Tuesday, 30 June 2020

The Exhumation of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette


The Cemetery prior to the Exhumation


The Madeleine Cemetery was formally closed on 24th March 1794.

Two years later, on 25th June 1796, the site was sold as a bien national to a carpenter ("marchand-ébéniste") called Isaac Jacob; neighbours complained that he carried out a great deal of excavation in defiance of the ten year moratorium. Subsequently, on 3rd June 1802 the land was bought from Jacob's creditors by the lawyer Pierre-Louis-Olivier Descloseaux (1732-1816), who since 1769 had owned the property immediately adjacent at no.48 rue d'Anjou.

Descloseaux took upon himself the role of custodian of the royal remains, and was to be a pivotal figure in the establishment of the Madeleine as a focus of Royalist fervour. He has sometimes been accused of being a charlatan and profiteer, but his motivation was almost certainly genuine.  Louis Hastier characterises him as one of those men for whom the Revolution had gone too far. A former avocat of the Parlement de Paris, he had been active in local politics in the early part of the Revolution, indeed had been a member of the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, but had withdrawn after the abolition of the monarchy.  He had managed to live quietly through the Terror, without being troubled.

With the encouragement of the new proprietor, the Cemetery rapidly became a place of pilgrimage. As early as 1803 two illustrious visitors were authorised  - the duchesse de la Trémouille and the comtesse de Béarne (Pauline de Tourzel). The German writer Kotzebue, in Paris in 1804, learned that the royal graves were already marked by lilies, although access had been prudently restricted for the moment due to the number of visitors.

As the climate became more propitious under the later Empire, Descloseaux made of the former cemetery a veritable shrine. He restored and raised the walls, closed up the entrance on the rue d'Anjou, and created a new one from his private garden.  Turf was laid and planted an orchard, marking the alleyways of the old burial ground with trees. The spot where the royal remains were said to be deposited was separated by a hedge. Willows and cypresses planted, and a small hillock was thrown up, surmounted by a cross.  

Engravings of the scene exist in several different versions:


http://collections.chateauversailles.fr/#c0eba7fa-1754-4613-916e-56a06e44783a

By 1814 Descloseaux was in his eighties.  He was aided by two daughters and his son-in-law, a former lawyer, Dominique-Emmanuel Danjou,who lived with him in the rue d'Anjou.   His daughter Marie-Céline, would offer visitors moving tours (of which there are several accounts).  According to the registers which she kept, there were 1,200 visitors between 1811 and 1814.

 In 1814 a printed guide was published  to the "sacred place", which listed 1,343 individuals executed under the Terror and now presumed to be buried in the cemetery.  Descloseaux added a certificate of authenticity, signed by himself as proprietor.  He reminded his readers that the cemetery contained the relics of "Saint Louis second" and invited them back to his house to view a detailed plan of locations.

Liste des personnes qui on péri par jugement du Tribunal Révolutionnaire,depuis le 26 août 1792, jusqu'au 13 juin 1794 (25 prairial an 2) Et dont les corps ont été inhumés dans le terrain de l'ancien cimetière de la Madeleine
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=gOxBAAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false



Several printed copies of Descloseaux's plan exist:

Copy from the Carnavalet of Descloseaux's plan of the Cemetery
https://www.parismuseescollections.paris.fr/fr/musee-carnavalet/oeuvres/cimetiere-de-la-madeleine-rue-d-anjou-ndeg-48#infos-principales

KEY: 
1. Those who died at the Fireworks on 31st May 1770
2. Grave near Descloseaux's garden containing the remains of four ecclesiastics and 500 Swiss Guards killed on 10th August 1792.
3. 500 further Swiss Guards.
4. Graves of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette
5. Charlotte Corday.
6. The duc d'Orléans and many others, executed in 1793.
7. Great ditch next to the Descloseaux house containing 1000 victims, mostly nobles, distinguished by their attachment to the King.
Note: Mme Elisabeth is buried at Monceau (Cimetière des Errancis)


As a sign of Descloseaux's fidelity to the monarchy, his family carefully collected flowers from the royal graves and sent them annually, with leaves from the cyprus trees, to the duchesse d'Angoulême. After the Restoration she was a frequent visitor.  She is recorded as saying to Descloseaux, when they met, "I did not expect to find such faithful Frenchmen.  Good old man, you have religiously preserved the ashes of my parents;  your family will be blessed".

Historians have speculated as to whether Descloseaux himself instigated the exhumation project, and deliberately sold his land at profit.  However, in a letter dated 15th January 1815, Descloseaux complains to the King that he has not been informed of the plans (which included demolition of the cemetery wall).  He asks whether the Louis intends to acquire the land and requests a place in the cortege for himself and his family.

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k53258811/f33.image

In the event, Descloseaux was generously enough  treated.  He was given an honoured place in proceedings and received  60.000 francs in compensation, as well as a pension of 8,000 francs (having paid only 4,550 francs for the initial purchase).  On her last visit to the cemetery the duchesse d'Angou was accompanied by Monsieur, the comte d'Artois, who took off his cordon of the order of Saint Michael and presented it to Descloseaux as a token of the King's gratitude.



The Exhumation


 In May 1814, at the instigation of Louis XVIII,  Chancellor Dambray initiated an official inquiry into the possibility of locating the bodies of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.  He listening to the testimony of Descloseaux's son-in-law Danjou, as well as to that of the clergy and officials who had been present at the burials.  The exhumations, conducted in the presence of ministers and Court officials, began on January 18th 1815.  The former gravedigger Étienne-Pierre Joly, now caretaker of the Montmartre cemetery, also took part. The Queen's remains were found on the same day and the King's on the next, the 19th. It had been decreed that they were to be ceremonially transferred to Saint-Denis on 21st January, the anniversary of the King's execution.


