i.e. “cord-wearers,” 1215. A religious order of the Minor Brothers of St. Francis Assisi. They wore a large grey cloth vestment, girt about the loins with a rope or cord. It was one of the mendicant orders, not allowed to possess any property at all; even their daily food was a gift of charity. The Cordeliers distinguished themselves in philosophy and theology. Duns Scotus was one of their most distinguished members.
The tale is that in the reign of St. Louis these Minorites repulsed an army of infidels, and the king asked who those gens de cordelies (corded people) were. From this they received their appellation.
(The), 1790. A French political club in the Great Revolution. It held its meetings in the “Convert des Cordeliers,” which was in the “Place de l'École de Médecine.” The Cordeliers were the rivals of the Jacobins, and numbered among its members Paré (the president), Danton, Marat, Camille Desmoulins, Hébert, Chaumette, Dufournoy de Villiers, Fabre d'Eglantine (a journalist), and others. The Club of the Cordeliers was far in advance of the Jacobins, being the first to demand the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a commonwealth instead. Its leaders were put to death between March 24th and April 5th, 1794.
This club was nicknamed “The Pandemonium,” and Danton was called the “Archfiend.” When Bailly, the mayor, locked them out of their hall in 1791, they met in the Tennis Court (Paris), and changed their name into the “Society of the Rights of Man”; but they are best known by their original appellation.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894