Cassini family
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The Babaud and Masson families
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Alexandre Frédéric Jacques Masson and Angélique-Dorothée Babaud

A detail from ‘The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rouge with her Sons’, 1787, by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun – with the permission of the National Gallery of Art, Washington

The detail to the right is taken from a painting by the French artist, Elisabeth Vigée-LeBrun, and is of the ‘Marquise de Pezé and the Marquise de Rouget with her two children’, 1787. Pezé and Pezay are alternative spellings of the same name. Caroline de Murat was the wife of Alexandre Frederic Jacques Masson, Marquis de Pezay, the half brother of Angélique-Dorothée Babaud, who became Mme de Cassini on her marriage with Dominique Joseph Cassini, a non-scientific member of the Cassini family.

It was my intention when I began writing notes on the Cassini family, to deal only with the more famous scientific members of the Cassini and Maraldi family. However, in my research I have discovered that some of the related members are also notable, albeit for different reasons. One of these is Alexandre Frédéric Jacques Masson, or the Marquis de Pezay as he became known. Another is his sister, Angélique-Dorothée Babaud who married Dominique Joseph Cassini, the younger brother of César François Cassini – Cassini III, in 1754. He was thirty-nine when they married and she was seventeen, later becoming known as Mme de Cassini, the Marquise de Cassini.

In addition to learning more about a number of individuals, these were interesting times…

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Revolution in France

So, first a small digression relating to the dramatic changes at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries in France. Bear in mind that there are different conceptual views as to the dating of both the start and end of the French Revolution.

A detail from an engraving of the Bastille around 1780

At its broadest it might be considered that revolution in France began when the citizens of Grenoble rose against the King in June 1788 and refused to pay his taxes; and that it ended with the death of Napoleon in 1821 and the beginnings of democracy. However, the 14th July 1789 witnessed the citizens of Paris storming the Bastille, and while this was mainly symbolic as the Bastille contained only seven prisoners, the military was routed and the governor, Bernard de Launay, was executed. This is the date that most accept revolution to have begun, and is that celebrated by France as its National Day. Napoleon returned to France from Egypt on the 9th October 1799, and overthrew the Directory on the 9th November. Many date the end of the revolution to this date.

Incidentally, there is a record that the Comtesse de Cassini was involved in a mass following a two day tour on the 2nd and 3rd August 1789, by Abbé Pheillipes, Dean of the Chapel of Saint Marcel, of the combined districts of Val-de-Grâce and Saint Jacques du Haut Pas for those who died in the revolution and the return of peace which introduced the ‘era of French liberty’. In this, the Comtesse de Cassini was said to be representing one of the most influential families of the district.

Three phases are considered to define the Revolution. The first phase lasted until 1792 in which period the monarchy was rejected, the Church subordinated to the State, and a number of freedoms enacted.

This was followed by two years of the Terror when the King and Queen, many of the nobility and those who supported monarchy were executed. It is considered to have ended with the execution of Robespierre, one of the leaders of the revolution, and many of his supporters in July 1794.

The third phase might be considered to have lasted until the appointment of Napoleon Bonaparte to the position of First Consul when France again had an established leader. This was further consolidated on the 18th May 1804 when the Senate elected him Emperor of France and, on the 2nd December 1804, famously crowning himself. Incidentally, he also crowned himself, this time with an iron crown, on the 26th May 1805 to symbolise his control of Italy.

This was an extraordinary period of European history, coinciding with the end of what has been termed the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement asserting that rational human reason can be used to combat, if not resolve, the difficulties which beset the world.

Revolution was in the air both in Europe as well as America. Britain was fighting in America where France was supporting the American revolution. Britain and France formally declared war in 1778: Britain on the 6th February and France on the 10th July. This year saw Napoleon sent, at the age of nine, to the Collège militaire royal de Brienne in Paris. In 1785 he graduated as a Second Lieutenant at the age of sixteen and rapidly progressed in the French army which was fighting on a number of fronts before, through and after the Revolution. He was named général de division on the 15th October 1795 and général en chef de l’armée de l’Interieur on the 26th October 1785. He was twenty-six. Campaigns continued in Europe and Africa with the tide of war eventually turning against France. On the 11th April 1814 Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to Elba. On the 3rd January 1815 he returned to France and marched on Paris. 18th June 1815 saw the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and the 15th July 1815 his exile to St. Helena where he died on the 5th March 1821.

During this period Britain had an interest in supporting activities against France on the continent. The result of this was a high level of intrigue and espionage. There are interesting files in British archives dealing with the problems of controlling the borders and, particularly, ensuring that ‘French picture framers and Italian mirror makers’ did not slip through the system.

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Dominique Joseph Cassini

Detail of a portrait of Dominique Joseph Cassini 1780 – with the permission of NiceArtGallery

Born in Paris on the 27th November 1715, Dominique Joseph Cassini died at Fillerval, near Thury, Oise on the 17th April 1790, being then recognised as the Marquis de Cassini following his elevation to that title by Royal Patent on the 19th February 1776. He was the younger brother of Dominique Jean Cassini and César Françoise Cassini, and had two younger sisters, Elisabeth Géneviève Cassini and Suzanne Françoise Cassini.

His was a distinguished military career. Starting at the age of seventeen with his becoming a Musketeer of the Guard of the King in 1732, he saw continuous advancement. He became a Captain of a Polish regiment of cavalry from the 19th February 1734 at the age of nineteen, and later held the titles of Knight of the Royal and Military Order of Saint Luigi of France. He was promoted to the First Company ‘Villeroy’ of the Bodyguard of the King of France on the 9th April 1745, distinguishing himself in the Flanders campaign (1744-1747) in that year. He was promoted to Camp Marshall on the 1st December 1745 and to Brigadier in 1759, then again promoted to Field Marshall of the Royal Army on the 16th April 1767. In 1775, by Decree of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Dominique Joseph was given the right to sit on the Senate of the city of Siena, Italy, the location from which the Cassini family are said to have originated. I should also add that for some time he was Captain of the Royal Hunt of the Prince de Condé.

As I mentioned previously, Dominique Joseph married Angélique-Dorothée Babaud in 1754, in the middle of the military career that had, perhaps, delayed marriage for him. Nevertheless the woman he married had an interesting background as had, to an even greater extent, her brother. Perhaps, more importantly, she brought to her marriage with Dominique Joseph the substantial dowry of 560,000 livres, equivalent to over 6,050 ozs of gold.

I know little more about Dominique Joseph other than that the Hôtel Cassini, at nº. 32 rue de Babylone in Paris was constructed for him in 1768 on a parcel of land of 5,525 sq.m. However, it was returned to the family of Antoine de Landrieffe from whom Dominique Joseph had borrowed the funds to buy the land, but who had not been repaid. Two years later the property was appropriated by the Revolution on the 16th Nivôse Year IV – 6th January 1796 – and given, ten years later to (later General) Marie François Auguste Caffarelli (1766-1849), regarded as gifted and one of the best servants of the First Empire. It was bought by the State in 1976 and is now the home of the Direction générale de l’administration et de la fonction publique. Mme de Cassini had all her property confiscated by the State which I assume would have included nº. 32 rue de Babylone, or her salon at nº. 14 rue de Babylone, or both.

Partial Babaud and Masson family tree

The Babaud and Masson families this partial family tree opens in a new window – prospered through favourable marriages and alliances as well as successful business deals and partnerships, in the process doing much to advance the French rôle in the industrial revolution that was now moving through Europe.

In Britain there is considerable information on the British industrial revolution but we learn little about what was happening in Europe at that time. It seems that the French began their industrial revolution at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and it is apparent that the activities of Pierre Babaud and Jacques Masson were important in moving this forward. But a combination of the French Revolution and the rise and rule of Napoleon had the effect of slowing the process of industrialisation in France, despite the efforts and activities of entrepreneurs such as those in the Masson and Babaud families.

The families became increasingly powerful from their wealth, acquiring noble titles associated with their buying of land, hence ‘de Guérigny’ and ‘de Pezay’. Their considerable wealth came particularly from their establishment and development of iron forges in the area in which they operated, the department of Nièvres, in the French region of Burgundy. It was Pierre Babaud and Jacques Masson who can be argued to have established the first industrial empire based on iron, Jacques being the former business partner of Pierre Babaud’s father, Jean.

The association of Jacques Masson and Pierre Babaud – both Protestants who converted to Catholicism – which began in 1725, carried on until the former’s death in June 1741 at the age of fifty-seven. Pierre continued to run the iron forges successfully. In ten years the company had expanded into thirty parishes and comprised five blast furnaces, seventeen forging mills, five forging mills for the production of anchors, mast collars, metal sheets, and cannonballs. He provided iron and anchors for the ports of war having obtained a virtual monopoly in 1762, as well as for the French India Company. The organisation was able to produce up to 4,000 tons of iron for the Navy, and employed a workforce of more than 2,000.

With the peace following the Seven Years’ war in 1763, the government scaled back its needs and Pierre sought to sell the company to Louis XVI in 1769 for 2.4 million livres. This was rejected but, in 1780 Pierre sold it to a private company. On learning of this Louis XVI instructed that the sale be cancelled and paid 3 million livres for it. The company continued to fabricate chains and anchors for the French navy until the 1960s when it was eventually closed down.

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The Babaud family

Jean Baptiste Babaud and his brother, Pierre Babaud, were the second and last of the four children of Pierre Babaud and Marguerite Touhinot. Their older brother, Charles, became a priest and, born between them, was a sister, Louise. Jean and Pierre worked in the lucrative family business providing timber to the French navy.

Jean and Marie Boesnier were married about 1720 and had two daughters, Marie Charlotte Jeanne – who married Louis Jacques Gilbert Robert, Baron de Poiroux and Marquis de Lezardière in 1750 – and Angélique-Dorothée Babaud, the latter and her relationship with the Cassini family being my reason for taking an interest in the Babaud and Masson families.

