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 deliberate disregard for 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, it could reasonably be expected that he would be shown mercy.

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.

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 stood by their story of a Protestant attack (although they reduced their estimate of the numbers involved from two hundred to nine).

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 a group of 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 Protestant 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 events,  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 1762 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 evidence

1. The case for the Prosecution (see Garnot, p.53-60)

Witness statements

There were no eye-witnesses to the crime and even indirect testimonies were inconclusive.

The accusation was based on two charges: that the Calas family had killed Marc-Antoine because he wanted to convert to Catholicism, and that they had been aided in this by all or part of the Protestant community of Toulouse. 
 The Monitoire asked explicitly for proof that murder had been decided upon that morning in a house in the "parish of Daurade" (ie.the house of Lavaisse's host Cazeing) and that, following this,  Marc-Antoine had been killed "by suspension or torsion".

Here is the text of the Monitoire in English.
C. Kegan Paul, "The story of Jean Calas", Theological Review, no.7 (1870), p.378-409, p.394

To make the case even slightly plausible, it was first necessary to establish that Marc-Antoine had wished to abjure. Since there was no declaration or certificate of confession, evidence was sought in the last days of the young man's life.  Several witnesses, had seen Marc Antoine in a church, even at Catholic services, but details were imprecise.  Testimony concerning the supposed Protestant plot  was even more unreliable. The l’abbé Dugu, the most detailed of the witnesses, claimed that a meeting had taken place at the Calas house, where it had been decided to strangle Marc-Antoine and bury the body in the cellar; however, his evidence was based only on third-hand rumour.

The psychological state of the young man was cited against the likelihood of suicide.  Several witnesses, testified that he had behaved normally on the 13th October, indeed had been in a good mood.

Some neighbours claimed to have heard Marc Antoine crying out at the moment of his death: "Ah, mon père, vous m’étranglez!" but others recalled only the laments of the Calas family when the body was found. Since the disturbance took place after 9:30, the timing makes the latter almost certain.

Forensic evidence

This was more persuasive.  If it did not prove the culpability of the Calas family, it cast doubt on the suicide theory.  The statements of 15th October by the accused specified that  the body had been found hanging from the doors which connected the rear storeroom with the shop.  These were a pair of  “French doors”, which swung together when closed; it seems that Marc-Antoine had taken one of the thick round pins which was used to tighten bales of cloth, placed it across the top of the half-shut doors, and fastened a rope to it to create a noose.  (See David Bien, Le Calas Affair (1960)  p.9)

On the 16th October, when David de Beaurigue and the procurateur du roi Lagane entered the shop, they found the wooden pin and the rope, with Marc-Antoine's hairs still adhering to it, also his clothes, neatly folded on the counter in the manner of a suicide.  However, when they tried to reconstruct the scene, they found difficulties:
  • The baton, which was round and smooth, rolled easily out of position. It would also not have been long enough to reach if the doors had been fully open:  Marc-Antoine would therefore have had very little space to manoeuvre.
  • The short length of the rope was also a problem. To match the marks on Marc-Antoine's neck, it would have needed to be wound twice round. But this did not leave enough rope to reach the pin unless the body had been suspended eighteen inches off the floor. David de Beaudrigue did not find a chair or stool near the body, so how had Marc-Antoine managed this? When challenged, Calas himself replied only that "in his troubled state, he had not noticed if there was a chair.  There were such in the shop;  Marc-Antoine could have used one and kicked it away".
  • Equally awkwardly, there was still dust on the tops of the doors and a dozen small strings for tying packages were found undisturbed draped over one of them.

The judges were advised that suicide under the conditions described by Calas, Pierre and Lavaisse was a physical impossibility.  Lagane was of the opinion that Marc-Antoine had been made to lay or sit across two chairs and then garroted.

The statements of the accused

The fact that the accused had contradicted their initial statements reinforced suspicion that they were lying. (Bien, p.9). The only explanation given by the defence lawyer Théodore Sudre, admittedly plausible enough, was that Calas had initially tried to conceal the suicide in an attempt to preserve family honour.

