Monday, 25 March 2019

Voltaire, Calas and the "black legend"

In the 21st century Voltaire's defence of Jean Calas has once again become a potent  symbol of the struggle for toleration and liberal values.  This has given the case a high profile, but has not always contributed a great deal to a the historical understanding of events.

One historian who has attempted a more balanced view of Voltaire's battles with legal authority is Benoît Garnot, until 2016 Professor of Modern History at the University of Bourgogne.  Professor Garnot is the author of an impressive number of studies of the French legal system under Ancien Régime, which focus on how it actually functioned in practice.  He refutes the idea that the judiciary was simply an instrument of royal coercion and writes of the "bons juges d’Ancien régime". His key concept is that of a compromise between judicial institutions and society at large, "une "justice négociée" (See the article "Benoît Garnot" in Wikipé

In 2005, Garnot published a study of Voltaire, the title of which asks provocatively whether Voltaire might be guilty of "une imposture intellectuelle".

C’est la faute à Voltaire...Une imposture intellectuelle?  (Belin, 2005)

Professor Garnot sees Voltaire as the chief architect of the  "black legend" of  the French judiciary, perpetuated into modern times by Michel Foucault.  For those of us who are fond of Voltaire, Professor Garnot's polemic can seem unnecessarily unkind: Voltaire was not merely mistaken but guilty of "intellectual imposture"; his writings present "une image inexacte, voire mensongère"  (One gets the impression that Garnot has quite enjoyed knocking the idol off his pedestal; in 2017 he wrote a piece asking provocatively whether freedom to criticise now applies "en terre voltairienne.").  

The various chapters of the book examine Voltaire's competence as a legal commentator, the nature of his interest in legal affairs and his specific opinions on procedures, punishments and the magistrature.  I haven't been able to get hold of a copy, but here is a summary based on a review article in AHRF:

Voltaire's competence (p.13-27)
It comes as no surprise to learn that Voltaire was not in the slightest bit interested in the law.  In a library of 3,281 volumes, he possessed only 31 works on jurisprudence and made marginal notations in only sixteen (p.17).He almost never cited jurisconsults in his correspondance, not even  the collections of causes célèbres (p.18).  The sole "oasis" in this juridical desert was his enthusiasm for Beccaria (p.25).  Nonetheless, his dismissal of legal niceties cannot be excused by simple ignorance   - he was, after all, the son of a receveur des épices and himself a former law student.  Rather he was guilty of a disingenuous strategy aimed at manipulating public opinion against judicial "subtleties".

Voltaire's bias (p.29-53)
His interest in judicial affairs came late in life, and was confined to cases which affected him personally or, as with the Calas case, offered him the opportunity to combat religious fanaticism.  The attack on "l’infâme" was his prime interest and only incidentally broadened into a general indictment of royal justice.

His view of the legal system (p.55-78)
Professor Garnot examines Voltaire's specific criticisms of  penal procedure:  the system of proofs,  the wide initiative given to judges, the use of monitoires, the rules for contempt of court, the high price of justice (p.55)  None of his criticisms can be sustained in detail; they are "at best approximate, at worst erroneous" (p.55). He was guilty  of exaggeration, and deliberately disregarded details which would spoil his rhetoric.

Voltaire's "philosophy of punishment" (p.79-100)

Voltaire did not call into question the legitimacy of punishments handed down by royal authority or dictated by moral necessity, though he did follow Beccaria in denying the deterrent value of the death penalty.  Once again, he was not consistent or accurate in his depictions of execution and torture.  The arguments he employs against torture, a "punishment before punishment" are the longstanding ones, which go back to the days of  Montaigne. 

Voltaire's criticism of the magistrature (p.104-114)
Professor Garnot repudiates Voltaire's observations regarding the venality of judicial offices and the incompetence of their holders.  In fact, legal office was accessible to the averagely wealthy bourgeoisie.  The rigours of co-option and the different levels of court ensured a certain professionalism;  Voltaire himself, was often admiring, even sycophantic towards the magistrates of the Parlements. 

Prix de la justice et de l'humanité  (p.115-130)
In the final chapter, Garnot insists again on the pragmatic character of Voltaire's interest in justice.  Nonetheless, he concedes that Voltaire's most considered treatment,  La Prix de la justice et de l'humanité of 1777, shows an evolution in his thought: less preoccupation with religion, discussion of the laws of different countries, concern for the status of women, and a certain qualified optimism about the French system.

The book concludes by indicting a "double imposture" against the judicial system of the Ancien régime -  by Voltaire himself and  by posterity which has uncritically repeated his arguments. 

Benoît Garnot, C’est la faute à Voltaire… Une imposture intellectuelle? Belin, 2005)
Reviewed by Claude Coquard AHRF, oct-dec 2009: 

Voltaire et l’affaire Calas:  les faits, les interprétations, les enjeux, (Hatier, 2013)

In 2013 Benoît Garnot returned to the theme of Voltaire's legal competence in his study of the Calas affair.  This short book is part of a new, popular series launched in 2013 by Hatier called "récits d'historien", aimed, they say,  particularly at school teachers.  Having given an account of the trial and rehabilitation of Calas, Professor Garnot  goes on to consider the culpability of the magistrates of Toulouse.

