Thursday, 10 September 2015

9th September 1792: massacre at Versailles (cont.)
It was inevitable that in the highly charged atmosphere of the period following the 10th August, Parisian militants should turn their attention to the national High Court in Orléans which had been set up by the Constituent Assembly in March 1791 to try those accused of political crimes - "lèse-nation" in the new parlance. The Court had advisedly been situated at a safe distance from the capital in Orléans where its courtroom and prison were located in the former convent of the Minimes. The Court did not inspire trust by its track record for militancy; its procedure involved long processes of information gathering and was weighted in favour of the accused. Thanks to the amnesty voted by the Assembly, it had already been relieved of proceeding against the individuals implicated in the King's flight to Varennes. Moreover, since the 10th August it had returned several acquittals.

On 23rd August the Commune reiterated its insistence that the juridiction of the Court be destroyed and the prisoners awaiting trial be transferred to Paris. In the Assembly, the Girondin deputy Gensonné attempted to seize the initiative by demanding the Court's reconsitution. On 25th the Minister of Justice was charged with sending a commission to Orléans and the Assembly duly dispatched two of its members, the radical deputies Léonard Bourdon and Dubail, "to ensure the state of the prisons of Orléans ".(p.362-3)

The Commune, however, pre-empted the move. On the 24th a band of five or six hundred armed volunteers commanded by the notorious Claude Fournier "l'Américain" had already left for Étampes where they awaited further instructions from Danton and the Commune. The Assembly recognised the fait accompli and, on 26th August, passed a second decree ordering a force of 1,800 men to be sent to Orléans with cannon to guarantee the safety of the prisoners.  Roland, under the domination of Danton, regularised Fournier's position by making him commander of this new force. He was joined by a further group of armed men under Claude François Lazowski who was made second-in-command.  They acted in collusion with Bourdon and Dubail.

Arriving in Orléans on 30th August, the Parisian radicals took over the two prisons (Minimes and Saint-Charles) and, by all accounts, promptly fleeced the inmates of their valuables.  On the 2nd September they joined in a civic fête with their supporters in the town.  The Assembly meanwhile issued and urgent decree demanding that the accused be transferred to the security of the fortress of Saumur. The message was sent by extraordinary courier to the représentants Garran-Coulon, deputy of Paris, and Pelicot , deputy of Bouches du Rhone, who were acting as grands procurateurs to the High Court.  It was duly communicated to the Parisian commanders.  On the 4th of September at six o'clock in the morning Fournier gave the order to leave.  The prisoners, fifty-three in all, were unceremoniously piled into seven ammunition carts furnished by the artillery.  Lazowski rode at their head, adored with the cross of Saint Louis and Cincinnatus, whilst other members of the Revolutionary force adorned their hats with an ominous "Paris ou la mort!".

The convoy left Orléans by the porte Bannier making for Paris via Artenay. They spent the first night at Toury, the second at Angerville and finally arrived back at Étampes in the course of the 6th September.  Here the prisoners were forced to sleep the straw covered floor of an abandoned convent and were allowed leisure to write to their families and friends.  Their communications were never sent but instead placed in the care of Fournier and in due course deposited at the Hôtel de Ville. They still survive - several are reproduced in Mortimer-Ternaux Histoire de la Terreur III, p.561.

At eight in the morning on the 5th, the Assembly received an urgent dispatch informing them that, despite the decree of the 2nd, the prisoners were en route to Paris.  It now issued a further decree allowing the executive powers to take "whatever measures are necessary" and sent out two commissioners to meet Fournier with a proclamation by Vergniaud recalling the troops to their duty and ordering them back to Saumur.  However, the Commune nominated four commissioners of its own who arrived at Étampes several hours ahead of the convoy, duly read the proclamation, but claimed that secret orders had been sent changing the destination to Versailles. On 6th September Madame du Barry received a letter from the Chevalier d’Escourre, the duc de Brissac’s equerry, informing her that the prisoners were due to arrive at Versailles the next day.

