Saturday, 17 October 2015

The prisoners of the Bastille in 1789

The details of the prisoners "liberated" on 14th July 1789 testify nicely to the declining importance of the Bastille as a political prison in the closing years of the Ancien régime.  The fortress yielded only seven prisoners, four of them common criminals and the remaining three incarcerated at the request of their own families.

Prisoners of the Bastille led to safety on 14th July (print)
Four Counterfeiters

Of the seven, four (Jean La Corrège, Jean Béchade, Bernard Laroche known as Beausablon, and Jean-Antoine Pujade)  were counterfeiters imprisoned in 1787 on the charge of having forged bills of exchange accepted by the banking firm of Tourton-Ravel. In other words they were common criminals, arrested on ordinary warrants from the Châtelet, who could easily have been held elsewhere. Pujade testified to the Hôtel de Ville that he had left the prison on the afternoon of the 14th in company of Béchade, but they had later became separated.  All four were subsequently rounded up and a few days after their "liberation" were reincarcerated in Bicêtre.

On 17th April 1790 a decree of the Assembly ordered the Châtelet to continue their proceedings against them but the Châtelet itself was abolished on 11 September and they were not pursued further

James Francis Xavier Whyte (Whyte de Malville)

Whyte was a private prisoner.  He was of Irish Jacobite descent.  He was born in Dublin in 1730  and had served during the Seven Years War, first as a cornet in the Soubise Volunteers then a captain in Lally Tollendal's Franco-Irish regiment.  In 1781 he had suffered some kind of mental breakdown and been confined in Vincennes at the expense of his family.  When Vincennes was closed as a prison in 1784 he was transferred with the marquis de Sade to the Bastille.  In March 1789 he had been declared interdit and control of his property transferred to his two daughters.  

Whyte was paraded around the Palais-royal in the evening of 14th and on the 15th taken to the Hôtel de Ville and thence to the prison-asylum at Charenton. On July 31st 1795 he was finally transferred to the asylum of Petites Maisons.  He was described as completely deranged in an almost comically stereotypical fashion,  imagining himself to be Julius Caesar, St Louis and occasionally the Almightly himself. ["ce particulier se disoit Major de l'Immensité et tenoit des propos qui manifestoient la perte entière de sa raison" Procès-verbal des séances et délibérations de l'Assemblée générale des électeurs de Paris, réunis à l'Hôtel-de-Ville le 14 juillet 1789  p.380]

L.Carpantier, First hour of liberty

Whyte was of striking appearance, with a massively long unkempt beard. The English doctor Edward Rigby, who was in Paris at the time of the fall of the Bastille describes in his journal for 15th July a prisoner who is clearly Whyte:  "He was draped in a greasy reddish Cloak - his beard was very long & his Hair which had not been combed during this long Period was grown very long - closely matted together - was divided into two Parts & reached lower than is Knees".  In a letter of Sunday 19th,  Rigby's companion Samuel Boddington notes:  "His beard was of great length and his hair which appeared never to have been combed was entangled in large nets as if it have been wove.  It was parted into two long parts and coming over his shoulders reached below his knees.  His face was ...quite pale, and he looked about him as one should conceive a man to do who for the first time had the use of his eyes."
[George Cadogan Morgan, Travels in Revolutionary France ed. by Mary-Ann Constantine  (University of Wales, 2012), p.17-18.]

Madame Lambert, née Sophia Whyte
Painting by Henri-Pierre Danloux
Sold at Sotheby's, 19 June 2006
Retired diplomat and Surrey local historian Mr Keith Evetts supplies a nice piece of trivia on the Whyte family which relates them to high British military and naval circles. Whyte's wife was Catherine Lambert,  sister to Capt. Robert Alexander RN of Thames Ditton, whose family was of Huguenot descent. One of  Robert Lambert's sons was to become a vice-Admiral and commanded the squadron protecting St Helena during Napoleon's exile; another, John Lambert, commanded the Tenth Brigade at Waterloo. On 27 September 1789 the younger of Whyte's daughters, Sophia, was granted dispensation by a French Court in order to marry her cousin Henry Lambert. (The 21 year-old Sophia de Whyte is identified in the document as daughter of "M. Jacques François de Whyte, Comte de Whyte, seigneur de Malleville and of Anne Lambert his wife".) After her husband's death Lady Sophia Lambert remarried in 1805 to Lt Col. Henry Francis Greville. She died in March 1839. Whyte's widow Anne died in London in October 1826 at the age of 85.

[Keith Evetts, "A skeleton in the cupboard". Article first published in Thames Ditton Today, June 2014 .]

Nicolas Whyte,
who is a descendant, thinks that Whyte was probably the grandson of Charles Whyte who was Jacobite MP for Naas and governor of Kildare in the 1689-92 war.  James II's ambassador in the Hague, Sir Ignatius Whyte,was a cousin.,-by-James-OFee.html


Auguste-Claude Tavernier 

On the face of it Tavernier is a better candidate for a political prisoner -  it is often stated that he had been  incarcerated in 1759 for supposed complicity in Damien's attempt to assassinate Louis XV. This, however, is not quite the full story.

