Who was Madame Roland?

August 16, 2018

Madame Roland née Marie-Jeanne Phlippon, also known as Jeanne Manon Roland

It must needs be said that no person contributed more to the downfall of royalty than Madame Roland. At the moment when the good temper and gentleness of Louis XVI began to gain upon his ministers, when Dumouriez¹ was softened by the royal kindness, when minds experienced a relaxation, and honest people, worn out by so many political shocks, were sincerely desirous of repose, it was she who nourished discord, made the Gironde irreconcilable, inspired the subversive pamphlets of Louvet, embittered her husband’s heart, and invented the provocations against which the conscience of the unfortunate monarch rebelled.

Charles-François Dumouriez

This part, which would have been a sorry one for a man to play, seems still worse in a woman. Count Beugnot has said very justly: “I have seen that a woman can preserve only the faults of her sex in the midst of such a frightful catastrophe, not its virtues. The gentle, amiable, sensitive qualities grow and develop in the shelter of peaceful domestic joys; they are lost and obliterated in the heat of debates, the bitterness of parties, and the shock of passions. The soft and tender foot of woman cannot tread unharmed in paths bristling with steel and red with blood. To do so with safety she must become a man; but to me, a man-woman seems a monster. Ah I let them leave to us, whom nature has granted the pitiful advantage of strength, the field of contention and the fate of war; we are adequate to this cruel destiny; but let them keep to the easier and sweeter part of pouring balm into wounds and staunching tears.”

Jean-Marie Roland, de la Platière, husband of Madame Roland.

Roland’s character was tranquil; it was his wife who made him ambitious, haughty, and inflexible. She should have pacified her husband, but instead of that she excited him. Never was he malevolent and spiteful enough to suit her. She would not pardon him a single movement of compassion or respect towards the august unfortunates. Led by her, Roland no longer dared entertain a generous thought. He returned shamefaced to the Ministry of the Interior if he had felt a humane sentiment while at the Tuileries. It is sad to find tenderness and pity in the heart of a man, Dumouriez, and in the heart of a woman, Madame Roland, nothing but malevolence and hatred. Dumouriez wanted to put out the fire; Madame Roland, to stir it up.

Refusing to compromise her principles and remaining true to the ideals of Rousseau, Voltaire, and Plutarch, she was guillotine as a citizen of the Republic, not a subject of the monarchy. Before submitting to the executioner, she bowed before the clay statue of Liberty in the Place de la Révolution, uttering the famous remark for which she is remembered: ‘O Liberté, que de crimes on commet en ton nom! (Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!)

Dumouriez sincerely desired the King’s safety; Madame Roland swore that he should perish. If a germ of pity woke to life in the hearts of the ministers, Madame Roland hastened to stifle it. Her hostility towards the royal family was more than deliberate; there was something like ferocity in it. Her Memoirs and those of Dumouriez display two very different minds. Sadness dominates in his; anger in hers. Even on the steps of the scaffold, Madame Roland will not feel her hatred lessen. Dumouriez, on the contrary, will cast a glance of melancholy respect upon the unfortunate sovereign whose sorrows and whose resignation, whose gentleness and uprightness, had touched him so profoundly.

¹Charles-François du Périer Dumouriez


Marie Antoinette and The Downfall of Royalty by Imbert de Saint-Amand, 1834-1900; published 1891. Pgs. 107-109

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 639


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