Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Saint-Just - Angel of Death?

By Jean-Baptiste Greuze, oil on canvas, 1,44 m x 1,20 m
Musée de Saint-Omer

The following is (mostly) taken from the opening chapter of Bernard Vinot's biography of Saint-Just, the  French text  of which is available on Google Books.

The physical appearance of a man of state has rarely assumed such importance as it has in the case of Saint-Just.  History is facinated by the image of Saint-Just as the ruthless angel of the Revolution, by his androgynous beauty.  But was he really so handsome?

Attributed to Jacques-Louis David.  oil on canvas
50 cm x 71 cm. Private collection
Even contemporary witnesses do not entirely agree with each another.  His sister Louise, reminiscing to her grandchildren, recalled his "great beauty", whilst his childhood friend from Soisson, Lejeune, spoke only of his "honest appearance".  His colleague Levasseur de la Sarte described him as "physically weak", whereas Desmoulin insisted on his stiff carriage  ("raideur"): "You see from his way of walking and his posture that he considers his head the cornerstone of the Republic, and  he carries it on his shoulders like the object of some holy sacrament".  Paganel,  a fellow  member of the Convention, left a more detailed portrait:

 Of middle height, with a healthy body, proportions which show strength; a big head, thick hair, bilious colouring, small lively eyes, a disdainful expression, regular features and an austere appearance, strong, but veiled voice, with a note of anxiety, a sombre air of preoccupation and determination, an extreme coldness of tone and manner - thus appeared to us Saint-Just, who was not yet thirty years old.

Outside the traditions of the family, none of these recollections is free from antagonistic bias. Later literary accounts further distorted Saint-Just's appearance for effect, mostly to vilify his memory. Thus Mignet: "He had a regular face, with large features and a strong, melancholy expression;  his eyes were staring  and penetrating, his black hair flat and long". Lamartine described him "immobile at the tribune, cold like an idea...the calm of absolute conviction spread across his almost feminine features".   But it was Michelet above all, who was reasonible for the image of Saint-Just as the Angel of death, a pitiless androgynous youth, with steely blue eyes:

Engraving by Bosselman fils
Without his fixed, hard eyes, his heavily drawn brows, Saint-Just might have passed for a woman.  Was this the virgin of Tauris?  No, neither the eyes nor the skin, though white and fine-textured, suggested a sentiment of purity.  This very aristocratic sin, with its singular lustre and transparency, seemed too lovely, and led one to suspect its healthiness.  The huge, close-knitted cravat, which he alone wore at that time, made his enemies say, perhaps without reason, that it concealed cold humours.  The neck was virtually suppressed by the cravat and by the high, stiff collar; an effect all the odder in that his long waist did not lead you to expect this foreshortening of the neck.  He had a very low forehead, the top of his head appearing depressed, so that the hair, without being long, almost touched his eyes.  But strangest of all was his gait, of an automatic stiffness which was entirely his own.  Robespierre's stiffness was nothing to this.  Did it derive from a physical oddity, from his excessive pride, from a calculated dignity? - No matter.  It was more intimidating than absurd.  One felt that a being so inflexible in his movements must also be inflexible in his heart.  Thus, when in his speech, taking up the Gironde and abandoning Louis XVI, he turned stiffly, all of a piece, to the right of the Chamber and released along with his words his whole person as well, particularly his hard and murderous stare, there was no one present who did not feel the chill of steel.  History of the Revolution  V, ix.5  1851.

Christophe Guérin, Portrait assumed to be Saint-Just, 
Sanguine, 34cm x 24.2 cm Musée Carnavalet
Visual representations are almost equally unreliable.  In the years following the Revolution, Saint-Just often came to be seen as the embodiment of beauty and youth. Portraits of elegant young men, with or without high cravats, were identified as him, for example the sanguine attributed to Christophe Guerin in the Carnavalet which has no established connection. (Saint-Just is not usually portrayed as wearing an earring!) Numerous representations created after his death, such as the medallion and bust by David d'Angers or the engraving by Bosselman fils to illustrate Lamartine's History of the Girondins, show just how quickly the myth of Saint-Just's beauty hardened into received fact.

Pierre-Jean David d'Anger, Medallion, 25 cm.  Musée Carnavalet

Bust by David d'Angers, 1848

Some  portraits, however, can lay claim to authenticity. One is the anonymous pastel, created when Saint-Just was at the hôtel des États-Unis, which was later retrieved by Élisabeth Le Bas and kept by the Le Bas family as a venerated souvenir. 
Anonymous pastel, 75.5 cm x 59 cm.  Musée Carnavalet 
 Another is the portrait by Prud'hon; the artist was a fervent admirer of Robespierre and a regular at the Duplay household where he probably met Saint-Just.  In the corner of the canvas is a personal dedication: "A Saint-Just.  P.-P. Prudhon 1793".  The two portraits are similar; they show the same oval face, the same lips, clear eyes (brown rather than blue), long nose and long chestnut hair.  These features are also evident in the portrait by David and in one by Greuze, where the young deputy is shown posing with his ceremonial sabre of a représentant en mission close by.

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, oil on canvas, 1793 
Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon
Also worthy of note is the engraving by François Bonneville, an artist who specialised in portraits of Revolutionary celebrities. It is the only representation of Saint-Just  which gives his title, the date and place of birth (albeit inaccurately) and the date of his death. It is incontestably more or less contemporary.  The engraving which appeared in 1796, at the height of the thermidorean reaction, is unflattering....but it at least contradicts Michelet's claim that the habitual cravat concealed a blemish to the throat. The subject is portrayed with an open collar, hard features, and the long nose of his father.  He ressembles the man depicted by Greuze and David, but appears older or more fatigued.