The Queen's grave was located fairly easily.  A layer quicklime had solidified over the coffin, offering some degree of preservation.  A number of bones were found, including the skull which was described as relatively intact.  Workers also uncovered a woman's stocking, similar to the ones which had been provided to the Queen in the Conciergerie,  two elastic garters and some hair. Onlookers were deeply moved: Charles Louis de Barentin, who was eighty years old, clasped his hands and knelt in prayer.  Another official, the prince de Poix, burst into tears and fainted.

The workers placed the personal items in a chest.  In a second chest, they deposited what they could salvage of the Queen's bones, mixed with earth and quicklime.  The chests then were moved into Descloseaux's salon, covered with a pall and surrounded by lighted candles.  The priests of the king's chapel spent the night there in prayer. The gates of the cemetery were locked, and a guard stationed on the grounds.

The search for the King,  which had been began on the evening of the 18th, resumed on the morning of the 19th.  Officials watched as a deep trench was dug nearer the wall. Finally workmen noticed quicklime mingled into the earth and discovered several pieces of board from a coffin.  They then uncovered the fragmentary skeleton of a man with the skull discernible, covered with quicklime and placed between the bones of the legs. Despite careful searching, no traces of clothing were found. However, those present were convinced that this was indeed the King.  The remains were reverently collected together and placed in a further chest.

The officials were later joined by further dignitaries appointed by Louis XVIII to witness the remains being transferred into lead coffins.

Early in the morning of the 21st,  the regiments of Paris turned out to form a double line from the rue d'Anjou to Saint-Denis.  At eight o'clock Monsieur, accompanied  the duc d'Angoulême from the Tuileries to the cemetery where they laid the first stone of a chapel on the spot where the royal remains had been discovered. The coffins were then processed with much pomp to Saint Denis.





Did they really find the right bodies?



It has never been established with absolute certainty that these were the correct remains, and an element of doubt will always persist.  Barras claimed facetiously that Robespierre himself had been mistaken for the King, since these two were the only men guillotined who still wore shoes with buckles.

The more trenchant criticisms were summarised in an article by Robert Ancel published in 1924 (see References).

1. The cemetery was too full, and had been too disturbed and covered with quicklime, to make it  possible to identify any individual with certainty. The neighbourhood made constant complaints about the stench of decayed bodies.  This is true, but does not take us very far.

2.  The royal remains would have been entirely consumed by the quicklime. However, the sources do explain quite clearly how the Queen's skeleton had been preserved by a layer of lime which had solidified over the corpse.

3.  Descloseaux and his son-in-law were self-seeking and their testimony was not to be relied upon.
Again, this does not really hold water. The location of Louis's grave was corroborated by the other eye-witnesses.  Similarly, although Danjou was the only official witness to have seen the burial of Marie-Antoinette, the Commission was guided by the gravedigger Joly and other workmen, "several of whom had seen the interment of the Queen". (The grandson of one of the gravediggers, Pierre Seveste, a Vaudeville singer, was subsequently given the unlikely reward of a monopoly over theatres in the area.)



THE EVIDENCE: 

The burial of the Queen: 

There are no surviving accounts or documentary details of Marie-Antoinette's burial to check the exhumation record against. The only written evidence is a list of expenses submitted by Joly (for the coffin, 6 livres; for the gravediggers, 25 livres), which was originally published by the Goncourt brothers.  In 1815 Joly claimed that  he had carried out the burial entirely at his own initiative and placed the grave close to that of the King.

For the identification:

The location was easily found - so much so that Louis Hastier speculates that Joly may have marked the spot with a cross on the wall.
There was a distinct layer of quicklime.
The grave was quite deep - the quicklime was found five feet down.
There was a clear imprint of a coffin and several boards were preserved. Presumably most of those executed were just placed directly into the earth.
Although many bones were missing, some, including the skull, were "relatively intact"
The position of the skull "clearly indicated" that it had been severed from the body.
Various fragments of feminine attire were found - stockings similar ones owned by Marie-Antoinette at the Conciergerie, elastic garters.  Also hair belonging to a woman.


The King:

The only additional independent source for the location of the King's grave is a letter by Santerre, which states that he was buried between ("entre") those who lost their lives in the fireworks of 1770 and the Swiss Guards killed in August 1792. Ancel thought that this was inconsistent with Descloseaux's plan, since the firework victims are on the other side of the cemetery.  However, Santerre's  "entre" is vague and might just mean "among" rather than "between".  The plan corresponds to the location  indicated by Joly to Mme Charton in 1793.

Various official measures were put in place to guarantee that the body was secure and decomposed rapidly. An order from the  Convention declared formally that the body was to be buried twelve feet down and covered with quicklime.  The curé confirmed that he received instructions verbally the night before the burial and had carried them out point by point.  The vicaire Renard, who actually conducted the ceremony, again stated that the body was buried at a depth ten or twelve feet  and covered with quicklime. Joly specified that six bags of lime pellets were used and mentions that the lime was also placed inside the open coffin before the lid was fitted on it.

For the identification:
This time the case is certainly more doubtful. Despite Joly's guidance,  there was a great deal of difficulty finding the location.  The search was described as "prolonged and painful".   An area 12 feet square was dug out on the 18th before the Commission was obliged to adjourn for the night. The following day another deep trench was excavated nearer the wall. 

Finally the excavators found some evidence of quicklime and pieces of board that could have come from a coffin. This time there was no distinct layer of quicklime; there was only an admixture of lime and earth, which looked as if it might have already been disturbed.

They then found the skeleton of a man, which they identified as the King. It is difficult to assess from the accounts how intact the bones were: however,  it was possible to distinguish the shape of the skull between the individual's legs as described by the eyewitnesses.  One account describes the comte de Blacas climbing down in the trench and passing up bones, so there were at least more than tiny fragments.

