Thursday, 8 February 2018

"A stitch in time": the chemise à la Reine

La Reine en Gaulle by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783.  Oil on canvas, 93.3 x 79.1 cm.
Private collection of Hessische Hausstiftung, Kronberg, Germany

If you haven't seen it already,  be sure to catch on iplayer the final episode of BBC Four's A Stitch in Time, introduced by fashion historian Amber Butchart.  In each of this series Nottingham-based costumier Ninya Mikhaila and her team,  recreate a different  costume based on a historical portrait;  this week was the turn of Vigée Lebrun's Marie-Antoinette en Gaulle.  The reconstruction of the dress was gorgeous, the locations well thought out and Amber's commentary insightful.  Here are a few notes.

Amber Butchart introduces the programme by observing that  Marie Antoinette seen as "history's ultimate fashion icon and its ultimate victim":  The portrait  by Vigée Lebrun,  caused a furore when it was exhibited in 1783; the dress was "as scandalous and intriguing as the queen herself". The chemise à la Reine was "a complete departure for Marie Antoinette and a complete contrast to the highly structured garments favoured by the rest of the Court".

How the dress was made

2.25: At Ninya's workshop Amber finds out how the dress would have been made. Was it as simple to create as it looked?  Well, not quite - the material was a very fine cotton muslin and the style required a lot of painstaking hand stitching;  it was extremely important that the edges of the fabric were straight - later Ninya draws out a single thread to establish a perfect line.  Although muslin was used for underwear, it is Ninya's understanding that, with this style of dress, stays and a silk petticoat would still be worn. Fellow costumier Harriet Waterhouse is given the difficult task of sewing the stays, which were were made from linen stiffened with bone and covered in beautiful silk brocade.  

In the Trianon - interview with Juliette Trey

4.58:  Amber interviews curator Juliette Trey, an expert on royal fashion, at the Trianon in front of Lebrun's companion portrait of Marie-Antoinette, à la rose.   Juliette Trey explains that, although the chemise was an accepted style among the queen's inner circle at the Trianon, it appeared shocking in a Salon portrait, which was in effect a formal public appearance. Cotton muslin was a material associated with underwear. The Queen was seen as eschewing her royal responsibilities.  

How much did this damage her reputation?  "It is hard to say", replies Juliette Trey.  "She was never very much loved by the French people, but we could say it is the beginning of her downfall."

The Musée de la Toile de Jouy

 "Her extravagant wardrobe was the stuff of legend and yet not a single gown known to have been worn by her survives today."

Chemise gowns are so delicate, only two are known to be in existence.  Amber takes us to view one in the Musée de la Toile de Jouy a few miles from Versailles.  Although simple in style, such dresses  were still very expensive.  The muslin itself was an imported luxury fabric.  It was also very difficult and laborious in the 18th century to keep fabrics white. The chemise was a wealthy woman's idea of how a peasant/shepherdess dressed and was condemned as patronising; it was of a piece with the Marie-Antoinette of "let them eat cake".

Marie-Antoinette's wardrobe book

14:15 Amber peruses Marie-Antoinette's Wardrobe book in the splendid surroundings of the National Archives.  Were the pinpricks on the swatches of fabric Marie-Antoinette's way of selecting her outfits for the day?  The book is full of elaborate patterned silks which contrasted with the simple muslin of the chemise. The Queen was accused of putting the French silk industry out of work. Thus she went against two aspect of her royal duty: encouraging French manufacture and inspiring respect for the throne. She was seen as transgressed class boundaries and became a divisive figure.
On the wardrobe book:

Marie-Antoinette in the Conciergerie

19:25:  Amber moves on to the Conciergerie, to discuss the last days of Marie-Antoinette's life.  Here she meets social historian Andrew Hussey (who lets the side down a bit on the sartorial elegance front).  He confirms that Marie-Antoinette's likely state of mind on her arrival at the prison, in the middle of the night in a August heat wave, was one of "deep shock and trauma".  There could not be a greater contrast between Versailles and the Conciergerie but both are part of the Marie-Antoinette myth;  they are linked, says Andrew, by "the society of spectacle on both sides".  Marie-Antoinette was not guileless, but  she was pursuing an aesthetic life rather than a political life - at a time when everything had become politicised. She was bound to be judged on how she looked and how she performed; fashion was always going to be portrayed in terms of decadence and absolutism.

Andrew Hussey, historian of violent, malodorous Paris, can't quite resist the opportunity to digress from the silk and muslin:

 [Marie-Antoinette was]  a real woman, who was really killed... in a city full of febrile revolutionaries and where as late as the early 19th century animals would not cross the bridge to the  place de la Concorde because the stench of blood under the pavée was so powerful. This was a city which had become a slaughterhouse; it was full of killers and it was full of the rabid, murderous, ferocious energy that goes with a great massive political upheaval.

The pathetic remains of the plain white chemise worn by Marie-Antoinette on the day of her execution are on display in the Conciergerie.  She slipped on the chemise she had managed to keep hidden from the guards, over which she wore a simple white dress.  Crowds were stunned into silence by this modest spectral figure, whose prematurely white hair matched her carefully chosen clothes.  As Amber comments, Marie-Antoinette "saved her most powerful fashion statement for last".

"Marie-Antoinette being taken to her execution" by William Hamilton,
 Musée de la Révolution française Vizille

Amber in the dress:

Wearing this dress, I wasn't expecting how much volume and structure all of the interior lacing was going to give it; so it had a much more dramatic silhouette.  Also of course you have the physical experience of wearing stays.... The lightness of the fabric is a world away from what [Marie-Antoinette] would be expected to wear at Court which we know she really did not like. The weightlessness, the freedom,the liberation it offered, you really get a sense of that when you actually have it on.