The Judicial system in question - the problem of "intimate conviction" (p.75-83)
Did the judges deliberately condemn an innocent man? Were they mislead by witnesses, or by erroneous experts?  Or the judicial process itself predisposed to error?  For some contemporaries, Voltaire among them, it was the inquisitorial system itself which was at fault.

According to Professor Garnot, the situation was more complicated.  Problems arose from a gulf between theory and practice.  Paradoxically, far from being biased against the innocent,  the inquisitorial system was widely perceived as too demanding to guarantee conviction of the guilty. To convict in capital crimes "full proof" was required - a confession, two eye-witnesses, or incontrovertible physical evidence.  In practice, cases usually relied on witness statements which, even with oaths and precautions, were difficult to establish with certainty.  The practitioners of the time was aware of this.  Many authors, starting with Montesquieu, considered that two witness statements were an insufficient guarantee of guilt but must be accepted if conviction were to be possible.  Where proofs were uncertain, judges were theoretically forced to hand out lesser penalties.  However, it became more and more common in practice for judges to rely on their own opinion, formalised by the decision to admit a given proof.  Whilst lower courts were still obliged to adhere to the strict letter of the law, it became accepted that magistrates in the Parlements might act on their consciences in the interests of equity. This essentially anticipated the system  adopted by the Revolution which placed reliance on the "intimate conviction" of the judge.

It can be argued that an arbitrary element had been introduced which was not in fact sanctioned by strict procedure.  This was so in the Calas case. The formal legal proofs did not indicate guilt:  there was no confession, no direct witnesses, no certain evidence;  there were only strong presumptions, which pointed to a light sentence or total acquittal. However, the judges felt that the weight of evidence against suicide was such that they were justified in imposing the death penalty.  Professor Garnot concludes that, although they may have been in error, they were not exceeding their competence:  Calas was not in fact subject to the sort of judicial lynching Voltaire's presentation suggested.

Voltaire and the "legende noire"  (p.83-92)
In this section, Professor Garnot returns to Voltaire's influence in creating a distorted view of the legal system  - "une légende noire encore trop vivace" (p.90) The second half of the 18th century, particularly the decade before the Revolution, saw an escalating number of mistaken convictions, which were overturned after publicity campaigns along the lines Voltaire had pioneered in the Calas affair.  Voltaire himself was involved in the cases of Sirven, Montbailli, Lally-Tollendal and Martin.  He also campaigned on behalf of La Barre who was executed in Arras in 1765 for impiety and sacrileges, although this rehabilitation did not take place until the Revolution.  The cases after Calas allowed Voltaire to develop his criticisms of the judiciary and plans for reform which were neither original nor very coherent.

Anon, Voltaire promises his support to the Calas family.  Musée Antoine Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin.  

Benoît Garnot uses this picture as the front cover of his book.  He comments: 

This painting is part of the legend created for the glory of Voltaire after the Calas affair.  In reality, such an interview between Voltaire and the Calas family never took place.  The two children would have been fifteen and nineteen by the time of the events.  To move the public, the painter has taken liberties with historical truth which, to say the least, are excessive.

In Professor Garnot's view Voltaire was guilty of  a "worrying intellectual legerity", a tendency to exaggerate, even manipulate facts, above all to transform isolated cases into archetypal examples of judicial error. His
 lack of technical competence was shown, above all, in his condemnation of magistrates' arbitrary powers.  According to Voltaire judges were in a position to impose whatever penalties they deem fit, without sanction; in reality judges were allowed only legitimate liberty to pronounce a penalty fitted to the crime and circumstances.   Decisions were made with reference to legislation and precedent, with due consideration for the available punishments. He misrepresented the Toulouse magistrates; they were not the "druides barbares" he painted, they believed that they were themselves fighting against fanatics, who were guilty of a particularly perverted crime. 

Far from being normative, the judicial scandals were exception - hence the furore they caused. In fact the reality was very different. The system was adapted to conciliation rather than repression. It allowed for private compromises, usually financial compensation.  In the majority of court cases penalites were light and the acquittal rate high (43% of verdicts in the parlement of Rennes between 1785 and 189) (p.90-91)

 Benoît Garnot concludes that it is questionable that the Calas scandal mirrored a wider dysfunction in 18th-century French society.  The affair was exceptional, both from a legal and a religious point of view.  The judicial error arose because the magistrates failed to respect the need for proofs "clearer than the light of day" to arrive at a condemnation.  Instead they relied on the more dangerous recourse to intimate conviction which was becoming more and more common in  legal practice.  By the time of the Calas case a sentiment of religious tolerance was already widespread.  The events of 1761-62 represented a tragic anachronism. (p.107)


Benoît Garnot, C’est la faute à Voltaire… Une imposture intellectuelle ? (Belin, 2005)
Reviewed by Claude Coquard AHRF, oct-dec 2009: 

_____,  Voltaire et l’affaire Calas:  les faits, les interprétations, les enjeux, Hatier, 2013

______, "De la liberté de critiquer en terre voltairienne" AHMUF website, Article of 27.11.2017

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Last Protestants executed in France - the affaire Rochette 1762

The imprisonment and execution of the pastor Rochette, and the three Grenier brothers, "gentlemen glassmakers", in Toulouse in February 1762 marks the last significant act of official persecution against  the Protestants of Ancien Régime France.  It also provides the essential background to the Calas affair.  Initial events unfolded in 1761 and 1762 in Caussade, a little town north of Montauban, an area in which about half the peasants in the surrounding countryside were Protestants.