The family members had not been so completely separated in the period after their arrest that collusion was ruled out. A young lawyer called Carrière, a friend of Marc-Antoine and Lavaisse, had visited them in prison on 14th October and even managed to enter illegally the Calas house.  It was he who persuaded the accused to change their story – or, as they claimed, to tell the truth regarding the suicide (p.101-3)  The next day Calas had wrote to Carrière, asking how he should answer at his next interrogation.  Louis Calas and a friend, the abbé Benaben,were in the attorney's office when the letter was delivered.  Benaben, recalled that Carrière had been angered by the letter;  he said that Calas had lost his mind, that he had told him to tell the truth and not think of sparing the honour of his dead son.   He immediately dictated three letters one to each of the accused men, and gave them to Louis to deliver.  Calas was given his, but the clerk at the prison turned the other two over to the authorities.  Benaben related that the letter to Calas directed him to say that he learned of Marc's death only when Lavaisse went back upstairs to tell him of it, that he had then gone downstairs and cut down the body to save the honour of his son. The confiscated letters exhorted Pierre and Lavaisse to tell the truth; they were reminded that the reason they had lied was because bodies of suicides were dragged on a hurdle. They were advised to recall their exact movements and what was said. To suspicious eyes, this seemed a lot of prompting.

There were also significant inconsistencies and oddities in the accounts then given:
  • There was some doubt whether the five accused had really been together for the whole time after supper. It emerged that the servant had been asleep in the kitchen.  Likewise Pierre, who had accompanied his parents into the living room, had fallen into a slumber in an armchair and had only been roused with difficulty to accompany out Lavaisse.  Both Madame Calas and Lavaisse testified that Calas had not left the room during this time.  Yet, when the alarm was raised,  Calas had descended the stairs wearing his dressing gown and nightcap.
  • Calas stated that Marc-Antoine had remained for half an hour after supper was over, while the others said he had left immediately. At first the family indicated that he had left the house altogether, but on second questioning Lavaisse admitted that he and Pierre had know that he was still in the building.  Pierre told a friend that his brother had taken the key to the storeroom before going downstairs.
  • It seemed strange that the door to the storeroom had been left ajar.
  • There were discrepancies in the details of the scene.  Pierre claimed that the doors where Marc-Antoine had hanged himself, had been wide open, whilst Lavaisse did not even realise there were doors attached to the frame.  Calas, on the other hand, insisted that the doors had been part-way closed and clearly visible.  Calas claimed that the rope had been cut by Pierre or Lavaisse; but when it was show to him to be all one piece, he simply retracted this statement.  He was also unable to confirm the existence of a chair or stool. (p.106)
  • The defendants claimed that they had not touched Marc-Antoine's clothes, which were neatly folded on a counter.  Yet Jeanne Viguière had told a neighbour that the key was not on him.  So, were these even the clothes he had been wearing?
  •  In addition, there was the problem of the black neckerchief. Surely Marc, who had so carefully removed and folded up his clothing, would have removed his tie too?  Jeanne Viguière thought he had been wearing his summer white tie that evening. (p.106-7)  This reinforced the idea that the black tie had been put on the body to conceal marks of strangulation.
  • The circumstances in which the body was found seems suspicious. Calas testified that he had taken his son down from the doors, laid him on the floor and verified that he was dead.  So why was Pierre dispatched in such haste to find a doctor?  Pierre claimed that they were not sure his brother was dead; yet  earlier he had stated that the body was already cold to the touch.  Did they hope, by summoning a doctor, to make an unnatural death pass for a natural one? (p.107)
  • Lavaisse hurried out to notify his host Cazeing but he did not tell him how Marc-Antoine had died. The most natural explanation was that the suicide story was a cover-up (p.107-8)
  • Madame Calas maintained that it was only after she was in prison that she had heard about Marc's suicide, whereas Calas stated clearly that he had told her.