BBC Four: A Stitch in time (website)

Amber Butchart's webpage

Ninya Mikhaila, historical costumier

If you are interested and want to know more, get hold of a copy of:
Caroline Weber, Queen of Fashion: What Marie-Antoinette wore to the Revolution (2007)

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Second Marie-Antoinette

This judgment [the condemnation of Lamberty and Fouquet] confirms the received tradition in Nantes, that marquises and countesses, as well as their maid servants, were taken from prison by the sans-culottes of Carrier's entourage who were very fond of silk dresses.
[La justice révolutionnaire à Paris et dans les départements (1870), p.29]

The noyades, anonymous painting in the Musée d'histoire de Nantes (detail).

The condemnation of Fouquet and Lamberty

There is a certain irony in the fact that Lamberty and Fouquet, the most notorious perpetrators of the noyades de Nantes met with retribution, not for their real crimes, but for "harbouring notorious counter-revolutionary women".  The charge, brought by the disaffected Revolutionary Committee in February 1794, was a mere pretext to attack Carrier's lieutenants.  Nonetheless, in the cause of trivia, it would be interesting to find out more about these "women".

There are stories -  albeit bleakly few - in the accounts of the noyades of boatmen and soldiers who took pity on  individuals and rescued them from the brink. The majority involved attractive young women and had distinctly sexual overtones;  later memorialists favoured the tales of heroic resistance -  such as that of  Victoire de Jourdain, who, rather than submit, had thrown herself on top of the bodies of those who preceded her into the water.  There were also attempts by townspeople to rescue children, not only from the quayside, but from the prisons themselves.  An order of the Revolutionary Committee dated January 9th 1794 required a list of persons who had received into their houses "brigands" removed from the Entrepôt.  Particular mention is made of those who had taken children and a certain Madame Papan who had removed "seven women"(a brothel-keeper perhaps?).  The true targets, Lenotre suggests,  were Carrier's men, who, confident of  the proconsul's protection, had openly been taking women out of the prison.

Who were the men involved?

The chief perpetrator was Carrier's right-hand man, Guillaume Lamberty, 38 years old, born in Pontchâteau, and a former carriagemaker. In June 1793 during the the Vendéan attack on Nantes, he had been among 30 survivors of the heroic defence of Nort; he was said to have defended a bridge single-handed against 200 royalists. Having been taken prisoner, he was  liberated by Carrier and given rank of  Adjutant-General of artillery.  He was the prime mover in the noyades, in possession of a notorious passe-partout from  Carrier (dated 16 frimaire II,  6th December 1793)  He was known for his violence and "solid sexual appetite"(Brégeon):  according to one former comrades: Lamberty showed bravery, but his morals were dissolute.  He has become a man of blood;  he delivered himself to the most revolting orgies, and contemptable debauchery."  His lieutenant, Robert Fouquet, equally had a reputation for corruption and depravity.  Also implicated  were  O'Sullivan and the implacable Robin, a youth in his early twenties.  Lavaux, another young man in Carrier's entourage, was arrested, but subsequently acquitted.

The women

The full details of the affair are no longer available to us since the transcript of Fouquet and Lamberty's trial, sent on to Paris was  mysteriously lost in transit and only a few papers remained in the archives in Nantes.  Hints of extensive goings-on are no more than a folk memory. The judgment against the two men cites only a few prisoners involved: Madame de Marcilly (the famous "second Marie-Antoinette"), her maid, Françoise Gadoré, Agathe Gingreau, and two sisters named Dubois,"aged about 22 and 30".  Lavaux was also recorded as harbouring another noblewoman from the Entrepôt,  a certain  Mme de Lépinay. 

We know most about Agathe Gingreau, whose story features in the memoirs of Madame Lescure, later the marquise de La Rochejacquelein, to whom she was lady's maid.  Having given herself up in Nantes in hope of an amnesty Agathe was imprisoned in the Entrepôt then taken to  Lamberty's  galliot on the Loire, "the boat", Lavaux indictment has it, "destined for his dissolute serve his lewd desires"; when she resisted his advances, she was removed to O'Sullivan's house where she remained hidden for two months.  The denouement varies slightly.  Fearing the Revolutionary Committee, her captors made moves to return or despatch her, but failing in courage or persuaded against it, they took her instead to Lavaux's house where she was discovered next day.  She was returned to the Entrepôt and subsequently sentenced to remain imprisoned "until the peace" (for details, see the Readings below)

The most famous of Lamberty's prizes, however, was Madame de Marcilly, "the second Marie-Antoinette".  It would be nice to have some account from her own voice, or even an independent anecdote, but nothing of this sort survives. Jean  Poujoulat, writing in 1903, pieced together what little evidence remains. 
Woman of the Vendée  -
19th c. portrait of Mme de Lescure

Eléonore de Coudreaux was the wife of Louis-Michel Giroult de Marcilly a noble with estates a league outside La Flèche (where exactly, I am not certain.) They married in 1787.  From 1783 Marcilly held the office of Garde-de-la-Porte du Roi, a minor post in the royal household; it is presumed that the couple resided in Versailles but returned to La Flèche at the time of the Revolution;  Marcilly served as an officer in the National Guard until 1792 then retreated to his estates, relatively secure in the possession of a certificat de civisme. At the end of November when the Vendéans occupied La Flèche, he was approached to join them;  in legend at least, he let himself be persuaded by his ardently royalist wife, who was allowed to travel with him in a carriage, accompanied by her maidservant.  For a dozen days, starting on 1st December, they followed the army through successive defeats at Angers, Le Mans, Ancenis and Niort.  At this point they found themselves trapped: it was impossible to follow  the remnants of the army back across the Loire, and Republican troops cut off their retreat.  Marcilly decided to take advantage of the promised amnesty and give himself up to the Revolutionary Committee in Nantes.  

