Joseph-Ignace Guillotin

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (French pronunciation: ​[ɡijɔtɛ̃]; 28 May 1738 – 26 March 1814) was a French physician, politician and freemason who proposed on 10 October 1789 the use of a device to carry out death penalties in France, as a less painful method of execution. Although he really did not invent the guillotine, and in fact opposed the death penalty, his name became an eponym for it. The actual inventor of the prototype was a man named Antoine Louis.

Joseph-Ignace Guillotin
Gillotine-JosephIgnace crop
Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (Musée Carnavalet, Paris)
Born28 May 1738
Saintes, France
Died26 March 1814 (aged 75)
Resting placePère Lachaise Cemetery
EducationIrish College, Bordeaux
Reims University
University of Paris
Known forProposing a painless method for executions, inspiring the guillotine

Early life and education

Guillotin wrote an essay to get the degree of Master of Arts from the University of Bordeaux. This essay impressed the Jesuits so much that they persuaded him to enter their order and he became a professor of literature at the Irish College at Bordeaux. However, he left after a few years and travelled to Paris to study medicine, becoming a pupil of Antoine Petit. He gained a diploma from the faculty at Reims in 1768 and later won a prize given by the Paris faculty, the title of Doctor-Regent.[1]


In 1784, when Franz Mesmer began to publicize his theory of "animal magnetism", which was considered offensive by many, Louis XVI appointed a commission to investigate it and Guillotin was appointed a member, along with Benjamin Franklin and others.[1]

Political career and guillotine

In December 1788, Guillotin drafted a pamphlet entitled Petition of the Citizens Living in Paris, concerning the proper constitution of the States-General. As a result, he was summoned by the French parliament to give an account of his opinions, which served to increase his popularity. On 2 May 1789, he became one of 10 Paris deputies in the Estates-General of 1789 and was secretary to the body from June 1789 to October 1791.[1]

As a member of the assembly, Guillotin mainly directed his attention towards medical reform. On 10 October 1789, during a debate on capital punishment, he proposed that "the criminal shall be decapitated; this will be done solely by means of a simple mechanism."[1] The "mechanism" was defined as "a machine that beheads painlessly". His proposal appeared in the Royalist periodical, Les Actes des Apôtres. At that time, beheading in France was typically done by axe or sword, which did not always cause immediate death. Additionally, beheading was reserved for the nobility, while commoners were typically hanged.[1] Guillotin assumed that if a fair system was established where the only method of capital punishment was death by mechanical decapitation, then the public would feel far more appreciative of their rights. Despite this proposal, Guillotin was opposed to the death penalty and hoped that a more humane and less painful method of execution would be the first step toward a total abolition of the death penalty. He also hoped that fewer families and children would witness executions and vowed to make them more private and individualized. It was also his belief that a standard death penalty by decapitation would prevent the cruel and unjust system of the day.

On 1 December 1789, Guillotin made a remark during a follow-up speech to the Assembly about capital punishment. "Now, with my machine, I cut off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it!" The statement quickly became a popular joke, and few days after the debate a comic song about Guillotin and "his" machine circulated, forever tying his name to it. The Moniteur of 18 December 1789 deplored the joking but repeated Guillotin's "twinkling of an eye" statement for posterity.[1] For the remainder of his life, Guillotin would deeply regret that the machine was named after him.[2]

Towards the end of the Reign of Terror, a letter from the Comte de Méré to Guillotin fell into the hands of the public prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville in which the Count, who was to be executed, commended his wife and children to Guillotin's care. The authorities demanded Guillotin inform them of the whereabouts of the Count's wife and children. As Guillotin either would not or could not give the information, he was arrested and imprisoned. He was freed from prison in the general amnesty of 9 Thermidor 1794 after Robespierre fell from power, and abandoned his political career to resume the medical profession.

Resumption of medical career

Guillotin became one of the first French doctors to support Edward Jenner's discovery of vaccination and in 1805 was the President of the Committee for Vaccination in Paris. He also founded one of the precursors of the National Academy of Medicine.