Les adieux de Calas à sa famille. Engraving by Daniel Chodowiecki, 1767, Berlin
How serious were these difficulties?

It should certainly be remembered that the accused were always interrogated separately and in difficult conditions, so that it was relatively easy for inconsistencies to appear between accounts.  David Bien, in his classic study of the Calas affair, concludes: "Nearly all the discrepancies in the defendants' accounts,regarded sympathetically, appear as perfectly human errors resulting from the failure to observe closely and to remember carefully what happened in a time of very great excitement and nervous strain" (Bien, p.109-10)

It is also possible that events had indeed not taken place exactly as Calas reported precisely because he had initially hoped to conceal the suicide.  A lot of the discrepancies would be resolved if it were supposed that Calas had already discovered his son's body, maybe taken it down and added the scarf, then left the door ajar for him to be found.   He might perhaps have hoped that a sympathetic doctor would confirm death by natural causes.

2. Arguments for the defence (Garnot, p.60-66)

There were three major sets of documents produced in defence of the Calas family during the trial and subsequent appeal.

1. Judicial memoirs drawn up by Théodore Sudre  and Laurent Angliviel de La Beaumelle, avocats of the Parlement of Toulouse,  (in late 1761 or early 1762).   

Although defence lawyers were not permitted to be present during a trial, formal written defences could be submitted on behalf of the accused.   As was the case here, they were often published. The authors challenged the conduct of the case and refuted the arguments against the accused point by point.

Firstly, the preliminary investigation had been shoddily carried out, with a number of procedural irregularities:
  • Medical examination of the body had not been performed in situ and the doctors and surgeons had never been "confronted" by the accused.
  • The scene had only been investigated on the day following the crime.  No seals had been affixed or guards left on watch, so that objects (for example a stool) could have been moved or removed.  [Indeed the lawyer Carrière had been able to gain access to the premises quite illegally on the evening of the 14th.]
  • The accused were arrested before any crime had been established.
  • The Monitoire asked lead questions and flagrantly breached the rule that no-one should be referred to by name  - Marc-Antoine was named no less than six times.
Secondly, the basic accusation was not proved since Marc-Antoine's intention to convert to Catholicism had not been established.  He had the material means to carry out a suicide and his state of mind was consistent with it.

Additional circumstances made murder unlikely:
  •  Since all the accused had been together, if one was guilty,  all must be. Yet Lavaisse was a chance visitor and the servant, Jeanne Viguière, a Catholic known for her long and sincere attachment to the Calas children. 
  • The victim's coat and shirt were found on a shop counter neatly folded after the manner of a suicide.  
  •  Marc-Antoine was a vigorous young man of twenty-nine who would have put up a strong fight.  Yet examination of the body revealed no bruises or contusions to indicate that a struggle had taken place. Nor were there marks to show his wrists had been bound.    
  • Why chose to act at eight o'clock in the evening when the street was still full?  No passers-by had in fact remarked any disturbance at the time the alleged attack took place.
  • The reactions of the family and Lavaisse spoke in their favour. The shouts overheard were in fact their cries of shock and despair; witnesses testified to the tears of the parents; the accused promptly sent for a doctor and notified the authorities.  Their only sin had been the very human one of wishing to save the honour of the family and its deceased member.  Where in the entire world could there be found five persons so "unnatural" as to plot and, after calmly eating their supper, carry out in cold blood the murder of a son, brother or friend?  "Even lions and tigers protect their young"  (Sudre Mémoire pour le Sieur Jean Calas....(Toulouse 1762), p.11-14)

2.  Requête au roi en son Conseil, the formal appeal presented to the Royal Council in the name of Donat Calas in 1763 with a view to revision of the trial.  

The main additional point made in the posthumous case was the illogic of having convicting only Calas:
  • All the accused were together for the whole time the supposed murder was committed.
  • Jean Calas had died protesting his innocence.
  • All the other accused had been released.
  • It was physically impossible that Jean Calas could have hanged his son alone. Pierre's banishment was either totally unjust or too slight a penalty.

