Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Royal bodyguard on 6th October

The October Days. in which the women of Paris marched on Versailles, and forced Louis XVI and the royal family, henceforth virtual prisoners, to return to Paris, is one of the best known turning points of the Revolution.  In the standard tours of Versailles, you can see the incongruously ornate and luxurious surroundings in which the drama of the early hour of 6th October played itself out; the Queen's staircase by which the angry crowd entered, the little door which Marie-Antoinette used to make her hurried escape, the Queen's guardroom where the royal bodyguard made their stand....  

Well-known too are the prints of the Revolutionary crowd on its return to Paris, triumphantly bearing the heads of two butchered guardsmen on  pikes.  However, these individuals, the soldiers who so willingly laid down their lives to protect their monarchs, are often neglected, especially in modern accounts.

In 2005 a book on Les gardes du corps de Louis XVI (2005)  was published with biographical notices for the whole of the corps. This is not available on the internet, but  there is a summary list published on  the French genealogical website, Mémodoc.  In this post, I have tried to marry up an account of what happened on 6th October, taken mainly from the 19th-century study by. J. A. Le Roi, with this list of names.

The violence begins

In the small hours of the 6th an uneasy hush finally settled over Versailles.  The Revolutionary crowd which had invaded the assembly was temporarily appeased and the mass of National Guard, which accompanied them seemed for the moment obedient to the restraining voice of Lafayette.  The palace itself was guarded on the outside by members of the former gardes françaises, now incorporated into the National Guard.  The gardes-du-corps at their post within the palace knew themselves to be hopelessly outnumbered.   Their commander the  Marquis d’Aguesseau, had a force of only 80 to 100 men at his disposal. 

At about half-past five in the morning a large number of women, who had spent the night in the adjacent barracks of the gardes françaises., began to gather in the place d'Armes in front of the palace.  In the 18th century there was a second set of gates into the inner part of the courtyard, the cour des Ministres, but this was guarded only by two National Guardsmen who let the women through.  They then gained entry into the cours des Princes (where the gate had been left open for the gardes françaises.) and through into the gardens.  The crowd congregated under the windows of the Queen's apartments.  It was at this point that Marie-Antoinette inquired what the noise was and was told by Madame Thibault that it was only some women looking for a place to sleep.

The palace of Versailles, c.1774
Meanwhile large numbers of men, armed with pikes, sabres and pistols invaded the cours des Ministres, crying vengeance against the gardes-du-corps and the Queen. d'Aguesseau had restricted himself to stationing two men at each gate. Strict instructions were issued in the name of the King not to fire on the crowd at any cost. “Sir", Bertrand de Moleville, has one guardsman say, "assure our unfortunate Master that his orders shall be obeyed, but we shall be murdered”(p.110).  The officer in charge of the guard-house was convinced that his men had escaped death only because the rain had soaked the priming of the Revolutionaries' guns.  

The early morning of 6 October, at Versailles
from Haycraft, In search of the French Revolution (1989) p. 73

The angry crowd began to surge forward, perhaps spurred on by the shooting of one of their number. The guards in the passage des Colonnades which gave entry to the cour des Princes were unable to withstand the onslaught and were pushed back.  One of them, De Lisle (1), was seized and would certainly have been killed if he had not been protected by a National Guardsman.  A section of invaders now moved off towards the archway to the theatre, where the sentry at the door of Mesdames' apartments had the presence of mind to rush to the King's apartments to raise the alarm. The other, larger column attacked the two guards who had just taken up their stations at the gates to the cour Royal.  In an instant Deshuttes (2) was overwhelmed by blows, wounded with pikes and sabres and dragged into the cour des Ministres.  Here he was set upon by the terrible Jourdan  "Coupe-Tête", a monster with a huge beard, who placed a foot on his chest and cut off his head with an axe. [He really existed - see Wikipedia] The head was placed  there-and-then on a pike and paraded through the town, whilst the body was thrown in some straw near the barracks of the gardes françaises.  Deshuttes'  terrified colleague Moreau (3), managed to tear free from  his assaillants and narrowly escaped a similar fate.

The battle on the staircase 

The first group of invaders had now turned back on itself and entered the staircase, which led from the courtyard to the Queen’s apartments,  where a group of guards had already gathered on the landing. One of them, Miomandre de Sainte-Marie (4), came down three or four steps: "My friends, he declared, you love your good king, yet come to disturb him in his palace. Surrender your arms!"  Without replying the leaders threw themselves on him, grabbing him by the cross-belt and hair, while one of their number took his musket. He was quickly dragged to safety by his comrades.  Realising that they could not resist such a large crowd, the guards now barricaded themselves in the grande salle ("salle du Sacre").  The attackers threw themselves at the door and managed to break through a panel, but the guards positioned a heavy cabinet to stop the hole.  Eventually, however, the door of the adjoining Queen's guardroom was breached, the crowd rushed in and fell upon the defenders.  Several managed to escape and join their comrades in the King's guardroom but one of them, Varicourt (5) was hit from behind, wounded and dragged down the stairs into the cour des Ministres. He was still alive and trying to reason with his assassins when the terrible Jourdan came up once more, and hacked off his head to serve as a second trophy.