Bernard Vinot concludes that in reality Saint-Just was not particularly feminine, or even all that good looking.  He  inherited the unappealing features of his two parents: a long face, long nose and long neck.  These were were softened by his youth and camouflaged by his sure dress sense, but no doubt age would have accentuated them. Had he lived to middle age he would have come to resemble his father - strong, masculine and serious to be sure, but without beauty.  (I think Bernard Vinot is being  kind here;  what he really wants to say is that Saint-Just would have been ugly, just like his dad.)  This aging process, aggravated by stressful days and nights without sleep was probably perceptible even in 1793.


Bernard Vinot, Saint-Just, Fayard, 1985.

The Association pour la sauvegarde de la Maison de Saint-Just has several interesting portraits and engravings among its acquisitions/

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Revolution in Lyon in the archives

Documents of the Terror in Lyon:

1. DECREE OF THE NATIONAL CONVENTION, 12th October 1793 commanding the destruction of Lyon.

"Lyon n'est plus"
Decree of the National Convention,
 21 vendémiaire an II (12 octobre 1793)

Lyon, Archives municipales, 936 WP 1 p.128
"From the transcript of the meeting of the National Convention of the 21st day of the first month of the year II of the French Republic, one and indivisible.

The National Convention, after having heard the report of the Committee of Public Safety, decrees:

Article I  Upon presentation by the Committee of Public Safety, there shall be named by the National Convention an extraordinary commission composed of five members to militarily and without delay punish the counter-revolutionaries of Lyon.

Article II  All the inhabitants of Lyon shall be disarmed.
All their arms shall be immediately distributed to the defenders of the Republic.
A portion shall be handed over to the patriots of Lyon, who were oppressed by the rich and the counter-revolutionaries.

Article III The city of Lyon shall be destroyed; any building inhabited by the wealthy shall be demolished. All that shall be left will be the houses of the poor, the residences of patriots either outlawed or led astray, the buildings especially employed by industry, and those monuments dedicated to humanity and public instruction.

Article IV The name of Lyon shall be erased from the list cities of the Republic.
The gathering of the houses that remain shall henceforth bear the name of Ville Affranchie [Liberated City].

Article V There shall be raised over the ruins of Lyon a column that will attest to posterity the crimes and punishment of the royalists of that city, with this inscription: Lyon made war on Liberty; Lyon is no more.

The 18th day of the first month of the second year of the French Republic, one and indivisible.

Article VI  The representatives of the people shall immediately select the commissioners who will draw up the list of all those properties that belonged to the rich and the counterrevolutionaries of Lyon so the Convention can immediately decide upon the means of execution of the decree of _______which set aside these properties for the indemnification of patriots.

Sealed by the inspector, signed S.L. Monnet

Confirmed in conformity with the original by we the secretaries of the Convention, in Paris, the 22nd day of the first month of the year II of the Republic.

Gr. Jagot, secretary, 
Louis, of the Lower Rhine, secretary

Translation from]

2. Documents from the Lyon Municipal Archives

On July 2005 the Municipal Archives acquired nine documents dating from August 1793 to August 1794 which serve to exemplify the period of the seige and savage repression:
  • Letter from a Revolutionary soldier, dated 25th August 1793:  "We are camped in the ditches and tonight, instead of sleeping, I went up to high ground to see the effect of the bombardment of Kellermann's army on the rebels, and the treacherous town of Lyon... the guns rained down on the anarchists and flames sprang up in several places;  I was surprised that they did not surrender to this firing, which we could not watch with sang-froid knowing that many patriots were among its victims."
  • Letter dated 4th September from Jean Marie Hérault de Séchelles  to Couthon, enjoining him to hurry to Lyon to finish the seige and punish the city.  Red wax seal, depicting a phrygian bonnet crushing a crown and the device "death to kings"

  • Decree of Joseph Fouché declaring the "Commune Affranchie" in a state of revolutionary war (signed by Fouché, Collot d’Herbois et Albitte, 23 novembre 1793)

  • Various  orders signed and annotated by Fouché, and in some cases by Collot d'Herbois, organising various aspects of the repression, imposing dechristianisation and preparing for the Fête de l’Egalité (7th March 1794).  On the destruction of the city: "Demolition proceeds too slowly, we must find faster means to satisfy Republican impatience;  only the explosion of mines and the devouring might of flames can express the power of the must have the effects of thunder" (17th November 1793).  Also included is an order by the Representative Jacques Reverchon signalling the return to normal commerce after the Fall of Robespierre.

Archives en ligne: Histoire de Lyon: 1793-1794 : Lyon, Commune Affranchie  

The prisons of Lyon in 1793

Tableau des Prisons de Lyon,  pour servir à l’Histoire  de la Tyrannie de 1792 et 1793, par A. F. Delandine, cidevant bibliothecaire de Lyon, l'un des prisonniers.

Picture of the Prisons of Lyons, forming materials for a history of the tyranny of 1792 and 1793, by A. F. Delandine, formerly librarian at Lyons, and one of the prisoners.

Here are a few extracts from the Tableau des prisons de Lyon, one of the most important contemporary sources for the grim history of the Jacobin reprisals in Lyon in 1793.

