The Favras Plot

There were numerous plots afoot to save the royal family after the French Revolution began. One well-known plot involved Louis-Alexandre de Launay, Comte d’Antraigues who was a French pamphleteer, spy, and political adventurer. D’Antraigues had been elected to the Estates-General in 1789 and initially supported the French Revolution. However, after Versailles was stormed and the royal family was taken to the Tuileries Palace (essentially as prisoners), he switched sides and became a staunch defender of the monarchy.

Comte d'Antraigues, Public Domain

Comte d’Antraigues. Public domain.

As a counter-revolutionary, d’Antraigues soon found himself aligned with the audacious Thomas de Mahy, marquis de Favras. Favras came from an impoverished but aristocratic family. At seventeen he became captain of the dragoons and later served as a first lieutenant in the Swiss Guard for Louis XVI’s younger brother, Comte de Provence (future Louis XVIII). It was because of Favras’s relationship with the Comte de Provence that Favras became drawn into a plot to save the royal family, restore the French monarchy, and end the French Revolution.

Marquis de Favras. Courtesy Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

To ensure the plot’s success, plotters “attempted to bribe some of the national guard by promises, and the clandestine circulation of incendiary libels among them.”[1] Additionally, to finance the plot, Comte de Provence used an intermediary, Claude-Louis-Raoul, Duc de la Châtre, who commissioned Favras to negotiate a loan. Several conferences were held to procure a loan worth two million francs. Favras was successful in acquiring the loan, but his success was quickly undone after he enlisted certain individuals who betrayed him.

On the morning of 23 December 1789, Favras was arrested. That same morning a pamphlet circulated, and according to the pamphlet, there were to be two simultaneous events: The royal family would be rescued from Tuileries and whisked out France while the Comte de Provence would be declared regent. The Comte would then order 30,000 royalist soldiers to surround Paris, which would result in anarchy and allow for the assassination of Paris’s main liberal leaders: Jacques Necker (finance minister), marquis de Lafayette (commander of the National Guard), and Jean Sylvain Bailly (Paris’s mayor). Then to bring the city to its knees, food supplies would be cut off and starving Parisians would be forced to capitulate, thereby resulting in the reestablishment of the monarchy and the end of the revolution.

Jacques Necker. Engraving from 1789. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Favras was charged with being the principal person in a devious plot to “carry off the King, and to assassinate the Marquis de la Fayette, M. Neckar, and M. Bailly.”[2] Worried about the implications to himself, the terrified Comte de Provence admitted signing the loan documents. However, he did not waste time in standing before the Commune of Paris and disavowing any knowledge of any plot “imputed to Favras.” He further dispelled any connection to Favras or to the plot and also declared his staunch and ever loyal attachment to the Revolution in the following speech:

“A wish to repel an atrocious calumny has brought me amongst you. Mon. de Favras was arrested the day before yesterday, by order of the committee of Enquiry and it is reported this day, that he is intimately connected with me. In my character of a citizen of Paris, I thought it proper to inform you myself of what I knew of Mon. de Favras.

In 1772 he entered into my Swiss Guards, and retried from my service in 1775, from which period I have never exchanged a word with him. Finding myself for some months past deprived of the enjoyment of my revenues, and being uneasy about some considerable payments which I have to make good in January, I wished to be able to fulfill my engagements without being a burthen to the public Treasury. To this end I resolved to raise the money I wanted, by alienations. It was then represented to me, that it would be much less burthensome to my finances, to raise it by loan.

About a fortnight ago Mon. de Favras was mentioned to me by the Marquis de la Chatre, as a person able to procure me the money in that way, through the medium of Messers. Schaumel and Sartorius, two eminent bankers.

In consequence of this I signed a bond for two millions of livres, the sum with which I wanted to fulfill my engagements at the beginning of the year, and to pay my household; and this being a mere money transaction, I gave orders to my Treasurer to negotiate, and conclude the business.

During the whole transaction, I never once saw Mon. de Favras, I never wrote to him, I had no communication with him whatever. What he may have done in other respects, is totally unknown to me.

Nevertheless, Gentlemen, I heard yesterday that the following hand-bill was circulated through the capital:

The Marquis de Favras (Palace Royale) was taken up, with the Marchioness, his lady, the night between the 24th and 25th on account of a plot formed by him for making 30,000 men rise up in arms, for murdering the Marq. de la Fayette and the Mayor of Paris, and afterwards of cutting off our supplies of provisions. Monsieur the King’s brother was at the head of it. — Barautz

You certainly don’t expect that I should degrade myself so far as to think it necessary to make a defence to a charge of so base a nature.

