Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Massacre on the Vicomte de Belsunce

Henri de Belsunce had made his career in the King's service; beginning as a page to the King, he was given the Honours of the Court in 1785 and made Major of the Bourbon Infantery in Caen three years later. Here he had quickly made a reputation for being arrogant although handsome.

Those interested in the history of Marie Antoinette may remember his name in a less positive light. He was actually banished from his regiment for indulging in too high gambling at a ball hosted by the Queen herself.

However, it is rather the horrible manner of his death which has been his legacy. The weather had been disastrous to the harvests making wheat a dear commodity. The Château de Guillaume in Caen was used as storage for the little remaining wheat; it became known that a new dispatch of wheat was transported to the castle under guard by the Bourbon Infantry. Henri - twenty-four years old at this time - was put in charge of the transport which took place on 12 August 1789.

Henri de Belsunce at the age of 19

An enraged mob ambushed the regiment and got hold of the Vicomte. It should be mentioned that the Vicomte did not have a good reputation with the populace of Caen. His superiors had previously reprimanded him for brutal behaviour towards both civilians and his soldiers. On the day he grossly underestimated the seriousness of the revolt and allegedly even had the audacity to mock the starving people. 

Nevertheless, the punishment meted out was hardly proportional. The days leading up the that fateful day had been full of tension and when rumours spread that the Major was going to retake the Château de Guillaume (occupied by revolutionaries a few days earlier) anger increased. Finally, when an angry exchange resulted in a death near the soldiers' barracks. In an attempt to calm the crowd he decided to appear before them and he was promised a safe conduct by the Provisional Committee. However, making his way to the Hôtel de Ville he was immediately surrounded by revolutionaries. They beat him with cudgels and shouted insults at him as he passed by. On the steps of the Hôtel he was essentially sentenced to death - although the atmosphere was far more like that of a lynching than a trial.

Billedresultat for hotel de ville caen
The Hôtel de Ville where the Vicomte was slaughtered

First, he was shot (allegedly 150 times even after his death) and then Henri was beheaded but that was not enough to satisfy the blood-thirst of the mob. They cut off his legs and then his arms, tore open his rib-cage and continued to devour him. The head was harder to get off but eventually they succeeded. Especially, the spectacle of a woman literally eating his heart extracted cheers from the watching crowd.
The remaining spectators amused themselves with playing ball with the head and dismembered body parts. A make-shift grill was quickly erected and pieces of his flesh were put on it. The intestines were pulled out and punctured so that faecal matter splatters the streets and mixed with the blood running down them. Finally, his head was skewered on a spade laying nearby.

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