Guizot wrote to his mother in 1808: “I hardly ever talk to you about my father (…) If you only knew how the memory of him is still with me, how I think of him constantly.” What memory? He was not even seven years old when André Guizot died. The day before his execution, his uncle had taken him and his brother Jean-Jacques to his prison cell for a final visit. This scene, where emotion gave way to fear, became emblematic within the family.
André François Guizot was born in Nîmes in 1766. He came from a family of textile manufacturers and merchants having its roots from the 16th century or even earlier in Saint-Geniès-de-Malgloirès, a few kilometres north of Nîmes, where some cousins still lived. His father Jean Guizot was born there and became a pastor in the then clandestine “Church of the Desert”. Paul Rabaut, a minister of this church, had blessed his marriage to Henriette de Gignoux in 1761 in Nîmes, she herself coming from a Cévenol Calvinist family. André Guizot never knew his father, who died a few weeks after his birth, and lost his mother when he was fifteen. He was, however, very close to his brother Pierre Guillaume, three years his elder, who remained with him to the end. No portraits and very few documents about André Guizot remain today. He must have successfully studied law, as he became a lawyer in 1786. He had a well-stocked library typical of an open-minded, well-educated young bourgeois, well aware of the changing times. His marriage to Elizabeth Sophie Bonicel on December 27 in Nîmes, blessed by pastor Gachon, was only made legal in 1788, at the same time as the birth of their son François, as a result of the Edict of Tolerance. He at first received financial support from his father-in-law, but the young lawyer began to earn a good living in 1791 thanks to his reputation for reliability and great eloquence. He bought some land and also the house on the rue Caguensol in which he lived with his family. He became very committed to the ideals of the Revolution, as did his father-in-law Bonicel and many other bourgeois Protestants in Nîmes. But André Guizot, an ardent orator, was a militant and committed member of the federalist Girondin movement, whereas Bonicel, who was Attorney General of the Gard department, favoured the Jacobins. The Parisian Reign of Terror continued in Nîmes and a warrant for André Guizot’s arrest was issued in October 1793. He remained hidden in his house with his closest friend, Antoine Chabaud-Latour, until January 14, 1794 and then had to flee to the countryside, going from one house to another in an attempt to reach Geneva. He was recognised near Remoulins, sent back to Nîmes on April 6 and imprisoned. Outlawed and therefore destined for the scaffold, he was counting on his father-in-law’s influence and his own eloquence to get himself out of this tight spot. But he was only asked to confirm his identity and was then sentenced to death on the morning of April 8. He turned to his judges, most of whom he knew and said “I shall suffer a punishment that I do not deserve, but however deplorable my situation may be, I prefer it to yours, you scoundrels, as very shortly you will be torn apart by the same people who listen to me”. He was guillotined early that afternoon. In his last message to his wife, he wrote his own epitaph: “I may have made mistakes, but what man doesn’t! I dare to say that I had no vices; I was an honest man, a good citizen, I wanted nothing more than happiness for my country. I was a good friend, a good brother, a good father, a good husband”. To remember him by, his son François had only a few of his letters.