Personal life


The association with the guillotine so embarrassed Dr. Guillotin's family that they petitioned the French government to rename it; when the government refused, they instead changed their own family name. By coincidence, a person named Guillotin was indeed executed by the guillotine – he was J.M.V. Guillotin, a doctor of Lyons.[3] This coincidence may have contributed to erroneous statements that Guillotin was put to death on the machine that bears his name;[4] however, in reality, Guillotin died at home in Paris in 1814 of natural causes,[4] specifically from a carbuncle,[5] and is now buried in the Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.[6] He was married to Louise Saugrain, sister of the physician and chemist Antoine Saugrain.


Joseph Guillotin was initiated into Freemasonry, in 1765 at "La Parfaite Union" lodge in Angoulême. Very active as a mason, he joined several other lodges. As a deputy of the Grand Lodge from 1772 he took part in the birth of the Grand Orient of France and to all its conventions until 1790. In 1773 he became Worshipful Master of the lodge "La Concorde Fraternelle" in Paris. In 1776 he founded the "La Vérité" lodge and was often attending Les Neuf Soeurs.[7]

In modern fiction

Guillotin features in Andrew Miller's Costa prize winning novel Pure[8] and in the Vampire Dawn series for teenage emerging readers by Anne Rooney. He is also a primary character in the 1992 novel Dr Guillotine, written by the actor Herbert Lom.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Chambers, William; Chambers, Robert (January–June 1844). "Dr Guillotin". Chambers's Edinburgh Journal. W. Orr. I: 218–221. Retrieved 2009-12-30.
  2. ^ Guillotin, frère du peuple, L'Express, 2009-02-03.
  3. ^ Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham (1970). Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Harper & Row.
  4. ^ a b "Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition" (PDF). p. 695.
  5. ^ Richard Gordon, The Alarming History of Medicine: Amusing Anecdotes from Hippocrates to Heart Transplants, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. p. 225.
  6. ^ Joseph-Ignace Guillotin at Find a Grave
  7. ^ Dictionnaire universelle de la Franc-Maçonnerie, page 352 (Marc de Jode, Monique Cara and Jean-Marc Cara, ed. Larousse, 2011)
  8. ^ Kyte, Holly (2011-06-16). "Pure by Andrew Miller: review". Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-01-04.


  • Bailly, J.-S., "Secret Report on Mesmerism or Animal Magnetism", International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Vol.50, No.4, (October 2002), pp. 364–368. doi=10.1080/00207140208410110
  • Franklin, B., Majault, M.J., Le Roy, J.B., Sallin, C.L., Bailly, J.-S., d'Arcet, J., de Bory, G., Guillotin, J.-I. & Lavoisier, A., "Report of The Commissioners charged by the King with the Examination of Animal Magnetism", International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Vol.50, No.4, (October 2002), pp. 332–363. doi=10.1080/00207140208410109

External links

Media related to Joseph Ignace Guillotin at Wikimedia Commons



was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar, the 1738th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 738th year of the 2nd millennium, the 38th year of the 18th century, and the 9th year of the 1730s decade. As of the start of 1738, the Gregorian calendar was

11 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.



was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar, the 1789th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 789th year of the 2nd millennium, the 89th year of the 18th century, and the 10th and last year of the 1780s decade. As of the start of 1789, the Gregorian calendar was

11 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.



was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Thursday of the Julian calendar, the 1814th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 814th year of the 2nd millennium, the 14th year of the 19th century, and the 5th year of the 1810s decade. As of the start of 1814, the Gregorian calendar was

12 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.

1814 in France

Events from the year 1814 in France.

Antoine Louis

Antoine Louis (13 February 1723, Metz – 20 May 1792) was an 18th-century French surgeon and physiologist.

He was originally trained in medicine by his father, a surgeon-major at a local military hospital. As a young man he moved to Paris, where he served as gagnant-maîtrise at the Salpêtrière. In 1750 he was appointed professor of physiology, a position he held for 40 years. In 1764 he was appointed lifetime secretary to the Académie Royale de Chirurgie.

