Chateaubriand's memoirs, XVI, 2

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XVI- Chapter 2
The Death of the Duc d’Enghien

Chantilly, November 1837

Like a migrating bird, restlessness seized me during the month of October which would have forced a change of climate on me if I had only had the use of wings, and sufficient time to spare: the clouds which sped across the sky made me envy their flight. In order to evade this instinct I rushed off to Chantilly. I wandered the lawns where old guardsmen shuffled along at the edge of the woods. A flight of crows scudding in front of me, among the broom, copses and clearings, led me to the lakes of Commelle. Death had already breathed on the friends who once accompanied me to the White Queen’s Castle: these secluded sites were no more than a sad horizon, opening, for an instant, into my past. In the days of René, I would have discovered life’s mysteries in the Thève stream: its course steals among horsetails and moss; reeds veil it; it dies away among the pools that nourish its birth, endlessly vanishing, endlessly renewing: those waters charmed me when I bore within me a wilderness with its phantoms, who smiled on me despite their melancholy, and whom I adorned with flowers.

Returning beside the barely visible hedgerows, rain surprised me; I took refuge under a beech tree: its last leaves were falling like my days; its crown like my hair was thinning; it was marked on its trunk with a red circle, for felling, like me. Back at my inn, with an armful of autumn plants, and in a mood hardly disposed for joy, I will recount for you the death of Monsieur le Duc d’Enghien, in sight of the ruins of Chantilly.

That death, at first, froze all hearts with terror; people dreaded the return of Robespierre’s reign. Paris thought it saw the return of one of those days one sees only once in a lifetime, the day of Louis XVI’s execution. Bonaparte’s servants, friends and relatives were dismayed. Abroad, if popular feeling was swiftly stifled by diplomatic language, the event none the less touched the crowd’s heart. Among the family of Bourbon exiles the coup penetrated deeply: Louis XVIII returned his Order of the Golden Fleece to the King of Spain, which Bonaparte happened to have been decorated with; its despatch was accompanied by this letter, which does honour to the royal spirit:

‘Sir and dear cousin, there can be nothing in common between myself and the great criminal whom audacity and fate have placed on a throne which he has had the barbarity to stain with the pure blood of a Bourbon, the Duc d’Enghien. Religion may oblige me to pardon an assassin; but the tyrant over my people must be my enemy forever. Providence, for reasons which are inexplicable, may condemn me to end my days in exile; but neither my contemporaries, nor posterity, will be able to say that, in times of adversity, I showed myself unworthy to occupy, until my last breath, the throne of my ancestors.’

One must not forget another name which was associated with that of the Duc d’Enghien: Gustave-Adolphe, since dethroned and banished, was the only king then reigning who dared to raise his voice to protect the young French prince. He ordered an aide-de-camp to be sent from Carlsruhe with a letter to Bonaparte; the letter arrived too late: the last of the Condé no longer existed. Gustave-Adolphe returned his Order of the Black Eagle to the King of Prussia, as Louis XVIII had returned his Golden Fleece to the King of Spain. Gustave declared to the heir of Frederick the Great that in accord with the laws of chivalry he could not consent to be the brother-in-arms of the murderer of the Duc d’Enghien. (Bonaparte had received the Black Eagle.) How much bitter derision there was expressed by those nigh on foolish tokens of chivalry, suppressed everywhere except in the heart of an unfortunate king on behalf of a murdered friend; a noble sympathy towards misfortune, one which lived concealed and not understood, in an unknowing world of men!

Alas! We had endured too many varying despotisms, and our characters, crushed beneath a series of ills and oppressions, no longer had sufficient energy to allow grief to wear mourning for the death of young Condé for long: little by little the tears dried; fear spilled over in the form of congratulations on the danger which the First Consul had just escaped; it wept with gratitude at having been saved by so saintly a sacrifice. Nero, at Seneca’s dictation, wrote an apologetic letter to the Senate regarding Agrippina’s murder; the senators, carried away, heaped blessings on the magnanimous son who had not feared to pluck out his own heart by so salutary an act of matricide! Society quickly returned to its pleasures; it was afraid of its own mourning: after the Terror, the victims, who had been spared, danced; forced themselves to appear happy, and fearful lest they be suspected of the crime of remembering, displayed the same cheerfulness with which they went to the scaffold.

