H. Noel (Hugh Noel) Williams.

Memoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV online

. (page 28 of 28)
Online LibraryH. Noel (Hugh Noel) WilliamsMemoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV → online text (page 28 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

conduct ; but that, so far from following his sage coun-
sels, she had, on learning of his connection with Grieve,
Blache, and other patriots, "informed him, in an im-
perious tone, that she gave him three days to leave
her house/'

Jean Thenot, schoolmaster at Louveciennes, formerly
in the service of Madame du Barry, deposed that, in
1789, at the time of the murder of Foulon, he had
heard the accused declare that the people were "a pack
of wretches and villains."

The Accused, interrupting the witness: "Where did
you hear me make such a remark?"

The Witness: "It was while going to your melon-

The Accused: The charge is false; it is an atrocious

Two of Madame du Barry's femmes-de-chambre
were the next witnesses, one of whom stated that she
had accompanied her mistress on her visits to London,
and that while there she was frequently visited by
French emigres; while the other declared that the
night after the arrest of Brissac was spent by the ac-
cused in burning papers.

Madame du Barry gave a flat denial to this last
allegation, after which the court adjourned till the fol-
lowing day.

8 Zamor's treachery did not benefit him much. Soon after the
trial he was arrested as an accomplice of the woman he had
denounced, and, though released, appears to have led a wretched
existence. He died in great poverty in 1820.


On December 7 (Frimaire 17), further witnesses
for the prosecution were called, the most important of
whom was one Nicholas Fournier, surveyor of build-
ings, and formerly juge de palx for the canton of
Marly, who deposed that he had examined the articles
found by Grieve in various parts of the grounds of
the accused, and that amongst them were a watch-
chain, an opera-glass, and a pencil-case, all of which
objects had been advertised as forming part of the
property stolen on the night of January 10, 1791.

This evidence, of course, went to strengthen the con-
tention of the prosecution that the robbery had never
taken place; but Madame du Barry explained to the
court that the objects in question had been sold by the
thieves ere leaving France, and subsequently restored
to her.

Of evidence for the defence there was none. Two
important witnesses had been summoned : Boileau,
who had suspended Madame du Barry's arrest in the
previous June, and Chaillau, a member of the admin-
istration of Versailles; but both, by a curious coinci-
dence, were confined to their beds by severe illness,
and sent certificates of their inability to attend, much,
we may presume, to the chagrin of the amiable Fou-
quier, who had no doubt hoped to make them incrim-
inate themselves. 9 Lafleuterie for Madame du Barry,
and Chauveau-Lagarde for the Vandenyvers 10 "com-
bated vigorously" (according to the latter advocate's
account) the charges against their clients, and then
Fouquier rose to reply, and in the grotesque jargon

9 E. and J. de Goncourt's La Du Barry, p. 309.

10 In the course of some questions put to the elder Vandenyyer
by Dumas, it transpired that th'e letter of credit " for an unlim-
ited amount " mentioned by Fouquier in his opening speech, was
a request to Thellusson to furnish Madame du Barry with " any
small sums " which she might happen to require. The letter of
credit for 50,000 had no 'existence, save in the imagination of
the Public Prosecutor.


which at this period passed for eloquence proceeded to
harangue the admiring jury as follows :

"Citizen Jurors, You have passed sentence on the
wife of the last tyrant of the French ; you have now to
pass sentence on the courtesan of his infamous prede-
cessor. You see before you this La'is celebrated by the
deprivation of her morals, the publicity and the scan-
dal of her debaucheries, whom libertinage alone en-
abled to share the destinies of the despot who sacrificed
the blood and treasure of his people to his shameful
pleasures. The scandal and opprobrium of her eleva-
tion, the turpitude and disgrace of her infamous pros-
titution, are not, however, matters to which you must
now give your attention. You have to decide if this
Messalina," born among the people, enriched by the
spoils of the people, who paid for the opprobrium of
her morals, fallen by the death of the tyrant from the
position in which crime alone had placed her, has con-
spired against the liberty and the sovereignty of the
people; if, after being the accomplice and the instru-
ment of the libertinage of kings, she has become the
agent of tyrants, nobles, and priests against the French
Republic. The trial, citizen jurors, has already thrown
the clearest light on this conspiracy. You know what
revelations the depositions of the witnesses and the
documents have furnished concerning this execrable
conspiracy, to which the annals of nations can afford
no parallel ; and assuredly never has an affair of more
importance been presented for your decision, since it
offers you, in a fashion, the principal link in the plots
of Pitt and his accomplices against France.

