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Reign of Terror Guillotine Blade, c. 1793

Reign of Terror Guillotine Blade, c. 1793

Perhaps one of the most iconic relics held in the collection is the French Revolution guillotine blade, allegedly used to behead Marie Antoinette.

The grisly details

  • Whilst we have no solid evidence of its connection to the “let them eat cake” queen’s death, the blade certainly has a bloody history none-the-less, and was a key attraction within the Chamber of Horrors for over 100 years. The blade was removed from display in 2016 when the Chamber of Horrors closed its doors.
  • The guillotine was purchased by Joseph Tussaud (eldest son of Marie Tussaud), sometime in the mid-1800s. The seller, Mr. Clement Henri Sanson, was the grandson of the official executioner from the time of the Reign of Terror, Charles Henri Sanson. The younger Sanson, who had succeeded his father and his grandfather as official executioner, had been dismissed from the position in 1847 for neglect of duties. It is thought he ran a small museum in Paris displaying artefacts that had been passed down to him through the role, but proceeded to pawn a number of them to pay for his extensive gambling and drinking debts.
  • The 1854 Madame Tussauds ledger notes a payment of £110.00 to a “Sampson”, likely a miss-spelling of Sanson, for a guillotine blade, alongside expenses for a trip to Paris. Joseph also acquired at the same time Sanson’s drawings of the full guillotine, so that a replica could be constructed for the exhibition. Joseph also acquired Sanson’s drawings of the full guillotine, so that a replica could be constructed for the exhibition.