Louis published numerous articles on surgery, including several biographies of surgeons who died in his lifetime. He also published the surgical aphorisms of Dutch physician Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738).

Louis is credited with designing a prototype of the guillotine. For a period of time after its invention, the guillotine was called a louisette. However, it was later named after French physician Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738–1814), whose advocacy of a more humane method of capital punishment prompted the guillotine's design.

The "angle of Louis" is another name for the sternal angle, which is the point of junction between the manubrium and the body of the sternum.

Antoine Petit

Antoine Petit (23 July 1722 – 21 October 1794) was a French physician, master of Joseph-Ignace Guillotin and Félix Vicq d'Azyr.

Antoine Saugrain

Dr. Antoine François Pierre Saugrain (Paris, 17/02/1763 France – St. Louis, Missouri, 05/03/1820) was a French-born physician and chemist.

Born in Versailles, Saugrain was educated in Paris as a physician and chemist by Antoine Fourcroy and Mathurin Jacques Brisson; Saugrain was brother-in-law to Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who had married Louise Saugrain, Antoine's sister. In 1783 he traveled to North America to serve as a mineralogist for Gilbert Antoine de St. Maxent at New Orleans, where he was admitted to the practice of surgery. He also collaborated with his brother-in-law on the development of vaccines. In 1787 Dr. Saugrain traveled to the United States bearing a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. He became part of a scientific expedition to explore the Ohio River led by the botanist Picque in 1788. However, Saugrain was injured during an Indian raid and returned to France. Dr. Saugrain was soon forced to flee France because of his royalist beliefs at the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789 (Saugrain's family line had held the position of royal librarian for over 250 years by the time of the Revolution).

He returned to the United States and helped found a French émigré community at Gallipolis, Ohio. It was there that he married Genevieve Rosalie Michau on 20/03/1793.

In 1799 the Saugrains moved to St. Louis. Dr. Saugrain was the city's only physician until the United States took possession of St. Louis following the Louisiana Purchase.

Saugrain prepared specimens for Meriwether Lewis to send to President Thomas Jefferson in early 1804. He also provided the Lewis and Clark Expedition with medical supplies.

Dr. Saugrain was the first physician west of the Mississippi River to use the Jenner cowpox vaccine to prevent smallpox, beginning in 1809. From a public health perspective, his willingness to vaccinate anyone, regardless of ability to pay is especially noteworthy. The Missouri State Historical Society has a copy of an advertisement of Dr. Saugrain’s offering vaccine to all persons of indigent circumstances as well as to doctors who lived outside his practice area.

Outside medicine Dr. Saugrain also had interests in mineralogy, physics and chemistry.

Saugrain experimented with early versions of phosphorus matches and manufactured thermometers and barometers at Gallipolis.

His daughter Rosalie Saugrain (1797–1787) was married to the St.Louis pioneer businessmen Henry Von Phul (1784–1874), brother of the American artist Anna Maria von Phul. He was the grandfather of Frank (Francis) von Phul (1835–1922).

In 1944 Liberty ship SS Antoine Saugrain was named in his honor.

Benoît-Louis Prévost

Benoît-Louis Prévost (Paris, 1735 or 1747 – 1804) was a French engraver.

Capital punishment in France

Capital punishment in France (French: peine de mort en France) is banned by Article 66-1 of the Constitution of the French Republic, voted as a constitutional amendment by the Congress of the French Parliament on 19 February 2007 and simply stating "No one can be sentenced to the death penalty" (French: Nul ne peut être condamné à la peine de mort). The death penalty was already declared illegal on 9 October 1981 when President François Mitterrand signed a law prohibiting the judicial system from using it and commuting the sentences of the six people on death row to life imprisonment. The last execution took place by guillotine, being the main legal method since the French Revolution; Hamida Djandoubi, a Tunisian citizen convicted of torture and murder on French soil, who was put to death in September 1977 in Marseille.Major opponents to the death penalty in French history include philosopher Voltaire, poet Victor Hugo, politicians Léon Gambetta, Jean Jaurès and Aristide Briand, and writers Alphonse de Lamartine and Albert Camus.

