Cartouche: The Bandit of Paris in the 1700s

Louis Dominique Garthausen, better known as Cartouche, was born in 1693 in Paris (although there are also assertions that he was born two years later in Marais). His father was a hardworking cooper and sent him to school at the Jesuit college of Clermont where at a young age Cartouche, described as being of “indifferent” appearance, was taught classical and theological subjects. However, Cartouche’s religious education did not sway him to lead a righteous life, and, in fact, his time at the religious school seemed to have caused the opposite result as he chose a life a crime.

Louis Dominique Garthhausen, Better Known as Cartouche or the Bandit of Paris, Author's Collection

Louis Dominique Garthhausen, better known as Cartouche. Author’s collection.

Cartouche’s incorrigibleness began at the early age of 11 while he was with the Jesuits. One of his first incorrigible acts occurred when he stole and disposed of 28 nightcaps that belonged to his fellow students. The theft was discovered at bedtime. Apparently, when everyone laid down to sleep, Cartouche was the only one with a nightcap, and when confronted as to why he had one, he immediately confessed he had stolen them. He also stole outright from his fellow classmates and regularly bartered with the apple woman or the cooks for whatever he stole.

One theft that would forever affect his life occurred while he was with the Jesuits. In this case, the college’s president received some pots of Narbonne honey. When Cartouche learned about the honey, he decided he had to have it and he didn’t care the cost. Unfortunately, there was only one entrance into the room where the honey was stored and that was also the room where the President sat all day, and, furthermore, at night the room was not accessible either, as a porter stood watch.

This small complication did not stop Cartouche from being defeated. He soon learned that above the room holding the honey pots was a set of unoccupied garrets. The garrets’ floors were formed from rude planks and the planks created the ceiling for the room that contained the honey. So, to obtain the honey, Cartouche removed the planks, descended a rope, tied the honey pots to other ropes, climbed back up, and pulled the honey pots to him. He then restored the planks so that when the theft was discovered no one could figure out how it had been accomplished.

What Cartouche did not count on when he dug into the delicious Narbonne honey pots was finding gold. But that was exactly what he did find, and besides the first two golden Louis that he pulled from the honey, he found ninety-eight more. Flush with cash, Cartouche was soon the finest dressed student at the Jesuit college. When questioned by his father as to where he obtained such fine clothes, Cartouche lied and told him a young nobleman had given him the clothes. As Cartouche’s father was a good-hearted and kind man, he sought out the young nobleman to thank him but instead learned his son was a thief. In the end, the President kept quiet about the loss of his money, Cartouche’s father paid for the honey, and Cartouche was allowed to remain with the Jesuits.

The Louis d’or from 1788. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Soon after the honey pot incident, Cartouche, who was a mere four and a half feet tall and slender in build, was headed home to visit his family. However, before he reached home his brother greeted him and told him his father was preparing to punish him for the honey theft. This so frightened Cartouche, he decided to run off and seek his fortune. He joined a band of gypsies, learned the art of pickpocketing, and become “a dirty, starving lad, who [would] pounce upon … bones and turnip peelings … out on the quay.”[1] Fortunately for Cartouche, one day, as he was busy devouring some food scraps, a merchant saw him, and as he stood there watching the hungry lad, the merchant discovered it was his runaway nephew, now 16 years old. Cartouche’s uncle was so happy he forgot about his nephew’s dishonest ways, hugged Cartouche with affection, and took him home to his parents.

For a time, Cartouche behaved and stayed on the straight and narrow. However, things changed when Cartouche fell in love with a seamstress and other suitors entered the picture. Cartouche realized his girlfriend could not survive on sweet sentiments. He knew she needed handkerchiefs, caps, and gowns and a night out every now and then. As he was not one to embrace hard work, it did not take long before he joined with a “regular company or gang of gentlemen, who were associated together for the purpose of making war on the public and the law.”[2] Maybe, as an initiation, one of Cartouche’s first crimes with the gang involved his younger sister and her bridegroom, a man Cartouche’s family had not met as the marriage was achieved by contract.

On the day the bridegroom appeared, Cartouche decided to rob him. Cartouche and his nefarious companions put their plan into action when they gained entrance into the bridegroom’s room through a window. Inside the room, Cartouche and his companions found the bridegroom’s money chest, and they set to work filing and picking at its lock, while all the time hoping that they would not wake the bridegroom. Unbeknownst to them, they did wake him, and he slipped quietly out of bed. As the bridegroom had removed all his money and important papers the day before, he watched the thieves busily at their task. He also memorized their faces should he ever see them again. Finally, when the thieves at last broke the lock, the bridegroom cried out in a loud voice as if he had just discovered them, and this so frightened the thieves, they “skipped nimbly out of the window.”[3]

The night before the wedding, Cartouche was slated to meet his future brother-in-law. All of Cartouche’s relatives and friends were also there to “make merry.” In addition, Cartouche brought with him the thieves from the night of the attempted robbery. Of course, Cartouche had no idea that he or his companions had been seen by the bridegroom, and when his father called him to come and meet the bridegroom, the bridegroom was stunned to see one of the men who just a few nights earlier had attempted to rob him. The bridegroom then looked around the room and realized that sitting next to him were the other thieves. Believing that he was in the “company of a whole gang of robbers,”[4] the bridegroom fled.