There was no trace of clothing or hair to aid identification, which was a shame since Louis's body is described in poignant detail by all the eyewitness as buried fully dressed in shirt, white dimity waistcoat,  grey breeches and grey silk stockings.

 After the remains were found, it was deemed necessary to conduct a further thorough search of the vicinity.  The area was dug a depth of twelve feet, twenty five feet out from the wall, to make sure  there was no layer of quicklime or any other remains.   Ancel wonders why the Commssion went to such lengths if the members were really so sure that they had discovered the King.  On the other hand, the absence of any other remains in the area, makes it more likely that this was indeed the skeleton of Louis XVI.


References

Eugène Le Senne, "L'ancien cimetière de la Madeleine", Bulletin de la Société historique et archéologique du VIIIe arrondissement de Paris, July 1900, vol.2(3): p.119-131; p.128.
https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k53258811/f27.image

Robert Ancel, "La commémoration des rois de France à Paris pendant la Restauration", Mémoires de la Société de l'Histoire de Paris, 1924,  p.189-200

Louis Hastier, "La sépulture de Louis XVI et de Marie-Antoinette", Revue des Deux Mondes, September 1955, p.93-111.
https://www.revuedesdeuxmondes.fr/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/8554c6db40e348db1c0960c0fd884d63.pdf

Readings

THE CEMETERY IN 1804

The German writer August von Kotzebue attempted to find the location of the Madeleine cemetery on a visit to Paris in 1804:
Louis XVI. and Marat, in short, all the venerable, as well as the worthless victims of the Revolution, are so completely sunk in oblivion, that all my pains to discover the church-yard de la Madelaine, where they are buried, were fruitless; my lacquey de place pretended to know nothing at all about it. At last, I was informed, that this church-yard had been sold to a smith, who had converted it into a garden. I instantly repaired to the spot, but the smith was not at home; the people in the house would not vouch for the correctness of my information, but were of opinion, that not a single trace of graves remained in their garden; for the quicklime, with which the holes in which the corpses had been thrown were filléd up, had consumed them all.  To be brief, I was obliged to withdraw, however much I had wished to stand on the spot where the bones of unfortunate men and ruffians remain mixed together. A lady afterwards assured me that the spot was not only still to be found; but that it was even planted with three lilies: the owner however, owing to the too great crowd of visitors, had shut his garden to everybody. – In this he was perfectly right.
Travels from Berlin...to Paris in the Year 1804, vol. III. p.199-200.



TWO VISITS IN 1814

From Anecdotes curieuses et interessantes  by "F. D."  (Paris,1814)
On 4th September (1814) I visited the sacred place which contains  the remains of our sainted King, Louis XVI and his virtuous and unfortunate queen Marie-Antoinette. Thanks to the care of M. Descloseaux and his daughters,  good Frenchmen...can come to this place and find consolation.  Mademoiselle Descloseaux will be pleased to accompany you; her gentle and sorrowful voice inspires sacred respect for these martyrs.  This cemetery is the the rue Danjou and is called the Madeleine cemetery.  A grave at one end of the garden contains 133 bodies buried on 6th June 1770, those killed on the 31st May at the fireworks held to celebrate the marriage of Louis and  Marie-Antoinette.  Another grave, adjoining Sieur Descloseaux's garden, has the bodies of four priests and five hundred Swiss Guards killed on 10 August.  A third grave contains five hundred further Suisses.  The tomb of Louis XVI was placed here on 21st January 1793 at half-past ten in the morning. A pit of eight feet depth was dug and a great deal of quicklime placed in it.  The body of the king was placed in a wooden coffin, with quicklime on top.  On 16th October 1793, the body of the queen, his wife, was buried near him, with a similar quantity of quicklime.

Charlotte Corday, executed in July 1793 is alone in the central area.

To the right in the low lying section is the body of M. the duc d'Orleans and many others who were guillotined.  This ditch was filled towards the middle of  December 1793 and must contain a great number of victims.

Below the wall of the Descloseaux house, is a great ditch in which there are almost a thousand victims, the majority of them nobles, distinguished by their attachment to the King.

Although the whole district was infected by the putrefaction of the bodies interred, sieur Descloseaux only managed to secure the closure of the cemetery in early May 1794.  Henceforth the bodies were transported to Monceau, among the first madame Elisabeth...

It is not surprising that the area suffered from the smell of putrefaction. The number of those who perished, from the Revolutionary Tribunal alone, from 26th August 1792 to 13 June 1794 and who are buried in the cemetery, rises to 1343, apart from other burials.  M. Descloseaux has made a list of all the victims and the date of their martyrdom, apart from M. de Sanau, conseiller of the Parlement of Toulouse, whom he forgot.

I will not talk about this cemetery;  I will confine myself to saying that it is full of the  thoughts of many visitors; readers if you go, you will add to the number.  A Plan can be found at M. Descloseaux's house.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=j8BZAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA176#v=onepage&q&f=false

From the Journal of the Marquis de Bombelle for 5th September 1814:
I made my way towards the part of the rue d'Anjou where M. Descloseaux lives...  He is a virtuous man who, living over what was the cemetery of the Madeleine at the time of Louis XVI's death, saw from his upstairs window everything that happened at the graveside of our sainted monarch.  As soon as they ceased burials in the cemetery M. Descloseaux quietly made every possible effort to acquire the ground.  He achieved his goal and created a lawn adorned with flowers over the remains of their Majesties.  M. Descloseaux allowed me inside.  His daughter opened the gate.  The King and the Queen are in one corner, to the left, near the bodies of the Swiss Guards who perished on 10th August and afterwards.  In the opposite corner are the bodies of the duc d'Orléans and others who proved unworthy during the Revolution.  It is believed that the King intends to transfer the sacred relics of his brother to Saint-Denis or to build a church on this spot where I prayed with all my heart.  M. Desclozeaux had the sad experience of seeing the head of Louis XVI between the legs of the martyr.  M. Desclozeaux hopes that, despite the quicklime thrown on the ground over the coffins, the bones of king and queen have not yet dissolved.  He tells me that Madame Elizabeth is buried in the cemetery of Monceau, but so mixed in with numerous  other decapitated bodies, that short of a miracle, her body will never be recovered...
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=RJM6CRJSnPwC&pg=PA253#v=onepage&q&f=false



