Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Last Courage of the Princesse de Monaco

Born into the Choiseul-Stainville family, Françoise Thérèse de Choiseul-Stainville had become Princesse de Monaco by marriage in 1782. Actually, both Françoise and her husband, Joseph, had been absent from France but Françoise returned to Paris in late 1793. Her object: to see her daughters again. Her return to Paris caused some stir amongst the new government. Her father-in-law, Honore of Monaco, had managed to get them to recognize some of his status as a foreign prince and Françoise was thus put under surveillance rather than immediately arrested.

However, it was not to last. Julia Kavanagh relates that she found a sanctum at the house of a friend but feared that (should her situation become dire) she would only expose her friend to harm and consequently left. In the depths of the 1793-94 winter she was arrested on charges of conspiracy; as it happens, all members of the princely family of Monaco still in France were arrested. At first she taken to the gloomy La Petite Force where she spent some time before being transferred to another prison.  She was not to linger too long here either before being finally transferred to the prison of Saint-Pélagie.

It was while she stayed at Saint-Pélagie that she met with another bearer of the title of princesse - the Princesse de Crèquy. The two appears to have taken some comfort in each other's presence; the memoirs of the Princesse de Crèquy certainly testifies to the "great resource" she found in the young Françoise Thérèse. It is thanks to Crèquy's account that we know of the great spirit Françoise Thérèse kept during her imprisonment.

Françoise Thérèse

Not everyone thought her presence so comforting, though. Before long she was denounced which led to a quick "trial" - and an even quicker death sentence. There was but one issue: Françoise Thérèse  claimed to be pregnant. French law did not permit pregnant women to be executed until after the delivery which meant a short breathing space for the Princesse de Monaco. 
However, she could not breathe too easy yet. First, the judges wished to be assured that she was indeed pregnant. This meant that the dignified Françoise had to undergo an examination; considering the conditions of both medical practitioners and the prison it cannot have been a pleasant experience.
A fellow blogger - Madame Guillotine - mentions that this examination was undertaken by a doctor Enguchard, an apothecary Quinquet and a presumed midwife Madame Prioux. 

The result was that they found her not to be pregnant. Françoise herself knew that she had not been with child; she even gives an explanation of her deceit. According to a letter by her written following the examination, she lied to give herself one more day for a very modest purpose: she wished to cut her own hair rather than have the executioner's crude knife do it. It was her wish that it be given to her children - without bloodstains. 

There is another element that I think should not be overlooked. Not only was she willing to undergo a most probably humiliating examination for her children's sake; she was also willing to cast shame on herself. While she was in Paris, her husband was not and had not been recently enough to father a child - therefore, any child must be the result of an illicit affair. Françoise refused to reveal the identity of this man - how could she have done otherwise considering that he did not exist? - and thus risked her reputation. 

By using a broken window pane, Françoise got what she wished. She cut her hair and sent it to her children's governess with a last message for them. She had requested a bit of rouge; in her words, if she was to "turn pale" no one would notice.

On the morning of 27 July 1794 her judges signed the final death warrant. The nature of the revolutionary trials meant that she would be executed that same day.

Shortly before her execution she was transferred to the Conciergerie - the same prison Marie Antoinette had spent her last days in. These were the last days of the great terror; the very cart that was to take her to the scaffold was one of the last. Françoise showed exceptional courage on her final morning. When she was led down past the cells she said her last farewells to her fellow-prisoners; she wished them a better fate than hers before being led into the street. With determination she bade a porter convey her hair and message to her children; she had managed to conceal the package in her clothing. She even found the strength to support a fellow condemned woman with the phrase: "Courage! Only crime can show weakness!"

Françoise Thérèse would need all the courage she could muster. Not only was the cart delayed on route to the execution site; she was also the last to mount the steps. Consequently, she had to witness the bloody spectacle fully knowing that the same fate awaited her. Nevertheless, she showed no fear when her turn came. She was 27 years old.

The Princesse de Monaco was not to have a lofty burial site. She was stripped of her clothing and dumped into a mass grave at the Picpus cemetery. 

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