As I wrote earlier, Pierre and Jean worked in the family business, providing timber to the French navy. In order to cement a business deal, Jacques Masson, a Swiss, gave his fourteen year old daughter, Jacqueline Anne Marie Masson, in marriage to Pierre. They were married on the 4th March 1734.

Jean Babaud died on the 15th December 1738 at St. Eustache, Paris. The following year his widow, Marie, married his business partner, Jacques Masson and a son, Alexandre Frédéric Jacques, was born on the 27th April 1741. Alexandre Frédéric Jacques was six weeks old when his father, Jacques Masson, died in July 1741. Marie, who had been born in April 1708, died in either 1744 or, in accordance with the Graffigny index, 1755.

Pierre Babaud seems to have lived an interesting life, the kind which many others of the Babaud and Masson families enjoyed, involving intrigue and politics in their quest for fame and fortune. By 1740 he was known at Court. There is an interesting story that Pierre even married off his younger daughter, Louise Rose Babaud de la Chaussade, to a hated competitor, Berthier-Bizy who had a nicer chateau than him in Guérigny.

Interestingly, Louise Rose took it upon herself to visit the National Convention – between 1792 and 1795 – in Paris to save the life of her husband when he was arrested as a nobleman. She explained that not only were they not a real noble family, but that they had even invited Jean Jacques Rousseau to their home when he was convalescing in nearby Pougues-les-Eaux.

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The Masson family

Little is known of the origins of the Swiss, Jacques Masson. By 1725 he had become the Director of Finance of Léopold, Duke of Lorraine, where he was briefly jailed on the suspicion of having embezzled a considerable amount. In 1736 he became Chief Clerk to the Controller General of Finances responsible for businesses in Lorraine and, in 1740, Director General of French mines and minerals.

Angélique-Dorothée – Demoiselle Masson following the marriage of her mother, Marie Boësnier, sister of the economist, Paul Boësnier de l’Orme, to Jacques – was now the step-sister of Alexandre Masson who later called himself the Marquis de Pezay; and Jacques Masson was the Seigneur de Guérigny, having bought the title in 1720. Although I believe the dates in the preceding paragraph are correct, my researches have Jacques Masson’s death as being at Versailles on the 12th June 1741, shortly after the birth of his son, his second wife Marie dying three years later in 1744. However, I have also seen a note stating that Mme Masson died in early September 1767.

Be that as it may, some time after Angélique-Dorothée married Dominique Joseph Cassini her brother, Alexandre Frédéric Jacques married Caroline de Murat, a noted beauty though their union produced no children. She is the woman on the left in the portrait at the head of this page. Previously, in 1772 – according to the memoirs of the Duke of Lauzun – believing them to be extremely rich, he had declared his love to Marianne Dorothy Harland, the older daughter of Admiral Sir Robert Harland and, on being rejected, tried the same with the younger daughter, Susannah Edith, but with the same result.

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Alexandre Frédéric Jacques Masson

Born in Versailles on the 27th April 1741, Alexandre was said to be a libertine, a poet, and a courtier with a considerable interest in political intrigue. Born a commoner and known as M. Masson de Pesai, there are a number of references to his having invented his title of Marquis, having taking the name of land owned by his mother near Blois. I have seen a note that his mother obtained it for him in 1759 and, perhaps more authoritatively, that his father had obtained the title of Marquis de Pezay, north of Blois – between Tours and Orleans – in 1755. Whatever his beginnings, he had, or made, good connections and obviously developed and used them. For a time he was advisor to his god-father, the Comte de Maurepas, Louis XVI’s first Prime Minister and mentor, as well as to the Minister of War, Alexandre-Marie-Léonor de Saint-Mauris, the Prince de Montbarrey of whom the infamous Comtesse du Barry, mistress to the King, said he:

made up in pretensions for what he lacked in talent. He was weak, self-important, selfish, fond of women, and endeavoured to preserve all the airs of a man of good breeding in the midst of the grossest debauchery.

Pezay in the uniform of a Dragoon with Claude Joseph Dorat, the writer, on the left – with persmission from the Bibliothèque dauphinoise

The Comtesse may well have been biased in this judgement as the Prince had made an unwelcome and rebuffed pass at her. But it may, of course, be an accurate description, though it would have been a strategic mistake on his part to give her cause for complaint due to her having the ear of the King. However, it is evident that Alexandre had managed to obtain for himself a position of influence and was used to moving in powerful circles.

One of Alexandre’s friends or acquaintances was the fellow King’s Musketeer and writer Claude Joseph Dorat, a man considered to be ambitious well beyond his talent – to the extent that he published his own work illustrated at great expense to ensure sales, and produced shows where he bought up many of the seats in order to imply success of the performances.

This engraving shows Alexandre in the centre wearing his Dragoon’s uniform, with Dorat on the left, though I don’t know who the third person is. Dorat made enemies both with those supporting the Englightenment and those opposing it. This, perhaps, illustrates a little of the complexity in the atmosphere of intrigue of the times, and Dorat may not have been the best person for Alexandre to be associated with.

Alexandre became first a musketeer, then aide-de-camp to Prince de Rohan, Captain of Dragoons, but the positions which Alexandre obtained gave him access to many influential people and in the case of his mentor the Prince de Montbarrey, his wife – Mme de Montbarrey – who became his mistress. But it also gave him access to the Comte de Maillebois who took him under his wing and placed funds and information at his disposal. He was a Colonel by the age of thirty-two.

It appears that Alexandre, by design and in concert with his lover, Mme. de Montbarrey, made himself indispensible to many, even initiating and maintaining secret correspondence with the inexperienced young King Louis XVI himself with the hope of eventually obtaining advancement for them both. There is an amusing account of how he was able to advance himself secretly to the young King, stating he wished for no reward but, within the year having become known and accepted considerable benefit. What is particularly interesting is the manner in which he advertised himself as having competence and intelligence in a wide range of areas of potential interest to the King. In becoming known to the King the latter introduced him to his Prime Minister, Maurepas, suggesting they worked together to advise him. Maurepas, surprised by both the introduction and instruction, told the King he was Alexandre’s godfather. What he obviously didn’t tell the King was that he was extremely irritated by having to take advice from somebody he knew to be inexperienced in much other than poetry. To complicate matters I understand that Mme de Montbarrey was related to Maurepas.

Although it is difficult to apportion the extent to which each helped the other, some of Pezay’s early success was due to introductions and the manoeuverings of his sister, Angélique-Dorothée, Mme de Cassini, by now, following the Marquise de Polignac, the mistress of the marquis de Maillebois, thanks to whom Alexandre entered the army with an officer’s rank of Captain in the Dragoon Regiment de la Chabot. Maillebois took Alexandre under his wing and placed funds and his experience at Alexandre’s disposal, which he consequently wrote down as the ‘Campagnes de Maillebois’. Actually, it is more probable that Alexandre wrote only a part of the book, essentially giving his name to it and writing a few drafts, the preface and dedication.

It is thought that it was Alexandre who engineered the appointment of the future Comptroller General, the Protestant Jacques Necker, to the Finance Ministry, and he is considered to have played a considerable part in the plot to dismiss Turgot, the economist and statesman, in 1776 who had, only two years previously been appointed first as Minister of the Navy and then to Comptroller-General.

Alexandre was also on friendly terms with Voltaire and Rousseau but his character was such that he made powerful enemies, including La Harpe with whom he had been friends while both were at college at Harcourt though appears to have been responsible for the persisting rumour that Alexandre was not a gentleman, nor was his title proper. Perhaps understandably, the constant intrigues finally caused the weakening Maurepas, with whom he was now in direct conflict, to have Alexandre removed to the provinces where he was given the Inspectorate of the Places Maritimes, a post he soon lost through mismanagement. Alexandre Frédéric Jacques Masson, Marquis de Pezay, retired to his estate near Blois and died soon after, on the 6th December 1777, only a year after he married Caroline de Murat, a beautiful young woman of a very good family, but with no fortune.

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Caroline de Murat

Caroline and Alexandre were married on the 24th November 1776 following the signing of the marriage contract by the King and Queen and Royal family though with the apparent indignation of a number of courtiers. On the 6th December the Gazette de France gave him the title of Marquis on the presentation of his wife to Court, again an event heavily resented. Incidentally, I note that in Letter 53 of ‘L’Espion Anglois’ she is referred to as ‘Murard’, and stated as being wealthy as well as beautiful.

Virtually nothing is recorded about Alexandre’s beautiful widow, Caroline de Murat, left on her own a year later. I don’t believe she had any children, though I have found a lead to papers for Henriette de Murat, comtesse de Pezay, but assume that the title passed on to another branch of the family to which she belongs.

It is known that Caroline frequented the salon of the painter, Elisabeth Louise Vigée le Brun, one of her paintings illustrating Caroline with a good friend of hers, also a widow by this time – ‘Caroline de Murat, Marquise de Pezay, and Nathalie-Victorienne de Mortemart, Marquise de Rougé, with Her Sons Alexis-Bonabes and Adrien de Rougé’ – the painting illustrated at the head of this page.

It is not known what happened to Caroline in 1789 and the fall of the Bastille, but it is known that her friend, Marquise de Rougé, left immediately to Switzerland though returned in 1790 to live quietly with Alexandre’s aunt, the Duchesse d’Elbeuf, at the Chateau de Moreuil.

But, in 1791, the Marquise de Rougé, together with her children, mother and Caroline de Murat emigrated to Germany, settling first in Heidelberg then, in 1796, moving to Neustadt, near Vienna and then on to Altoona and Munster, returning to Paris in 1798. I assume that Caroline de Murat travelled with them though rumours are that the pair quarrelled bitterly.

I have not yet been able to discover what happened to Caroline de Murat, Marquise de Pezay subsequently, nor when she died.

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Angélique-Dorothée Cassini

A diagram of the relationships of Angélique-Dorothée, Mme de Cassini – the Marquise de Cassini

Meanwhile, Angélique-Dorothée Babaud became Mme de Cassini when she was married on the 21st April 1754 to Dominique Joseph Cassini, twenty-two years older than her and the younger brother of César François Cassini – the scientist known as Cassini III – and was undertaking a number of liaisons of her own.