In the event the convoy moved only slowly towards its destination. By the 8th they were in Arpajon, forty kilometres from Versailles, where the prisoners spent the in the stables of the duc de Mouchy at In the morning they moved on to Marcoussis and halted in front of the bailliage, where local patriots hurled abuse at the prisoners.  The story goes that one of them climbed on the wheel of one of the carts and whistled at an old man with his hands tied behind his back.  The old man responded, "My friend I am as good a patriot as you; I am a poor priest".  This must surely have been the once imperious Monseigneur Castellane who was the only ecclesiastic among the prisoners .

Meanwhile, among the authorities at Versailles, there was consternation. The former Constituent, Charles-Jean-Marie Alquier, president of the Tribunal of Seine-et-Oise, personally leapt on his horse and galloped to Paris to warn Danton of the prisoners' immanent arrival, asking if he was to commit them for trial. The Minister of Justice merely signalled his acquiesence in the impending violence by replying that "there were guilty among them" and turned his back dramatically on his visitor.

On 8th September the Mayor of Versailles, Hyacinthe Richaud formally communicated to the town council a letter from Roland commanding the local authorities to provide lodging and subsistence for the prisoners and those charged with "safeguarding them" - some 1,500 men. Five or six thousand "volunteers" had already flooded into the town and Richaud feared, with reason, the likelihood of "bloody executions".  It was decided to take the prisoners to the comparative security of the cages of the former Royal Ménagerie, situated at the end of the southern branch of the Grand Canal, with its main entrance on the route de Bretagne, between Versailles and Saint-Cyr.

On the 9th September the advanced guard of the escort finally arrived to announce that that the prisoners were two leagues away. Richaud rode out to Jouy, a commune just outside Versailles with the hope of directing the prisoners to the Ménagerie without going through the town.  He left behind a proclamation that, in the event of their entry into Versailles, the prisoners were to be left unmolested.  At one o'clock he sent a note warning that the cortege, with all its equipment, was indeed going to pass through Versailles.  Events now began to inexorably forward towards the final denouement. The Prefecture of the department appointed three magistrates -  Latruffe, Deplane and Truffet - to conduct the convoy from the gate of Petit-Montreuil to that of the Orangerie. At two o'clock it was reported that the prisoners had successfully crossed the town unharmed despite the large and hostile crowd which had gathered. But sadly, the news was premature. At quarter to three, the sieur Pile, appariteur de police announced that the prisoners "had just been massacred in the rue de l'Orangerie".

The majority of the Versailles National Guard which surrounded the prisoners had complied with their orders to protect them. The escort was divided;  part of the cavalry and the artillery, accompanied by Fournier and Lazowski, plus Richaud and the three magistrates, had taken the head.  A second detachment went behind, leaving the flanks exposed. The cortege entered the town by the rue des Chantiers, a road more than a kilometre long, which ended in the avenue de Paris, near the Hôtel de Ville.  They were then to follow the avenue de Paris, cross the Place d'Armes in front of the Château and pass through the much smaller rue des Recollets and rue de Saint-Julien to gain the rue de l'Orangerie. From here they could proceed to the gate onto to the route de Bretagne (route de Saint-Cyr) where the Ménagerie was situated.

au carrefour des Quatre Bornes . 
The plan started to go wrong outside the Château when a part of the escort contrived to take a shortcut across the courtyard of the palace and terrace of the Orangerie in order to outflank the main convoy and cut it off just before the barrier. A second group managed to shut the gate behind the leading escort party. A hostile crowd gathered which demanded that Brissac and Lessart be surrendered to them - Brissac, still in his blue uniform coat with gold buttons, was in the third cart, conspicuous because of his height and bearing. Singled out by the hostile crowd of onlookers.  Richaud, having struggled back through the barrier, turned the convoy round and attempted to make for the safety of the hôtel of the gardes-du-corps in the rue Royale at the other end of the rue de l'Orangerie - a mere 500 metres away.  Here they could wait until the crowd had dispersed before proceeding.  They reached the crossroads with the rue Satory (the carrefour des Quatre-Bornes) half-way to their destination, only to find that the crowd had already arrived. Richaud heroically tried to interpose himself between the attackers and the prisoners, only to slip in blood and find himself carried to a nearby house. (Legend has it that, attempting to struggle back, he exclaimed "I will die at my post!", only to be told ominously, "It is not yet time!")

