Madame Roland, 8th November 1793, RIP

8 November 2011

Madame Manon Jeanne Roland was guillotined on this day in 1793 – after spending several months writing away furiously in prison, she died with exemplary bravery, making what is commonly known as a ‘good end’ even by French Revolutionary standards which were, as we all know, pitifully low.

I’m ashamed to admit that when I was a maudlin gothic teenager, I went through a prolonged stage of thinking that I must have been reincarnated from Madame Roland. I’m not actually sure why as I am not even slightly as political as she must have been but I think her intimidating intelligence, courage and what came across from her memoirs as a rather briskly strident manner really appealed to me. There were no flies on her as my grandmother, yet again, would have said.

Like many (all?) writers I spend my life surrounded by scraps of paper of varying degrees of importance and so, unsurprisingly it is the paper remnants that people leave behind that perhaps speak to me most clearly. That and their shoes. This is the actual order of execution for Madame Roland, signed by beetle browed Fouquier Tinville himself, who probably couldn’t wait to get her argumentative and highly articulate self out of his court room.

I spend a lot of time researching the lives of women of the Revolution like Madame Roland, Lucile Desmoulins and Princesse Joseph de Monaco and do my best to trace the stories of the children that they left behind in such an untimely and tragic way. This portrait shows Eudora Roland, left an orphan in November 1793 by the execution of her mother and subsequent suicide of her father. She was just twelve years old.

Left destitute by the state confiscation of her parents’ fortune, Eudora was saved from penury by the publication of her mother’s Memoirs, which she had written while in prison. She would later marry at the age of fifteen to the eighteen year old Pierre Léon Champagneux (who had witnessed her mother’s execution as a boy of fifteen and would later tell his grand-daughter that her great grandmother,’that amazing woman‘ had ‘appeared to (him) a true aristocrat‘) and have children of her own as well as what seems to have been a normal, tranquil life. It is said that after the death of her daughter, the interestingly named Malvina, she ‘became so devout that she adopted a sort of religious uniform and lived in her family almost as though in a convent.‘ I wonder what Manon Roland would have made of that.