One such was a long and public association she enjoyed with the Prince de Condé and, later, with Jean-Baptiste-François Desmarets, marquis de Maillebois and baron de Châteauneuf-en-Thimerais (1682-1762) or, perhaps more likely, with his son, Yves-Marie Desmarets who, in turn, became marquis de Maillebois (1715-1791).

In that socio-cultural climate there certainly may have been others; the Prince de Condé has already been mentioned and, perhaps, she may have had a relationship with the Prussian Ambassador, Goltz, whose views she is said to have been responsible for introducing to both Maillebois and Vergennes, the anti-British Foreign Minister of King Louis XVI.

This diagram illustrates two of these possible relationships, as well as that which her brother, the marquis de Pezay, enjoyed with Madame de Montbarrey, wife of the Prince de Montbarrey. It is likely that the diagram misses other relationships. For instance, Montbarrey had an official mistress, Jeanne Catherine Delachaux, who was married to the painter François Casanova, brother of the more famous Giacomo Girolamo Casanova. In addition to his own two children, Montbarrey officially recognised his two illegitimate children by this relationship. Following the separation from his wife in 1780, Louis Henri, Duc de Bourbon also had another mistress, the opera singer, Marguerite Michelot by whom he had two illegitimate children.

This type of behaviour was not uncommon in the mid to latter part of the eighteenth century in France, but it was conduct attacked by the ancien régime who saw private and public behaviour as being closely related and corrupt. They saw that political intrigue depended to a large extent on personal relationships, a situation that encouraged liaisons and affaires as being necessary for social and public advancement, and which automatically created and maintained social divides.

There is a telling comment in a document discussing Alexandre Frédéric Jacques Masson, but also mentioning his sister, Angélique-Dorothée:

This enterprising personage was brother to the beautiful and famous madame de Cassini, who for some years past had left no means untried to attain celebrity. He was born without fortune, but, like his sister, possessed a kind of wit, an interesting figure, and a versatility of genius, adapted to acquire it. Madame de Cassini, towards the latter part of the reign of the late king, had made herself conspicuous as well by her intrigues as by her lovers. She was visited by ministers, generals, and people of fashion; she undertook to procure places, rail against ministers, and extol or blame the measure of government; she endeavoured even to aspire to greater importance by a presentation at court, and solicited favour, with all her interest; when Lewis XV, who possessed great politeness and respect, as well as weakness, for the sex, decided the affair in these terms; ‘There are but too many intrigues here already; madame de Cassini shall not be presented.’

During the remainder of the reign of the late king, madame de Cassini, by her licentious and coquettish manner of life, contrived to supply the deficiency of fortune. M…M…M…M…M…M… and de Maillebois, were her paramours, and in this distinguished society the marquis of Pezai acquired the elements of intrigue, which he knew how to disguise and adorn, by applying himself to literature, affairs of administration, and the polite arts.

Madame de Cassini had a beautiful voice and was an attractive woman by all accounts. It was written about her that young women can readily move in the society of ministers and the like and that, in older age, these connections maintain their usefulness – though the same document suggests that, at the age of forty-five (in 1782), she had no future. Despite this it is also recorded that Louis XV refused to have her presented at court due to her reputation for intrigue. However, following his death, she was, to some extent, able to ingratiate herself with the new court.

The world in which Mme de Cassini and her brother, the Marquis de Pezay, lived would have been an interesting one. Her relationships with at least the Marquis de Maillebois and the Prince de Condé place her in an important position with regard to the society of the time, though both she and her brother had mixed fortune in their relationships. Some of this may have been self-induced, some a result of the fortunes of those with whom they enjoyed a variety of relationships. This society must have provided a complex area to negotiate as, to an extent perhaps difficult for us to imagine today, this society was both heavily stratified and dependent on patronage.

An image from Mélanie, act III, scene 9 ‘ – with the persmission of CESAR

Those who were, or who considered themselves to be, leaders in society maintained salons at which the great and good regularly attended events and performances, met friends and others of their acquaintance, and exchanged news and gossip: this was a politically charged arena in which a number of issues might be discussed and matters arranged. Mme de Cassini maintained a salon at No. 14 Rue de Babylone which she is said to have shared with the Marquis de Maillebois. I have also seen a reference to the Cassini family living at No. 10 in the middle of the eighteenth century, which I have assumed refers to César François Cassini – Cassini III – and his family. It is apparent from a number of accounts that political and literary intrigues were commonplace at these salons, and it was also notable that they were used by Royalists in attempts to help the Royal family escape France, an operation which seemed to be only loosely monitored by the Revolution.

Apart from her own salon, Mme de Cassini frequented many other of the important salons where literary and political issues were discussed, notably that of Elisabeth Françoise Sophie Lalive de Bellegarde, Comtesse d’Houdetot à Sannois, the lover of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and, for fifty years, the poet Jean François de Saint-Lambert. Mme Suard, the journalist Amélie Panckoucke who held her own literary salons on Tuesdays and Saturdays, in correspondence with the Marquis de Condorcet, the philosopher, mathematician, and political scientist, said of Mme de Cassini’s comedic performances that

after Mme Clairon, I know of nobody more perfect.

As might be surmised, Clair Josèphe Hippolyte Leris, 1723-1803 and known as La Clairon, was one of France’s most famous actresses, her company being sought and performances attended by the most fashionable courtiers and famous admirers. I am unable to tell if it is significant, but Mme Clairon was renowned for her tragedic performances.

There are records of Jean-François de la Harpe’s play, ‘Mélanie’, or ‘La Religieuse’ having its première there in July 1772, two years after it was written, and I understand that Mme de Cassini actually took a prominent part in it.

The performing of this play in her salon brought Mme de Cassini opprobrium due to its content. It may also have harmed her in that a correspondent tells me she played the leading rôle in this first showing. I am also told that the Archbishop of Paris forbade any further showing and it wasn’t performed again until the 7th December 1791. The first overtly anti-religious play in France, it would have been acclaimed by the self-appointed and frequently hypocritical intellectual and philosphical elements of society, though would have been considered impious not just to the General Assembly of Clergy but also to the majority of ordinary French men and women.

The play seeks to infer that female convents were institutions in which neophytes were forced to take religious vows. It was presumably written either to reinforce the prejudices of those who already thought this, or to persuade others that this was so. But documentary evidence asserts that convents were virtually the only places where young women could obtain an education, and that the decision to take vows was, for the most part, a personal and free decision.

Although the peformance may have been a social gaffe on Mme de Cassini’s part, caused a stir at the time and, perhaps, contributed to her previously mentioned disfavour by the King, the play later found favour in revolutionary Paris where it was performed eighty-seven times between 1791 and 1799. Perhaps because of this popularity, it is probable that several authors used it as a model for their own writings. These would include Joseph Fiévée’s ‘Les Rigueurs du Cloître’, (Paris, 1790) and Mme Olympe de Gouges’ ‘Le Couvent ou Les Vœux Forcés’, (Paris, 1790). Nevertheless, Pierre Laujon’s splendid ‘Le Couvent ou Les Fruits du Caractère et de l’Éducation’ (Paris, 1790) and Jean Corsange’s et Jean Hapdé’s ‘Le Dernier Couvent de France ou l’Hospice’ (1796) more accurately portray female convent life in 18th century France.

Mme de Cassini wrote and acted in plays but additionally she, as did many of her similarly educated contemporaries, also wrote poetry as a matter of course. Here is a small example I found in the literary and philosophical correspondence I found of Baron Friedrich Melchior Grimm from March 1777:

L’Annonce du Printemps
par Mme La Marquise de Cassini

L’hiver a peine à fuir, mais il combat en vain;
Bientôt il va céder à la toute-puissance
De cet astre brillant dont la douce influence
Console la nature et réchauffe son sein.
Elle languit encor sans aucune parure;
L’arbuste dépouillé n’offre point de verdure.
Tout repose et tout dort; mais, malgré ce sommeil,
Tout semble pressentir le moment du réveil.
L’oiseau vole incertain, traverse la campagne,
Revient, chante, se tait, cherche et fuit sa compagne,
Rien ne s’anime encor, mais tout va s’animer;
Tout paraît sans amout, mais tout est près d’aimer.

A note below the poem states:

Soeur du Prétendu de Pezay. On trouve de curieux détails sur cette femme, présentée comme une intrigante, dans les Mémoires de Bezenval, édit. Baudouin, t. I, p. 157. (T.)

It can be seen that the author had his doubts about the origins of Mme de Cassini’s brother who died in December of that year.

But not only did Mme de Cassini write plays and poetry, she had admirers who wrote poetry to her such as Claude Joseph Dorat who wrote the following three poems. They are quoted from the third edition of ‘Mes Fantaisies’, published in Paris in 1770, and repeated in the ‘Collection complète des oeuvres de M. Dorat, Volume 2’, published at Neuchatel in 1776 when she would have been thirty-nine, and he forty-two:

A Madame de Cassini
Qui se plaignoit de ce qu’on bâtissoit chez elle.

Amphion, en touchant la lyre,
Vit des remparts mouvans s’élever sur ses pas:
Pour faire plus que lui, vous n’avez qu’à sourire.
    Si ce charme ne suffit pas,
    Chantez: chaque pierre docile
En colonne de fleurs va s’arrondir soudain.
Votre rival construisit une ville:
Mais à Vénus il ne faut qu’un jardin.


A Madame de Cassini
Qui demandoit des vers sur l’amitié.

Tu veux des vers pour l’amitié:
En chanson que lui dire?
C’est un sentiment oublié,
Dès qu’on te voit sourire.
On n’a point d’amis à vingt ans,
Flore, Hébé n’ont que des amans
    C’est aux zéphirs
    C’est aux plaisirs,
A tresser ta couronne,
Du printems goûtons les loisirs,
Avant ceux de l’automne.


A Madame de Cassini
En lui demandant le roman d’Almahide.

