Monday, 12 February 2018

The last days of Madame Élisabeth



As the hagiographies begin to appear on the internet, I wondered how much it is actually possible to discover about the death of Madame Élisabeth.  I have set myself the task of finding some basic sources and weighing up the evidence.  There is not much in English;  but where possible I have used from Katherine Prescott Wormeley 's translations in The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France, 1901
https://archive.org/details/lifelettersofma00li



ARREST  

On the evening of 20 floréal Year II, 9th May 1794, in weather which was overcast and raining, Madame Élisabeth was taken on foot across the garden and courtyard of the Temple, placed in a hackney-coach and driven to the Conciergerie.  She arrived just after eight o'clock and at ten o'clock, underwent a preliminary interrogation in the Salle de Conseil before the judge Gabriel Deliège in the presence of Fouquier-Tinville, the public prosecutor. An indictment was drawn up and Elisabeth returned to her prison cell for the night.


Madame Élisabeth is informed of her arrest by the Commissioners of the Commune. Print c.1795. Bibl.Nat.
http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb402482484


Here  is the official account of Madame Élisabeth's removal to the Conciergerie. (The "council" refers to the commissioners of the Commune who were in charge of the royal prisoners.): 

Transfer of Elisabeth to the Conciergerie
On the 20 floréal, 9th May, the huissier Monet presented himself at the Temple at half-past six in the evening,  accompanied by the citizens Fontaine, adjudant-general of artillery  in the Parisian Revolutionary army and Saraillée, aide-de-camp of General Hanriot;  he presented to the members of the council, Mouret, Eudes, Magendié and Godefroy, a letter from Fouquier, the public prosecutor of the Revolutionary tribunal, inviting them to put in the hands of the above named the sister of Louis Capet, on the authority of the arrest warrant which they carried and which they deposited. 

The council submitted immediately and the said Monet, Fontaine and Saraillée signed in the register for the removal of the accused.

Elisabeth left the Temple at about a quarter to eight; she entered a carriage which was awaiting her at the gate, and arrived half-an-hour later outside the Conciergerie;  she remained in the Clerk's office of the prison for about two hours, and was then taken to the Chambre du Conseil before the public prosecutor, who submitted her to a preliminary interrogation...
Buchez & Roux, Histoire parlementaire de la Révolution Française,  vol. 34 (1837), p.110.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=UcRBAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA110&lpg=PA110


Her arrest as recorded in the memoirs of Madame Royale:

Until May 9th nothing remarkable happened. On that day, just as we were going to bed the bolts were withdrawn and some one knocked at our door.  My aunt replied that she would put on her dress; they answered that she must not be so long, and they rapped so hard that we thought the door would burst in. She opened it when she was dressed. They said to her: "Citoyenne, you will please come down." "And my niece?" "We will attend to her later." My aunt kissed me and told me to be calm for she would soon return. "No, citoyenne, you will not return,"they said to her;" take your cap and come down." They loaded her then with insults and coarse speeches; she bore it all with patience, took her cap, kissed me again, and told me to have courage and firmness, to hope always in God, to practise the good principles of religion given me by my parents, and not to fail in the last instructions given to me by my father and by my mother.

She went out; at the foot of the stairs they asked for her pockets; there was nothing in them; this lasted a long time because the municipals had to write a proces-verbal for the discharge of her person.  At last, after countless insults, she went away with the clerk of the tribunal, in a hackney- coach, and was taken to the Conciergerie, where she passed the night. 
trans. by Katherine Prescott WormeleyThe life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France (1901), p.281-3.
https://archive.org/stream/lifelettersofma00li#page/280/mode/2up
According to the memoirs of Mme de Tourzel, Madame Royale told her"She embraced  me for the last time and enjoined me to courage and resignation; she recommended positively that I  ask for a woman to be with me......My aunt, foreseeing only too well the misery to which I was destined had accostumed me to look after myself and have need of no-one.
http://archive.org/stream/mmoiresdemadamel34918gut/pg34918.txt


From the memoirs of the Public Executioner, Charles-Henri Sanson:

20 floréal.  Madame Élisabeth was taken this evening to the Conciergerie. While they made ready a cell in the women's area, they left her in the Clerk's office, where my son saw her;  she had grown very thin and was very pale.  She sat reading a book of prayers, without appearing to notice the movement going on around her.  She is going to be interrogated tonight by Fouquier-Tinville.  The trial will begin tomorrow.
Sept générations d'exécuteurs, 1688-1847 : Mémoires des Sanson. vol. 5 (1862)
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k36780f/f141.image


Katherine Prescott Wormeley translates the record of the preliminary hearing:
Appendix II: First Examination of Madame Élisabeth by Fouquier-Tinville, May 9 1794.  
The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France, p.313-16.
https://archive.org/stream/lifelettersofma00li#page/312/mode/2up
Appended to this record was a deposition dated 17 floreal, claiming that Elisabeth had sent diamonds to her brothers to pay for Counter-Revolutionary troops.


