Sunday, 31 January 2016

Musée du Barreau cont. - Documents from the trial of Marie-Antoinette

Pierre Bouillon, The trial of Marie-Antoinette, 1793, Musée Carnavalet
Chauveau-Lagarde can be recognised seated at the table behind the Queen
Among the most important documents on show in the Musée du Barreau are notes for the speech made by Claude-François Chauveau-Lagarde (1756-1841)  the counsel for Marie-Antoinette at her trial. The eight-page manuscript, acquired by the Order in 1989, is of particular interest since no transcript of Chauveau-Lagarde's oration was made at the time.  The archivist of the Order of Barristers Yves Ozanam has published brief details on the website  La Grande Bibliothèque du Droit (see references) 

The Musée du Barreau display relating to the trial of Marie-Antoinette

Lock to Marie-Antoinette's cell at the
 Conciergerie- not sure
how the Museum obtained this!
The proceedings against Marie-Antoinette lasted three days (14th-16th October 1793) and took place under awful conditions.  As Yves Ozanam comments, the occasion was not so much a trial as a "mise à mort", a sentencing to death. The Queen had been imprisoned in the Conciergerie since the 1st August.  On 3rd October 1793 the Convention finally decreed that the Revolutionary Tribunal should proceed to her judgment "without delay and without interruption".  On 12 October the President of the Revolutionary Tribunal Armand Martial Herman, the young ally of Robespierre, conducted a secret preliminary interrogation in the presence of the Public Prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville.  Marie-Antoinette was confronted with a series of accusations, all of which she denied.  At the end of the meeting she agreed that a counsel for the defence should be appointed. The two lawyers chosen, Chauveau-Lagarde and Guillaume Alexandre Tronson du Coudray, were both former barristers of the Parlement of Paris who had elected to continue as "défenseurs officieux" after the suppression of the Bar in 1790.  Tronson du Coudray, known for his royalist convictions, was deported to Guyana in 1797 and died there in the following year.  Chauveau-Lagarde, who had also acted as defence lawyer for Charlotte Corday, Brissot and Miranda, survived the Revolution and wrote his memoirs of the trial in 1816.

Commission d'office dated 12th October
1793 appointing Chauveau-Lagarde as
Marie-Antoinette's counsel.
In his account Chauveau-Largarde notes that he had been in the country when summoned and therefore did not even reach the Tuileries until the eve of the trial, leaving him little time to inspect the  prosecution papers and the eight page act of accusation drawn up  by Fouquier-Tinville.  The two counsels met briefly with Marie-Antoinette, passing through the wicket-gates of the Conciergerie to find her in a plain white dress in her divided cell, guided by armed gendarmes.  Chauveau-Largarde - writing for a Royalist readership - claimed that his knees trembled.  The Queen reluctantly agreed to write to Herman asking for three days' delay so that the lawyers could prepare their case but her request was never answered and the trial went ahead the next day. No less that forty-one witnesses were heard between the 14th and 15th October, testifying to the different events since the start of the Revolution -  the October days, the Flight to Varennes, the Revolution of 10th August - and to details of the Royal Family's imprisonment in the Temple, including Hébert's  notorious charge of incest.  The accusation was also made that Marie-Antoinette had misused public finances before the Revolution including sending considerable sums to the Emperor.  At the conclusion Fouquier-Tinville spoke at length to the courtroom, followed by Chauveau-Lagarde's conclusion for the defence.

According to his 1816 memoir, the two defence lawyers had barely a moment to confer before they were called to speak. They divided the chief heads of accusation between them,  Tronson du Coudray answering the charge of internal conspiracy, whilst he, Chauveau-Lagarde, addressed the twin charges of financial depredation and conspiracy with external enemies.  As he emphasises, they were obliged to speak virtually "without preparation". Chauveau-Lagarde's oration lasted almost three hours. 