The party was arrested at Carquefoux, just outside Nantes. They were brought before Lamberty and consigned to the Entrepôt.  It would seem that Eléonore's reputation had preceded her - her beauty, her devotion to Marie-Antoinette, even the details of her carriage were well known:  according to the indictment of Fouquet and Lamberty she was "credited by the Revolutionary Committees of Laval and La Flèche with the title second Marie Antoinette, on account of her abominable conduct against the Revolution."  

What happened next is known only in bare outline.  Lamberty had Fouquet spirit Madame de Marcilly away from her prison cell and taken to safe house in the town. We can only imagine the price Lamberty exacted from the proud Madame de Marcilly in return for her life and, one assumes, that of her husband who remained in the Entrepôt without  trial.  Her maid Françoise Gadoré was also removed;  in some accounts she was delivered up to Fouquet himself, in others she was rescued for the sake of her mistress, whilst according to Agathe Gingreau she succeeded her as the object of Lamberty's attentions on board the galliot.  

It is not, however, quite a tale of merciless sexual predation.   Lamberty was infatuated with his prize.  The suggestion is that he took the risk of allowing her to communicate with other prisoners and engineered the release of several further detainees at her request.  He refused totally to give her up.  One of the judges asked Lamberty in the course of the trial what made Madame de Marcilly so different to him from other women?  To his credit, he was at a loss to reply. (Poujoulat, p.435)

The final act 

With Carrier's departure immanent, the  Revolutionary Committee finally decided to exercise its vengeance.  It dare not attack Lamberty directly but on 22 Pluviôse (10th February 1794)  Fouquet was arrested and held in Le Bouffay.  The same day Marcilly was finally  brought before the Military Commission and condemned as a "chief of the brigands"; he was guillotined the next morning. On  23 Pluviôse, Madame de Marcilly herself was picked up by the Marats at Lamberty's hideout where she had been kept for forty days, and on 25 Pluviôse she appeared in her turn before the tribunal.  There is no record of the interrogation, only of the judgment; she was condemned to death but with a stay of execution because she declared herself to be pregnant. 

On the 28th, the very day that Carrier left Nantes, the Revolutionary Committee,  in a session which finished only at ten in the evening, moved to arrest Lamberty and Robin.  The latter  managed to hide and rejoin Carrier on the road, but Lamberty was held with Fouquet in Le Bouffay,  accused of having "sheltered counter-revolutionary women from justice, hidden them in their homes and protected them". The case was referred to the Revolutionary Military Commission of Le Mans, sitting in Nantes, which was presided over by François  Bignon.  The Public Prosecutor, David-Vaugeois  journeyed to Paris to confront  Carrier, who was furious at the sacrifice of the "best patriots in Nantes", but failed to exculpate his men by verifying that  they had acted on his orders.   The two were condemned by the Commission on 25 Germinal year II (14 April 1794) and executed two days later.  According to an eyewitness report, recorded by Charles Dugast-Matifeux, Lamberty went to his death bravely and with firm step.  He continued to cry out Vive la République! right to the moment that the blade of the guillotine descended onto his neck.(Poujoulet, p.436.)

What of the Second Marie-Antoinette?

The end of this story is a sad one. On 13 Germinal (2nd April) she was transferred from the Entrepôt to Le Bouffay, where she died the same day. Of disease?  Of despair?  Legend would have it that Lamberty had her brought to his cell, where he brutally strangled her. In reality, however, the only record is a brief note in the margin of the prison register which reads simply: "Morte le même jour".


Jean-Joël Brégeon, Carrier et la Terreur nantaise (2016, first ed. 1987)

Alfred Lallié,"Procès de Lamberty et de Fouquet", La Justice révolutionnaire à Nantes et dans la Loire Inférieure 1896, p.376-91.
____,  J.-B. Carrier, représentant du Cantal à la Convention, 1756-1794 (1901) p.282-9

G. Lenotre, Tragic episodes of the French Revolution in Brittany (1912), p.68-82

Jean Poujoulet, "La seconde Marie-Antoinette", La Revue hebdomadaire, 25th July 1903, p.414037


A letter of Bignon 25 ventôse, 15 March 1794 

At present we have a very delicate case to judge.  Two individuals, apparent patriots, that's to say base venal patriots, were given a mission by Carrier,  half written, half verbal, so they say, to undertake certain expeditions, both by day and by night.  Their mission consisted in the first place of sinking a boat loaded with priests condemned to deportation. How marvellous is that!

..Well, my friend, these two noyeurs have saved counter-revolutionaries, like the woman Giroult de Marcilly, a former noblewoman, known as the second Marie-Antoinette by the municipality, whose husband was condemned to death as a leader of the brigands; also other women whom they distributed among their friends.  As soon as Carrier departed, the Revolutionary Committee arrested these two, and brought them before us... 
(quoted Lallié, Justice révolutionnaire, p.386)

Judgment of Lamberty and Fouquet, 25 germinal, 14 April 1794 

David-Vaugeois, accusateur public, indicts before the Military Commission:  Fouquet, former warehouseman and presently adjutant-general without portfolio, and Guillaume Lamberty, former carriagemaker now adjutant-general of artillery, who are sent for judgment by the Revolutionary Committee of Nantes.

[The deposition of the Revolutionary Committee concerns] a former noblewoman named Giroult, known as Marcilly, a furious counter-revolutionary ("contre-révolutionnaire enragée") who incited her husband to follow the brigands, and who was furnished by them with a carriage, horses and servants; a woman, or rather a monster, credited by the Revolutionary Committees of Laval and La Flèche with the title second Marie Antoinette, on account of her abominable conduct against the Revolution. The said Fouquet and Lamberty, took her away from the place where she awaited the judgment of the Military Commission, and sheltered her, or rather tried to shelter her, from the vengeance of those laws she had so villainously flouted. Lamberty has tried in vain to deny involvement in the plot to take her; he has admitted himself that he was an  accomplice of Fouquet.  They shared the crime completely, sharing between them the woman Marcilly and her femme-de-chambre.  Moreover, Lamberty has not been able to exonerate himself of other similar crimes.  The number of criminals which he has concealed from national vengeance  is not yet known, but several have already been discovered in hiding places furnished by him in disregard for the laws of the National Convention.  Gringreau, aged 25 years, the two Dubois sisters, aged about 22 and 30, were taken out of the Entrepôt in Nantes.

