Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Riquetti, Comte de

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Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Riquetti, Comte de (1749-1791): French Revolutionary.

Honoré Gabriel Riquetti Mirabeau, the eldest son of the French economist Mirabeau, Victor Riquetti, Marquis de, was an important revolutionary leader of the National Assembly that governed France in the early phases of the French Revolution.

Mirabeau’s early years bear the imprint of the many public disputes with his father – a result for the most part of the son’s tempestuous character and of the father’s domestic problems. Under the name Pierre Buffière, the young Mirabeau graduated in 1767 from the Abbé Choquard’s strict military academy in Paris, and then was sent into the army as a sub-lieutenant in the Berri cavalry regiment. In 1768, through a lettre de cachet obtained by his father, Mirabeau was imprisoned on the Île de Ré and afterwards he was transferred to a Lorraine regiment on its way to Corsica to subdue a patriotic revolt. Having spent much of his brief and unglamorous army career in confinement for various misdemeanors, he finally left the service in 1770 when his father refused to purchase him a company. The year 1770-1771, which Mirabeau spent reconciled with his father, contributed significantly to his intellectual formation. His father’s teachings became one of the most important influences on the young Mirabeau’s intellectual development, in addition to Locke, Montesquieu, Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de, Newton and Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. In 1772, Mirabeau married Emilie de Marignane, a rich heiress from Provence. Due to his extravagant spending and further misconduct, he was confined from 1773 to 1775 by his father at Manosque, the Château d’If, and the castle of Joux, near Pontarlier. During this time, he wrote his first book, Essai sur le despotisme (1775), which created a sensation by its audacity. After an affair with the married Sophie de Monnier, he fled to Amsterdam where he spent eight months working as a polemical journalist to earn his living. In his absence, the Parlement of Besançon sentenced him to death for seduction and abduction. In May 1777, after being captured, he was sent to Vincennes. He spent three and a half years in close imprisonment, writing Errotika biblion, a study of the progress of man, and his famous Essai sur les lettres de cachet, a severe condemnation of state tyranny. He was released in 1780 and his sentence was annulled in 1782. In 1785, he was in exile in England, and upon his return he was sent in 1786 on a secret mission to Berlin. The subsequent publication of his secret reports to Paris created a scandal on the eve of the Revolution when Mirabeau was campaigning in Provence for a seat in the National Assembly.

The author of numerous pamphlets denouncing various abuses in the ancien régime, Mirabeau was rejected by the Provençal nobles as a candidate for the Estates General, but he was elected instead a representative of the third estate for Aix-en-Provence in 1789. On June 17, 1789 he rallied with the Abbé Sieyès, Emmanuel Joseph to turn the Estates General into the National Assembly. In June 1789, he distinguished himself at the end of the royal session of the Assembly, when he refused to follow the order of the master of ceremonies, the marquis de Dreux-Brézé, to leave the premises, without being forced out with bayonets. His political sagacity and fiery eloquence earned him an extraordinary reputation as an orator and as a revolutionary leader. He supported a constitutional monarchy modeled on England and wished to serve as prime minister. As the popular movement progressed, his views were also rejected by the revolutionaries. His actions and speeches portray him as an enigmatic figure who was both a radical supporting the monarchy and a monarchist who was a democrat. He was also in favour of the establishment of the citizen guard, which then became the National Guard. From 1790, he acted secretly as the King’s advisor, a move which was to tarnish his reputation as a revolutionary hero when it was discovered in 1792. Mirabeau was elected president of the National Assembly in January 1791, but died soon afterwards and was honored with a public funeral. Twelve volumes of his writings were edited by his adopted son, Lucas de Montigny, and appeared in print from 1834 to 1836.

Further Reading:

Fred Morrow Fling, Mirabeau and the French Revolution, 3 vols. New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1908.

Barbara Luttrell, Mirabeau, 1990.

Christina Ionescu

Mount Allison University, Canada.