The author

Antoine François Delandine (1756-1820) was an Avocat  in the Parlement of Dijon (1775), then the Parlement of Paris (1777) and in 1789 was elected as deputy to the Estates-General for Forez.  After the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, he left Paris for Lyon and became librarian of the Lyon Académie. He supported the suspensive veto but opposed the King's detention. After protested against journée of 20 June 1792 he became a suspect, and was obliged to flee Lyon to take refuge in Néronde. He was subsequently arrested and imprisoned in the prison of the Recluses in the rue Saint-Joseph on the southern outskirts of Lyon until 9 thermidor.  In 1795 he participated in the organisation of a ceremony in in honour of the victims of the Seige of Lyon.  He was librarian of the Bibliothèque municipale from 1803 until his death. Delandine was a prolific journalist and writer. His history of his prison experiences was published in 1797.
See entry in Dictionnaire des journalistes


Commentary and extracts of Delandine's work appeared in English in various contemporary or near contemporary publications.  Rather than try and translate it myself, this is the entry from American periodical, The Port Folio,  for 1812:

The more prominent events of that disasterous period are sufficiently familiar to us all. But general description, however accurate, or highly coloured, excites only a feeble sympathy, compared with the minute detail of individual misfortune. Happily for human nature, our sensibility to the distress of others seems to weaken as its sphere enlarges—we may lament the misery of a nation—we may regret its ruin—but our tears are reserved for domestic sorrow; and, withdrawing our eyes from the loose indefinite gloom of public calamity, we fix them with an anxious interest on some wretched solitary victim, whose private wretchedness, or whose very name serves to render his situation more touching. With whatever vigour or brilliancy, therefore, the corruption of the cabinet, and the ravages of the army, the bloody scenes of the capital, and the devastation of the provinces may be depicted, it is from works like the present that the future Tacitus of France must draw his most afflicting representations. Composed in prison, with the objects described immediately before the writer, his work has every claim to authenticity, and we do not err in supposing that the interest which a perusal of it has inspired, will be equally felt by our readers, and by posterity. It will be remembered that in the year 1793, whilst the Jacobin faction predominated in France, Lyons was besieged by the republican army on some pretence of loyalty; that at last, reduced by death, and exhausted by famine, the city opened its gates to the deputies of the government. Among these was a wretch named Collot d'Herbois, who having been once hissed from the stage in this city, determined to revenge himself amply for his disgraces. In the very theatre itself he established a Jacobin club; a temporary commission of legal spies was created, and the persons denounced by them were carried before a tribunal of five members. An immediate proscription of all the respectable inhabitants, the clergy, the nobility, all who had taken a part in the siege, now began; and it is of this scene that the author has given a description. He was denounced, and fled to the country; but was taken at night and carried to a prison called the Cloister [prison des Recluses]— with what anticipations we may collect from the following account, which gives a clear view of the summary judgments of this tribunal:

 On my arrival at the cloister, it was occupied by about twelve hundred inhabitants of Lyons, who had been arrested since the siege. Of these it was calculated that at least four-fifths would be put to death, so that it was scarcely worth the trouble to think of safety. This was indeed, less a common prison than a vast sheepfold, where the victims quietly waited for the day on which they were to be butchered by the government. The first with whom I conversed on our common lot, and their frail hopes, did not escape the fatal knife. Among these were the honest Jourdan, who, believing that he could have nothing to fear, had himself carried, although he was sick, to the tribunal, which sent him to the scaffold; the good Sémenol de Montbrison, who was saying to all of us, "I am not afraid, for out of prudence, and to ensure my safety, I went twice to the Club."  Blanchi, full of honour, Goyot of Villefranche, an interesting and learned old man; his countryman Girardet, who hoped soon to be free, and offered to every prisoner to execute his commands with zeal. They were part of a hundred prisoners who left the cloister at eleven o'clock, arrived at the town-house after twelve, and at half after twelve, seventeen of them were already condemned and executed. Fifteen days before another hundred had been led out on the first day, and by the tenth, all except three fell under the axe. It was here, too, that I saw Irabert Granier, a man of great acquirements, but now keeping a constant silence. The architect Dupoux, arrested for having extinguished the fire in his own house, when it had been in flames from a bomb thrown during the siege; the two brothers Perussel, the youngest of whom said to me,  'They may do what they please with us now. My father, who was arrested, has been liberated; as for us, we are easy and can die without regret.' They both were soon after put to death.

The feelings of the prisoners in such a situation are equally well drawn. "It is in the cloister that the days seem to consist of more than twenty-four hours. We read and wrote, and played; but the continual images of ravage and destruction, the feebleness of their hopes, and the proof of their danger, had given to all the prisoners a stoical serenity. By the force of fearing they have ceased to fear. The sacrifice is already made; the mind is accustomed to it, and life seems like the rarest prize of this bloody lottery. The conversation partakes of this character; it is less serious than reflecting, always mild, and never desponding." They even sometimes amused themselves in a manner characteristic of the amiable levity and the buoyant spirits ef their countrymen. During the great crisis, only one song was made in the prison, but some time afterwards when a number were condemned to remain in prison till peace, and existence was therefore more certain, they recurred to every mode of lightening the burden of life. We doubt, indeed, whether the annals .of any, except a French prison, could supply so amusing a chapter of songs and charades, and bouts, rimés, and enigmas.