Vous me l’avez promis ce volume gothique,
    Où tant de fabuleux amans,
    De l’amour & des sentimens,
    Èpuisent la métaphysique,
    Dans leurs éternels complimens;
    Parlent sans fin, jamais n’agissent,
    Et d’inanition périssent
    Dans la crise de leurs sermens.
    Combien devoit être importune
L’ardeur de ces héros, moulés sur Céladon,
    Ne pouvant faire une chanson,
    Sans y fourrer le soleil ou la lune!
    Ainsi que vous, je ne veux lire un mot
    Des billets doux, des galans logogrifes,
        De tous ces combats apocrifes
    Où le plus brave est souvent le plus sot:
    Mais s’il se trouve en ce recueil si fade,
Héroïne sensible & vive tour-á-tour,
    Dont les yeux commandent l’amour,
    Et dont la voix le persuade,
    Qui réchauffe par la gaîté
    L’air un peu froid de la décence,
De l’amitié sente la volupté,
Et suyant quelquefois le bruit & l’affluence,
    Dépose avec simplicité
    Dans le sein de la confiance
    Les couronnes de la beauté:
Dans ce portrit alors reconnoissant le vôtre,
A loisir je suivrai chaque coup de pinçeau,
Surpris qu’en l’autre siecle on ait fait un tableau,
    Dont le modele est dans le nôtre.


For those in need of a translation of these poems, I’m afraid they are going to have to look elsewhere. I just hope that I have written the old French correctly. If I have not, please correct me.

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The Princes de Condé

Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé – work in the public domain

Perhaps more importantly, Angélique-Dorothée was, for a time, the mistress of Louis Joseph, Prince de Condé, (9 August 1736 - 13 May 1818) or, perhaps, of his son Louis Henri, Duke de Bourbon (13 April 1756 - 30 August 1830), who became the Prince de Condé in 1818 on the death of his father but who accompanied his father into exile in 1789 when they fled the French Revolution. Following the storming of the Bastille on the 14th July 1789, the feudal system was abolished on the 4th August 1789 and titles abrogated between the 19th and 23rd June 1790.

Of the two of them, I believe it more likely to be the father with whom Mme de Cassini enjoyed a liaison, but I have to admit that I’m not sure. Whichever it was, the liaison is recorded as having begun in 1770. Louis-Joseph, having fought a distinguished campaign in the Seven Years’ War, established an army in association with, and funded by, the Austrians and fought until the Peace of Campo Formio, 1797, when he was being funded by the English. The army he raised was known as the ‘armée de Condé’ or the ‘corps de Condé’ and operated between 1792 and 1796.

The history of Europe around the turn of the nineteenth century was extremely complex with countries aligning and realigning themselves as they sought to form political stability. Austria, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Portugal and Naples formed a coalition against the French, with Britain joining the coalition on June 22nd 1799. Austrian and Russian forces were in action against the French in north Italy, The British navy was active in the Mediterranean, British and Russian were in action in Holland, and Napoleon returned to France in 1799, staging a coup d’état. It was perceived that British strategy was to safeguard its trade routes with the rest of the world, while Russian strategy was to control the land. Russia now withdrew from the coalition and attempted to form a coalition with Prussia and Denmark. In 1800 France controlled Italy, Switzerland, west Germany and the Netherlands and had Spain as her ally.

In 1796 Condé’s force was composed of a cavalry brigade and two battalions of infantry, apparently financed by the British since the 15th May 1795. The summer of 1797 saw him resting in Überlingen on Lake Constance following his successful attempt to establish a colony of French royalists on the north coast of the Black sea, either on the Crimea or on the Sea of Azov. Following an initiative by Catherine II, the Russian Tsar had agreed to this and the Imperial campaign began that year, but ended unsuccessfully at Dubno, in the Ukraine, 1802.

Hoping to have himself elected King of Poland, Louis-Joseph worked for the Russians in their Polish campaign before retiring with his son to England in 1801 where he made a second marriage, this time to another refugee, Marie-Catherine de Brignole-Sale, his first marriage to Charlotte Godefride de Rohan-Soubise having ended with her death in 1760 at the age of 23. The Restauration of the Bourbon dynasty saw Louis XVIII returned to power in 1814 and it is likely it was in that year Louis Joseph returned to Paris, dying there in 1818.

Louis Henri de Bourbon, Prince de Condé – work in the public domain

Louis Henri, his son, married in 1770 and, two years later his wife, Louise Marie Thérèse Mathilde, gave birth to their only child, the ill-fated Louis Antoine Henri, Duke of Enghien, the traditional title given to the eldest son of the Princes de Condé. Louis Henri’s marriage lasted only until 1780 when the couple separated. He did not marry again but scandalised society by taking a mistress in Paris, Marguerite Michelot, an opera singer by whom he had two illegitimate daughters. He seems to have cut this tie when he moved to England. There he took another mistress, Sophie Dawes who made herself indispensible to him. She, and members of her family followed him back to France. On becoming the Prince de Condé he was unable or unwilling to maintain the relationship she demanded and, it is said, by her behaviour and machinations, hastened his end. He was found hanged under very suspicious circumstances in 1830.

Louis Antoine Henri, Duke d’Enghien – work in the public domain

Louis Henri’s son, Louis Antoine Henri, the Duke of Enghien was alleged to be a participant in a plot against the Consulate and made the mistake of settling in Ettenheim, Baden-Baden, only just over the French border. Living on a British pension, and having had discussions with the British supporting them against what he saw to be the illegitimate rule of the Napoleon, he made little attempt to avoid capture. Having notified the Baden-Baden authorities of their intention, General Ordener was instructed to organise the arrest of the Duke. With a force of about a thousand he crossed the border at night and captured the Duke on Wednesday, the 14th March, at 5 a.m, carrying him back to France under the name of Plessis. A week later, following a summary trial, the Duke of Enghien was executed in the ditch of the fortress of Vincennes at 3 a.m. the 21st March 1804. Although his grandfather and father survived him, Louis Antoine Henri was the last of the line of Princes de Condé. This act of murder resounded around Europe, repulsing politicians and royalty and doing much to bring different interests together against Napoleon.

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Jean-Baptiste-François Desmarets, marquis de Maillebois

Jean-Baptiste-François Desmarets followed a military career being appointed, in 1708 a Brigadier, in 1718 Maréchal de camp, in 1731 Lieutenant Général, in 1730 Director of the Depot de la Guerre and, on the 11th February 1741, Maréchal de France.

The Depot de la Guerre was a resource of documents relating to war, and Maillebois was instrumental in beginning the process of classification and organisation which would make it a more valuable resource from which to derive information on military issues. This included the appointment and training of geographical and topographical engineers, another very valuable resource in war, reinforced by the acquisition of Cassini’s great map, begun in 1751. Regrettably for France, the cadre of engineers was suppressed in 1791.

A descendant of Colbert, principle minister to Louis XIV, Maillebois appears to have had skills more useful to a soldier than those of the politician and courtier. Married with four children he died at the age of eighty. Interestingly I have seen a quotation that, ‘according to the Marquis d’Argenson – whose daughter married Maillebois’ son – he was a bad politician, a hard and sullen courtier, a great hunter, an excellent father to his family’… [Journal et Memoires du marquis d'Argenson. ed. E.J.B. Rathery (Paris 1859-67) 9 vols. iv.210.]

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Yves-Marie Desmarets, marquis de Maillebois

Yves-Marie Desmarets began his military life at an early age. At nineteen he was Colonel of the First battalion La Sarre French infantry at the Battle of Parma, 29th June 1734, where he was wounded in the head. That battle, one of those relating to the War of Polish Succession (1733-1738), was indecisive, though it is considered that the Austrians beat the French and their allies, but later lost at the Battle of Luzzara, 19th September 1734. The War was fought by the French and their allies with the intent of countering Russian and Austrian interests.

Yves-Marie Desmarets, also marquis de Maillebois, had an active life of his own. Born the 3rd August 1715, following his father’s marriage in 1713, he was made an Honorary Academician on the 16th June 1749, Vice President of the Royal Academy of Science in 1750, 1770, 1775 and 1781, and its President in 1751, 1771, 1776, 1782 and 1786. He was also a soldier, again as his father had been.

On the 11th May 1745 he married Marie Madeleine Catherine de Voyer de Paulmy d’Argerson, daughter of the Marquis d’Argerson, Minister and Secretary of State of the Department of Foreign Affairs. They had only one child, Jean-Baptiste Yves Marie Desmarets de Maillebois, born on the 22nd June 1748 in Paris.

I mentioned above that Angélique-Dorothée, now married to Dominique Joseph Cassini for sixteen years, is recorded as becoming the mistress of the Prince de Condé in 1770. It is not clear when, but she then moved on to become the mistress of the Marquis de Maillebois a few years later, a man who was twenty-two years older than her, but had

‘un bel esprit bien posé dans la société littéraire’.

As I must have mentioned a number of times, this century was marked by intrigue and the fortunes of most of its important figures were constrained, directed and affected by this background. Maillebois was appointed to command of the Dutch army in 1784, or early 1785, a characteristic of the Dutch army being that it was usually commanded by a foreigner, until 1783, Duke Louis of Brunswick. This appointment came against a concerted effort to prevent it, the argument being that Maillebois was too old to provide the King with the degree of expertise needed. And, despite his success in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) he had quarelled with his commander, the Maréchal d’Estrées following the battle of Hastenbeck in 1757, and attacked his ‘irresolution’ in a pamphlet resulting in his facing a Court Martial and subsequent imprisonment in the fortress of Doullens in the Somme département of Picardie.

However, for some time Maillebois had been providing Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes and Foreign Minister with advice on the reform of the army, the appointment having been achieved with the aid of a number of his supporters, notably Comte Charles de Polignac – whose wife had been the mistress of Maillebois, and Mme la Marquise de Monconseil. Sadly for Maillebois, the appointment exposed him to a degree of intrigue from which he never recovered. This included the accusation that Maillebois was involved with and supported the Prussian position, it being argued that he was associated with Golz, the Prussian Ambassador in Paris through Mme de Cassini, apparently a friend of the Ambassador. It should be remembered that Marquise de Cassini was considered to have a strong influence with Maillebois.

