A major new biography of Antoine Barnave—the politician and writer who advocated for a constitutional monarchy in revolutionary France
Antoine Barnave was one of the most influential statesmen in the early French Revolution. He was a didactic man of austere morals and vaulting ambition who dressed as an English dandy, running up considerable tailor’s bills. Before his execution at age thirty-two, he played a decisive role in revolutionary politics and even governed France in 1791 through a secret correspondence with Marie-Antoinette.
In the first biography for more than a century, John Hardman traces Barnave’s life from his youth in Dauphiné to his role in the Constituent Assembly and his part in forming the Feuillants, the party dedicated to the moderate cause. Despite his early death, Barnave left a remarkable volume of material, from published works to thousands of manuscript pages. Hardman uses this rich archive to explore the life of this elusive writer, politician, and thinker—and sheds new light on the revolutionary period.
John Hardman is one of the world’s leading experts on the French Revolution and the author of several distinguished books on the subject, including Marie-Antoinette and The Life of Louis XVI, which was shortlisted for the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography and won the Franco-British Society Prize.
“Hardman brings a powerful sense of the importance of contingency to the French Revolution, which is too often made to run along the rails laid down by Gallic patriotic myth.”—John Adamson, Literary Review
“Hardman's masterly biography draws on new archival sources to present a rounded portrait of a vital yet oddly neglected figure in the early history of the Revolution. Writing with his customary sharp eye for colourful detail, Hardman also allows us to see the flawed private man as well as the public statesman who, as secret counsellor to Marie-Antoinette, seemed to hold the fate of the whole Revolution in the palm of his hand – and who was to die by guillotine for his pains.”—Colin Jones, author of The Fall of Robespierre
“A highly enjoyable and riveting read. Hardman is not only among the best archival historians of our generation, but an accomplished storyteller. He increases the sum of our knowledge about the French Revolution with every book he writes. His new life of Antoine Barnave does not disappoint and is a page-turning tour de force.”—Ambrogio A. Caiani, author of To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII
“A remarkable book. One of the most cogent and original accounts in years of the failure of France's experiment in constitutional monarchy between 1789 and 1791.”—Munro Price, author of Napoleon: The End of Glory
“In this carefully researched biography, Hardman dissects the often-contradictory career of Antoine Barnave, champion of constitutional monarchy and founder-member of the Jacobin Club whose secret contacts with Louis XVI and personal communications with Marie-Antoinette left him open to charges of royalism and counter-revolution. He was, in Hardman’s view, at once ‘the man of the people’ and ‘the man of the court’, a political balancing act that hastened his downfall and death on the guillotine.”—Alan Forrest, author of Death of the French Atlantic
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