After remaining in this prison till the guillotine had cleared their way, a chain of prisoners were on the first day of every decade, led out from the cloister, and from the other two prisons, St. Joseph and Roanne, to the town-house, the great reservoir, where the tribunal sat. In one part of it, such as had not yet revived their trial, were crowded, to wait till it was their turn to be sacrificed. As the moment approached, their anxieties increased.

While the judges are sitting in the morning, from nine to twelve, and from seven to nine in the evening, nothing can be compared to the anguish of every prisoner, who is uncertain whether he is to be called before the tribunal. At every instant the doors are opened, and the keepers, whom they seem to have chosen for their coarse and sepulchral voices, cry out 'to the interrogatory, such a one advance and take your bundle.'  The accused shudders as he immediately takes this bundle, consisting of his basket and covering, and goes out with his eyes on the ground, and terror on his countenance. The door closes after him, and he scarcely ever returns again, being conducted at once either to the vault of delivery, or of death. He is now led to the vestibule before the hall of the court, where three or four prisoners are made to sit together, before they are introduced. They do not, however, wait long, for it is calculated that every quarter of an hour seven prisoners are called and judged; when the instant arrives, he is led before the judges, and seated on a stool; two soldiers stand by his side, behind is his introducer, who waits the signal of the judges. This is various. Commonly the judges touch the little axe suspended on their breasts, to designate the guillotine; put their hands to their foreheads in condemning the accused to be shot, and stretch their arms on the table as a sign of liberation. If one could choose the moment of his trial, the morning would be preferable; for in the evening, the judges are harrassed, worn down, and out of order from solicitations or drunkenness. The interrogatory is precise and short; often no more than three questions are asked—What is your name and profession? What did you do during the siege? Are you denounced? The answers are compared with the papers sent to the tribunal by the temporary commission. As soon as the sentence is pronounced, or the secret signal given, the jailer puts his hand on the shoulder of the accused, and saying, 'follow me'. leads him down stairs, either into the good or the bad vault; the first, the receptacle of those condemned to detention, the second, for those who were to be executed. Sometimes, however, after the first interrogatory, the prisoner is remanded into the great hall, till he is questioned a second time. This is an additional punishment. More than two hundred prisoners breathe the infected air of this hall, which was once the assembly room of the happy, at all their festivals, but is now devastated by bullets and bombs, the walls spoilt, the ceiling opened, to  admit the inclemency of the weather, the joists loose, and threatening the sick and wretched beings who are stretched on the straw beneath them. What increases the horror of this room is, that at half after twelve the judgments of death are distinctly heard, as they are pronounced on the steps of the townhouse; they hear too, the voices of the victims crying out, 'People, you are deceived—the republic needs no assassinations—I am falsely accused—I have not been questioned—1 have not had time to answer—they have mistaken me for another—abominable judges, you will perish—1 call you before God.' Oh, what a dreadful silence reigns among the prisoners; how all conversation is suspended, every countenance is painted with fright, an enormous weight is on every heart.  Presently is heard the soldiers' step leading off the condemned to another end of the square; then every stroke of the guillotine, the number of heads may be counted as they fall; but the windows are closed in order not to see them.

Massacre at Lyon, ordered by Collot d'Herbois.  Engraving of 1804
In the confusion of the crowd, many extraordinary mistakes occurred. The executioners themselves could not know all the prisoners, and had not time to identify persons, so that the safety or the death of a being, very often depended on their caprice, or their haste. Of this an instance is given in a wretched man, by the name of Revolliere, who was mingling among the crowd of prisoners, when the executioners came to bind him, and carry him off. He protested that they must have mistaken him for some other person—that he had never yet been interrogated— never even seen the judges. It was in vain—he was taken out and shot. A more fortunate case, was that of a curate, named Ivernal. He was already stripped and tied, when, just as they were about to carry him before the tribunal, the clerk came down to call over the list of names. Ivernal heard his own pronounced wrong, and declared that such was not his name. The clerk examined the register, and finding actually, that he had been mistaken for another person, had him released. A similar instance is given in a person by the name of Laurenson, who

Had been tried, and judgment given that be should soon be liberated; but. in the mean time he was detained with the prisoners. Whilst he was there, he received a very energetic remonstrance in his favour, and even those who had caused his imprisonment, retracted their denunciation. He considered this paper as no longer useful, since his life was now saved; but he had scarcely put it into his pocket when his name was called. He went out into the entry, where he was instantly tied to a file of other prisoners, and led towards the guillotine. Perfectly stupified, and scarcely believing that he did not dream, he was recalled to his senses, by seeing the important paper fall from his pocket. As one of the soldiers picked it up, Laurenson exclaimed to him, "If the judges could only have read it, 1 should not be put to death, but I have just received it." In a moment the soldier left his rank, and making his way through the crowd to the tribunal, exhibited the document and procured an order to stay the execution. As his deliverer hastened back, he found that a moment's delay would have been fatal. Laurenson was fortunately the last of forty persons who were to be guillotined. Thirty-nine had already fallen. He was already tied to the block, when the soldier arrived out of breath, cried out to stop, showed the order, and had the prisoner untied. He had in the mean time fainted, and was carried back to the town-house perfectly insensible. After bleeding him three times, he opened his eyes, but the dreadful impressions of the bloody spectacle deprived him of reason, and he was obliged to be carried to the hospital.

But these single trials exhausted the patience of the judges, who adopted, at last, a more expeditious scheme. Strings of prisoners were tried and executed in mass. It was thus, that sixty-nine of the flower of the youth were led out to be shot: and this was followed by another example of still more extensive barbarity.