Interestingly, in a paper in the French national archives, a note states that he was sent to Holland to support the Democratic party against Prussia. Following his denunciation in 1790 to the Comité des Reserches by his secretary, Thomas-Jean Grandmaison, and their being presented with evidence in support of this, Maillebois was indicted for plotting against it, and fled on the 22nd March – the leisurely indictment, in which there are a number of mentions of both the Marquis and Marquise de Cassini, being published on the 9th July – to Breda in the southern part of the Netherlands, where he subsequently died in 1791. The indictment states that Maillebois was living at Maëstricht with his mistress, Madame de Cassini. What is notable for the purposes of the notes on this page is that Maillebois was at the Chateau de Thury, the residence of the Marquise de Cassini, when he was denounced. Coincidentally, this was also the year that Dominique-Joseph Cassini, her husband, died.

The Legion de Maillebois, the reverse of a paper illustrating the uniform

It was obviously a closely knit society so I should not have been surprised to discover a link between the Maillebois and Cassini families from the reverse side of a piece of paper on which there is a sketch of a Legion’s uniform. This typed note states that Yves-Marie Desmarets was the General in charge of the Maillebois Legion in the Low Countries, a part of the Fourth Battalion, and raised on the 12th April 1786 though you will see that there is, at the top of the page, the date of 10th January 1785. I believe this might be the date on which an Artillery Company was added to the Legion. I have also seen the date of the 17th April given as the date of the Legion being raised. The note goes on to state that the Legion was led by a Kolonel Comm. D. Mark. de Cassini whom I assume to be Dominique Joseph, Marquis de Cassini, Madame de Cassini’s husband. Bear in mind that there were considerable movements in military organisations around France at this time as individuals attempted to structure armies to their different causes.

The Legion de Maillebois, the reverse of a paper illustrating the uniform

On another note that was kindly provided to me by the Central Bureau of Genealogy in the Netherlands, Dominique Joseph is recorded as retiring from the Regiment on the 31st December 1787. I do not know why it was that Dominique Joseph left the regiment. Perhaps it was ill health. He died on the 17th April 1790 at Thury, less than a month after Maillebois abruptly left Thury following his denunciation to the Comité des Reserches. It is recorded that Dominique Joseph received an annual salary for his service in the Low Countries of five thousand Guilders, the equivalent of around £320,000, three hundred odd years later.

In the Autumn of 1787, the alliance concluded in 1785 between France and the United Provinces was fractured by a Prussian invasion, the King of Prussia, Frederick William II being the brother-in-law of William V of Orange. France was unable to respond to the difficulties of its Dutch allies due to both a serious lack of finances as well as increasingly fragmented Royal foreign policies in this period immediately prior to the Revolution, two of the factors which were soon to precipitate the Revolution.

Dominique Joseph, Marquis de Cassini, died on the 17th April 1790 at his chateau at Fillerval, near Thury. It is said, though the date of his death stated as being the 8th April 1790 may be incorrect, that as soon as her husband died, Mme de Cassini left to join her lover, Maillebois, at Maestericht. Sadly for Mme de Cassini, Yves-Marie Desmarets died on the 17th December 1791 at, I believe, Liège or Maastricht. Now, presumably poor, and outside her native country, she would have had little option but to return to Paris which, it is recorded, she did almost immediately.

In one of the letters written by Mme de Cassini to William Windham – discussed below – she mentions that her nephew will be leaving in a week’s time to join his parents in Holland. This was in 1797 and I wonder if there may be a link to a Cassini living in Holland at that time. I don’t yet know if this would have been a Cassini, a relation from her own side of the family, or if the term ‘nephew’ was being used familiarly for somebody not related but well known to her.

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Madame de Cassini, the Marquise de Cassini

Part of a letter from Mme de Cassini to William Windham written in London

1797 was another interesting year in Europe. In September the British secret service’s counter-revolutionary plans in France collapsed. (Note that it was on the 18th Fructidor V – 4th September 1797 – that there was a coup d’état in France.) I believe that both Louis Joseph de Condé and his son, Louis Henri would still have been in England. Around this time Angélique-Dorothée, Madame de Cassini, the Marquise de Cassini, who was then around sixty, visited London apparently to meet William Windham, Secretary at War, 11th July 1794-1801, and the individual responsible for running spies for England, particularly in French Normandy and Brittany.

I had assumed that Madame de Cassini came to England from France specifically to see Windham. That may be so, however there is a note in the Departmental records of l’Oise that she emigrated in 1792, and that the State confiscated her goods. In fact her nephew, Jean-Domenique Cassini, known as Cassini IV, director of the Observatory of Paris, protested against this confiscation of goods which, according to him, did not belong to the widow but to the heirs of his uncle, Domenique-Joseph Cassini who had died in 1790. This implies that Angélique-Dorothée and Domenique-Joseph had children though I have not been able to find any record of this. It might be, of course, that Jean-Domenique thought he might benefit.

In the letters, written in the latter half of 1797, Mme de Cassini makes no mention of children but does write of both a nephew and niece. There is no clue as to whether they are brother and sister. She states that the niece had met William Windham, implying recently, and that the nephew was going to meet his parents in Holland. It is interesting to speculate who these might be.

I had found mention of a niece in the indictment made against Maillebois, her name being given as Mlle. Saint-Hilaire de Forceville. I had assumed her to be Elisabeth Françoise de Forceville who was arrested with her cousin Jean-Dominique Cassini, Cassini IV, on the 14th February 1794, but she was sent to the guillotine on the 6th June 1794, Cassini IV being released on the 5th August 1794. So it seems unlikely that this can be the same woman, though the niece Mme de Cassini writes of might be a sister of Elisabeth Françoise. There is also the possibility of her belonging to the Babaud or Masson families; but there is another contender.

Recently I discovered that the two younger sisters of Mme de Cassini’s husband, Dominique Joseph Cassini, were married. The sisters were Suzanne Françoise Cassini and Elisabeth Géneviève or Elisabeth Germain Cassini. The latter married Charles François de Forceville de Colembert in 1746 and had two sons, Louis Dominique de Forceville de Colembert, who married Madeleine Cesperon de Harcelaines, and Louis Antoine de Forceville de Colembert who married Marie Emilie de Vincens de Causans. This latter marriage also produced two sons, Gabriel de Forceville de Colembert, who married Louise de Forceville de Merlimont, and Charles André de Forceville de Colembert who married Marie Fééicité de Mony. The marriage of Gabriel and Louise produced a son, Adolphe de Forceville de Colembert who married Isabelle de Serve.

Suzanne Françoise married a Philippe de Bréget or Brezet in 1712 and had two children, a son, Joseph Philippe and a daughter, Marie-Thérèse. It seems that Joseph Philippe and wife – if he was married – are likely candidates for being the nephew and niece whom Mme de Cassini wrote about in her letter to Windham, but Marie-Thérèse and her husband, Louis Jules Duvaucel, were dead before 1797.

The husband of Angélique-Dorothée, Dominique-Joseph Cassini, also had a brother, César-Françoise Cassini – Cassini III – who married Charlotte-Jeanne Drouin de Vandeuil. They had two children, Jean-Dominique Cassini – Cassini IV – and Françoise-Elisabeth Cassini who, with those they married, respectively Claude-Marie Louise De La Myre-Mory and Louis-Henri de Riencourt are also nephews and nieces of Angélique-Dorothée. Claude-Marie Louise died in 1791 though her husband, Cassini IV, lived until 1845, and I have not yet discovered when Françoise-Elisabeth and Louis-Henri died. However, the reference to Mme de Cassini’s nephew going to meet his parents in Holland rules out Jean-Domique Cassini as his father, César-Françoise Cassini, died in 1784.

Of course there is also the possibility that Mme de Cassini might have been referring to young friends, but I think it unlikely she would have referred to them as being her relations in a letter to Windham.

A paragraph from a letter from Mme de Cassini to William Windham

It might well have been that Windham was attempting to use her influence with the Prince de Condé whom the English wanted to use to lead a new army against Napoleon and in support of the restoration of the monarchy. Perhaps the more likely possibility is that she was operating as a go-between with Royalist forces in France as Windham was corresponding with others such as Georges Cadoudal, leader of the insurrectionary Royalists in Brittany, the Prince de Bouillon, the Comte de Puisaye and his lieutenant, Tinténiac the Breton Royalist. Regrettably the letters give no real clue as to why she was in England, and what she was doing on what I assume was a single stay.

She refers in her letters to her ‘dear baptiste’ and of his spending several days with ‘barthelemy and the arrested deputies’. I understand from a correspondent that these might be respectively General Pichegru with whom William Wickham, the Prince de Condé and others were negotiating with the intent of his changing sides to the Royalists, and François-Marie Barthélemy, Member of the Executive Directory of the French Republic, who was arrested on the failure of the coup d’état of the 4th September 1797 and exiled to French Guiana, thence making his way to England. Mme de Cassini writes that she corresponds with them and that she had arranged for funds – I assume from Windham – to be placed in Baptiste’s hands before his arrest.

Reading William Windham’s diary it is difficult to obtain an understanding of his attitude to the Prince de Condé due to the abbreviated character of his entries, but it appears that he was not happy with Condé’s operation, noting ‘Bad opinions and feelings about the Condé army’ in an entry of the 28th April 1797. There is also no note in his diaries of any meeting he had with Mme de Cassini though there is mention of Royalists from time to time.

The signature of Mme de Cassini – the Marquise de Cassini

Whatever the reason might have been for her visit to England, she stayed at two separate addresses on the edge of north-west London, writing four letters in a frail hand to Windham. The letters are esentially formal letters but demonstrate that she was important enough for Windham to meet her a number of times. It seems entirely probable to me that there is a connection between her visit, the British interests in overturning the revolution in France and her political and personal connections.