The commune of Caussade today

The arrest of Rochette

François Rochette, a young man of twenty-six, was a native of the Cévennes who had been sent from the seminary in Lausanne as pastor for Quercy and the Agenais (29 parishes in all). Although full rigour of law against Protestantism theoretically applied, up until this point he had not been much troubled by the authorities: he had conducted his services in unofficial maisons d'oraison  rather than out in the open and had moved between locations without bothering unduly to conceal himself. On 13th September 1761, having presided at a service in Bioule near Nègrepelisse, he was on his way to Caussade for a baptism, when he was arrested by chance in the countryside on suspicion of being a highwayman. When questioned he freely admitted his identity; a search of his belongings yielded a register of marriages and baptisms, several notebooks of sermons and his ministerial robes.  In theory, exercise of the Protestant ministry carried the death penalty - Rochette himself was fully prepared for martyrdom; his maternal grandfather and uncle had both been condemned to the galleys in 1690 Nonetheless, he might have been expected to be spared the full rigour of the law.

At this point, the local priest in Caussade escalated the situation by alerting the municipality to a possible hostile gathering of Protestants, timed to coincide with the grand marché fermier fixed for the following day,  Monday 14th September.  The authorities took his fears serious; they sounded the tocsin and mobilised the militia.  As soon as the market opened, a few hotheads began to molest known Huguenots as they set out their produce for sale.  Rumour, noise and panic soon spread and there was widespread disorder.  The market was postponed to the following week.  A few known Protestants were arrested. 

As they sensed disorder spreading the municipality ordered the alarm to be sounded in the surrounding towns, Septfonds, Caylus, Saint-Antonin,Montpezat and Réalville.  Panic soon began to take hold of the countryside, without the inhabitants really understanding what was happening.  However, there was already little  to be seen, when the next day, Tuesday 15th September, the militia began to converge on Caussade from the area around, including even Montauban.

The arrest of the Grenier brothers

Early  on the morning the 15th - about 4am - the three brothers Grenier, gentilshommes verriers, were arrested as ringleaders of the revolt.

Who were the Greniers?

Illustration from Haudicqueur de
Blancourt, L'Art de verrerie, 1697

The three brothers were from one of several prominent families of Protestant glass makers who inhabited the the mountainous region of Languedoc.  Despite their poverty, these "gentlemen glassmakers" enjoyed semi-noble status.  Even today the descendants of the families of Grenier, Robert and Verbizier, verriers from the region of the Mas d'Azil, have their own association.  The three brothers - Henri de Grenier-Commel, born in 1717 Jean de Grenier-Sarrandon, born in 1730, et Joachim de Grenier-Lourmade, born in 1740 - came originally from Mauvezin de Sainte-Croix in  Ariège,  fifteen kilometres from the Mas d'Azil. Although their parents were staunchly Protestant, the three appear in the Catholic baptismal registers at nearby Lavielle.  In 1759, they worked in the glassworks of Haute-Serre in the forest of Grésigne, to the south-east of Caussade.  The glassmaking kilns operated only in the winter months; in the summer the gentilshommes verriers, who were habituated to the semi-nomadic life of the mountains, assisted in the open-air assemblies of the Desert. The Grenier brothers regularly served as escorts to pastors, taught the Bible to the children, and acted as stewards at services.  In 1759, with their assistance, the pastor Louis Figuieres and his flock had successfully faced down an armed patrol led by the marquis de Gudanes, governor of Foix.

Meeting in the Desert, engraved by L.Bellotti, 1775

On hearing of the arrest of Rochette, the three brothers and a small group of companions rushed to Caussade, perhaps to reinforce their co-religionists; perhaps to lend their presence for a service planned for the 15th September.  Between them, they were carrying a sword and two hunting rifles.  However, they never reached the town.  A patrol of militia spotted them in open country, put them to flight and gave chase with a pack of dogs. They were captured near Réalville, five kilometres from Caussade. They later submitted that they had been surprised to find themselves suddenly pursued through the fields by a mob of angry Catholics.  Their only violence had been when one brother had struck a assailant who was about to cosh him with an iron bar.  Catholic eye-witnesses s reduced their estimate of the numbers involved from two hundred to nine).tood by their story of a Protestant attack, (although they

On 16th September the authorities in Caussade released the captives apart from eleven men, the Gernier brothers included, who were transferred to Cahors under the guard of six brigades of maréchaussée marching to a drum. Tension continued to run high. It is estimated that there were now as many as 1,500 men pressed into service to defend Caussade.  On 17th  September the municipality announced to the population that the Protestants intended to set fire to the town. In one incident a guardsmen fired on Catholic peasants who were still under arms - an ominous anticipation of  the incompetences of the Great Fear of 1789 and the White Terror of 1815.

A Protestant insurrection?