Charles-Henri Sanson

Charles-Henri Sanson, full title Chevalier Charles-Henri Sanson de Longval (15 February 1739 – 4 July 1806), was the royal executioner of France during the reign of King Louis XVI, and High Executioner of the First French Republic. He administered capital punishment in the city of Paris for over forty years, and by his own hand executed nearly 3,000 people, including the King himself.


A guillotine (; French: [ɡijɔtin]) is an apparatus designed for efficiently carrying out executions by beheading. The device consists of a tall, upright frame in which a weighted and angled blade is raised to the top and suspended. The condemned person is secured with stocks at the bottom of the frame, positioning the neck directly below the blade. The blade is then released, to quickly fall and forcefully decapitate the victim with a single, clean pass so that the head falls into a basket below.

The device is best known for its use in France, in particular during the French Revolution, where it was celebrated as the people's avenger by supporters of the revolution and vilified as the pre-eminent symbol of the Reign of Terror by opponents. The name dates from this period, but similar devices had been used elsewhere in Europe over several centuries. The display of severed heads had long been one of the most common ways a European sovereign displayed their power to their subjects.The guillotine remained France’s standard method of judicial execution until the abolition of capital punishment in 1981. The last person to be executed in France was Hamida Djandoubi, who was guillotined on 10 September 1977. This was also the last time that the government of a Western nation ever executed an individual by beheading.

Les Neuf Sœurs

La Loge des Neuf Sœurs (French pronunciation: ​[la lɔʒ de nœf sœʁ]; The Nine Sisters), established in Paris in 1776, was a prominent French Masonic Lodge of the Grand Orient de France that was influential in organising French support for the American Revolution. A "Société des Neuf Sœurs," a charitable society that surveyed academic curricula, had been active at the Académie Royale des Sciences since 1769. Its name referred to the nine Muses, the daughters of Mnemosyne/Memory, patrons of the arts and sciences since antiquity, and long significant in French cultural circles. The Lodge of similar name and purpose was opened in 1776, by Jérôme de Lalande. From the start of the French Revolution in 1789 until 1792, "Les Neuf Sœurs" became a "Société Nationale".

During the French Revolution, while the Académie Royale des Sciences et des Arts was drastically reorganised, two members of the lodge, Antoine Laurent de Jussieu and Gilbert Romme, in collaboration with Henri Grégoire, helped to organise a "Société Libre des Sciences, Belles Lettres et Arts", to subsidise what had become the Institut de France so as to keep the original influence of the "Neuf Soeurs" intact. (Hahn, 1971) The lodge was reconstituted under its original name in 1805, ceased operation from 1829–1836, and finally closed in 1848. Its former location is thought to be on the Rue de la Bûcherie on the Left Bank across from Notre-Dame.Its successive "Venerable Masters" of the first decade were Benjamin Franklin (1779–1781), Marquis de La Salle (1781–1783), Milly (1783–1784), Charles Dupaty (1784), Elie de Beaumont (1784–1785), and Claude Pastoret (1788–1789) (Ligou, 1987).

List of French scientists

This is a list of notable French scientists.

Louis-François Allard

Louis-François Allard (August 17, 1735 - June 30, 1819) was a French physician and politician.

March 26

March 26 is the 85th day of the year (86th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 280 days remaining until the end of the year.

May 28

May 28 is the 148th day of the year (149th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 217 days remaining until the end of the year.

National Razor

National Razor may refer to:

The Guillotine, an execution device named after Joseph-Ignace Guillotin

National Razor (band), an American punk rock band that formed in 1998 in Baltimore, Maryland.

University of Bordeaux

The University of Bordeaux (French: Université de Bordeaux) was founded in 1441 in France. The University of Bordeaux is part of the Community of universities and higher education institutions of Aquitaine.

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