I have always had a soft spot for Mme Hébert, Françoise Goupil. It is difficult to reconstruct her life, for very few has been written about her, and when, it has been with the intention to disparage her husband. So, here is what can be found on her. This is basically an edited version of this blog entry.
Marie-Marguerite-Françoise Goupil was born in 1756, probably in January, as the daughter of Jacques Goupil, a merchant in lingeries, and his second wife Marie-Louise Morel. After the early death of her husband, Mme Goupil continues the merchandise of her husband, until her own death in 1781. Françoise was raised in the convent de la Conception in the rue Saint-Honoré. At some time unknown she took the veil as Sister of the Providence in this convent. It is not clear, however, whether this was before or after her mother’s death. In 1782 she received a life annuity by Le Veneur de Tillières, seigneur de Carrouge over 600FF. Her relationship with him is completely unclear. At least, at that time she already was a nun. Hébert declared that his wife-to-be had spent her entire life in the nunnery. Françoise seems to have been very well educated; it has been said that she was a teacher to the Duplay daughters, who were raised in the convent. In April 1790 nuns and monks were released from religious vows by the order of the National Assembly. Almost every sister in the convent declared her intention to stick to her vow, only Françoise confessed that she would have to think about it. In 1791 she had left the nunnery and installed herself in a flat in the rue Saint-Antoine. She possesed the 600FF annuity and 700FF annually as a state recompense for former clergypersons. An enthusiast about the revolutionary process, ardent patriot, she was active in the Société fraternelle des Patriotes de l'un et l'autre sexe, a very cool revolutionary club which was close to the Jacobins, but more popular and admitting women, and thus even more radical. Among its members were Etta Palm, Pauline Léon, Anne-Josèphe Théroigne, Manon Roland and Louise-Félicité Kéralio. Hébert was also a member, and it is certain that it was in the club where he and Franҫoise met.
The Héberts' appartment
There have been numerous speculations on why the clergy-hating Hébert would have married a former nun, who remained a devout catholic throughout her life. It seems to be unbelievable to some historians (if we would like to call them „historians“) that the Père Duchesne would be able to have sentiments as love and tenderness. Actually, that seems to have been the case, as the letters by Hébert and his newly-wed to his sisters suggest (see my translation of some excerpts here). The two of them married between the end of 1791 and the beginning of 1792 in church. Prudhomme, who did not like the Héberts, descibed Franҫoise as a „big spider“. Her passport says that she was short, with brown hair and regular features. Besides her education and wit, she seems to have been rather outspoken and did not always agree with her husband, for example on religous questions. On the other hand they shared many political and social views. She may have been the author of some issues of the „Mère Duchesne“, a name by which Hébert sometimes referred to her. The “Mère Duchesne” appeared only a few times but was outspoken in stirring women’s political activism for the sake of the Revolution and of “the rights of the woman”. Even after her marriage she remained active in the Société fraternelle des Patriotes de l'un et l'autre sexe. On the September Massacres in 1792, she wrote to her sister that she was so horrified by this event that she almost died: “I believe that only the law can beat the culprits, but until then I will cover them with my body.” At first, Hébert moved to her in the rue Saint-Antoine, but soon, Franҫoise searched for a new flat on the Cour de Miracles as well as a new editor for the „Père Duchesne“ (declaring that her husband was too dumb after a long day’s work). She even became one of the financiers of the journal and thus gained some influence upon its content.
Presumably, a copy of this painting hang on the wall in the Héberts' appartment
On February 7th 1793, Franҫoise’s and Jacques-René’s daughter was born. She was named Scipion-Virginie and baptised civilly, against her mother’s wishes. Hébert describes her as “as pretty as love”. Few hours after her husband’s arrest, Franҫoise was put into prison as well, leaving her baby with a relative. After Hébert’s execution, his widow demanded permission to return home to her daughter, her demand, however, remained unanswered. She befriended Lucile Desmoulins, with whom she was put to trial and found guilty of having participated in Hébert’s counterrevolutionary actions. After her conviction, Franҫoise declared herself pregnant for three months, but after an examination, the prison physician assured that he found no sign of pregnancy, „quite on the contrary“, and that there was no reason to postpone the execution, which took place on 24 Germinal. Testimonials on her behaviour on her way to the guillotine differ, some saying that she chatted calmly with Lucile, others assuring that she was more dead than alive and had to be dragged onto the scaffold.
Françoise's execution, as depicted in the 1989 movie La Revolution Française
As to the Scipion-Virginie, she was reknowned a „child of the Patrie“ and raised by different relatives and friends of her parents. She became an under-mistress of school and married at the young age of sixteen a protestant pastor, Jean-Frédéric-Louis Née (1784-1856), after being baptised protestant, in December 1809. The couple had six children, three of them survived childhood and none of them had issue. Virginie was very active in promoting protestantism (and thus probably vexing both of her parents) and became the vice-president of a biblical society of women, dedicated to early christian revivalism. She was active in tieing relations with protestants in Northern France. Contemporaries say she was a “tall beautiful blonde” as well as “amiable, good and devoted” Virginie died on 11th July 1830 in Paris.