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. He became legendary for his exploits, and, supposedly, at least once, Mandrin presented himself as a polite robber of the eighteenth century. With such a reputation, one nineteenth century English newspaper published an article about the event, 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. Continue reading

Attempted Assassination of Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th Century

Attempted assassination of Napoleon Bonaparte
Illustration of the Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Threats against Napoleon’s life were not rare. In fact, there were many assassination attempts. One failed royalist assassination attempt, known as the plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise, occurred on Christmas Eve in 1800. It resulted in a bomb blast and left Napoleon badly shaken but unscathed. Another failed attempt involved snuff. In this case, royalists infiltrated a group of workmen restoring Malmaison with a plan to switch Napoleon’s good snuff for poisoned snuff, but before they could bring their plan to fruition, it was discovered. The next failed attempt occurred in 1804 when royalists planned to kidnap Napoleon. However, instead of kidnapping him, the conspiracy was discovered and the conspirators arrested.

Despite all the failed attempts to kill Napoleon, one eager young lad decided he had the wherewithal to assassinate Napoleon after he became Emperor. Fortunately, before the young lad could carry out his dastardly deed, French Police discovered his intentions. The result of the police’s discovery resulted in a New York newspaper publishing an article about it in 1828. Here is their report provided almost verbatim: Continue reading

Dreadful Murder in France in 1818 by a Peddler

Dreadful Murder in France in 1818 by a Peddler: French Rabbit Pelt Peddler
French Rabbit Pelt Peddler, 1737. Courtesy of Met Museum.

A dreadful murder in France in 1818 by a peddler had everyone talking. It also had newspapers everywhere reporting on the horrid event that occurred in Brie. It all began when a peddler and his wife presented themselves at a farmer’s door named Monsieur Pinard around nightfall in June of 1818. They asked if they could spend the night at Pinard’s house. Monsieur Pinard agreed and a small room was given to the couple.

The next day was Sunday. Monsieur Pinard, the peddler, and his servants went to Mass in a neighboring village. Because Madame Pinard had just had a baby, she was still confined to her bed and recovering. For this reason, she had her 6-year-old son stay home to help take care of her. The peddler’s wife was also ill, so she stayed behind too.

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The French Robin Hood or the Prince of Smugglers: Louis Mandrin

Louis Mandrin at Age 36. Author’s Collection.

Louis Mandrin has been called the French Robin Hood or the Prince of Smugglers. He became famous for rebelling against the tax collectors of France during the time of Louis XV. The tax collectors, known as fermiers, were (tax) farmers who collected taxes for the King. However, besides the pre-agreed tax amount, the tax collectors often tried to collect something for themselves. Many of them were greedy, and, therefore, they were extremely hated and highly unpopular with the French people.

The first time that Mandrin experienced a problem was in 1748. Mandrin’s father had died and he taken over his business. At the time, Mandrin had a contract with the French government to supply mules to the French army in Italy. To do so, his 97 mules had to travel to Italy and in so doing they had to cross the Swiss Alps. This was an extremely difficult task because of cold weather and a variety of other factors. Unfortunately, along the way, most of the mules died so that when Mandrin reached his destination, only 17 mules survived. The survivors were in such a sorry state, the fermiers refused to pay him for the animals. Continue reading

Accused Glasgow Murderess Known as Madeleine Smith From the 1850s

Accused Glasgow Murderess Known as Madeleine Smith: Madeleine Smith
Madeleine Smith. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The accused Glasgow murderess known as Madeleine Smith was alleged to have killed Frenchman Pierre Emile L’Angelier (or Emile L’Angelier) in 1857. L’Angelier originally came from the Channel Islands, an archipelago in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. The two began a secret love affair in 1855 that involved hundreds of love letters and clandestine meetings at her bedroom window. One of these clandestine meetings resulted in Madeleine losing her virginity to L’Angelier.

L’Angelier had left the Channel Islands to seek his fortune in Scotland in 1851. When he first arrived in Scotland, he lived in grinding poverty and depended on the charity of inn keepers. Eventually, he began working as a clerk at a warehouse and then began assisting a gardener as an apprentice for moderate wages. By steadiness and assiduity, he improved his lot over time. Continue reading

The Legendary Jean “Chouan” Couttereau

Legendary Jean Chouan
Portrait Presumed to be Jean Chouan by L. de Labarre, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Born on 30 October 1757 at Saint-Berthevin, the legendary Jean Chouan was the nom de guerre of Jean Cottereau, a counter-revolutionary, insurrectionist, and staunch royalist. He was also a man of several nicknames, with “Chouan” a nickname given to him by his father (or it may have come from his imitation of the call of the tawny owl. However, he got the nickname, it meant silent one. There was also the less flattering nickname of “le Gars mentoux” or “le garçon menteur” (the boy liar).