The Duc d’Enghien was not arrested on the spur of the moment, without thought; Bonaparte had taken account of the various Bourbons in Europe. In a meeting attended by Messieurs de Talleyrand and Fouché, it was noted that the Duc d’Angoulême was in Warsaw with Louis XVIII; the Comte d’Artois and the Duc de Berry were in London, with the Princes de Condé and de Bourbon. The youngest of the Condés was at Ettenheim, in the Duchy of Baden. It appears that Taylor and Drake, English agents, were intriguing on his behalf. The Duc de Bourbon warned his son, on the 16th of June 1803, of the possibility of arrest, in a note to him addressed from London which is extant. Bonaparte summoned his two consular colleagues to him; he first reproached Monsieur Réal bitterly for having left him in ignorance of what was being plotted against him. He listened patiently to their objections: it was Cambacérès who expressed himself most vigorously. Bonaparte thanked him and passed on. That is what I have read in Cambacérès’ Memoirs which one of his nephews, Monsieur de Cambacérès, a Peer of France, has allowed me to consult, in a most obliging manner of which I retain the grateful memory. The missile once sent on its way does not return; it goes where the engineer sends it, and descends. In order to execute Bonaparte’s orders, it was necessary to violate German territory, and that territory was promptly violated. The Duc d’Enghien was arrested at Ettenheim. With him, not General Dumouriez, but only the Marquis de Thumery and a few other émigrés of little renown were found: that should have been a warning that an error had been made. The Duc d’Enghien was taken to Strasbourg. The commencement of the catastrophe of Vincennes has been recounted for us by the Prince himself: he left behind a little journal of the journey from Ettenheim to Strasbourg: the hero of the tragedy steps onto the forestage to pronounce the prologue:

On Tuesday the 15th of March, at Ettenheim, my house surrounded by a detachment of dragoons, pickets and military police; in total, about two hundred men, two generals, the colonel of dragoons, colonel Charlot of the Strasbourg military police, at five o’clock (in the morning). At five-thirty the doors broken open, taken to Le Moulin near La Tuilerie. My papers removed, sealed. Led in a cart, between two lines of fusiliers, to the Rhine. Embarked for Rheinau. Disembarked and marched on foot to Pfortsheim. Breakfast at the inn. Climbed into a carriage with Colonel Charlot, the sergeant of the gendarmerie, a gendarme on the box seat, and Grünstein. Arrived at Strasbourg, at Colonel Charlot’s house, towards five-thirty. Transferred, half an hour later, in a fiacre, to the citadel ………………………………………………………………………………...
Sunday the 18th, they came to fetch me at one-thirty in the morning. I was not given time to dress. I embraced my unfortunate companions, and my people. I left alone with two officers of the gendarmerie and two gendarmes. Colonel Charlot announced to me that we were going to see the Divisional General, who had received orders from Paris. Instead of that, I found a carriage with six post-horses waiting in the Place de l’Église. Lieutenant Petermann climbed up beside me, sergeant Blitersdorff on the box seat, two gendarmes inside, the other outside.’

Here the shipwrecked voyager, about to be swallowed up, broke off his logbook.

Arriving about four o’clock in the evening at one of the gates of the capital, where the Strasbourg road terminated, the carriage, instead of entering Paris, followed the outer boulevard and stopped at the Château of Vincennes. The Prince, descending from the carriage in the inner courtyard, was conducted to a room in the fortress, and locked in, at which point he fell asleep. As the Prince approached Paris, Bonaparte affected an unnatural calm. On the 18th of March he left for Malmaison; it was Palm Sunday. Madame Bonaparte, who, with all her family, was told of the Prince’s arrest, spoke to him about it. Bonaparte replied: ‘You understand nothing of politics.’ Colonel Savary had become one of Bonaparte’s regular companions. Why? Because he had seen the First Consul in tears at Marengo. Men apart must suppress their own tears, they who put ordinary men under the yoke. Tears are one of those weaknesses by which a witness can render himself master of a great man’s will.

It is certain that the First Consul drew up all the orders for Vincennes. It was stated in one of those orders, that if the sentence anticipated was a death sentence, it was to be carried out immediately. I believe that version of events, even though I cannot prove it, since the orders have vanished. Madame de Rémusat, who on the evening of the 20th March, was playing chess at Malmaison with the First Consul, heard him mutter a few lines on Augustus’ clemency; she thought that Bonaparte had come to himself, and that the Prince was safe. No; fate had pronounced its oracle. When Savary re-appeared at Malmaison, Madame Bonaparte guessed the whole unhappy business. The First Consul shut himself up alone for several hours. And then the breeze sighed, and all was over.