Fouquet and Lamberty stand accused before the Commission of being counter-revolutionaries who have shielded from national vengeance counter-revolutionaries and other criminals, on whose heads the blade of justice would have fallen. .(Lallié, p.387-8)

Judgment of Agathe Gringeau, 28 germinal, 17th April 1794 

GINGREAU, Agathe, aged 20, chamber maid of Mme de Lescure, who was her benefactress.  Interrogated by Bignon in Le Bouffay, 26 germinal,  15th April 1794, she made a long confused declaration from which emerge the following facts:

She followed the Vendéan army as far as Craon; then went to Ancenis where she remained hidden for six weeks. She then came to Nantes and was sent to the Entrepôt by the Revolutionary Committee. Noticed by Lamberty, she was taken by him aboard a ship, where for several days she was the object of his obsessions and violence. When another girl, the maid of Mme de Marcilly, who was more compliant that her, distracted the attentions of her persecutor, she went with O'Sullivan who took her home and kept her hidden for two months.  From there she went to the house of Lavaux, Lamberty's aide-de-camp, then to that of Robin.  Lamberty saw her again and threatened to have her drowned.  Robin allowed himself to be moved by her declaration that she would die without regret and he saved her.  She returned to O'Sullivan's house, then to that of Lavaux, where she was arrested on the order of Lalouet.

Very suspect, but since it is not shown that she had participated in the revolts, she will remain incarcerated until the peace. (Lallié, p.363-4)

Judgment of Lavaux, 4 floréal, 23rd April 1794:
LAVAUX, Théodore, born in Melun, aged 22;  aide-de-camp of Lamberty.
David Vaugeois, accusateur for the Revolutionary Military Commission, established in Le Mans, now sitting in Nantes [submits the following indictment]:

....As Lamberty's aide-de-camp, Lavaux was the servile instrument of his shameful passions and executor of his arbitrary and barbarous orders.  Lavaux could not  have been unaware that Lamberty and Fouquet took women prisoners in order to shelter them from the vengeance of the law... Lavaux knew that Lamberty had a private boat on which he shut up his victims; that this boat was where he put a price on the life of several unfortunate innocents, who could only expect to save themselves by submitting to his brutal passions...

Lamberty hid from judgement  a certain Gringeau, chamber maid of Lescure...he took her on board the boat reserved for his dissolute and barbarous pleasures, and set about delivering her to his gross lusts.  She was removed and taken to the house of Citizen O'Sullivan, where she stayed until the proclamation of an order of the Revolutionary Committee of Nantes [recalling all prisoners].  O'Sullivan, in conformity with the order...set about returning the girl Gringreau to the custody of the Revolutionary Committee.  Robin, aide-de-camp of Lamberty, took her from O'Sullivan's and returned her to Lamberty's boat.  He was accompanied by Lavaux who, on the order of Lamberty, took her back to his house where he hid her from the Revolutionary Committee, but where she was arrested.  (Lallié, p.365-7)

The story of Agathe Gringeau, recounted in the memoirs of Madame de La Rochejacquelein:

My poor Agatha had encountered very great dangers. She had left me at Nort, to avail herself of the amnesty which was then held out. She came to Nantes, and was taken before General Lamberty, the most ferocious of Carrier's friends. 

Agatha's figure pleased him; and he said, "Are you afraid, brigande?" "No, General,"answered she. "Well, then, when you are, remember Lamberty!" She was then conducted to the Entrepôt, the too famous prison, where the victims destined to be drowned were collected, and carried by hundreds each night on board the boats, tied two and two, and pushed at the point of the bayonets into the water! ...

Agatha, expecting immediate death, sent to Lamberty. He conducted her into a small boat with a swing-trap-door, in which they had drowned the priests, and which Carrier had given to him. He was alone with her, and wished to take advantage of the opportunity. She resisted, and Lamberty threatened to drown her, on which she attempted to throw herself overboard; but he stopped her, and said," You are a noble girl, I will save you." He left her eight days alone in this vessel, in which she nightly heard the drownings that took place. He afterwards concealed her in the house of S____, another faithful instrument of Carrier's. 

S____, had a brother a Vendéan ; and, in the beginning of the war, having been made a prisoner by the insurgents, this brother saved his life, and set him at liberty. After the defeat of Savenay, the Vendéan came to Nantes, and solicited an asylum from his brother, who, instead of granting it, denounced him, and he was executed. Remorse, however, soon took possession of S____, and, imagining himself incessantly pursued by his brother's ghost, he plunged into new crimes to drown the recollection of the first. 

His wife, a very beautiful and excellent woman, conceived great horror at this crime, and often expressed this sentiment. It was, therefore, with the view of conciliating her, that S____ thought of saving a Vendéan, and taking her to their house. 

Some time after, there was a division among the republicans of Nantes. Some of his enemies accused Lamberty of having saved some women from the noyades, and drowned others who should not have suffered. A young man named Robin, who was very much devoted to Lamberty, came and seized Agatha in the house of Madame S_____, dragged her into a boat, and was going to stab her, that no living proof of the crime with which they reproached his patron might remain. Agatha threw herself at his feet, and succeeded in exciting his pity; he carried her to one of his friends, named Lavaux, who was an honest man, and had already sheltered Madame de l'Epinay. The next day, however, the asylum of Agatha was discovered, and she was arrested. 