Each page of the official transcript was signed by Elisabeth, Fouquier, Deliège and the clerk Ducray


TRIAL


At the trial, which opened the next morning, Madame Élisabeth appeared with twenty-four other defendants, several of whom had been arrested originally in Sens. The official account in the Moniteur informs us that the tribunal was presided over by René-François Dumas, a close associate of Robespierre, flanked by the two judges Gabriel Deliège and Antoine-Marie Maire.  The deputy public prosecutor Gilbert Liendon read the indictment. The fifteen jurors are also named.  Madame Élisabeth was deliberately placed on the upper tier of the benches where the accused sat, so that she was conspicuously on view.  (The executioner Sanson, who was present, remarked that she was  accorded the small courtesy of a chair to sit on when questioned.)

Madame Élisabeth was dressed in a black gown and appeared pale after her month's in the Temple. Eye-witnesses were unanimous that she responded to her accusers with great composure and cogency. The proceedings were brief, with no documentary evidence presented or witnesses called. The indictment depended chiefly on establishing her participation in royal conspiracies which had already been proven by the condemnation of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.  When asked if she had been present on the three "days", 28th of February, 20th of June and 10th of August, - she replied simply that she saw it as her duty to be with her brother. 


Interior of the Revolutionary Tribunal
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6214771p/f480

She was probably unaware that Chauveau-Lagarde,  Marie-Antoinette's defender, had been mandated to act also on her behalf.  With only a day's warning, he had been refused access to the princess and arrived to find the trial already begun. Although it was not reported in the Moniteur he spoke briefly to impugn the adequacy of the proceedings and to appeal, in the face of Dumas's fury,  to Madame Élisabeth's great virtue. 

The other accused were mostly former nobles and members of their households, with a few plebian suspects thrown in for good measure. Dumas is said  to have commented to Fouquier Tinville that Madame Élisabeth was with her friends.  A few she might have indeed known from Court: the marquise de Sénozan,sister of Malesherbes; Madame de Crussol d'Amboise;  Madame de Montmorin, widow of the former foreign minister, who had been arrested at Passy with her surviving son.  The comte de Brienne, the former minister for war, had been arrested with his three nephews and his daughter in Sens, where the Cardinal Loménie de Brienne had taken poison to avoid the scaffold.  These hapless individuals were allowed to do little more than confirm their name, age and profession.  No mention was made in the Moniteur of the five defence lawyers, who were hardly allowed to speak and had no opportunity to produce their evidence. All were swept up and condemned to death for their part in the supposed conspiracies.


Katherine Prescott Wormeley translates of official account of the trial from the Moniteur:
The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France, p.313-16.
https://archive.org/stream/lifelettersofma00li#page/92/mode/2up

Here is the indictment:

Antoine-Quentin Fouquier, Public Prosecutor of the Revolutionary Tribunal, established in Paris by the decree of the National Assembly, March 10, 1793, year Two of the Republic etc.

Herewith declares that the following persons have been, by various decrees of the Committee of General Security of the Convention, of the Revolutionary committees of the different sections of Paris, and of the department of the Yonne, and by virtue of warrants of arrest issued by the said Public Prosecutor, denounced to this Tribunal : 

—Marie Elisabeth Capet, sister of Louis Capet, the last tyrant of the French, aged thirty, and born at Versailles
[There follows the names and description of twenty-four other prisoners.] 



And, also, that it is to the family of the Capets that the French people owe all the evils under the weight of which they have groaned for so many centuries. It was at the moment when excessive oppression forced the people to break their chains, that this whole family united to plunge them into a slavery more cruel than that from which they were trying to emerge. The crimes of all kinds, the guilty deeds of Capet, of the Messalina Antoinette, of the two brothers Capet, and of Elisabeth, are too well known to make it necessary to repaint here the horrible picture. They are written in letters of blood upon the annals of the Revolution; and the unheard-of atrocities exercised by the barbarous emigres and the sanguinary Satellites of despots, the murders, the incendiarisms, the ravages, the assassinations unknown to the most ferocious monsters which they have committed on French territory, are still commanded by that detestable family, in order to deliver a great nation once more to the despotism and fury of a few individuals. 