Jules Rigaud, Dévouement héroïque de Hyacinthe Richaud, maire de
Versailles, le 9 Septembre 1792. 1854 
Musée Lambinet, Versailles

The deposition of a municipal officer delivered on the 11th september 1792 recounts how he was summoned immediately afterwards to the scene. He and his two companions arrived to find the crossroads strewn with bloody mutilated bodies. They were shown the remains of Brissac and de Lessart which were totally unrecognisable.  Fifteen or twenty men approached the three officers and forced them to search the pockets of the clothes. They then had the bodies put in a cart and taken to the Saint-Louis cemetery. The clothes were taken to the place de la Loi and publicly burned. The inventory of the duc de Brissac's possessions still survives (see Mortimer-Ternaux, p.407)
Two former servants of the duc, Antoine Baudin and his son Pierre, had followed the prisoners to Versailles, and were able to confirm his death. (p.178) Near the fountain de Quatre-Bornes the prisoners on the carts were assailed with blows from sabres, pikes and bayonets by a "multitude of people dressed in all sorts of clothes". The two men both recognised Brissac on the third cart in his blue coat. At two-thirty, the father saw and recognised on the pavement the corpse of Brissac, who appeared to have been injured by sabre wounds to his face, the worst of which was to his nose. Some moments later he saw his severed head on a pike, with a placard naming him attached to the forehead, in the middle of a crowd. Son corroborated. He had seen the duc in his blue coat with yellow buttons, his curled hair and pigtail, his boots, like the other prisoners sitting in the straw of his cart with his hat in hand. The prisoners were set upon by a crowd with sabres,pikes and bayonets, the horses were led away. He witnessed the duc being thrown off the cart, set upon and mutilated.

The distinction of having killing the duc de Brissac was disputed between a vigneron called Louis-Martin Lamprié and a certain "Vieuville le Blond" who claimed to have thrust a pike into his heart, and carried his head aloft on a pitchfork. Another Revolutionary apparently hurried home with the duc's severed foot, still in its "grey silk stocking and new shoe"; another boasted a fragment of his blue coat and one of his fingers. Durupt de Balène, intendant of the Civil List at Versailles, saw "three youths, one aged about sixteen and the others younger" who styled themselves the bearers of Brissac's head and who were parading around with the grisly trophy impaled on sabre. They presented it to his wife demanding that she "Kiss Brissac"; the poor woman took to her bed and died shortly afterward. It is well attested that the head was subsequently transported to Louveciennes and lobbed into Madame du Barry's house, perhaps even into the salon where she was sitting. In 1900 a skull, which according to Lenotre resembled a sculpture of the duc, was found in the garden and reburied by the side of the road to Prunay.

The aftermath

The death toll is reckoned at 44 out of 53 prisoners. Two gravely wounded men who managed to find shelter, were taken to the Versailles infirmary and later hidden. Three officers of the regiment of Perpignan were also rescued and successfully escaped.

Following the slaughter of the Orléans prisoners, the insurgents set up a summary tribunal at the Maison d'arrêt, the prison for detainees awaiting trial, which was housed in the former Queen's stables. Despite the desperate resistance of Richaud, Germain,the President of the Department and Gillet the public prosecutor, thirteen more prisoners were killed, the majority of them common criminals.

Les Ecuries de la Reine - today the Versailles Court of  Appeal

The next day the makeshift army made its triumphal entry into Paris, with six cannons and the bloodied carts in tow, and made its way to the residence of the Minister of Justice on the place Vendôme. The complicity of the Revolutionary regime was made clear when Danton himself duly appeared on the balcony, to deliver the thanks of "the minister of the people".


Paul Huot, Les Massacres à Versailles en 1792 (Paris 1862)

Mortimer-Ternaux, Histoire de la Terreur  III (1862) , p.359-

Charles Vatel, Histoire de Madame du Barry, III (1883) p.

Note of 26/05/2021:
It would be worth consulting this account by P.-F. Tissot, who was there at the time:
Histoire complète de la Révolution française Volume 3 (1835), p. 264-

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