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. Born on the 17th November 1715 Dominique Joseph 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 around 181,200 gms 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. by the architect Claude Billard de Bélisard or Bellissard. 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 a series of 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 made available in our schools and to the public, but we seem to have learned little in school about what was happening in Europe at that time. It appears 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, this 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 Boësnier were married about 1720 and had two daughters, Marie Charlotte Jeanne – who married Louis Jacques Gilbert Robert, Baron de Poiroux and Marquis de Lézardière 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 and naval commissioner, 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

Mme Masson in the company of Dorat and her two children – courtesy of Wikidata

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 was appointed Chief Clerk to the Controller General of Finances responsible for businesses in Lorraine and, in 1740, Director General of French mines and minerals.

Marie Boësnier was born on the 14th February 1711 at Blois in the Loir-et-Cher department of central France. The second of four children, she was the older sister of the youngest of the four, who became the economist Paul Boësnier de l’Orme.

At the age of sixteen, she married Jacques Masson in Blois on the 20th January 1728 with whom she had two children: Charlotte Babaud de La Chaussade in 1736 and Angélique-Dorothée de La Chaussade a year later in April 1737. Following the death of Jacques Masson, she again married, this time to Jean Babaud by whom she had a son, Alexandre Frédéric Jacques Masson de Pezay. Charlotte married Louis Jacques Gilbert Robert Lézardière, records stating she was married at the age of twelve in 1748.

This illustration is said to show her with Claude Joseph Dorat, standing, and her two children, Angélique-Dorothée and Alexandre Frédéric Jacques on their knees. She appears to be elderly at this stage. Her death is reported as being in 1767, which would have made these two children respectively thirty and twenty-six at her death.

Angélique-Dorothée – Demoiselle Masson following the marriage of her mother 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. Incidentally, Paul Boësnier de l’Orme was a neighbour of the Count de Cheverny who wrote much about her in his memoirs.

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, dramatist and writer Claude Joseph Dorat, a man who was 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, by Charles Dominique Joseph Eisen, 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. In power from 1777 to 1781 as Director-General of the Royal treasury – as opposed to Comptroller-General, according to his daughter – Necker was succeded by Jean-François Joly de Fleury.

Recalled in 1789 the King nevertheless dismissed Necker on the 11th July 1789 only a few months after his having published the national budget, one of the factors leading to the storming of the Bastille. Within a few days he was again recalled by the King and the Assembly.

I’m unsure when, but Mme de Cassini attempted to obtain a pension of three thousand livres from Necker with the threat of publishing letters and documents illustrating the means by which her brother had assisted Necker to his appointment as 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 provincial Brittany 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 in the Loir-et-Cher département of Centre-Val de Loire 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 so it is quite possible that they parted company.

Like Mme de Cassini, the properties of Caroline de Murat, Marquise de Pezay were confiscated by the Revolution. She returned to Paris, living in straitened circumstances, first taking room and board in a home run by former nuns. Her sons joined her in France in 1800. She died on the 25th December 1828.

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Angélique-Dorothée Cassini

The contract of marriage between Angélique-Dorothée Babaud and Dominique Joseph Cassini – with permission from Familles parisiennes

Meanwhile, Angélique-Dorothée Babaud became Mme de Cassini when, on the 21st April 1754 at the age of seventeen – an ‘emancipated minor’ as this contract of marriage states – she married maréchal de camp Dominique Joseph Cassini, a successful military officer who was twenty-two years older than her.

Dominique Joseph was the third of the five children of Jacques Cassini, known as the scientist Cassini II, and Suzanne Françoise Charpentier de Charmois, and the younger brother of César François Cassini – who became known as Cassini III.

Following her marriage, and in line with contemporary behaviours, Mme de Cassini embarked on a number of liaisons. One such liaison was a long and public association she enjoyed with the Prince de Condé and, later, with Yves-Marie Desmarets who, in turn, became marquis de Maillebois (1715-1791) on the death of his father, Jean-Baptiste-François Desmarets, marquis de Maillebois and baron de Châteauneuf-en-Thimerais (1682-1762), with whom it is possible she had also enjoyed a relationship.

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

In that socio-cultural climate there certainly may have been other relationships; the Prince de Condé has already been mentioned and it is possible she may have had a close relationship with the Prussian Ambassador, Goltz, whose views she is said to have been responsible for introducing to both Maillebois and Vergennes, the Foreign Minister of King Louis XVI antipathetic to Britain and its interests.

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. But 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 Prince de Condé and, later the Marquis de Maillebois 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.

Those who were, or who considered themselves to be, leaders in French 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 in the 7th arrondissement which she is said to have shared with the Marquis de Maillebois. In fact a number of references suggested they lived together.

