Emmanuel Henri Louis Alexandre de Launay, comte d’Antraigues, was a French citizen. While living in France, d’Antraigues become involved in an incident known as the Favras Plot. When his involvement was discovered he fled to avoid execution. His mistress, a celebrated French operatic soprano named Madame de Saint-Huberty, followed him. They eventually married and lived in several countries before finally settling in Russia. However, the comte and his wife were expelled in 1806 because he published a pamphlet against Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Empire.
Because of the expulsion, the comte and his wife moved to England. There the comte bought a home on the West End. He also purchased a summer home at The Barnes Terrace, a district in the London Borough of Richmond upon the Thames. While staying at The Barnes Terrace, the comte and comtesse entertained numerous people. Among them was Eliza de Feuillide, who in the spring of 1811 was accompanied on a visit to see them by her husband, Henry Austen, and his sister, Jane Austen. Of the visit Jane wrote:
“Monsieur the old Count, is a very fine looking man, with quiet manners, good enough for an Englishman—& I believe is a Man of great Information & taste. He has some fine Paintings, which delighted Henry as much as the Son’s music gratified Eliza … Count Julien’s performance is very wonderful. We met only Mrs Latouche & Miss East—& we are just now engaged to spend next Sunday Eveng at Mrs L.s—& to meet the D’Entraigues;—but M. le Comte must do without Henry. If he wd but speak English, I would take to him.”
When not entertaining, the d’Antraigues went to town every Wednesday. A year or so after Eliza, Henry, and Jane’s visit, on Wednesday, 22 July 1812, the comte called for his carriage at 8:00am so that he and his wife could make their weekly trip. By 9:00am, the 52-year-old comtesse was ready and waiting outside in the carriage for her husband to join her.
The 58-year-old comte, who was colossal in stature and had an “imposing countenance,” was planning to visit a friend and had his hat and some papers in his hand. As he was descending the staircase his Italian footman, named Lorenzo (or perhaps Lawrence) Stelli, was waiting at the bottom of the stairs for him. When the comte was about six steps away from Stelli, he suddenly aimed a pistol and fired at him.
The pistol Stelli used was one he had stolen from the comte, along with a Turkish dagger called a poignard or poniard that the comte had purchased in Constantinople. Fortunately, Stelli’s shot missed its target and the bullet passed by the comte, but the comte was so shocked, he stood frozen. It was then that Stelli rushed forward and proceeded to stab him in the shoulder with the stolen poignard. “Though the blow was mortal, the [comte still had] … enough strength to walk up to his room.”
In the meantime, the comtesse heard the shot and reentered the house. When she entered, she shrieked in disbelief as Stelli attacked her. He “plunged, in the most furious manner, the poniard into her breast. She fell … without any groans, saying only, ‘Lorenzo, Lorenzo!'” However, the “bewildered and frantic” Stelli was not finished.
He rushed to the comte’s bedroom, where the comte was dying and seized one of “four pistols which the [comte] had constantly for his protection at his bedside.”[4[ Without hesitation, Stelli put the pistol into his own mouth and pulled the trigger. The bullet “shattered his head in the most dreadful manner. He died on the spot and fell [face down] by the side of his [dying] master.”
In the meantime, the coachman, a man named David Hebditch, raised the alarm, and a servant, who had been with the comtesse, rushed to get medical aid. Two surgeons — Matthew Ball and Mr. King — came to the house to render aid. The comtesse lost a lot of blood and died within minutes of Ball’s arrival. However, King found the comte sitting on the bed trying to dress his own wound, and, after the surgeons did an examination, it was determined there was little they could do, and the comte died within 25 minutes of the stabbing.
Later, when an investigation was conducted into the murder of Comte d’Antraigues and his wife, it was learned that a month prior to the incident, a servant had heard a pistol shot in the comte’s bedroom. She went to investigate and when she entered the room it was full of smoke. When the smoke cleared, she discovered Stelli in the room and when she asked him what was going on, he told her nothing was wrong. Only later did he admit he had fired one of the comte’s pistols but exactly which pistol he fired or why remained unclear.
It was also unclear why Stelli committed the murder of Comte d’Antraigues and the comtesse. Initially, it appeared as if he had no reason as he had been employed by the Antraigues for no longer than three months, but then investigators discovered the comtesse treated her servants badly. They also learned Stelli was soon to be let go by the Antraigues and there were rumors that Stelli might have learned about his upcoming dismissal and killed his employers. However, some people believed the killings were politically motivated either because of the comte’s involvement in the Favras plot or because of Napoleon’s or Louis XVIII’s unhappiness with him.
An inquest was conducted the day after the murders at a public-house located opposite the Antraigues’ home. According to newspapers, the jury visited the “horrible spectacle” and discovered “three lifeless bodies drenched in blood, extended upon the floor.” After the jury returned to the public-house, witnesses were cross examined and deliberations were held. They lasted but a few minutes before the jury returned a verdict of “Felo de se … [and] … and declared, that they fell by the murderous blow of an Italian Assassin, named Lorenzo Stelli.”
After his death, Stelli was buried in a shallow grave. But he was not left in peace for long. The Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser reported that stagecoaches full of passengers began arriving to view “the disgusting scene” and there was more:
“A letter from Barnes complains of a gross indecency by which the inhabitants of that village were on Thursday annoyed. The body of the murderer … has been buried not 100 yards from the houses, and not more than four feet under ground. On Thursday the grave was opened more than once, and the corpse exhibited to gratify the horrible curiosity of some idle people. The indecency was aggravated by the two hearses containing the bodies of the unhappy Count and Countess d’Antraigues, after a brisk trot over the common, drawing up by the assassin’s grave, where the attendant satiated themselves with a deliberate view of the body. Two stage coaches, accompanied by a crowd of horsemen, women, and children, contemplated this disgusting scene for 20 minutes.”
-  Le Faye, D., Jane Austen’s Letters, 1997, 3rd edition, p. 185.
-  “The Late Dreadful Murders,” in Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 29 July 1812, p. 4.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.
- ”Dreadful Murder at Barnes, Surrey,” in Caledonian Mercury, 25 July 1812, p. 3.
-  “Dreadful Murders at Barnes, Surry” in Oxford University and City Herald, 25 July 1812, p. 3.
-  —, in Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 28 July 1812, p. 2.