THE EXHUMATION

OFFICIAL ACCOUNTS OF THE BURIAL OF LOUIS XVI

Order of the Executive Council, 20th January 1793: 
The body of Louis Capet will be transported to the cemetery of the Madeleine where a fosse will be prepared twelve feet deep  into which quicklime will be thrown.
(quoted Hastier, p.98). 


Letter of Santerre, 21st January 1793, read to the General Council of the Commune.
Citizens
I omitted to recount a details which should be known.  The body was transported to the Madeleine with care and exactitude;  it is buried between the men who died on the occasion of his marriage and the Swiss Guards killed on the 10 August.
Signed, Commandant général, SANTERRE
Reproduced in Beaucourt, Capitivité et derniers moments de Louis XVI (1892) vol. 2, p.304.documents
https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k1119553/f302.image


Procès-verbal of the burial of Louis Capet
The 21st January 1793, Year II of the French Republic, we the undersigned, administrators of the Department of Paris... were conveyed at nine o'clock in the morning to the home of Citizen Picavez, the curé of Sainte-Madeleine...He confirmed that he had complied point by point with the orders of  the executive Council  and the Department and that all was now ready.  Accompanied by the Citizens Renard and Demoreaux, vicars of the parish of Saint-Madeleine, who were instructed by the citizen curé to conduct the burial, we presented ourselves at the cemetery of the parish, rue d'Anjou-Saint-Honoré, where we verified that the orders given to the curé the day before had been carried out.

Shortly afterwards the body of Louis Capet was brought to the cemetery by a detachment of gendarmes on foot; we confirmed that the body was entire with all its limbs, the head being separated from the trunk. We noted that the hair had been cut behind the head and that the corpse was without neckerchief, coat or shoes. It was wearing a shirt, a quilted waistcoat, grey breeches and a pair of grey silk stockings.  Thus dressed the body was placed in a coffin, which was lowered into the ditch.  This was immediately filled in.  All was carried out in accordance with the orders of the executive Council of the French Republic.
Signed:
Lebanc, Du Bois, 
together with the curé and vicaires of Saint-Madeleine, Picavez, Damoreau, Renard.
Beaucourt, Capitivité et derniers moments de Louis XVI (1892) vol. 2 - documents
https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k1119553/f311.image




THE BURIAL OF MARIE-ANTOINETTE

Memorandum concerning expenses and burials by Joly, gravedigger of the Madeleine la Ville-l'Évêque, for persons put to death by the judgment of the Tribunal.
As follows: 
From the 1st of the month.............
........................................
The 25th, idem.
The Widow Capet for the coffin......6 livres
For the grave and the grave diggers....25 livres

The memoir is signed 11 brumaire Year II by Hermann, president of the Revolutionary Tribunal

The document was originally reproduced by the Goncourt brothers.  The dates caused confusion to Lenotre and others, who supposed that  the burial must have been delayed to 25th October, or even 1st November (11 brumaire, the date of Hermann's signature, given in the Gregorian calendar in some versions).  More probably the date indicated is 25 vendémiaire, ie. 16th October - the day of the Queen's execution.


After the execution of Marie Antoinette - after a painting by Alfred Mouillard, 1893, Musée Carnavalet

DEPOSITIONS COLLECTED BY CHARLES DAMBRAY, CHANCELLOR OF FRANCE, 22nd May 1814.

François Silvani Renard, formerly rector of the church de la Madeleine:
On the 20th of January, 1793, M. Picavez, curé of the parish de la Madeleine received an injunction from the executive government to fulfil its commands relative to the obsequies of His Majesty Louis XVI.  M. Picavez, not possessing the firmness necessary to fulfil so painful and melancholy a duty, alleged indisposition, and appointed me, as his premier vicaire, to occupy his place, enjoining me to adhere strictly, upon my own responsibility, to the orders given by the executive government. No one being more strongly attached to the king than myself, I refused to perform the service; but upon M. Picavez justly observing that a second refusal might bring incalculable evils upon both of us, I consented. 

 Accordingly, the next day, January 21, after ascertaining that the orders of the executive power relative to the quantity of lime, and the depth of the grave, which, to the best of my recollection, was ten or twelve feet deep, had been performed, I remained at the church door, accompanied by the late abbé Damoreau and a cross-bearer, till the body of His Majesty should be given into our hands.  Upon my demanding the surrender of the body, they were ordered not to lose sight of it for a moment.  The abbé Damoreau and myself were therefore compelled to accompany them to the cemetery situated in the rue d'Anjou. 

Upon reaching the spot, I ordered the most profound silence to be observed.  The king's body was then presented to us.  It was dressed in a white dimity waistcoat, and grey silk small clothes and stockings.  We sang vespers, and recited all the prayers of the burial service; and it is but just to acknowledge that the populace, who but a few moments before rent the air with their vociferations, listened attentively to the supplications offered up for the repose of His Majesty's soul.   The corpse was placed in an open coffin, which was then deposited in a grave about ten feet from the wall, into which a quantity of quick lime had been thrown by order of the executive government.  The body was then covered with a layer of lime, upon which the earth was thrown in, and beaten firmly down.  We withdrew in silence after this painful ceremony ; and, to the best of my recollection, minutes were made by the juge de paix, and signed by the members of the department and the commune.  On returning to the church I drew up a register, which was taken by the members of the Revolutionary Committee, who were waiting in the cloisters.'