I have also seen a reference to the Cassini family living at No. 10 Rue de Babylone in the middle of the eighteenth century. I have assumed this would have referred to the home of 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, a setting and operation which may have been only loosely monitored by the Revolution.

As an aside, Mme de Cassini was, at the time of her marriage, a relatively rich individual. Having brought to her marriage a considerable dowry as mentioned above it is understandable that her activities might have extended outside the arts. Apparently she had business interests not just in France but also abroad. For instance, in a letter from her friend the Comte de Maillebois to Benjamin Franklin of the 27th February 1782, he mentions that Mme de Cassini had business in America and attached documents apparently asking Franklin to help organise the legalising of her Powers of Attorney there. These authorised Jean Holker, a French merchant and Consular Agent, to obtain from Roulhac of Charleston (probably Joseph Blount Grégoire de Roulhac) her share of the proceeds from the ship ‘Discret’ in which she had, in 1778, invested 60,000 livres, equivalent to around 18,100 gms of gold at that time.

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 out and her performances attended by the most fashionable courtiers and famous admirers. It may not be 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.

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

This contemporary illustration shows a scene from the play. The words below it are difficult to read but might be freely translated as:

Stop! Ah! There have been too many awful crimes;
This unfortunate day has cost the lives of enough victims.

The performing of this play in her salon at the rue de Babylone is said to have brought Mme de Cassini considerable opprobrium due to its depiction of the suicide of a nun. A correspondent told me that it may also have harmed her in that she played the leading rôle in this first showing. Because of its subject matter the Archbishop of Paris forbade any further showing and it wasn’t performed again until the 7th December 1791 at the salon of comtesse d’Houdetot at her house in Sannois, Val d’Oise, just fifteen kilometres from the centre of Paris. The first overtly anti-religious play in France, it is likely to 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.

Bear in mind that this would have been a time of the burgeoning of romanticism with respect to democracy, equality and their influence on human rights – though it was soon to be dissipated in the 1793 excesses of the revolution and the outbreak of war with Britain, the latter temporarily being suspended by the Treaty of Amiens in 1802, but continuing a year later and not coming to an end until 1815.

The play seeks to infer that female convents were institutions in which neophytes were forced into taking religious vows. Presumably it was written either to reinforce the prejudices of those who already thought this, or to persuade others that this was a fact. 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, creating a significant stir at the time, 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) are said to more accurately portray female convent life in 18th century France.

An image of the front page of a poem by Mme de Cassini – with permission from Librería Anticuaria Comellas

Mme de Cassini wrote and acted in a number of plays such as the previously mentioned ‘Mélanie’, or ‘La Religieuse’. Additionally she wrote poetry, as did many of her educated contemporaries, as a matter of course for those moving in her social circles, many also writing and performing music and painting. But this image illustrates the cover of a poem she wrote on the execution of Louis XVI by the Revolution suggesting, by characterising the execution as an assassination, a strong political condemnation. Apparently published in 1793 while she was said to be in exile in London, the poem certainly would have shown where her allegiancies were at the time and would have exacerbated any difficulties she might have been experiencing with the Revolution. Though it might be thought she would have felt relatively safe in London or the Low Countries, various sources suggest that she had returned, impoverished, to Paris in 1792 having spent only a relatively short time with the marquis de Maillebois in Breda where he died in December 1791, her husband Dominique-Joseph having died in Fillerval, near Thury in April 1790. I have been unable to trace her life accurately in the years between 1792 and its end, though I know she visited London in 1797.

While I have been unable to access that poem, following is a small example of her earlier style discovered in the philosophical and literary correspondence of Baron Friedrich Melchior Grimm from March 1777 – The Announcement of Spring:

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 compl´┐Żte 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.

There is more written below on Angélique-Dorothée Cassini, as Mme de Cassini, but I should add a note here that I found a record of her death on the 10th May 1809, though I believe she died on the 8th May 1805, as noted here.

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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). 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 had 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.

The liaison is recorded as having begun in 1770, coincidentally the year in which Marie-Catherine de Brignole-Sale, the ex-wife of Honoré III, Prince of Monaco, obtained her legal separation from her husband, later becoming the mistress of Louis-Joseph whom she eventually married.

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.

It is possible that the Prince de Condé’s military career may have been marred by the intrigues of Mme de Cassini. It is recorded by Mme de la Ferté-Imbault, that in 1773 Mme de Cassini intrigued behind his back with the duc d’Aiguillon, while apparently suggesting he might be advanced to grand maître de l’artillerie, a significant, though honorary title that had been abolished militarily in 1755.

