The Chateaubriand cousins

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The Chateaubriand cousins


François-René de Chateaubriand from a painting by Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson, which is in the museum at St Malo, his birthplace

This article was first published in the 1977 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Monsieur Carre's interesting article in the Annual Bulletin for 1969 on Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand's visit to Jersey tells us much about this versatile man. In marked contrast, in terms of both character and career, was his cousin Armand whose connections with the island were closer and of longer standing.

Refuge in Jersey

One of Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand's first companions was his cousin Armand; both were born in 1768, both served in the Army of the Princes at the siege of Thionville, and both took refuge in Jersey and later in England: but there the similarity ends. Francois-Rene, the survivor, remained in England, returning later to France to enjoy literary success and recognition; Armand returned to Jersey as a courier between the Duc de Bouillon and the royalist Chouans in Brittany, but was captured and executed. As Francois-Rene said: "A few leagues of sea, over which we had looked in opposite directions, separated the destinies of two men united by name and blood.

In 1778 at the age of ten, Francois-Rene returned reluctantly to his school at Dol de Bretagne. France had, since 7 February 1778, been allied with the infant United States in their struggle with England. That year a camp was established at Rochebonne and a year later another one was placed at Parame (both on the outskirts of St Malo) as bases for an attack on Jersey in support of the Americans.

This was presumably to be the abortive Nassau expedition of 1779, rather than de Rullecourt's one of 1781; de Rullecourt, though he had been one of Nassau's officers, encamped at Granville, not St Malo. Yet no officer is mentioned both by Francois-Rene and by accounts of the Nassau expedition.s possibly because he was confused about events he was describing more than 30 years later.! The camp formed near St Malo in September 1778 (Rochebonne) was composed of five regiments of cavalry, two regiments of dragoons and six artillery companies under the orders of the Comte de Lusace.

It was presumably this camp, commanded by the Comte de Lusan, that Francois-Rene inspected under the wing of the Marquis de Causans: "The tents, the bundles of arms and the tethered horses made a beautiful scene against the sea, ships, ramparts and distant bell-towers of the city".

The great issues of the French Revolution some years later left the young Francois-Rene in a quandary: "I attached to the general questions then raised only such importance as sprung from general ideas of liberty and the dignity of man. Personal politics wearied me".

Aristocratic name

He had witnessed the storming of the Bastille and, as the bearer of an aristocratic name, he wished to be elsewhere: "I am in search of something new. Nothing is left to do here. The King is doomed and there can be no counter-revolution. I am going to imitate the Puritans who, in the 17th century, emigrated to Virginia. I'm for the forests."

On 8 April 1791 Francois-Rene sailed from St Malo with a letter of introduction to Washington and vague plans for the discovery of the North-West Passage. On 6 May his vessel, the St Pierre, anchored off Graciosa in the Azores. There he and his Scots friend Tulloch were shown round the island by the prior of St Pierre d' Alcantara, a man who, born in Jersey, had been the sole survivor of a vessel which perished "corps et biens" off Graciosa.

Having learned Portuguese and some Latin he found that monastic life was less demanding than "taking in the top-gallant and mizzen sails". He was capable of rushing through the Mass in five minutes and, finding in Tulloch someone who could understand English, he took pleasure in recounting his adventures and swearing like the sailor he once was.

Washington meeting

Once in America Francois-Rene did not find the North-West Passage, but he did meet Washington, travel widely and live with the Indians. After five months in America, disposed to return to Europe to dine out on his experiences, he left the Indian village where he had lived and, putting up in a water-mill on the edge of Lake Erie, he caught sight of an English newspaper headline "Flight of the King": the escape of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and their return to Paris under arrest.

Francois-Rene now felt that he should join the Army of the Princes against the Revolutionaries. On 10 December 1791 he set sail for France, with the Indians Chactas and Atala. Entering the Channel on a strong wind they were nearly wrecked as they drifted between Guernsey and Alderney, but they managed to land at Le Havre on 2 January 1792. Returning home, Francois-Rene was pushed into a marriage of convenience by his family.

Joining the Brittany regiment of the Army of the Princes he was wounded by a shell splinter as he slept under a gun-carriage during the siege of Thionville (near Metz) on 6 September 1792; was discharged at Longwy; and then found that he had developed smallpox. He managed, however, to drag himself to Brussels and thence to Ostend, where he chartered a fishing-boat to Jersey hoping to find his refugee uncle M de Bedee, and from there to join the Royalists in Brittany.