Historians have been divided about the reality of any Protestant movement in Caussade.  There seems to have been some sort of spontaneous disorder outside the prison on the morning of the market, 14th September.  The curé, by no means a reliable witness, maintained that a "collection of seditious men armed with sticks", had appeared at the prison and tried unsuccessfully to rescue Rochette.  But clearly neither Rochette himself, nor the Greniers, who were still in Montauban, could have been directly responsible.  According to the curé's report, on the night of 14th September bands of peasants gathered at strong points near the town.  There were subsequently several bloody encounters, with exchanges of gunfire and deaths; at one point a Protestant charge was led across the fields by a horseman shouting, "Kill, kill!" Only the capture the Greniers,   the military leaders, halted the Huguenot onslaught.  Other accounts refer to hundreds of Protestants roaming the countryside in murderous bands.  In a history written twenty-five years, the lawyer Cathala-Coture wrote of pitched battles between brave groups of Catholics and groups of two to six hundred Protestants, all armed with guns, clubs and pitchforks.  However, the records of the later investigation by the Parlement of Toulouse make no reference to any of these events.  The curé himself acknowledged that the Protestant inhabitants of the town, and the bourgeois militia, under the command of a Protestant, remained faithful to the consuls.  It seems scarcely conceivable that they would have fought against their co-religionists.  The early Protestant historian of the affair  Onésime de Grenier-Fajal,, concluded - probably with  justice - that the entire affair was the product of collective hysteria.

Trial in Toulouse

In Toulouse, news from Caussade was understandably greeted with alarm.  The magistrates of the Parlement acted vigorously. On 6th October orders were issued for the prisoners to be brought  to Toulouse for trial.  Security for the transfer was assured by a gigantic deployment of troops, totally out of proportion to the affair, the brunt of the cost to be borne by the Protestants of Guyenne.  On 23rd October Rochette and his guide were brought separately to Toulouse in a closed carried.  The other eleven captives were not moved until the next day, when they were transported to the prisons of the Palais de Justice in a covered wagon, accompanied by a escort of fifty soldiers, armed in readiness for an ambush.

Portrait of Paul Rabaut,
Bibliothèque du protestantisme français, Paris
In reality, there was never any question of an armed rescue bid.  Protestant leaders restricted themselves to written protests, or to futile attempts to corrupt the judges and prison warders, whose venality was well know.  Paul Rabaut in Nîmes appealed to Marie-Adélaïde, the daughter of Louis XV, but received no reply.  Enlightenment figures were also approached.  Rabaut wrote to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was sympathetic but embroiled in his own struggles and  condemned rebellion against rightful authority.  A Huguenot by the name of Ribotte alerted Voltaire at Ferney, who wrote immediately to the maréchal de Richelieu, the governor general of Guyenne; it would be too much, he argued, to both grill Jesuits in Lisbon (Malagrida, executed in September 1761)   and at the same time hang Protestant pastors in France. (letter of 25th October 1761). When he failed to elicit a response, he too declared he was powerless to help; "Jesus Christ said that He was to be found wherever three or four were gathered in His name...when there are three or four thousand, it's the devil who is to be found there."  The flippant tone of the correspondence is easy to misread;  Voltaire later regretted that he had given up so easily, and probably took up the cudgels on behalf of Calas with greater determination as a result.

It is clear that the Protestants and the Catholic magistrates did not regard the affair in the same light.  The Protestants saw it as a legal issue, a simple miscarriage of justice.  But  Catholic opinion in Toulouse was coloured by  two centuries of conflict - the War in the Cévennes was still within living memory. The magistrates were in no doubt that the security of the kingdom was at stake  -  the case was heard by the Grand' Chambre  of the Parlement rather than the Tournelle. The documents which had been seized on Rochette, seemed to prove the existence of a vast network of Protestant resistance, coordinated by  Lausanne, organised through confessional registers and financed by popular contributions,  with armed men at its disposal. They anticipated a Protestant attempt to seize power in the South-West. The Procurator General Bonrepos informed the Parlement that the whole district north of Montauban had been in open rebellion and that Caussade had narrowly escaped being sacked.  The Huguenots, in a "considerable rising and sedition" had attempted to take back their imprisoned pastor by force.  The procureur pressed his secret police, informers and spies to establish proofs of this vast conspiracy.  The two pastors of Ganges and of the Vigan in Languedoc, warned one another of police provocations.  Respectable Protestant businessmen attempted to dissociated themselves from the supposed revolt.  Some members of the National Synod which met in 1763 even wanted the Reformed Church formally to disclaim responsibility.

The execution

It was probably inevitable that the Parlement  not only condemned the prisoners but invoked the full penalties at its disposal.  On 18th February 1792 François Rochette  was sentenced to be hanged for having preached, baptised and conducted marriages in clandestine assemblies in defiance of the royal proscription. The three Grenier brothers were condemned to death for "seditious and riotous assemblage while bearing arms"; in deference to their status as "gentlemen glassmakers" they were to be beheaded.  .Viguier and Vialla, who had been with the pastor on the night of the 13th were to be branded and sent to the galleys;  another man, Donnadieu, was banished and the rest released.

The four condemned men passed their last night in prayer.  The next day at two o'clock in the afternoon a large crowd gathered for the spectacle of the quadruple execution. The heightened security measures deployed shows that fear persisted.  The executions were performed in the place du Salin immediately outside the prison rather than the much larger place Saint-Georges.  (One of the spectators, a law student, reported that the square held only one-sixth of the persons who wanted to  attend.  The roofs of surrounding houses were filled with people and a place inside at a window sold for six livres.) It was reported that all the troops in Toulouse were under arms.  The two royal army regiments garrisoned in the town marched to the place, followed by the troops of the Marechaussee and all sixty of the city police.  Soldiers were also stationed in the adjoining streets with their guns loaded and ready.  Rochette mounted the scaffold first; he was precipitately strangled to prevent him from speaking.  The three brothers embraced, pardoned each other their faults and were beheaded one after the other: "They were fine men, whose sacrifice seemed the more inequitable".


