régime before a new one could be constituted. His failure to control the theorists showed Mirabeau, after the removal of the king and the Assembly to Paris, 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, which should be responsible, like the English ministry, but to an assembly chosen to represent the people of France better than the British House of Commons, at that time, represented the common people of Great Britain.

His first thought of becoming a minister was at a very early date, according to a story contained in the Mémoires of the duchesse d'Abrantes, that in May 1789 Queen Marie Antoinette tried to bribe him, but that he refused and expressed his wish to be a minister. The indignation with which the queen repelled the idea may have made him consider Duke of Orléans as a possible constitutional king, because his title would of necessity be parliamentary. But the weakness of the Duke of Orléans was too palpable, and in a famous remark Mirabeau expressed his utter contempt for him. He also attempted to form an alliance with 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 Necker, 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, ripened during the following year into a friendship, which La Marck hoped to turn to the advantage of the court. After The March on Versailles he consulted Mirabeau as to what measures the king ought to take, and Mirabeau, delighted at the opportunity, drew up his recommendations. This Mémoire gives insight into Mirabeau's genius for politics: The main position was that the king was not free in Paris; he must therefore leave Paris towards the interior of France to a provincial capital, best of all to Rouen, and there he must appeal to the people and summon a great convention. It would be ruin to appeal to the nobility, as the queen advised. At this great convention the king must show himself ready to recognize that great changes had taken place, that feudalism and absolutism had for ever 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.

This was Mirabeau's programme, from which he never diverged, but which was far too statesmanlike to be understood by the king, and far too assertive of the altered condition of the monarchy 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 Liancourt, the Duc de la Rochefoucauld; La Marck; Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun; Mirabeau, without portfolio; Target, mayor of Paris; Lafayette, as generalissimo of the army; Louis Philippe, comte de Ségur, as foreign minister; Mounier; and le Chapelier.

This scheme got noised abroad, and was ruined by a decree of the Assembly of 7 November 1789, such that no member of the Assembly could become a minister; this decree destroyed any chance of the sort of harmony between ministers and parliament which 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.",[19] and La Marck left Paris. However, in April 1790 La Marck 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 to Mirabeau's death, he was the bearer of almost daily communications between Mirabeau and the queen. Mirabeau at first attempted to make an alliance with Lafayette, but it was useless, for Lafayette was not a strong man himself.

Jacobin Club

Mirabeau would also serve as a member of the Jacobin Club until his death. However, historian Charles Kuhlmann believed that "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."[20] In the end, the Jacobins would stand in his way of restoring royal authority, but in the early years of the revolution Mirabeau would actually serve as a leading figure in the Jacobin Club. Mirabeau would reach the height of his influence within the club when he was elected 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 in which citizens could serve in the National Guard. Mirabeau would argue for the selling of church lands to private individuals in order to rescue the country from their financial troubles. This argument would be strongly supported by his fellow Jacobins.

An additional issue Mirabeau fought for in the meetings of the Jacobin Clubs was the abolition of slavery. However, "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"[21] until later in the revolution after Mirabeau's death.

Another important issue discussed while Mirabeau served as president of the Jacobins was the issue of what citizens could serve in the National Guard. On 6 December 1790 the National Assembly passed a decree 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,"[22] leaving the decree of 6 December to restrict the right to bear arms to the middle and upper classes. The decree of 6 December led to heated debates within the clubs of the Jacobins, especially in Paris. It also pitted the up and coming Robespierre against Mirabeau. The evening after the decree was passed Robespierre would attempt to give a speech against the decree at the Jacobins 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"[23] by the National Assembly, however, 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 party. Mirabeau would serve as a member of the more moderate group called the Societe des amis de la Revolution de Paris which was formed in November 1789. This group would disappear by 1790 due to conflict with in 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 "Alencon tears ran from every eye and members fainted"[24] over hearing the news of his death. The mourning of Mirabeau as a Jacobin hero would not last long, however. After the deposing of the monarchy in 1792 the French republic would find the letters written by Mirabeau to the king about trying to save the monarchy. This would lead to the destruction of his bust in the Jacobin Club and to his denunciation by Robespierre as "an intriguer and political charlatan unworthy of the honor of lying in the Pantheon."[25]


From May 1790 when he 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 gave him a monthly subsidy of six thousand francs; with promises of a million or more. Some historians argue Mirabeau was not the traitor that many believed him to be because he continued to uphold the ideals which were the foundation of his political beliefs and tried to make possible a bridge between the ideas and wants of the King and the Revolutionaries.[26][27][28]