Chouan is legendary because what is known about him was written by royalist partisan Jacques Duchemin des Cépeaux in 1825 at the request of Charles X. The story that Cépeaux reported has many unfounded facts that were further nourished by a small faction of Catholics and royalist-legitimist. Thus, Chouan’s actual role in history remains questionable and is likely more legend than fact.

Some facts that appear to be true are that Chouan’s father, Pierre Cottereau, was a lumberjack who felled trees, stacked and seasoned the lumber, and then made wooden shoes called sabots. His mother was a woman named Jeanne (nee Moyné) Cottereau. The Cottereau’s lived as tenants on a 20-acre farm located half-way between Saint-Ouën-des-Toits and Bourgneuf-la-Forêt in Mayenne, France. Chouan’s father was often absent and his mother was illiterate, which meant the children — Jean, Pierre, François, and René — were largely unschooled. Thus, when Chouan’s father died, Chouan declared himself a sabot maker, but unlike his father, Chouan was not as energetic or as skilled. Continue reading

Art Theft of the Princesse de Lamballe Painting in the 1980s

Paintings of Princesse de Lamballe, Callet (left), Rioult (top right), and Le Brun (bottom left), Public Domain
Paintings of Princesse de Lamballe, Callet (left), Rioult (top right), and Le Brun (bottom left), Public Domain

Princesse de Lamballe, who was Marie Antoinette’s friend and her Superintendent of the Household, married the heir of the richest man in France. Because the princesse was royalty and because she was rich, many people were intrigued by her and many portraits were painted of her. One well-known painting that is currently displayed at Versailles was done by Antoine-François Callet in 1776. Another painting was painted by Louis-Édouard Rioult between 1780 and 1785 and appeared on a supplementary issue of Le Petit Journal in 1892. Another person who painted the princesse de Lamballe was one of Marie Antoinette’s favorite painters, Madame Le Brun. Yet, perhaps of all the paintings of the princesse, one particular painting bears mention because it was stolen in an art heist in the 1980s. Continue reading

Torture in 18th Century France: An Irishman’s View

Joseph Ignace Guillotin, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Joseph Ignace Guillotin, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Before the guillotine was proposed by Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin in October of 1789, an Irish gentleman visited Paris, France, in 1787. While in Paris, he wrote a number of letters to a friend in Ireland. He noted in the letters that Frenchmen used various methods of torture in 18th Century France. This torture was applied to criminals and what he claimed was an “idea of the administration call[ed] la justice Françoise.” Among the letters the gentleman wrote was one dated July 25th, which described various types of punishment meted to French criminals.

Here is that letter verbatim: Continue reading

Pierre Poulailler the 18th Century Robber

Pierre Poulailler
Hen-house, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Despite being a handsome child, Pierre Poulailler acquired a reputation at birth of belonging to the devil. He demonstrated this devilish reputation when, even as a toddler, he behaved incorrigible. At the age of ten, he ran away and became a cabin-boy on a merchant ship, but his sea career did not last long. He deserted at age twelve, went to England, and tried to pass himself off as the son of a French duke, which failed. He then found himself back in France attached himself to a band of gypsies, who taught him the art of pilfering, quackery, and he “passed through all the degrees which lead to downright robbery.” Continue reading

21 Facts About the Guillotine in the 1700s

Not the Guillotine but the Halifax Gibbet
Halifax Gibbet, Early Example of a Decapitating Machine, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Before the guillotine, there were other beheading devices. One early one used in the town of Halifax, West Yorkshire, England, in the sixteenth century was an alternative to beheading by axe or sword and called the Halifax Gibbet. Yet, the decapitation machine that would become the most well-known was the French guillotine, named for Dr. Joseph-Ignance Guillotin.

Interestingly, Dr. Guillotin was opposed to the death penalty and hoped it would be abolished. As that seemed unlikely, he gave a speech and proposed a decapitation machine he thought less painful and more humane. He said, “Now, with my machine, I cut off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it!” His statement quickly became a joke and resulted in the circulation of a humorous song that thereafter tied his name to the machine and caused many people to believe he invented it.

Besides the guillotine not being the first decapitation device and Dr. Guillotin not being the inventor of the guillotine, there are 21 other interesting facts about the guillotine. Continue reading