"La triple exécution des frères de Grenier en 1762", Arriège  par Michel Bégon. Article of May 2007

David D. Bien, The Calas Affaire, Princeton University Press 1960: chpt 4: "Rochette, the Brothers Grenier, and the hysteria at Caussade", p.77-91.
 [Available for loan on Open Library]

"François Rochette et les trois frères de Grenier", Extract from a  1932 publication produced by the musée du Désert

On the gentilshommes verriers
"Gentilshommes verriers", UNEPREF Ariège website, post of 23.07.2010.

La Réveillée: Association des descendants des Gentilshommes verriers du sud-ouest.


Two accounts of the executions

Court de Gébelin, Les Toulousaines (Edimbourg, 1763) letter 22.
On the 19th of February, at two o’clock in the afternoon, the mournful procession started on its way. Rochette was, according to the terms of the sentence, bare-headed, bare-footed, with a halter hung about his neck, from which, before and behind, labels were suspended, with these words, Minister of the pretended Reformed religion.

When the array passed before the church of Saint Etienne, an attempt was made to force him, in pursuance of the terms of the Parliament’s condemnation, to kneel with a torch of yellow wax in his hand, and to ask pardon of God, the king, and justice, for all his crimes and misdeeds.

Rochette stepped down from the tumbril, and instead of abjuring or making a confession which his heart denied, he pronounced on his knees the following words: “I beseech God to pardon me for all my sins, and I firmly believe that they have been washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ, who has redeemed us so dearly. I have no pardon to ask of the king, whom I have ever honoured as the Lord’s anointed, and loved as the father of my native land; I have ever been a good and faithful subject, and of this I believe my judges to be convinced. I have always preached to my flock patience, obedience, and submission; and my sermons, which you possess, are summed up in these words: ‘Fear God, honour the king.’ If I have contravened the law touching religious assemblies, it was by God’s commandments I contravened them; God must be obeyed before men. As for justice and the law, I am guilty of no offence against them, and I pray God may pardon my judges.”

Every door, balcony, window, roof, and approach near to the place of execution, was covered with spectators. “Toulouse,” says Count de Gebelin, an eye-witness, who related these circumstances, “Toulouse, that city drunk with the blood of martyrs, seemed a Protestant town. People asked what was the creed of these heretics; and when they heard our martyrs speak of Jesus Christ and of his death, every one was surprised and afflicted. They were infinitely touched, also, with the lofty, yet mild bearing of the three brothers, which compelled their admiration almost as much as the inexpressible serenity of the minister, whose graceful and spiritual physiognomy, whose words full of firmness and courage, and whose youth, filled every beholder with interest, knowing, as all did, that he only died because he disdained to save his life by a lie.”

Rochette was executed first. He exhorted his companions until the end, and sang the canticle of the Protestant martyrs: This is the blessed day. “Die a Catholic,” said the executioner, moved with pity. “Judge which is the better religion,” replied Rochette, “that which persecutes, or that which is persecuted.”

The youngest of the three brothers (he was only twenty-two years of age), hid his face in his hands to shut out this tragic scene. The two others contemplated it with calmness. As they were gentlemen, their sentence was, to be beheaded. They embraced each other, recommending their souls to God. The eldest offered his head to the axe first. When it came to the turn of the last, the executioner said: “You have seen your brothers die; change, lest you perish like them.” “Do thy duty,” said the martyr, and his head rolled upon the scaffold.

Count de Gebelin adds, as he concludes his recital: “Everyone present returned home in silence, in a state of consternation, and unable to persuade themselves that there could be such courage and such cruelty in the world; and I, who describe it, cannot refrain from tears of joy and sadness, as I contemplate their blessed lot, and that our church should be still capable of affording examples of piety and firmness that will compare with the most illustrious monuments of the primitive church.
Summary and translation from Adam de Félice, History of the Protestants of France, (London, 1853), p.427-8.

From  the manuscript diary of Pierre Barthès, a Catholic of Toulouse:

19th February 1762
Preacher hanged.
By order of the court dated 18th of the month, in the presence of Sieur Gaspard Bégué, official of the court, on the place du Salin…at two o’clock in the afternoon, on a scaffold erected for the purpose: François Rochette, preacher of the so-called Reformed religion, accused and convicted of having carried out the functions of minister…… was hanged and strangled.

This young man, well-built but a little lame, was from a village called Vialas in Haut Languedoc.  He was an apothecary by trade and, according to rumour, very stupid for a man of his communion; he was consecrated as a pastor and minister among his sect.  In spite of everything it proved impossible to open his eyes to the true light; he refused to listen to the saintly  exhortations of monsieur le curé or any other zealous churchman.

He preferred to die in error, the fatal result of prejudices inculcated since childhood;  indeed, he wanted to be listed among the martyrs of the  faith in imitation of his father and grandfather who had been hanged for the cause of God…..

