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  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: January 2010

5 - Robespierre and conspiracy theories


‘M. de Robespierre a, comme à son ordinaire, parlé de complots, de conspiration, etc. etc’ (‘M. de Robesp]ierre, as is his wont, spoke of plots, of conspiracy, etc. etc.’) Thus, in January 1790, did Adrien Duquesnoy summarise Robespierre's intervention in the National Assembly's debate on the recent incident in Toulon, which had culminated in the arrest of officers of the naval garrison by the National Guard. Another commentator on the debate supplied further detail: Robespierre, who sided with the National Guard, ‘regarded the events of Toulon as a continuation of the plots formed from one end of the kingdom to the other against public liberty’. He had listed the circumstances which led him to this conclusion, speaking for example of the suspect attitudes of the prévôt of Marseille ‘as of a fact which must form one of the links in the chain of oppressive systems against a nation which has regained its freedom’.

Already, by this relatively early stage in the Revolution, the denunciation of conspiracy had become part of Robespierre's recognised stock in trade, and a central element in the persona conferred on him by unsympathetic caricature. Already, also, the conspiracies he claimed to detect embraced the length and breadth of France and the highest objects of national politics. His mind linked them in a chain, whose connections the next four and a half years would gradually tighten. For few themes were to be more consistently and obsessively present in Robespierre's political rhetoric than that of conspiratorial intrigue.