Historical Figures

The true story of the Chevalier de Maison-Rouge

Alexandre Dumas immortalized theChevalier de Maison-Rouge , a character from a novel, who enters the Conciergerie to help Marie-Antoinette escape in 1793. But this fictional character did indeed exist under the name of Alexandre Gonsse de Rougeville :a ladies' man, counter-revolutionary, devoted body and soul to the royal family, everywhere and for all escape projects. His romantic career will serve the work of Dumas, immortalized in the first television series of the ORTF.

The origins of 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 lawyers who displayed their revolutionary leanings in 1788...

Alexandre, second in the family, Marquis de Rougeville, was born in Arras in September 1761. Dreaming of nobility and chivalry, he joined the company of the Gendarmes du Roi in September 1775 , then fired, left for America. Many times wounded, aide-de-camp to Generals Washington and Lee in 1776, major in 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 busy: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 lodgings of the Count of Provence, quartermaster of the house and body, lodged at the castle and in May 1789, at the opening of the States General, he was in the front row.

The knight of Maison Rouge in the service of the King

Aware of an imminent overthrow, he joins his faithful 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 the slaps" when a large number of nobles and aristocrats invaded the Tuileries, while La Fayette is in Vincennes to neutralize the sans-culottes who are invading the dungeon.

Omnipresent and close to the king, Rougeville became captain of the guards of the King's household in February 1792, joined the battalion of the "Saint-Thomas girls" of the National Guard, alone battalion with that of the "Little Fathers" loyal to the king especially on June 20, 1792, then "king's secretary" ensuring his protection in July 1792 during the feast of the Federation; on all fronts, spying on the Jacobins, being part of all the escape attempts, 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 spades.

Unfortunately for him, his friend the widow Lacouture denounced him to the "generalissimo of the Sans culottes":all his possessions (horses, carriages, jewelry, papers) were taken; Arrested and imprisoned for ten days, then released, he avoided having his throat cut on September 1 and 2, 1792. policies on the trial of Louis XVI" to beg the French to demand the king's exile and not his death. At the announcement of the king's condemnation, he prepares a final plan of escape, giving an appointment to 500 partisans on the night of January 20 to 21, 1793... they will only be three to come who will remain on the way of the king's convoy.

After meeting a pretty American, Dutilleul, with whom he moved in, the widow Lacouture denounced him as "a criminal against the Revolution and a knight of the dagger". Imprisoned twice, he produced residence certificates (security card, certificate declaring him an "excellent patriot") and managed to bribe 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 I still had the hope of saving the queen and her august offspring .

Gathering the faithful, he is interested in Michonis, revolutionary, commissioner dealing with the transfer of the queen to the Conciergerie at the beginning of August and discovers with joy that this man is "carried by the heart for the Queen". Thanks to the Dutilleul, he approaches the Republicans, but above all succeeds in being invited to visit the queen in her dungeon! To thank La Dutilleul, he offers her a bouquet of carnations; she detaches a flower, hands it to an officer who rolls up a piece of paper and sticks it into the chalice:Rougeville can communicate with the queen.

On August 28, 1793, Rougeville, who was 32 years old, without a job but with an income of 4,000 livres from his father, helped by Michonis, entered the queen's chamber, guarded by two constables. Holding two carnations, he drops them at his feet; despite the friendly face, she is paralyzed, she “starts, extremely seized to the point of feeling bad and falls into her chair”. With a moment of lucidity, she asks Rougeville to take care of her children and finally understands that she must pick up the flowers. She can read “I have remained faithful to you; I have just gathered the last remains of my fortune, the rest of my house... but help me”, Rougeville wanting the agreement of the queen for a new escape. The queen "ripped the word into 1000 pieces and promptly swallowed it". She replies “not to come, to try nothing, you would hasten my ruin. Work rather so that I am claimed from outside” but the note is transmitted to the concierge in the pay of Fouquier-Tinville...

Rougeville attempts a second escape on the night of September 2-3, 1793; although heavily paid, a guard denounces the plot in high places:the cell is invested the next day by the forces of order; after interrogations, Rougeville is recognized as being the Knight of Saint Louis; his report is sent throughout France; a Jacobin policeman, a manhunter, is launched in pursuit; a sidekick is taken to the Force prison; the head of Michonis is claimed then he will be executed in June 1794; put on “ordinary” for daily life, the queen undergoes “extraordinary” for surveillance with a new valet “with an appalling face, carrying out the most disgusting work at 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 thwarted, the Affair of the wigmakers and the Maingot Affair which would have been carried out by Rougeville, for the escape of the queen; the main ringleaders are condemned to death.

Hiding in the quarries of Montmartre, 22 meters underground, he wrote "Crimes of the Parisians against the Queen, by the author of the carnations presented to the Queen in her prison” which he will deposit on the office of the Convention and the Revolutionary Court:his head is put at price! Then he tries to bribe the jurors into missing the trial. Finally, he rushes off at full speed towards Austria, which refuses to help Marie-Antoinette; in Brussels, Mercy-Argenteau is absent; no one moves when the queen's death is announced:Rougeville is offended to the point of saying "prefer revolutionaries faithful to their idea". He made a fuss at the Count of Provence then at Artois, accused the emigrants of laxity and was 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".

