National Guard Volunteer Certificate

National Guard Volunteer Certificate

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Title: National Guard Volunteer Certificate.

Creation date : 1789

Date shown: 1790

Dimensions: Height 25.5 - Width 34

Technique and other indications: Full title:Wic-cous National Guard volunteer certificate said Wuissous. "Whoever serves his country well does not need helpers." In Paris, at Nicolas, rue Saint-Honoré. House of Mr Coutencin, n ° 109.
AD Essonne 79J57
First distribution of the decorations of the Legion of Honor, made by Napoleon in the church of the Imperial Hotel of Les Invalides, July 14, 1804 Engraving, etching and burin.

Storage location: Departmental Archives of Essonne website

Contact copyright: © Departmental Archives of Esssonne - Photo Y. Morelle

Picture reference: AD Essonne 79J57

National Guard Volunteer Certificate.

© Departmental Archives of Esssonne - Photo Y. Morelle

Publication date: March 2016


National Guard Volunteer Certificate


Historical context

The National Guard in July 1790

The national guard is not initially intended to protect the kingdom against an external aggression, it ensures only the internal police force, confines itself to imposing the respect of the law and the public order. The National Guards thus continue the tradition of the bourgeois militias of the Old Regime and will retain this role of Civil Guard until their suppression in 1871.

Far from being a professional soldier, the holder of this certificate, Mathurin Auboin, is a big farmer from the village of Wissous, south of Paris. In his pride in serving in the National Guard, he lists the name of his village on his certificate, preferably in the locality of his battalion (a battalion brought together 800 men).

Image Analysis

The symbolism of the beginnings of the Revolution

Intended for the identification of a National Guard, this patent on parchment (25.5 x 34 cm), engraved with space reserved for handwritten mentions, by JL Copia (engraver (1764-1799)) and initially composed for the National Guard of Paris (“Unpaid National Guard Volunteer Certificate.” BNF Department of Prints Qb1 1793 (December)), is sold at Nicolas [1].

The decorative vignettes of the frame, linked together by Louis XV-style interlacing, highlight the symbols of the new France whose defense is organized in reference to the founding moment: the image of the storming of the Bastille, below, is known to everyone at the time. The awareness of having carried out a revolutionary and beneficial act stems from the warlike setting [2]. On the sides are mixed, on the right, popular and medieval weapons, shield, bows and arrows, axes and clubs, and, on the left, musical instruments: drum, cymbals, trumpets. The diversity of weapons probably evokes the different companies of the Paris National Guard (grenadiers, fusilliers, chasseurs, sappers, gunners and pikemen) which all seem to be represented as well as the brass band.

This motley character echoes the chivalrous helm with its plume overhanging the Bastille sticker. Currency "Who serves his country well does not need helpers"makes explicit the presence of the helm, emblem of the ancestors of the nobles: it demonstrates its uselessness for true patriots without showing any anti-nobiliary hostility. This motto takes up an Alexandrian by Voltaire [3]. The thought of one of the inspirers of the Revolution whose tragedies are known to all at the time is thus linked to the great event of the Storming of the Bastille and the role of the national guard. But the replacement of "country" by "fatherland" puts the motto in the spotlight. taste of the day.

Patriotism is then a term consubstantially linked to the Revolution; it involves the armed force of the people. On the right, the instruments of victory, the bush bush and the cannonballs, whose pyramid perhaps evokes the Freemason symbol, appear to be represented. On the left, the naked savage armed with a whip, pierced with arrows, beheaded and bathed in his blood, on the contrary personifies arbitrariness and defeated despotism. From the envelope placed next to him, which represents a letter of seal, comes a document with the word "veto" [4].

In the fight for freedom in the lower part of the engraving, the new civilization is opposed, whose allegorical attributes adorn the sides and the upper part. On the right, we find in the panoply of weapons a quiver filled with arrows which make it look like a beam with the inscription "Strong of our union", a symbol that the republican regimes will then keep. The egalitarian reference is given by the scales of justice, which finally takes into account fairly the attributes of the hard-working rural people, heavier than the Cross of Saint-Louis of the privileged. On the left, a slave dressed in the antique frees himself from his chains, completing the evocation of new principles, freedom and equality.

At the top, the new France triumphs, the one who pays homage to true merits with the laurel wreath, the one who can be recognized behind the rooster with outstretched wings proudly hopping, an old emblem that has become popular again (gallus, Gallic), and especially that which sees triumph in the midst of flags, trumpets and oak boughs (lasting strength) the alliance of the king and the French, manifested by the popular cap on the point of the monarchical sword, and by the juxtaposition of the dynastic tradition (the fleur-de-lis on the field of azure) with the new order - the Nation, the Law and the King. In this monarchical and constitutional framework both newly won freedom and national union flourish, both associated with the commemoration of July 14.


The patriotism of the first year of freedom

This beautifully illustrated patent with civic emblems exalts pride in belonging to the patriotic cohorts of the National Guard, while the bourgeoisie was barred from military careers under the Ancien Régime. All the details of this allegorical language are perfectly accessible to contemporaries because the Revolution has multiplied propaganda images of this type. The storming of the Bastille inaugurated the dissemination of a multitude of images with symbolic composition, such as the diplomas of victors of the Bastille.

On July 14, 1790, the feast of the Federation closed a year marked by irrevocable decisions, the abolition of privileges (August 4, 1789) and the Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen (August 26, 1789) whose echo is very clear here. This diploma, by its decoration, reflects the common feelings and hopes of the first year of freedom. By enlisting on July 14, 1790 as a volunteer in the National Guard, Mathurin Auboin was aware of defending the "homeland" that is to say the achievements of the Revolution. Neither he, nor the representatives of the National Guards of the whole kingdom meeting in Paris on the same day, can not suspect that the naively warlike attributes of the bottom will soon be used to fight between Frenchmen.

  • allegory
  • Constituent Assembly
  • National Guard
  • patriotism
  • police
  • capture of the Bastille
  • political symbol


Albert SOBOUL (dir.) Historical Dictionary of the Revolution Paris, PUF, 1989.Michel VOVELLE The French Revolution, images and narrative, 1789-1799 Paris, Messidor, 1986.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS and Philippe OULMONT, “National Guard Volunteer Certificate”

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