Although the enemies of Lamberty continued to pursue, and at last accomplishedhis destruction, there was some interest excited for Agatha; and S____ and Lavaux were praised for their humanity. After the death of Robespierre, Agatha still remained some months in prison.
Memoirs of the Marchioness de La Rochejaquelein (Edinburgh, 1817) p.456-61

Lenotre's account of the affair of the Second Marie Antoinette

In [Lamberty's] heart - fancy Lamberty with a heart! - was being enacted a poignant drama, which we must epitomise in a few lines.  Lamberty had met in one of the prisons of Nantes, with an aristocrat, Mme. Giroust de Marcilly, whom for her proud and rare beauty, and perhaps a certain likeness to the Queen, they called in La Rochejaquelein's army "Marie Antoinette the Second."  She had been taken prisoner with her husband and her maid, Françoise Gadoré; she dreaded death, and Lamberty offered her life.  She accepted, and clave to him. M. de Marcilly remained in prison, the maid fell to Fouquet.

What a nightmare it must have been to this noble lady, still saturated with the memories of Versailles, to see herself united to this man of destiny, of whose exploits she was not unaware, and who came home each morning fresh from a night's work on his galliot, and from superintending the manoeuvres of his band of murderers? For his part he adored her.  His whim of the first day had been succeeded by a fiery and crushing passion, and when the notice of the Committee appeared, bidding the prisoners temporarily set free be taken back to the Entrepôt, his amorous fury knew no bounds.

He felt that he was in peril, both for having harboured Mme. de Marcilly and rescued Agathe from drowning  - as to the latter, he troubled himself but little ; and Robin, anxious to save his friend, undertook to secure her disappearance. He forthwith fetched her from O'Sullivan's and took her back to the galliot, intending to stab her there and throw her body in the Loire; but catching fire in his turn, he took her to Lavaux's, the patriot with the tattooed arm, who himself was harbouring an aristocrat similarly chosen out of the Entrepôt, Mme. de Lepinay.

But the Revolutionary Committee, well informed by its police, was on the watch ; M. de Marcilly was executed three days before Carrier left, and his wife returned to her old place in the Entrepôt. Agathe was also arrested and put in prison.  Fouquet himself was incarcerated ; and for this reason, as soon as the Representative had passed the guard-house on the Paris road, the Committee, dreading the revenge of the Staff, gave orders to arrest Lamberty, Lavaux, and Robin.

This was what Lamberty and Fouquet hoped for. From their first interrogation they made no concealment of their aquatic exploits, asserting emphatically that they had acted by order of Carrier, and they showed the paper, carefully preserved, transmitted by him on Frimaire 16th.  Vaugeois secured it, and held that such a wording was of no account ; to which the accused replied that the Representative's verbal orders were even more distinct and formal.

The members of the Commission, being very awkwardly placed, wrote to Carrier to ascertain what complexion they should put on the matter. They asked, nay, requested him, in the name of justice and truth, to point out what were the instructions given by him to Lamberty -  although firmly convinced, they added, that such could not have been unworthy of a Representative of the French people. The Commission pledged itself to await his explanations before deciding definitely on the fate of two rascals, who might possibly have made bad use of his name to commit crimes.

Carrier sent no answer. Vaugeois went so far as to journey to Paris to question him in person. He left Nantes on March 2nd and reached Carrier's on the 7th, who asked him to lunch and gave him a taste of cheese from his home.   But when the guest tried to turn the conversation to Fouquet and Lamberty, he could extract nothing from his host but oaths and angry outcries. "Lamberty was the best patriot in Nantes. If he were put on trial, Carrier would go back to the Lower Loire and, to avenge his friend, make the heads of all the Committee and Military Commission roll in the dust." The scene ended with an attack of convulsions, which, declares Vaugeois, would have been alarming "had we been still at Nantes."  He returned to the charge several days in succession, but gained no result save a letter from Carrier to his colleague Francastel, bidding him dissolve the Committee. Vaugeois took his way back to Nantes, did not find Francastel at Angers and left the letter with Garrau of the Convention, who paid no heed to it. Lamberty and Fouquet were brought to trial, and it was then only that Nantes learned, by the testimony of witnesses, the exact details of a succession of hideous crimes, as yet imperfectly ascertained, and respecting which till then people had taken delight in doubting their reality.

The Military Commission passed sentence of death on the two drowners, found guilty "of having shielded anti-revolutionary women from the vengeance of the Law." The woman Gingreau was condemned to be kept in prison till the peace, as also Lavaux, to whom the judges vouchsafed his hfe in consideration of his exalted patriotism and the brief duration of his functions in the service of the Staff.  As for Mme. de Marcilly, “Marie Antoinette the Second," who was sentenced to death on being taken back to prison on February 13th (Pluviose 25th), she had declared herself pregnant, and a reprieve was granted. Only a few days before Lamberty's appearance before the Military Commission she was, as an act of grace, taken from the Entrepôt and transferred to Le Bouffay, where her lover was confined.  He had expressed a desire to see her and was granted that favour. What passed between this ferocious bandit and this woman whom fear had degraded? Did he strangle her that she might not outlive him.   Did he know her to be desired by some libertine on the Committee? All we know is that the helpless creature's death was certified the very day that she met again at Le Bouffay the man who had loved her.  Five days later (16th April Lamberty and Fouquet mounted the scaffold together. The former was very courageous, shouted Vive la République, and yielded himself gaily to the executioner.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Carrier: the sex-life of a Proconsul

Carrier  receives pleas for mercy from the (mostly) women of Nantes. Etching by Victor Pollet, c1840.

In 1924 a local historian from Nantes, A. A Vélasque, examined the evidence for Carrier's sexual adventures and considered them "greatly exaggerated":
He has been given ardent mistresses, Mme Lenormand, a certain dame Prasles, demoiselle Caron, who may or may not be the same person,  plus a choice of beautiful women among the captives of the Vendée and among society ladies of Nantes who gave themselves to him to save the life, if not the honour of their husbands.
For one man, in three months, that is a lot.  We must either reconsider or concede to the pallid head of our Conventionnel a place in the gallery of irresistable don Juans and Hercules of love.(p.149-50)

In the interests of trivia, let us review the evidence.....

