Wednesday, 9 September 2015

9th September 1792: massacre at Versailles

On this day in September 1792.....

The cemetery Saint-Louis in Versailles dates from 1770 and is one of the oldest surviving urban cemeteries in France.  Against one wall a monument in the form of a column surmounted by a fleur de lys  marks the common grave of 44 prisoners killed in the massacre which took place in Versailles on 9th September, in 1792.  The victims were a group of political prisoners who were ostensibly being brought to Paris from Orléans, seat of the national High Court. The modern memorial dates from the mid-19th century and was restored on the initiative of the town of Versailles in 1990.

The lottery of death in September 1792 has a certain fascination, not least here for, despite the common charge of treason, the men that met their end on 9th September were a disparate group - a member of the high nobility, a bishop, two royal ministers, together with a group of officers from the Cambrésis Regiment who were accused of betraying the citadel of  Perpignon to the Spanish.  The monument lists the names, in so far as they are known. They are divided as follows: 

5 "notables".
19 members of the Cambrésis Regiment
9. Inhabitants of Perpignan
8 other soldiers
3 "others"

The "notables"

Louis-Hercule-Timoléon de Cossé, duc de Brissac (b.1734) was a peer of France and had held high office in the Royal Household as Grand Panetier of France,Captain-Colonel of the Cent-Suisses of the Garde du Roi, and from 1776 to 1791 military governor of Paris.  He is best remembered as the lover of Madame du Barry, to whom he was genuinely devoted.  Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun recorded his discreet presence at Louveciennes in 1786 relaxing after dinner in the beautiful Ledoux pavilion.  Fabulously rich, he was a bibliophile and noteworthy art collector (see Vatel, Histoire de Madame du Barry, p.385 for an inventory of his collections)  Brissac's personal loyalty to the Crown was unswerving. In 1791 Louis appointed him commander of the newly formed Constitutional Guard which was created to replace the King's Bodyguard after the flight to Varennes.  As the duc was well aware, this was a thankless and dangerous position, always likely to rouse Revolutionary suspicion. When questioned by his friends as to why he had accepted the post, he replied simply that it was a duty he owed to both the king's ancestors and his own ("Je fais ce que je dois aux ancêtres du roi et aux miens").

Anonymous Portrait of the duc de Brissac in the costume of Colonel of the Cent-Suisses du Roi
c. 1770.  The picture hangs in the apartments of Madame du Barry at Versailles.
The inevitable response from the Revolutionary government was not long in coming. During the evening of May 30th 1792, the Assembly convoked an emergency session and, tradition has it, with the young lieutenant Bonaparte in the audience, voted unanimously to disband the Guard. A warrant was issued for Brissac’s arrest, charged with inciting "incivisme"  and counter-revolution among the troops under his command. Louis acquiesced but sent a warning to Brissac to flee. Gabriel, duc de Choiseul, recalled his reaction to the news: 

The King and Queen had retired.  They sent me to the apartment of the duc de Brissac with the order to advise him to flee.  He was in bed;  I delivered their message to him that in a matter of two hours the decree of arrest would be put into effect and implored him to take advantage of the time remaining.  His age and the conviction he had of his innocence argued against me.  The only matter that now occupied his attention was to write to Madame du Barry....His only thought, his only care was for Madame du Barry.

At six o’clock the next morning Brissac was arrested and taken under heavy guide the eighty miles to Orléans where he was incarcerated in the prison of the Minimes (cell 8 on the second corridor) to await trial.  He was examined on 14th June but made no attempt to defend himself. Prison life must have been a painful contrast to his previous privileged existence,  though money made conditions more bearable. He attempted to inspire his fellow inmates with courage and even managed to set up a game of shuttlecocks in the former refectory of the convent so that they could pass time more pleasantly. However, when news of the events of 10th August reached him, Brissac reconciled himself to death. On the very day of the Royal Family’s removal to the Temple, 13th August 1792, he rewrote his will appointing his daughter Pauline de Montemart as residual legatee. and leaving to Madame du Barry the choice of an annuity of 24,000 livres, use of his estates in Poitou, or a lump sum of 300,000 livres. At the same time he wrote to the former royal mistress, sending her a thousand kisses and promising she would be in his "last thoughts".  He now awaited the unfolding of events with quiet courage.

Antoine-Claude Nicolas de Valdec de Lessart (b.1741) was a the proprietor of the Château de Mongenan near Bordeaux, with its splendid Masonic Temple. He was to be Louis XVI's last foreign minister. .  A director of the Compagnie des Indes, he had been an intimate of Jacques Necker and had served Louis XVI during the Revolutionary period as both Minister of Finance and Minister of the Interior.  He succeeded to the post of foreign minister only 20th November 1791. His Feuillant sympathies and policy of appeasement rapidly fell foul of the Brissotin march to war.  The Assembly, spurred on by the oratory of Brissot,voted his impeachment on 1st March; he was indicted on the 10th March and sent to Orléans to await a hearing.