It was from the prison of Roanne, that the two hundred and nine Lyonese, who were condemned in mass, during a single day, were led out to execution. Each one, indeed, scarcely did more than appear before the tribunal. A long rope was fixed to each tree of an alley of weeping willows; to this the condemned were tied with their hands behind their backs, and a picket of soldiers more or less strong placed at four steps before each of them. At a given signal the first shots began. Some had their arms carried off—some their jawbones—some a part of their heads. As they fell and raised themselves up, on every side was heard the frightful cries of 'finish me—my friends do not spare me', cries which resounded even on the other side of the Rhone. It was thus that all the executions were made, but the multitudes of the victims in this case, doubled the time of immolation. After it was accomplished, the bodies were stripped and thrown into deep ditches, where they were covered with lime and a little earth. On counting them, it appeared that there were two hundred and ten, instead of two hundred and nine, though one of the prisoners had broken loose from the chain, and escaped. It was then recollected, that in tying the prisoners in the court-yard of the prison, two persons had violently declared that they did not belong to the prison, but had been hired merely to do jobs for some of the prisoners. In spite of their remonstrances, however, they were tied like the rest, were forced to march, and had perished.

From this dreary waste of crime and destruction, we turn with pleasure to the various instances which are recorded of signal and heroic magnanimity. Fond, as we are, of every thing which vindicates our nature from the common charge of interested selfishness, we are cheered by the contemplation of such examples, which still prove, that no dangers can extinguish our affections, or our sense of duty. These principles lie deep in our nature—they sleep in the common intercourse of the world, and the superficial do not perceive them, till they are roused into energy, by the powerful stimulants of calamity. Thus, even among the inhabitants of Lyons, a plain manufacturing people, a soil not favourable, we might suppose, to the nobler virtues, a thousand examples occurred of the calmest contempt of death, and the proudest scorn of danger, or dishonour.

'I am sorry, said Dargeon, that they do not decide my fate sooner. What have I, indeed, to fear? The end of life, even in this world, is too often only a fatiguing servitude; here it is a punishment. To-morrow I will go voluntarily before the judges—I make you my adieus in advance.' The next day he presented himself to the tribunal, and his adieus were eternal.

The brother of one of the prisoners had been distinguished during the siege, and was afterwards denounced. The commissaries who were in quest of him, came to the house of the prisoner himself, and mistaking him for his brother, brought him before the tribunal, where he was condemned. He disdained however to correct an error which would be the means of saving his brother, and was fatal only to himself. He even congratulated himself on his devotion, though without thinking it at all extraordinary, and went joyfully to the scaffold.

Among others brought before the tribunal, was a young woman, who refused to wear a cockade. They asked her the reason of her obstinacy. 'It is not,' said she, 'the cockade itself which I hate, but since you wear it, it seems to be the signal of crimes, and it shall not be seen on my head.'  One of the judges made a sign to the guard, to tie one to her bonnet, saying to her, 'Go, in wearing this you will be saved.' She rose with great coolness, took off the cockade, and answering only, 'I give it back to you,' was led out to perish.

The greatest examples of cool firmness and courage, were particularly displayed by timid nuns, and humble curates. 'If your duty, said one of the latter, is to condemn us, obey your law; I, too, must obey mine, and it orders me to die.'

'Do you believe in Hell, asked they, of the curate of Amplepuy. 'How can I doubt it', replied he, 'when I see you, and hear what is passing; were I an infidel, this would convert me.'

Bourbon, curate of Agni, had passed forty years in the exercise of all the virtues, and in the midst of the poor, of whom he was the father. Perfectly calm, and determined on death, he regretted only the good which he might still have done. He sat down one day to write, and having finished his letter, blessed it, and then raising his hands to Heaven, addressed a fervent prayer. I was moved, and shared, without knowing them, his prayer and his feelings. When he came to his bed by the side of my own, I asked him the subject of his letter—he declined—but, as I ventured to insist, 'My friend,' said he, 'my sacrifice is already made. For more than thirty years I have had the happiness to consider death, and prepare myself for it. Should I go to purchase some feeble days, which remain, by rejecting publicly, the principles which I have taught during life, and which have seemed worthy of rendering men virtuous. But, before finishing my career, I had forgotten one duty, which I have just fulfilled with transport. I have written to the person who denounced me, and caused my arrest. Unhappy creature! he is more to be pitied than I am. I have thought of his torments, I have wished to soften them; I have blessed his existence, I have desired that his last hour should be tranquil and happy. 1 will shortly go to ask it, myself, from the God of mercy.' As Bourbon spoke, a ray of divine glory seemed to beam on his countenance. He was soon led to execution.

By the side of such examples, how low appear the equivocations, by widen the weak vainly hoped to escape.

A priest expected to save himself by feigning atheism. 'Do you believe in God,' said they to him: 'A little,' answered he. They instantly pronounced, 'Die, wretch, and go and acknowledge him.'

We shall close this article, by extracting an account of an attempt to escape, made by a number of prisoners. We offer no apology for its length; since we have never seen, even in the marvellous adventures of Trenk, a more lively representation of a similar incident.