Elisabeth has shared all those crimes; she has co-operated in all the plots, the conspiracies formed by her infamous brothers, by the wicked and impure Antoinette, and by the horde of conspirators collected around them ; she associated herself with their projects; she encouraged the assassins of the nation, the plots of July 1789, the conspiracy of the 6th of October following..

— In short, the whole uninterrupted chain of conspiracies, lasting four whole years, were followed and seconded by all the means which Elisabeth had in her power. It was she who in the month of June, 1791, sent diamonds, the property of the nation, to the infamous d'Artois, her brother, to put him in a condition to execute projects concerted with him, and to hire assassins of the nation.  It was she who maintained with her other brother…, a most active correspondence; it was she who chose by the most insulting pride and disdain to degrade and humiliate the free men who consecrated their time to guarding the tyrant; it was she who lavished attentions on the assassins, sent to the Champs Elysees by the despot to provoke the brave Marseillais;  it was she who stanched the wounds they received in their precipitate flight. 

Elisabeth meditated with Capet and Antoinette the massacre of the citizens of Paris on the immortal day of the 10th of August. She watched all night hoping to witness the nocturnal carnage.  She helped the barbarous Antoinette to bite the cartridges ... Finally…she fled in the morning, with the tyrant and his wife, and went to await in the temple of National sovereignty that the horde of slaves, paid and committed to the crimes of that parricide Court, should drown Liberty in the blood of citizens and cut the throats of its representatives among whom she had sought a refuge. 

 Finally, we have seen her, since the well-deserved punishment of the most guilty of the Tyrants who have ever dishonoured human nature, promoting the re-establishment of Tyranny by lavishing, with Antoinette, on the son of Capet homage to royalty and the pretended honours of a king.



The Moniteur states that when asked her name, Elisabeth replied merely "Elisabeth-Marie". However, it was often said that she replied defiantly, "My name is Elisabeth-Marie of France, sister of Louis XVI, aunt of Louis XVII, your king." These words are reported in Ferrand's Eloge funebre of 1795(p.126).  According to Beauchesne, a great number of those present confirmed this; he himself had it from "a person worthy of faith" and believed it himself with "an intimate conviction" (p.221).  



Chauveau-Lagarde's account of the trial: 

Seven months after the trial of the Queen, I was instructed to defend Madame Élisabeth of France.   As had happened with the Queen, the order came only on the very day before her trial, that is  9th May 1794. 

I presented myself immediately at the prison in order to discuss the indictment with her.  They didn't want me to speak to her.  Fouquet-Tinville had the perfidy to trick me, assuring me that she would not be judged immediately;  he refused me authorisation to confer with her.

The next day, imagine my surprise when I arrived at the tribunal, and caught sight of Madame Élisabeth, surrounded by a crowd of other accused prisoners.  She had deliberately been taken in first and placed on the highest bench in order to be seen clearly.

The case against her was the same as that against the Queen...a banal repetition of the accusation of conspiracy drawn up against Louis XVI...Just as the Queen's accusers had been obliged to twist her innermost thoughts and affections ... those of Madame Élisabeth transformed into conspiracy, acts of the most gentle kindness and touching humanity.

The accusation against this princess had two counts:  that she had been an accomplice in the conspiracies of the King and Queen, on the famous journées of 6th October, 20th June and 10th August...that, together with the Queen, she had sustained the King's son (Louis XVII) in the belief that he would succeed to his father's throne. Finally they added the accusation that she had HELPED THE WOUNDED OF THE CHAMP-DE-MARS, AND BANDAGED THEM WITH HER OWN HANDS....

Despite the resemblances, the trial of Madame Élisabeth differed from that of the Queen. That of the Queen occasioned twenty hours of deliberation and the appearance of a great number of witnesses.  At Madame Élisabeth's trial, there were no written reports, no witnesses called against her and ...only one real question put to her. [She was asked where she was on each of the three journées, and replied courageously that she was with the King and Queen since she never left them on important occasions] 

The Moniteur, and following it, historians, do not mention the defence of Madame Élisabeth, implying by their silence that she had no defence.  However, though the debate lasted only an instant, and I had been refused any contact with her, I spoke; here is the substance of my plea.