Queen's guardroom today,
with its  restored 17th-century decoration

Further Revolutionaries now arrived via the Salle des cent-suisses, crossing the grande salle into the  Queen's guardroom where they joined those who had already entered by the staircase. A number of the guardsmen were able to fall back and barricade themselves in the salon de l'Oeil-de-Boeuf, but the remainder in the grande salle and Queen's guardsroom were left exposed. 

 As the crowd entered the guardroom, Du Repaire (6), heard the cries against the Queen and stationed himself at the entry to her apartments.  He was set upon, seized by the cross-belt, thrown to the floor and pulled to the door amid threats to cut his throat. A man tried to plung a pike into his chest, but Du Repaire wrested it from him, and parrying the further blows, managed to retreat to  the King's guardroom  where he too was hauled to safety.  At the last moment a shot, probably intended for Du Repaire, hit one of his assallants.

Jean-François Janinet (engraver): 
Events of the 6th October 1789.
"Massacre of a  garde-du-corps at the door of
 the Queen's Apartment, by a brigand"
Miomandre, who saw Du Repaire overwhelmed, rushed to take his place. At the threshold  to the Queen's antechamber he cried out to Madame Thibault  to "save the Queen".  Even as she hastened to lock the communicating door, he was set upon in his turn. One assaillant attacked him with a pike; he was able to parry, but the man then took the pike by its head and knocked him to the ground with the shaft. A passing infantryman hit him with the butt-end of his gun, laying open his skull and leaving him for dead.  Despite the severity of his injuries he too struggled to the King's guardroom and thence rejoined Du Repaire in the salon de l'Oeil-de-Boeuf.  De Virieu (7) and four other guards entered the first of the Queen's two antechambers and  persuaded Madame Aughié through the keyhole to unlock the door to the inner room.  As they entered the Queen made her successful escape through the passage to the King's apartments.

In the Oeil-de-Boeuf  the guardsmen, barricaded behind piles of furniture,  resolved  to make a final stand in defence of the royal family.  In order to parley with members of the invading soldiery,  M. de Chevannes(8)  had opened the door and offered himself as the first sacrifice. Fortunately he was met by loyal members of the National Guard and at this point the bodyguard were relieved.

Although the guards who defended the entrance to the Queen's apartments bore the brunt of the attack, others were also exposed to danger. Gratery (9) , saved by former gardes françaises from being hanged or shot, escaped as far as the hôtel of the gardes-du-corps, rue Royale, then took refuge among sympathisers in the town.  Raymond (10) on duty at the theatre was likewise  beaten, disarmed and stripped to his shirt.  Bertrand de Moleville notes that Madame Élisabeth herself saved the guard outside her door whilst Madame Adelaide and Madame Victoire  had refused one altogether.


As news of the massacres at the Château spread, the crowd, driven from the palace, dispersed through the town. Men dressed in rags and armed with pikes, guns, staffs and all sort of tools, pillaged the guard's hôtel and the nearby hôtel de Charrost. Some guards, who were still in the hôtel,  tried vainly to rejoin their comrades - Lukerque (11), was attacked in the rue de l'Orangerie, two others, Vaquier-Demotte (12)  and d'Aubiac (13) got as far as the avenue de Sceaux. .All evaded their aggressors thanks only to the intervention of the National Guard.  By the time the batallion who had been quartered at the hôtel were ready to leave, there were just sixteen guards left to join them.  These got separated and several had already been struck by pikes by the time Lafayette himself appeared to the rescue.

The royal family leave Versailles for Paris (print)

Meanwhile Durepaire and  Miomandre, realising they were useless to their comrades, had escaped through the connection door to the galerie des Glaces, where a Swiss guard lent Miomandre a bonnet and grey coat.  They were taken to the kitchens, where Durepaire too was given a disguise of some servant's clothes. He eventually found his way to Saint-Cloud whilst Miomandre took refuge in a cellar to be finally rescued and taken to the infirmary in the town. The doctor, M. Voisin, had to smuggle out of the palace the marquis de Savonnières (14), an officer who had been shot in the shoulder in an incident on the 5th and was to subsequently die of his wound;  as Madame Campan testified, when an armed crowd arrived at the infirmary it was only the presence of mind of Voisin and Sister Favier which saved the guards within, allowing them time to take refuge in the nearby convent of the Ursulines or hide in the hospital's salle des pauvres.  