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 as well as having 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 first to Germany and then to England in 1801. His first marriage to Charlotte Godefride de Rohan-Soubise on the 3rd May 1753 had ended with her death in 1760 at the age of 23. His second wife was Marie-Catherine de Brignole-Sale, the ex-wife of Honoré III, Prince of Monaco from whom she legally separated in 1770, living with Louis-Joseph openly as his mistress in the first instance, but marrying secretly on the 24th October 1798. The marriage was only made public on the 26th December 1808. 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, five years after Maria-Catherine.

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 where, in 1818, she married and became the Baronne de Feuchères.

On becoming the Prince de Condé Louis Henri 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. His lover, the Baronne of Feuchères, perhaps a witness or participant, left the scene of the tragedy rather than call for help. The following enquiry was undecided and she consistently denied having assassinated Louis Henri. A beneficiary of Louis Henri’s will, she died ten years later in London, on the 15th December 1840.

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, comte 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. 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, 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. With the support of Frederick the Great, the reputation of Vergennes with Louis XIV and influence by Mme de Cassini, Maillebois was appointed to command of the Dutch army in a ceremony at the Hague on 22nd March 1785, a characteristic of the Dutch army being that it was usually commanded by a foreigner, until 1783, Duke Louis of Brunswick. His title was General of Infantry. 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 contained within an anonymous document from Turin to the Commune in Paris, 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.

These investigations obviously included his personal life. As well as his being thought to have counter-revolutionary tendencies, and plotting flight for the Royal family, information was given about his relationship with Mme de Cassini, these being noted in a publication in the Parliamentary Archives of the National Assembly of the 2nd August 1790.

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 on the 14th December 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 who is Dominique Joseph, Marquis de Cassini, the husband of Madame de Cassini. Bear in mind that there were considerable movements in military organisations around France in these troubled times as individuals attempted to structure armies to support their different causes.

Maillebois wrote to His Serene Higness the Prince d’Orange and Nassau on the 18th April 1785 asking him to approve the appointment of Cassini to his army with the rank of, at least, General Major. Maillebois noted that, at the time of writing, Cassini was not only Colonel Commandant of Maillebois’ Legion, but Marechal de Camp in France since Letters Patent were published for that commission in 1767 by the French King. He also reminded the Prince that Cassini would be paid by himself, Maillebois. The Prince replied on the 22nd April 1785 essentially saying that he had no objection.

Consequently, the Council of State, in its resolution of the 22nd April 1785, elevated Cassini from the rank of Colonel Commandant to General Major of Cavalry with effect from 1767, Cassini having been Marshal de Camp of the French army from that date, apparently a compatible rank with the new command.

In accordance with his contract with the Council of State, Maillebois raised a corps known as the Legion de Troupes Légeres or Ligte Troeppe Maillebois Legioen established as four independent brigades. Each comprised four companies of light cavalry, four companies of fusiliers, line infantry and a company of skirmishers – chasseurs-a-pied In addition the legion had a company of artillery. Although the legion was headed by Maillebois, his ill health and age required that much of his duties were carried out by his second in command, Dominique Joseph, Marquis de Cassini.

But it appears from a document printed in 1784 that not only was Cassini thought to be old and not up to the task by those dealing with him – it is said he was censured more than once for his incapabilities – but many, if not most of the officers were given their posts with the involvement of his wife, Mme de Cassini.

The Legion was stationed at Hertogenbosch, in Brabant. Most of the officers of the Legion were French or had served in the Royal army, while the rank and file were mostly Dutch and Walloons with a small number of Germans.

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 and orders for his arrest issued. 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, that although the date of his death stated as being the 8th April 1790 may be incorrect, as soon as her husband died, Mme de Cassini left to join her lover, Maillebois, at Maastricht. Sadly for Mme de Cassini, Yves-Marie Desmarets died on the 14th or 17th December 1791 at, I believe, Liège or, perhaps, 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.

However the death of King Louis XVI on the 21st January 1793 at the Place de la Révolution in Paris must have seen Mme de Cassini leave Paris or Maastricht for London where she published in the same year an ‘Ode sur la Mort de Louis XVI Roi de France et de Navarre, Assassiné par la Convention nationale, le 21 Janvier 1793, Par Madame la Marquise de Cassini, Londres 1793’. Various sources suggest that she continued pro-royalist activities during this period.

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

A detail of Mme de Cassini from a painting by Carmontelle of Mme Joseph Philippe de Bréget sitting with Mme de Cassini – courtesy of Wikipedia

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 the French regions of Normandy and Brittany.

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

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 suggests 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 through French inheritance laws of which I am not aware.

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 Féicité de Mony. The marriage of Gabriel and Louise produced a son, Adolphe de Forceville de Colembert who married Isabelle de Serve.