I remarked that there was at the trial only a common protocol of indictment without any documents, without questioning reports, without witnesses and that, consequently, when there did not exist any legal element of conviction there could not be any legal conviction....

[He went on to extol Madame Élisabeth's kindness and virtue] It is impossible to describe the fury with which Dumas, the president of the tribunal, addressed me; he accused me of temerity for referring to the supposed virtues of the accused and thereby corrupting public morality.  Madame Élisabeth, who until then had remained calm and insensible to her own dangers, was visibly moved by those to which I had exposed myself.  

Like the Queen, she heard the death sentence without emotion; and consummated  peacefully the sacrifice of her life.
Claude François Chauveau-Lagarde, Note Historique sur les procès de Marie-Antoinette et de Madame Élisabeth, Paris: 1816, p.50-60.
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k54734340/f57.item.zoom



From the memoirs of Sanson:

21 floréal. I attended part of the hearing where the sister of the late king was condemned. Dumas presided; there were fifteen jurors on the benches;  Liendon made the accusation;  they had given the ex-princess an armchair, which, coming from Dumas, surprised me...The countenance of the princess before the tribunal did not ressemble that of Marie-Antoinette. The latter, with her fixed proud stare, and her jutting lower lip had done herself no favours. In contrast, the former princess, with her faraway expression, which seemed to seek the heavens, and her gentle smile... resembled a saint descended from paradise.  She replied to all the questions with calm and presence of mind .  When they asked her why she had accompanied Louis in his flight to Varennes, she said:"Everything told me to follow my brother;  I made it my duty, on this occasion, as on all the others, not to leave him."  

[When asked about the supposed orgy of the Flanders regiment, her aid of the wounded of the Champs-de-Mars, she answered with dignity.  Finally she was asked about the bullets: to which she answered with dignity, that the accusations were so worthless that she refused to sully herself by answering].
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k36780f/f141.image



 Madame Sérilly, who declared herself pregnant, was the only one of the accused to escape the guillotine.  She survived to give evidence at Fouquier-Tinville's trial:

We were charged, my husband and I as accomplices of the 28th of February, 20th of June and 10th of August.  All our trial was to ask us our names, our ages, and our qualities.  Dumas silenced us -  not one was heard.  I saved my life only because I said that I was pregnant and because surgeons testified to it.

She produced her death certificate, duly dated 21 floreal. The 19th-century historian Henri Wallon observed that "the space that, in the original copy of the sentence, separates the body of the text from the final formula fait et prononcé ("done and pronounced") followed the judges' signatures, proves that the judgment, like many others, had been signed when blank'".
Wallon, Histoire du Tribunal révolutionnaire de Paris, vol.III (1881) p.422.
https://archive.org/stream/histoiredutribun03walluoft#page/424/mode/2up/search/Serilly

See also Madame Sérilly's published letter; reproduced in Histoire des prisons de Paris, 
vol. 4:  In this thoroughgoing condemnation of proceedings, she notes that the twenty-five accused were, for the most part, strangers to one another. The general act of indictment did not correspond to the charges drawn up against each person individually.  Moreover, It seemed likely  that she and her husband had been added later, since their names were in the margins and the charges against them seemed in appropriate: ( it was "without doubt bizarre" to accuse a woman of participating in the armed  journées)  No documents or witnesses were produced, and nothing incriminating had been found when  properties was searched. It was to no avail that the men all had alibis and testimonials for the days of violence in Paris.. The women were only asked their bare credentials. The jurors did not listen, but sat eating, sleeping and chatting, or making ribald gestures. The verdict of guilt was inevitable since the condemnations had been drawn up in advance.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=qNhBAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA251#v=onepage&q&f=false


A bon-mot from the Judge:

After the condemnation, Dumas said to Fouquier-Tinville, with his characteristic humour,  never more fresh than when he had just sent fifty or sixty people to the scaffold: "What has she to complain of, that Elisabeth de France?  Haven't we just given her a court of aristocrats who are worthy of her?  There will be nothing to prevent her from fancying she is back in the salons of Versailles when she finds herself at the foot of the sainte-guillotine surrounded by all those faithful nobles."
Georges Duval, Souvenirs thermidoreans vol.1 (1844 ed)
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=quvAt6HJW5IC&pg=PA154#v=onepage&q&f=false
There are several variants on this anecdote, but this is the earliest reference I can find.  Duval is quoted by Beauchesne who places the exchange in the courtroom immediately after Elisabeth's departure; but Fouquier-Tinville was not present at the trial.  Maybe the whole episode is apocryphal?



