Sunday, 21 April 2019

The Sang Froid of the Marquis de Favras

Thomas de Mahy, Marquis de Favras had been attached to the Swiss Guards under the command of the Comte de Provence. Although he retired in 1775 (not being able to keep up the expenses of being an officer) and travelled abroad, he returned in 1789 to aid Louis XVI and the Comte de Provence.

Apparently, the Comte de Provence had hatched a plot to liberate his brother, Louis XVI, and the rest of the royal family from the Tuileries. However, the Comte was short of cash and asked the Marquis de Favras to obtain a loan. Thus, the Marquis de Favras became involved with the plot - but with fatal consequences. A couple of officers whom Favras entrusted with vital information betrayed him. Soon, a leaflet circulated Paris in which the Comte de Provence was accused of having around 30.000 soldiers ready to lay siege to Paris; it was rumoured that the Comte de Provence was to become absolute regent once the king and queen had been smuggled out of France. Furthermore, the leaflet claimed that the conspirators had planned to starve the Parisians into submission and kill the leaders of the liberal movement including Lafayette. 

Marquis de Favras

Both the Marquis and Marquise de Favras were imprisoned on the night between 24-25 December 1789 and the Comte de Provence denied having had anything to do with Favras for at least 15 years. The two were split up and he was taken to the Grand Châtelet. His trial was a remarkably lengthy one. It lasted for over two months and caused a great deal of controversy. The fact was that very little evidence existed that could prove his guilt of "planning against the people of France". Even staunchly revolutionary editors admitted that there was little to go on.

Thomas de Mahy could perhaps have been released. However, his fellow-Royalist supports attempted to free him from his captivity by force on 26 January 1790. This appeared to the Parisians to be only a confirmation of the validity of the charge and his trial was resumed on the 18 February 1790. He was found guilty by a majority of 32 to six despite proclaiming his innocence. The entire trial was a farce. It was an open secret that the Marquis was not guilty of the trumped up charges. Of the twelve witnesses brought before the court, only two "spoke to any serious facts" - and even these contradicted each other. Apparently, even one of the judges had the audacity to approach the Marquis and state that it was clear that he was innocent but his life had to be sacrificed to keep the public peace. Throughout it all, an angry mob had surrounded the courtroom and demanded the death of the Marquis. The Marquis de Favras was sentenced to hang on 19 February 1790.

Knowing that he had been abandoned by the Comte de Provence, the Marquis de Favras offered to give his captors a few names for a reprieve. However, they rejected a reprieve but still demanded the names. In turn, Favras refused to name the others involved in the conspiracy - even the Comte de Provence. 

Billedresultat for marquis de favras
Execution of the Marquis

On 19 February 1790, the Marquis de Favras was taken to the Place de Grève on foot. He was dressed only in his breeches and shirt - no hat and no shoes. In true medieval fashion a plaque was hung from his neck proclaiming him to be a "conspirator against the state"; likewise the noose was draped around his throat. His execution would be the first in which a nobleman was hanged rather than being given a more "honourable" execution. Thomas showed little emotion during his final moments. When his death warrant was read aloud to him, he famously responded "I see you have made three spelling mistakes".

He then climbed the ladder to the gallows and addressed the crowd. Once again he proclaimed that he died an innocent man and bade the executioner do his duty. The Marquis was then hanged. It was only with considerable effort that the guards prevented the assembled crowd from tearing his body down and placing his head on a pike.

His widow and child were presented the following day to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who gave them a pension. The royal family had been following his trial and was deeply affected by the outcome; sadly they were not allowed to show their grief outwardly.

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