Did he hold orgies?

There were certainly rumours of disreputable gatherings at Carrier's retreat in Bourg-fumé, which 19th-century historians tended to cast in the worst possible light:
Inaccessible to the civil authorities and the complaints of the inhabitants, he gave himself over to debauchery in the company of loose women;  his faithful agents Fouquet and Lamberty procured them, and his days and  nights were passed in the most vile orgies. Lescadieu & Laurant, Histoire de Nantes, p.95

This bare statement is embellished in by Guépin in 1839, who claimed to have possessed a written list of women, mostly respectable society ladies, who had attended these parties, but which he had destroyed to safeguard their reputations. There is no reason to doubt such a dossier existed, but careful reading shows that Guépin was not really claiming that these women were the Representative's mistresses.

Like Le Bon, Carrier gathered his accolytes around him and such rowdy events are well-attested, notably the infamous drunken party held on the galliot La Gloire  in the course of the noyades. Members of his circle, particularly his chief lieutenant,  Guillaume Lamberty, had a considerable reputation for violence and lusty appetites.  No doubt there were women as well as alcohol involved, but the gatherings were more about solidarity than sex.  

As Vélasque points out, it is not really known  why Carrier abandoned the Hôtel de La Villestreux for his stronghold in the suburbs, but he was there barely more than six weeks, and seems to have been ill for much of that time.  The idea he was pursued by his inner demons is a tempting one; one night his servant Jean Cousine was asked to lock him in his room where he remained until eleven o'clock the next morning. On 29th January he wrote to the Committee of Public Safety that he was ill and exhausted, and asked to be relieved of his mission.  Between political conflict and poor health, it seems unlikely he had that much energy for feats of sexual debauchery.

Did he take women from among the prisoners?

Vélasque, following Michelet, thought it unlikely that Carrier would have had recourse to disease-ridden brigandes from the prisons when he could have his pick of women patriots. However, his lieutenants Lamberty and Fouquet certainly succombed to the temptation of aristocratic silk petticoats, and were sent to the guillotine in February 1794 for sheltering "notorious counter-revolutionary women". 

For Carrier himself the evidence is again not decisive. According  to Vélasque the only direct testimony is from Phelippes Trojolly, president of the Tribunal in Nantes, a hostile and unreliable witness.  He testified that on Carrier's orders, three women captives were guillotined having served his lust;  as 19th-century historians put it, they "passed from his bed to the scaffold" (Lescadieu & Laurantp.79). Tronjolly also recounted that the husband of one of Carrier's mistresses was consigned to a noyade.

We might add, though the context is slightly different, the deposition of Perotte Brevet, a tailoress, who claimed to have resisted the advances of Carrier when she tried to save her imprisoned brother from death. This was an story later often repeated and embroidered. It is also hard to know what to make of the curious garbled account of a woman prisoner held by Carrier at the château d'Aux (on whom see below).

On the whole the weight of evidence is not great. It is unsurprising Carrier's dealings with women prisoners and supplicants had sexual overtones, but how far he passed from words to deeds is difficult to say.  In the existing anecdotes the emphasis is less on Carrier's rampant sexual appetites than his predatory cruelty. 

Carrier's mistresses

Two young republicans, Mme Lenormand and Mlle Caron vied for the favours of the Representative. (Lescadieu & Laurant, p.95)

Here we are on much safer ground. Two women are named as Carrier's mistresses:

Louise-Angélique Caron 
Caron, who later  married a "merchant" called Louis Prasles and was known locally as"La Prasles", was credited by 19th-century historians with being Carrier's maîtresse-en-titre. She left behind a reputation for beauty and benevolence: Lenotre describes her as "a splendid courtesane".  In November 1813 she was forty years old, so would have been just twenty at the time that Carrier knew her.  There is some circumstantial evidence about her life, but little which throws any light on her relationship with the proconsul.

Lescadieu and Laurant (p.95)  repeat a story concerning a hôtel in the boulevard Delorme known as "le Palais-de-Boeuf" , which La Prasles was said to have had constructed using profits from the meat trade with the Republican army. Vélasque went through all the relevant records for the house in the Municipal archives but could find no mention of Caron;  nor could he find a merchant named Prasles in the Nantes trade directories.  He was even sceptical that a civilian woman could have been involved in army provisioning. However, Carrier's biography Alfred Lallié found documents in which she is described as "étapière" - the traditional term for such a victualler.

A note in the Revue du Bas-Poitou for 1969 dispels all doubts by providing details from her marriage certificate.  On 15 pluviôse an IV (4th February 1796)  Louise-Angélique Caron married at Nantes, Louis-Charles Prasle; their son, already a year old, was recognised at the time of the marriage.  Louis-Charles's profession was given as "entrepreneur des subsistances militaires" and Louise-Angélique's as "entrepreneuse des vivres-viande".

 Under the Directory, thanks to "powerful influences", Caron prevailed against the wishes of the municipal administration, to build her hôtel on a site which interrupted the line of the boulevard Delorme.  In 1842 it was painstakingly dismantled stone by stone and relocated to the corner of the rues Copernic and Sévigné where in 1969 it could still be seen.  I think this imposing facade, at 11 rue Copernic, is probably the house in question.

Vélasque unearthed a police dossier on Louise Caron, dated from 1807.  Here she is described as the wife of Louis Prasles, and "ex-mistress of Carrier" / "prostitute of Carrier, charged by him with furnishing meat to the army". She is characterised as an intriguer, universally disliked.  The document claims that Prasles, who is now identified as a minor tax official, attached himself to her for her money; but, if so, there is now no sign of her former wealth.   She now makes a living dealing in army substitutes - as well as by fraud based on spurious social connections. In 1808 she is given a passport to join her husband in Clermont; in 1813 she is briefly imprisoned in Le Bouffay, then detained in Rennes but finally freed and the surveillance lifted.  According to Lescadieu and Laurant  she was ultimately to die miserably by her own hand in a prison cell, strangling herself in her own shawl.

