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.

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