Reine Audu: Heroine of the French Revolution

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 resulting in Royal Family being taken to the Tuilieries Palace in Paris. At the time, the marching women were upset about the constant threat of famine, high prices, and the scarcity of bread.

The Women’s March on Versailles. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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. Author Winifred Stephens Whale wrote in 1922:

“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.”[1]

When marchers arrived at Versailles, a small delegation was allowed an audience with Louis XVI. Reine Audu claimed to have been one of those who met with the King. Allegedly, he 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:

“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.”[2]

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, Marie Antoinette, 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 or perhaps as a pun on her second name.

View of Les Halles from Saint-Eustache in 1870. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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.”[3] She was thus apprehended and reputedly at first claimed she wasn’t even there. However, according to Whale:

“Audu did not deny that she was in the crowd that brought the King and the royal back to Paris. But she resolutely refused to admit that she had been guilty of any crime whatsoever.”[4]

Despite her stance that she was innocent of any wrongdoing, fifty or so witnesses deposed allegedly reported that she was there. Audu was found guilty and imprisoned by Le Châtelet Law Court. However, her counsel, Chenau, determined that if he could not save her from a guilty verdict, he could at least turn her into a heroine and reputedly that is exactly what he did:

“His speech, adding one more legend to those already enlivening the annals of the Revolution, handed down this well-night nameless women to posterity as a second Joan of Arc. Chenau represented his client as a noble patriotic woman inflamed with warlike ardour of her family … Moved with pity for her country’s wrongs, … resolved to right them. She … assembled more than eight hundred women in the Champs Elysées, marshalled them in perfect order and led them … to Versailles. … But not, said Chenau, until she had passed through many adventures. She had had to tackle the Commander of the Versailles National Guard, Estaing himself, to advance beneath the shot and shell of his troops, to be wounded in the breast and right arm, to push aside or to creep under two infuriate war horses … So much suffering and so much courage had not been without its effect on King Louis. When ultimately Audu had reached her Monarch, she had found him all docility and compliance. … In triumph Renee and her friends had left the palace. But on the square fresh troubles had beset them. … Utterly exhausted, her mutilated body had been placed on a cannon. After a wakeful night on this martial couch she had been up betimes, and eight o’clock, despite her wounds … had dragged herself a second time to the King to persuade him to grant his people demands and go with them to Paris … Again Louis was complaint. He returned to Paris, and with him on her cannon had gone the lacerated [Audu] Queen of the Markets [and] with her arrival at the Hôtel de Ville, said Chenau, her exploits ended.”[5]

Although her exploits might have become legendary, it is difficult to determine the exact truth, but what does seem to be true is that she remained imprisoned until efforts by the Cordeliers (a populist club) and Louis-Barthélemy Chenaux, freed her on 15 September 1791. Despite being freed, it would not last.

Over the course of the next year, tensions continued to build between revolutionaries and the monarchy. Things got worse when Louis vetoed radical measures and tensions dramatically accelerated when Prussian and Austrian armies entered France and promised to protect the French Monarchy against the revolutions. Thus on 10 August 1792, the Palace of Tuileries was stormed by the National Guard of the Paris Commune and fédérés from Marseille and Brittany. The King, his family, and some of the household, such as the Princesse de Lamballe and Jean-Baptiste Cléry, sought safety from the Legislative Assembly to which they fled.

image of Princesse de Lamballe from Reine Audu post

Princesse de Lamballe. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Among those alleged to have participated in this insurrection of 10 August was the intrepid Reine Audu. It was reported that she and several other brave women fought valiantly against the King’s Swiss guards. Accordingly, in relation to the 10 August storming French historian Dominique Godineau wrote in 1998:

“To honor their conduct during the attack of Tuileries, the fédérés awarded a civil crown to three women. The first was none other than Théroigne de Merícourt. The second, Louise Reine Audu, hit by a bullet in the thigh … As for the third, her name still did not mean very much in the summer of 1792: unlike the first two, the twenty-seven-year-old actress Claire Lacombe had only lived in Paris for five months … Attracted to Paris by its fame as both a revolutionary and a theatrical capital, she had not remained a spectator, and on 25 July 1792, dressed as an amazon (a style of dress common to both Théroigne de Méricourt and Louise Reine Audu), she had read an address to the Legislative Assembly, offering to combat the tyrants and asking for the arrest of General Dumouriez.”[6]

Face-off between Insurgents and the Swiss Guards - Reine Audu post

Face-off between insurgents and the Swiss Guards on the Tuileries staircase during 10 August. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Paris Commune later honored Reine Audu and held a ceremony for her “as an authentic testimony to her bravery and patriotism.”[7] The Jacobin Club also reportedly 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.”[8] Thus, supposedly, Audu then “clamoured, but in vain, for a pension for life.”[9]

Although clearly wrong, some reports state 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.

References:

  • [1] Whale, Winifred Stephens, Women of the French Revolution, 1922, p. 46.
  • [2] The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, Issues 55-58, 1803, p. 482.
  • [3] Whale, Winifred Stephens, p. 47.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 48.
  • [5] Ibid., p 48-49.
  • [6] Hufton, Olwen H., Women and the Limits of Citizenship in the French Revolution, 1992, p. 24.
  • [7] Godineau, Dominique, The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution, 1998, p. 111.
  • [8] Whale, Winifred Stephens, p. 50.
  • [9] Ibid.

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