Antoine Quentin Fouquier de Tinville
Prosecutor during the Reign of Terror
|Died||7 May 1795 (aged 48–49)|
|Cause of death||Guillotine|
Born in Herouël, a village in the département of the Aisne, he was the son of a seigneurial landowner. He studied law and in 1774 purchased a position as prosecutor procureur attached to the Châtelet in Paris. He sold his office in 1781 to pay off his debts and became a clerk under the lieutenant-general of police.
Little is known of the part he played at the outbreak of the Revolution. According to himself, he was part of the National Guard at its formation. He was active in the politics of his section in 1789, and in August 1792, supported the sans culotte movement. Backed by his cousin Camille Desmoulins, Fouquier de Tinville became the foreman of a jury established to pass verdict on crimes of Royalists arrested after the journée du 10 août in 1792.
When the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris was created by the National Convention on 10 March 1793, he was appointed its public prosecutor, an office that he filled until 1 August 1794. His zeal in prosecution earned him the nickname Purveyor to the Guillotine. On 26 September 1793 Martial Herman was appointed as president of the tribunal and René-François Dumas as vice president; Coffinhal as one of the judges.
His activity during this time earned him the reputation of one of the most sinister figures of the Revolution. His office as public prosecutor arguably reflected a need to display the appearance of legality during what was essentially political command, more than a need to establish actual guilt. Fouquier de Tinville, like Maximilien Robespierre, was known for his ruthless radicalism.
One of the last groups he prosecuted included seven nuns, aged 32–66, of the former convent of Carmelites, living in Paris, plus an eighth nun, of the Convent of the Visitation,
. . .who were charged with consorting together and scheming to trouble the State by provoking civil war with their fanaticism....Instead of living at peace within the bosom of the Republic, which had provided for their subsistence, and instead of obeying the laws, adopted the idea of residing together in this same house...and of making this house a refuge for refractory priests and counter-revolutionary fanatics, with whom they plotted against the Revolution and against the eternal principles of liberty and equality which are its basis.
Apparently the nuns, whom he called criminal assassins, were corrupted by the ex-Jesuit Rousseau de Roseicquet, who led them in a conspiracy to poison minds and subvert the Republic. When the judge read this piece of Fouquier-Tinville's prose, he condemned them to be deported, as well as all those who had given them refuge.
His career ended with the fall of Robespierre at the start of the Thermidorian Reaction. Although he was briefly kept as the new government's prosecutor, even helping in the arrest of Robespierre, Louis de Saint-Just, and Georges Couthon, and being confirmed by Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac and the Convention on 28 July 1794, he was arrested after being denounced by Louis-Marie Stanislas Fréron.
Imprisoned on 1 August, he was brought to trial in front of the Convention. His defense was that he had only obeyed the decrees of the Committee of Public Safety and the Convention:
It is not I who ought to be facing the tribunal, but the chiefs whose orders I have executed. I had only acted in the spirit of the laws passed by a Convention invested with all powers. Through the absence of its members [on trial], I find myself the head of a [political] conspiracy I have never been aware of. Here I am facing slander, [facing] a people always eager to find others responsible.
After a trial lasting forty-one days, he was sentenced to death and guillotined on 7 May 1795, together with 15 former functionaries of the Revolutionary Tribunal, who were sentenced as his accomplices.
Fouquier-Tinville married his first wife, Geneviève-Dorothée Saugnier, with whom he would have five children, in 1775. He was widowed seven years later. Four months after his wife's death, he married Henriette Jeanne Gérard d'Arcourt, with whom he would spend the rest of his life. They had three children together.