The young man, ascended the ladder, wearing on his front and back a board with the words "minister of the R. P. R."  He no doubt wished to preach a sermon, to confirm the faith of the others about to be executed by his fermety and perseverence. The drums of the regiment of Berry, which was under arms on the square, began to beat so loudly that the hangman was able to throw himself on him, cut short the words on his tongue, and strangle him immediately.....

Three gentlemen brothers beheaded
On the same day, in the same place.  The scaffold comprised three separate blocks, each formed from two chevrons, set in  the ground and elevated above the scaffold to a height of two-and-a-half feet with a neck-rest firmly nailed across. Those beheaded were Henri de Grenier, Sieur de Commel, aged 33, Jean de Grenier, Sieur de Sarradon, aged 30, and Jean de Grenier, sieur de Lourmade, aged 26*, three brothers, gentilshommes verriers, natives of a place near the Mas d'Azil in the comté of Foix and all three obdurate Protestants....they lost their lives for the preacher who had just been executed, since it was in order to deliver him from prison that they had incited the Huguenots against the Catholics last October... Commel, the oldest, was beheaded first.  He was made to kneel on the scaffold, his eyes covered, his head on the block.  His head was cut off with a single blow, apart from the skin of his throat,  which the executioner cut off and threw to the ground along with the body, which was still in its clothes and shoes. The second brother, de Sarradon, suffered the same fate and the youngest - a fine young man in both face and figure - was executed the last; his head was cut off skilfully with a single blow.  Their bodies and their heads, and the body of the minister, were immediately taken away and buried in a hole within the enclosure of the public gibbet.  Several sacks of quicklime were added to ensure that the bodies were rapidly consumed.

The Musée du Vieux Toulouse has a wooden model of the traditional "damas à décoller des Capitoux",
used for executions - not sure how old this is supposed to be.

Before this tragic scene, the three gentlemen had embraced each other on the cart and exhorted each other in few words to die with zeal for the Protestant religion, whose dogmas they had drunk in with their mother's milk.  They showed prodigious fortitude and presence of mind.

On this occasion the executioner had essayed  a new blade for beheading and acquitted himself very well, with accuracy and firmness.  Never had so bloody an execution been seen in Toulouse...
.[there was] an extraordinary crowd of people who, unable to find room on the square or at the windows of the houses, squeezed onto the roofs and any walls that would hold them, to experience the novelty of so unusual and murderous an execution.
Published in Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire du Protestantisme Français, (1913) Vol.6(6): p.571-4. [On JStor]
* There is clearly a discrepancy in accounts of the brothers' ages.  The dates of birth of 1717, 1730 and 1740 originate with Onésime de Grenier-Fajal, who studied the records.  This would make their ages 44, 32 and 22.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Some Calas references


Primary sources

Online books - list of the defences by Sudre
"Calas", Tolosana -  Bibliothèque de Toulouse

Anne Thouzet, Documents from the Departmental archives of the Haute-Garonne

Older books

Athanase-Josué Coquerel, Jean Calas et sa famille : étude historique (1869), p.191-5.

In English:
C. Kegan Paul, "The story of Jean Calas", Theological Review, no.7 (1870), p.378-409.

Frederic Herbert Maughan, The Case of Jean Calas (1928)
" Frederic Herbert Maugham, a British judge who became Lord High Chancellor under Neville Chamberlain, epitomized Europe’s enduring obsession with Marc-Antoine’s exit. He would carry a piece of string in his pocket, and, in spare moments, tie it round a pencil, reconstructing the scaffold. (In his 1928 book on the case, Maugham sided with the believers, concluding: suicide.)"

Modern books

David D. Bien,The Calas Affair, Princeton University Press 1960 [Available for loan on Open Library:]

Janine Garrisson, L'affaire Calas: miroir des passions françaises, Fayart 2004.

Benoît Garnot, Voltaire et l’affaire Calas:  les faits, les interprétations, les enjeux, Hatier, 2013

Review articles

Philippe Poisson, "Voltaire et l'affaire Calas", Criminocorpus, 26.02.2017
Other articles

Paul Romane-Musculus, "La famille de Jean Calas", Annales du Midi 1962  74-60  p 404-409

A. Feugère, "Un scandale toulousain au XVIIIe siècle: Le Capitoul David et les jeux défendus"
Annales du Midi, 1932 (44-175)  p. 296-331

 Michel Porret,"Calas innocent : les preuves par la science", L'Histoire, no.323, Sept. 2007

_____, "La médecine légale entre doctrines et pratiques", Revue d'Histoire des Sciences Humaines, 2010/1 (no. 22), p. 3-15.

Voltaire and the Calas case

Benoît Garnot, C’est la faute à Voltaire… Une imposture intellectuelle ? (Belin, 2005) [Review by Claude Coquard]

_____,  "Au temps des bons juges d’Ancien Régime",  L'Histoire, no.356, Sept.2010

_____, France Inter,  La Marche de l'Histoire: "Voltaire et l’affaire Calas", produced  by Jean Lebrun,
broadcast 9.03.2015.

Reply to Garnot:  Michel Porret  « Voltaire et le droit de punir. Un activiste du moment Beccaria », Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, 2016-3, p. 88-109.

