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I - Les La Barre: Grandeur and decadence of a noble family.

We are in the briarde campaign and Louis XV, king "Beloved" then reigns with a certain carelessness on the Kingdom of France. He often devotes himself to the pleasures of hunting a few kilometers from a domain well known to the inhabitants of Férolles. It was here that François-Jean Lefebvre de La Barre was born in 1745.

Let us go back a hundred years back in 1638. A treaty stipulates that a man named Antoine Lefebvre, an adviser to the Parliament of Paris, master of petitions at the Palais, acquires the land of La Barre and his Lordship for a relatively substantial sum, showing Thus the richness of the lineage. We are indeed at the epoch when the great bourgeois succeeded in purchasing their privileges, by acquiring large estates at a few places in Paris.
Antoine Lefebvre increased his fortune in Paris, enlarged the castle, enriched it with rich libraries and tapestries, rich furniture, and settled there in 1652.
For decades, Antoine and his son, to whom he bequeathed his office as master of petitions to the Parlement of Paris, maintained the castle and the ease of the family.
His son, named Joseph-Antoine, now elevated to the rank of Chevalier, passes a step further in the nobility of dress in relation to his father since he becomes in the service of King Louis XIV intendant of Bourbonnais and representative of His Majesty in his Province Brie. Foreign trade tended to expand (Colbert was in power at the time, and asked Josse Van Robais of Middelbourg to come to France to bring his knowledge of the manufacture of fine sheets.) Abbeville would then be the trade). Joseph-Antoine is also leaving to Cayenne to exploit the island. In the castle we enlarge, we build outbuildings, a chapel and a pigeon.
In 1682, Louis XIV appointed him Governor of Canada. Unfortunately, this mission is a failure and the Knight will not recover. He died in May 1688 leaving three children: Francois, Marguerite and Jeanne.
If the two daughters are well married to senior parliamentarians (Marguerite Lefebvre de La Barre marries Thierry Savin, knight, Lord of Quincy and his sister Jeanne wife Antoine François Lefèvre d'Ormesson, councilor of the King), it is not even for Francois.
The latter, much more careless, married in Le Havre with the commoner Marguerite Dumont, daughter of a captain in the regiment of Navarre, and contented himself with living on his income. They give birth to 8 children, 7 girls and one boy, Jean-Baptiste Alexandre, to whom we shall return later. Of the 7 girls, one does not survive unfortunately and three others enter the orders and renounce their title of nobility. Only Anne Antoinette de La Barre will marry André Denis Feydeau, equerry of the King belonging to the great parliamentary family of the Brou and it is their marriage that will be born Anne Marguerite Feydeau de Brou who will become religious like her three aunts and will return like them to The abbey of Pont aux Dames.
In 1761, Anne Marguerite Feydeau left this abbey to join the abbey of Willancourt in Abbeville of which she became its abbess. Thus, there will be the link between the Barre and the Venice of Ponthieu. His grandfather François de la Barre died on February 28, 1727. Everything will soon fall into tragedy.

Indeed, Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Lefebvre, Francois's only son, who also held the title of Chevalier de La Barre, preferred to rest on the achievements of his ancestors. In Le Havre, he married clandestinely Claude Charlotte La Niepce, born of a ruined family whose debt Alexander would have to pay. The castle is in decline, more maintained and decaying more and more as Jean-Baptiste put his sister away. The castle threatens to be sold and it is in this very sad context that Francois Jean Lefebvre de La Barre is born, last Knight of the name and younger of five children of which François Jacques who will follow him on Abbeville thereafter.

la barre chateau.JPG

Claude Charlotte died in 1754 while François-Jean was only 9 years old. It is alone with his brother that he buries his mother. His desperate father could not face it and died in the greatest misery one winter evening in 1762. Delivered to himself, raised in the peasant tradition thanks to the young inhabitants of Férolles, the future of François-Jean and his brother Then turns to their cousin Anne-Marguerite Feydeau, abbess of Willencourt who agrees to welcome them.

Thus, in April 1762, another destiny began ...

II - The Arrival in Abbeville
         A- The national context.