Of Carrier, beyond the bare fact of their liaison, there is not a word.

Madame Le Normand

Carrier’s second attested mistress was Madame Le Normand, wife of François Le Normand du Pasty (born 1767), the youngest son of René-Pierre Le Normand du Buisson, former procurateur and one of the four judges of the Nantes Revolutionary Tribunal. (This was quite an prominent family: several of the women were Ursuline nuns; Victor Hugo was François's great nephew)  

François was by all accounts a wayward young man.  On 16th August 1791 he married, against his father’s express wish, Louise-Marie Gandriau (born 1769), daughter of a humble official (huissier) in the Palais de Justice. The young lady had the reputation of being "une jeune personne de moeurs légères".The wedding took place in the Église Sainte-Croix  and was officiated by a constitutional priest.  None of the groom’s family were present.   Already a freemason, Le Normand  rapidly became an associate of the most radical individuals in Revolutionary Nantes. In October 1793 shortly before Carrier’s arrival Le he was made administrator of the military hospital in the former Ursuline convent, in which capacity he was to prove a useful ally to the proconsul. 

Madame Le Normand (Lenotre calls her “Semine” but I am not sure why) lost no time in establishing herself in Carrier's affections.  She was referred to as "la putain à Carrier" and oopenly approached by people seeking favours from the Representative. The evidence, which from comes mostly from the testimony of two domestic servants, reveal glimpses of a complicated relationship. (They are reproduced in full in the article by Vélasque.)  A washerwoman, Louise Couraud, reported that Carrier came frequently to the Le Normand residence in the rue Maupertius, where he behaved as if he were the master of the house, swearing, bawling or storming and shutting himself up in the evening  with his mistress.  When told that his wife was with the Citizen Representative, the complaisant husband would retreat discreetly.  Likewise Madame Le Normand often visited Carrier and once stayed with him for fortnight "in a garden" (presumably at Bourg-fumé:  perhaps during one of his bouts of depression?).  She would send him foodstuffs - poultry, tea and milk loaves made from flour bought for the sickThere was plenty of unpleasant repartee concerning the fate of the brigandsaccording to the cook Olive Recapet, Carrier at one supper party proposed a toast to  "those who had drunk of the big cup". There was also a murky episode where the pair disappeared suddenly to the nearby château d'Aux where Muscar and Léopold Hugo (father of Victor) were camped.  Carrier was overheard to have hidden (and later possibly to have drowned) a "superb woman" from among the prisoners.

 When Carrier left Nantes the Lenormands were charged with selling his furniture and effects and a few weeks later, Madame Le Normand and her twelve-year old brother joined him in Paris. Pierre Chaux, a former member of the Revolutionary Committee in Nantes, signalled  that she was living with Carrier in his lodgings in the rue d'Argenteuil. Le Normand himself arrived at the end of May on his way to a lucrative  post as Commissaire des guerres with the Armée du Nord.  According to a family letter he subsequently obtained a divorce and remarried in Valenciennes.  As to Louise-Marie, according to one geneanet post, she remarried to the Napoleonic general Philippe Joseph Jacob (1765-1826)

Carrier's wife

At his trial and after his condemnation, Carrier reasserted a conventional concern for his wife and her future financial situation.  In Year VI she emerges briefly into the historical record when, "reduced to the greatest straits", she petitioned the Directory," for monies owing to Carrier and for the proceeds from the sale of his furniture. She lived on quietly in Aurillac until 18th August 1830 when she died in the rue du Collège.


Alfred Lescadieu & Auguste Laurant, Histoire de Nantes, vol. 2 (1836),  p.95

Ange Guépin, Histoire de Nantes (1839),  p.564-5.

E. Ravilly, "Sur une célébre Nantaise"[Louise-Angélique Caron], Revue du Bas-Poitou, 4 Num 81 -1969, p.432 Full text available on the Archives de Vendée website.

Alfred Lallié, J.-B. Carrier, représentant du Cantal à la Convention, 1756-1794 (1901) p.200-17

A Vélasque, "Études sur la Terreur à Nantes:  les amours de Carrier" AHRF 1924.vol. 1(2), p. 149–60. (see Brégeon, p.290, nt.)

“René-Pierre Le Normand Dubuisson”, Biographical notice of 1933, on the website,  Les descendants de Gilles Trebuchet

Friday, 12 January 2018

Carrier: The early years

If Robespierre was already a successful lawyer whose Revolutionary career was of a piece with his early ambitions, the same cannot be said of Jean-Baptiste Carrier.  Carrier's early life was uneventful; his career showed “nothing out of the ordinary” (Brégeon, p.35)

Carrier by David(?) Musée Lambinet
The main source for Carrier's life before the Revolution is the biography of Jean Delmas published in 1895, some details of which were revised by the work of local teacher and historian Michel Leymarie (1904-1986).

Jean-Baptiste Carrier was born on 16th March 1756 in Yolet, a village  near Aurillac in the Auvergne, the third child of  a prosperous peasant farmer.  When he was six the family moved to Barrat within the parish of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Aurillac, where his father had acquired lands; they were to live there until 1781. Nesting in its valley, Aurillac was a small and sleepy market town. Carrier attended the local Oratorian Collège.  Delmas claimed that he did so under the patronage of his great-uncle who was chaplain to the local seigneur, the marquis de Miramon, but according to Leymarie, there would have been no need;  Carrier’s social background was similar to that of many other pupils.  The idea that Carrier was destined for a career in the Church but “had no vocation” is also probably inaccurate;  the likely source is his father’s will which left provision for both Jean-Baptiste and his brother Basile “if they wish to enter the ecclesiastical estate”, but this was a standard formula of no great significance.  No authentic account of his schooldays remain. The statement  that he was a taciturn, rough, but capable pupil  may be an authentic memory but it comes from an early biography by Amédée du Bast, rather than a first-hand account.

