Graham Robb’s very readable Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris has, in its chapter on Vidocq, a section of particular interest to Les Misérables fans – the fact it’s titled “The Case of the Bogus Revolution” gives a hint as to why that is so.
Writing of the events of 5-6 June 1832, Robb points out that “A cynic might have said that this chaotic revolt was a stroke of luck for the new regime”, pointing out that the July monarchy was threatened by both republicans and legitimists and that “Strangely, though, despite its fear of a further republican uprising or a royalist counter-revolution, the government did nothing to prevent the crowds from assembling [for Lamarque’s funeral], and when a colossal man appeared on a horse, waving a red flag on a Phrygian bonnet, no soldier or policeman intervened until panic had started to spread.” Intriguingly, Robb mentions that rumours had been spreading since the morning that the funeral would be the occasion of a royalist revolt. Certainly, as I’ve cited in other posts, there were Legitimist plots in development and even some collaboration between the disgruntled royalists and the republicans.
Anyway, whether or not the Orléanist regime provoked the uprising in order to try and eliminate as many republican and Legitimist opponents as possible, the next chilling possibility he raises is that Vidocq had some role in setting up barricades on the Île de la Cité. Robb points to the fact that histories agree that by 10 am on the morning of 6 June all resistance was confined to the Right Bank, and yet suddenly these barricades arose…and “something odd” might be noticed about their architecture and composition. “The barricades had firm foundations, as though the builders had maneuvered the carts into position according to some unwritten principle of barricade construction. There was an unusual preponderance of desks and file cabinets forming neat course with bridged joins and buttresses, and, running across the top, a row of cartwheels and chairs that served as coping-stones and battlements.” Had they had more time, the insurgents might have realised how un-strategic the situation was – they were in a position that could be assailed from several locations at once – or might have removed the occupants of the houses that looked down on the barricades, occupants who might have been snipers. “Any such precautions would, of course, have been futile if some of the rebels defending the barricades had turned out to be soldiers or policemen in disguise.”
As it was, bands of fighters fleeing events on the Right Bank were informed of these barricades “by men who seemed to have a precise knowledge of the ebb and flow of the battle.”
Trapped there, they were killed or captured. And Vidocq’s role? Shady as usual, but there was a testimonial he later produced signed by locals praising his zeal and the fact that, although no longer officially employed by the Sûreté, had somehow managed to capture the “malefactors.”
According to Robb, some of the revolutionaries captured that day long afterwards expressed the belief that the barricade was constructed under Vidocq’s direction and manned by his agents provocateurs, and that some of these survivors later made attempts on his life.
I’ve seen the allegation before that Vidocq was involved in the “mopping up” of the June Revolt and that there were later attempts on his life as a result, but haven’t seen the primary sources. Unfortunately Robb doesn’t use footnotes, but in his references for this chapter, in addition to works like Vidocq’s memoirs, we do find a couple of citations:
Anon. ‘Juin 1832 (Insurrection des 5 et 6)’. In Pierre Larousse, Grand Dictionnaire universal du XIX siècle, IX (1873) pp. 1096 – 97
I’m trying to find the text online (and keep getting distracted with references like this article by Frédéric Chauvaud Gavroche et ses pairs : aspects de la violence politique du groupe enfantin en France au XIXe siècle. http://conflits.revues.org/463?lang=en), but has anyone here worked with this before?
There’s also Christophe-Michel Roguet’s Insurrections et guerre des barricades dans les grandes villes, 1850 which is available on Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/37053 - at a quick glance it seems to concern itself mostly with the fighting on the right bank at St-Mery and surrounds, but I’ll try to translate it later.
This is all still very much work in progress to try and nut this out, but I’m hoping others might have done some work on it. I think it’s probably at this stage a reach to link Vidocq’s actions with Hugo’s depiction of Javert’s role (and I’m a bit dubious Hugo was even aware of the allegations), but does anyone else out there have any information on this and it’s rather unsettling implications?
I can’t imagine Hugo was too familiar with this idea when he wrote the story that he did (I can’t I can’t I can’t), but wow. I’m floored.
I checked out Parisians largely on the basis of this post, and because this conspiracy theory has eaten my brain and I wanted to read everything I could about it. I have little to add, except that readers who are curious about Robb’s particular take on Vidocq who don’t want to track down the book can read this article on Vidocq in the London Review of Books, which hits most of the basics. He discusses the June 5-6 riot near the end.
Most importantly, he places Vidocq’s alleged activities in the Rebellion in the context of his larger career. Vidocq’s success wasn’t really his proto-forensic skills of legend, but in his ability to ingratiate himself with whoever the political regime was at the time, and to act as an agent provocateur and political suppressor.
He was the human face – or faces – of a system that spent more time rooting out subversives than catching thieves….
According to Stead, Vidocq was an enthusiastic double agent well into his seventies. He infiltrated workers’ meetings, ‘encouraged’ voters to support Louis-Napoléon, and pretended to back an Orleanist conspiracy. In 1849, he returned to the Conciergerie, ostensibly as a prisoner but in reality to spy on Auguste Blanqui and other socialists arrested in the June uprising. With Vidocq on the case, Paris was ‘safer’ than ever before.
He’s portrayed as a clever and charismatic thug who realized the best way to get ahead was to get cozy with the state and do their dirty work for them. This makes me think of John Merriman’s Police Stories, which also portrays the police as frequently being used in this period to surpress political uprisings rather than to protect the populace. In such an atmosphere, with such a man as Vidocq, it seems… at least possible that his hand might have been involved in the rebellion.
What all this means for Les Mis, I don’t know. Except I’m fairly sure that if they met, neither Valjean or Javert would want anything to do with Vidocq, based on him or not.
Adding to the evidence that the revolt might have been set off (or at least enabled) by the regime as a way of crushing the republican opposition, Thomas Bouchet, in his commentary on Charles Jeanne’s letter in À cinq heures nous serons tous morts, suggests that one of the reasons the republicans in power (editors of large newspapers, deputies in the legislature) turned their backs on the June 1832 rebellion was that they had been planning their own revolution for the end of July! They had judged that the anniversary of the July Revolution of 1830 was their best shot at getting enough critical mass to overthrow Louis-Philippe, and were extremely put out that their more hot-headed brethren had jumped the gun. God only knows whether the revolutionaries would have won if the republican leadership had adapted to the situation and thrown their support behind it, but in any case, their decision to hold back appears to have been motivated more by self-preservation than prudence: by evening on June 5, it was pretty clear that either the revolutionaries would win or they’d have to be brutally suppressed, in which case another attempt in July would never get very far. If the cadaverous-looking horseback rider with his red flag was indeed an agent provocateur sent by the regime to sour the public on the republicans and push them into a revolt that would be easier to suppress than one in July, well, the regime succeeded.
Incidentally, Bouchet also mentions that the activities of republican and legitimist secret societies and how much of a role they had in organizing the June 1832 revolt are one of the biggest open questions on this point in French history. There were a bunch of them floating around, but historians *just don’t know* what most of them got up to or how effective they really were.
What kind of role Vidocq played is similarly mysterious, but Charles Jeanne reports capturing at least one spy at Saint-Merry whose orders were to use up as much ammunition as he could, then try to lure the leaders of the barricade into an ambush once the powder supplies ran short by promising to take them to a giant stockpile of cartridges.