You might be surprised at what “republican marriage” traditionally means. Nowadays, you might think something silly like a man can’t marry a man whom he loves, or a woman can’t do the same. Yet back in the 1790s, it referred to a rather unfortunate event — tying a naked man and woman together and drowning them. Apparently, the use of the term began as a play on words, mocking those of the time for being outraged by the increasing incidence of secular marriages away from church, which was also known as a “republican marriage.”
Why, and where, was this happening, you ask? Well, it was France, during the French Revolution. More specifically, during the Reign of Terror, which was a period from September 5, 1793 to July 28, 1794 that was noted for absolutely horrifying numbers of political executions, caused by problems between two revolutionary factions, the Girondists and the Jacobins. Basically (my understanding, and I’m only an amateur when it comes to history), the Girondists were all like, “Hey guys, we’re against the King too and all, but it’s getting a little out of control.” Then the Jacobins, who had, at this point, been taken over by radicals, were like, “Anti-revolutionaries! Kill them!” (but in a French accent) and then proceeded to execute over 41,000 people across the country in political executions, largely by the “National Razor,” the symbol of the bloody revolution more commonly known as the guillotine.
“Republican marriages” reportedly occurred in Nantes, which is now the sixth largest city in France. It’s located in West France, on the Loire River, a bit over 30 miles from the Atlantic coast. Also, although the majority of historical accounts detail death by drowning (specifically in the Loire), there are also a few accounts of execution by being run through with a blade (while tied together). Alternatively, the running through could be followed by being tossed in the river for good measure.
There are some historians who dispute these occurrences, though none who deny that many were executed by drowning in the Loire (I guess we use what’s close by for convenience when it comes to mass slaughter).
Because most of the sources for this are in print, I’m putting a Wikipedia excerpt below that links many of them (if you’re not a Wikipedia fan, you can check the sources to be sure):
This form of execution is attributed to French Revolutionary Jean-Baptiste Carrier, who was sent to Nantes to suppress the counterrevolutionary forces and to appoint a Revolutionary Committee. One historian described the use of the practice as follows:
- A Revolutionary Tribunal was established [at Nantes], of which Carrier was the presiding demon—Carrier, known in all nations as the inventor of that last of barbarous atrocities, the Republican Marriage, in which two persons of different genders, generally an old man and an old woman, or a young man and a young woman, bereft of every kind of clothing, were bound together before the multitude, exposed in a boat in that situation for half an hour or more, and then thrown into the river.
Details of the practice vary slightly, but are generally consistent with the description offered above. One author described how “marriages Républicains… consisted in binding together a man and woman, back to back, stripped naked, keeping them exposed for an hour, and then hurling them into the current of “la Baignoire Nationale,” as the bloodhounds termed the “Loire.”  British radical and Girondist sympathizer Helen Maria Williams, in her Sketch of the Politics of France, 1793–94, wrote that “innocent young women were unclothed in the presence of the monsters; and, to add a deeper horror to this infernal act of cruelty, were tied to young men, and both were cut down with sabers, or thrown into the river; and this kind of murder was called a republican marriage”.
Although quite a few people were executed this way, the main method of execution across France (including an astonishing 2,639 in Paris alone) was the guillotine, with 16,594 killed that way in all.
Still beats getting run through and tossed in a river.
Still beats a Republican marriage.