Cartouche. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

When the bridegroom got home, he wrote a letter to Cartouche’s father and declined any type of connection with the family. Cartouche’s father was unsure what had happened and angrily confronted the bridegroom. When he learned that his eldest son had attempted to rob him, the father was stunned and decided something had to be done. He did not want to see his son locked up in the Bastille and decided that he would send Cartouche to the Monastery of Saint Lazare. But he also knew that he had to be cunning or Cartouche would never agree. Therefore, Cartouche’s father told his son he needed help in making a bargain with the fathers at the monastery. Cartouche agreed to help, but when they arrived at the monastery, Cartouche quickly realized his father’s deception and ran away.

From that point forward, Cartouche fully embraced a life of crime. He also took on aliases (Charles or Louis Bourguignon or Louis Lamarre). By the time Cartouche reached the age of 18, his skills in law breaking had increased immensely:

“His courage and ingenuity were vastly admired by his friends; so much so, that one day the captain of the band thought fit to compliment him, and vowed that when he [the captain] died, Cartouche would infallibly be called to … command … [the gang].”[5]

Of course, Cartouche was immensely flattered, and, one night as the two men walked along the quay, Cartouche drew his knife and plunged it into the captain’s heart. Cartouche then returned to the gang and proceeded to tell them their captain had attempted to assassinate him. Although no one believed him, they still elected Cartouche captain.

Cartouche and his gang began to terrorize Paris. They not only captured the public attention but also garnered the attention of the Lieutenant of the Police, who then offered a handsome reward for Cartouche’s capture. One day, a man came to claim the reward. He was a Marquis who stated he was there “on the matters of the highest moment.”[6] Of course, the Marquis was shown into the Lieutenant’s private office, at which time the Marquis drew from his pocket, a long, curiously shaped dagger, and threatened the Lieutenant stating:

“If you do not instantly lay yourself flat on the ground, with your face toward it, and your hands crossed over your back … I will stick this poisoned dagger between your ribs, as sure as my name is CARTOUCHE!!”[7]

Thus, Cartouche made off with the reward offered for him and left the Lieutenant robbed and embarrassed.

Soon after this incident, Cartouche contrived another clever ploy. Cartouche had robbed the Abbé Porter and the Abbé was so upset, he decided justice needed to be brought against Cartouche. So, the Abbé arranged to visit the Lieutenant of Police and provide important information about Cartouche’s thieving activities. As the Abbé was making his preparations to visit the Lieutenant, Cartouche sent a letter to the Lieutenant claiming that Cartouche had waylaid Abbé Porter. According to the letter, Cartouche had murdered him, stolen his identification, and was on his way there under an assumed name. Thus, when the Abbé’s coach pulled up, it was immediately surrounded, the Abbé seized, bound, and flung into prison. It took several days before the ruse was discovered and the Abbé was freed.

For several years, Cartouche and his gang terrorized Paris despite an arrest warrant being issued. It seemed as if Cartouche and his gang could not be stopped, but just when everyone had nearly given up hope, Cartouche was betrayed by a member of his own gang and captured. His capture brought universal joy, and newspapers far and wide (even in England), began to report on the notorious thief’s capture. However, the joy of Cartouche’s capture did not extend to everyone in his gang. Some gang members were seized with panic, fearing that any moment they too might be captured, and, as Cartouche was hauled to prison, clapped in irons, and forced to sleep on a bed of stone, certain gang members began to disappear from Paris, although many were also captured and executed for their crimes.

Cartouche's Arrest Warrant, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

Cartouche’s arrest warrant. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Despite Cartouche being caught, he was not about to confess to any crime, even when brought before the bar of justice or when witnesses pointed the finger at him. In fact, when the court asked Cartouche if his name was Cartouche, he denied it. He then began to claim he was Charles Bourguignon, born on the Seine and son of Thomas Bourguignon. Nothing the authorities did swayed him from his bogus claims. So, authorities eventually found his parents, who attested that he was Cartouche.


bandit of Paris

Cartouche imprisoned, Author’s collection.