Antoine Lamaigre, juge de paix of the First Arrondissement
He had not been present at the king's interment, but arrived at the spot the moment after the body had been covered with lime.  He added, that the spot enclosed in the orchard of M. Descloseaux was indeed that in which the king had been buried.


Jean-Richard-Eve Vaudremont, registrar to the  juge de paix of the First Arrondissement. 
In his official capacity he accompanied the juge de paix to the cemetery de la Madeleine, a short time after the king's burial, which took place in the spot marked out in the orchard of M. Descloseaux. 

M. Dominique-Emmanuel Daujon, son-in-law of M. Descloseaux
 He witnessed the interment of both the king and the queen. He saw them both placed in their graves in coffins without lids, which were then filled up with quicklime and earth; the king's head, which had been separated from the body, was placed between his legs; he had never lost sight of the spot, which he regarded as sacred.  Upon the purchase of the ground by his father-in-law, the walls were heightened, and the space in which the bodies of Their Majesties were interred was surrounded by a hedge of elms, near which several cypresses and willows were planted.

Alexandre-Étienne-Hippolyte, baron de Baye, 
He had seen the carriage pass in which the king's body was conveyed to the cemetery of the Madeleine; he did not follow it, but he had heard it affirmed that the corpse was deposited at the spot since marked out by M. Descloseaux; and that the latter had been offered an hôtel in Paris in exchange for the ground, but refused to comply.
ACCOUNTS OF THE EXHUMATION

Report of the Commission appointed to superintend the exhumations, dated 20th January 1815.

On the 18th of January, 1815, we, Charles-Henry Dambray, chancellor of France; the count de Blacas, minister of the king's household ; M. le Bailli de Crussol, knight; M. de la Fare, bishop of Nancy, and chief almoner to the duchess of Angoulême ; and M. Phillippe Distel, his majesty's surgeon, commissioners appointed by the king to search for the sacred remains of their late Majesties Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, his august consort, repaired, at eight o'clock in the morning, to the former cemetery de la Madeleine, rue d'Anjou.

Upon entering the house No. 48, adjoining the cemetery, which had been purchased by M. Descloseaux, and converted into an orchard, in order to preserve the remains deposited therein, we found the said M. Descloseaux, together with M. Daujon his son-in-law, and several other members of his family, who conducted us into the ancient cemetery, and pointed out the spot in which M. Daujon, in his deposition on the 22nd of May, 1814, had declared that he had seen the bodies of the King and Queen interred.

Having thus ascertained the spot, we began by searching for the body of the Queen, in order that the remains of His Majesty might be discovered with the greater certainty, as we had reason to believe that they had been deposited nearer the wall, towards the rue d'Anjou. After the workmen, several of whom had witnessed the interment of the Queen, had opened, to the depth of five feet, a space ten feet in length by five or six in breadth, we found a bed of lime ten or eleven inches deep, which we ordered to be removed with the greatest care; under this bed we distinctly perceived the outline of a coffin about five feet six inches in length. Following these traces, we discovered, in the depth of the lime, several pieces of board still fastened together. In this coffin we found a number of bones, but several were wanting, having undoubtedly been reduced to dust; the skull was entire, and its position indicated incontestably that it had been severed from the body. We also found remains of clothing, and particularly two elastic garters, in good preservation. The whole were placed in a chest, and locked up. In another chest were deposited the earth and lime found mixed with the bones. The opening in the cemetery was then covered with thick planks, and we proceeded to search for the body of the King. To that effect, we caused an opening twelve feet square to be dug between the former opening and the wall towards the rue d'Anjou. Not finding any lime to indicate that the King’s body had been interred there, we considered it necessary to dig a little lower in the same direction, but the approach of night compelled us to suspend the search until the following day. The two chests were removed into M. Descloseaux's hall, where they were sealed with the Arms of France, covered with a pall, and surrounded with lighted tapers. The priests of His Majesty's chapel spent the night in the hall, repeating the prayers of the church. The gates of the cemetery were then locked, and a guard stationed round the ground.

We again repaired to the cemetery at half-past eight o'clock on the morning of January 19th , attended by the workmen. A deep trench, nearer the wall, being opened in our presence, we discovered some earth mingled with lime, and several small pieces of board, indicative of a coffin. The search was then carried on with the greatest care ; but instead of a bed of pure lime, as round the queen's coffin, we found that the earth and lime had been mixed, but that there was a greater proportion of the latter substance. In this mixture of earth and lime we discovered the bones of a man, several of which were on the point of crumbling to dust; the skull was covered with lime, and placed between the leg-bones. Fragments of clothes were carefully looked for, but none were discovered. We collected all the remains, and placed them, together with some pieces of lime, in a cloth brought for the purpose. Although the spot in which the body was found corresponded with that pointed out by several eye-witnesses of the interment, and the situation of the head left no doubt as to its identity, we nevertheless caused the ground to be dug twelve feet deep to the distance of twenty-five feet, in order to ascertain whether there was any where a bed of pure lime. No such bed being found was a corroboration of the proof, already satisfactory, that the remains we were in possession of were those of the king. These remains were enclosed a chest, sealed with the arms of France, conveyed into the hall of M. Descloseaux,  and placed by the side of those of the Queen. The priests continued to repeat the prayers of the church over the two bodies.