Anonymous Girondin print:  Dumouriez brings news to 
Pétion of the arrest of Lessart - and cries "like a cow"

Charles-Xavier de Francqueville d'Abancourt (b.1758), a career soldier, was appointed Minister of War by Louis XVI in June 1792  and survived in office for a mere ten days before the cataclysm of the 10th August.  At this point he  was denouned by Thuriot as an enemy of liberty, taken to La Force, then transferred to Orléans to await trial.

Jean-Arnaud de Castellane, bishop of Mende (b.1733) was a second son and career ecclesiastic from an ancient Provence family. He was successively aumônier du roi, vicaire général of Reims, then, at the age of thirty-four, elevated to the see of Mende (Lozère). He was consecrated on 25th January 1768.  In the diocese of Mende the bishop enjoyed sweeping privileges, nominating all major municipal and judicial offices and presiding over the estates of the Gévaudan - a state of affairs angrily described by the citizens in January 1789 as a "feudal anarchy".  In 1790 his annual revenue was at least 60,000 livres.

Castellane, who had a reputation as an outspoken and arrogant man, refused to take the oath to the Civil Constitution and  on 20th March 1790 was duly replaced by Étienne Nogaret, curé of the Canourgue.  An angry pastoral letter attracted pursuit by the tribunal of the district of Florac but, following an amnesty on 14th September 1791, the proceedings were annulled and the erstwhile bishop allowed to retire to the episcopal château of Chanac  in the hills overlooking the Valley of the Lot.  Here he commenced to create a stronghold. He secretly bought 500 guns from the manufacture royale de Saint-Claude to arm the National Guard, drilled his peasantry in arms, and cemented a network of Counter-Revolutionary contacts -  with the rebels of Arles and the department of the Gard, with the prime movers of the camps de Jalès , even with the Court in exile in Coblentz.  He retained the loyalty of local officials, including the mayor and municipality of Mende, as well as Borel, the commander of the local National Guard and his officer corps, all of whom were ardent royalists.  The Constitutional bishop and his vicaire, subjected to continual harassment, were even reduced to placing guards at the door of the cathedral during services.

In response Revolutionary administrators of the department and district, under the energetic leadership of the former comte de Chateauneuf-Randon, requested the dispatch of troops of the line. Three companies of the 27th Regiment arrived in Mende on 25th February 1792. The following day, a Sunday, refractory priests publicly celebrated mass, and in the evening a clash with the National Guard took place in which four soldiers were killed.  Borel immediately sounded the toscin, armed peasantry converged on Mende and Castellane sent in his garrison. Borel delivered an ultimatum compelling the troops to leave.

Events now began to escalate. A Revolutionary General Council was convoked at Marvejols and Chauteauneuf-Randon returned to Mende, this time accompanied by a regiment of dragoons and three companies of Lyonnais.  He seized the château of Chanac, occupied the town and on 28th March  received the submission of the muncipality. The arrest of the bishop and of the rebel leader Charrier, who had briefly retaken the château, was the Assembly at the beginning of April.  By this time Castellane was already en route for Coblentz; arriving in Paris in first days of the month.  He was finally apprehended with his companions on 10th April at Dormans  as their coach made its way to the frontier. The bishop was described by eye-witnesses  as a bent little old man, scarred by smallpox, severely asthmatic and scarcely to walk. He was disguised in a brown coat and black breeches, but his buckled ecclesiastical shoes served to betray his identity. Later, some soldiers who were natives of the Lozère were sent to the inn in Dormans where he was being held;  they reacted with such violent hatred towards their former seigneur that they had to be forcibly restrained.  Castellane was subsequently transferred to Orléans to await trial.

The Château de Chanac, former summer residence of the bishops of Mende. In the 17th century the castle was a "little Versailles". It was destroyed by fire in June 1793 and only the 16th-century donjon now remain

Jean-Baptiste Estienne de la Rivière (b.1754)was a lawyer and, up to this point, an energetic servant of the Revolution.  Former advocat in the parlement of Paris, he had served as an elector to the Estates-General and, under the Revolutionary government, as administrator of the corn market and later of public works. In July 1789 he led a mission to arrest Bertier de Sauvigny, a much despised royal official whom he tried unsuccessfully, at some personal risk, to save from being lynched.  Ironically enough in July 1789 La Rivière had been a member of the delegation sent to Versailles by the electors of Paris to demand the establishment of a national tribunal.

Interrogation of MM. Merlin, Bazire and Cabot
 by Etienne Lariviere.

In 1791 La Rivière resumed his legal career when he was elected Justice of the Peace for the section Henri IV, a post which under the Revolutionary government entailed police powers. Sympathetic towards the Constitutional monarchists, he was implicated in the political machinations surrounding the affair of the "Austrian committee".  In the night of 18th May he imprudently had three left-wing deputies, Merlin, Chabot and Bazire dragged from their beds for questioning.   As a result he was indicted before the Assembly and on 22 May arrested and transferred to Orléans.  

