In the first four years of the nineteenth century, Robert Emmet (Clonakilty, Co. Cork, 1778 – Dublin, 1803) and his brother, Thomas Addis Emmet (Cork, 1764 – New York, 1827), successively turned up in Paris to try to persuade France to intervene militarily in Ireland. But infighting within the United Irishmen cause they represented, their own misgivings about Napoleonic France and Robert Emmet’s own botched attempt at an uprising in Dublin in 1803 all meant the brothers’ efforts cannot be deemed an unalloyed success.
Robert Emmet was appointed secretary to a United Irishman delegation to France that arrived in Paris via Germany and Switzerland at the end of 1800 or beginning of 1801. In January 1801, along with Malachy Delaney, a survivor of the 1798 Rebellion in Kildare, Emmet met the French foreign minister Talleyrand, one of a long succession of ultimately fruitless discussions with leading French military and diplomatic officials. Emmet was to stay in the French capital until the summer of 1802, turning up secretly in Dublin toward the end of that year. During his year-and-a half in Paris, Robert became increasingly disillusioned with French society in general and French politicians in particular. Robert Emmet's distrust of France was fed by Napoleon’s rampage across Europe, his suppression of small countries, the signing of the Treaty of Amiens with Great Britain in early 1802 and rumours that the French were willing to trade United Irishmen for French royalist refugees in England.
These rumours were all too much for the increasingly francophobic Emmet. Indeed, another United Irishman in Paris, William Dowdall, reported that Emmet had told him “that bad as the English government was, it was preferable to a French one.” In October 1801, Robert Emmet was staying with fellow revolutionary Michael Gallagher at 9, rue Amboise (2nd arrondissement), but in April 1802, he was residing just around the corner at the home of Mme. Gabrielle de Fontenay and her husband at 298, rue de la Loi, now rue Richelieu (2nd arrondissement). He shared this address with another United Irishman, William James MacNeven. (It is hard to know precisely where number 298 stood, since the system of street numbers in Paris was quite anarchic until 1805, when matters were rationalised by decree. However, a letter from TA Emmet to MacNeven tells us that number 298 stood “vis à vis la porte de la Bibliothèque Nationale”).
During his Paris stay, Emmet generally preferred the company of other English speakers, including, no doubt, many of the 1,000-1,200 United Irishmen that General Lazare Hoche estimated were resident in France at the end of the 18th century. A constant stream of funds from his father back in Ireland meant that he was able to travel to Switzerland in the summer of 1801 and could hang out with other well-to-do Irish staying in Paris at this time, such as Katherine Wilmot. He also frequented another prominent United Irishman and long-time family friend, William Lawless, and visited Wolfe Tone’s widow Matilda who, according to Wilmot, was living “almost in entire seclusion”. An eye injury incurred in February 1802, plus what Wilmot describes as Emmet’s “extreme prejudice against French society” meant that socializing beyond his Irish circle was limited, although he did attend at least once the salon of Mme. Germaine de Stael in the rue de Grenelle (at least she was Swiss).
Robert Emmet met up with his older brother in Brussels in October 1802. Thomas Addis was on his way to Paris after four years in British jails, while Robert had just left the French capital for the last time. By this stage, Thomas Addis had spent several months in Brussels making arrangements to emigrate to the United States along with his family. But while there, he had been persuaded by United Irishmen leaders to proceed to Paris to act as their representative. Thus, by early 1803, Thomas Addis was in the French capital along with his family, discussing French intervention in Ireland with Talleyrand. Alas, for Thomas Addis Emmet, Arthur O’Connor, who had been released with him Fort George prison in Scotland, also made his way to Paris claiming to be on a mission from the United Irishmen to drum up French support. O’Connor and Thomas Addis Emmet detested each other, although Emmet’s hatred transpires more intensely from his writings. Like his brother, Robert, Thomas Addis distrusted Napoleon’s regime and the French in general, going so far as to write in his diary that “no nation or people that loves liberty need look to France for honest cooperation”.
While O’Connor was appear to deal with the French up to a point, Thomas Addis was clearly a fish out of water. The collapse of the 1803 rebellion in Dublin and the execution of his brother, together with O’Connor’s appointment in February 1804 as “general of division” for the Irish Legion that was meant to partake in the French invasion of Ireland all contributed to Thomas Addis's decision to leave France. Without too many regrets, he packed his bags for Bordeaux in the summer of 1804 and in September of that year left for the United States, where he launched a highly successful legal career at the New York bar.
Memoir of Thomas Addis and Robert Emmet: With their ancestors and immediate family, 2 volumes (1915)
Robert Emmet : A Life (2004)
Patrick M. Geoghegan
Robert Emmet: The Making of a Legend (2003)
The Life and Times of Robert Emmet (1857)
Richard Robert Madden
Robert Emmet (1857)
Louise de Broglie, Comtesse d’Haussonville