Bonaparte’s order, of the 20th Ventôse Year XII (20th March 1804), appointed a military commission, composed of seven members nominated by the Governor-General of Paris (Murat), to meet at Vincennes, to judge the former Duc d’Enghien, accused of carrying arms against the Republic etc.
Executing this order, the same day, 20th Ventôse, Joachim Murat nominates to the aforesaid commission, seven officers; namely:
General Hulin, commanding the Grenadiers of the Consular Guard, President;
Colonel Guitton, commanding the 1st Regiment Cuirassiers;
Colonel Bazancourt, commanding the 4th Regiment Light Infantry;
Colonel Ravier, commanding the 18th Infantry Regiment;
Colonel Barrois, commanding the 96th Infantry Regiment;
Colonel Rabbe, commanding the 2nd Regiment Paris Municipal Guard
Citizen d’Autancourt, Major of the Élite Gendarmerie, who will fulfil the functions of Recording-Officer.


Captain d’Autancourt, Squadron Commander Jacquin, of the Élite Legion, two gendarmes from the same corps, Lerva and Tharsis, and citizen Noirot, a lieutenant in the same corps, go to the Duc d’Enghien’s room; they wake him: he has no more than a quarter of an hour to wait before returning to his rest. The recording-officer, assisted by Molin, captain in the 18th Regiment, chosen as clerk of the court by the aforesaid recording-officer, interrogates the Prince.
Asked for his name, forenames, age and place of birth?
Replied that his name was Louis-Antoine-Henri de Bourbon, Duc d’Enghien, born the 2nd of August 1772, at Chantilly.
Asked where he had lived since his departure from France?
Replied that having accompanied his relatives, and the Army of Condé being formed, he had been completely involved in the war and that before that he was involved in the campaign of 1792, in Brabant, with the Bourbon Army.
Asked if he had been to England at any time, and if that power had granted him a regular allowance?
Replied that he had never been there: that England did grant him an allowance which was all he had to live on.
Asked what rank he held in the Army of Condé?
Replied: Commander of the Vanguard in 1796, before that campaign a volunteer at his grandfather’s headquarters, but always, since 1796, Commander of the Vanguard.
Asked if he had known General Pichegru; and had dealings with him?
Replied: I don’t think I have ever seen him. I have never met with him. I know he wished to meet me. I congratulate myself on not having known him, given the vile means they say he intended to employ, if what they say is true.
Asked if he knew ex-general Dumouriez, and had dealings with him?
Replied: No longer.
From this, the present account has been drawn up, and signed by the Duc d’Enghien, Squadron Commander Jacquin, Lieutenant Noirot, the two gendarmes and the Recording-Officer.

Before signing the final account of his interrogation, the Duc d’Enghien said: ‘I am making an official request for a personal audience with the First Consul. My name, rank, opinions and the horror of my situation make me hopeful that he will not refuse my request.’


At two in the morning, on the 21st of March, the Duc d’Enghien was led to the room where the commission was sitting, and repeated what he had said during his interrogation by the Recording-Officer. He persisted in his declaration: he added that he was prepared for war, and that he wished to serve in England’s latest war with France. ‘Being asked if he had anything to say in his own defence, he replied he had no more to say.

The President had the accused removed; the council deliberated in private, the President took a vote, starting with the most junior rank; then, having given his opinion last, by a unanimous vote declared the Duc d’Enghien to be guilty, and applied to him the article…of the law…so designated…and in consequence condemned him to death. It was ordered that the present judgement be executed at once at the behest of the Recording-Officer, after having read the sentence to the condemned man, in the presence of various detachments of the garrison.

Completed, closed and sentence passed, in continuous session, at Vincennes, on the day, month and year above, and we have duly signed.’

The grave being completed, filled, and closed, ten years of oblivion, general consensus, and astounding glory covered it; the grass grew to the sound of salvoes announcing victory, to illuminations lighting the Papal coronation, the marriage of the daughter of the Caesars, and the birth of the King of Rome. Only a few afflicted individuals, wandering the woods, adventured a furtive glance into the depths of the moat towards the dreadful place, while a handful of prisoners observed it from the heights of the keep that enclosed them. The Restoration came: the soil of the grave was disturbed, and with it various consciences; each sought to justify itself. Monsieur Dupin the Elder published his discussion of the matter; Monsieur Hulin, President of the military commission, spoke out; Monsieur le Duc de Rovigo entered into controversy by accusing Monsieur de Talleyrand; a third party replied on Monsieur de Talleyrand’s behalf, and Napoleon raised his great voice from the rock of St Helena.

These documents should be reproduced and studied, in order to assign to each of the actors the role he fulfilled and the place which he ought to occupy in the drama. It is night, and we are at Chantilly; it was night when the Duc d’Enghien was at Vincennes.