3. Pierre Mariette's written plaidoirie of 1764, which preceded Calas's final exoneration.

 Having discredited the witnesses, Mariette offered five proofs of innocence:
1. The Calas family were peaceful citizens.  When Marc-Antoine's younger brother Louis  had renounced his faith, his father had not been violent or vindictive towards him.
2. It was hardly likely that Gaubert Lavaisse,  the son of a renowned barrister, would have plotted to kill his friend.
3. The servant, Jeanne Viguière, a pious Catholic who had helped Louis to convert, would also not have taken part in such a plot.
4.  Again, why would murderers have chosen a time when the neighbours were still around?  There were no marks of struggle on the body:  Marc Antoine, who was tall and trained in arms, would not have allowed himself to be murdered without a fight.
5. The accused had steadfastly maintained their innocence in spite of all the pressures brought to bear on them.

Mariette did not, however, address either the forensic problems or the worrying contradictions in the statements of the accused.

3. Subsequent discussions (Garnot, p.53-60).

Medical evidence revisited

The doctors who were called to examine the body confirmed the initial observations of the surgeon's assistant, Antoine Gorsse.  They discovered a rope mark which ran round Marc-Antoine’s neck and disappeared into his hair above and behind the ears.  They ruled out death by natural causes but, concluded only that Marc-Antoine had been strangled or hanged either by himself or by others. (Bien, p.8-9).  The subsequent postmortum,  though thorough, failed to provide further elucidation. There were no evident signs of struggle.

The “garotting” thesis was soon opened to question.  Sudre argued that the the marks described in the medical reports were not in fact consistent with strangulation.  [He slightly spoiled his case by maintaining  that a person who is strangled to death usually omits a substance from his mouth whereas a man who hangs himself does not;  the doctors had in fact reported a foam and muceous emission from the corpse’s nose and mouth. (Sudre, Mémoire pour le Sieur Jean Calas....(Toulouse 1762), p.17, Bien p.100) ]

In 1763 Antoine Louis, pioneer of forensic science and later inventor of the guillotine,  presented a memoir on the distinction between suicide by hanging and assassination.  He compared autopsies of criminals hanged in Paris with the findings on Marc-Antoine.  If Calas had strangled his son, then hanged him to disguise his crime, the body would have displayed ecchymoses [a type of bruising].  He also concluded that it would be extremely difficult for one man to kill another by hanging.

He tried to explain – ultimately inconclusively – how Marc-Antoine could have committed suicide. Hanging does not cause death by prevention of breathing but by asphyxiation due to the compression of the jugular veins.  This meant it was possible for Marc-Antoine to have killed himself without attaching the rope to the pole overhead; he could have attached it to a door knob; he could even have had his feet on the ground.  (Garnot, p.70-71) 

An external killer?

This possibility had been elaborated in March 1762 by the avocat  Duroux, who speculated that Marc Antoine had been followed home from the Quatre Billards and murdered for money.  However, there was never any real evidence to support the theory.

Marc-Antoine' state of mind

Marc-Antoine's actions did not seem to have been consistent with planned suicide.  Why did he leave the door from the shop ajar when he knew that Lavaisse might leave at any moment? On the day that he died he behaved normally - working in the shop, visiting the pool hall, chatting with friends. To one friend he confided the pleasant news that he was soon to acquire the blue suit he wanted so badly.  At home he ate his dinner as usual.  He may in retrospect have appeared tense, but he conversed quite normally on trivial matters, among them the authenticity of various antiquities kept in the town hall.  After dinner he got up from the table and departed as usual. Calas testified that he knew no cause or motivation for suicide.  Pierre, even as late as 8th November, said that he had never noted any tendency in his brother towards self-destruction (p.99-100)

Responses:  What could have driven him to suicide?

