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The Rebellious Duchess

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The Rebellious Duchess
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Author(s): Paul F. S. Dermoncourt
Date Published: 2009/03
Page Count: 180
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-641-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-642-7

Putting all at risk in a great game of power

Princess Marie Caroline married King Louis the Eighteenth of France's nephew—the Duke of Berri (or Berry) shortly after the final defeat of Napoleon and the second restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. Widowed by assassination in 1820 she became a leading figure in the Bourbon court, but had to flee the country in 1830 when Louis's successor—and her father-in-law, Charles the Tenth—was deposed during the July Revolution. The red-haired duchess was never one to take such a set-back lying down and she determined to promote a popular uprising which would topple the Orleanist dynasty and restore the 'legitimate' Bourbon one of which she was a pivotal component. She returned to France in secret to lead an uprising in the Vendee which soon turned sour leaving her a fugitive running for her life. This is the story of a remarkable and strong willed woman who attempted nothing less than the overthrow of a kingdom.

Now, all the fears of the little party turned towards the workmen, who were sounding with heavy blows the very wall that protected them, and the plate of a chimney close to them, but belonging to another house. Each blow detached the plaster, which fell upon them in powder. The prisoners could perceive, through the cracks which this violence was every moment making in the wall, almost all the persons in search of them. They at length gave themselves up for lost, when, to their great relief, the workmen suddenly abandoned that part of the house which, from an instinct I cannot explain, they had so minutely explored. The poor fugitives now drew their breath freely, and the duchess thought herself safe; but this hope did not last long. <br>
The gendarme who had kept watch, anxious to take advantage of the silence which had succeeded the noise made by the workmen, under whose efforts the whole house had tottered, now awoke his companion in order to have a nap in his turn. The other had become chilled during his sleep, and felt almost frozen when he awoke. No sooner were his eyes open than he thought of warming himself. He therefore relit the fire, and as the turf did not burn fast enough, he threw into it a great number of bundles of the Quotidienne, which happened to be in the room. They soon caught, and the fire again blazed up in the chimney.
The paper produced a denser smoke and a greater heat than the fuel which had been used the first time. The prisoners were now in imminent danger of suffocation. The smoke passed through the cracks made by the hammering of the workmen against the wall, and the plate, which was not yet cold, soon became heated to a terrific degree. The air of the recess became every instant less fit for respiration: the persons it contained were obliged to place their mouths against the slates in order to exchange their burning breath for fresh air. The duchess was the greatest sufferer, for, having entered the last, she was close to the plate. Each of her companions offered several times to change places with her, but she always refused.<br>
At length, to the danger of being suffocated was soon added another: that of being burned alive. The plate had become red-hot, and the lower part of the clothes of the four prisoners seemed likely to catch fire. The dress of the duchess had already caught twice, and she had extinguished it with her naked hands, at the expense of two burns, of which she long after bore the marks. Each moment ratified the air in the recess still more, whilst the external air did not enter in sufficient quantity to enable the poor sufferers to breathe freely.<br>
Their lungs became dreadfully oppressed; and to remain ten minutes longer in such a furnace would be to endanger the life of Her Royal Highness. Each of her companions entreated her to go out: but she positively refused. Big tears of rage rolled from her eyes, and the burning air immediately dried them upon her cheeks. Her dress again caught fire, and again she extinguished it; but the movement she made in doing so, pushed back the spring which closed the door of the recess, and the plate of the chimney opened a little. Mademoiselle de Kersabiec immediately put forward her hand to close it, and burned herself dreadfully.<br>
The motion of the plate having made the turf placed against it roll back, this excited the attention of the gendarme, who was trying to kill the time by reading some numbers of the Quotidienne, and who thought he had built his pyrotechnic edifice with greater solidity than it seemed to possess. The noise made by Mademoiselle de Kersabiec inspired him with a curious idea: fancying that there were rats in the wall of the chimney, and that the heat would force them to come out, he awoke his companion, and they placed themselves, sword in hand, one on each side of the chimney, ready to cut in twain the first rat that should appear.<br>
They were in this ridiculous attitude, when the duchess, who must have possessed an extraordinary degree of courage to have supported so long as she had done the agony she endured, declared she could hold out no longer. At the same instant M. de Ménars, who had long before pressed her to give herself up, kicked open the plate. The gendarmes started back in astonishment, calling out, “Who’s there?”<br>
“I,” replied the duchess. “I am the Duchess of Berri; do not hurt me.”
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