A detail from a painting by Carmontelle of Mme Joseph Philippe de Bréget with Mme de Cassini – courtesy of Wikipedia

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, formerly Marguerite Madeleine Herbert, 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 younger and unrelated friends as this might have been a habit of the time; 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 – initiator of the British secret service activities during the French Revolution – 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, from where he subsequently made 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 – the British Secretary at War 1794-1801 – diary it is difficult to obtain a good understanding of his attitude to the Prince de Condé due to the abbreviated character of his entries, but it appears that he was unhappy 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. However, there are mentions of meetings with Royalists from time to time as well as with William Windham, referring to him as being ‘English minister in Switzlerland’, the latter having taken a law degree in Geneva in 1786. Incidentally he refers to Windham as being the cousin of George Canning, the British Minister and, briefly, Prime Minister.

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 – Nº.3 Lisson Grove and Nº.11 North Baker Street – writing four letters in a frail hand to Windham. In essence, the letters are formal notes in character referencing their meetings, but demonstrate that she was important enough for Windham to meet her a number of times. It seems entirely probable that there is a connection between her visit, the British interests in overturning the revolution in France and her political and personal connections. While it is not clear where she was living abroad, it is probable that it was in the Low Countries where her husband had been, Paris being too dangerous for her after the publication of her poem relating to the death of Louis XVI.

Looking into the movement of Mme de Cassini in England, I have only been able to find two relevent records. Firstly it is evident that she stayed at an address in Marylebone, north-west London when visiting and meeting Windham in the latter half of 1797 at a time when she was no longer the important figure in French society she had once been. However, it is evident that she maintained strong connections to the Royalist interests, if not acting as a spokesperson, messenger or go-between.

Secondly, Mme de Cassini is recorded as being the godmother of Laure de Butler who was born in London on the 7th March 1799. Laure de Butler was the daughter of Jean Pantaléon de Butler, comte de Butler, and Lydia Kerridge, originally Kerredge, who were married on the 17th June 1797 in London. Sadly, Laure only lived a short time, dying on the 2nd January 1801 in London where she was buried at a cemetery in St. Pancras. Laure’s other godparent was Louis Pantaléon de Noé, marquis de Noé, 1728-1816. So far I have not been able to determine the relationship between Mme de Cassini and Laure de Butler’s parents; whether it was by marriage or, perhaps, a social relationship.

Apparently English, Lydia Kerridge married Louis Pantaléon de Butler following the death of his first wife, Marie Alexandrine Reine de Jassaud at the age of twenty-seven with whom he had had a son, Charles Édouard, in 1791. Marie Alexandrine Reine was guillotined at a day’s notice on the 26th July 1794 at the Barrière du Trône, Paris though had tried to delay the execution claiming she was pregnant through an illicit association in prison. Lydia Kerridge had been the mistress of Louis Pantaléon de Butler from 1794 until their marriage in 1797 when he legitimised their two children, Marie Josèph and Louise, born out of wedlock in 1795 and 1796 respectively.

There is a probable record of their marriage at St Marylebone Parish church, London, on the 17th June 1797 when a John Butler, widow, and Lydia Kerredge, spinster, both of that parish, were married. This would have been an Anglican marriage which is surprising as John Butler is likely to have been a Catholic, though Catholicism was proscribed in England at that time. Also surprising is that there were no witnesses of family or friends, the two witnesses to the marriage appear to have been ordinary witnesses as they also signed at other weddings in the records.

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

Although I believe the Prince de Condé came to England in 1795, so far I have been unable to uncover any information confirming Mme de Cassini liaising with him 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, the ninth Prince de Condé who moved to Wanstead following the disbanding of his army in 1801, renting it from 1802 to 1810.

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

Here, at Wanstead House 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 now 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 her being godmother to the child prodigy and composer, Angélique-Dorothée-Louise Grétry – known as Lucile Grétry who, born on the 15th July 1772, tragically died of tuberculosis at the age of eighteen on the 25th August 1790. Incidentally, the other godparent was the distinguished Lieutenant in the Army of the King, Louis-Paul de Brancas.

A garden view of the Hôtel Cassini – courtesy of the French Wikipedia

It is not clear where Dominique-Joseph Cassini and his wife lived following their marriage on the 21st April 1754 but they later established themselves in Paris, living in a substantial building, the Hôtel de Cassini at 32 Rue de Babylone in the 7th Arondissment. Designed by the architect, Claude Billard de Bélisard and constructed by Louis-Pierre Lemonnier – both of them engaged in works for the Prince de Condé – it was completed in 1768. This photograph of it shows its façade to the rear garden, its frontage hidden from the street by a substantial wall incorporating the entrance gate. Funds for the development had been borrowed by Dominique-Joseph from Antoine de Landrieffe to whom the hôtel was returned, presumably by the revolutionary government in 1794, Dominique-Joseph having failed to repay de Landrieffe.

