The real knight of Maison-Rouge

The real knight of Maison-Rouge

Alexandre Dumas immortalized the Knight of Maison-Rouge, character in a novel, who entered the Conciergerie to get Marie-Antoinette to escape in 1793. But he did exist: ladies' man, royalist conspirator, devoted body and soul to the royal family, everywhere and for all projects of 'escapes. Michelle Sapori takes again the base of the previous authors which she analyzes more deeply to provide us with a beautiful work “Rougeville, from Marie-Antoinette to Alexandre Dumas, the true knight of Maison-Rouge”.

The origins of the Rougeville

Alexandre Gonsse de Rougeville comes from a family of "bourgeois of Arras". His father accumulated power and fortune (farms, breweries, seigneuries of Immercourt and Rougeville) through hard work and good management, having Robespierre and his colleague Guffroy as their lawyer, who in 1788 displayed their revolutionary leanings ...

Alexandre, second of the family, Marquis de Rougeville, was born in Arras in September 1761. Dreaming of nobility and chivalry, he joined the company of the King's Gendarmes in September 1775, then dismissed, left for America. Many times wounded, aide-de-camp to Generals Washington and Lee in 1776, major of the American army, owner of a house near New York worth 40,000 pounds, knight of the Order of Cincinnatus with an annual and perpetual pension of 3,000 pounds, he returned to France in September 1783 after the Treaty of Versailles.

Rougeville is not idle: captain of the Guard with Lauzun, knight of the royal military order of Saint Philippe and later of Saint Louis, squire and quartermaster of the Count of Provence, quartermaster of the house and corps, housed in the castle and in May 1789, at the opening of the Estates General, he had a front row seat.

The knight of Maison Rouge in the service of the King

Aware of an imminent reversal, he joined his loyal friends defenders of the royal family and will be present at each event as soon as the king returns to Paris. Housed in the Luxembourg Palace, arrested by the guards of the Royal Palace, he participated in February 1791 in the “day of the daggers” or “the day of slaps” where a large number of nobles and aristocrats invaded the Tuileries, while La Fayette is in Vincennes to neutralize the sans-culottes invading the dungeon.

Omnipresent and close to the king, Rougeville became captain of the guards of the King's House in February 1792, joined the battalion of the “Saint-Thomas girls” of the National Guard, the only battalion with that of the “Little Fathers” loyal to the king, especially the June 20, 1792, then “secretary to the king” ensuring his protection in July 1792 during the feast of the Federation; on all fronts, spying among the Jacobins, being part of all attempts to escape, he was not present on the night of August 9 to 10, 1792, discovering the next day the guards and the faithful massacred, their heads carried on pikes.

Unfortunately for him, his friend the widow Lacouture denounces him to the "Generalissimo of the Sans Culottes": all his property (horses, crews, jewels, papers) are taken; arrested and imprisoned for ten days, then released, he avoided being slaughtered on September 1 and 2, 1792.
He hid, while rallying the partisans and sending in January 1793 to all the newspapers of France, his manuscript "Moral and political reflections on the trial of Louis XVI" to beg the French to ask for the king's exile and not his dead. On the announcement of the king's sentence, he prepared a final escape plan, meeting with 500 partisans on the night of January 20 to 21, 1793 ... there were only three to come who would remain in the process. of the king's convoy!
After having met a pretty American, the Dutilleul, with whom he settled, the widow Lacouture denounced him as "a criminal against the Revolution and a knight of the dagger". Imprisoned twice, he produced certificates of residence (security card, certificate declaring him "an excellent patriot") and succeeded in bribing the police who let him out of prison in June.

Rougeville wants to save the Queen

Free, he writes precisely "the death of the king overwhelmed me extremely, but did not bring me down since there remained to me the hope of saving the queen and her august offspring".

Bringing together the faithful, he took an interest in Michonis, a revolutionary, commissioner in charge of the transfer of the queen to the Conciergerie at the beginning of August and discovered with joy that this man was "carried with the heart for the queen". Thanks to the Dutilleul, he approached Republicans, but above all succeeded in being invited to visit the queen in her dungeon! To thank Dutilleul, he offers her a bouquet of carnations; she unties a flower, hands it to an officer who rolls up a paper and pushes it into the chalice: Rougeville can communicate with the queen! On August 28, 1793, Rougeville, who was 32 years old, without a situation but with 4000 pounds of income from his father, helped by Michonis, entered the queen's room, guarded by two gendarmes. Holding two carnations, he lets them fall at his feet; despite her friendly face, she is paralyzed, she "trembles, extremely gripped to the point of feeling ill and falls into her chair." With a moment of lucidity, she asks Rougeville to take care of her children and finally understands that she has to pick up the flowers. She can read “I have remained faithful to you; I have just gathered the last debris of my fortune, the rest of my house ... but help me, ”Rougeville wanting the Queen's agreement for a new escape. The queen "broke the word into 1000 pieces and swallowed it promptly." She replies "not to come, not to try anything, you would hasten my loss." Instead, work so that I am claimed from outside ”but the ticket is sent to the concierge in Fouquier-Tinville's pay ...