On the 20th of January we proceeded, in pursuance of the King's commands, to the house of M. Descloseaux, where we, the Commissioners who had been present at the preceding operations, together with other personages whose right of office, or the King's commands, had assembled, witnessed the removal of the remains of Their Majesties into leaden coffins made for that purpose.
 In the presence of these noble and other personages, we broke the seals and opened the chests in which the remains had been deposited. Those of His Majesty were placed in a leaden coffin, together with the pieces of lime and wood, and were then soldered down. Upon the lid was fastened a gold plate, with the following inscription:
Ici est le corps du très-haut, très-puissant et très-excellent prince, Louis XVI. du nom, par la grâce de Dieu, roi de France et de Navarre.
The remains of the Queen were then deposited in a leaden coffin, in the presence of the same personages, and soldered down. Upon the lid was the following inscription :
Ici est le corps de très-haute, très-puissante et très-excellente priocesse, Marie - Antoinette-Josèphe-Jeanne de Lorraine, archiduchesse d'Autriche, épouse du très-haut, très-puissant et très-excellent prince Louis XVI, du nom, par la grâce de Dieu, roi de France et de Navarre.
The coffins were then covered with palls, and the priests were ordered to continue repeating prayers near them till their removal to Saint Denis.
"In proof whereof, etc.
DAMBRAY, DEBLACAS, DE LA FARE

Account of Edme-Louis Barbier
Barbier, the author of a 35-page pamphlet,  does not seem to be otherwise known.  He specifies in a footnote that his eldest brother was responsible, under the direction of Bélanger, for the provision of the leaden coffins in which the remains were placed.
...On 31st March my brother and I were among the first in the capital to proclaim  the happy return of the Bourbons.  On 18th,19th, 20th and 21st January 1815 we were both invited to observe the exhumation at the Madeleine.

On 18th January 1815 at eight o'clock in the morning, the search for the remains of Marie-Antoinette was begun....The pious Frenchman who had been responsible for burials - Sieur Joly, now concierge of the Monmartre cemetery -  had placed the body in a wooden coffin, as he had previously done that of the King. This action was his own personal initiative... No-one gave him orders; no one thought of paying him; and he did not himself ask for payment.  This same man was called upon to guide the exhumation.

The wooden coffin had acted as a barrier to the layer of quicklime, which had dissolved in water then compacted under the weight of the earth to form a sort of vault over the body...  The bones of the Queen of France were thus found preserved, with fragments of clothing, her garters, and the remains of the coffin.  The vault was reconstructed in plaster and the position marked: one day a chapel will be built on the spot where all true Frenchmen may shed tears in expiation.  The precious bones were placed in a chest until they could be tranferred into the lead coffins which had been prepared to receive them. 

On 19th January, at half past eight in the morning, the excavations resumed in the presence of the same Commissioners.  After much long and painful searching, the mortal remains of the sainted King were found.  This time the quicklime had been disturbed; impious hands had perhaps sought to mix up the remains with those from later burials.  Nonetheless, the presence of the layer of quicklime made it certain that this was indeed the King.....
Under the quicklime we found the bones.  The head was discovered between the legs as all the preliminary declarations had stated.  Not far away lay the great number of victims who had died defending the sacred cause of the martyr King.

M le comte de Blacas went down into the pit.  My brother was at the side.  He received with great respect the bones that the comte de Blacas passed up reverently to him.  He immediately passed them on to M. le prince de Poix, who placed them in the shroud prepared to receive them....

Mgr the Chancellor of France placed his seals on the two chests, which were deposited in the salon of M. Descloseaux.  Here portraits of the royal couple hung, gifts of gratitude to the proprietor from Madame, the duchesse d'Angouleme.  The salon became a sort of temple; for three days priests said expiatory masses as they stood guard over the relics;  people came there to pray.
Notice sur l'exhumation de leurs majestés Louis XVI et Marie-Antoinette  par Edme-Louis Barbier en janvier 1815.
On the 21st of January, 1815, the remains of the unfortunate Louis XVI. and his royal consort were conveyed to the abbey-church of Saint Denis.  At an early hour in the morning, all the regiments in garrison at Paris were under arms, and formed a double line from the rue d'Anjou to the barrier Saint Denis. At eight o'clock, MONSIEUR, accompanied by the duke of Angoulême and the duke of Berry, went from the palace of the Tuileries to the house of M. Descloseaux,  and laid the first stone of a sepulchral chapel, upon the spot where the royal remains had been discovered.  The coffins were then carried to the funeral car by twelve of the guards de la Manche, and the procession moved forward in the following order:

A detachment of the national guards, on horseback.
A detachment of the national guards, on foot.
Lieutenant-general Dessolle, attended by the staff of the national guards.
A captain and officers of the king's guards.
A detachment of grenadiers of the same corps, on horseback.
The great officers of the king's household, and those of the princes, in three carriages drawn by eight horses.
A detachment of fusiliers of the king's guards, headed by their officers and band.
A detachment of the light horse of the king's guards, headed by their officers, trumpets, and cymbals. .
A number of high personages, appointed by his majesty to attend the procession, in eight carriages drawn by eight horses.
Four heralds, on horseback.
The king at arms, on horseback.
The grand master of the ceremonies, attended by the master of the ceremonies and assistants, on horseback.
Two gentlemen ushers, on horseback.

The funeral car. At the wheels were the captains of the four compagnies rouges.  On the sides were șix guards de la Manche. It was escorted to the barrier Saint Denis by thirty of the Cent Suisses, headed by their captain.

The equerry of the king's stables, on horseback.
The captain of the body guards.
The officers of the same corps.
A detachment of the same corps.
A detachment of gendarmes of the king's guards.
A detachment of MONSIEUR's guards.
MONSIEUR's carriage.
The duke of Angoulême's carriage.
The duke of Berry's carriage.
A detachment of the national guards on horseback.
A squadron of the king's dragoons.