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 disappeared from the French court and no longer posed a threat. Lafayette, however, was very powerful due to the fact that he held a monopoly on 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, showing a conservative line of thinking: the only way to end the revolution would be to destroy its place of birth. Mirabeau’s prospects with the crown were good until 1790, when the Chatelet charged, in the National Assembly, that the inciters of the October days were the duc d’Orleans and Mirabeau himself. The charges were later removed, but for Mirabeau, the accusation brought the realization that his strategy of working closely with both the Assembly and the court was beginning to backfire. In a later 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 that he could agree to. Once the civil constitution of the clergy destroyed this hope, Louis adopted a strategy of strengthening royal authority and the church’s position, and accepted the use of force – civil war – to accomplish this. Mirabeau's involvement with the court is as interesting for the insights it provides into the mind of Louis XVI as it is for the effects it produced in the Revolution.[29]

On the question of the veto he 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. 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 bloodless revolution, as in England in 1688. He saw that much of the Assembly's inefficiency arose from the members' inexperience and their incurable verbosity; so, to establish some system of rules, he got his friend 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, puffed up by a belief in its own merits, refused to use. The difference between the suspensive veto and the absolute was simple: the absolute veto give 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. The final compromise was to allow the king a suspensive veto for a period of two years.[30] On the subject of peace and war he supported the king's authority, with some success. Again, Mirabeau, almost alone in the Assembly, 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. With such sentiments, it is no wonder that he approved of the vigorous conduct of the marquis de Bouillé at Nancy, which was to his credit as Bouillé was opposed to him. Lastly, in matters of finance he showed his wisdom: he attacked Necker's "caisse d'escompte," which was to have the whole control of the taxes, as usurping the Assembly's power of the purse; and 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.

Foreign affairs

In foreign affairs, he held that the French people should conduct their Revolution as they wished, and that 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 and feared its influence on their own peoples, and that foreign monarchs were being importuned 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, and in this capacity he was able to prevent the Assembly from doing much harm with regard to foreign affairs. He had long known Armand Marc, comte de Montmorin, the foreign secretary, and, 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 exertions in this respect showed him to be a statesman; and his influence is best shown 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, and in 1791, he contracted pericarditis. However, some attributed his illness to a poisoning. By this time, it is evident that the King had lost all confidence in his former adviser, and Mirabeau's plans never took effect. Although he had been only recently elected president for two weeks of the National Assembly, despite the continuous medical attention paid to him by his friend and physician, Cabanis, Mirabeau would survive to perform his duties until his death on 2 April 1791, in Paris. It was here that he directed debates with eloquence further increasing his popularity. The people of Paris cherished him as one of the fathers of the Revolution.[31] During the king’s trial, 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 revolution and had taken payment for it.[32] Historians in the 21st century discovered secret documents in the archives of Vienna that show the Austrian ambassador orchestrated the meetings with the King and Queen. Florimond-Claude, comte de Mercy-Argenteau, the ambassador, was the Queen's political advisor, with advice tailored to the needs of Austria, not France.[33]

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. In 1792 his secret dealings with the king were uncovered, and in 1794 his remains were removed from the Pantheon and were replaced with those of Marat.[34] His remains were then buried anonymously in Clamart's graveyard. In spite of searches performed in 1889, they were not found.

At the time of his death, Mirabeau greatly feared for the future of any constitutional monarchy in France, as he recognized that many powerful and radically inclined interests would not give such arrangements their support. Mirabeau tried to remove the tyrannical power of the king, but additionally tried to substitute a strong and respectable governing power. The tragedy of his life was that he was unable to put into practice freely his moderate policy and ideas without any conflicts from the other provisional powers. He provided the Assembly with a guiding and powerful direction, and when he died there was no one to continue his legacy.


His first literary work, except the bombastic but eloquent Essai sur le despotisme (Neufchâtel, 1775), was a translation of Robert Watson's Philip II, done in Amsterdam with the help of Durival; his Considerations sur l'ordre de Cincinnatus (London, 1788) was based on a pamphlet by Aedanus Burke, of South Carolina, who opposed the aristocratic tendencies of the Society of the Cincinnati, and the notes to it were by Target; his financial writings were suggested by the Genevese exile, Clavière.

