A Curious Love in 1804

Love is often considered inexplicable, and one story of curious love involved two people who fell in love in 1804. However, this story is not your typical love story like that of Napoleon Bonaparte and Désirée Clary, the Marquis de Lafayette and Diane of Simiane, or Eliza de Feuillide and Henry Austen. This story begins in Toulouse, France, when a tribunal was held on 18 November 1804, and the following was printed by the Evening Mail about a month later:

“A young peasant, of the name of LA FAY, of the department of Arriege, fell in love with MARIA ARIGNI, in the parish of Cassaigne. She was a young girl of property, and LA FAY possessed nothing: he dared, therefore, not pay his addresses to her or demand her in the usual manner. Love, however, inspired him with a fraud to make her his wife, both without her own and her relations consent.

curious love

Love at First Sight. Author’s collection.

Accompanied with a person dressed in women’s clothes, he went before the Mayor of St. Gisors, and presented a certificate, stating that the banns for himself and for MARIA ARIGNI had been published, according to law, in the parish church of Cassaigne. LA FAY was, in consequence, married to the person in his company, and took out the certificate of his marriage. With this in his hand, he went directly to Cassaigne, and demanded of MARIA’s relations to have his wife given over to him. The whole family, and most of all the girl, were, as might be expected, greatly surprised. MARIA insisted on knowing nothing of this pretended husband, and declared that she had consented to no marriage, and of course was not married. She protested, therefore, before a public notary, against this act, and signed a power of attorney for her brother to prosecute LA FAY before the tribunals, and to procure her justice and protection from the laws.

Upon enquiry, it was found out that the certificate of the banns being published was a forgery, and the Imperial Attorney-General ordered, therefore LA FAY to be criminally prosecuted. In the mean time, LA FAY concealed himself, and three months passed over in enquiries, to find out whether MARIA ARIGNI, or who else, was the person to whom he had been married. During this period, LA FAY often procured himself opportunity to see MARIA in secret, who, after pitying him, forgave him of his fraud, … and declared her determination to reward the latter with her hand and fortune. She eloped, therefore, from her brother’s house, and joined her lover, whose wife she acknowledged herself to be, and it was in her arms that the gens-d’armes found him, when they went to arrest him, after his retreat was discovered.

curious love

A couple in love. Public domain.

Carried before the tribunal, MARIA stood by his side, and repeated that she was his wife, and that nothing but death should separate them. LA FAY in his turn declared that MARIA was the person to whom he had been married before the Mayor of St. Gisors, and that it was from her he received the forged certificate. This MARIA affirmed, recalled the protest signed before the public notary, together with the power of attorney given to her brother, in saying that both these acts had been signed by her from fear of her brother, who had threatened to kill her in case of refusal. The certificate she said she procured from an unknown person, who had compassion on her situation. She added, that though of age, she dared not only act against her brother’s will, which was the cause of her having behaved as she did, until she found an opportunity of flying into her husband’s arms. In consequence of this declaration, the tribunal ordered even MARIA to be arrested, and after a space of eight months, she, with LA FAY, was carried before their Judges at Toulouse.

The Mayor of St. Gisors, his Secretary, and four other persons witnessing the ceremony of the marriage, were all present, and unanimous in their declaration, that MARIA was not the girl whose marriage with LA FAY they had seen. MARIA, however, insisted on the contrary. She gave a description of the furniture of the room at the municipality of St. Gisors in which they were married. She related some remarks made by the person present during the ceremony, with some words said by the Mayor to the Secretary. She knew again every one who was present, and pointed them out by their names and titles, and recalled to their remembrance some expressions they used on that occasion. As she did not contradict herself, and was so determined to be LA FAY’s wife, the Imperial Commissary, who in the name of the Attorney-General pursued this affair, withdrew his prosecution as to the marriage, but continued it on account of the forged certificate. It was impossible for LA FAY to have been the fabricator of it, as he could neither read nor write; but he and his wife had both made use of it, knowing it to be forged, and were therefore found guilty. LA FAY was condemned to the gallies at Marseilles for eight years, and MARIA ARIGNI to four years hard labour in the house of correction at Toulouse.

This trial excited great interest, particularly among the youth of both sexes. A petition was drawn up and signed by four thousand bachelors and maids, and intended to be presented to the EMPEROR [Bonaparte]; but, before it could reach Paris, MARIA, with her husband, escaped from prison, and as she had long before disposed of all her property, amounting to 6000 livres (230l.) in the year, it is supposed, that these persons intended to settle in some foreign country. It is regarded as a certainty at Toulouse, that the person, to whom LA FAY was married is a young peasant, who had dressed himself in woman’s clothes to serve his friend.”


  • “Curious French Love Trial,” in Evening Mail, 28 December 1804, p. 1.

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