A detachment of artillery joined the procession at the barrier Saint Denis, and followed it, firing minute guns.  A regiment of the king's chasseurs lined the road from Paris to Saint Denis. The drums and musical instruments were covered with black serge, and the arms and colours of the troops were ornamented with crape. A deep and solemn silence prevailed among the multitudes who thronged the streets and road by which the procession passed.

Upon reaching the church of Saint-Denis, the bodies were taken from the car by the guards de la Manche, and carried into the church, where they were received by the clergy, and presented by the bishop of Carcassone to the bishop of Aire. They were then placed upon a lofty tomb of state in the midst of the choir.  MONSIEUR, after retiring for a few minutes, entered the church, and was ' followed by the duke of Angoulême, the duke of Berry, the duke of Orleans, and the prince de Condé, who occupied the stalls on the right nearest the altar.  The duchess of Orleans, the duchess of Bourbon, and mademoiselle of Orleans, entered the opposite stalls.  Next to the princes sat the duke of Dalmatia, the duke de Reggio, count Barthelemy, and M. Lainé, whom the king had appointed to support the pall when the coffins were carried to the vault.  The other stalls were occupied by deputations from the Court of Cassation, the Court of Accompts, the Council of the University, the Cour Royale, the Municipality, and the Tribunal de Première Instance. The choir was filled by the great officers of the king's household, the officers of the princes' households, his majesty's ministers, the high personages appointed to form part of the procession, the marshals and peers of France, the deputies of the departments, the grand crosses of the order ofthe major-general and staff of the national guards, the governor of the first military division and his staff, and a great number of generals and other military officers. The governess of the royal children, the ladies in waiting upon her late majesty, and the ladies in waiting upon the duchesse of Angoulême, sat upon benches near the coffins.  Four hundred young ladies of the maison royale de Saint Denis were seated in front of the altar.

When all these attendants had taken their places, the service commenced. The princes and princesses, followed by the grand master and master of the ceremonies, and their assistants, approached the altar to present their offerings, after which a funeral oration was delivered by the bishop of Troyes. The absolution having been pronounced, the bodies were lowered into the royal vault, into which MONSIEUR and the two princes, his sons, descended, and prostrated themselves upon the coffins of their royal relatives.  Salutes of artillery were fired at the moment when the procession set out from Paris, during the service at Saint Denis, and when the bodies were lowered into the vault.

To perpetuate the memory of these august victims, the king has ordained that solemn funeral services shall be performed annually, in all the churches of the kingdom, on the 21st of January, for the repose of the soul of Louis XVI.; and on the 16th of October, for that of his royal consort; and that on those days the court shall wear mourning, and the public offices, courts of justice, exchange, and theatres be closed.
The History of Paris, ed.Galignani, vol.III(1825), p.379-82
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=HNFYAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA3

Monday, 29 June 2020

A visit to the Madeleine Cemetery in 1793



On 18th February 1793, barely three weeks after Louis XVI's execution, an intrepid young woman set out in her carriage for the Madeleine Cemetery to see the King's grave for herself.  She left an extraordinary first-hand account was first published by Louis Hastier in the Revue des Deux Mondes for 1951.

 The woman in question was Angélique-Catherine Charton, née Chauchat (1759-1849), wife of Jean Charton, a member of a prominent family of Lyon silk designers.  Her husband served  as a Commander of the National Guard and then colonel in a Regiment of the Line, but in June 1796 he too was to fall victim to Revolutionary justice,  guillotined on the place du Trône-Renversé, and consigned to a communal grave in the Picpus cemetery.  Angélique-Catherine herself  lived a long active life, dying in 1849 at the age of ninety.  She was one of the founder members of the committee which acquired the Picpus Cemetery as a place of memorial and, in the last decade of her life, acted as president of the Picpus Society.

Portrait from "Les guillotinés de la Révolution Française" website
https://www.prospection.net/charton%20jean.htm

Here is an English translation. The gravedigger whom Mme Charton encounters can be identified as Étienne-Pierre Joly,  later custodian at both Errancis and Monmartre, who was present at Louis XVI's exhumation in 1815. The details given entirely corroborate the later testimony concerning the location and circumstances of the burial:  the body, still in its shirt, waistcoat, breeches and stockings, was placed in an open coffin, and buried with a covering of quicklime at a distance of about ten feet from the wall of the cemetery.  Joly implies that the pit had not quite been dug to the required depth of twelve feet by the time the burial party arrived. The only significant departure from the  later despositions is Joly's statement that he positioned the King's head by his neck rather than between his legs.


The old Madeleine church, c1760. The church was sold as a bien national on 4 4 pluviôse an V and later demolished.   The facade was on the rue de la Ville-l’Évêque, went along the rue de 'Arcade and was separated from the rue d'Anjou by a continuous row of houses [Plan Turgot, below]
https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k53258811/f15.image

I arrived at the Madeleine church.  A low mass had just begun; I heard it for the King.  Not that I allowed myself to pray for his soul; I would willingly have done so but my longstanding plan was to see where he had been buried. An usher past by me, offering each person a little candle to burn in honour of the Virgin.  I asked her where the cemetery was and whether it was open.  She replied that she didn't think so, but would inquire.  I asked her to talk to the keyholder and she left.

Ten minutes later, she came back to tell me that entry would not be possible as the gravedigger, the only person who had a key, had gone out to the faubourg Saint-Germain.


I asked her if she had seen the place where the King was buried - Yes;  Had he had been taken into the Church? - No.   Did people come to the cemetery? - No. No-one dared, she said. The King had caused  trouble for many people; besides a lot of women had masses said for him.

I wanted her to take me to the gate. - The burial place is under the wall, she said.  You will see once you are inside.  I had her put in my carriage.  Once we had arrived, the gravedigger appeared. My good woman recognised him.  I asked him to open up.  "Willingly, Citizeness!" said he and he opened the gate.

