A visual depiction of a typical group that Parisian sans culottes

The sans-culottes were the working-class people of Paris and also other cities that participated in the great journées that the French Revolution. Generally identified by your clothing and also demeanour, the sans-culottes are finest known for their political radicalism, their use of violence and also intimidation, and the affect they had actually on the food of the revolution, specifically during 1793-94.

You are watching: The term sans-culottes meaning without breeches


In renowned understanding, the sans-culottes have become the confront of the radical change of the 1790s. Chroniclers, novelists and also historians have given us numerous depictions of the Parisian working-class, plenty of of i beg your pardon are based on stereotypes.

To some, the sans-culottes to be an amorphous yet brutal mob, seething through discontent, vulnerable to rumour and gossip, hell-bent on afford their aims with violence.

Other historians, choose George Rudé and Albert Soboul, have deconstructed the identities, motives and methods the the sans-culottes and also found higher complexity. Everything your interpretations that the sans-culottes and their motives, their impact on the revolution, an especially between 1792 and also 1794, is undeniable.


The ax sans-culottes is French for ‘without britches’. The was at first a humorous term, explicate a young man captured in an embarrassing case with a woman. 

The expression was first used in a political context in 1790 to define townsmen who wore pantaloons (long trousers) rather of the knee-length britches favoured by the nobility and wealthy bourgeoisie. It was an initial used in royalist newspapers, come ridicule working-class members that the Jacobin club. 

Before long, sans culottes was in common use to explain urban workers, artisans or small businessmen, specifically those who sustained the revolution. Later, the well-known perception the a sans-culotte to be a politics radical from the working classes and also sections the Paris.


An idealistic explicate of a typical sans culotte, painted by Boilly

The sans-culottes were uniformly working-class. Most either laboured for wages or ran your own small stores or businesses. They lived in the poorer suburbs the Paris, most notably Faubourg Saint-Antoine and Faubourg Saint-Michel in the city’s east.

A decimal of sans-culottes were politically active, at the very least in an organised sense. They were most commonly found in the 48 sectional assemblies that comprised the Paris Commune. Of the 1,361 deputies that sat in this assemblies in 1793-94, much more than two-thirds to be tradesmen or shopkeepers.

Others attended the sectional assemblies as spectators or hecklers. Some additionally attended meetings of the political clubs – most notably the culture of Cordeliers, i m sorry was open up to all, and also later the Jacobins.

Political activity


The bulk of sans-culottes, however, remained external organised politics. They acquired their politics news indigenous the inflammatory press and also secondhand reports, which made them prone to rumour and conspiracy theories.

The sans-culottes could also be roused to activity by orators and propagandists. An example of this was the journée of may 31st 1793, which culminated in the expulsion of Girondin deputies indigenous the national Convention.

The Radical’s Arms, a british depiction the the sans culottes

Agents of violence

The hallmark of the sans-culottes to be their volume for forcing adjust with threats and also violence. Working course mobs were associated in just around every far-reaching journée in revolutionary Paris.

Sans-culottes to adjust siege come the house and also factory of Réveillon in April 1789. Three months later, they attacked the Bastille, butchered that governor and also dismembered the imperial minister Joseph-François Foullon.

In October 1789 the sans-culottes, many of lock women, marched ~ above Versailles, menaced the royal family and forced the king to go back to Paris. They massed on the Champ de Mars in July 1791 to sign Republican petitions, dozens dying from the gunfire of the nationwide Guard.

In respectable 1792, Parisian sans-culottes got into the Tuileries palace alongside Republican troops and, as soon as inside, participated in the slaughter the the Swiss garrison. On the exact same day, they surrounded the legislative branch Assembly and also coerced it right into suspending the monarchy. 

The adhering to month, (September 1792), sans-culottes raided the prisons of Paris and ‘cleansed’ castle of counter-revolutionaries and traitors, among the bloodiest incidents of the entire revolution.

Aims and objectives

More brother propaganda ridiculing the sans culottes and also their appearance

What to be the political intends of the sans-culottes? because that the many part, they to be democratic, egalitarian and also wanted price controls top top food and also essential commodities. Past that, their intends are unclear and also open come debate. 

Some historians have actually categorised sans-culottism as a petit bourgeois movement, conquered by tradesmen and little business owners. Gwyn Williams researched 450 significant sans-culottes leaders and also found that virtually two-thirds were artisans and also shopkeepers, while just one in ten to be a wage earner. They were no anti-capitalist, Williams contends, nor were they opposed to wide range or personal property, only its concentration in the hands of a privileged few.