           In the middle of the eighteenth century, philosophers appeared and philosophical thought was in full swing, encouraged by the world of the upper middle class. But Louis XV., A carefree King, preferring pleasures and distractions to the regency of the rumbling kingdom, cares little for them, despising these "men of letters." His mistress, Jeanne Le Normant d'Etiolles, made Marquise de Pompadour, governs more or less in his place, spending more than just reason. The people get poorer and get angry at their expenses


         B - The local context

           Abbeville is a town of 17,000 inhabitants, where a presidial court (tribunal of the Ancien Régime, under the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Paris) sits. The local elite is then divided into two clans politically and economically:

  • The corporation of the textile professions, supported by Jean-Nicolas Douville de Maillefeu, the former mayor of the city, friend of poets and historians, familiar with Anne Marguerite Feydeau. It was also he who welcomed at his house the philosopher Linguet who played an important role in the affair of the crucifix of Pont Neuf.
  • The Van Robais, supported by Duval de Soicourt, mayor of the moment, a very austere man making horns and cry calls to justice. This makes him a feared and dangerous man, and on account of which the aforesaid Linguet will leave the city.

Both sit on the aldermen and clash in their ideas. The city was then dominated by the Van Robais and the Leclerc, printers.

          C - A radical change

            For the La Barre who had never left their Briard village, the arrival in a traditional and strong Catholic city is a radical change. Abbeville had no fewer than 16 churches and many convents. In this very pious city, all blasphemy, every "dishonest" song is punished, every oath is amended, every stranger is spied and mistrust is de rigueur.

The two brothers met their cousin, Anne Marguerite Feydeau de Brou, abbess of Willancourt, 40 years old, coquettish, elegant, worldly but jealous of the Abbevillois (e) s. The latter frequented the world of the bourgeoisie, including a niece of Voltaire in the person of the Marquise de Florian. Now the philosopher is in full swing in this society and their anti-clerical ideas extend. What is worth to the abbess from the diocese some warnings. But the Cistercian abbey is nonetheless kept in the hands of a master, and Monsignor De La Motte can do nothing against this lady who welcomes in her bourgeois salons, nobility, and now two very careless strangers. Strangers closely watched by Duval de Soicourt, whose resentment was all the more acute as the Abbess dismissed him from his social dinners, often attended by Douville, but also Charles Joseph Dumaisniel, lord of Belleval, former mayor of Abbeville and Gaillard de Boëncourt, President of the Presidial. The sons of these nobles were friends with the La Barre brothers, and all these little people found themselves and formed a small, carefree band, influenced by the rising philosophical stream.

III - The facts.

          On the morning of August 9, 1765, the city awoke in a state of excitement: two acts of desecration were discovered: two white-knuckled cuts on Christ's torso on the crucifix at the foot of the Pont Neuf and a filth deposit On a representation of Christ in the cemetery of St. Catherine.
The prosecutor of the King comes to verify the facts and draws up the minutes. The Bishop of Amiens presided over an expiatory ceremony that predestined the authors of the profanations to the most extreme tortures (we shall see later that he will ask for the grace of the knight).

pont neuf 1867.jpg

During this ceremony, the seven young noblemen of the city targeted by the mayor Duval de Soicourt, show themselves somewhat insolent which only increases the suspicions against them: they sing songs mocking religion and do not Do not uncover themselves in front of the procession.
Among these seven "carefree" young people:

  • François Jean Lefebvre from La Barre, Chevalier, 20 years old,
  • François Jacques Lefebvre of La Barre, his older brother
  • Moisnel, 15, an orphan, a distant cousin of Belleval.
  • Douville, 14, son of Jean Nicolas Douville de Maillefeu, the former mayor of the city.
  • Bertrand d 'Etallonde, 15, son of Gaillard de Boencourt, president of the presidial of Abbeville.
  • Pierre Nicolas Duval de Soicourt, son of the current mayor, whom his father wanted to marry to a young girl raised by the abbess of Willancourt. This one had refused
  • Pierre François de Belleval, Lord of Saveuse, son of Charles Joseph Dumaisniel de Belleval, former Abbeville mistress, abducting lover of the Abbess.

In short, everything is assembled so that these seven sons of the upper bourgeoisie are targeted by a personal vengeance of at least two influential personages of the city.

IV - Guilty because suspects: The machination

          The investigation is then directed by Duval de Soicourt himself as also lieutenant of police. Unfortunately very suggestive investigation based on gossip and hints, rumors spreading very quickly in a quiet city in bad of events. No direct witnesses witnessed the mutilation scene of the crucifix. However, the judicial system of the day gave evidence as evidence.

La Barre and Moisnel were arrested on October 1, 1765, detained at the Abbeville prison located at Cour Ponthieu, the other suspects having fled or sheltered by their illustrious parents. Moisnel has no family, La Barre stands up, still denying his involvement in the crucifix affair. One searches his room and finds a copy of the "Dictionnaire philosophique" of Voltaire, so much decried. It will be his coup de grace.