I was trembling from head to foot.  I entered reverently into the last resting place of the best of men, his only refuge from so many troubles.

The area is about half an arpent [a little less than half an acre].  The gate is in the rue d'Anjou-Saint-Honoré.  Unfortunately a man in Jacobin dress, with untidy black greasy hair and  a pipe - he looked like a spy -overheard my request and followed me in.  Never has a man caused me so much distress; he almost reduced me to tears.  He twisted all my questions.  I will record them exactly, as well as his own in response.  In the course of the conversation, several old women and children also entered the cemetery, then a tall heavy man, and finally Bérard my coachman.

Gravedigger: Citizeness, go along to the left and you will find the grave at the side of the wall.

Me: I thought the grave would be bigger.

Gravedigger:  I was ordered to make it larger, but the order only came to me on the Sunday night and, since I could not work at night, I did not have enough time.

Me: How big is it?

Gravedigger: Seven to nine feet long, three feet wide;  I was still working when the body  arrived.

Jacobin:  I bet that is not even seven feet.  He paced out the length and width:  Is that one of his bones?

Gravedigger: No Citizen. There are none to be found any more.

Jacobin:  His bones were tough enough to still be here.

Me:  They say he was entirely consumed in twenty-four hours.  Can you tell us exactly what you did and what happened?

Gravedigger: Absolutely Citizeness. From  start to finish.  When they arrived I was still in the pit.  I got out quickly, and set to work with my spade on that pile of quicklime over there where you can still see the traces: there were five bags of lime pellets.  I mixed the lime into a paste, and with the help of another man, poured water on it so that it started to boil.  The wooden coffin was there on the side, the great basket next to it.  The gate was shut.  At one end, by the feet, were two deputies. Here stood three priests, our vicaire and two others, with a silver cross. Then came the national guardsmen, and that was all, since they were afraid something bad might happen.

A child turned a cartwheel on the spot he showed us.
- Got away; this spot isn't happy enough for dancing, said the gravedigger. Look, his head was there.
I put forward my toe, trembling: - What, just here?

Gravedigger: Yes, just there.  But to go back to my story, when everything was arranged as I have said, I pulled the body from the basket.  I wanted to untie his hands which were bound behind his back, but the deputies absolutely refused to let me.  So I put him just as he was, fully dressed, into his coffin.

Me: What?  He was dressed?  They all say that after he was executed, he was robbed, and that his clothes were torn to pieces and sold.


Jacobin:  That is a dirty lie.  I was there, by the guillotine, as close as I am now to the pit, and I defy the boldest liar to say that a single hair from his head was touched.  It was only the redingote, which he himself took off before mounting the scaffold, that was taken and torn.

Gravedigger: That's true.  They hadn't cut off a single hair. His hair was curled and still attached with a comb which is buried down there as well.  I laid him out in his wooden coffin.

Jacobin: Good grief - did he deserve a coffin of gold?

Gravedigger:  That is not what I said, Citizen.  It is Madame the Citizeness who asked me to give all the details.

Me:  Yes, please.  But tell me, haven't there already been other people who have asked the same questions as us?

The Jacobin grimaced at the plural, which associated his curiosity with my own.

Gravedigger:  No, Citizeness, you are the first.
Me:  That surprises me I replied.  People from this area have the opportunity.

Gravedigger:  He was missing only his shoes.  He had a slightly dirty white waistcoat, his shirt of course, grey breeches and silk stockings.  Afterwards I picked up his head which I placed on his neck.  His eyes were open.  Then we lowered him onto the bed of bubbling quicklime.  The priests came forwards and said their prayers.  Then we put the lid on the coffin, and added water and more lime pellets on the top and sides.  Finally there was the earth which you see.

The Jacobin started walking on the tomb again.

I seized my courage.  I wanted to do the same, but in a different spirit.  He was profaning it.  I wanted to count the paces to check the size - 1,2,3 to 7, then, making the sign of the cross, I counted 1, 2, 3 wide.  Before leaving this sad place, which I felt like I could never leave,  I asked to see the graves of the men of 10th August and the those killed at the royal marriage.

It was the all the same gravedigger, said he, that is to say  myself.  The King effectively lies next to the men of 10th August.  There were 116 of them.


- I hope, said the Jacobin, that you separated the Suisses from the patriots. You mustn't mix up aristocrats.

- No,  said the big man who had just entered. There were neither aristocrats nor patriots;  they were all drunk before and dead afterwards.


- In any case, added the gravedigger, they were naked;  I couldn't tell anything.


- For myself, said the man with black hair, I know an aristocrat, dead or alive.

I asked the man several questions concerning  the moment of the King's execution.  He replied very honestly to all. What he said agreed with the facts I have noted above.
I asked him if it was true that the cavalry had played Marlborough bringing the body and  Ça ira on their return. He replied that nothing could be more true.

The gravedigger then showed us where he had buried the dead of the rue Royale.  There had been 133 but they were not all there, since many of the bodies had been claimed by their relatives.  This grave is a long way from the King.

When I took out my wallet to thank them, my two assistants kept their distance.  The gravedigger came up close to me to receive his remuneration and thanks.  He said to me very quietly, for the dark man was at the gate: "Madame, if it was not my livelihood, I would never have agreed to bury the King.  It caused me a great deal of pain, but I wasn't able to refuse, I assure you.

My friend, I said, you have done no wrong; on the contrary, since he was already dead;  in all this, you were the only one to do him any service.

Ah! Madame, replied the good man;  if you believe that, so much the better.

I got back into my carriage, waved to the dark man and left.

Translated from:  Louis Hastier, "La sépulture de Louis XVI et de Marie-Antoinette", Revue des Deux Mondes, September 1955, p.93-111.
https://www.revuedesdeuxmondes.fr/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/8554c6db40e348db1c0960c0fd884d63.pdf