David Bien points out the judges were preoccupied by Marc-Antoine’s supposed conversion to Catholicism and did not pursue other lines of inquiry.   The real tensions between Calas and his son, were not about religion but about money.  According to Marc-Antoine’s close friend Jean-François Challier, he had pressed his father for funds to establish his own business but, when an opportunity arose in Uzès in July 1761, Calas had refused the money.  It emerged after Calas’s death, that his own financial affairs were in a parlous state; he had debts of thousands of livres - and even owed his baker 241 livres.  When pressed,  he admitted scolding Marc-Antoine over his daily gambling and billiards playing.  A local shopkeeper testified that she had walked in on Calas holding Marc-Antoine by the collar and shouting, "Scoundrel, this will cost you your life".  She was under the impression that the young man had stolen money from the shop.

Despite this, as David Bien observes, no effort was made to question Marc-Antoine's cronies at the pool hall in order to find out if he had lost money gambling -  the most obvious cause of suicidal despair (especially since that afternoon he had been entrusted with his father's louis d'or to change.)

Marc-Antoine's religious convictions

To suppose the would conspire to commit murder rather than allow one of their number to apostatise misinterprets normal Catholic-Protestant relations in urban Toulouse. Protestants was insignificant in number - 200 in a population of 50,000 - and, apart from a handful of lawyers like the elder Lavaisse or the procurateur Clauzade, they were  socially unimportant. Calas, one of fifteen or so Huguenot merchants,had been a dealer in indiennes in the city for twenty-nine years and was accepted as a respectable and law-abiding citizen.  

The community was allowed to pursue their faith without interference, provided they conformed outwardly. Lawyers and procureurs had to produce the necessary certificates of Catholicism; and to be baptised and married, if not buried, as Catholics.  Otherwise their doctrinal orthodoxy not really seen as important.(Bien p.31)

 Calas had his children baptised and fulfilled his legal obligation to take a servant who was Catholic.  He worshipped mostly in the privacy of his own home, with prayers in the evening and readings from the psalms on Sunday. Only for important celebrations, would the family join with other Protestants.  Their relations with their Catholic neighbours was familiar and friendly;   Marc-Antoine’s sisters attracted the attentions of Catholic suitors and he himself had a wide circle of Catholic friends and acquaintances.  According to a clerk in the shop across the street he was generally well-liked (p.32-33)

Re-reading confirms that there is absolutely no evidence that Marc-Antoine ever intended to convert.  Jeanne Viguière testified that he was a devout young man who regularly worshipped with his family.  His best friend Challier, a Catholic who had just finished his legal studies, reported that they had discussed religion together “many times”.  Marc-Antoine had admired the Protestant pastors who had suffered martyrdom for their faith.  In June 1761 he had disputed amicably with Challier's brother, who was a priest.   For these educated young men, religious sentiment created common ground; they would read Corneille's Polyeucte together: on one occasion religious feeling had brought tears to Marc-Antoine's eyes (p.33-4)

Several witnesses testified that Marc-Antoine had been seen in Catholic churches. However, not one single priest could be found with whom he had discussed conversion (a legal career would have required a signed certificate of confession.)  Pierre Calas explained that he and his brother enjoyed church music. They also appreciated religious art and the cultivated sermons of Catholic Toulouse.  No less that eight Catholic friends confirmed that Marc-Antoine had been to church with them.  The embroiderer François Bordes had accompanied him to hear sermons in various churches, but he had never attended Mass.  Others reported that they had listened to music and choirs.(p.34-5). According to two separate witnesses Marc-Antoine had knelt as a courtesy when the Viaticum was carried through the streets, despite the assurance of his companions that he was not expected to do so. (Bien, p.34-6)

4. l'infâme?

According to David Bien, the Calas affair was "an anomaly in a growing trend of tolerance".
In theory the affair was a purely criminal trial.  However, the greater part of the population of Toulouse saw the case as a religious issue.  At work against Calas were both longstanding fears and contingent circumstances.

