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The September Massacres

Sept. 2-7, 1792

The September Massacres consisted of several attacks on the prisons in Paris. The massacres began on September 2, 1792 and lasted five days. The first attack occurred when twenty-four priests being transported to a prison named L'Abbaye were attacked by a mob of angry citizens of Paris. They quickly and grotesquely killed all of the priests as they were trying to escape into the prison and moved on to kill other prisoners as well. During the massacres approximately 1200 prisoners died which was half of the prison population in Paris. At the prison named Bicetre 43 out of 162 of the prisoners killed were under 18 years of age (Schama; 635).

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The slaughters that occurred for the next few days were recorded in great detailed accounts. More than just the priests fell victim to the angry mob. One of the most savagely treated victims was a member of the nobility named Princess Mme de Lamballe. She was stripped, raped, her breasts were cut off, and the rest of her body was mutilated. After she was dead one of the assassins ripped out her heart and ate it while another stuck her head on a pike and paraded it beneath the Queen's window. They terrorized in other ways too. Another young woman was forced to drink the blood of a victim in order to save her father's life (Hibbert; 175).

The prisoners recognized that their position was hopeless. They did not even contemplate how they would escape, but wondered what position they should assume to make their death least painful (Hibbert; 171). An army officer named Jourgniac de Saint-Meard somehow survived and said that the horror was compounded by the "profound and sombre silence" in which the executioners worked (Schama; 634).

Most of the murders were preceded by what the assassins considered a 'trial', better known as 'mob courts'. The supposed judges in these courts were the actual killers themselves. The sight of them was atrocious; their arms were covered in blood, they wore butchers' aprons, and they had swords at their sides. Most of the judges were either drunk or half asleep (Hibbert; 172).

What could possibly cause such a horrible event to take place? According to Olivier Bernier "the rationale for the developing massacre of early September was simply a pretext invented by men eager to kill those who disagreed with them" (375). Christopher Hibbert blames the massacre mainly on the fear of counter revolution within the walls of Paris. Hibbert's explanation follows that during this time, France was involved in the French Revolution. The people of France felt they had to defend Paris by watching for rebels and traitors that were opponents of the Revolution, especially the clergy and the nobility. The clergy were most suspicious of leading a counter revolution because they supported anything that the king did. The people of Paris also thought that the nobility would lead a counter revolution because they were the people who were officers at Verdun when it was attacked. The ease with which Verdun fell made it seem like their was no effort on the part of the defense. The people of France viewed the fall of Verdun as a rebellion so they took matters into their own hands and dealt with the traitors in a manner that they felt was necessary (Hibbert; 168-69).


Adler, Philip J.,World Civilizations (Minneapolis/St. Paul; West Publishing Company, 1996)

Bernier, Olivier, Words of Fire, Deeds of Blood: The Mob, the Monarchy, and the French Revolution (Boston; Little, Brown and Company, 1989)

Hibbert, Christopher, The Days of the French Revolution (New York; William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1980)

Schama, Simon, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (New York; Alfred A. Knopf, 1992)

Edited by: Karla Youngren
Researched by: Per M. Hillbo
Written by: Letitia M. Gautreau

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