Rougeville attempted a second escape on the night of September 2 to 3, 1793; although well paid, a guard denounces the plot in high places: the cell is invested the next day by the police; after questioning, Rougeville is recognized as being the knight of Saint Louis; his report is sent throughout France; a Jacobin policeman, a man hunter, is launched in pursuit of him; a sidekick is taken to the Force prison; the head of Michonis is claimed then he will be executed in June 1794; put "in the ordinary" for the daily, the queen undergoes "the extraordinary" for surveillance with a new valet "with a frightful face, doing the most disgusting jobs in the concierge; the orders are a hundred times more severe and more terrible than in the past; inspection visits take place at all hours, day and night ”; the queen passes from the status of prisoner to that of accused from September 22 and her trial opens on October 15; during this time, two plots are foiled, the Affair of the wigmakers and the Affair Maingot which would have been carried out by Rougeville, for the escape of the queen; the main leaders are sentenced to death.

Holed up in the quarries of Montmartre, 22 meters underground, he wrote "the Crimes of the Parisians against the Queen, by the author of the carnations presented to the queen in her prison" which he was going to place on the Convention desk. and the Revolutionary Tribunal: a price is placed on his head! Then he tries to bribe the jurors to be absent at the trial. Finally, he spins off at full speed towards Austria, which refuses to help Marie-Antoinette; in Brussels, Mercy-Argenteau is absent; nobody budges when the queen's death is announced: Rougeville is offended to the point of saying "preferring revolutionaries who are faithful to their idea". He made a stir at the count of Provence then at Artois, accuses the emigrants of laxity and is arrested for debts contracted in France! Released, he was offered the post of lieutenant-colonel in the Austrian army, which he refused because "my place is in France, I run to devote myself to the royal cause and seek to save the young King Louis XVII".

On his return to France after May 1794, he had more than 20 arrest warrants against him; Guffroy at the Committee of General Safety, arrested him for "emigration and presentation of a carnation to the Capet woman". Incarcerated in August 1795 in the Orties prison, he was transferred to the Conciergerie in September where he met the Count of Antraigues (executed in November), head of a counter-revolutionary network. In December, after Louis XVI's daughter was released from prison, Rougeville, who was ill, "his health was dilapidated, on the eve of losing his sight entirely" had to take care of the future Louis XVII.

Exiled but still in action

In May 1797 when the royalists were in the majority in the Council of Five Hundred, he sent them a petition "Memoir printed by Citizen Rougeville, detained for nearly 24 months on the simple denunciation of the ex-conventional Guffroy" where he wrote "that the 'the grave of the one who gave birth to me is opened to me, I would rather go downstairs than live among unjust, iniquitous and barbaric men. After several pleas, Rougeville is released, goes to Pas de Calais, heals himself and his fiery temper takes over.

He appealed to fellow citizens asking them to vote for monarchist ideas, entered the registers of the local National Guard, continued to write small works, but always watched, he remained quiet in his life as a gentleman-farmer, because in Paris, after the coup d'état of September 3, 1797, the heads of the royalists were deported to Cayenne. After the failure of the dagger conspiracy and the attack on the rue Saint Nicaise, Rougeville worried about his future and swore in his will dated 1798 that if heaven absolved him, he would devote himself to penance and to public building. He tries to enter the ultra royalist secret society "the Knights of the Faith", while protecting the peasants and the weak around. By selling part of his properties, he moved to Paris and had to produce quantities of certificates to officially move, but made regular trips to the North.

It is the period of the royalist plot of Cadoudal; Pichegru and Moreau are arrested; the Pas de Calais commissioner accuses Rougeville of conspiring. On March 15, 1804, around midnight, his castle was attacked and looted; Rougeville escapes through the underground passages, the gendarmes find nothing compromising, only libels accusing him of being counter-revolutionary; all the police forces in Douai and Arras are looking for him.

He presented himself to the Paris authorities six weeks after his flight and must remain at their disposal in a town at least 30 leagues from Paris or Arras and the ports and borders: Reims would be his exile for 10 years until his death. , but he will manage to "slip away" from time to time! Installed in his farm surrounded by a wide canal, in the middle of swamps, and despite the laudatory police reports "irreproachable conduct, known to be a man of morals and probity, has not the slightest reason to be observed" , it is constantly monitored. Authorized once to go to Arras, he disappeared on January 21, 1806 (anniversary of the king's death).

