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His ancestors

A family devastated under the Terror

Appel des dernières victimes de la Terreur

Appel des dernières victimes de la Terreur Charles Louis Müller
© RMN/Gérard Blot

But more than all of its noble titles, the de Tocqueville family's real legacy to Alexis - who never got the chance to use his title of count - was the trauma that it had experienced under the Terror. This marked was the end of the old world of his parents and grandparents, and world that would never be his. Hervé de Tocqueville's Mémoires faithfully retrace the unfolding of these events, which began on the evening of December 17, 1793, when the entire family was assembled in the dining room at the chateau de Malesherbes. The concierge burst in and said, "Citizen Rosanbo, there are citizens from Paris who are asking for you". The arrest of the former president of the Paris Parliament was accompanied by a warrant to search his house in Paris, where the representatives of the Committee of Public Safety found what they had been looking for: the original document by the Parliament protesting its abolition. The Committee then ordered that the papers of other family members assembled at Malesherbes be searched, and confiscated a set of letters concerned with emigration. On December 20, the entire family was arrested, presented to the members of the Revolutionary Committee of the Bondy Section, and then separated and placed in various houses of detention, which Hervé de Tocqueville described with horror.   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore  
The family was later reunited at the Port-Libre prison, until Monsieur de Rosanbo was brought before the revolutionary tribunal on April 20, 1794, along with other members of the Paris Parliament, "a few hours before they ceased to exist" as Hervé de Tocqueville tersely stated it, before continuing his tragic narrative. "On April 21, an official with a very mean expression entered our chamber and pronounced these terrible words: 'Citizen Malesherbes, Citizen Rosanbo, Chateaubriand husband and wife, your presence is requested at the court.' This overwhelming news left us with barely the time to reflect and understand the horror of such a moment; our misfortune was beyond anything the imagination could devise".

« The revolutionary blade hovered over everyone's head. . The fate of each of us seemed to have been fixed: sooner or later the scaffold would get us all. »
(Memoirs, Hervé de Tocqueville)

Without forgetting to pay homage to the courage of these men and women faced with the announcement of their imminent death, Hervé de Tocqueville narrative also emphasizes the unjust and arbitrary nature of the charges drawn up against them, and the decrease in the number of hasty trials in the closing days of the Terror. He and his wife were to have been judged on the 12th of Thermidor, but the fall of Robespierre resulted in their freedom. There were nine of them who entered "this house of sorrow", but only four - Hervé de Tocqueville and his wife, and the Le Peletier couple - who left. They would be forever marked in body and soul by the horror and fright that they had experienced every day of their ten months of detention.

Attend the trial
of Louis XVI

The tragic end of Louis XVI

The tragic end of Louis XVI, executed on January 21, 1793, Pierre-André Le Beau after Fious
© PMVP

Bas relief depicting Chrétien-Guillaume Lamoignon de Malesherbes and Louis XVI

Bas relief depicting Chrétien-Guillaume Lamoignon de Malesherbes and Louis XVI
© A.Hoffer

Archives

Correspondence seized by the Committee of Public Safety

Correspondence seized by the Committee of Public Safety
© CHAN

Bill of indictment against Malesherbes, dated 3 Floréal Year II

Bill of indictment against Malesherbes, dated 3 Floréal Year II
© CHAN

Judgement against Malesherbes and his family, dated 3 Floréal Year II

Judgement against Malesherbes and his family, dated 3 Floréal Year II
© CHAN

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