Anne-Joseph Théroigne de Méricourt (August 13, 1762 – June 9, 1817) became a figurehead during the French Revolution. She was born at Marcourt (from which her designation "de Méricourt" was corrupted), a small town on the banks of the Ourthe in Belgium.
Anne-Joseph was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, Peter Théroigne. She appears to have been well educated, having been brought up in the convent of Robermont; apparently she was quick-witted, strikingly handsome in appearance and intensely passionate in temper; and she had a vigorous eloquence, which she used with great effect upon the mobs of Paris during that short space of her life (1789-93) which alone is of historical interest.
The story told by Lamartine and others of her being betrayed by a young seigneur and consequently devoting her life to avenge her wrongs upon aristocrats is unfounded. Instead, she left her home on account of a quarrel with her stepmother and began a career as a courtesan and singer, visiting London, Paris and Genoa.
In 1789, she returned to Paris. On the outbreak of the Revolution, she was surrounded by a coterie of well-known men, chief of whom were Pétion and Camille Desmoulins. She did not, however, play the role legend has assigned her. She took no part in the taking of the Bastille nor in bringing the King and Queen from Versailles to Paris on October 5-6. In 1790 she had a political salon and spoke once at the club of the Cordeliers. The same year she left Paris for Marcourt, then travelled onto Liege, where she was seized by warrant of the Austrian Government on suspicion of involvement in a plot to kill the Queen of France. She was taken first to Tirol and then Vienna.
After an interview with the emperor Leopold II, however, she was released and returned to Paris in January 1792. The story of her captivity renewed interest in her and her influence once again grew. Her voice was often heard in the clubs of Paris and even in the National Assembly, where she would violently interrupt the expression of any moderatist views. Known as la belle Ligoise, she appeared in public dressed in a riding habit, a plume in her hat, a pistol in her belt and a sword dangling at her side, exciting mobs with violent harangues. Associated with the Girondists and the enemies of Robespierre, she became the "Fury of the Gironde".
On June 20, 1792, she took personal command of the Third Corps of the so-called "Army of the Faubourgs", again winning the gratitude of the people. Consequently, she shares a heavy responsibility for her connection with the riots a few weeks later on August 10. Suleau, a contributor to the journal Acts of the Apostles, earned her savage hatred by using a play on words to associate her with a deputy named Populus, whom she had never seen. Having watched the Place Vendôme massacre with approval, Suleau was pointed out to her. She sprang at him, dragged him among the infuriated mob, where he was stabbed to death in an instant. She took no part in the September massacres; and, moderating her conduct, became less popular from 1793. Towards the end of May 1793, the Jacobin women seized her, stripped her naked and flogged her in the public garden of the Tuileries. The following year she lost her sanity and was removed to a private house; then, in 1800, to La Salpetrière for a month; and finally the Petites Maisons (Little Mansions), a place of confinement where she remained a raving maniac until 1807. She was then moved back to La Salpetrière, where she died, having never recovered her reason, on the June 9, 1817.