But at the time when even the most absurd calumnies may easily confound the best citizens with the enemies of the revolution, I thought it due to the King, to you, Gentlemen, and to myself, to enter into the detail which you have now heard, to the end that the public opinion may not waver, even for a moment.

With respect to the opinions which I myself entertain respecting public affairs, I will speak them with confidence to my Fellow Citizens.

From the day on which, in the second assembly of the Notables, I gave my opinion on the fundamental question which still divided men’s minds, I never ceased one moment to think that a great revolution was at hand – that the King, on account of his intentions, his virtues and supreme rank, ought to be at the head of it, because it could not be advantageous to the nation, without being equally to the Sovereign: In a word, that as the Royal Authority was bulwark of the National Liberty, so the national Liberty was the basis of the Royal Authority.

Let any one state a single action or expression of min that has believed those principles, or which shews that in any circumstances whatever, the happiness of the King, and of his people, has ceased for one moment to be the object of my thoughts and of my wishes.

Hitherto I have a right to be believed upon my words; I have never changed my sentiments or principles, and I certain never will.”[3]

Two days later, the comte submitted the following letter:

“Mr. President, the detention of M. Favras having been the occasion of calumnies, in which an inclination was shewn to involve me, and the Committee of Police for the city having the affair at this moment before them, I thought it became me to make a declaration to the community of Paris, that should leave in the minds of worthy citizens none of the doubts with which endeavours had been used to inspire them. I also think it my duty to inform that National Assembly of this step, because the King’s brother ought to preserve himself even from suspicion, and because the affair of M. de Favras is of too serious a nature not to engage the attention of the Assembly sooner or later. As I cannot in person declare me to the Assembly my desire that all the details of respecting his business should be publicly known, I shall be much obliged to you to read this letter in my name, and also the speech which I delivered the day before yesterday, as the faithful expression of my truest and most profound sentiments.

I entreat you, Mr. President, to be persuaded of my affectionate regard.”[4]

The Count of Provence (future Louis XVIII) in circa 1778. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Favras’s trial lasted about two months. During the trial, witnesses contradicted each other and the evidence against Favras was weak enough that even the anarchist editor of the republican newspaper, Révolutions de Paris, admitted the evidence against him was insufficient for a conviction. Favras also denied he had done anything wrong and regularly declared his innocence. Unfortunately, amid Favras’s declaration of innocence, a small band of Royalists attempted to free him from prison. They failed, but their attempt did not help Favras’s claims of innocence. Ultimately, the court found Favras guilty and sentenced him to be hanged on 19 February 1790, at the Place de Grève.

“[There] with his Head and Feet naked, holding in his Hand a lighted Flambeau of two Pounds Weight, and clothed in a Linen Frock covered with Brimstone, having a Label on his Breast and Back with this inscription — Conspirateur contre l’Etat. — He was there condemned on his Knees to confess his having rashly and wickedly meditated the Commission of all the … Crimes, and beg Pardon of God, his Country, his Sovereign, and Justice; after which he was hung till dead on a Gallows erected for the Purpose.”[5]

Thomas de Mahy, marquis de Favras, Favras Plot Courtesy of Wikipedia

Thomas de Mahy, marquis de Favras Courtesy of Wikipedia.

During Favras’s trial, Comte d’Antraigues’s involvement was also exposed, and shortly after Favres’ execution, d’Antraigues fled to Switzerland to avoid being executed himself, and his mistress, madame de Saint-Huberty, followed him. They married and moved to Italy. D’Antraigues remained loyal to the monarchy, and, in 1793, he served as spy for Comte de Provence after the Comte moved his exiled court to Verona. Later in 1797, when the French Directory invaded Italy, d’Antraigues attempted to flee but was arrested and interrogated by Napoleon Bonaparte. D’Antraigues and his wife managed to escape, which caused Comte de Provence to believe d’Antraigues had betrayed him to Napoleon. Thus, Comte de Provence dismissed d’Antraigues and d’Antraigues remained thereafter embittered towards the Comte.

 

Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

References:

  • [1] The Scots Magazine, Volume 52, 1790, p. 45.
  • [2] “London, Monday Feb. 8,” in Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 11 February 1790, p. 2.
  • [3] “National Assembly,” in Dublin Evening Post, 9 January 1790, p. 2.
  • [4] “France,” in Hampshire Chronicle, 11 January 1790, p. 4.
  • [5] “Execution of Favras,” in Oxford Journal, 27 February 1790, p. 1.

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