"... Such, citizen jurors, is the result of the trial
which has taken place. It is for you, in your wisdom,

"Fouquier had at first written "femme"; but he struck it out
and substituted the name of the Roman Empress. He had al-
ready compared Madame du Barry to both Aspasia and Lais !


to weigh the evidence. You see that royalists, feder-
alists, all the factions, though divided among them-
selves in appearance, have all the same centre, the
same object, the same end. The war abroad, that in
La Vendee, the troubles in the South, the insurrection
in the Department of Calvados, all have the same prin-
ciple and the same head ... all march under the
orders of Pitt. But the veil which covered so many
iniquities has been, in some degree, lifted one may
say to-day that it has been rent asunder and nothing
remains for the conspirators, save disgrace and the
punishment of their infamous plots. Yes, Frenchmen,
we swear it ; the traitors shall perish, and liberty alone
survive. She has resisted and will resist all the efforts
of the allied despots, their slaves, their priests, and
their infamous courtesans. . . . The vile conspiratrice
who stands before you was able to live in the lap of
luxury, acquired by her shameful debauchery, in the
midst of a country which appeared to have buried,
with the tyrant whose companion she had been, the
remembrance of her prostitution and the scandal of
her elevation. But the liberty of the people was a
crime in her eyes; she required it to be enslaved, to
cringe to its masters, and the best of the substance of
the people was consecrated to her pleasures. This
example, joined to many others, proves more and
more that libertinage and evil morals are the greatest
enemies of liberty and the happiness of peoples. In
striking with the sword of the Law a Messalina
guilty of a conspiracy against the country, not only
will you avenge the Republic for her outrages upon
it, but you will uproot a public scandal and strengthen
the empire of that morality which is the chief founda-
tion of the liberty of peoples."

Fouquier, unfortunately, did not think it worth
while to take down Dumas's summing-up; but, from


a memorandum left by Chauveau-Lagarde, we learn
that the charges against Madame du Barry which the
jury were called upon to consider, were as follows :

"Accused of conspiring against the French Republic
and having favoured the success of the arms of the
enemies in its territory by procuring for them ex-
orbitant sums in her journeys to England, where she
herself emigrated.

"Wearing, in London, mourning for the late

"Living habitually with Pitt, whose effigy she wore
on a silver medal.

"Having caused to be buried at Louveciennes the
letters of nobility of an emigre and also the busts of
the former Court.

"And, finally, having wasted the treasures of the
State by the unbridled extravagance in which she had
indulged before the Revolution, during her commerce
with Louis XV."

The Vandenyvers were charged with being "the ac-
complices of her machinations."

It was a quarter to ten at night when the jury re-
tired to consider their verdict.

They were absent from court an hour and a quarter
fifteen minutes longer than they had required to de-
cide upon the fate of Marie Antoinette and, on their
re-entry, returned "an affirmative answer" on all
counts of the indictment against the former favourite,
and the same in regard to the charge against the

Fouquier at once demanded the full penalty of the
law; and "the court condemned Jeanne Vaubernier,
wife of Du Barry, ci-devant courtesan; Jean Baptiste
Vandenyver, Edme Jean Baptiste Vandenyver, and
Antoine Auguste Vandenyver to the penalty of death,
and ordered that the present sentence should be exe-


cuted within twenty-four hours on the Place de la
Revolution of this town."

The wretched woman heard the terrible sentence
with cries of despair, and was carried back to the
Conciergerie in a half -conscious condition. It has
been stated that, in the hope of obtaining a respite,
perhaps even a commutation of her sentence, she de-
nounced at random a great number of persons; and
Louis Blanc, in his Histoire de la Revolution frangaise,
has gone so far as to give us the exact total of her vic-
tims, which he places at two hundred and forty! 13
Such an assertion, we need hardly observe, is a mere
fable, and quite unworthy to find a place in an authori-
tative work. What poor Madame du Barry actually
did was to purchase a few short hours of life by re-
vealing to Denisot and Claude Roger, the deputy-
Public Prosecutor, the whereabouts of a considerable
quantity of gold and silver plate and jewellery, which
she had concealed in her garden, and which had hither-
to escaped the prying eyes of Grieve 14 and his confed-
erates. In so doing, she, unfortunately, admitted that
in concealing certain articles she had been assisted by
her faithful valet-de-chambre, Morin, and a woman
called Deliant; and the former was subsequently

18 Of the judicial murderers of Madame du Barry, four per-
ished by the guillotine within eighteen months, Dumas and Payan
sharing the fate of Robespierre, in the folowing July, while the
Public Prosecutor and another member of the jury, named
Vilate, followed them to the scaffold in May 1795. Topino-
Lebrun, who took notes of the evidence which are preserved in
the Archives, was involved in a conspiracy against the life of
Napoleon, and executed on January 7, 1801.

s Vol. x. p. 236.

' This miscreant appears to have continued his denunciations
until some months after the fall of Robespierre, when he was
arrested at Amiens and twenty-two depositions taken against him.
He was, however, acquitted, and in 1796 returned to America,
where he published a translation of the Marquis de Chatellux's
Travels. Eventually, he settled in Brussels, and died in that
city on February 22, 1809.


brought to trial and executed, while the latter, whose
husband, arrested with her, had died in prison, com-
mitted suicide. Morin, however, was already in cus-
tody, and would, very probably, have shared his un-
happy mistress's fate in any case.