EXECUTION


The verdict was delivered at three o'clock, and tumbrils set off between four and five.  Sanson's account suggests that the Concierge Richard kept Madame Élisabeth separated from the other prisoners for as long as possible.  Nonetheless, when taken to the avant-greffe for the final preparations, she still had time to converse briefly and probably to receive  absolution from the abbé de Brienne. She was placed in the first tumbril, which she shared with the Brienne brothers. As it made its way slowly through the crowds to the place de la Révolution, the commissioner Moëlle sighted her at far end of Pont-Neuf, where the scarf covering her head came adrift making her clearly visible.  She descended the cart unaided and was guarded by the gendarmes while the others were executed; she remained composed and in prayer. She may have exchanged a few words with her fellow prisoners, but it is hard to imagine more than a brief acknowledgment.  Young Montmorin and companion gave defiant cries of "Vive le Roi!" as the heads fell, which infuriated the crowd.  Elisabeth, though disconcerted at the last moment by the removal of her fichu,  was acknowledged to have gone to her death bravely, sustained by her faith.

The official account of the trial concludes:
The same day, between four and five o'clock in the evening, all the above named were taken to the place de la Révolution with the exception of the woman Sérilly, who declared herself pregnant, and obtained a stay of execution.
After the death of Elisabeth, who was executed last, her head was shown to the people.



There is also a standard procès-verbal (above) which states simply that Elisabeth Capet was officially handed over to the executioner, taken to the place de la Révolution, and at six o'clock executed before witnesses.
Buchez & Roux, Histoire parlementaire de la Révolution Française,  vol. 34 (1837),p.123.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=UcRBAAAAcAAJ&lpg=PA110&pg=PA123#v=onepage&q&f=false

List of the condemned:

Alcide Beauchesne, La vie de Madame Élisabeth, soeur de Louis XVI. vol.2 (1870), p.243-6.
https://archive.org/stream/bub_gb_5hoJAAAAQAAJ#page/n229/mode/2up
See:
http://louis-xvi.over-blog.net/article-10-mai-1794-la-charette-de-mme-elisabeth-105501385.html


Beauchesne also reproduces an extract from the "Régistre des depots" of the Conciergerie, dated 22 floréal, which gives an inventory of Madame Élisabeth's possessions:
https://archive.org/stream/bub_gb_5hoJAAAAQAAJ#page/n483/mode/2up
There are two separate entries, one signed for by Richard and the other by Desmouret, clerk for the Executioner. The latter lists, a small cross,  a seal, a medallion of the Immaculate Conception and a locket containing a lock of Louis XVI's hair. Presumably these items were taken from Madame Élisabeth's person in the avant-greffe.  (and therefore there is no need to imagine that her religious medals were snatched from her neck at the foot of the scaffold.)


From the Memoirs of Sanson: 


..I left the courtroom when the interrogation of the other prisoners began.  It was one o'clock in the afternoon.  At three o'clock, Desmorets, who had remained behind, came and reported to me that they had all been condemned, after only twenty-five minutes of deliberation.  He brought me the order to proceed immediately to the execution of the judgment.  I was going into Richard's office, when I saw a woman seated, holding a handcherchief to her face;  from her black dress, I recognised her as the princess.  I withdrew, since I feared that,  if someone identified me,  she would  panic at seeing me before time.  Richard told me that on the morning of the hearing, and on the way back from the tribunal, she had talked for a long time with his wife;  she had asked  about the life of the queen during her captivity in the Conciergerie; she wanted to know all the details concerning her death.  Richard's wife told me that the story had so moved the former princess, that she completely forgot herself , and did not seem aware that a similar fate awaited her.  [ Madame Élisabeth and her niece knew that Marie-Antoinette had been taken to the Conciergerie, but they had not been told her ultimate fate.  Several sources recount that on her arrival, Elisabeth asked Richard whether she was going to see "her sister" again.]

