Monday, September 24, 2012

The Escape from Château de Vincennes

Click on the pictures to see larger versions.

In 1750, one Jean Henri Latude escaped from the Château de Vincennes. This magnificent castle dates back almost 900 years to 1150, where it started life as a hunting lodge for Louis VII, the King of the Franks. Over the years it was built into a proper castle — today the grounds still house the highest medieval keep in Europe — and has a long and illustrious history. Mata Hari was executed there, the Nazis occupied the castle during WWII and yesterday I found myself touring the room in which the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned.

The Château de Vincennes
Of all of the famous history, I find the story of Jean Henri Latude the most interesting. Though not as well-known outside of France, he was a bit of an inept conman, apparently a charming individual and a genius.

The north entrance of the grounds
Latude first managed to be imprisoned when he sent a box of poison to the Marquise de Pompadour, the chief mistress of Louis XV. He "exposed" the plot, hoping to find favor with her, but he was discovered and apparently the Marquise was not amused and he was sent to the Bastille in 1749, but later was transferred to Vincennes, from which he escaped in 1750.

The keep at Vincennes

If Latude's idiocy surprises you, you'll be doubly surprised to learn his cunning plan to stay out of prison: he wrote a letter to the king, trusting his mercy and explaining where he was hiding. Louis XV, like his mistress, was not amused and imprisoned Latude in the Bastille.

Panoramic view of the grounds
Latude, needless to say, wasn't terribly happy about this and decided to escape from this unescapable prison. Which he did, though it took him a considerable amount of time and planning, but rather than bore you with details, you can read about Latude's escape from the Bastille for yourself. He makes MacGyver look like an amateur.

The remnants of the moat around the keep
Latude was captured, again, and sent back to the Bastille, but was later transferred back to Vincennes where Latude escaped again.
Forgive the poor quality of the photos.
My iPhone's update seems to have degraded the camera quality
Latude was, of course, captured again. Later in life he was put in an insane asylum but released after two years on the provision that he return to his home town.

Instead, he remained in Paris and was imprisoned. Again.

The courtyard around the keep
In proving that a life of crime and stupidity pays better than one would think, the heirs of the Marquise de Pompadour were later ordered to pay Latude 60,000 francs in damages for his imprisonment.

Our daughter had a fabulous, but tiring time.
Walking the grounds of this ancient castle was fascinating and the history was lovely. It's also about ten minutes from our flat. I could spend the rest of my life just exploring French history first-hand.