Mirabeau, (Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau),
was born in Bignon near Nemours on 9th March 1749. When he was
three years old Mirabeau was lucky to survive a virulent attack
of smallpox but was also unfortunate in that it left him with a
badly pock-marked face.
Mirabeau was educated at a military school in Paris
subsequently entering a cavalry regiment. He was, however,
inclined to get into amorous scrapes and was even imprisoned, at
the request of his own father, because of such adventures. In
this times it was possible for aristocrats to apply for
Lettres de Cachet under the authority of which a person
who had incurred an aristocrat's displeasure could expect to be
confined. In 1772 Mirabeau married an heiress but his subsequent
continued extravagance led his father to arrange a period of
exile in the country for his spendthrift son.
There were further amorous scrapes and further terms of
imprisonment at the request of Mirabeau senior. Before long
Mirabeau met a young woman with whom he had a deeply felt affaire
prompting him and her to seek exile in Switzerland and in
Holland. This effective desertion of his wife, and adulterous
affaire, left Mirabeau open to very serious charges and he was
even sentenced to death.
In May 1777 Mirabeau was arrested and, whilst in confinement,
spent some of his time in literary and philosophical pursuits.
After his release in August 1782 Mirabeau managed to get the
sentence of death overturned but continued to get into amorous,
and other, scrapes that brought with them the practical necessity
of a period of exile. Mirabeau's places of exile in these times
included Holland and England (where he became involved in
literary and political circles).
Mirabeau returned to Paris where he tried to secure a
diplomatic or political employment but continued personal and
literary indiscretions tended to greatly detract from his
credibility as person who could honorably fulfil such a
In the later 1780's the French Royal State experienced an
acute financial crisis largely due to recent vastly expensive
involvements in wars. In efforts to achieve a resolution King
Louis XVI conceded that delegates could be returned on behalf of
the three Estates of French society (Aristocratic, Clerical and
commoner "Third Estate") to an Estates General that would convene
before the Royal Presence at the Palace of Versailles in the
early summer of 1789.
In 1788 Mirabeau was rejected as a potential delegate by his
fellow aristocrats in his home district of Aix (Aix-en-Provence)
but was elected as a Third Estate, (or commoner) delegate to the
Estates General for two districts - Aix and Marseille. As
Mirabeau could not take up both he decided to take up duties as a
delegate for Aix.
The Estates General eventually convened amidst much debate as
to whether its proceedings were to be in line with the
longstanding tradition where the three Estates would each meet
and reach agreed positions separately before making submissions
about their meetings to the King or whether the three Estates
should instead convene jointly. This whole debate being
associated with radical ideas of the "Sovereignty of the Nation"
that were being promoted by the Abbé Sieyès and
others. Any joint meeting of the three Estates would be somewhat
open to being presented as a meeting of a "Sovereign" French
On June 17th, 1789, Mirabeau together with the Abbé
Sieyès, led a move where the Third Estate delegates to the
Estates General withdrew and sought to instead compose themselves
as the National Assembly of France.
In the early days of its efforts to convene as a National
Assembly a situation arose where the would-be Assembly believed
that it had been deliberately locked out of its adopted meeting
place (the Hotel des Menus) on the King's authority. Mirabeau led
the delegates to a near-by Tennis Court where he participated
prominently in the drafting of the so-called Tennis Court Oath
whereby the Assembly refused to disband before the framing of a
constitution for the governance of France.
On June 23rd, when advised of the displeasure of King Louis
XVI with the turn of events, Mirabeau replied, "If you have
orders to remove us from this hall, you must also get authority
to use force, for we shall yield to nothing but to bayonets." The
King on hearing this declined to use force and eventually
supported the Aristocratic and Clerical Estates' joining in the
proceedings of a National Assembly.
Mirabeau was a supporter of a constitutional monarchy and
tried to reconcile the reactionary court of Louis XVI with the
increasingly radical forces of the Revolution of 1789 and 1790.
With the effective overthrow of Absolute Monarchy in June-July
1789 and the effective abandonment of feudalism in August French
society had changed forever. It happened that many of Mirabeau's
efforts to achieve a reconciliation between the conflicting
aspirations of conservatives and radicals often involved
proposals that seemed way too extreme to some interests and way
too moderate to others.
Mirabeau's was partly successful in efforts to establish a
system of constitutional monarchy by securing for the Crown the
right of declaring peace and war, he also fought hard, if largely
unsuccessfully, to maintain the absolute royal veto.
In efforts to provide for the financing of the French State a
Bishop named Talleyrand proposed, on 10th October 1789, that the
vast landholdings of the Catholic church in France should be
taken up by the Assembly. In early November Mirabeau was
prominent in securing a somewhat more onerous taking-up of church
lands than Talleyhand had perhaps intended.
Mirabeau proposed the establishment of a citizen guard, out of
which grew the National Guard, and was also prominent in the
debates about the Civil Constitution of the Clergy whereby
revolutionary France sought to establish a Catholic church in
France that was moreso under the supervision of the new France
than that of the Pope.
Mirabeau's health had been greatly compromised by the excesses
of his youth and his recent strenuous efforts as a politician
and, although elected as president of the National Assembly
(January 30th, 1791), only survived to perform his duties until
2nd April 1791.
At the time of his passing Mirabeau greatly feared for the
future of any constitutional Monarchy in France recognising that
many powerful and radically inclined interests would not give
such arrangements their support.