François Lebrun, "Affaire Calas: Voltaire dans la mêlée" L'Histoire, no.268, Sept. 2002

"La Beaumelle dans la tourmente de l’affaire Calas", Voltaire Foundation blog, 29.11.2018
TV Movie:  Voltaire et l’affaire Calas directed by Francis Reusser (TV Movie 2007)

Blogs and write-ups

Olivier Marchal, Blog posts on Voltaire and the affaire Calas

Ken Armstrong, "Broken on the Wheel", Paris Review, 13.03.2013.

Geri Walton, "Being Broken on the Wheel in the 18th century"

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Calas - the trial

The following is mainly summarised from Benoît Garnot, Voltaire et l’affaire Calas:  les faits, les interprétations, les enjeux, Hatier, 2013

1. The crime (Garnot, p.11-14)

At seven o'clock on the evening of 13th October 1761, the Calas family gathered for supper on the first floor of 16 rue des Filatiers: Jean Calas, a dealer in Indiennes, was 63 years old, and his wife Anne-Rose fifteen years younger.  With them were two of their sons, Marc-Antoine, aged 28 and Pierre, 22, employees in their father's business.  The other two sons Louis and Louis-Donat were not present;  the first, aged 25,  also lived  in Toulouse but was estranged from the family, and the second, aged 14, was an apprentice in Nîmes.  Two daughters, Anne-Rose and Anne (Nannette), aged 18 and 19, were away on a visit to the country.  Joining them for the meal was a friend of Marc-Antoine, François-Alexandre Gaubert de Lavaysse [Lavaisse], aged 22, the son of a lawyer in Toulouse.  The servant of the Calas family, Jeanne Viguière, was also present.
Calas discovers the body of his dead son,
Engraving after Charles Joseph Dominique Eisen

Marc Antoine left the house immediately after supper, at about half-past seven.  At about ten o'clock, Pierre was accompanying Lavaysse out, when he discovered his brother's body, lying -  at least so he first claimed  - on the floor of the shop, his coat neatly folded on the counter.  The two young men went to fetch a nearby surgeon Camoire, but chanced to encounter his pupil Gorsse, who came back with them instead;  the latter immediately realised that it was too late to revive Marc Antoine.  On removing Marc-Antoine's black neckerchief, he discovered a rope mark round his neck and declared that  he must have  been strangled or hanged, "by himself or by others".  Meanwhile a crowd of onlookers had gathered in front of the house.  They soon jumped to the conclusion that the Calas family, who were Protestants, must have killed Marc-Antoine themselves to prevent him converting to Catholicism, as his brother Louis had done.  

The authorities were now notified.  At half-past eleven, the capitoul David de Beaudrigue arrived on the scene, accompanied by the maître en chirurgie  Jean-Pierre Lamarque.  They reported that they had found "the body of a young man laid on his back, his head bare, in his shirt sleeves, wearing only his breeches, stockings and shoes":
On examining the corpse, since it appeared to us that he had not died of natural causes, we were obliged to summon M. Latour, doctor and the sieurs Peyronnel and Lamarque, official surgeons of the town; they...were asked to proceed to the verification of the body and testify to  its state and the cause of death.  The body was then transported to the l’Hôtel de ville, with his coat which was found on the counter.....
Document cited from Athanase Coquerel,  Jean Calas et sa famille, 1869, p.341-2.

Beaudrigue decided to immediately imprison those present in the house at the time of Marc-Antoine's death -  the three members of the Calas family, Lavaisse and  the servant, Jeanne Viguière.  As soon as they arrived in the prison of the Capitole, even without their formal admittance, Beaudrigue began an official interrogation.  To the question "How did Marc-Antoine die?", the father, Jean Calas, did not reply directly but specified only that he had been found "dead in the shop".  Such  imprecision could only reinforce the suspicions of the capitoul, who thought more and more in terms of a "Calvinist crime".

2. Trial before the capitouls (Garnot, p.14-22)

The 18th-century Capitole survives in Toulouse today
The municipal council of Toulouse consisted of eight "capitouls" chosen annually by the Conseil du roi, from a list of twenty-four candidates prepared by the Intendant in Montpellier.  They acted as a court of first instance.  On 14th October, Jean-Pierre-Bertrand Faget, "chef du consistoire"  officially charged all those detained with having strangled Marc Antoine.  David de Beaudrigue  was charged with carrying out the Instruction, which he did in the days which followed, under the distant but attentive scrutiny of the comte de saint-Florentin, the minister responsible for Protestant affairs. The first two stages of formal proceedings, the "Information" (gathering of material evidence and witnesses) and the interrogation of the accused, ran concurrently since the Calas family had already been imprisoned and subjected to preliminary interrogation.

More than eighty witnesses were heard.  The questions put to them took it as assumed, that Marc-Antoine was on the point of abjuring Protestantism.  To obtain more precise information a monitoire was promulgated on 17th October and read from the pulpit in all the parishes of the town on the 18th, again on the 25th and the 8th November.  Presumption accumulated, but there was still no incontrovertible proof, since there were no eye-witnesses.

