Reine Audu, a heroine of the French Revolution, was born Louise-Renée Leduc. She became a French fruit seller in Paris and first gained recognition in October of 1789, when she and others led the Women’s March on Versailles. The marchers were upset about the constant threat of famine and the high prices and scarcity of bread.
What started as a demand for bread soon took on a much more ambitious goal. Marchers decided they wanted several things: First, they wanted an assurance that bread would once again be plentiful and cheap; and, second, they wanted to replace the King’s guards with National Guardsmen, a group loyal to middle-class interests and under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette. Additionally, the marchers wanted Louis XVI and his court to reside in Paris so that the King would be nearer to the people.
One person wrote:
“There is evidence that … on the 4th of October [Reine Audu] … in collaboration [with others] … had been working to create a disturbance, and to turn popular attention towards Versailles. [Her] … part was to make speeches in the Palais Royal Gardens, and to cry out in the streets that she would go to Versailles and demand from the King and Queen the reason why Paris lacked bread.”
When marchers arrived at Versailles, a small delegation was allowed an audience with Louis XVI. Reine Audu was one of those who met with the King. Louis XVI was on his best behavior and supposedly charmed the delegation. However, although most of the delegation was satisfied with Louis XVI’s promises, Reine Audu was not and neither were the majority of marchers. At some point, Reine Audu and others attempted to force their way into the palace. According to one source:
“The resistance made by the body guard produced a skirmish, in which Reine Audu received two slight wounds, one of the chest, and the other in her right hand … On quitting the palace, proud of her success, she threatened to displace the body guard, but received a cut on her left arm with a sabre, and passed the night on the carriage of a cannon.”
As marchers were unhappy with the result of their meeting with the King, and because marchers still wanted Louis XVI living in Paris, the following day, the King and his family were forced to leave Versailles. Among those at the forefront in the march back to Paris was Reine Audu, who was also nicknamed the “Queen of the Halles” for having been elected Queen of the traditional central market called Les Halles de Paris because of her beauty.
After the King and his family were taken to the Palace of Tuileries, Reine Audu found herself facing a judicial inquiry and her actions were called into question. She was charged with “having announced her intention of going to Versailles … with having helped to massacre the King’s body-guards, and with having taken part in other disorderly scenes.” She was thus apprehended, found guilty, and imprisoned by Le Châtelet Law Court. She remained imprisoned until efforts by the Cordeliers (a populist club) and Louis-Barthélemy Chenaux, freed her on 15 September 1791.
Over the course of the next year, tensions continued to build between revolutionaries and the monarchy, and on 10 August 1792, the Palace of Tuileries was stormed. The King and his family then sought safety and fled to the Legislative Assembly. Among those participating in the insurrection of 10 August was the intrepid Reine Audu. She fought valiantly against the King’s Swiss guards and was wounded by a bullet to the thigh.
Later, “as an authentic testimony to her bravery and patriotism,” the Paris Commune held a ceremony and honored Reine Audu with the “Sword of Honour.” The Jacobin Club also collected on her behalf 357 francs 5 sous, but it was claimed she was unsatisfied “considering it far too trivial a sum for so distinguished a deliverer of la patrie.” Reine Audu then “clamoured, but in vain, for a pension for life.”
Although clearly wrong, some reports state Reine Audu died as early as 1793. But in fact, by July of 1794, Reine Audu was in prison again. This time she was said to be incarcerated at Sainte Pélagie Prison for some unknown crime. It was during this incarceration that reports surfaced that she “lost her senses,” and, supposedly, Reine Audu, who was once claimed to have been beautiful, died shortly thereafter at the Hospital for Lunatics.
If you are interested in other heroines of the French Revolution, I wrote a guest post for “Amazing Women in History” on Théroigne de Méricourt, Heroine of the French Revolution.
- Galerie historique des contemporaines, Volume 1, 1822
- Godineau, Dominique, The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution, 1998
- Hufton, Olwen H., Women and the Limits of Citizenship in the French Revolution, 1992
- The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, Issues 55-58, 1803
- Whale, Winifred Stephens, Women of the French Revolution, 1922