Whilst Henry and the assistants prepared the condemned prisoners in the back office ("avant-greffe"); Richard warned her that the time had come;  she said goodbye to Richard's wife with kindness, though she did not copy Marie-Antoinette's impulsive embrace of  la fille de Bault who had taken care of her.  Richard took madame Elisabeth to the depot des femmes.  I entered shortly afterwards.  She was already on a chair, her hair untied and hanging down her back;  she had taken up her book again;  she prayed and beat her chest, even though,  after such a saintly life and in the face of a death  so little merited, she surely had no need to doubt the mercy of God.  Her hair was chestnut-coloured, very long and thick.  At the moment that I went to take her hands to tie them, she made a sign of the cross.  I didn't find her as emaciated as Henry had told me, nor indeed as I myself had supposed during the trial.  Her figure was solid, like that of the king, her brother;  her face open.  The most visible trace of her captivity was her extreme pallor.  Her complexion, having lost all colour, had become a matt white which emphasised the clarity of her blue eyes.  At my request, she went into the anteroom. When they recognised her, all the condemned bowed, the women who were crying, fell silent.  She returned their greeting, then called over  one of the Lomenie brothers;  she spoke to him, but we could not hear what she said.  After a few minutes of conversation, she bowed her head, and we saw from Lomenie's lips that he was murmuring a prayer, without doubt an absolution, since he was a bishop. [Pierre François Martial de Loménie de Brienne, aged 30, was Coadjutor Archbishop of Sens.] That will have been a great consolation for the poor woman.  
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k36780f/f141.image


From the Memoirs of Madame de Campan

On the day on which this worthy descendant of saint-Louis was sacrificed, the executioner, in tying her hands behind her back, raised up one of the ends of her fichu.  Madame Élisabeth, with calmness, and in a voice which seemed not to belong to earth, said to him. "In the name of modesty, cover my bosom."  I learned this from Madame de Sérilly, who was condemned the same day as the Princess, but who obtained a respite at the moment of the execution;  Madame de Montmorin, her relation, declaring that her cousin was enceinte. 
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=OflBAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA242&lpg=PA242#v=onepage&q&f=false
Anne Bernet, following Madame de Sérilly, places this incident in the avant-greffe prior to departure from the Conciergerie.  However, Sanson - the executioner - recalled Madame Élisabeth's exclamation of modesty at the very last, on the scaffold before the blade fell.



Madame Élisabeth comforts her companions in death

The twenty-four condemned made their way through the long vaulted hall, lined with spectators, which separated the courtroom from the room where the condemned awaited the executioner. This room, long narrow and dark, was separated from the Clerk's office of the Conciergerie only by a door and a glass partition; the only furniture being wooden benches against the wall.  Here Madame Elizabeth attempted to console her companions in death….

The Marquise de Sénozan, the oldest of the twenty-five victims, recovered courage, and offered to God the little that remained of her life, as did MM. de Montmorin and Bullier, two young men of twenty….M. de Loménie, the former minister of war and mayor of Brienne…was indignant not because he was condemned but because Fouquier had made into a crime the expressions of affection and gratitude that he had won by his services to his department.  Madame Élisabeth approached him and said gently, “If if it fine to merit the estime of one’s fellow citizen,  you should believe that it is finer still to merit the mercy of God.  You have shown your compatriots how to do good, now show them how one dies when one’s conscience is clear”.

Madame de Montmorin, nearly all of whose family had been executed, could not bear the thought of the sacrifice of her son, who was condemned to die with her.  Madame Élisabeth was recorded as saying that if she loved her son, she would wish him to share in the joys of Heaven and not stay on earth, where all is torture and sorrow.  “Madame de Montmorin's heart rose to a species of ecstasy: her fibres relaxed, her tears flowed, and clasping her son in her arms, "Yes, yes!" she cried, "we will go together."
These details originate from Beauchesne's biography which was first published in 1828.
Beauchesne cites his sources as two verbal accounts:
On the comte de Brienne: from the gardien of the detention house of Folie-Renaud, Geoffroy, who had come to the Conciergerie to assist with the inventory of the prisoners' possessions.  The testimony was  reported to Beauchesne by his nephew.
On Madame de Montmorin:  from a fellow-prisoner, maid  in the service of the Marquis de Fenouil.  
Vie de Madame Élisabeth, soeur de Louis XVI. vol.2 (1870), p.243-6.  
https://archive.org/stream/bub_gb_5hoJAAAAQAAJ#page/n251/mode/2up
As one 19th-century historian commented, in default of an official account, much hearsay was collected concerning the last moments of Madame Élisabeth: these are pious souvenirs that history can only register with reserve.  Henri Wallon,  Histoire du Tribunal révolutionnaire de Paris, vol.III (1881) p.422.