The turning point came with the second interrogation of the prisoners on 15th October.  Even though they had previously declared under oath that they had found the body of Marc-Antoine on the ground, they now contradicted this statement.  Jean Calas declared that:
...when sieur Lavaysse wanted to leave, the younger son had taken a candle and  accompanied him.  When they had arrived in the alleyway of the house which led out to the street the respondent heard his younger son call out to him in tears. When he went down, his son said to him, "my elder brother is hanging strangled"; the respondent went into the shop and saw his son hanging by a rope from the door between the storeroom and the shop,  the rope being attached to a thick pole lying across this door.  The respondent took him by the middle of the body.  He did not recall whether it was he, his younger son or sieur Lavaysse who cut the rope.  He placed his son on the ground in the storeroom and, when he was on the ground, he detached the rope from his neck.  His wife came down with Hungary water which she splashed on the face of her son, believing he was not dead, and the sieur Gorse arrived, examined the body and declared him dead.
Cited Coquerel, p.198.

The accused maintained that they had not at first wanted to admit that Marc-Antoine had committed suicide, which would have prevented him from being given a proper burial. According to the 1670 Ordinance suicides were liable to be dragged faced down through the streets on a hurdle - as had actually happened in Toulouse in 1742 and 1752.  

David de Beaudrigue did not believe this new version of events and was determined to obtain an admission of collective murder.  According to the defence lawyer Théodore Sudre, he had been briefly puzzled by the circumstances of  the death and had made a initial effort to discover whether suicide was a possibility. (Sudre Mémoire pour le Sieur Jean Calas....(Toulouse 1762), p.38; Suite, p.14-15).  However, by the time of the second interrogation, the case for the prosecution was already fully developed.  Calas was consistently pressurised to admit that he had carried out a "pernicious plan" to kill his son in the knowledge that he planned to abjure Protestantism.

The third phase of proceedings was the "Instruction",  the formal confirmation of  statements by the witnesses (les récolements) and their confrontation with the accused.  This took place from 28th to 18th November. The prisoners again refuted all charges. The judgment took place on 18th November. The procureur du roi Lagane was firmly of the opinion that a murder had been committed. He recommended that  all three members of the Calas family be hanged, Lavaysse condemned to the galleys for life and the Catholic servant imprisoned for life.  The rapporteur Carbonne, on the other hand, declared that the accused were innocent, wanted them released and asked the court to proceed against "the memory of the deceased Marc-Antoine Calas" for suicide.  However, his opinion was isolated.  However, after a final interrogation, in which the accused continued to deny all charges, the capitouls still found themselves without proofs. They had only presumptions of guilt and "indices éloignés" -  that is,  material evidence which did not point to suicide. They decided that the three members of the Calas family would be put to the  question préparatoire to gain a confession, whilst Lavaisse and Jeanne Viguière would be "presented" to the torture only.

The accused immediately lodged an appeal with the Tournelle of the Parlement of Toulouse, whilst the procureur also appealed, but "a minima" for a more severe sentence.  The magistrates of the Tournelle ruled that the proceedings, particularly the presentation of Lavaisse and Viguière to the question, had been  illegal and on 5th december, ordered the case to be pursued under their own jurisdiction.  it might well be supposed that the capitouls were aware of the irregularities and were taking advantage of the opportunity to pass the case on.  

2. Trial by the Tournelle (Garnot, p.22-29)

The accused were transferred to the prison of the Palais de justice, and their legs fettered to prevent their escape.  The new trial, under the charge of Pierre-Étienne de Boissy,  lasted until 23rd February 1762. A further forty witness statements were gathered, most of them hostile.  The few witnesses who supported the suicide verdict pointed out that Marc-Antoine had complained about his father's opposition to his business ventures, and that he had seemed depressed.

The procureur général Riquet de Bonrepos recommended  the execution of the three members of the Calas family, the father and son on the wheel, and the mother by hanging. The case against Lavaysse and Viguière should be postponed for the moment. The conseiller rapporteur Cassans-Clairac was of a similar view. On 9th March, after submitting the accused to a final interrogation, seven judges out of thirteen opted for an immediate death sentence, three for torture.  Two judges wanted a reexamination of the physical evidence to verify if suicide were possible;  only one judge declared for outright acquittal.  Since a majority of two was necessary in a capital sentence,  a long debate ensured, until finally an eighth judge declared himself for death.  As the case was regarded as parricide, it attracted the full severity of the law.  Calas was condemned to the wheel ("avec retentum" - a secret clause allowing him to be strangled after two hours)  preceded by the question prélable and  public penance (amende honorable).  The other cases were reserved pending the results of the torture.

The sentence was carried out on 10 March 1762.

The execution of Calas on the place Saint-Georges,  reconstructed by Studio différemment
There remained only to decide the fate of the remaining accused.  On 18th March Riquet de Bonrepos demanded that they be hanged, apart from the servant who would be imprisoned.  However,  the conviction of several magistrates had vacillated in the meantime.  The conseiller rapporteur wanted Pierre Calas sentenced to the galleys, but other magistrates  came down in favour of acquittal, or banishment.  Finally, by ten voices against three, Pierre was condemned to perpetual banishment outside France, while the others were released.  The family property was confiscated.

The site of the scaffold, renamed in 2005 "Square Jean Calas"

The family now dispersed.  Pierre and Lavaisse, perhaps out of fear, converted to Catholicism. Pierre was allowed back into the Jacobin convent in Toulouse, but later escaped to join his brother Donat in Switzerland.  Mme Calas took refuge with friends in Montauban whilst the daughters were temporarily imprisoned in different convents in Toulouse by lettre de cachet, sent by Saint-Florentin to avoid scandal.

[to be continued]