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 must have been allowed by the Revolution to return to Paris, this being a time of the relatively safe romantic ideals of democracy and equality. However, it would not have been long before she left again. Prior to leaving Paris she had been an extremely wealthy woman, but her estates had been confiscated by the Revolution on her flight to join Maillebois. Her return to Paris saw her impoverished, her brother and husband both dead. Whether for political or social reasons 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.

No 19, Rue de Cherche-Midi, taken around the turn of the 20th Century – adapted from the Fromageot book

In 1786 the house was bought from the Marquis Le Boucher de Martigny for the sum of 37,965 livres by the master-carpenter, Jean Duchesne, who was already the tenant of four properties in the area owned by the Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré, commonly known as Premonstratensians or Norbertines, and who owned a number of other properties in this area of Paris.

It appears that Duchesne bought the house to be close to his own properties through which, with the passage time, a variety of people of different status passed, including three volunteers of the Prémontrés battalion – these battalions established by the Revolution in each district to protect France against its enemies – a student of the artist Davide, Victor Peytavin, and, probably in 1792 or 1793, Mme de Cassini perhaps wishing to remain near to her previous house.

I had thought that it was in this house at nº. 19 rue de Cherche-Midi that Mme de Cassini died on the 8th May 1805 at the age of sixty-eight. The date of her death is stated by Fromageot where he also refers to it being recorded in the table of deaths of the Seine registration district, Volume 234.

However, in late 2019 I discovered that this is unlikely to be so. Two documents kindly provided to me by the Archives de Paris show that, in the first document, Angélique-Dorothée Babaud died at the age of seventy-five on the 10th May 1809.

This is confirmed in the second document which is an official record of earlier documentation – this being an extract from the register of death certificates in the year 1809 for the 11th arrondissement. In a statement made at three in the afternoon, two young men, François Noël, the owner, and Etienne Marie Michel Leduc, a law student both living at nº. 10 rue de Condé reported that, at five o’clock in the morning, Angélique-Dorothée Babaud, widow of Dominique-Joseph de Cassini, Maréchal de camp, died at nº. 21 rue de Cherche-midi in the 11th arrondissement.

Note that the 11th arrondissement is now on the right or north bank of the river Seine, and that these addresses are now within the 6th arrondissement, the original twelve arrondissements having been defined on the 11th October 1795, but taking their present form as twenty arrondissements from the 3rd November 1859.

In the Official Gazette of the 7th November 1815, nº. 51, Orders of the King, Etienne Marie Michel Leduc

was appointed deputy judge at the court of first instance of Corbeil, department of Seine-et-Oise, replacing Mr. Deschouen, appointed to other functions; and we grant to said Mr. Leduc the exemptions from the representation of the diploma of law graduate.

Part map of Paris showing the two addresses courtesy of Bing maps

It is not clear how these two young men came to discover or learn of the death of Mme de Cassini, but it might be that at least Leduc had an official function in reporting the death of the seventy-five year old Mme de Cassini in that he had some legal training. Note that there was a considerable and indirect distance between their two addresses. The illustration here shows the locations of the two addresses today, but I have so far been unable to discover where the mairie of the 11th arrondissement was located.

Incidentally, if her age at death is correct, it is likely that she would have been born in 1734 not 1737 as I have written elsewhere; but perhaps it is more likely that her age at death was incorrect.

As noted above, a number of sources – one of them Fromageot – state that it is not known why her nephews took so long before claiming and selling the assets of her estate in July 1809. This is incorrect but must have been based on the belief she died in 1805 and not 1809.

A document dated 24th August 1809, and confirming her date of death as being the 10th May 1809, sets out the sale of her furniture which produced the sum of 1,155.85 francs, on which the heirs paid transfer taxes of 14.50 francs – apparently 1.25% – if I have understood the poorly written document correctly.

