Honoré-Gabriel Riquetti, Count of Mirabeau, is a French writer and politician from the beginning of the Revolution. After a tumultuous youth marked by amorous escapades, he was elected, although noble, as deputy of the Third Estate in 1789. This charismatic orator, despite an ungainly physique due to smallpox, tried in vain to reconcile revolutionary principles and constitutional monarchy. Arousing the mistrust of the deputies, he nevertheless became president of the Constituent Assembly, but was hardly listened to by Louis XVI, who nevertheless paid handsomely for his advice.
The scandalous youth of Mirabeau
Born in the Gâtinais at the castle of Bignon, the future count of Mirabeau is the fifth child and second son of Victor Riqueti, marquis de Mirabeau, and of Marie Geneviève de Vassan. Heir to the name through the death of his older brother, he was born with a twisted foot and two molar teeth. When he was three years old, he was diagnosed with confluent smallpox which, due to the careless application of eye drops, left deep scars on his face and further increased his natural ugliness. He is a turbulent, unruly child, but very intelligent and gifted with a prodigious memory. His father recognizes his abilities, but claims he has an evil mind. In 1767, he had him drafted into the army, but refused to buy him a charge.
In July 1768, Mirabeau secretly left his garrison and took refuge in Paris. This fugue earned him his first incarceration in the citadel on the Ile de Ré. He was released when he asked to be part of the Corsican expedition where he distinguished himself. On his return, he was reconciled with his father (October 1770) and, in 1771, was received at Court. A new quarrel opposes him to his father who intends to force him to work. It was then that he married a rich heiress, Émilie de Marignane (1772), without touching a dowry. Harassed by creditors, he was imprisoned in Château d'If. In May 1775, Honoré was transferred to Fort de Joux where the surveillance, much less severe, allowed him to go to town.
He was thus received by the Marquis de Monnier, married to Marie-Thérèse Richard de Ruffey, daughter of a president of the Chamber of Accounts of Burgundy. Then began Mirabeau's love affair with the one he immortalized under the name of Sophie. Mirabeau fled to Switzerland, then to Holland with Madame de Monnier who was able to join him. The respite is short-lived. They were arrested in Amsterdam in May 1776. Transferred to France and then imprisoned at the Château de Vincennes in June 1777, Mirabeau wrote two famous works there: Letters to Sophie and Letters of seal.
Mirabeau will be released in 1780 after three and a half years of detention. His wife Emilie obtained the separation of bed and board and in 1786 Mirabeau returned to Berlin with a secret mission.
Tribune of the Revolution
As soon as the convocation of the Estates General was announced, he began a fierce struggle in Provence against the privileges of the aristocracy and although a nobleman was triumphantly elected as representative of the Third Estate for the Aix Senechaussee. Linked to the Duke of Orleans, he imposed himself on the States General with his exceptional talent as a speaker which made people forget his "grandiose and dazzling ugliness". Having proclaimed themselves the National Assembly on June 17, 1789, the deputies of the Third Estate gathered in the Salle du Jeu de Paume and swore to endow the country with a constitution. On June 23, 1789, he is said to have pronounced the famous formula: "we are here by the will of the people and we will only get out by force of bayonets", refusing the king's order to dissolve the new assembly. He then succeeded in having the principle of the inviolability of deputies adopted.
Become the idol of the crowds, he kept up the agitation by an army of publicists and played a major role in the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Mirabeau had a new tax passed: the patriotic contribution of a quarter of the income, as well as the provision of the goods of the clergy. Mirabeau then appears as the man capable of carrying out the policy of reconciliation between the king, the aristocracy and the Revolution desired by La Fayette. But if he captivates the Assembly with his eloquence, he also scandalizes it with his private life and worries it with his political ambitions.
The duplicity of Mirabeau
Worried by the excesses of the Revolution, Mirabeau approached the Court and Louis XVI. His first memoir to the king, dated May 10, 1790, ends with his words: "I promise the king loyalty, zeal, activity, energy and a courage of which we are perhaps far from having an idea". Now a supporter of a constitutional monarchy, Mirabeau tries to reconcile this idea with revolutionary principles. He defends the king’s absolute veto right against the majority of the National Constituent Assembly, which decides on a suspensive veto. Mirabeau plans to take up a post of minister responsible for relations between the National Assembly and the king. But, in November 1789, the Assembly cut its ambitions short by decreeing that no member of the Constituent Assembly could become a minister.
Through the intermediary of the Comte de La Mark, Mirabeau sent notes on the organization of the counter-revolution to Louis XVI and endeavored with La Fayette, whom he nevertheless detested, to have the king granted the right of war and peace in the new constitution. His proposals to the sovereign to stay on the throne and end the Revolution, however, were never really listened to by the king, who had no more confidence in him than in La Fayette, the commander of the National Guard. His double game is also not lost on some revolutionaries, who denounce his corruption.
Despite this dual situation and some animosities within the hemicycle, Mirabeau regained his popularity, became a member of the directorate of the Paris department and was elected president of the Constituent Assembly on January 30, 1791. Exhausted by a life of excess and work , he died suddenly on April 2, 1791. His body was deposited in the Pantheon, but was removed after the discovery of the iron cabinet containing his correspondence with the king. With him disappears from the revolutionary scene one of its main actors and its most powerful orator.
- Mirabeau, biography of Jean-Paul Destrat. Perrin, 2008.
- Mirabeau, biography of Charles Zorgbibe. De fallois, 2008.