Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being

The search for a republican morality

By Jonathan Smyth

Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being


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  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-0378-9
  • Pages: 200
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: August 2016
  • BIC Category: Modern History, Religion, History, Revolutions, uprisings, rebellions, Religion & politics, The French Revolution, RELIGION / History, HISTORY / Revolutionary, HISTORY / Europe / France, HISTORY / General, Humanities / Religion & politics, French Revolution, History, France, European history, Humanities / European history
  • Series: Studies in Modern French and Francophone History


This study examines an important event in the French Revolution and a defining moment in the career of its principal actor, Maximilien Robespierre: the Festival of the Supreme Being. This day of national celebration was held to inaugurate the new state religion, the Cult of the Supreme Being, and while traditionally it has been dismissed as a compulsory political event, this book redefines its importance as a hugely popular national event. Hitherto unused or disregarded source material offers new perspectives on the national reaction to Robespierre's creation of the Festival and of his search for a new republican morality. This is the first ever detailed study in English of this area of French Revolutionary history, and the first in any language since 1988 It will be welcomed by scholars and students of the period.


'What all this amounts to is an important, deeply researched and thought-provoking book, which shows that the Festival of the Supreme Being needs to be taken seriously.'
Mike Rapport, French History, Volume 31, Issue 3

'It takes courage to re-open the debate on the Supreme Being and show that, despite all its detractors, its Festival was not a mummery, but a joyous demonstration of unity throughout the whole of France. Jonathan Smyth was brave enough to do this, and we are grateful to him for it.'
Sophie Wahnich, Historian of the French Revolution. Director of Research, CNRS, Institut Interdisciplinaire du Contemporain.psl, Paris

'This book transforms our understanding of one of the most important cultural events of the French Revolution. Smyth shows us that the Festival was a major cultural event, one in which many people actively participated, both in Paris and the provinces, and which signified the hopes of many for the future of the Revolution.'
Marisa Linton, Associate Professor in History at Kingston University

'Smyth's findings in the departmental and municipal archives make for a book rich in detail; the documentation is used for a very thorough monographic description and analysis of the festival. On the role of Robespierre and his ideas about a Supreme Being, Smyth integrates findings from the most recent biographical studies and grapples with an issue which historians have not been able to resolve: why did the idea of the festival not lead to its continued practice beyond 1794? The conclusion of the book points to the rise of Napoleon, the inauguration of the First Empire and the Concordat with the pope.'
Elizabeth C. Macknight, Journal Of Ecclesiastical History

'...minor shortcomings are outweighed by the undeniable contribution the work makes to our knowledge of the revolutionary festivals and, more generally, to the religious history of the period. The harvest the author has brought back from the archives, both national and local, indicates that the subject is still far from exhausted.'
Paul Chopelin, Chrétiens et Sociétés


1 Towards a new republican morality
2 The national response to Robespierre's proclamation
3 The celebrations in the capital
4 The celebrations outside Paris
5 Financing a national festival
6 Contemporary comments on the Festival
7 After the Festival


Jonathan Smyth is Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London

Robespierre and the Festival of the Supreme Being

By Jonathan Smyth

Hardcover £85.00 / $130.00

Paperback £21.00 / $30.95

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