In fact Tavernier had also been imprisoned by his own family. The records of the Bastille describe him as a nothing ("un homme de néant") , the son of a domestic servant, ferocious, cruel and insolent". His father Nicolas had  been a porter in the service of Jean Pâris de Monmartel, one of the famous banker brothers of Louis XV. Born in 1728, Auguste-Claude had been a wild young man.  He was first detained at Charenton in 1745 at the request of his father on account of his "excessive idleness and libertinage", later reincarcerated in Saint-Lazare, and finally sent to the prison on the Île Sainte-Marguerite in the bay outside Cannes, where his family agreed to pay 300 livres a year for his upkeep.  He resisted the offer by Monmartel of a position abroad with the Compagnie des Indes.

In 1759 events took a serious turn when Tavernier was denounced by a fellow-inmate on the Île Sainte-Marguerite, the chevalier de Lussan, for a plot to assassinate the King.  The authorities had no choice but to take the matter seriously; he was transferred to the Bastille for interrogation in July 1759 and,since the case was never resolved, finally left quietly to languish. Lisa Jane Graham in her book If the King Only Knew (2000) reconstructs the circumstances based on two cartons of documents in the Archives Nationales. The details of the supposed plot were massively convoluted; probably the two men were in collusion; Tavernier apparently had the idea of negotiating a hearing before the Parlement of Paris, denouncing the lettres de cachet and thereby securing his release: "he would let M. Louis Quinze know that if Damiens had missed him, he would not miss him and that he would make known for centuries to come his project to exterminate innocent people between four walls with lettres de cachet".  Some of Tavernier's prison writings are preserved and make interesting reading. A Voltairean deist, he worked up his personal resentments into something approaching an Enlightenment case against arbitrary imprisonment. According to Lisa Jane Graham, he was "a shrewd and resourceful man who could not immediately be dismissed as crazy".  Nonetheless, he was unstable and by 1789, at the age of sixty, had been in prison for almost all his adult life. Following the 14th July, he was found wandering the streets at two in the morning, held under guard in the district of Saint-Roch and exhibited to the public for a few days, then finally, on Sunday 19th, surrendered to the Hôtel de Ville.  The following day he was taken to Charenton by M. de La Chaise, a guard in the employ of the duc d'Orléans.  He is recorded as having left Charenton in July 1795 but it does not seem known what subsequently became of him.

[Lisa Jane Graham, If the King Only Knew: Seditious Speech in the Reign of Louis XV (2000)

"Tavernier trente ans a la bastille" See Affaire de Tavernier. 23 november 1759. In Archives de la Bastille, vol. 17 (1866)

Hubert de Solages

The final prisoner, Hubert de Solages, was again a private prisoner, who was said to have been guilty of "perverted sexual practices", namely to have committed incest with his sister Pauline.  The official documents record merely that he had been imprisoned at the request of his father "due to his dissipation and bad conduct".  In fact the "Affaire de Solages" was a lot more complicated.  The circumstances were examined in a 1914 book by Auguste Pius which is summarised in some detail on Wikipedia. A member of a minor noble family from Languedoc, Hubert de Solages was born in 1746 and at the time of his initial incarceration in 1765 was a  sub-lieutenant in the Regiment of Condé-Dragoons.  He appears to have been involved in an ill-conceived plan to help his twenty-five-year-old sister to abscond from her husband Jean-Antoine Barrau, who, according to their uncle Gabriel, Chevalier de Solages and to Pauline herself, was a hard, jealous and cruel man.  It was Barrau rather than the young man's father who was the prime mover behind his  imprisonment - it is possible, though by no means certain, that his primary motivation was financial.  Solages was held successively at the  château de Ferrières near Castres,  at the fort de Brescou off the Cap d'Agde, then in the fortress of  Pierre-Encize in Lyon from which he managed to escape..  Following a series of deliberations in 1781, he was transferred to Vincennes in 1782, then to the Bastille on 28th February 1784.  Pauline was similarly confined in a succession of convents.

In the Bastille Solages occupied a room on the fourth floor of the tour de la Bertodière overlooking the rue Saint-Antoine, where he spent his time quietly, playing the violin, reading and writing.  His family paid 2, 300 francs for his pension and 400 francs for his keep. It is recorded that at quarter-past seven on the evening of the 14th July, the deputies from the district of the Oratoire admitted to their presence a gentleman from the Languedoc who, though shabby in appearance, was "a noble and imposing figure" who expressed eloquently  his gratitude for his liberation   He was lodged at the Hôtel de Rouen, rue d'Angivilliers at the expense of the districts and presently, with the help of his uncle the Chevalier, was able to return home to the Albigeois.  He died on 2nd October 1824.

[Wikipedia: "L'affaire de Solages; based on Auguste Puis, Les Lettres de cachet à Toulouse au dix-huitième siècle, Toulouse et Paris, 1914]

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