According to Delmas, Carrier left the college before the start of his Rhetoric year and became a clerk in the office of a local procurateur, Basile Delsol, who was a distant relative.  Although there is no direct evidence, the dates fits with his father's death in May 1772.  In the mid-1770s he is referred to in legal documents as both a “student” and  a “practitioner” (a sort of minor legal agent)  According to Amédée du Bast, he worked diligently and was probably expected to take over the practice in due course.

View of Aurillac
At some point, Carrier moved to Paris to study.  By his own account, he spent "a long stay in the capital"; in a speech before the Convention on 21 November 1794, he refers to "those of my colleagues who did their law in Paris with me".  The move was probably connected with  a royal decree of April 1779 which restricted the number of procurateurs in Aurillac to twenty and would have blocked his immediate progression in the profession.  In December 1784 he appears in documents as a "law student", elsewhere  as "student of the University of Paris", though his name is not listed in official registers of those proceeding to a degree.  At the age of 28 in 1785 he returned to Aurillac and in August 1785 was able to buy the office of a retiring procurateur  for 10,000 livres, using funds borrowed from an uncle. On 4th October 1785 he married Françoise Laquairie, aged nineteen, daughter of a local merchant. He now settled into practice. He was one of the less prosperous procurateurs in Aurillac, in the lower tax bracket. His clientele would have been small landholders and, in all probability, he came often into conflict with the local seigneurial system. He was a competent lawyer, remembered by one commentator in 1789 as "very gentle and quite charitable".

The Revolution

Carrier was from the first a Revolutionary, but we have only externals, nothing at all to indicate his intellectual trajectory.  He was involved actively in local preparations for the Estates-General.  He participated in the preliminary meetings, and in December 1788 his signature is one of many on a petition  demanding equal representation for the Third Estate of the Haute-Auvergne.  In July 1789 his signature appeared at the top of the procès-verbal for the establishment of Aurillac's new municipal government and citizen militia. The suppression of venal offices would have left him in personal difficulties and in all probability cemented his determination to build himself a political vocation. He was active in popular societies, frequenting  the Jeunes Amis de la Constitution, the most radical society in Cantal.  He served on the Committee of Surveillance, where he took turns as president and secretary.  However, he was not a candidate for the Legislative Assembly - perhaps his compatriots found him too radical and outspoken.  

In Aurillac, as elsewhere, the 10th August brought more radical figures to the fore, notably the ex-Constituent Hébrard de Fau;  Carrier placed himself in his following and both were candidates to the Convention.  Carrier was the fifth deputy, elected only with difficulty, on the third ballot.  He travelled immediately to Paris,where he took up residence at 135 rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs.   He attended the Assembly and the Jacobins assiduously and, although he seldom spoke; rapidly established his credentials as a man of the Left.

During the crisis of 1793 Carrier was a natural candidate to be sent "on mission".  In July 1793 he accompanied his fellow deputy  Pochelle to assist Robert Lindet in the departments of Normandy which were “infected with federalism”.  From the first he showed himself capable and efficient administrator.  He entered into Caen in triumph at end of July and was immediately mandated on a wider mission with the army in the war-torn areas of Brittany.  He first established himself in Rennes, then, at the end of September, made his entrance into Nantes.


Jean Delmas "La jeunesse et les débuts de Carrier", La Révolution française, 1895, p.417-39.

Michel Leymarie, "Origines familiales et sociales de Jean-Baptiste Carrier" in  Gilbert Romme (1750-1795) et son temps, colloque (1966), p.43-61.

Jean-Joël Brégeon, Carrier et la Terreur nantaise (2016, first ed.1987), Chapter 1.


Born in a little village in the haute Auvergne, at Yolai [Yolet], and destined at first for an ecclesiastical carrier, Carrier was admitted  at the request of the seigneur of his village, into the College established by the Jesuits at Aurillac.  A taciturn schoolboy, aggressive, and  rough-mannered in the refectory as well as in his studies, but hard working and self-disciplined, he passed all his classes without acclaim but with success.  When he was about to enter Rhetoric his parents took him out of college and placed him as third clerk to a procureur in Aurillac, where he stayed for five or six years.  This practitioner, seeing his new clerk working with ardour on cases which had hitherto lain forgotten and rotting in his office, had the habit of saying: "Carrier is a good worker and will become a clever man.  When I retire, should he become my successor, the clients will not perceive that the office has changed masters"(p.274-5)
Amédée de Bast, "Jean-Baptiste Carrier" in  Le Livre rouge : histoire de l'échafaud en France (1863), p.273-86. 

His parents, well-to-do farmers from Yolet, had destined him for an ecclesiastical career; it will come as no surprise that he lacked a vocation.  Serious, taciturn, appearing preoccupied almost to the point of stupidity, he crossed the floors of the palais de justice in his native town for ten or fifteen years, without exciting either opprobrium or affection.  He distinguished himself only by a precocious hatred for the nobility; he brought a sort of ferocity to the cases he conducted against them.  Only when his natural lack of moderation awoke him from his sleep, did the symptoms of that violence appear, which became his normal state during his mission in Brittany;  in the ordinary exercise of his functions, he lacked neither the vulgar cunning of the petty lawyer nor the prudence of the mountain peasant.
Marcellin Boudet, "Carrier, Jean-Baptiste" in Les tribunaux criminels et la justice révolutionnaire en Auvergne, 1873, p.17-8.

He is a man who is interested in politics, who is said to be gentle (tres doux) and even charitable.
[“un homme interessé aux affaires mais que l'on dit très doux et même assez charitable”]
From a "memoir of 1789". This comment, so much at variance with Carrier's later reputation, is quoted in several different secondary sources, but without any clear reference.