Recovery from smallpox

The weather forced them to put in at Guernsey with Francois-Rene on the point of death. The captain did not want him to die aboard, so he was sat down on the quay looking at Alderney where "eight months before (he) had faced death in a different form". He was nursed back to health by the wife of an English pilot who "looked like a figure from an Old English engraving".

He continues:

"We set sail and reached the westernmost point of Jersey. One of my companions, M du Tilleul, went to St Helier to see my uncle who sent him back to fetch me in a carriage. We crossed the island and, though I felt like death, I was charmed by its woods; but I talked nonsense, having fallen into a delirium".

His uncle, M de Bedee, called 'the Artichoke' because of his corpulence, was one of about 4,000 clergy and nobles who had fled to Jersey, which they called the 'island of friends'. Though their presence caused a shortage of accommodation and raised prices, their plight, Francois-Rene considered, excited general sympathy in the island as their cause seemed to be that of European order.

M de Bedee lived in Hill Street, chez Thomas Anley, and, never very good with money, in some hardship. His elder daughter Charlotte (or Caroline) taught French in a private boarding-school, along with Miles de France, de Landal and de Villiers. It was said that although she wrote good French, her spelling was poor. The de Bedees took it in turns to nurse Francois-Rene as he lay between life and death for four months in an apartment belonging to Captain Renouf in one of the houses just being built in the dunes (mielles).

Through his windows, which reached to the ground, he could see St Aubin's Bay. M Delattre, his doctor, forbad the de Bedees to talk to him of serious matters, though M de Bedee told Francois-Rene that Louis XVI had been executed, news that did not surprise him.

At this time de Gesril, a childhood friend and veteran of the 1792 campaign, was living in St Helier, chez Pomier in King Street. They met on the boat leaving Jersey, but there is no evidence that they met on the island, nor that Francois-Rene met his cousin Armand who was certainly in the island by September 1794.

Spring outings

Though he still felt weak from his bout of smallpox, Francois-Rene took great pleasure in going out in the first days of May 1793, "Spring in Jersey preserves all its youth: it could indeed be called primevere as it was formerly, a name which has been left for the first flower to adorn it".

He enjoyed himself with the de Bedees reliving the old days at the de Bedee house in Brittany, Monchoix. His cousins hid the large dog which Mme de Bedee pampered; she was convinced that English officers, charmed by the beauty of the mangy animal, had spirited it away and that it lived, overwhelmed with honours and food, in the "richest castle in the three kingdoms" (Mont Orgueil).

His observations on the island are interesting if somewhat sparse:

"Jersey, the Caesarea of Antoninus' Itinerary, has remained subject to the English crown since the death of Robert, Duke of Normandy; we often tried to take it, always without success. This island is littered with our early history; the Irish and English saints rested here on their way to Armorica (Brittany). The hermit St Helier lived among the rocks of Caesarea until murdered by the Vandals. In Jersey we find a scattering of old Normans; one feels it is William the Conqueror or the author of the Roman de Rou who is speaking.
"The island is fertile: it has two towns and 12 parishes; it is covered with country houses and herds. The sea breeze belies its roughness in giving Jersey an exquisite honey, cream of an extraordinary softness and deep yellow butter that smells of violets. Bernardin de St Pierre supposes that the apple tree comes to us from Jersey, but he is wrong, for apple and pear trees originate in Greece."

To Southampton

Francois-Rene had come to Jersey intending to return to Brittany; but the Duc de Bouillon, protector of the exiles in Jersey, persuaded him against sharing the cave and forest life of the Chouans and suggested that he take up regular service in England. It is also possible that Bouillon mistrusted the sincerity of Francois-Rene's royalist feelings; for when M de Bedee later apologised for the Essai sur les Revolutions by his "modern, high-browed nephew", Bouillon replied "There are all too many of the type". Furthermore, there were rumours of an impending French invasion of the island, and Francois-Rene was becoming a financial burden on his impoverished uncle. He accordingly took the Jersey Packet, on which he met his friend de Gesril, and arrived in Southampton on 17 May 1793.

His cousin, Armand de Chateaubriand, had also arrived in Jersey some time after the campaign of 1792, but since Francois-Rene records no meeting with him in the island, it is likely that Armand got there at some time between May 1793 and September 1794 when we find him offering his services to Bouillon.