For three hours a clerk was occupied in taking down
the inventory of the hidden treasure, for every word
she spoke added a second to her life ; and the declara-
tion terminated with an offer to write to London for
her jewels, if such were the desire of the Court, "as
she could without difficulty recover the property of
which she had been robbed, on payment of the costs
of the action."

But those men, "drunk with the blood of a King,'*
were pitiless; she who had been so merciful to others
could obtain none herself in this world at least and
scarcely had the poor lady, with trembling fingers,
affixed her signature to the declaration than a gaoler
entered to cut her hair and inform her that the tumbril
"the bier of the living," as Barrere cynically called it
was at the door.

On the way to the scaffold, whither she was accom-
panied by the Vandenyvers and Jean Noel, the brave
and upright deputy for the Vosges, whose opposition
to the Terrorists had cost him his life, 18 Madame du
Barry displayed, we are told, great cowardice, though
authorities differ as to the form which this cowardice
took. According to the sensational account given by

15 Madame du Barry's jewels remained in Ransom's bank until
the end of the following year, when they were sold by order of
the Court of Chancery. The proceeds of the sale, which realised
13,300 guineas, appear to have been paid over to her niece,
Madame de Boissaisson, and some of the countess's creditors.

16 It was Jean Noel who declined to vote at the trial of Louis
XVI., on the ground that, as his son had fallen in a war for
which he regarded the King as being directly responsible, he
could not hope to be an impartial judge.


the Goncourts, which is based on some Souvenirs of
the Revolution published in La Nouvelle Minerva, she
uttered heartrending cries, offered to give all her
wealth to the nation in return for her life it had al-
ready been confiscated by decree of the Revolutionary
Court implored the bystanders to save her, and strug-
gled so violently that the executioner and his two as-
sistants had the greatest difficulty in preventing her
springing from the cart. On the other hand, the
account given in The Gentleman's Magazine for 1793
represents her as having been in a state of such pros-
tration that "the executioner was under the necessity
of supporting her in his arms the whole way;" while
it is to be remarked that the Terrorist journals, Le
Glaive vengeur, Les Revolutions de Paris, and the rest,
though ever ready to gloat over the sufferings of the
condemned, make no mention of any such scene as the
one described by the Goncourts.

About her behaviour when actually upon the scaffold
there is more unanimity of opinion. Then she is de-
scribed as resisting the executioners with all her feeble
strength, and when overcome and forced on to the
plank, entreating them not to hurt her, and begging
for "one moment more."

517 Here is an account of the tragedy, which, though second-
hand evidence, bears the unmistakable stamp of truth:

" I was well acquainted with a French gentleman, recently dead,
who was an involuntary witness of the execution [of Madame
du Barry], and who has often given me details of it. He
was then a lad of about seventeen, and had been riding with
a friend of his in the environs of Paris. On their return through
the Champs Elysees, they found themselves in the Place Louis
XV. [Place de la Revolution, d-dcvant Louis XV.] surrounded
by a dense mob and the guillotine in full operation. His first
impulse was to spur his horse and avoid the horrid sight, but
he was checked by his friend, who was more prudent and alive
to the danger, for the crowd had already begun to grumble and
to cry 'Care aux aristocrats!' So they were forced to pull up
their horses and remain silent spectators of the horrid tragedy.
He said her shrieks were dreadful to hear; she struggled with


But the fall of the fatal knife put an end to her
anguish, and to the long line of left-hand queens of



the executioners, and they were near enough to hear her ex-
claim, 'Ah, Monsieur, ne faites pas du mat,' or * Vous allez me
falre du mal* he was not sure which. The scene over, they
were forced to take off their hats and shout with the rest, ' Vive
la Republique!' It was not without difficulty that they got safe
to their homes. He soon afterwards entered the army and so
escaped ; he told me he had often since dreamt of the cries. He
had no vivid recollection of her person." Manuscript of John
Riddell, cited by Cunningham in his edition of Horace Walpole's

18 About five weeks after Madame du Barry had been guillo-
tined in Paris, the "RouS" was executed at Toulouse. After his
flight from Paris, in May 1774, Jean du Barry had resided at
Toulouse, where Arthur Young, the celebrated traveller, found
him living in opulence, and was so charmed with a portrait of
his sister-in-law which he saw at his house that he felt he could
pardon Louis XV. his Infatuation for such a beauty. When the
Revolution came, the "Roue" embraced the new ideas and raised
and equipped an armed force, of which he was appointed second
colonel. Having got into debt, however, he was obliged to hide
from his creditors, and was denounced as an intended emigre. At
his trial.^ he refused to pfead, remarking that the few years left
him to live he was then about seventy were not worth arguing
about He died with courage and resignation.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 28

Online LibraryH. Noel (Hugh Noel) WilliamsMemoirs of Madame Du Barry of the court of Louis XV → online text (page 28 of 28)