In looking into the movement of Mme de Cassini in England, I have not been able to find anything other than that she appears to have stayed in north-west London when visiting and meeting Windham in the latter half of 1797 at a time when she was no longer the important society figure she had once been, but when it is evident that she maintained connections to the Royalist interests, if not acting as a spokesperson or go-between.

Directory entry showing the ownership of Wanstead House by the Prince de Condé, 1803

Nor have I been able to uncover any information confirming her liaising with the Prince de Condé in England, having assumed that their meetings would have been on the continent or only when she was younger. However, looking for some other information I came across a record of the Prince de Condé living in England where he leased a large property, Wanstead House, situated between Laytonstone, now known as Leytonstone, and Woodford – located in East London – in February 1802. This would have been Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé who moved to Wanstead following the disbanding of his army in 1801.

A view of of Wanstead House in 1771, the Palladian design completed 1722, demolished in 1825 - courtesy of Wikipedia

Here, on the 26th December 1808 as a widower he married again, this time to his long-term mistress, Marie Catherine Brignole-Sale, the divorced wife of Prince Honoré III of Monaco, thus enabling the King and Queen of France to visit the couple with propriety. Later, the Prince de Condé and his wife moved to Wimbledon House in south-west London in 1810 where Marie Catherine died on the 28th March 1813. As noted above, on the restoration of the monarchy Louis-Joseph returned to France, entering Paris in the same coach as Louis XVIII on the 3rd May 1814, and dying there four years later on the 13th May 1818.

It is evident that Madame de Cassini was involved in the arts for much of her life and would have been on familiar terms with many artists in the salons which she held or visited. This connection is likely to have been the reason for being godmother to the child prodigy and composer, Angélique-Dorothée-Louise Grétry – known as Lucile Grétry, who tragically died of tuberculosis at the age of eighteen in 1790. Incidentally, the other godparent was the distinguished Lieutenant in the Army of the King, Louis-Paul de Brancas.

An eighteenth century illustration of land and buildings of the Carmelites with the rue du Cherche-Midi along the bottom – courtesy of the French Wikimedia Location of the Rue de Babylone – from a 1750 map of Paris in the public domain

Around 1791 or 1792, Madame de Cassini returned to Paris. Prior to leaving Paris she had been a wealthy woman, but her estates were confiscated by the Revolution on her flight to join Maillebois. Her return saw her impoverished, her brother and husband now dead. It appears that Mme de Cassini was now largely forgotten, the circumstances of the State’s dramatic changes and her lack of funds must have considerably reduced her ability to live in the manner of her previous time in Paris. She now rented a small apartment, not far from her old home in Paris on the rue de Babylone – illustrated here in a map of 1750 – in a building which was at that time nº. 788, but is now nº. 19 rue du Cherche-Midi and had been leased to a master-carpenter, Jean Duchesne, by the Order of the Prémontrés who also owned other properties in the area. Her death at the rue de Babylone, on the 8th May 1805, is also recorded in the Seine registration district, Volume 234.

A satirical engraving illustrating a fencing match at the Carlton Club between Monsieur de Saint George and the Chevalier d’Éon de Beaumont in the presence of the Prince of Wales – Courtesy of Wikipedia

There may have been some comfort to her in having the Marquis Corey-Joseph Le Sénéchal of Cercado-Molac living in the same house into which he moved in 1800, and where he died at the age of eighty-five years on July 16, 1806, the year following Madame de Cassini’s death there. Known as the Marquis de Molac he had been, in 1748, colonel of the regiment of Périgord, when he married his cousin, the eldest daughter of the Comte of Cercado, an act that brought together the two branches of the Cercado. Very protective of his lineage, he had been involved in a sensational trial when he sued Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée D’Éon de Beaumont, the chevalier d’Éon de Beaumont, another extraordinary character due to questions about the latter’s gender, a sometime Captain of Dragoons, wounded and decorated in the Seven Years’ War, and spy he claimed to be female – in a writ issued on the 13th February 1779, for d’Éon’s claim of descent from the same family.

It is recorded that Mme de Cassini’s nephews allowed four years to pass before claiming the assets of her estate which, by then consisted only of the furniture, the sale producing the sum of 1,155 francs – the franc having been reintroduced in 1795 – and on which was paid, on August 24th 1809, transfer taxes. Her dowry of around 6,050 ozs of gold had reduced to furniture worth just less than 12 ozs.

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The possible invasion of England

Battle between the French warship Droits de l’Homme and the frigates HMS Amazon and Indefatigable, 13 & 14 January 1797 – Courtesy of Wikipedia

However, prior to this there were plans in 1796 to counter the French if they were to invade England – ‘Plan de défence pour l’Angleterre en cas d’invasion’, which we know about from evidence at a time when Bonaparte’s successes suggested the return of a revolutionary government, and with the French attempting to invade Ireland in order at least to destabilise England.

In a note written some time after the event, Mme de Cassini is mentioned as having been a focus for Royalists in England. The note, found in the possession of the French Directoire – who governed France between the 26th October 1795 and the 9th November 1799 – and in French translation, was at first considered to have been provided by an agent in England with access to a high level of government. Subsequently it was learned that it had been written by an émigré officer in the Condé army who had returned to France when the character of the revolution changed to a more conservative régime, a time generally referred to as the ‘Thermidorian Reaction’.

In 1796, and between July and October 1797, James Harris, Lord Malmesbury, was negotiating for peace unsuccessfully with the French Directoire in Paris and Lille. These negotiations were abortive, the French believing the British to be insincere

During this period the writer, under the pretence of being a businessman, came to London in order to meet the Royalist émigrés and learn their views on developments in Luxembourg, and gain an understanding of their hopes and expectations. In addition he was to discover what he could of the plans of the British government with regard to the possible invasion by France in the event of the failure of the Lille negotiations.

He produced for his new French masters unflattering portraits of British ministers, particularly of William Pitt, the Duke of Portland and William Windham, though treating Henry Dundas, Earl Spencer and William Grenville more favourably. Interestingly this group resigned in the ministerial crisis of February 1801, following the Act of Union 1800. The writer’s notes on the character of five of the leaders of the French émigrés were also less than favourable. On four of these – the Duc d’Harcourt, Duc de Bourbon, Comte de Blangy and the Bishop of Saint-Pol-de-Leon – he was scurrilous, but with regard to Mme de Cassini he described her as having taste and spirit while exerting considerable influence over the émigrés. He added, ‘I have her confidence’.

But above all, the writer went on to characterise the Baron de Nantia as being a traitor and villain, ‘president of the organisation providing help to the émigrés and director or supervisor of all the Royalist observers whom Pitt bribes’. He claimed that the Baron de Nantia liaised with the Vendée – the counter-revolutionary insurrections in the west of France – as well as the Chouannerie – a Royalist uprising in many of the western départements of France, particularly in the provinces of Brittany and Maine – on behalf of the British government, together with Royalists within and outside Paris. Moreover, it appears that Baron de Nantia supervised those who were paid to spy on their Royalist compatriots and produce summaries of their observations to the British government. In so doing he described important émigrés such as the Comte d’Artois and the Comte d’Harcourt as being subservient to Mme de Cassini, the writer noting that, in this, Baron de Nantia was following only the interests of the government they betrayed.

Mme de Cassini was also said to have been used by Baron de Nantia as an involuntary accomplice in the stopping of English aid to the colonies, and that she was able to obtain information at any time, he said, through the offices of the Duke of Portland.

Eight days after arriving in England the writer was arrested on the orders of the Duke of Portland and, after nine days’ detention, was questioned by Pitt, Windham and the Duke. It appears that the Baron de Nantia had received information from Calais via Mme de Cassini suggesting the writer was not who he appeared to be, and even though she is said to have thought the rumours false. By his own description he managed to maintain his business cover by appearing not to understand all that was put to him. Note that the writer was being interviewed by extremely senior members of the government.

It appears from the references to her that Mme de Cassini must have been one of the more important figures among the Royalist émigrés in that she had access to the key figures both in the British government as well as the Royalists. However, I have not been able to find much written about her intrigues and activities at that time other than that she was in England in February 1797 and in August and October 1797, as noted above. Whether this suggests she was living in England permanently at this time, or whether she moved into and out of the continent as did others, I am unable to say.

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William Windham

Detail of the front page of the 1792 Police Act

Revolutionary activity in France increased concern in Britain for its own stability. 1780 witnessed the anti-Catholic Gordon riots with its resulting hundreds of deaths. Due to these and other concerns a number of attempts were made in Parliament to form a policing organisation, one that was eventually formalised in June 1792 with the Police Bill which created a system of magistrates supported by a small police force. This was, in essence, seen as a guard against civil insurrection, but also an organisation designed to keep an eye on increasing French intelligence activities within Britain that were seen to be associated with certain London clubs.

Portrait of William Windham by Gainsborough

One of the magistrates appointed as an integral element of the Bill was William Windham, a gentleman born in Golden Square, London, on the 3rd of May, 1750, and who died in 1840. Windham’s mother, and his wife, were both from important banking families in Geneva where he spent some time, reporting back to London on events there. Switzerland at that time was considered to be an ideal location for the raising of forces against France, as well as being well placed on its flank should there be any attack on France from its south coast. This placed Windham in a slightly better position from other magistrates with a government intent on dealing with the problems at hand.

The Police Bill was followed with the Alien Act in 1793, its purpose being to ensure that every foreigner entering the country would be registered. It is evident that this was a real concern with correspondence between London and Dover instructing that Italian picture framers and French mirror makers be arrested and imprisoned at Dover.

This was a turbulent time across the Channel with the King being executed in January 1793, followed by conflict and a reign of terror from both sides of the Revolution across France, and with rising concern in the countries around it. It is not surprising that Britain was attempting to protect its borders while developing better intelligence both inside its borders as well as abroad.