Armand marries

Armand became an intimate of the Le Brun family of the Cottage d'Anneville, St Martin. The Le Bruns came from an old Bayeux family, and one ancestor, Jean Le Brun, was taken prisoner by the English when they stormed Mont St Michel in 1427. Mrs Le Brun was a widow with four children of whom one was Jeanne (or Jenny) whom the Chateaubriands in France considered "pretty after the style of Lawrence". Armand, nursed back to health by Mrs Le Brun, married Jeanne on 14 September 1795.

From 1794 until 1808 he had the thankless task of carrying correspondence from Bouillon to the royalist Chouans in Brittany. Herpin reckons that from 1794 to 1797 alone he made not fewer than 25 journeys; a fellow emigre describes him as "a young man, full of zeal and intelligence, who will not return without reliable news", and as such he inspired the character of Gelambre in Victor Hugo's Quatre-vingt treize.

From the room assigned him at the Cottage d' Anneville, Armand could see the coast of the Cotentin. It is interesting that, among the manuscript papers in the British Museum dealing with the correspondance between Bouillon and the Chouans, there is a description and diagram of a 'tachigraphe', a means recently invented by Advocate Charles Le Hardy for telegraphing numbers corresponding to words. It seems likely that this description is in Armand's hand and that he thought of using this method to communicate with a system of spies in Normandy.

The Peace of Amiens of 1802 ended belligerency between England and France but Fouche, the French minister of police, declined to give amnesty to the more dangerous emigres such as Armand. Gordon, the governor of Jersey, accordingly expelled Armand in September 1802. Once in London, Armand tried by letter to persuade Gordon to rescind the expulsion order and, meeting Bouillon, said how much he wanted to return to Jersey. Bouillon, however, communicated his dislike of Armand, who vowed never to serve under him again. Yet he was waiting for war to be declared again, and he was finding it difficult to live on the small allowance the British Government allowed refugees. He thought that his allowance was kept small because his wife was English and his children born in England.

Declaration of war

Following the declaration of war, Armand returned to Jersey by way of Guernsey. Sending his wife to St Malo he returned to his correspondance. On 25 September 1808 he was sent by the exiles committee to enlist agents and collect information about the French coast garrisons. This was not an unnecessary duplication of Bouillon's spy system, for Bouillon reported to the British Cabinet, Armand to the Bourbon Princes. Bouillon's interest was danger to England; Armand's was a royalist restoration.

Armand and his ten companions were cast up on the coast of Brittany; he delivered his dispatches but he had great difficulty in putting out again in a different craft. He explained the events of 6 January 1809 thus at his trial: "From 9 at night, when we set sail, until 2 am the weather was in our favour. Guessing that we were aligned with the Minquiers rocks, we lay to on our anchor waiting for day: but the wind, having got up and fearing that it would increase further, we carried on.

A few minutes later, the sea became very rough and, our compass broken, we were lost. The first land we saw ... was the coast of Normandy ... and we again lay to near the Ecrehou rocks ... " Having jettisoned his incriminating dispatches and the French shopping he had done for his wife - some calico, muslin and dimity - Armand was forced to make for the Norman coast at Bretteville-sur-Ay where he and his companion were arrested. Of this misfortune Francois-Rene commented; "Bonaparte was conniving with the storms".

Armand, who had given his name as John Fall, was sent to Paris for secret interrogation: his dispatches had been washed ashore along with his wife's shopping. Francois-Rene tried to intercede with Fouche - who said that he had no one in prison under the name of Chateaubriand - and with Napoleon through Mme de Remusat, asking for justice or clemency. Napoleon seemed to hesitate in reading the letter but, despite the pleas of Josephine and other members of the imperial family, ratified the sentence with "Chateaubriand asks for justice: he shall have it". Armand was executed by firing squad on 31 March 1809 a moment before Francois-Rene arrived on the field, exhausted after failing to get a carriage.

Armand's wife Jeanne must already have assumed that he would not return in late 1808, for a lintel was put up at Chateaubriand farm for her son, Frederic, inscribed FCB 1808. Frederic was presented to Louis XVIII who commented briefly that Armand had done his duty, and appointed the boy as a page. Francois-Rene gave him pocketmoney and later put him into the guards (les gardes de Monsieur). Frederic entered the Queen's regiment of cuirassiers, and married Jeanne-Therese de Gastaldi. He remained to the end of his life "proud of being English ... (taking) the greatest interest in all that touched on Jersey, his native isle".

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