With that pronouncement, Parisians by the hundreds came to see the notorious villain, but Cartouche had no plans to stay imprisoned. Somehow, he removed the mortar in his cell, a grain at a time. This occurred despite him being bound with one arm in back and one arm in front. When the passageway was large enough, he and another prisoner escaped into the sewer. They traveled through some subterranean tunnels eventually surfacing inside a boxmaker’s shop. Unfortunately, a little dog heard them and began barking. The dog’s barking woke the maid, who in turn woke the family, and the escapees were discovered by the boxmaker, who with his sword in hand, captured them. Of this incident, the Stamford Mercury reported:

“Since Cartouche has been taken above thirty Soldiers have deserted, for fear he should name them for his Accomplices. He had very like to have made his Escape the other Day, having by the help of another Criminal work’d a Hole thro’ the Wall of his Dungeon into a neighbouring Seller, and from thence got into the Shop, but there a Dog made such a Noise, that the Watch was call’d, and found Cartouche in his Chains under a Counter, and the other in a Corner of the Shop.”[8]

Cartouche was not discouraged. He decided if he could not escape, he could kill himself instead and that’s what he set out to do. Cartouche got some poison and drank it. When doctors discovered he had consumed it, they administered an antidote, just like Napoleon Bonaparte received an antidote for poison he took after he signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau in April of 1814. Because Cartouche took the antidote shortly after, he was pronounced healthy and well. Then to ensure that he would not attempt suicide again or escape from jail extreme measures were taken:

“Cartouche the famous Robber, is imprisoned in a Room adorned with Tapestry, but he must content himself with a Bed of Stone and his Hands, Feet, and the rest of his Body are so loaded with Irons, that he can only move his head.”[9]

His trial was of great interest to the public. The Caledonian Mercury stated of it:

“They have begun the Tryal of the famous Robber Cartouche, … which is like to be as Memorable as any other of his life, they tell us it will at least take up two Months, and that he has impeachable hundred Persons, his Confederates, some of which are People who till now have lived in very great Splendor and Reputation; however, he has been so notorious himself, that they act with the outmost Caution … seem very Wary how to give into his Evidence, and ’tis though that after all, ’twill be very difficult for him to save himself.”[10]

The Caledonian Mercury was right because Cartouche was found guilty and his sentence was passed declaring that he was to be executed the following day on 27 November 1721. At five o’clock that evening Cartouche was brought to the scaffolding. He passed through streets thronged with spectators and people were thick in the windows ready to observe the gruesome event.

When Cartouche arrived, a ruff was tied around his neck that was then raised up to his eyes. It was contrived to hold water, which was poured into it by the pint full. Cartouche was then forced to swallow as fast as he could to prevent himself from being drowned. He then mounted the steps, cast his eyes into the crowd searching for his companions and hoping they would rescue him. When none of his gang members appeared, he asked to speak to his Confessor. He then gave up his accomplices and related all his crimes. In fact, his confession took up the whole night and the following morning, and delayed his execution by a day resulting in the Caledonian Mercury reporting:

“The notorious Robber Cartouche, was to have been executed on the 27th Instant with 6 of his Accomplices, 5 Wheels and a Gallows were actually put up for that Purpose, but one of the Criminals called Magdelaine, having died in Prison whilst they were racking him, in order to extort a Confession from him, and some others, having declared many of their Associates, the Gallows and 4 of the Wheels were taken down, none but Cartouche being carried to the Place of Execution, it was about 3 in the Afternoon when he came there, all the Arches of this City attending. … As soon as he got near the Scaffold, he desired to speak with his Judges, which being granted, he was carried to the Town-house, and there made a full Discovery of all his Confederates, as fast as he named them, Archers were sent away for Apprehending them, some in this City, others as far as the Kevan and Lyons. This took up much Time, that the Execution was deferred till the Day following.”[11]

At two o’clock in the afternoon, on a rainy 28th of November, Cartouche was once again brought for execution and this time there would be no delay. Many spectators were still there as most of them had enough patience to ignore the rain and stay through the night. This time when Cartouche was brought forward, he received “eleven blows on his Body.”[12] He was then placed on the wheel to be broken, although unbeknownst to anyone about a half an hour into his sentence, “an Archer, at the desire of the Confessor, got under the Scaffold, and drew a Cord that [Cartouche] had about his Neck, which strangled him.”[13]

Bandit of Paris or Cartouche's Execution, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Cartouche’s execution. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After Cartouche was pronounced dead, his body was carried to the house of the executioner’s servant. There the servant displayed Cartouche’s corpse for several days charging a penny to everyone who came to see him. This, however, was not the end of Cartouche’s corpse being exhibited. Surgeons took his corpse and before they dissected it, they also displayed it for anyone wishing to pay a penny.


  • [1] The Evergreen, Vol. 1 , 1840, p. 26.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 27.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] “From the Evening-Post, Oct. 17,” in Stamford Mercury, 19 October 1721, p. 9.
  • [9] “From the Evening Post, October 19, 1721,” in Caledonian Mercury, 24 October 1721, p. 3-4.
  • [10] “From the Weekly Journal,” in November 18, 1721, in Caledonian Mercury, 27 November 1721, p. 2.
  • [11] “Paris, November 29,” in Caledonian Mercury, 30 November 1721, p. 1. 
  • [12] Defoe, Daniel, The Life and Actions of Lewis Dominique Cartouche, 1722, p. 83.
  • [13] “Paris, November 29,” in Caledonian Mercury, 30 November 1721, p. 1.

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