All is prepared for the execution. The blade of the guillotine has been sharpened, or the hangman’s noose is ready, or firing squad awaits, and then, at the last minute, it is discovered that the prisoner has escaped!

How often have you thrilled to that scene, in books or movies or on the stage? Sidney Carton takes the place of the imprisoned Charles Darnay in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, and goes to his death thinking “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done.” Edmond Dantès escapes from the Chateau d’If, where he has been falsely imprisoned, by taking the place of a corpse thrown into the sea and goes on to become the Count of Monte Cristo.

But in 1815 Antoine Marie Chamans, comte de Lavalette, really did escape in a daring masquerade the day before he was to go to the guillotine.

A loyal supporter of Napoleon, and married to Emilie de Beauharnais, a niece of Josephine, Lavalette served in the army, on various diplomatic missions, and as the official in charge of the postal service. That last position was not as boring as it might seem. It made him the man in charge of examining the letters of suspected royalists.

When Napoleon returned from Elba, Lavalette was one of those who flocked to his side. This did not endear him to the Bourbons, and after Waterloo and Napoleon’s final exile, Lavalette was arrested, imprisoned in la Conciergerie, and condemned to death—the same fate that was meted out to Marshal Ney for the same crime, loyalty to Napoleon.

On December 20, the eve of his execution, his wife and daughter and the daughter’s governess came to the prison to bid him farewell. Orders had been given that Lavalette should not be allowed visitors, but the sympathetic jailer was so accustomed to visits from these women that he did not think the edict applied to them.

Once inside the cell, Emilie and her husband quickly changed clothes while the women wailed and cried for the edification of the guards. At length they departed, the daughter and governess helping the sobbing “wife,”  who covered her face with a handkerchief, into the waiting sedan chair.

Lavalette then had the assistance of three Englishmen who disapproved of the fate of Marshal Ney—"the bravest of the brave" and a respected foe—and disliked the White Terror of the Bourbon Restoration. These men—Michael Bruce, Captain John Hely-Hutchinson and General Sir Robert Wilson—hid Lavalette for three days in Bruce’s apartment on the Rue de Helder. Sir Robert then dressed the Frenchman in the uniform of an English officer, got him a false passport, and eventually smuggled him out of France and across to England.

Meanwhile, the jailer went into the cell and saw, to his horror, that it was occupied by Madame de Lavalette and not her husband. “Madame,” he cried. “you have ruined me.”

She was let out of the prison after a month or so, but was not reunited with her husband until he was allowed to return to France in 1822. The tender-hearted jailer spent two years in prison for his folly, and the three Englishmen were tried, convicted, and sentenced to three months in the Conciergerie.

Among the English, this marked them as popular heroes for life. 



We would aarrange things so that the husband and wife would be immediately reunited in a novel.
An escape also happened from the Tower of London in much the same way.


I guess the wife was lucky she was allowed to leave the jail after a month.

The wife

I think she didn't enjoy it. According to one account I read, she was a bit "disturbed" afterwards.


In my romance novel - since I write suspense - I'd make the husband a traitor who was supposed to send someone back for his wife but didn't and then the wife and the kind-hearted jailer eventually get together. Gotta give the good guys a HEA. :-)

This is a fascinating story. It's sad that she wound up disturbed afterward (though understandable), but she was very brave - and very lucky, I'd say. If they wanted to, they could have condemned her to death in his place couldn't they?

Great stuff, Lillian. As always.

Very Interesting.

What a fascinating tidbit from the pages of history that is little known, until now. I fully expected it to be the governess, not the wife. Of course, the romantic in me was hoping for a reunion much quicker.


Just came across the mention of Lavallette in Georgette Heyer, Bath Tangle. Was looking him up to date the action in the novel - Thanks so much for being so specific!!

My pleasure. I just love this

My pleasure. I just love this stuff, don't you?

Escape | Lillian Marek

Their general knowledge can only be enriched
if they keep an eye on the wide array of programs that are showcased.
Badham said she remains busy lecturing to audiences
internationally about the book and film. " Whether the students enjoy it and learn from it is another story.

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