A considerable number of the Body Guards, who were wounded on the 6th of October, betook themselves to the infirmary at Versailles. The brigands wanted to make their way into the infirmary in order to massacre them. M. Voisin, head surgeon of that infirmary, ran to the entrance hall, invited the assailants to refresh themselves, ordered wine to be brought, and found means to direct the Sister Superior to remove the Guards into a ward appropriated to the poor, and dress them in the caps and greatcoats furnished by the institution. The good sisters executed this order so promptly that the Guards were removed, dressed as paupers, and their beds made, while the assassins were drinking. They searched all the wards, and fancied they saw no persons there but the sick poor; thus the Guards were saved.
(Memoirs of Madame Campan, vol. III)

The King left for Paris at noon. The heads of the unfortunate Deshuttes and Varicourt on two pikes led the procession.  Following them were forty to fifty gardes-du-corps on foot and unarmed, escorted by a body of men armed with sabres and pikes. After that came two guards, wearing high boots, with neck wounds, blood-stained shirts and torn garments, each held by two men in the national uniform with drawn swords in their hands. Further back came a group of guards mounted on horses, some riding pillion and others in the saddle with a member of the National Guard riding behind them.There is a story, quite probably apocryphal, that a hairdresser on the pont de Sèvres was forced to attend to the hair of the decapitated heads, rendering him so distressed that he subsequently committed suicide.

The bodies of the two dead guard were at first left exposed to the curiosity of hostile onlookers, who uncovered them from the straw,  kicked them and took scraps of their uniforms as souvenirs. In Paris the municipality in due course issued orders for the heads to be recovered and those who carried them to be punished,  but no documentary evidence as to what happened survives. On the evening of the 6th the curé of the church of  Notre Dame in Versailles inscribed on the Parish Memorial the names of the two guards, together with that of Jérôme-Honoré L'Héritier compagnon ébéniste, the insurgent who was killed. 


J. A. Le Roi, Récit des journées des 5 et 6 octobre 1789 à Versailles (1867)

Bertrand de Moleville,  Annals of the French Revolution, Vol.II (1800)

Mémodoc [French genealogical website]
Table of names of the gardes-du-corps in the reign of Louis XVI,  taken from Gilbert Bodinier, Les gardes du corps de Louis XVI (2005)

List of names
(1)   Lisle (Charles-Louis de) 
(2)   Pagès Des Uttes (Jacques-François)
(3)   Moreau de La Bélive (Antoine-Barthélémy) 
(4)   Miomandre (François-Anne)? Elsewhere François-Aimé Miomandre de Sainte-Marie
(5)   Rouph de Varicourt (François)
(6)   Tardivet Du Repaire (Guillaume-François)
(7)   ? No match
(8)   Robert de Chevannes (Charles-François) 
(9)   Renaudin de Gratery (Louis) or  (Jean-César).
(10) Raymond (Antoine-Philippe de) or (Jean-Henry-Étienne de)
(11) Lefebvre de Lukerque (Alexandre-Éloi-Jean)
(12) ? No match
(13) ? Perhaps Du Faur de Saubiac (Jean-Anne)
(14)  Savonnières (Timoléon-Magdelon-François, marquis de)

Madame du Barry apparently gave refuge at Louveciennes to two wounded guards, an act of kindness which did much to reconcile Marie-Antoinette to her.  There is a note from the former favourite to the Queen, " Madame, these wounded young men have only one regret, that they did not die with their comrades for princess as perfect, and as worthy of their homage as is assuredly Your Majesty".  Stanley Loomis gives their names as  Barghon-Monteuil and Lubersac but I can't trace these from the above listing. 

13//07/14. Note on the incident of the hairdressers.
See Caroline Weber, Queen of fashion: what Marie-Antoinette wore to the Revolution (2006) p.216-7:
" It was only when the cortège arrived in the town of Sèvres that the rioters hit upon the punishment most befitting the Queen’s history of offensive conduct.  While the cavalcade stopped to regroup, a handful of its more thuggish denizens reportedly slipped away and went in search of a coiffeur.  Finding a few, a page from the royal household recorded, they “placed a knife to [the hairdressers’] throats and constrained them to frizzle and powder” the hair on the severed heads of the two murdered royal guards.  The ruffians then set the heads, intricately coiffed and abundantly powdered, back on their pikes and returned to the royal carriage.  As they procession resumed, the pike bearers waved their gruesome trophies right beside Marie Antoientte’s window, to make sure she could see to what good use her beloved hair powder had been put.”
Caroline Weber cites separate accounts by the comte d'Hézècques, Madame de Campan and the Marquis de Molleville, so maybe the story was true. However the details do not quite agree - did the incident take place on the pont de Sèvres, in the town of Sèvres or, alternatively, in Sens?

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