The "aumôniers de la guillotine"

Jean de Viguerie and Anne Bernet both refer in their biographies to the "aumôniers de la guillotine", a group of refractory priests sheltered by Madame Bergeron, owner of an ironmongery business opposite the Conciergerie. The priests posed as  "ouvriers serruriers" in order to gain entry into the prison.  When the tumbrils passed one of their number would give absolution in articulo mortis from an attic window, then follow the cortege and accompany the bodies to burial.  A young priest called the abbé de Sambucy was designated to perform this service for Madame Élisabeth.  The 1886 biography by the comtesse d'Armaillé has the following:
It is hard to see how the courageous priests who sustained so many of the condemned during the Terror, could have gained access to Madame Élisabeth.  However the family of the marquise de Crussol, were told, with certainty, that the condemned had received the succour of the Church before their execution; a tradition from trustworthy sources  confirms that the abbé de Sambucy, mingling with the crowd, accompanied them right to the scaffold.
Marie Célestine d'Armaillé, Madame Élisabeth , soeur de Louis XVI (1886), p.449
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k96001901/f515
According to Anne Bernet, the princess was forewarned and able to turn her eyes to the attic before the tumbrils departed, but this is probably just wishful thinking. 


The execution of Madame Élisabeth, print, c.1795 Bibl. Nat.
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53009828r


From the Memoirs of Sanson: 

The condemned were taken from the Conciergerie at four o'clock;  Madame Élisabeth was in the first tumbril with the two Lomenie brothers, the bishop and the former minister, the widow Senozan, the Montmorin boy, Sourdeval and Gressy de Chamillon.  They all stayed standing, only she was seated;  but at the top of the rue du Coq, since time pressed, we had to hurry the horses on;  at that point she got up, troubled no doubt by the bumping of the cart.

The bishop Lomenie was telling her that God would reward his martyr; she said to him smiling
- You have concerned yourself enough with my salvation; charity demands that you take care for your own soul, Monseigneur.

As chief conspirator, for the juries had found a plot, she had to be executed last; Ducray had given me very explicit instructions on this.  She remained on the spot, surrounded by gendarmes, while her companions were guillotined.  I looked at her several times; she was still praying, her head turned towards the scaffold, but no noise made her raise her eyes.  The young Montmorin and the servant Lhote cried: "Vive le Roi!" which had excited the fury of the crowd.  At each fall of the blade, they began to applaud and cry "Vive la nation!".  The princess, absorbed as she was in higher things, heard the cries and clapping with indifference.  She remained as still as those statues of Faith that you see sometimes in Church porches,  whose stone faces expresss only the love of God.  When her turn came, she climbed up the steps very slowly;  she shivered slightly, her head bowed down on her chest; at the moment when she presented herself in front of the bascule, one of the assistants removed the shawl that covered her shoulders.  She made a movement and cried out in sublime modesty
- Oh! monsieur, have pity!..

She was almost immediately strapped to the plank and her head fell.  She was buried at Mousseaux with the other condemned, at eleven in the evening.  They put a lot of quicklime on the body as they had with the king and queen. 
Sept générations d'exécuteurs, 1688-1847 : Mémoires des Sanson. T. 5 (1862)
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k36780f/f141.image


Other witnesses: 

News spread that Madame Élisabeth had been condemned and taken to the scaffold.  She was a princess or rather an angel who would join the martyrs of her race in heaven.  Madame Duquesnoy and my wife wanted to share in her last moments on earth;  they decided to position themself and pray to God for her during her passage;  they placed themselves with this intention at the corner of the rue St-Honoré.  The sinister cortege  made its way;  that day it was composed of six tumbrils.  My wife looked at the first and saw M. de Brienne whom she recognised and sensed herself recognised in return;  it was a thunderbolt to her and she fell senseless.
Mémoires of the comte de Beugnot,  p.318.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=rCMwAAAAMAAJ&pg=318#v=onepage&q&f=false

The abbé Morellet too was a longstanding associate of the Brienne family:
With my lodgings in the faubourg Saint-Honoré, I could not walk to the Champs-Elysées after dinner without hearing the ferocious cries which accompanied the fall of heads.   Along the road towards the town centre....I would meet the crowds from the place de la Révolution; and sometimes, without meaning to, I would encounter the fatal tumbrils.  It was thus that I had the misfortune to see, without looking out for them, the comte de Brienne, and all his family, going to the guillotine with Madame Élisabeth;  a bloody image which has long haunted me.
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k61814b/f19.item.r=elisabeth.langFR.zoom