Officers of the garrison at Perpignan

The majority of the prisoners were members of the 20th Regiment of Infantry, the former Cambrésis Regiment,  garrisoned at Perpignan.  In December 1791 twenty-eight officers of the regiment, together with  seven bourgeois and artisans of the town, had been indicted for attempting to to deliver Perpignan to the Spaniards. The truth of the affair is difficult to gauge; it would seem that the officers had not committed treason but had feared an insurrection from their own men.  They had coerced their commander to withdraw into the citadel, where they ordered the troops to his defence. When the soldiers refused, the officers had barricaded themselves in the citadel; they subsequently surrendered to the the combined forces of the National Guard, gendarmerie and troops of the line loyal to the municipality. After their arrest they were taken by cart from Perpignan to Orléans where  proceedings against them had just begun. The journey took twenty-nine days on foot, with prisoners chained in twos; Chapoular asked to carry those of his lieutenant-colonel and so shamed the escort that they removed the chains from the elderly man.


"Massacre des prisonniers d'Orléans à  Versailles  le 9 septembre 1792 Cimitière Saint-Louis de Versailles (Yvelines)" on

Philippe Landru, "Cimetière Saint-Louis, Versailles",  Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs, post of 27/03/2011

On individual prisoners: 

Charles Vatel, Histoire de Madame du Barry, III (1883) p.157-

Guy Antonetti (dir.), Les ministres des Finances de la Révolution française au Second Empire. Dictionnaire biographique 1790-1814, Paris, Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, 2007.  Extract.

LAURENT (Gustave). — L'arrestation et la mort de Jean-Arnaud de Castellane, évêque de Mende, .La Révolution française  December 1903 and January 1904
Reproduced on "La Maraîchine Normande" blog:

La Rivière: 
Geoffrey Audcent,  Jean-Baptiste Estienne de la Rivière  (1754 - 1792) (2011) .

List of victims of the Massacre of 9th September

  • Cossé (Louis-Hercule-Timoléon de), duc de Brissac, gouverneur de Paris, chevalier des ordres du Roi, lieutenant-général de ses armées, et commandant de la garde constitutionnelle.
  • Valdec de Lessart (Antoine), ancien ministre des affaires étrangères.
  • Franqueville d'Abancourt (Charles-Xavier-Joseph de), ancien ministre de la guerre.
  • Castellane (Jean-Arnauld de), bishop of Mende
  •  Etienne de la Rivière (Jean-Baptiste) juge de paix de la section de Henri IV, à Paris.

Members of the Cambrésis Regiment: 

  • Adhémar (Jean d'), chevalier de Saint-Louis, lieutenant-colonel 
  • Adhémar de la Chasserie (François d'), son of the above, sub-lieutenant.Adhémar du Rot (Felix d'), nephew of Jean.
  • Blachères (Charles-François de), chevalier de Saint-Louis, captain.
  • Blinière (René de la), captain.
  • Chapoular ( Urbain-Joseph ), sergeant
  • Daleu (le chevalier), captain
  • Descorbiac (Dominique), lieutenant 
  • Doc (Joseph), musician
  • Dulin (Joseph), lieutenant
  • Duroux (Joseph,) lieutenant.
  • Gérard (Philippe-Jacques), sub-lieutenant
  • Kersamon (Charles-Marie de), captain.
  • Layroulle (François de), lieutenant
  • Lupé (Charlesde), lieutenant a
  • Marchai (de), lieutenant a
  • Mazelaigne-Raucour (Henri de), lieutenant 
  • Mont-Justin (François de), captain
  • Pargade (Pierre de), lieutenant 

Inhabitants of Perpignan: 
  • Bertrand (François), lawyer 
  • Blandinières, procurator 
  • Bonafot, lawyer 
  • Boxader (Vincent), inhabitant 
  • Boxader (François), inhabitant 
  • Comelas (François), hatmaker
  • Gouet de la Bigne, inhabitant 
  • Molinières, law student 
  • Prat (Laurent), tailor

Other soldiers:

  • Chappe (Jeau-Baptiste de), army captain
  • Charlier Du Breuil (François-Marie-Jérôme), officer of the Queen's Regiment
  • Derets (Jean-Baptiste), captain of the National Guard of Lozère.
  • Lassaux (Hubert de), former brigadier of the King's Body
  • Malvoisin (Charles-François de), colonel of the Regiment of Monsieur
  • Retz (Jean-Baptiste de), Former Infantry captain
  • Silly (Hyacinthe-Joseph de),  Bourbonnais.officer
  • Siochan de Saint-Joan (Jean-Marie), sub-lieutenant (?identified in some lists as another member of the Cambrésis Regiment )


  • Gauthier (Antoine), servant of Charlier Du Breuil
  • Marck (Charles-François), apothecary's boy, from Toul
  • .Meyer (Louis-Joseph), tailor from Strassbourg

Names of those know to have escaped:

  • Loyauté (Dieudonné de), artillery officer.
  • Montgon (Charles-Louis), officer of the  Cambrésis Regiment
  • Moujoux (Jean-Joseph de), id.
  • Pierrepont (Charles-Louis de), id.
  • Molette (Pierre), greengrocer from Lyon.
  • Pomeyroles-Grammont (le chevalier de).

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