In 1794, Wickham was appointed Superintendent of Aliens, but events abroad saw him sent to Switzerland in an attempt to investigate the veracity of a suggestion from a French source that a peace settlement might be found, and to develop as best he might. This initiative was immediately halted with the death of Louis-Charles, titular Louis XVII, at the age of ten in the Temple prison. Although Wickham settled into Swiss life, first a Chargé d’Affaires and then, in 1795, as Minister Plenipotentiary, his remit was supposed to be restricted to matters in the Low Countries, and not in France.

However, this work was complex with travel restricted and communications taking weeks to move between London and Switzerland. It was also complicated by the vacillations of the Prince de Condé. Suspicious by nature he found it difficult to commit himself in writing and found himself, unknowingly, advised by double agents in dealing with General Pichegru and others. Despite this and other difficulties, by mid-1795 a considerable intelligence network had been established connecting all the Royalist interests and the associated military elements around France on land and sea.

Nevertheless, there was continuing disaffection, the maneouvering of individuals acting out of self-interest or weakness, and some important defeats of Royalist forces. The result of this was that the insurrection centred on the Midi that Windham had envisaged, proved impossible to bring about. One of the important factors in this was a poorly considered declaration made by Louis XVIII, which alienated potential supporters and hardened the resolve of those who realised they would be executed if defeated. This suited the British as they were working towards a solution focussed on a constitutional, rather than an absolute monarchy.

Meanwhile in England, a network of French and Irish agents had been established, directed from France, with the intent of fomenting insurrection. There was considerable concern that border control should have been more effective but, equally important, there was also the possibility of a French invasion. In April and May of 1797 there were a series of naval mutinies thought to have been fomented by French agents but as likely to have been due to problems of pay and conditions for ordinary sailors.

The 4th September 1797 witnessed the 18th Fructidor coup d’état by Bonaparte, effected by his General Augereau, and placing the Vicomte de Barras in command of the five Directors of the Directoire. Elections in forty-nine French départments were cancelled, and forty deputies taken from the two Councils with other men of note arrested. Some of them, including Barthélemy, Pichegru, Willot, Ramel, Barbé-Marbois and Laffon de Ladebat were deported to a penal colony in French Guiana, travelling and held under cruel conditions.

It appears that Wickham was back in London in May of 1798 as it was here he received Pichegru and others whose escape had been organised from their prison in Guiana. I assume he must also have been in England in August and October of 1797 when Mme de Cassini wrote from London to him, referring to their meetings. Whether he was there permanently or was moving to and from London, I don’t know. However, I note from one source that it is likely he was in Switzerland as he was given permission by George III to visit Frankfurt which he did, leaving Switzerland on the 9th November 1797.

The Directoire under Barras now fell into increasing disrepute by its corruption. This allowed Bonaparte, through a coup d’état on the 18th Brumaire, 9th November 1799, to institute the Consulate with himself, Sieyès, and Roger Ducos as Consuls.

more to be written…

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Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith

I can’t tell who made it, but a note in a different hand on one of the letters from Mme de Cassini to William Windham of the 2nd October 1797 states that Sir Sidney Smith was in the Bastille at that time. This was a mistake, in fact he was incarcerated in the Temple prison. However, I believe this note may be significant in suggesting a reason for Mme de Cassini’s visit to William Windham. He is certainly mentioned in one of the four letters: with apologies for the translation…

The welcome, Sir, which you have wanted to give me while I had the honour to see you and the recommendation of Sir Sidney, encourages me to beg of you again to allow me to come and see you and give me your orders… There is much talk about Sir Sydney, perhaps too much. I very much hope that at least what I have heard will come about… For in his way of thinking I expect that he must fervently wish to recover his liberty. I may be able perhaps to have some news of him, if I have a safe way of getting a letter to Paris.

Engraving of Sir William Sidney Smith, artist Allen, engraver, West, published October 1796

Born on the 21st June 1764, William Sidney Smith joined the British navy in 1777, seeing action at the battles of Cape Saint Vincent, Chesapeake and the Saintes, but was demobilised on half-pay and the rank of Captain following the Treaty of Paris on the 3rd September 1783. He then spent some time travelling in France, learning to speak perfect French. For two years, under the guise of being a traveller, he observed the development of the harbour at Cherbourg, reporting to the Admiralty that, when completed, the French port would have a similar capability as Portsmouth, Britain’s main military port. Suspected of spying he left in 1787 via Spain, moving to Tangiers in the anticipation of future conflict there.

This was a time when there was considerable activity by Barbary pirates who ranged all over the Mediterranean and Atlantic, taking goods as well as slaves from shipping and land bases in Europe and even Iceland and America. The British government had not yet come to terms with the settlement of the problems created by these activities originating as they did some way from England, and when their more immediate problems were America and Europe. Interestingly, in semi-retirement, Smith campaigned for the release of Christian slaves from captivity in Barbary north Africa.

At this time, Sultan Sidi Muhammad bin Abdullah was attempting to amend his economic policies from those relating to the collection of taxes and a standing army, to one based on maritime trade. To further this policy, the Sultan wished to allow American ships into his ports. Smith’s recommendations to change British policy and strengthen control of the Straits of Gibraltar were not acted upon and, in the apparent lack of interest, he accepted an invitation in 1790 from the King of Sweden to advise in his naval war against Russia, in fact leading successful naval operations against it. Regrettably six British naval officers were killed fighting on the side of the Russians which earned Smith a degree of enmity though, at the request of King Gustavus III of Sweden, George III invested him a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Sword, an additional cause for jealousy.

Smith returned to London in May 1792 and was directed to join his younger brother, the chargé d’affaires in Constantinople, where he was able to provide intelligence to Britain at a time when Napoleon was about to move into the region. There he recruited a crew and joined the British Mediterranean fleet as a volunteer, carrying out a mission to burn the general stores in Toulon and set fire to French ships there. This operation was only a partial success, the result of which left him unpopular with Nelson and others.

In January 1795, and returned again to London, Smith was given command of a small flotilla in the Channel, sailing on HMS ‘Diamond’. In July of that year Smith occupied the islands of St. Marcouf off the Normandy coast with the intention of blockading Le Havre and assisting migrants leaving France. Despite his skills in carrying out this operation, an unfortunate change of wind direction in the estuary enabled the French to capture Captain Smith and others.

The Abbaye prison, Paris – illustration in the public domain

Sir Sidney was imprisoned for two years, first being placed in the prison de l’Abbaye de Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, the scene of notorious massacres in September 1792. After two months Sir Sidney was moved to the Temple prison, a more secure building where the King and Queen had previously been held. Although captured in combat, he was held and threatened with execution as a spy, probably in order that the French would enjoy a better bargaining position with the British.

Engraving of Sir Sidney Smith. Imprisoned in the Abbaye Paris, artist Philippe Auguste Hennequin, engraver, Maria Cosway, published 17 July 1797

However, he escaped on the 24th April 1798, together with John Wesley Wright – a midshipman from the ‘Diamond’ and who acted as his secretary in prison – in an operation planned by the British secret services, travelling via Rouen to Le Havre, and arriving in London on the 6th May, according to William Windham’s diary. The Temple prison had become a State prison in 1796, having previously housed King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1792 until their execution the following year.

In the context of the letters from Mme de Cassini to William Windham, mentioned above, it is interesting to note that Smith also corresponded with Windham from his prison. Bearing in mind that he was ‘detenu au secret’ and that correspondence was forbidden, at least five letters passed between them, unopened. Writing on the 6th October 1796, Sir Sidney began his letter:

My letter of July 23 was written, I confess, without much hope of its reaching you. Judge then of my surprise and satisfaction at receiving an acknowledgement of it in your letter of September 9. How a letter of that nature can have passed the jaws of all the cerberuses and the Eyes of all the Arguses by which I am surrounded, so as to arrive into the innermost recess of this Tomb with the seal unbroken is matter of mystery to me. It is useless and would be impolitic to enquire into that too much. Your ability in contriving to find such able and faithfull agents calls forth my admiration, at the same time that the warmth of your expressions respecting the interest that is taken in my situation, commands my most lively gratitude. May I beg of you to convey these sentiments likewise to those you allude to as taking part in the general wish for my safety and welfare.

William Windham responded to Smith on the 5th November 1796, giving him news about the taking of a Dutch squadron and his views on the Austrians as well as hoping that Lord Malmesbury, the Ambassador to Paris, might help his predicament, and that correspondence might be allowed. This secret correspondence appears to have been effective. Windham recorded in his diary of the 17th November that he had received a letter from Sir Sidney dated the 9th November and delivered by a M. Duverne.

Sir Sidney was treated strictly, being moved from the responsibility of the French Minister of War to that of the Minister of the Interior. Furthermore it was argued that he could not be exchanged, as was the practice, because he was not recognised to be a prisoner of war, having held no commission from the British Government when he had burnt the French ships at Toulon.

He continued to argue with his captors, exchanging letters with them and apparently enjoying some sympathy from French officers coming into contact with him. At the same time the British government sent Lord Malmesbury and Henry Swinburne – the latter who had travelled extensively across Europe, producing illustrated books on his travels in Spain and the Two Sicilies – to negotiate his, and others’ release, but to no effect.

A month after Sir Sidney escaped, Windham recorded in a letter of the 17th May 1798 to Lord Grenville, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Windham’s cousin, that Smith had spoken with Lord Grenville about the parlous state of the Royalists in France. Windham argued that relatively small funding would help tie up French forces in Brittany and La Vendée, and that foreign groupings allied against France should use the Royalists. Bear in mind that Grenville supported war on land as opposed to war at sea, the preferred approach by Henry Dundas, Secretary for War under William Pitt.

There is considerable correspondence to and from Windham at this time relating to the Royalists and their use in the fight against revolutionary France.

On the 1st July 1798, Napoleon had landed in Egypt and the British government were concerned for the security of British interests in the Indian sub-continent. Napoleon was, however, land-locked with the destruction of his fleet at the battle of Aboukir Bay on the 1st August 1798. In order to make progress in Egypt, as well as to advance his position with those running France, Napoleon implemented a strategy based on the gaining and dissemination of information both locally and in France.