During the Revolution he received yet more help; men were proud to labour for him, and did not murmur because he absorbed all the credit and fame. Étienne Dumont, Clavière, Antoine Adrien Lamourette and Étienne Salonion Reybaz were but a few of the most distinguished of his collaborators. Dumont was a Genevese exile, and an old friend of Romilly's, who willingly prepared for him those famous addresses which Mirabeau used to make the Assembly, pass by sudden bursts of eloquent declamation; Clavière helped him in finance and not only worked out his figures but also even wrote his financial discourses; Lamourette wrote the speeches, on the Civil Constitution of the Clergy; Reybaz not only wrote for him his famous speeches on the assignats, the organization of the national guard, and others, which Mirabeau read word for word at the tribune, but also even the posthumous speech on succession to the estates of intestates, which Talleyrand read in the Assembly as the last work of his dead friend.

In popular culture

He was played by Sir Peter Ustinov in the 1989 film La Révolution française.
He is the leader of the Brotherhood in the game Assassin's Creed Unity.


  1. Epstein (1970) pp 576–77
  2. 1 2 Fling, Fred (1903). "The Youth of Mirabeau". The American Historical Review. American Historical Association. 8 (4): 658, 660–661, 664, 667–670, 672, 678. doi:10.2307/1834345. JSTOR 1834345.
  3. Beraud, Henri. Twelve Portraits of the French Revolution. (Books For Libraries Press Inc, 1968):5.
  4. Mirabeau, Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti; Guillaume Apollinaire; P. Pierrugues (1921). L'Œuvre du comte de Mirabeau. Paris, France: Bibliothèque des curieux. p. 9.
  5. Beraud, Henri. Twelve Portraits of the French Revolution. New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1978.
  6. Beraud, Henri. Twelve Portraits of the French Revolution (Books for Libraries Press Inc: New York): 9.
  7. Van Doren, Carl. Benjamin Franklin (The Viking Press: New York). 1938. pp. 709–710.
  8. https://archive.org/stream/delacaissedescom00mira#page/n7/mode/2up
  9. fr:Caisse d'escompte
  10. http://ahrf.revues.org/175
  11. Doyle, William (2002). The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-19-925298-5.
  12. Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Riqueti (1901). "preface". Memoirs and Secret Chronicles of the Court of Berlin. preface by Oliver H. G. Leigh. Ohio: St. Dunstan Society. pp. 1–15.
  13. Boyd, Julian, P., ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton University Press: Princeton). 1954. vol. 10, p. 283.
  14. "Author of the Book: Comte de Mirabeau." isthisjefferson.org Accessed 1 February 2013.
  15. Beraud, Henri Twelve Portraits of the Revolution (New York: Books for Libraries Press, Inc): 14.
  16. von Guttner, Darius (2015). The French Revolution. Nelson Cengage. pp. 102–104.
  17. Keith Baker, "The Idea of a Declaration of Rights" in Dale Van Kley, ed. The French Idea of Freedom: The Old Regime and the Declaration of Rights of 1789 (1997) pp 154–96.
  18. Quastana, Francois. "Politics of Mirabeau 1771–1789." Oxford University Press (13 January 2010):4.
  19. Beraud, Henri Twelve Portraits of the French Revolution (New York: Books for Libraries Press Inc,1968):21.
  20. Kuhlmann, Charles (1911). Robespierre and Mirabeau at the Jacobins, December 6, 1790. University Studies. pp. 343–361.
  21. Kennedy, Michael L. (1982). The Jacobins Clubs in the French Revolution The First Years. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 204.
  22. Kuhlmann, Charles (1911). Robespierre and Mirabeau at the Jacobins, December 6, 1790. University Studies. p. 343.
  23. Kennedy, Michael . (1982). The Jacobins Clubs in the French Revolution The First Years. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 253.
  24. Kennedy, Michael L (1982). The Jacobin's Clubs in the French Revolution The First Years. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 50.
  25. Luttrell, Barbara (1990). Mirabeau. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. p. 275.
  26. Beraud, Henri Twelve Portraits of the Revolution (New York: Libraries for Press Inc, 1968) p 21.
  27. Munro Price, "Mirabeau and the Court: Some New Evidence," French Historical Studies (2006) 29#1 pp 37–75.
  28. Acton & The French Revolution 1962, p. 157
  29. Price, "Mirabeau and the Court: Some New Evidence," pp 42, 45, 48–49, 50–52 & 62–64
  30. Lord Acton & the French Revolution 1962, p. 156
  31. Hampson, Norman. Prelude to Terror. (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988)42.
  32. Andress, David (2005). The Terror. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. pp. 24, 140 & 398.
  33. Price (2006)
  34. Doyle, William (2002). The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 283. ISBN 978-0-19-925298-5.


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