When he returned to France after May 1794, he had more than 20 arrest warrants against him; Guffroy to the Committee of General Security, arrests him for "emigration and presentation of a carnation to the Capet woman". Imprisoned in August 1795 in the Orties prison, he was transferred to the Conciergerie in September where he met the Comte d'Antraigues (executed in November), leader of a counter-revolutionary network. In December, after the release of the daughter of Louis XVI from prison, Rougeville sick "his health is dilapidated, on the eve of losing his sight entirely" must 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 "Memorial printed by citizen Rougeville, detained for nearly 24 months on the simple denunciation of the ex-conventional Guffroy" where he wrote "let the tomb of him who gave birth to me be opened to me, I would rather descend than live among unjust, iniquitous and barbaric men". After several pleas, Rougeville is released, goes to the Pas de Calais, is treated and his fiery temper takes over.

He appeals to fellow citizens asking them to vote for monarchist ideas, registers in the registers of the local National Guard, continues to write small works, but always watched, he remains quiet in his life as a gentleman-farmer, because in Paris, after the coup d'etat of September 3, 1797, the leaders of the royalists are deported to Cayenne. After the failure of the conspiracy of the daggers and the attack on 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 public edification. He tries to enter the ultra-royalist secret society "the Knights of Faith", while protecting the peasants and the weak around him. By selling part of his properties, he moved to Paris and had to produce a number of certificates to officially move, but regularly went back and forth to the North.

This is the period of Cadoudal's royalist plot; Pichegru and Moreau are arrested; the Commissioner of Pas de Calais accuses Rougeville of conspiracy. 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 a counter-revolutionary; all the police of Douai and Arras are looking for him.

He reports 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 will be his exile for 10 years until his death, but he will manage to "spin the English way" from time to time! Installed in his farm surrounded by a wide canal, in the middle of the swamps, and despite the glowing police reports "irreproachable conduct, known to be a man of morals and probity, has not the slightest reason to be observed" , it is constantly checked. Authorized once to go to Arras, he disappeared on January 21, 1806 (anniversary of the king's death).

Redville starts a family

In love with a marquis' wife, a little Alexandrine is born but dies quickly; Rougeville is stricken with immense grief. In order to get married, he had to find an "honest woman, worthy, an enemy of divorce, a true housewife, scrupulous in all her duties". He invents a most amiable self-portrait, builds a fanciful genealogy "from a large Spanish family 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 coats 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 painter of the opera around 1750, inspector of Menus Plaisirs. Rougeville knows this grandfather well, they lived in the same house in the years 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 even asks Joséphine de Beauharnais for an audience.

Rougeville keeps quiet and produces certificates assuring "of his good public and private conduct and of his morality", but all his requests for freedom, movement or all his proposals for service were refused (leaving 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):the "good souls de Fouché warn "he behaved quite well at Soissons, but if he were given indefinite freedom, it would be to be feared that he would soon return to his troublesome habits and his intrigues":Rougeville is therefore considered a dangerous man for Napoleon and his government.

He feels rejected, disillusioned, downcast 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 Baslieux estate near Reims, (Rougeville having substantial debts, despite the sale of his castle of Immercourt and of the presbytery of Saint Laurent in 1806) can no longer find anything! Rougeville cannot be found.

In one of his last estates in Artois, when he wants to cultivate sugar beet, he needs the operating license which is still refused:the report of police arriving at the Ministry of Manufactures and Commerce mention "the named Gonsse de Rougeville is being held in the prisons of Paris for the crime of forgery". In 1814, Rougeville was in dire straits. He fights with the supporters of Louis XVIII, as a scout for the Cossack troops who have come to the aid of the king, but finds himself facing his brother Albert, captain of the Emperor's cavalry, when the two parties set up camp around Reims. Unfortunately, one of his letters was intercepted in March. His arrest is ordered on the spot on March 10, he cannot escape. Imprisoned at noon, he goes to a court martial and the military commission condemns him to death at 3 p.m. He has one hour left to prepare to die.

The Death of the Knight of Maison Rouge

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

Transported to the chapel at the entrance to the cemetery while waiting for daylight, the gravedigger discovers him stark naked:the soldiers have stripped him of his beautiful yellow coat, his boots Hungarians whose tassels had golden threads. He is buried without ceremony, in a family grave, by a charitable person, when he should have been put in the common grave. His death is not recorded until March 17, 1814, with the mention "spy shot" in the margin of the act. He had missed him just a few hours:on March 12 at 3 o'clock in the morning, the Cossacks and the 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, coquettish, 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 Montparnasse cemetery, then in Père Lachaise. He was a dandy, a romantic.

Dumas' novel

When Charles François was in the ground, was born the novel by Alexandre Dumas "the knight of Maison Rouge", originally titled "the knight of Rougeville". Alexandre Dumas explains that he received a letter signed Marquis de Rougeville, written by Charles, containing 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 changed the title of his novel to "Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge". Auguste Maquet was responsible for researching historical elements, names, places and facts, Dumais wrote and formatted. And two months after the death of Charles, appeared in a newspaper in May 1845, the first chapter of the "Knight of Maison Rouge".

To go further

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

- The real knight of Maison-Rouge, A.D.J. Gonzze de Rougeville 1761-1814, by G. Lenotre. nabu press, 2011.