Story of the French Revolution - Alice Birkhead

The Emigrants

More romantic than any fiction were the adventures of the aristocrats who fled France, knowing what might befall them when their order ceased to govern there.

The Shepherd's Crook (La Houlette) was a welcome sight to ladies and gentlemen of fortune travelling in hot haste to join the army of the Princes and fight under the white Royalist flag. They could venture to cast away the tricolour cockade they hated as the symbol of the people's rule when they reached this first house bordering on Austrian territory. "We are safe now," they would declare rather prematurely, for the boundary-post put courage into the trembling. "There is the spread eagle of the Holy Roman Empire." It was painted on the other side of the board which depicted the fleur-de-lys of France. It seemed to offer shelter and protection, though the whole district was under the control of a brigand, Moneuse, whose methods were successful in Paris, where he took part in violent measures. His name conveyed nothing to the fugitives, glad to cross the frontier into Belgium, Holland, Austria, or Switzerland. Many of the noblest joined the army, sent to reinstate King Louis. There were no distinctions of rank preserved in those motley regiments, where so many different renderings of the French language might be heard.

Women were not unknown in the battles fought for the losing cause of Royalty. A brave Norman wife was as bold in arms as any knight of ancient legend. Le Chevalier de Haussey was her name, and she earned it by splendid service. The Norman nobility had to leave small estates which would expose them to the hatred of the peasants. Bois-Manselet was a pleasant retreat, not great enough to offend, one would imagine, but the owner of it was obliged to leave his home for warfare. Francois de Bennes knew that his pleas would be disregarded by his tenants. He had a faithful companion to go to the wars with him. Louise de Haussey, married twelve years before and the mother of two children, had a spirit as virile as that of Charlotte Corday. She was hard-featured, and very tall and strong. In uniform, none could guess her secret. She had the rank of lieutenant, and fought side by side with her so-called brother. There were many hours of peril to be suffered, but she loved fighting. Her weapons were always in fine order, and her duties performed very thoroughly.

After Valmy, the two comrades had to leave France and seek another regiment. The emigrant must fight under any leader who would enrol him against the Revolutionary armies. Holland had the good fortune to engage the Chevalier de Haussey and her comrade. They had no home and no money. The only occupation they could honourably follow was that of arms. Danger and fatigue were the merest trifles to those of high Norman lineage. It was the Chevalier who carried her fellow-soldier to the ambulance, and saw him borne to safety after he fell wounded. She went back to the battle herself without wasting time in lamentations. The legion still seemed her natural refuge after Francois died, and Holland could not employ her further. She went over to England in 1795, and was with the desperate force attacking Quiberon.

France beat back those who fought under other standards. One soldier in the repulse had two children she might have regained, if successful. She was taken prisoner, and condemned to death at the end of months of hardship. She escaped in a woman's clothes by the aid of a kindly succourer, and resided for some time in London. She was so poor that she attempted to write her adventures in imitation of fellow emigrants. There were not many occupations to help to support existence on the narrow income allowed to the exiled. They had been idle and frivolous for the most part, and accomplishments were difficult to turn to account in a commercial country.

Some of the old order were reduced to teaching elegance of deportment and the dances of the Court. Others earned a living by instruction in foreign languages. It was almost impossible for them to give up every little luxury. The Norman Amazon found writing a harder task than the use of sword or pistol. She had only used a pen for writing simple orders for her servants or occasional letters to her friends. She was unlikely to make much money, and at Hamburg had no better fortune. The people of North Germany had little sympathy for the unfortunate Royalists who swarmed there. It was pleasanter in England the Chevalier decided, but news came at last of the family at Bois-Manselet.

Louise's daughter was sought in marriage. The suitor had to gain the consent of parents, provided that they were still living. This missive sought the bride's father and mother, and reached the latter only. She went back to the old estate, prepared to sit by the chimney-corner. The cause of the Royalists had been lost, and soon she was a grandmother.

Yet the Chevalier had not died within the woman's heart. The call of arms came, and was answered by the old campaigner. She decked herself in uniform and set out to defend the King's flag, again in danger. But the hopes of Royalists had been crushed too often, and the will to fight was there without the strength for it. The sword dropped from the hand of the old woman, who had helped to besiege Thionville and borne a stout heart on many battlefields. The Chevalier de Haussey must cease to wear the honor of her rank as lieutenant, though Normandy was proud of a daughter so valiant. Her own family now expected her to sit in the chimney-corner.