 On the 9th of December, seventy-two prisoners were condemned, and transferred into the bad vault. The next day, being the decade, there was no execution; and Porral, one of the prisoners, determined to profit by this circumstance, and attempt an escape. His sisters, having by a bribe, of three thousand livres, obtained access to him, burst into tears. 'This, said Porral, is no time to weep—we must arm ourselves with activity, and try to escape. Bring me some files, a crow-bar, and other instruments, plenty of wine, and even daggers, for we must defend ourselves before we perish. Through that high narrow window, you can pass down every thing, and I will stay under it to receive them.' The sisters left him, and in the course of the day, brought the files and crow-bar, scissors, large butcher knives, twelve chickens, and more than sixty bottes of wine. Porral then joined four others of the most strong and adroit prisoners in the scheme. As soon as night came, they proposed a general supper; the last they should ever make. It was accepted, and during it, the prisoners exhort each other to brave tyranny, and die without weakness. The wine passed plentifully, till at length the greater part of the prisoners were overpowered by it, and went to sleep. At eleven o'clock, the conspirators began their work. One of them was placed as a sentinel with a dagger, to strike down the jailer, if in going his round at two o'clock he should appear to suspect any plot. The other four put off their clothes, and began to seek for a passage.

At the extremity of the second vault, there was a dark part, at the end of which they found a strong double door of oak. This they attacked. By degrees the hinges gave way, and the lead which soldered them was filed off. They then raised it with the crow-bar. Still the door would not open; again and again they tried, and could not conceive what held it. At last they widened, by means of the scissors, the hole till they saw that it was tied to a distant beam by a large rope fixed to a ring on the outside of the door, and neither the scissors, the crow-bar, nor the file could reach it This was a moment of despair, but a ray of hope succeeded. One of the workmen returned to the vault, and asked for a wax candle. The notary, Fromental, half asleep, recollected that he had a piece, got up and found it. With this the conspirator returned, and after unrolling it, and tying it to a thin piece of wood to make it reach as far as possible, lighted one end, and passing it through the hole, the rope took fire, and they soon opened the door. They closed it gently behind them, and now found that they were in a second vault, in the middle of which was a piece of free-stone, on the ground. They struck it lightly, and it returned a hollow sound. 'Might not this be the entrance of a canal which led towards the Rhone, and if the workmen, who made it, could pass in this direction, why cannot we?' This conjecture appeared certain. They cleared the earth from round the stone, and raising it with the crow-bar, saw, with transports of joy, a subterranean passage, which must have some outlet. In order to descend it, all their handkerchiefs were tied together, and Joseph la Batre holding by them, and supporting himself against the wall, reached the bottom. They passed down the light—he looked and sounded every where—another moment of distress and anguish—he found no door, no air hole, no means of going farther. The place seemed to be some neglected well, or rather some dungeon, which had, perhaps, formerly received its wretched victim. La Batre came up, and they now sought some other resource.

At the end of the vault there was still a door, which offered the only means of escape. They again set to work, but after breaking all that seemed to detain it, the door still resisted. As before, they made a hole, and on looking through, observed two large stones, one on top of the other, which propped it. They were forced to make another opening, through which they passed the crow-bar, and at the same moment raised the door with a stick of wood, which they fortunately found at hand. At last, the first stone gave way, fell on the ground, and with it the door swung open. Everything was then surmounted. The conspirators were now in a large deep vault, which was used as a national depot, for sequestered goods—a trunk full of shirts was open, and each of them took one in exchange for their own, covered with dirt and vermin.

This hasty toilet seemed a good omen. There were now two doors before them. After hesitating which to attack, they approached one, but scarcely had the file made a slight noise, when on the other side of the door, a dog growled, and began to bark—an instant terror seized them all —every arm was suspended—each workman was motionless with astonishment and terror. This door was near the jailer's lodge. They now recollected that this was the time at which he was to take his round, and that it would soon strike two o'clock. One of the conspirators went back to the first vault, to see if all was safe. In the mean time, the rest suspended their labours, and their strength being almost exhausted, they breakfasted. 'I am not fond of wine,' said one of them to me, 'but never did I drink any with more pleasure, than under this gloomy vault.  At every glass I felt my courage revive, and my arm strengthen. On this occasion, wine did seem to be the true support of misfortune.'

The man who had been sent to examine, now returned. On entering the first vault, he shuddered at seeing the jailer already there to take his round. This had, however, prevented his hearing the noise of his dog. The man placed as sentinel, requested him not to refuse him a last favour, which was, to empty a bottle of hermitage. They then sat down together, and when the jailer left them, he had drank so much wine, as to need sleep during the rest of the night.

They now resumed the work with rigour. They. leaving the fatal door where they had heard the dog, found that the other was a folding door closed by an iron bar, fixed to a chain of iron. At the first attempt the ring broke—the bar was raised, and the door opened. This was the end of their labours, which seemed to multiply, as they advanced. The door opened into a long entry. On one side they perceived a door, but as it opened towards the court-yard, they passed on to the end of the entry, where there was a second. Behind this they heard a noise—they listened, and through the cracks observed some men stretched on straw, before the embers of a fire. 'Can these be prisoners? Let us join them, anwe can escape together.' At that moment one of the men rose. He spoke Patois—he wore uniform, and mentioned the number of counter revolutionary brigands whom they intend soon to shoot. These brigands now discover that this is the guard. They have then come thus far to see all their hopes vanish. To what have all their fruitless labours and anxieties brought them? To a guard, who at the slightest noise, would alarm the whole soldiery. Despondency of mind, united with personal weariness.