The document appears to mention four other people whom I assume were to benefit from the disposition of Mme de Cassini’s goods and chattels:

  • Marie-Charlotte-Pauline Robert de Lézardière (25th March 1754 - 8th February 1835) was a daughter of Marie-Jeanne-Charlotte Babaud de la Chaussade, the sister of Angélique-Dorothée Babaud, Mme de Cassini. A French historian, she had emigrated with her family during the Terror, a number of members of her family having been executed. She returned to the Vendée Atlantic départment in 1801;
  • Gilberte-Aimée Robert de Lézardière (1756-1829) was a sister of Marie-Louise Robert de Lézardière. Together they established the school for young girls at Notre-Dame de Bois-Grolland abbey, Poiroux;
  • Marie-Louise Robert de Lézardière (1758-1834) was a sister of Gilberte-Aimée and Marie-Charlotte-Pauline Robert de Lézardière. In 1805 she returned to the religious order of Ursulines under the name of Sister Sainte-Angéle. In 1807 or 1808 she bought and founded a school for young girls at the Cistercian Notre-Dame de Bois-Grolland abbey, Poiroux in the Vendée. Later she became the mother-superior of the Ursulines of Luçon, also in the Vendée, in 1815; and
  • Joseph Alexis Robert de Lézardière (20th August 1765 - 11th April 1858), who was a brother of the three sisters, and was a Captain in the Flanders’ regiment who emigrated during the Terror and served in the army of the Prince de Condé;

In the order of their being mentioned in the document, Joseph-Alexis, Marie-Charlotte-Pauline, Gilberte-Aimée and Marie-Louise were four of the sixteen children – of whom seven were daughters – of Baron Louis-Jacques-Gilbert Robert de Lézardière and Marie-Jeanne-Charlotte Babaud de la Chaussade; a nephew and three nieces of Angélique-Dorothée Babaud, Mme de Cassini.

Sadly for Mme de Cassini, and her inheritors, her dowry of around 6,290 ozs of gold had been reduced by her support of the monarchy to furniture worth the equivalent of less than 13 ozs.

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

It was said that there may have been some comfort to her in having the Marquis Corey-Joseph Le Sénéchal of Carcado-Molac living in the same house. Born on the 25th November 1710, and twice married, he moved to the house in 1800. Earlier, in 1792, he had experienced difficulties when the Revolution accused him of sending two of his sons under the pretence of delivering letters to the Count d’Artois and the Prince de Condé instead to visit the Prince of Wales in England who apparently owed monies to Carcado-Molac. He died in the house at the age of eighty-five years on July 16, 1806, three years prior to the death of Madame de Cassini there. It is extremely probable that he and Madame de Cassini would have had similar interests.

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 Carcado, an act that brought together the two branches of the Carcado. 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, as well as being a spy, he claimed to be female – in a writ issued on the 13th February 1779, for d’Éon de Beaumon’s claim of descent from the same family.

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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

William Windham – courtesy of Wikimedia

Born in London on the 14th May 1750, William Windham was educated at Eton and the universities of Glasgow and Oxford. He entered Parliament on the 5th April 1784 as the member for Norwich where his family was based. His early support of the American colonists then engaged in their War of Independence was paralleled by initial interest in the activities of the Revolution in France though he compared it with the British parliamentary system which was based on election by the people.

Windham spent three weeks in France in August and September 1789, returning to Paris in September 1791 where he witnessed the introduction of the new constitution at the National Assembly, but being critical of its humiliation of King Louis XVI as well as the principle of parliamentary reform. At that time he foresaw nothing of the violence that was to come.

His dislike of parliamentary reform and the displacing of the Royalty saw him support the short-lived war in the Vendée region of France, which lasted from March to December 1793. This uprising was pro-Catholic and Royalty, perhaps due to the relatively settled character of the region and its resident nobility. However, the insurrection was put down with considerable savagery, enhancing the concerns of those in England viewing trends in Europe.

War against France was declared on the 9th February 1793 following the execution of Louis XVI on the 21st January 1793. On the 17th June 1793, the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, offered Windham the position of Secretary at War which he accepted until resigning on the 7th February 1801 on the issue of Catholic emancipation. His Royalist sympathies saw him obtaining a degree of support for French emigrées and the Quiberon expedition, but his activities to restore the Bourbons and support the Royalists was not met with universal Cabinet support and dwindled with the intransigence he found there.

Nevertheless he continued to meet with and advance the Royalist cause as best he could. His meetings with Madame de Cassini would be seen to be a part of this work but, probably more importantly, he also met Pichegru in May 1798 who, with others had escaped from their prison in Guiana.

On the 7th February 1801, along with Pitt, Windham resigned in reaction to George III’s veto of Catholic emancipation in the King’s belief it would violate his coronation oath.

The Peace of Amiens was signed on the 25th March 1802 putting an end to the French Revolutionary wars with France.

William Windham died on the 4th June 1810 following complications from an operation to remove a tumour that developed after a fall. He was thought brilliant by many, but considered to be too far right a Whig to be effective in politics.

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William Wickham

Detail of the front page of the 1793 Aliens Act

Revolutionary activities in France, coinciding with the American War of Independence, increased concerns in Britain for its own stability. The anti-Catholic Gordon riots of 1780 – responding to the Papist Act of 1778 which relaxed official discrimination against Catholics – resulted in hundreds of deaths and, due to these and other anxieties of the middle- and upper-classes, a number of attempts were made in Parliament to form a policing organisation.