Claude-Antoine Moëlle, one of the Commune commissioners, had grown increasingly sympathetic towards the Royal family:
On 10th May 1794 we learned, with the greatest surprise, that Madame Élisabeth had been transferred the day before, at ten o'clock in the evening, from the Temple to the Conciergerie and had just been condemned to death by the Revolutionary tribunal.  She was going to be executed with twenty-three people arrested in the area of Sens.  As I was living close to the Palais, this news came to me immediately.  Drawn by confused feelings that I could not define, with some strange hope, I went out onto the streets. I found myself at the far end of the Pont-Neuf, by the quai de l'École, at the moment when a white scarf covering the Princess's head, came loose and fell at the feet of the executioner who was standing next to her; he picked it up.  When the Princess refused to have him replaced it, I saw him take this sacred relic and appropriate it for himself...With her head bare, she could be distinguished from the other women.  Nothing could hide the modest calm and pious serenity which which Madame Élisabeth went to her death.

Moved by my emotions, I tried in vain to be noticed by the Princess and show her my sorrow.  I followed her right to the scaffold.  There the the victims and their entourage stopped.  Untied from the plank she had been bound to, the august virgin was first on her feet.  Self-absorbed to this point, she now extended an angelic smile to her companions in death, lifted her eyes to the sky, and said, we will meet again in Heaven....That was all I was able to glean of that sublime and somber scene...I could not see any more...History adds that by a refinement of barbarity, the daughter and sister of our Kings was made to die last, but that among the victims was a priest, a former canon from Sens, who was able to give her the last rites, before preceding her into the hands of God.
Moëlle, Six journées passées au Temple (Paris 1820), p.75-77.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=hthBAAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Elisabeth's devoted doctor Dassy was, it seems,also there: 
M Dassy replied to the trust and kindness of Madame Élisabeth with a profound devotion, respectful attachment and great gratitude.  The misfortunes of that angelic and unfortunate Pincess deeply affected him. When he returned home one day, Madame Dassy was struck by an unexpected transformation in his person and hastened to ask the cause:  "I have received a mortal blow, he said bursting into tears.  I have just met and recognised in the executioner's cart...an angel going to the scaffold!..."  He took to his bed, and a few days later he was dead. (Note found in the papers of count Ferrand, given to  him by madame Georgest née Darnay, who had this information from madame Dassy herself)
Antoine-François-Claude Ferrand, Éloge historique de madame Élisabeth, 1861, p.278
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=0FsOAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA278
[Dassy, who suffered from ill-health, did not in fact die until March 1795.]

A friend of the Montmorin family was also in the crowd.  It was M.Lemoinne, the former secretary of the minister. He followed the tumbrils right to the place de la Revolution.  In the last one was madame de Montmorin and her son.  Although she was only forty-nine, madame de Montmorin seemed sixty.  Her hair had grown white.  She was calm and content to leave this world.  Calixte de Montmorin, standing up, with his head uncovered, held a object which he frequently brought up to his lips... [It was a ribbon belonging to the woman he loved] He was twenty-two.  His last thoughts were in the place where he had left his heart.  When the carts halted, Calixte bowed respectfully towards Madame Élisabeth.  Each time the blade of the guillotine descended, he cried out:  "Long live the King!", as did a courageous servant of the Brienne household who had been caught up in the condemnation. When the twentieth victim went up the steps he tried to cry out; but this time the cry died on his lips;  it was his mother!  Calixte was guillotined after her.  Their bodies were buried in Monceau that same evening.
Bardoux, Études sur la fin du XVIIIe siècle : la comtesse de Beaumont, Pauline de Montmorin (1884), p.232

Madame de Genlis seems to have beenthe first to suggest the execution was accompanied by an "odour of sanctity":
Madame Élisabeth could never obtain permission to become a nun;  Heaven had reserved for her the glory of martyrdom;  she perished on the scaffold in 1793.  All the accounts and memoirs of the time agree that, at the moment when she received the fatal bow, a smell of roses spread throughout the Place Louis XV. [AUTHOR'S NOTE:  One learns in the Lives of the saints that this miracle of a sweet odour, spreading all of a sudden, has occurred more than once, at the moment of death of sainted persons.]
Mémoires inédits, 1825, p.95
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=PbUFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA95#v=onepage&q&f=false

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for compiling these accounts. Mme Elisabeth's was probably the most unnecessary of all the royal murders.

    ReplyDelete