Polite Robber of the 18th Century: Louis Mandrin

Polite Robber of the 18th Century: Louis Mandrin
Louis Mandrin at Age 36, Author’s Collection

Louis Mandrin was a well-known French smuggler and highwayman during Louis XV’s reign. He was also extremely popular during his lifetime and considered the Robin Hood of France because he rebelled against Louis XV’s tax collectors. The tax collectors, called fermiers, collected taxes for salt (the gabelle), tobacco, and farming. The tax collectors had to pay a specific amount to the king, but they could exact what they wanted from the people, and as many were greedy, most people hated them.

Mandrin became legendary for his exploits. He also formed a gang, became its leader, and targeted unpopular tax collectors, which gained him loyalty and support from the local population as they too felt abused by the tax collectors. He also, supposedly, at least once, presented himself as a polite robber, and one nineteenth century English newspaper published an article about the robbery, which is provided below verbatim:

“In the year 1754 Mandrin made his appearance at the gates of Montbrison, and, being numerously escorted no one ever thought of offering the least resistance. He then took up quarters in the town, levied no contributions on the inhabitants, and maintained the strictest discipline among his troops; even ordering one of his companions to be shot for having stolen an object of trifling value.

“After laying his plans for the safety of himself and his band, Louis Mandrin, having dressed himself elegantly in a richly embroidered court suit, repaired to the house of M. de Palmaroux, the receiver of the gable excise, accompanied by two men in livery.

Monsieur le Receveur, I have come to sup with you, if you will allow me,’ said Mandrin, bowing profoundly, and placing his hat and feathers under his left arm, with all the ease of one who had graduated at court.

‘May I know, sir, whom I have the honor of welcoming?’ stammered forth M. de Palmaroux, half surprised and half frightened, though he did not know the name of his terrible guest.

‘Certainly, sir: my name is Louis Mandrin.’

The receveur was thunderstruck, but his visitor proceeded with great coolness.

‘Do not be precipitate in your exclamations, my dear sir. We cannot judge those whom we only know from afar, and that is why I have come personally to visit you, and to settle your affairs at your social board.’

‘I protest. I do not know what affairs we can have to settle,’ replied the man of taxes, trembling from head to foot.

‘Oh,’ said Mandrin, ‘we shall not have to discuss the matter at any length, and you will ony have to sign. But, first of all, let us sup. Where are the ladies? — Hidden, I suppose, — as if I were not a man of the world! I have that Madame de Palmaroux is very musical, and I should be delighted to hear her; for one of the drawbacks of my profession is to be deprived of music.’

‘Certainly, sir, only I am afraid * * * I believe that madame is indisposed.’

‘Indisposed — for my company, perhaps. * * * This comes of my reputation. I am doubly desirous of personally convincing her there is no cause of fear.’

The lady, however, was not so frightened but that curiosity got the better of her fears; nor did the alarming anticipation of meeting so renowned a brigand face to face make her forget the cares of the toilet.

Louis Mandrin presented a snow-white hand, ornamented with a diamond ring, to conduct Madame de Palmaroux into a supper room; where his two lacqueys placed themselves behind his chair, and attended upon the host and his wife most officiously.

During supper the conversation turned upon the court, the theatres, the last new novel; in short, on every topic except the motive of Mandrin’s visit. At the end of the meal, after emptying his glass for the last time, and having vainly requested the lady to retire, as they were going to talk on business matters, Mandrin requested the receveur to tell him what were the contents of his coffer.

‘Very little, Monsieur Mandrin, very little indeed,’ said his host; ‘the collection has scarcely yielded anything this month —’

‘Mind what you are saying, my dear sir,’ quoth Mandrin, ‘or your accounts may give you the lie. Do not imagine I meant to act like a vulgar robber; I shall give you a receipt for your cash. So tell us candidly, granny Palmaroux, what is the amount of the balance in the general ledger?’

‘6,000 livres, upon my conscience.’

Louis Mandrin then drew forth a small paper, and said, ‘6,790 livres you mean; but 790 is a trifle in the conscience of a financier!’ Then, turning to his accomplices, he added, ‘Accompany this gentleman to his strong box, and get him to give you 6,790 livres; but recollect that I only touch gold, as silver would dirty my fingers, Meanwhile, I’ll write my receipt here, not to leave madame alone. I have always stamped receipts about me, for I like to transact business regularly.’

Then lifting up a corner of the table cloth, not to soil it, Mandrin wrote as follows: — ‘I, the undersigned, Louis Mandrin, merchant, acknowledge having levied the sum of 6,790 livres (wrested violently from the taxpayers) upon the strong box of M. Palmaroux, the receiver of the gable excise; at the same time I declare the said receiver exempt from being called upon to pay the said sum by either the farmers of public revenues or their agents. In testimony where I have left the present receipt to be used by the said accountable party as valid discharge.’

Mandrin then took leave of his hosts; who, though little flattered by his visit, could not but do justice to the exquisite politeness of the far famed robber.”[1]

To learn more about Mandrin as the French Robin Hood, click here.

References:

  • [1] “The Polite Robber,” in Cork Examiner, 15 December 1848,  p. 4.

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