Women in the French Revolution

Valorie Delp
Marie Antoinette was severely criticized for her separate residences.

Were women in the French Revolution? They most definitely were and participated in almost every facet of the French Revolution. As is often the case in times of war, it's the women who pick up where the men have left off, and while that is definitely the case with the French Revolution, it is also said that women played a prominent role in the uprising of the people.

Women in the French Revolution

At the time of the French Revolution, women were not considered equals in French society. They had no voting rights and certainly were not expected to enter into politics. However, as the political climate of the French Revolution changed society, these women rocked the roles to which they were born. An assassin, a writer, and even a few socialites that used their social prestige and power to speak against injustices, these women are fixtures in the history of France.

Madame du Barry

Madame du Barry was the official mistress of King Louis XV. She was hated at court because the king lavished her with exquisite and expensive gifts - further emptying the state treasury. She was also known for being brazenly merciful beyond the confines of what was socially acceptable during that time period. She used her position to help garner pardons from the king for those who found her favor. Eventually she was accused of treason for financially helping émigrés escape the French Revolution, and was executed by guillotine.

Charlotte Corday

Charlotte Corday was perhaps one of the more brazen women in French Revolutionary history. She assassinated Jean-Paul Marat, a Jacobin journalist whom she believed was solely responsible for the Reign of Terror. At her trial she confessed saying that she killed one man to save one hundred thousand men. She was beheaded and her singular act furthered the Reign of Terror by making Marat somewhat of a martyr. His "martyrdom" managed to incite his followers rather than scare them off.

Grace Elliot

Grace Elliot was a Scottish courtesan who is most known for the historical account of her life under the French Revolution, which was published posthumously. Interestingly, it is likely that the historical account was more fiction than fact, written with highly exaggerated and even made up events of her life.

Olympe du Gouges

Olympe du Gouges was a political activist and playwright in late 18th century France. She challenged the status quo on women's place in society and as political tensions escalated she even published the "Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen". She was especially outspoken against slavery and other social injustices. She was imprisoned and, through the help of friends, continued to publish political pamphlets. She opposed capital punishment, but ironically, she was guillotined after three months in prison.

Marie Thérèse, princesse de Lamballe

The Princesse de Lamballe was hand selected as Queen Marie Antoinette's confidant and served her well until her death. She fled with the royal family to the Tuileries Palace and was later captured along with the rest of the royal family. At one point she had escaped to Britain, where she wrote her will, but returned to Paris out of loyalty to Marie Antoinette. When she was captured, she was offered a chance at her trial to recant her loyalty to the King and Queen-which she would not do. Consequently, she was thrown to an angry mob and was killed within minutes. It is said that they decapitated her, put her head on a spike and waved it underneath Marie Antoinette's window in prison.

Marie Antoinette

Perhaps one of the best known figures from the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette is a constant source of fascination for those who study this period of history. Of Austrian nobility, she was married to King Louis XVI at the age of fourteen, to help form an alliance between France and Austria. She is best known for spending the state treasury on clothing, gambling, parties, and a separate residence from the King. Her political influence was noticeably lacking; the King did not respect her opinion on any matters and her position in French court didn't serve much to help Austria either. She was, by most historical accounts, a very dedicated mother. Nonetheless, as with most aristocracy during the French Revolution, she was beheaded almost a year after her husband.

Madame Roland

Madame Roland is an interesting character because unlike other women in the French Revolution, she exuded her influence simply by being intelligent, articulate, and carrying herself with dignity. She was technically convicted, (and subsequently guillotined) for being a royal sympathizer. However, she was more likely simply friends with the wrong people at the wrong time as her salon once housed meetings for the likes of Robespierre himself. When captured, she helped her husband escape and spent her final days in prison writing memoirs. She is most known for having said, "Oh liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!"

Thérésa Tallien

Thérésa Tallien is most known for her second marriage to Jean Lambert Tallien who was the commissary of the National Convention. She used her marriage to him to exert considerable influence obtaining the release of several émigré aristocrats who were imprisoned.


Undoubtedly, these women shaped history in a tangible and unforgettable way. Although many were aristocratic and consequently met a fate at the guillotine, they gave new rise to women's rights in France.

Women in the French Revolution