The preliminary exordium occupies the greater part of the manuscript, since the latter part of the speech was almost entirely improvised. Chauveau-Lagarde rested his case primarily on the absence of proof and confessions to establish Marie-Antoinette's relations with  the enemies of France.  The events which transpired could be explained without recourse to conspiracy.  Specifically the declaration of war against the king of Bohemia and Hungary was not the decision of the accused but a decree of the Assembly on the proposition of the king.  Similarly the evacuation of Belgium by the French army was the result of the treason of Dumouriez. Yves Ozanam transcribes the opening passages from the notes, in which Chauveau appeals to the jury to show objectivity.  Here is a (rough) translation:

Citizens jurers.  Marie-Antoinette, former Queen of France stands before you accused of conspiring at home and abroad for the downfall of Frenchmen -   both before and after the Revolution which gave them liberty.  It might be supposed that so extraordinary an accusation must be answered by an equally extraordinary defence.  Yet her counsel, of whom I am one, were charged by the Tribunal only at the time she appeared before you;  we have  scarcely had time to peruse  the acts of accusation that form the basis of the charges.

What an appalling task!  What a terrifying mission this would be for a man of conscience, were I not reassured by your justice and intelligence.  Fortunately the proceedings of this great trial have demonstrated that the more fearsome the accusations, the less substantial are the proofs - a least the areas I have been called upon to defend.

In sum, Citizen Jurors, have you been presented with proof that the accused, before the Revolution, squandered public finances and exhausted the treasury by sending incalculable sums to the Emperor? Or that she entered into counter-revolutionary intelligence with the enemies of the Republic and informed them of military plans discussed in Council?

I do not doubt, Citizen Jurors, that you will make every effort to guard against a prejudice which is as dangerous towards justice for the innocent as  it is honorable for Republicans.  The accused has had the misfortune to be Queen and this alone makes Republicans suspicious.  You may be tempted, despite yourselves, to leave behind that  impartiality which is fitting to your sacred character....

I ask you therefore citizens to put aside these prejudices and to confine yourselves to the acts of accusation before you...

The Widow Capet before the Revolutionary Tribunal, print Bibl. Nationale
Though crude, this representation, with Marie Antoinette on a platform
flanked by her counsel
, is possibly a more accurate depiction

Following the defence summation, the Queen was taken to an ante-room whilst Herman summed up for the jurors.  The verdict was, of course, a foregone conclusion. Herman brushed aside issues of evidence to concentrate on the revolutionary significance of the trial.  As consort of Louis XVI:  "It is the French people which accuses Antoinette, all the political events of the last five years testify against her". No further evidence was necessary since the material  proof already found among the papers of Louis XVI sufficed to condemn his queen.  According to Chauveau-Lagarde, Marie-Antoinette herself was still convinced that she might be ransomed and sent abroad since nothing had been proved against her.  She was brought back into the courtroom and handed the verdict, then Fouquier-Tinville requested, and was granted, the death penalty.  Asked if she had anything to say Marie-Antoinette simply shook her head.  It showed true courage,remarked Chauveau-Lagarde,  not to admit for a moment the shock that she felt. 

The defence lawyers were themselves subsequently arrested, searched and questioned.  During his interrogation of 15th October Chauveau-Lagarde declared that Marie-Antoinette  had made no revelations to him, but had manifested "the most profound dissimulation". Later, to obtain a certificat de  civisme, he declared himself a good Republican and pointed out that he had been appointed as commis d'office to Marie-Antoinette  on the command of the Revolutionary government.  Under the Restoration, on the other hand, he  tried to justify his complicity; since it would have been pointless to denounce the trial, he had tried merely to save the Queen's life.  As Yves Ozanam observes, it evidently took him some time to be accepted by the Restoration government: he became a magistrate in the French High Court, the Cours de cassation, only in 1826 whereas Louis XVI's defence lawyer Romain de Sèze was appointed its president immediately in 1815.


Chauveau-Lagarde, Claude François. Note Historique sur les procès de Marie-Antoinette.... Paris: 1816.

Yves Ozanam, "Comment défendre Marie-Antoinette ? La reine devant le Tribunal criminel révolutionnaire" (1793) La Grande Bibliothèque du Droit  .

" Le procès de Marie-Antoinette" Ministère de la Justice (2011)

See also the article in Le Figaro for 19 June 2010

"Les ténors du barreau" - counsels of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette Guillotine forum:  entries of March/April 2013:

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