It is not surprising that Britain was attempting to develop better safety with a need for intelligence both inside its borders as well as outside them. The failure of the Police Bill of 1785 saw the passing of the Middlesex Justices Act of 1792 which was followed with the Aliens Act in 1793, a temporary measure that was increasingly unused, the Aliens Office closing with the Registration of Aliens Act 1836. The purpose of the Act was to ensure that every foreigner entering the country would be registered.

The Middlesex Justices Act not only created a system of magistrates, but a small supporting police force. This latter 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 thought to be associated with certain London clubs.

William Wickham – courtesy of Wikimedia

One of the magistrates appointed as an integral element of the Bill was William Wickham, born the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Wickham of Cottingley, West Yorkshire on the 11th November 1761. He was first a student at Harrow and then a scholarship student at Christ Church, Oxford where he graduated with a B.A. in 1782. From there he went on to Geneva where he gained a degree in law at its university in 1786 and in the same year was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn. It was in Geneva that he met his future wife, the daughter of a professor of mathematics. They were married on the 10th August 1788 at Geneva Cathedral.

This was a turbulent time across the Channel with King Louis XVI being executed in January 1793. From his appointment in 1793 as a stipendiary magistrate Wickham undertook secret work for the government at the behest of Lord Grenville in his position as Foreign Secretary. While many in government maintained informers or spies this is now regarded, in effect, as the beginning the British Secret Service. The Aliens Act was followed in the next year, 1794, with Wickham being appointed Superintendent of Aliens by the Duke of Portland, the Home Secretary. It was evident that the British government was increasingly concerned by the rising unrest and instability witnessed in France and the countries it bordered.

Although Wickham had been appointed Superintendent of Aliens, his previous experience in Switzerland saw him sent there in an attempt to investigate the veracity of a suggestion from a French source that a peace settlement might be found, and to develop this as best he might. It was there he spent some time, reporting back to London. 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 Wickham in a slightly better position from other magistrates with a government intent on dealing with the problems at hand.

Token of Louis-Charles at the age of ten – Courtesy of Wikimedia

However, this initiative was immediately halted with the death of Louis-Charles, titular Louis XVII, at the age of ten in the Temple prison in Paris, on the 8th June 1795. Although Wickham had settled into Swiss life, first as 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 – though it was evident that, in order to be able to carry out this work, he had to take account of what was happening in France.

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 manoeuvering of individuals acting out of self-interest or weakness, and some important defeats of Royalist forces. The result of this was that the insurrection centring on the Midi that Wickham had envisaged, proved impossible to bring about. One of the important factors in this was a poorly considered declaration made by Louis XVIII – brother of Louis XVI, titular head following the death of his young nephew Louis-Charles – 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 machinations required by all involved in the problems of Europe proved increasingly wearing for Wickham. His health suffered and, by the turn of the century he was worn out. He was not alone in this as other members of the government squabbled, drank immoderately and some even committing suicide. Returning to England, Wickham tendered his resignation at the end of 1800 anticipating a continuation of work in the foreign service, preferably as Governor of Malta – though he was also involved in the problems in Ireland where he had sympathy for the Catholics. But the delicate negotiations with France now placed him in a difficult position because of his espionage work on the continent.

However, Wickham was able to continue his career in government, moving away from the problems in France, but to the related difficulties the United Kingdom was facing in Ireland. With the transition of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the Speaker’s chair, that Irish post became vacant. This was offered and accepted by Wickham along with, on the 13th January 1802, his appointment as a Privy Councillor which he saw as a recognition by the King of his work on the continent.

At the heart of the difficulties facing him was the difference of opinion as to how Ireland might be brought into the United Kingdom. Some saw this as the addition of another county, but Wickham realised, with others, the sensitivities of the Irish and the difficulties associated with short and long term control. The Act of Union, which came into effect on the 1st January 1801, had created bitterness on both sides of the Irish Sea and Wickham’s concern to move forward with religious reforms was contrary to government policy.

more to be written…

The trial of Robert Emmet – Courtesy of Wikipedia

While the Irish rebellion of May 1798 had been focussed on the Irish government, the Irish rebellion of 1803 was raised against the now British administration of Ireland. It was a brief affair. Following a degree of preparation the previous year, it began in the centre of Dublin on the 23rd July 1803 and focussed on Dublin Castle. Led by Robert Emmet it was almost immediately called off when Emmet witnessed the brutality of some of the rebels – ones over whom he had no control – in the main fighting on Thomas Street. He escaped but, with others, was caught a month later and hanged on Thomas Street on the 20th September 1803.

