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The Death of the Duc de Brissac 


Monday, September 11, 2006

The poor Duc de Brissac. Louis Hercule Timolon de Cossé seemed like a nice enough guy.

As related in the Joan Haslip Madame du Barry biography, this last patron of the last royal favourite and one of Louis XVI's most loyal courtiers suffered a gruesome death during the September Massacres on September 9, 1792:

...Hostile crowds had gathered along the route before they had reached [Versailles]...The convoy was brought to a halt at the corner of the rue de l'Orangerie, opposite the house which the Comte de Provence had brought from Madame du Barry, where in the days of her splendour she had given the most fabulous of balls...Then suddenly there was a mad rush - the horses were unharnessed and the mob fell on the prisoners attacking them with sabres, scythes and knives. The guards made no attempts to defend them...Sezing a stick from one of his assailants, Brissac put up a heroic defence till, blinded and mutilated, he was thrown to the ground. Three young boys fought with one another over his mangled remains, cutting off his head in triumph and transfixing it on a pike.
Wait, it gets better:
Yelling with a fearful joy, they paraded [the head] through the streets of Versailles, forcing an unfortunate woman who later died of the shock to kiss the bleeding mouth.
Blinded? I am picturing something along the lines of Gloucester in King Lear, only a thousand times better with the detail about the poor woman being made to kiss the head and dying from it.

At that point, the Duc's head was a dishevelled version of the one painted below:

Old Duc de Brissac

It was not unheard of to force friends or relatives of the decapitated to kiss the head during the French Revolution, or at least in its earlier days. On my sixth French Revolution book this summer and at least four heads got some post-mortem romance, if not lip action. The Duc de Brissac's anonymous kisser is one of two women who died after encountering a head; however, the other woman, three years earlier, at the very beginning of the Revolution, may or may not have been forced to kiss the head.

Though the Madame du Barry fainted before she could see her lover's head, she may have seen it later. Rumour has it that she buried the head in her garden. A skull was indeed found there many years later.

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