In contrast, the socialist historian Albert Soboul look at the sans-culottes as class warriors. They were ‘Marxists before Marx’ who sought to damage the aristocracy and also remake the civilization along socialist lines.

Revisionists choose Alfred Cobban refuse the tip that the sans-culottes were themselves a social class or also a homogenous group. There to be too lot diversity in their ranks; your motives were often unclear; they usually responded to events rather than leading or producing them.

What is a sans-culotte?

Whatever the realities of the sans-culottes movement, the was without doubt coloured by idealism and propaganda. By the fall of 1793, the Jacobins and your supporters were beginning to adopt a cult the democracy and egalitarianism.

At the centre of this was the sans-culottes, who were celebrated as working-class heroes and also the political vanguard the the revolution. Propagandists painted a stereotype of the common sans-culotte: hardworking and humble, politics alert, watchful and prepared, always ready to take it up arms to safeguard the revolution.

A well-known epigram, published by Antoine-François Momoro in 1793, asked and answered the concern “What is a sans-culotte?”:

“A sans-culotte, girlfriend rogues? the is someone who constantly goes around on foot. has actually not gained the millions you would all choose to have… has actually no chateaux, no valets to wait on him… the is useful because he knows how to till a field, to create iron, to use a saw… and to pour out his blood to the last drop for the safety of the Republic… In the night he goes come the assembly that his Section, no powdered and perfumed and nattily booted, in the hope of gift noticed by the woman citizens in the galleries, however ready to support sound proposals v all his might, and ready to pulverise those i m sorry come indigenous the despised faction the politicians. Finally, a sans-culotte always has his sabre well-sharpened, prepared to cut off the ears of all enemies of the Revolution.”

‘Backbone that the revolution’

As this stereotype take it hold, the sans-culotte was hailed as the backbone the the revolution. To be a sans-culotte was to be the purest form of revolutionary.

It ended up being fashionable for supporters of the revolution, every little thing their course or upbringing, to dress in the garb that the sans-culotte: long-legged trousers, a short-tailed carmagnole coat and the bonnet rouge or ‘liberty cap’.

Formal settings of attend to like “Monsieur”, “Madame” and “Mademoiselle” were exit in favour that the more egalitarian and patriotic “Citoyen” and “Citoyenne”. Those who refused to adopt this adoration and also mimicry the the Parisian functioning classes were open to suspicion.

But when perceptions that the sans-culottes shaped revolutionary culture, by so late 1793 the political influence of the sans-culottes was beginning to wane. The nationwide Convention to be now overcame by Maximilien Robespierre and also the Jacobins, who moved to centralise your power and unfurl the reign of Terror. This associated some curtailment the sans-culotte politics activity.

In September, the government limited sectional assemblies to a preferably of two five-hour meetings per week. The Convention likewise nobbled the autonomy the the Paris Commune, the various other institutional beacon for Parisian radicals. There to be attempts to mobilise the sans-culottes in 1794 and 1795 yet these failed to complement the impact of earlier journées.

A historian’s view:“The sans-culottes often approximated a person’s precious by appearance, deducing character from costume and political convictions indigenous character; everything that jarred their feeling of equality was doubt of being ‘aristocratic’. It was difficult, therefore, for any person of the old regime to discover favour in your eyes, even when there to be no specific charge against him. ‘For such males are i can not qualify of bringing themselves to the heights of our revolution; your hearts are constantly full the pride and we shall never ever forget their former grandeur and also their supremacy over us.”Albert Soboul


1. The sans-culottes to be the working-class civilization of Paris, so named due to the fact that they wore lengthy trousers (pantaloons) quite than the knee-breeches favoured by the aristocracy.

2. The leaders of the Parisian sans-culottes were uncovered in the sectional assemblies and also the Commune, an especially after respectable 1792. Most sans-culottes themselves, however, to be not associated in organised politics groups.

3. Generally speaking, the sans-culottes want a democratic government v universal suffrage, and price controls ~ above food and other necessary goods. Their aims beyond that space a issue of debate.

See more: Can You Join The Army If You Have Asthma, Can I Join The Army With Asthma

4. The sans-culottes are finest known for their use of lot violence and also intimidation to bring about political change. Castle were connected in almost all of the violent journées in Paris throughout the early on 1790s.

5. Throughout the radical period in 1793-94, propaganda and popular society hailed the sans-culottes together the humble vanguard the the French Revolution. Your political impact, however, to be negated through the growing centralisation the Jacobin power.