Still, however, there was one hope left—the door which they had passed. They withdrew gently the bolt—the door opened—what sudden joy—they find the stair case which leads into the court-yard. Four o'clock and a half just then struck. The night was dark and cold—it rained and snowed at the same time. The associates embraced each other and prepared to escape, when one of them cried,'Wretches, what are you about to do—if we attempt to escape now, we are ruined—the eastern railing is now shut, and if we pass at this unusual hour, before the guard, the alarm  will be given. At eight o'clock every one has the liberty of going into the courtyard - the executioners will not come for us till after ten, and between eight and ten we  may all escape, for by suffering only three at a time to go every four minutes, they may mingle unperceived in the crowd.  During the three hours before us, let each of us reveal the secret to two other prisoners—we shall then be fifteen, and the last of that number will apprize fifteen others, till in this way we may all escape.  After having had the courage to come thus far, let us have that also of not going farther.' 

They had the firmness to yield; and returning to the vault, each began to choose those whom he would first save. Among the first, was Montellier, a man of mild and amiable character. 'I thank you, my friend, said he, but I do not wish to aggravate my case—I will tell you in confidence, that I have been mistaken for my brother—the judges are now convinced of it, and this very morning I am to obtain my liberty.' It is thus that hope trifles with man, even to his grave. At noon, Montellier was not in existence. They spoke also to the Baron de Chaffoy, a fine young man in the flower of his age. 'Life, said he, no longer offers me any charm—All the ties which bound me to it are broken. I had thirty thousand livres a year; they have taken it from me. They have just guillotined my father. His virtues did not merit such a lot—nor do I think that I deserve it, but I will submit.'  His courage was without ostentation—his resolution unshaken. In spite of intreaties, he remained, and wished to die. Fifteen were at length procured, and went to the head of the stairs. The first who ventured down was Porral. As he passed the sentinel, he said to him— 'Comrade, it snows—this is very bad weather—were I in your place, I would not wet myself, but go into the guard house.'  The sentinel thanked him, and followed his advice; after which the flight of the rest became much easier. The imprudence of the fifteenth destroyed the effects of the plan. According to the agreement, he was to have given noitice to only fifteen others—but, in his haste to escape, he cried out— 'Let everyone take care of himself—the passage is open.' The prisoners started up, and at first thought him out of his head. A few began to look for the outlet, when hearing the noise,the sentinels rushed in, secured the doors, and sounded the alarm. At ten o'clock, a domiciliary visit was made throughout the city, but of the fifteen who left the prison, only four were retaken.

In a work like the present, the style is a subject of altogether subordinate consideration. But the narration is sprightly; and, although not as methodical in some instances as might have been wished, yet, still presents a clear and spirited picture of the objects described.


 Antoine François Delandine, Tableau des prisons de Lyon, pour servir à l'histoire de la tyrannie de 1793 (1797)

 The Port Folio, vol. 7, 1812, p.102-12. "Picture of the prisons of Lyons".

The fullest English translation I have found is: 
Anne Plumptre A Narrative of Three Year's Residence in France (vol. 1, 1810) p.282f.

The Monument des Brotteaux - place of memory?

Even today, in Lyon the legacy of the Revolution is a deeply ambivolent one.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the successive memorials erected to commemorate those executed under the Terror. Today an early 20th-century neo-Byzantine chapel marks the spot where the mitraillades claimed 209 lives in a single morning.  Inside tablets on the wall lists the executed: "victimes lyonnaises immolées en 1793 et en 1794". The crypt contains the macabre remains of the dead, assorted skulls and leg bones which are arranged round the tomb of the insurrection's Royalist  commander, the comte de Précy.
The cenotaph of 1795

The first memorial to the dead was a temporary cenotaph of wood and plaster erected - in the space of  two days -  in Les Brotteaux for the commemoration in 1795 of  the second anniversary of the federalist victory of 29th May.  It was dismantled in January 1796.  The design was by the local architect  Claude Ennemond Balthazard Cochet (1760 - 1835), with sculptures by Joseph Chinard and verses supplied by Delandine, both of whom had been imprisoned Les Recluses under the Terror.

These were men close to the experience of Revolution. The Lyon municipal archives conserves Cochet's project for a monument for the Fête de la Fédération which took place on the Les Brotteaux plain in 1790. However, in January 1794 his brother had been executed for working under the rebels in the foundry of the former monastery of Sainte-Claire. In August 1795,perhaps for reasons of expediency, Cochet refused to provide designs for the festival marking the fall of monarchy. 

Several contemporary engravings survive which depict the monument. The inscription by Delandine extols the virtues and courage of the dead but, as befits a product of the Directory era, was neither religious or royalist in inspiration.

For a detailed description of the ceremony of 29th May 1795, see
Alphonse Balleydier, Histoire politique et militaire du peuple de Lyon pendant la Révolution Française, vol. 3 (1846), p.134

The Restoration chapel and crypt

After an abortive attempt in 1809, the construction of a durable monument was finally begun in 1814 under the Restoration.  The project was funded by public subscription with substantial funds provided by the brother of the King, the Comte d'Artois, who laid the first stone on 24th October 1814.   An architectural competition ran from July to December 1816 with the remit of designing a religious monument "d'un genre simple mais noble"; the interior was to house an altar and pillars inscribed with the names of the dead and there was to be a vaulted crypt to hold the remains.  Twenty-one projects were presented. The jury voted for the young architect Antoine-Marie Chenavard,but in the event Artois's preferred candidate, Cochet was given commission. His design (above) is now among  the "treasures" of the Lyon municipal archives. The chapel was inaugurated on 28 May 1819.

