Monday, 27 January 2014

The Revolution condemns Man's Best Friend........

Yes, the Revolutionary Tribunal really did order the execution of a dog!

Here is the story as told by Hector Fleischmann in his splendid Behind the scenes in the Terror, and this time it is clear Fleischmann had full documentary evidence for his tale.  Even I feel a bit sorry for this particular mutt!

18c French study of a spaniel, Ashmoleon Museum
(formerly attributed to Watteau


ON Sunday, 11th November, 1793, the Revolutionary Tribunal condemned a dog to the death penalty. A dog!

On that day a former recruiter of the name of Saint-Prix took his place on the steps. There were few people in the hall. The batch of victims was not very large.  All were reserving themselves for finer " platoon firing." Saint-Prix was accused of counter-revolutionary talk. One of his female neighbours had inquired if he was going to mount guard, to which he had replied :
" I'm not made to mount guard with beggars and scoundrels",

And he had added with a regretful sigh :

" I prefer the old order to the new."

This blunder led to his being brought before pitiless judges who struck without appeal allowed. They had found the accused guilty of lesser offences. Saint-Prix's sentence was what everyone expected, but it involved his dog at the same time. It had been trained to give notice of strangers approaching its master's lodging. One day the bearer of an order for Saint-Prix was bitten in the calf by the watchful animal. The Court condemned it and next day, Monday 18th November, the judgment was executed. The National Archives have preserved the details of the strange trial, and we will reconstitute its epilogue as they give it.

A letter enclosed with the official account informed Fouquier-Tinville about it the same day.

" Archives Nationales," Series W, carton 296, piece 253.


On 28th Brumaire, second year of the French Republic one and indivisible.

To Fouquier-Tinville, Public Prosecutor.

On receipt of the sentence of the Revolutionary Tribunal condemning Saint-Prix to the death penalty and ordering his dog to be killed, we proceeded to execute this last portion of the sentence.

We are sending you the official account drawn up to that effect ; we beg you to reimburse us the expenses to which we have been put.

Towards noon the Commissary of the Tuileries Watch Committee, a man called Claude-Charles George, had gone with the police-inspector, Pierre-Louis Hostaux, to a house named "Le Combat du Taureau," which, though the proces-verbal is silent, was probably a public house of some kind, for it is stated that the house is kept by the Citizen Maclart. On the arrival of the two men, Citizen Maclart being absent, his wife receives the visitors. They solemnly show the astounded woman the Revolutionary Tribunal order commanding the dog's execution. They summon her in the law's name to bring forth the beast, a formality which she obeys without answering.

She goes into the courtyard of the house, removes the animal from the corner where it was slumbering, and leads it to the Commissary and Inspector.

A serious discussion then arises between the august personages. Who is to kill the animal? Pierre-Louis Hostaux or Claude-Charles George? They both refuse, and the Citizeness Maclart emphatically declares herself unable to do what the two men refuse to do. Doubtless to end the discussion she proposes a middle way. A few paces away, at "Le Combat," there is a post of National Guards. From among them might be requisitioned a man who would execute the sentence. Citizeness Maclart 's ingenious proposal is accepted, and George, holding firmly in his hand the Order of the Revolutionary Tribunal, runs to the post.

Meanwhile the animal is yelping, jumping, gambolling about. Quickly returns the Commissary of the Tuileries Section accompanied by Citizen Bonneau, sergeant of the Arcis section, belonging to the guard on duty. It is difficult to think the sergeant accepted George's proposal. Doubtless the latter simply used him as a witness. However that may be, he accompanies the Commissary; and in the presence of Citizeness Maclart and the Sergeant, Saint-Prix's dog is done to death with cudgel-blows.

And gravely the four assistants sign the official account of the execution. The woman Maclart no doubt performs the burial of the corpse. The sergeant goes back to his post, the two envoys of the Tuileries Section to their Committee. Justice is done.

Hector Fleischmann, Behind the scenes in the Terror (English version 1914) p.296-8.

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