5 April 1794 – Georges Danton
‘Don’t forget to show my head to the people. It’s well worth seeing.’
With last words like that, we’re not sure how the then-to-be decapitated Georges Danton slipped through our execution net. But better late than never, here he is.
A daring darling during the onset of the French Revolution, Danton was at the epicentre of the backlash against the monied classes. The uprising came at a time when the disenfranchised proletariat were spiralling towards one of the bloodiest periods in French history, furiously fuelled by famine and discontentment.
Of course, Danton was a nobleman himself, and many regard him as a slippery character, not least because he seemingly hedged his bets. Danton was said to have backed the revolution, but aided the French king on the quiet.
Indeed, some put Danton’s defection down to disillusionment sparked by the escalating extremism being touted by fellow revolutionaries, which ultimately brought the monarchy in France to its knees. And he woefully disagreed with the beheading of Louis XVI.
Heads, you lose
You see the extremists’ activity sparked the Reign of Terror – a right royal bloodbath, which saw the king and his queen, Marie Antoinette lose their heads, not to mention oodles of the upper class being massacred. They were forced to flee for their lives or risk headless futures.
Danton made no secret of his aversion to the bloodthirsty methods. And had his ideology not been quelled, his opinions may well have garnered the proletariat’s sympathy vote in support of the persecuted. And there’s the rub. According to some sources, his voice just wasn’t heard.
As the pendulum swung away from his more moderate methods, so Danton became ostracised and he was finally had up for crimes against the state. His accusor was none other than his former mate Maximillian Robespierre.
Such was the bloody nature of this period of French history that Danton fell from grace for daring to put forward temperate beliefs against the likes of the Girondists and the Jacobins who were fighting among themselves despite being united in their vehement opposition to the ruling classes.
At least that’s what some would have you believe. Others reckon he was self-serving and a bit slimy – always looking out for the best interests of his family. But hey, if that was his crime, who can blame him? Most would look after their own.
Whatever the reason or the truth behind his demise, Danton was condemned by the very revolutionaries who’d been his peers just a few years before.
Aged just 35, Danton faced the most fearful lady in the land – Madame Guillotine. And ironically, the person who’d nailed Danton’s coffin – Maximilien Robespierre – faced the same fate a mere couple of months later.