There were many pining in foreign lands for the fireside where strangers sat. The widow of Philippe Egalite or Citoyenne Penthievre, sickened long in banishment for the fair country of her youth. She had seen the strangest vicissitudes since the death of Equality on the scaffold. At the house of Dr Belhomme she found another lover. Their courtship was surely without parallel even in that fevered epoch.

Rouzet was an honest professor of law, who had come to Paris as a member of the Convention. He did not understand the real meaning of the Revolution, and was far from approving the opinions of the Mountain. Suspicion fell on him because he refused to vote for the death of the King, and his protest against the arrest of the Girondins caused him to be declared an outlaw. From the barracks which was his first prison the elderly lawyer was removed to the house of Dr Belhomme. There he was attracted by the gentle widow of Philippe. She was over forty, but still charming, and listened to Rouzet with more pleasure, because her first marriage had been unhappy.

Rouzet was released, accepting the privilege with some reluctance, though he found himself able to help the Citoyenne Penthievre. She was likely to suffer for her high birth, and the Council would not grant her freedom. She was ordered to proceed into exile as soon as she left her refuge in the house of Belhomme, the "widow Orleans" being dangerous still to the Directory.

The unfortunate Princess was the least practical of women, and thought so many packages necessary for her comfort that there was hardly room in the old Court "berline" for herself and her attendants. The whole retinue set out for Spain, where the Bourbon monarch offered shelter to Royal relatives in distress. It was a tedious journey, diversified by various accidents to the vehicles, which were tied up with string and mended clumsily. Before the party crossed the frontier some officials made a strange discovery—Rouzet was dragged from beneath the piles of luggage and questioned angrily. He declared that he could not bear to be separated from Citoyenne Penthievre, but despite his entreaties he was arrested and sent to the fort of Bellegarde as a prisoner.

The Directory acted leniently toward this old man with the tender attachment to an aristocrat. They suffered him to rejoin her in Spain at a very undignified residence, which was all the King placed at the disposal of his cousin.

The Princess found it almost impossible to maintain her companions in exile, numbering twenty-one persons, at the tiny villa of Sarria, which her cousin Charles IV had furnished meanly. She was saddened by her reception till a title was conferred on Rouzet. Her lover was henceforth to be known as M. le Comte de Folmon. The Spanish King was willing to give anything that cost so little.

It was not till 1814 that the widow returned to France and took up her abode within the Chateau d'Ivey. She was beloved by the Comte de Folmon to the end, and as a reward for his faithful devotion, insisted that he should be entombed on his death with those of Royal blood.

[Illustration] from Story of the French Revolution by Alice Birkhead


The Princess was the mother of three sons, one of whom had a life as romantic as his mother's before he ascended the throne of France as Louis Philippe. The Court was held in strange places after it vanished from stately Versailles. Princes and princesses had to live very much as ordinary mortals, and were perpetually surprised to find that it was possible. Not all of them had the firm will and heroic mind of Madame Royale the King's daughter, who survived her well-loved family and knew all the dark secrets of the Temple.

The Princess was not released immediately after the fall of Robespierre. She had to sit in complete solitude within the four walls of that little bare room which she kept so beautifully with her own hands. She was refused the necessaries of life very often, and not given the books she desired to have as some slight solace in her loneliness.

A certain wave of sentimental Royalism beat upon her prison walls during 1795, but the young girl was hard to flatter by the multitude of poems and songs which were composed in her honor and even in the honor of her goat and dog! She had known sorrow so supreme that she felt a dislike for all dramatic expressions of feeling. "I do not like scenes," she said to a woman who went down on her knees to thank her for some favour. She recalled very vividly the scenes of the drama in which her own parents had figured. There were happier days in store for the last of Louis' children, yet she could never know youth nor recapture any of youth's pleasures. "Sadness was imprinted on her features and revealed in her attitude."

Madame Royale went from the Temple to the Court of Vienna where she lived for three years, refusing to marry the Archduke Charles of Austria. She rejoined her father's brother, the Count of Provence, afterwards Louis XVIII, and accompanied him faithfully in his exile later. Her husband was the Duke of Anjouleme, who was also her cousin, being the son of the Count of Artois. She tried to uphold the Royal cause against the conquering Napoleon at Bordeaux, and made so gallant a struggle that the general said she was the "only man in her family."

In banishment the Duchess of Anjouleme still loved France, and liked to remember the ill-fated Tuileries. She found her only consolation in religion, and tended most zealously the abbe who had accompanied her father to the scaffold when the old priest succumbed to an attack of contagious fever. She lived very long after the dark days of the Temple, but always in her mind were the scenes of the Revolution which had robbed her of everything except life and the spirit of true heroism.