His story started to circulate almost immediately after the events of 14 July. The English Dr Rigby in his Journal - probably with reference to Whyte - reported that a "Count D'Auche" had been found on the morning of the 15th in "one of the deepest Dungeons", where he had been confined for 42 years. An anonymous pamphet claiming to be a letter written on the 15th described a "Count d'Estrade", "beautiful man" of sixty-five to seventy years who had been accused of Lèse-majesté and sentenced to lifelong imprisonment. Other pamphlets mention "a harmless old man" who had been imprisoned for "near thirty years" and a "Comte Straze" who had languished for "thirty-two years" and whose "beard reached his stomach". By the end of August the prisoner had a fixed name the "comte de Lorges". His image appeared in numerous prints and broadsides.
See: Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, Rolf Reichardt, The Bastille: a history of a symbol of despotism and freedom (Duke University Press, 1997), p. 106-8
|"Deliverance of M.le Comte de Lorges"|
Jean-Louis Carra, Le comte de Lorges, prisonnier à la Bastille pendant trente-deux ans ; enfermé en 1757, du temps de Damien, & mis en liberté le 14 juillet 1789
|Detail from L.Carpantier, L'Heure première de la liberté (detail)|
Some visitors were of course sceptical. Louis Abel Beffroy de Reigny remarked that he had been shown several different dungeons, each of which workers claimed had been occupied by the "comte d'Orges" (p.82). Louis-Pierre Manuel noted that he had been shown the comte de Lorges's dungeon and seen a waxwork by Curtius laden with chains, but the registers of the Bastille and the depositions of the turnkeys mentioned only seven prisoners - the comte couldn't be identified with Whyte, who had been in the Bastille only since 1784 and was a madman (p.132-3).
Louis Abel Beffroy de Reigny, Histoire de France pendant trois mois .....(1789) p.82
La Bastille dévoilée (1789) attributed to Louis-Pierre Manuel or "Charpentier"
The comte in Saumur
On 5th December 1790, at the instigation of the local deputy Cigongne, the town of Saumur was ceremonially presented with a block of stone from the Bastille to honour Aubin Bonnemère, a soldier in the Royal-Comtois regiment who had taken part in the events of 14th July. (His chief claim to fame was that he had rescued Mlle de Monsigny, daughter of the commander of the Compagnie des Invalides.) The Vainqueurs de la Bastille provided a written certification that the stone came from the very dungeon "in which the comte de Lorges had been imprisoned for thirty-two years". According to at least one 19th-century account Bonnemère himself later claimed to have personally liberated the comte from his "gloomy cell" . To the intense irritation of latter-day Vendéens, the stone - engraved with a plan of the fortress and some boastful verses by Bonnemère - is still to be seen embedded in the wall of Saumur's 16th-century town hall.
"Une pierre de la Bastille sur la mairie de Saumur" , Vendéens et chouans [blog] post of 8 April 2015 http://www.vendeensetchouans.com/archives/2015/04/08/31855676.html
Madame Tussaud's comte
|The comte in a late 19th century photography|
Madame Tussaud archive
The waxwork (or the cast) was brought to England from France in 1802 and was on almost continuous display until as late as 1968. In 1989 the wax head was lent to the British Museum's "Shadow of the guillotine" exhibition and is presumably still extant. The wax effigy was unusual in being full length and was much admired; one Liverpool paper in 1821 commended it as "a fine piece of physiology" According to Kate Berridge, the figure,with its chains and long beard, is "the perfect realisation of the mental images that haunted the popular imagination about the victims of the Ancien Régime, incarcerated in dark dungeons called oubliettes, and forgotten by the outside world' (Kate Berridge, p.116)
The wax figure of the comte is described by Charles Dickens in his account of the Chamber of Horrors(All the Year Round, 7 Jan.1860, ,p.252 quoted in Bindman, p.92):
"To enter the Chamber of Horrors rather late in the afternoon, before the gas is lighted, requires courage. To penetrate through a dark passage under the guillotine scaffold, to the mouth of a dimly-lit cell, through whose bars a figure in a black serge dress is faintly visible, requires courage. Your eye-witness entered, on the principle which causes judicious persons to jump headlong into the sea from a bathing-machine instead of gradually and timidly emersing themselves from the ankle upwards. Let the visitor enter this very terrible apartment at a swift pace and without pausing for an instant, let him turn sharply to the right, and scamper undert he scaffold, taking care that this structure – which is very low – does not act after the manner of the guillotine it sustains, and take his head off. Let him thoroughly master all the circumstances of the Count de Lorge’s imprisonment, the serge dress, the rats, the brown loaf – let him then hasten up the steps of the guillotine and saturate his mind with the blood upon the decapitated heads of the sufferers in the French Revolution – this done, the worst is over."
Kate Berridge, Waxing mythical: the life and legend of Madame Tussaud (2006) p.115-117
David Bindon, The shadow of the guillotine: Britain and the French Revolution (1989 Exhibition catalogue). No 25." Wax model of the head of comte de Lorges..."