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Paul Barras


Barras was a key figure in the later French Revolution.

Early Life and the Revolution

Paul Francois vicomte de Barras was born in 1755 to a family of Provencal aristocrats and joined the army as a youth. However his career stalled and he became frustrated with the old regime. Consequently, when French began to experience the revolution of 1789 he joined the revolutionaries and was one of the first members of the Jacobin Club. When he left Paris to gain election to the Legislative Assembly on behalf of Var he failed, but when he went back to Paris in 1792 he was elected to the National Convention.

Barras was dispatched to keep an eye on the Army of Italy, and aided the defeat of royalists in Var. He was a regicide (he voted for the king’s death), and was then dispatched to assist the forces of the revolution against the British incursion into Toulon. Here he met Napoleon Bonaparte, and earned great fame among the leaders of France for the successful campaign. As France slid into Terror, Barras kept carefully neutral until he was able to act with others in the coup of Thermidor, which removed Robespierre. Barras was promoted to head of the Army of the Interior, and he leveraged success here into other leading roles.

The Height of Power

Now one of the most prominent people in France, Barras was instrumental, along with Napoleon’s handling of troops, in the creation of the Directory, and when he managed to massage election results to be one of the Directors he soon dominated. Although Directors were supposed to leave their roles, Barras managed to remain in power through coups and careful management until Napoleon bought the regime change many had been hoping for in Brumaire 1799. Tallyrand was sent to persuade Barras to resign, and did so.


Napoleon had no place for Barras in his new regime, and worries over whether the new Consul would act against Barras’ ‘alleged’ intrigue led him into exile in Brussels from 1801 to 1805. However, Barras couldn’t resist more intrigue (this time with the former Spanish Kind Charles IV) and Napoleon forced him to Rome. After Napoleon fell in 1815 and the Bourbons returned Barras received permission to return also. He died in 1829 in France.
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