Smith was rewarded for his escape from Paris with command of HMS ‘Tigris’, an eighty-gun, Duquesne class vessel captured from the French. On the 3rd October 1798 by order of an ‘Instrument of Full Power’ he was given autonomous military and political capability under the command of Admiral Vincent in the Mediterranean, an appointment which caused considerable irritation to Nelson who didn’t want to work with such a junior officer.

To some extent this posting might be explained by the skills Smith had demonstrated so far, but they were also seen to be related to family connections, the Prime Minister, William Pitt being his cousin, Lady Grenville, wife of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, his aunt and, particularly useful, his brother being the chargé d’ffaires in Constantinople.

It is also significant that he took on board with him seven French speakers whom he had come to know when imprisoned in Paris and who were familiar with espionage and the use of propaganda. Their names were disguised within the roster for the Royal Marines and Smith’s intent was to use them in dealing with French propaganda as well as hoping to spread dissension among French troops.

HMS Tigre before Acre

Sidney Smith arrived at Constantinople on the 26th December 1798, aware that Britain had no ground troops to move against Napoleon, and the knowledge that Britain saw the way forward by coming to an accommodation with the Ottoman empire. Largely due to his initiatives and activities, Smith defeated the French siege artillery at the Turkish held city of Acre, lifting the siege on the 20th May 1799. Napoleon returned to France, hence relieving the British of their concern for French interests in the Indian sub-continent.

On the 12th February 1806 Smith was again writing to William Windham, this time noting that he had accepted Nelson’s offer of an off-shore Mediterranean squadron which he was commanding from HMS Pompée, a French Téméraire class 74 gun ship-of-the-line which fled to the British in 1793 with the attack on Toulon. Essentially the letter appears to show Smith looking for action and complaining of those who were happy to take a more sedentary approach to their duties. This attitude was soon to get him into trouble as, on the 9th September Windham, now Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, wrote to Lord Grenville, now First Lord of the Treasury, the following private letter:

I certainly have every reason to agree with you in the wish of making the censure on Sir Sidney Smith as mild as possible, nor would I on any account urge you to a decision on the subject before you have given yourself time to consider the papers before us, which, I am sorry to say, are such as to have impressed my mind with the absolute necessity, on grounds of public duty; of our expressing a decided, tho’ mild, disapprobation of the following points:
1. His having, without the concurrence of the King’s Minister in Sicily, accepted a commission from that Government.
2. His having taken upon himself the command or direction (call it which we will) of an insurrection in Calabria destined to co-operate with a body of British troops under the command of a British General, in whom that direction ought, as far as it was fit to be assumed by any British officer, exclusively to have been vested. And,
3rdly, this issuing and acting under the proclamation of the Court of Sicily, such as we have actually received, and are not therefore at liberty to doubt of its existence, or of its having been directly remonstrated against by the King’s Minister in Sicily.
All these facts appear to be but too well established by Elliot’s letter to Fox, by the copy of Sir Sidney’s letters inclosed in that to Fox, and by the copy of the proclamation itself, transmitted to Lord Howick by Lord Collingwood.
But the censure may certainly be so worded as to attach only on the facts supposing them to be such as they now appear. In point of form, there can, I think, be no doubt that this, which is matter of general and political direction, ought to issue from the Secretary of State thro’ the Admiralty, and not from the latter in the first instance.

Despite the foregoing, Sir Sidney was raised to the rank of Vice-Admiral on the 31st July 1810 though he didn’t raise his flag until the summer of 1812 when he was appointed second in command of the Mediterranean fleet under Sir Edward Pellew, later Lord Exmouth.

Because of his services following the Battle of Waterloo and his safeguarding the return of Louis XVIII to Paris, Smith was rewarded with the British KCB in 1815 and, in 1838, the GCB. He attained the rank of Admiral on the 19th July 1821. Regrettably he was considered difficult to work with and arrogant, characteristics which made him unpopular in an increasingly bureaucratic navy.

The signature of Sir Sidney Smith

Because of the British government’s tardy repayment of expenses due to him, and the threat of being imprisoned for debt if he settled in England, Sir Sidney Smith went to live in Paris, taking with him his wife, Caroline, the widow of Sir George Berriman Rumbold, British minister to Hamburg. Smith married her in October 1810 and they had three daughters and a son. He died in Paris at the age of seventy-six on the 26th May 1840, and is buried in the largest Parisian cemetery – Cimetière du Père Lachaise.

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John Wesley Wright

A portrait of John Wesley Wright

This was an interesting time in both England and France with spies being run into and out of both countries and both their borders leaking badly. In fact instructions were given by the British government to those guarding the Channel ports that all the ‘Italian mirror makers and French picture framers’ were to be rounded up and imprisoned… In the middle of all this, the British secret service’s counter-revolutionary plans collapsed in France in September 1797.

John Wesley Wright, born in Minorca in 1769, was a captain in the British navy who carried secret agents into and out of revolutionary and Napoleonic France on his small, quarter-deck brig, HMS ‘Vencejo’, captured from the Spanish in 1799. One such group was landed on the 30th August 1803 and comprised Georges Cadoudal and his fellow Chouans and, on the 16th January 1804, General Charles Pichegru was landed, all these being involved in the plot to overthrow the Consulate. Incidentally, it was the Prince de Condé who brought General Pichegru into this operation.

Prior to his capture by the French with Sir Sidney Smith at Le Havre in 1796, John Wesley Wright and Sir Sidney served together for two years on HMS ‘Diamond’, Wright serving on her as a midshipman. Wright, serving now as a Lieutenant on HMS ‘Tigre’, was also present at the siege of Acre, between the 18th March and 20th May 1799.

Engraving of HMS Vencejo at Quiberon Bay by Bailey, made 1815 – with the permission of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

It is notable that there were petty intrigues and serious tantrums as various British naval officers felt or found themselves out-manoeuvred by events, particularly with respect to John Wesley Wright and his use of naval craft in his attempts to land anti-Napoleonic interests on the French coast. Wright was wounded and captured again by the French on the 8th May 1804, this time at Quiberon Bay on the north-west coast of France where he held out against superior odds for six weeks, but was taken when his ship, HMS Vencejo, was becalmed. He was returned to the Temple prison in Paris. The British government attempted to have him freed, a second motion being made on 11th July according to William Windham’s diary but the French, perhaps smarting from his earlier escape, accused him of conspiracy and other transgressions rather than treating him as a legitimate prisoner of war, and refused to free or exchange him arguing that no French officer would accept the dishonour of exchange with him.

Although there were plans being made to assist his escape, he was found dead in his cell in the Temple on the morning of the 4th Brumaire – the 25th October 1805, at the age of 36. He was buried on the 27th October 1805. I have also seen his death reported as being the 28th October 1805 and can’t say now, which is correct. There seem to be a number of different causes given for his death. It is said that he was found in his cell with his throat deeply cut by a razor found closed in his hand. It should, of course, have been discovered in the daily search of his cell. But the memoirs of Sir Sidney Smith state that he was shot after a mock trial, it previously being believed that he had been strangled by an individual who attended both Wright and Pichegru in the Temple. General Pichegru had been garrotted in the prison, some of the other captured conspirators having escaped death by Napoleon’s concern for the rising tide of defections in his northern troops. Whatever the cause of his death, the French claimed he killed himself; the British, and others believed he was murdered. The rationale for this is based on Smith’s discussions with the wife of the Gaoler of the Temple and others, the official records together with an examination of over two hundred papers Wright had written in the Temple, which showed him to have been positive in his outlook and, as was very important in those days, to behave properly and set a good example.

The Latin inscription on his tomb at Père La Chaise cemetery in Paris, was written by Sir Sidney Smith:

HERE LIES INHUMED
JOHN WESLEY WRIGHT,
BY BIRTH AN ENGLISHMAN,
CAPTAIN IN THE BRITISH NAVY
Distinguished both among his own Countrymen and Foreigners
For skill and courage;
To whom,
Of those things which lead to the summit of glory,
Nothing was wanting but opportunity:
His ancestors, whose virtues he inherited,
He honoured by his deeds.
Quick in apprehending his orders,
Active and bold in the execution of them;
In success modest,
In adverse circumstances firm,
In doubtful enterprises, wise and prudent.
Awhile successful in his career;
At length assailed by adverse winds, and on an hostile shore,
He was captured;
And being soon after brought to Paris,
Was confined in the prison called the Temple,
‘Infamous for midnight murders’,
And placed in the most rigid custody:
But in bonds,
And suffering severities still more oppressive,
His fortitude of mind and fidelity to his country
Remained unshaken.
A short time after,
He was found in the morning with his throat cut.
And dead in his bed:
He died the 28th October, 1805, aged 36.
To be lamented by his Country,
Avenged by his God!

It is difficult to characterise the maneouvrings of the various interests within the British and French governments. The French, for their part, were concerned to identify those working against their interests, and many were imprisoned and tortured in attempts to learn who were ranged against Napoleon and French interests. They were also unsuccessful in their attempts to find the links between the British and royalists who, appalled by the self-proclaimed Emperor Napoleon, wished to reintroduce monarchy to France. British diplomacy and their links with the conspirators was severely compromised, a state that redounded on its interests world-wide.

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Military and cartographic issues

As will be obvious from what has gone before, while putting together these notes on the Babaud and Masson families, I have come across a number of individuals who were military officers in both the French armies and navy. It is notable that the French military were significantly better advanced both in military science as well as in the use of cartography – the latter admirably developed by the Cassini family – than the British. The interaction of military movement and cartography go hand in hand and, in this area, the French held significant advantages which were not countered by the British for some time, in fact until the early years of the nineteenth century.

A second issue is that there were a significant number of French Catholics serving in the French military at the beginning of the French Revolution. The majority of these would have been French, of course, but there were also a significant number of foreign soldiers, among them British officers. Some of these Catholics found themselves unable to support Revolutionary France and gave their skills and experience to the British, an extremely useful asset at this period of European history.

more to be written…



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The Cassini family
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