The laws against Protestants remained theoretically severe. The ordinance of 1724 laid down the death penalty for pastors caught carrying arms (six pastors were hanged between 1745 and 1762) and the galleys for ordinary Protestants attending open-air assemblies.  Public office was closed to them; and only Catholic baptism or marriage were legally recognised. Children were theoretically  liable to be taken from their parents at the age of seven to receive a Catholic education. Refusal of the last rites, could make a Protestant vulnerable to being considered a heretic, whose body could be profaned and his property confiscated. In practice the laws were seldom applied in their full severity, but they existed as a constant threat.  In 1751, for instance, a Toulouse merchant called Samuel Vaisse had his marriage declared void and was obliged to undergo a Catholic ceremony.

Evocation of the past served to justify a latent hostility.  The Protestants were presented as responsible for all the religious unrest of the 16th century.  Every year on the 17th May a procession was held to celebrate the expulsion of the Huguenots from the town in 1562, an occasion when several hundred Catholics had been killed within the citadel. The War of the Camisards, moreover, was still within living memory.

The early 1760s presented a moment of particular tension.  In 1761 and 1762 France was engaged in the Seven Years War against the Protestant powers of England and Prussia.  Military operations were going badly.  An economic depression had hit Languedoc and the price of bread continued to rise.  Immediately before the Calas trial, the arrest of the Protestant pastor Rochette in Caussade, north of Montauban, had resulted in widespread panic and rumours of Protestant uprisings.  Riquet de Bonrepos reported to the Parlement  of Toulouse that  the Huguenots were up in arms, and had all but sacked Caussade itself.  On 18th February Rochette and the three Grenier brothers, were executed Toulouse amid the greatest possible security.  The tense atmosphere made it possible to credit unlikely stories - even the ritual murder of Protestant children by their parents.

The second Sunday in November saw the burial of Marc-Antoine as a Catholic martyr in the cathedral of Saint-Etienne, his coffin escorted across the town by the White Penitents and as many as forty priests.

According to the manuscript diary of Pierre Barthès:
The Calas family, and their abetters were all Protestants to excess and  zealous disciples of the heresiarch Calvin.  According to common opinion, they strangled their child with their own hands, after having decided his fate in a council convoked, as the public Monitoire  reported, in a house in the parish of the Daurade, where many Huguenots resided....they resolved the death of this young proselyte. (quoted Bien p.102)

The magistrates of the Parlement of Toulouse were inevitably affected by this state of mind.  As guardians of justice, they feared the subversive potential of organised Protestantism.  The concept they returned to repeatedly was that of "fanaticism"; an unreasoned obedience to dangerous principles.  Protestant scorn of authority could easily led to armed rebellion;  coolly calculated homicide seemed just one more act of Huguenot anti-social behaviour.

As David Bien notes the judges did not really believe that Protestant theology sanctioned  murder,   Nor, since they did not pursue Cazeing or  the other accused,  were they really convinced of a Protestant plot.  In January 1762 the Protestant leader Paul Rabaut produced a ringing indictment in his brochure La calomnie confondue.  It was a "calumny" to suggest that Calvin prescribed killing those who abjured, when toleration was the first principle of Protestantism; after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the Huguenots had not murdered their co-religionists who deserted to Catholicism.  On March 6th the Parlement condemned Rabaut's pamphlet to be burned by the executioner.  Bonrepos, insisted, rather lamely,  that Rabaut was well aware that all Protestants were free in their consciences and the public investigation only examined the possibility of a single meeting of "some" Protestants. The court was not suggesting that an official Protestant synod or assembly had decreed the killing. (See Bien p.112-3)

In many ways, the Calas case was the last gasp of intolerance rather than the climax.  In Toulouse the political and economic crisis which had fuelled the paranoia  gave way rapidly to a period of stability and relative tolerance.  In 1765 the "Church of the Desert"  was recognised by the authorities of Languedoc and in 1769 and 1770 the Parlement recognised children of Protestant marriages as legitimate heirs. In 1775 the final Protestant galley slaves were liberated; in 1787 an edict of toleration, prepared jointed by Malesherbes and Rabaut received royal assent, and was registered by the Parlement of Paris on 29th January 1788. 

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