Giving his ill-health as a reason for giving up his post – earlier it had been suggested that he might resign for the honourable reason of a conflict of interests with his friend, Lord William Grenville – Wickham tendered his resignation as Chief Secretary for Ireland in January 1804.

Combined with his illness, and the political ascendancy of William Pitt, Wickham felt increasingly unable to carry out his government functions.

more to be written…

Wickham retired in 1807 and lived out a quiet life in relatively straitened circumstances. He maintained a friendship with Lord Greville but his latter years were spent visiting friends in England and Switzerland and often passing winter in the south of France. But these years were marked by illness and depression. His wife died in April 1836 in Geneva, and he died four years later in Brighton on the 22nd October 1840.

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Developments on the continent

Storming of the Tuileries – Courtesy of Wikimedia

Concerned by the rising support for Royalists, the 4th September 1797 saw the 18th Fructidor coup d’état by the Vicomte de Barras, Jean-François Rewbell and Louis Marie de La Révellière-Lépeaux, with the addition of Philippe Merlin de Douai and Nicolas-Louis François de Neufchâteau to complete the revised five Directors of the Directoire. The coup d’état was carried out by Bonaparte’s General Pierre Augereau who was sent from Italy to support General Lazare Hoche, then commander of the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse, and to make the arrests. Following the coup, 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 Cayenne, French Guiana, travelling and held under cruel conditions.

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. But this may have been due to the Directoire which, irritated by his activities, managed to have him returned to England in January 1798. It was here he received Pichegru and others whose escape had been organised from their prison in Guiana.

Resigning from his position as Superintendent of Aliens, Wickham was appointed Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Here he was able to combine sources of information from the Foreign Office, Admiralty, War Office, Post Office and Home Office. This combining of internal and external intelligence services essentially made Wickham the head of Britain’s secret services.

Defeat of the rebels at Vinegar Hill – Courtesy of Wikimedia

Meanwhile the government was becoming increasingly concerned about the situation in Ireland where the United Irishmen and Scottish radicals sought closer links with France. The Irish rebellion of May 1798 had its conceptual origins in the American and French revolutions and, with British forces active elsewhere it must have seemed a propitious time to begin an uprising. The United Irishmen were formed of Irish Presbyterians who were joined by Catholics in wanting to see an Ireland free of the British and their Protestant support. In June the rebels were fortified by a small French contingent under General Humbert who landed in County Mayo to support the rebellion. But the British forces overwhelmed the rebels and brought the insurrection to an end by September 1798.

A four hundred livres assignat issued in 1792 – Courtesy of Wikimedia

In France, the Directoire was engaged in a continuous series of wars with a number of coalitions of its neighbouring states as well as with states further away. This led to economic difficulties with the Assignat, a paper monetary instrument issued by the National Assembly between 1789 and 1796, but depreciating and fomenting considerable public unrest mainly due to its being based on confiscated Catholic and Royal property. The Assignat was produced in relatively high values however, with the intent on its being used to purchase land, proved impractical in daily use.

The Directoire under Barras now fell into increasing disrepute through its corruption. This led to a coup d’état on the 18th June 1799, establishing the Consulate with Sieyès and Roger Ducos as the main directors. However, Bonaparte, on his return from Egypt in October 1799, carried out a coup d’état on the 18th Brumaire, 9th November 1799, establishing the new Consulate.

The Consulate was duly legalised by the Council of the Ancients on the 10th November 1799 and was headed by three Consuls – Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles-François Lebru. Napoleon gradually reinforced his position as First Consul and head of the triumvirate, emasculating both the other two Consuls as well as the Assemblies. This escalation of his powers lasted until the dissolution of the Consulate on the 18th May 1804, and the beginning of what is known as the Napoleonic Empire.

On the 7th February 1800 a public national referendum on a new constitution was held. It confirmed Napoleon as First Consul and the effective leader of the French nation. His popularity increased with military victories and increasing acquisition of lands. On the 2nd August 1802 a second national referendum was held confirming Napoleon as consul à vie – the first Consul for Life. This was followed on the 2nd December 1804 by his being crowned Emperor in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris by Pope Pius VII.

France’s war with Austria was brought to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Lunéville on the 9th February 1801, and ceding part of Italy to France – though war was to break out again in 1805.

Following difficult and protracted negotiations, the next year saw the Treaty of Amiens signed with Britain on the 25th March 1802. This period of peace lasted only a year but initially was extremely well received by the British public. The latter part of the year saw many English taking the opportunity of the lifting of hostilities to visit France, particularly Paris, while some of the French émigrés felt they were now able to return to France.

more to be written…

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Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith

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

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.

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:

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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