February 28, 1766: La Barre is then condemned for "impiety, blasphemies, abominable sacrilegious" to have his tongue cut, beheaded and his body burned.
La Barre appeals, always claiming his innocence. For the trial to take place, the verdict must then be confirmed by the Parliament of Paris. The Chevalier was then transferred to the Conciergerie and compared to the Grand Chamber of Parliament, without a lawyer, alone and worthy. Fifteen magistrates out of twenty-five confirm the judgment of Abbeville.

June 4, 1766: Monseigneur de la Motte, the bishop friend of Mme Feydeau de Brou who had presided over the expiatory ceremony, intervened with Louis XV in order to obtain pardon in view of the thinness of the file and the illegality of the award (Since 1666, blasphemy is no longer punishable by death). But Louis XV. Refuses Grace.

The Chevalier was therefore executed on 1 July 1766 on the Place du Marché aux Blés in front of the bourdois and hundreds of curious.

V - Execution by Sanson

          Remember that the Knight will deny the facts to the end, also during the "ordinary question" where his legs were enclosed between planks. We progressively push irons between these boards and the skin of the knees until the bones break. La Barre then loses consciousness. Reanimated, he always denies the facts.
He was carried in a cart on the large square, in a little shirt, the rope around his neck.
He was decapitated with the ax, a privilege reserved for the nobility by the master of high works Charles Jean Baptiste Sanson assisted by his son Charles Henri, 27 years old who had the heavy task a few years later to decapitate King Louis XVI.
His mutilated body is then burned, the copy of Voltaire's "philosophical dictionary" nailed to his chest. He was not yet 21 years old.
The emotion is very strong among the assembly and causes discomfort and fainting.

VI - Voltaire's intervention and rehabilitation.

          Voltaire is directly concerned by the circumstances of the execution of the chevalier, since one of his works is attached to the torturer's chest burned in the public square. On June 26 he began to make himself heard. Voltaire succeeded in unmasking certain personalities of Abbeville who, through the affair of the Chevalier de La Barre, were engaged in a settlement of account for personal stories. It highlights the lies of certain "witnesses" found by justice (the Chevalier de La Barre was at home, the night of the degradation of the crucifix).

Voltaire, under the pseudonym of M. Cassen, published an account of the affair: Relation of the death of the Chevalier de La Barre to the Marquis de Beccaria. He shows there is a disproportion between the nature of the facts, a provocation of young people if one keeps to the affair of the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, and the sentence exceptionally severe and otherwise illegal . He denounced the atrocious conditions of execution.
Following the intervention of Voltaire the court of Abbeville stopped the prosecution against the other accused. Moisnel is released. Mayor Duval de Soicourt was dismissed.

In 1769, in a new edition of the Dictionnaire philosophique, in a supplement to the article devoted to torture, Voltaire returns to the matter. He denounces the barbarism of the judicial practices of his time, as the "question" intended to wrest confessions.
Thanks to his important relations in Europe, Voltaire succeeded in securing the safety of Gaillard d 'Etallonde, one of the condemned fugitives, whom he brought into the Prussian army. In 1775, under the signature of Gaillard, who had taken refuge with Voltaire at Ferney, appeared The Cry of Innocent Blood (of which Voltaire was probably the author). He hoped thus to obtain from the new King Louis XVI the grace of the condemned, unfortunately in vain.

It is certain that the conviction of the Chevalier de La Barre was based on an illegal interpretation of the judicial documents. It showed the will of the judges of Abbeville and the Parliament of Paris to set an example. For them it was necessary to fight against the influence, which they judged to be harmful, of philosophers.

The Chevalier de la Barre was rehabilitated by the Convention on 15 November 1793 (25 Brumaire Year II).

VII - Posthumous tributes

          A statue of the Knight from 1897 to 1926 was placed on the forecourt of the Sacred Heart for a long time at the request of the Freemasons of the Grand-Orient of France, when it was moved to join the Nadar Square until The Germans abduct it and send it to Berlin awaiting an overhaul.

la barre3.jpg

In 2001, the municipality of Paris decided to hand over another statue of the knight to his site in Nadar Square, representing him with his hands in his pockets and his hat on his head, symbolizing his religious "opposition".

In Abbeville, a monument was erected and inaugurated in 1907 by public subscription. It became the rallying point of the demonstration of the group La Barre, symbol of secularism. This demonstration takes place every year, on July 1st in memory of its torture.

monument 2.JPG


Creation date : 01/05/2017 17:30
Category : History - Personalities inhabitant of Abbeville
Page read 751 times


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