Rougeville starts a family

In love with a marquis' wife, a little Alexandrine is born but quickly dies; Rougeville is afflicted with immense grief. To get married, he must find an "honest woman, of merit, enemy of divorce, true housewife, scrupulous in all her duties". He invented a most amiable self-portrait for himself, assembled a fantastic genealogy "from a large family in Spain since 1418, with a minister governor of the King of Spain, who took refuge in Flanders following a disgrace" , and of which his father would have found titles, names, jewels and money by demolishing the house of his ancestor. He created a coat of arms "for my God, for me, my country and my King". He finally finds the rare pearl: Caroline Angélique Bocquet de Liancourt, granddaughter of the famous opera painter around 1750, inspector of Menus Plaisirs. Rougeville knows this grandfather well, they lived in the same house between 1793-1794. The nuptial blessing takes place in Soissons in October 1806 which will be their new residence under surveillance from July 1807; Meanwhile, the widow Lacouture, who has completely lost her mind, is still looking for him and will even ask Joséphine de Beauharnais for an audience.

Rougeville keeps quiet and produces certificates ensuring "his good public and private conduct and his morality", but all his requests for freedom, travel or all his proposals for service are refused (outing for the baptism of his first son Louis Alexandre in May 1808 in Paris; the same for the birth of his second son Charles François in January 1809; proposal to create a new military school): Fouché's “good souls” warn “he behaved fairly well in Soissons, but if indefinite freedom were returned to him, it would be feared that he would soon return to his boring habits and his intrigues ”: Rougeville is therefore considered a dangerous man for Napoleon and his government.

He feels rejected, disillusioned, dejected and soon out of breath; his couple faltered, the separation of property was pronounced in February 1812. The bailiff came to seize the furniture of the domain of Baslieux near Reims, (Rougeville having substantial debts, despite the sale of his castle of Immercourt and of the Saint Laurent presbytery in 1806) found nothing! Rougeville cannot be found.

In one of his last estates in Artois, when he wanted to cultivate sugar beet, he needed the operating license which was still refused: the police report arriving at the Ministry of Manufactures and Trade mentions "the named Gonsse de Rougeville is being held in Paris prisons for the crime of forgery ”. In 1814, Rougeville was at bay. He fought with the partisans of Louis XVIII, as a scout for the Cossack troops who came to the aid of the king but found himself facing his brother Albert, the Emperor's cavalry captain, when the two parties set up their camp around Reims. Unfortunately, one of his letters was intercepted in March. His arrest was ordered on the spot on March 10, he could not escape. Imprisoned at noon, he went to a war council and the military commission sentenced him to death at 3 pm. He has an hour left to prepare to die.

The death of the knight of Maison Rouge

The knight procession carrying the prisoner crosses the whole village to the cemetery, surrounded by hostile people or former officers who are silent. Rougeville walks straight; at 5 pm, he is placed against the wall, refuses the blindfold, kneels on the ground; thirteen grenadiers fire and two soldiers finish it off with two bullets.

Transported to the chapel at the entrance to the cemetery while waiting for daylight, the gravedigger discovers him naked: the soldiers stripped him of his beautiful yellow jacket, of his Hungarian boots whose tassels had golden threads. He is buried unceremoniously, in a family grave, by a charitable person, whereas he should have been placed in the mass grave. His death was not recorded until March 17, 1814, with the mention "spy shot" in the margin of the document. He had missed him just a few hours: on March 12 at 3 a.m., the Cossacks and Russian soldiers took the city. On March 31, Napoleon abdicated and Louis XVIII arrived in Compiègne.

The Marquise de Rougeville never denied her husband. Louis Alexandre, a law student, died at the age of 19 in 1827. Charles François "romantic, salon man, pretty, and cultured" married a young woman of high birth in 1836; but in March 1845, he fell in love with a Russian lady and committed suicide with a bullet in the head; on March 18, he was buried in the cemetery of Montparnasse, then in Père Lachaise. He was a dandy, a romantic.

Dumas's novel

When Charles François was in the ground, the novel by Alexandre Dumas “the knight of Maison Rouge” was born, originally titled “the knight of Rougeville”. Alexandre Dumas explains having received a letter signed Marquis de Rougeville, written by Charles, including part of his father's Memoirs, bearing the title “my forty thousand hours of agony”. Out of respect for Charles (who was not yet dead), Dumas changes the title of his novel to "the knight of Maison Rouge". Auguste Maquet taking charge of researching historical elements, names, places and facts, Dumais writes and formats. And two months after Charles' death, the first chapter of the “Chevalier de Maison Rouge” appeared in a newspaper in May 1845.

Rougeville, from Marie-Antoinette to Alexandre Dumas, the true knight of Maison-Rouge, from Michelle Sapori. Editions de la Bisquine (May 26, 2016).


Video: Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge 1963 8