Sites and Sounds of Revolutionary Paris

More Human then Most
Revolutionary Tradition and Les Mis
Revolution 1789
--The Monarchy
--Tennis Court Oath
--Fall of the Bastille
--October Days
--Declaration of War
--Palace Invaded
--Louis XVI
--Reign of Terror
-- Fall of Robespierre
--At war
1789 in Les Miserables
--The Terror
--The People
--The Students
--The Monarchy
--Place de Concord
--Notre Dame
Daily Sites
--Street Names
--Children's Names and Games
Works Consulted
Symbol of the revolution
"Constructed of wood, the guillotine is a sinister tree that has grown on the land, watered by sweat a blood, and tears of every tyranny." Victor Hugo


 History and Time line

 Fun Facts

 Revolutionary Ties


The guillotine has become the bloody symbol of the French Revolution, an ironic ending for a machine that was initially introduced to end the preceding centuries of inhumane torture of criminals. The guillotine was introduced to France by Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotine, he was not the inventor of the machine only a lobbyist for it. The idea behind its introduction was to end the spectacle of public torture and to eliminate the severity of pain involved with capital punishment.

In 1789 there were three modifications of the death penalty underway in Paris, and the introduction of the guillotine encompassed them all: Equal death for all criminals, one death per condemned man, and punishment for the condemned man alone. These reasons are why article three of the French code of 1791 stated " Every man condemned to death will have his head cut off." (Foucault 12) There was a new morality to punishment beginning to take shape. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the great spectacle of physical punishment had disappeared and the focus of capital punishment had switched from torture to the body to the loss of rights and or wealth.

The crowds gathered around a beheading differed greatly on the person being beheaded and the nature of the crime. However, each crowd was needed to make an example out of the condemned and his unlawful acts. The crowd would often cheer on the last spiteful words of a man who had nothing left to loose, often cursing the government, the laws and/or officials. The crowd also decided how good of a job each executioner did, if he caused excessive pain or if he couldn't kill instantaneously. The executioners were either fined or imprisoned as a result of the crowds findings.

The Revolution made each trip to the scaffold a theatrical ritual, so much so that the guillotine had to be moved from St. Jacques square to the palace de la National and the open cart was eventually replaced by a closed carriage. In 1939 the morality behind the guillotine had became lost while the scaffolds were in full public view, so finally the guillotine was placed behind prison walls and made inaccessible to the public. By 1972, when the last execution by guillotine was preformed, the precautions surrounding public execution had become so great that even witnesses who described the beheadings could be subjected to prosecution. The emphasis on secrecy helps to draw the conclusion, that fundamentally capital punishment is a spectacle and using it in the same sentence as humane is hard to digest.



  • In January on the second day of the assembly debate about the penal code, Dr. Guillotine submitted a proposition in six articleswhich included a recommendation that death, without the accompaniment of torture and by means of decapitation, should become the sole and standard form of capital punishment in France (Original six amendments)


  • In March the assembly approves a text stating: "Every person condemned to the death penalty shall have his head severed."


  • A designing duo announces the official manufacturing price of 960 francs including a leather head disposal bag
  • In November the first victims were tested. sheep and calves
  • Blade not oblique yet, either curved or straight
  • First execution preformed at the Place de Greve in Paris on Jacques Nicolas Pelletier


  • Louis XVI and Marie Antonniete loose their heads


  • Guillotine installed at the Palace de Bastille for a short while until it is moved to Barrieredu Trome


  • New and improved version available with new locks, hinges and release mechanisms


  • Last public execution done in France


  • Last Execution ever done in France on September 10 in Marsille, France