Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Victor Riqueti, Comte de

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Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Victor Riqueti, Comte de

 

Born Mar. 9, 1749, at Bignon, near Nemours; died Apr. 2, 1791, in Paris. Count; a prominent figure in the Great French Revolution.

Mirabeau was born into a wealthy aristocratic family, but in his youth he suffered frequent imprisonment because of his licentious style of life, excessive extravagance, and bad debts. In 1776, after fleeing France with the wife of the Marquis de Monnier, he was sentenced to death in absentia for “offenses against the person” but was later pardoned.

Mirabeau published a number of pamphlets and other works attacking despotism. He returned to Paris in 1785 and was sent on a secret diplomatic mission to Prussia the following year. In 1789 he was elected by the Third Estate of both Marseille and Aix as a deputy to the Estates-General.

Mirabeau at once stood out in the Estates-General for his exceptional ability as an orator. Mirabeau’s enmity toward the feudal absolutist regime was displayed in powerful speeches of condemnation, which had great impact on public opinion. But his political ideal did not go beyond a constitutional monarchy with limited suffrage, on the English model. For this reason, as the revolutionary role of the masses grew, Mirabeau gradually shifted to a conservative stance and became the leader of the big bourgeoisie, who sought to hold back the further development of the revolution.

Subtly and secretly pursuing a policy of impeding the revolutionary process, yet seeking to maintain his declining popularity, Mirabeau intermittently denounced the royal court in his speeches. But at the same time he attempted to reach a secret agreement with the court. Such an agreement was achieved in April 1790. In return for a large sum of money and the promise to pay off his enormous debts, Mirabeau became a secret agent of the royal court. Marat, Robespierre, and several other revolutionary democrats, while lacking positive knowledge, suspected Mirabeau’s treachery and spoke out sharply against him. However, Mirabeau’s secret arrangement remained unknown up to his sudden death, and he was buried amid great honors. Only after the overthrow of the monarchy on Aug. 10, 1792, were documents confirming his treachery to the revolution revealed. Mirabeau’s remains, which at first had been placed in the Pantheon, were then removed to a cemetery for criminals.

WORKS

Oeuvres, vols. 1–8. Paris, 1834–35.

REFERENCES

Barthou, L. Mirabeau. Paris, 1913.
Chevallier, J. J. Mirabeau. Paris, 1947.
Vallentin, A. Mirabeau, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1946–47.

A. Z. MANFRED