Journalist, Blackmailer, and Spy: Chevalier de Morande

Charles Claude Théveneau was the self-created Chevalier de Morande and a gutter journalist, blackmailer, and French spy. He was born in 1748 and was the son of a well-respected lawyer. He was educated at Dijon but spent much of his youth misbehaving and being uncontrollable. His father decided Morande needed to join the Dragoons, and at the age of eighteen, he headed off to war and served six years in the French army.

Chevalier de Morande

Charles Claude Théveneau, Chevalier de Morande. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Chevalier de Morande was described as “five foot three inches … with chestnut hair, blue eyes and a large nose … physically large, powerfully built.”[1] After he served his time in the military, he drifted to Paris where he wasted away his time drinking, committing petty crimes, and attracting the attention of police. A lettre de cachet was the result, and he was imprisoned for fifteen months in the Bastille. 

After his release from the Bastille, the Chevalier de Morande left France for England. In England, Morande found work as a pamphleteer and journalist. He soon attacked the chancellor of France, René Nicolas Charles Augustin de Maupeou, and thoroughly sullied the man’s reputation and threatened an attack of Louis XV’s mistress, Madame du Barry, in the form of Mémoires secrets d’une femme publique (Secret Memoirs of a Public Woman). The government then sent Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, a French polymath, to negotiate with Morande. Beaumarchais was successful and Morande suppressed the libelle for a pension. However, when Louis XV died and Louis XVI began to reign, he discontinued the pension resulting in Morande publishing a racy account of Louis XV’s court.

Frontspiece of Le Gazetier Cuirassé, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Frontispiece of Le Gazetier Cuirassé. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The expose appeared in Le Gazetier Cuirassé, which was published in 1771, and people then said of the Chevalier de Morande that he “could burrow in the dark places of London, thence to sting those in France who were supposed to be vulnerable or rich.”[2] Among those stung besides Madame du Barry, was the wife of a French aristocrat, who Morande claimed was having sex with her butler. He also alleged certain noble women had syphilis and that the disease was causing their teeth and hair to fall out. Besides the pornographic allegations, Morande also made various political criticisms and alleged all sorts of government corruption.

Morande’s antics and allegations in the press at times resulted in people challenging him to duels. For instance, in 1778, Morande made allegations against the wife the editor of the Morning Post. The editor’s name was Bates (later Bates-Dudley). Bates in turn challenged Morande to duel and met him in Hyde Park at five o’clock one morning. The duel did not go well for the Chevalier de Morande. He was wounded, and, in the end, he agreed he should not have attacked the character of Bate’s wife and promised to “make all Reparation in his Power [to correct the situation].”[3]

Another duel was set to occur when the Chevalier d’Eon issued the Chevalier de Morande a challenge. The Chevalier d’Eon was a French diplomat, spy, and freemason who appeared publicly as a man for forty-nine years and then claimed he was female and began dressing as a woman. Rumors began to circulate as to d’Eon’s true sex, and the rumors allegedly resulted in Morande wagering on d’Eon’s sex. Reputedly, Morande was poised to acquire huge sums if d’Eon was proven a woman, and in order for Morande to win his wager, it was claimed he was willing to commit fraud. A challenge by d’Eon to Morande was the result, but in the end, no duel occurred as the two men made amends.

Chevalier d'Eon, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Chevalier d’Eon, Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1781, the Chevalier de Morande became a French spy in conjunction with his job as an editor working for Pierre Beaumarchais’ Courier de l’Europe. The Courier de l’Europe was a London-based, French-language newspaper that acquired the reputation of being an authority about continental news. One historian wrote about this time period stating:

“He [Morande] was suddenly an agent in France’s secret war on behalf of the Americans and a spy in London’s French exile community, who between 1774 and 1775 denounced several scandalous anti-Bourbon pamphlets. By June 1774, Beaumarchais … [noted of Morande] ‘He is … a poacher whom I have turned into a good gamekeeper, and in many cases is, and will be, very useful to the interests of the King.’ However, despite Beaumarchais’ recommendation, Louis XVI preferred not to employ Morande directly. He remained Beaumarchais’ agent alone.”[4]

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, Courtesy of Brotherton Collection, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Courtesy of Brotherton Collection, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.

As a spy, the Chevalier de Morande proved to be no further problem to the French monarch, and, in May of 1791, Morande returned to Paris. Morande then began to edit a newspaper supportive of the constitutional monarchy. In September of 1792, Parisian revolutionaries were terrified that foreign and royalist armies would free Parisian prison inmates and that the freed inmates would join with the foreigners and royalist army to attack Parisians. Parisians reacted by killing many prisoners and anyone suspected of not be supportive to their cause. This wave of killings became known as the September Massacres and among those killed was the Princesse de Lamballe. After these massacres, Morande was arrested but as he was never charged, he was released. He subsequently retired to his family estate in Burgundy and died there on 6 July 1805.

Understanding Morande and his colorful past, is best summed up by historian Simon Burrows who stated:

“The Chevalier de Morande’s worthy nineteenth-century biographer, Paul Robiquet, depicts Morande as a cynical mercenary. According to Robiquet, Morande libelled merely for money, spied for payment, and presumably (for it has never been proved) returned to France in 1791 at the Court’s bequest in return for hard cash. His influence on the origins of the revolution was purely opportunistic (the Gazetier Cuirassé) and his role in the revolution merely that of an agent of the counter-revolutionary.”[5]


  • [1] Burrows, Simon, A King’s Ransom, 2010, p. 6.
  • [2] The Edinburgh Review, Or Critical Journal, Volume 110, 1859, p. 509.
  • [3] Burrows, 2010, p. 99.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 75.
  • [5] Burrows, Simon, “A Literary Low-Life Reassessed: Charles Theveneau de Morande in London, 1769-1791,” in Eighteenth-Century Life, Volume 22, February 1998.

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