Also in the municipal archives is this drawing by Cochet dated 30 April 1821 which shows his design for the stone sacrophagus in the crypt to hold the coffin of the comte de Précy, whose remains were transferred from Marcigny on 25th September 1821.  The shrine, flanked by the tangled bones from the burial pits is depicted much as it appears today.  The exhumation of the victims was planned as early as 1814 but began only in March 1823.  The skeletons are said to have been relatively well preserved because of  the liberal use of quicklime.

"Projet d'un monument Funèbre et religieux à élever aux Broteaux pour y rappeler le souvenir des Lyonnois immolés en 1793 et inhumés en ce lieu.

Paul Feuga, "À propos de la Révolution et de deux dessins de Claude Cochet", Muncipal archives of Lyons. (Two designs by Cochet, firstly the Monument for the fête de la Fédération of 1790 and secondly the crypt at Brotteaux)

As well as the surviving plans, the 19th-century monument can be seen in a number of engravings and also in photographs which show it more or less intact at the beginning of the 20th century.  Cochet was a pupil of Boullée, and his design was a striking example of "Egyptian style".   A single massive pyramid in white stone rose from a rectangular base with only a single doorway as an adornment, the crypt being below this structure.  The simplicity of form was marred only by the addition of the chapel proper to the rear, which was tacked on rather awkwardly and is described as "vaguely oriental" in style.

Engraving from Cercle lyonnais d'égyptologie Victor Loret,  15.08.2010 .

The Ricard family monument in the Loyasse Cemetery in Lyon dates from the 1820s and is based on Cocteau's mausoleum.

The modern chapel

Cochet's mausoleum was demolished in 1906 as part of a urban renewal plan put in motion under the  mayorship of Antoine Gailleton in the late 19th century.  The motivation was a mixture of financial speculation and anti-clericalism.  According to the historian  Bruno Benoît, the royalists had caused irritation by making the chapel into a cult centre and celebrating mass there every 21st January.  In the event the municipality eventually bowed to pressure and allowed the memorial to be reconstructed just a few hundred metres away in 145 rue Crequi.  The present neo-Byzantine structure, the work of the architect Paul Pascalon, was finished in 1901 and the bones transferred there in 1906.  On 2nd August 1906 the new chapel was consecrated and dedicated to the Holy Cross.

The Brotteaux chapel is not a public monument.  It was founded by subscription on purchased land and is owned today by a private association, the Commission du monument religieux des Brotteaux. It is, and always has been,  a religious foundation,  From 1833 onwards, apart from a brief interlude at the beginning of the 20th century when religious orders were suppressed, it was under the guardianship of the Capuchins, who from 1845 to 1870 maintained a convent in the interior.  In 1979 charge passed to the missionaries of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, the so-called "Famille Missionnaire de Notre-Dame", a foundation which dates from only 1946 and is very much part of the traditionalist Catholic revival in France.  As well as guarding perpetual flame the missionaries offer a full schedule of services, but it would appear that access to the crypt is restricted. 

Brotteaux and the common memory

Who, then, owns the memory of the executed of Lyon?  This is still very much a live and bitter issue.

The bicentenary  of 1989 served only to put the question into sharper focus.  Celebrations in Lyon were notably muted. The artist and local cultural leader Jacques Oudot inaugurated Lyon's commemorative exhibition with reference to the "wounded memory" of the city.  In the 1980s an association "Lyons 93" was formed, restricted to descendants of the Lyonnais insurrectionists, and which now has over a thousand members.  Its declared aim is genealogical research, but it has a reputation for exclusivity, social conservatism and implacable hostility to the legacy of the Revolution.  No doubt the Brotteaux Commission is drawn from its membership.  The memory of the comte de Précy meanwhile has been revived by an extreme Right group called the "Cercle de Précy".

Bruno  Benoît, professor at the IEP in Lyon has made a particular study of the ideological legacy of the Revolution in Lyon. He is emphatically not amused at being forced to ask for the key to the crypt from the nuns of 14 rue Louis-Blanc.  A 2012 article in Le Point repeats his observation that all classes are represented among the dead - clergy, bourgeois, nobles, "gens du peuple" and workers - and his fear that the royalists are confiscating the memory of these martyrs.



Official video of the Commission du Monument Religieux des Brotteaux:

L'Ossuaire de la Chapelle Ste Croix, (nice photos)

Documentation Lyon et Rhône-Alpes, Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon:

And the Memory of 1793:

Bruno  Benoît, "Histoire, mémoire et identité politique : L'exemple de la Révolution à Lyon"
Annales historiques de la Révolution française  1996, 305(1);  p. 491-509

" Le sanctuaire qui divise"  Le Point, 18.10.2012.

"La crypte des Brotteaux : dernier tombeau des Lyonnais tués par l’armée de la Révolution", article of 12.08.2014 (recounting a visit).

A more lighthearted codicile to the debate is provided by a likeable but loopy individual called Walid Nazim, who in 2009 wrote a book on the arêtes de poisson, strange passages under Lyon, and various other subterranean "mysteries" of the city - among them the Brotteaux crypt.  His reason for including the monument is simply that the place is creepy and secret; the descendants of the dead gather there, he says, on significant anniversaries (29th May and on 12th October).  He has a suitably atmospheric video to back up his point.  The Famille Missionnaire isn't giving in though;  Brother Antoine enjoins us to respect the privacy of the descendants and it would seem that the order shuns publicity more than ever.
See:  Les mystères de la ville de Lyon: