The Four Sergeants of La Rochelle

The Four Sergeants of La Rochelle

  • The Four Sergeants of La Rochelle.


  • Jean-François-Louis-Clair Bories.


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Title: The Four Sergeants of La Rochelle.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1890

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 130 - Width 89.7

Technique and other indications: Handcoloured lithograph, paper Advertising poster for Maison Fayard for J. Beaujoint's novel on the Sergeants of La Rochelle published in 1890

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzisite web

Picture reference: 05-513779 / 61.18.71F

The Four Sergeants of La Rochelle.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

To close

Title: Jean-François-Louis-Clair Bories.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 27 - Width 18

Technique and other indications: Lithograph One of the "Four sergents of La Rochelle" - Sentenced for conspiracy in 1822; guillotined on September 21, 1822. With the text of the declaration of Bories after his conviction and of the speech of Master Mérilhon

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot website

Picture reference: 07-538828 / invgravures6967

Jean-François-Louis-Clair Bories.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Publication date: December 2011

Historical context

In 1820, the struggle between liberals and partisans of the Ancien Régime took on new violence in France following the assassination of the Duke of Berry by an isolated worker, Louis Pierre Louvel. Europe is also shaken by a revolutionary wave: in Spain the pronunciamiento General Riego proves that liberal change can come with the help of the military. Cells referred to as

"Sales" are created in the 45e line regiment in garrison in Paris. But the authority watched: in 1822, the conspiracies of Belfort and Saumur failed. Arrests are increasing, including those of soldiers from the 45e line, moved from La Rochelle. The trial of the carbonari

45e line, accused of conspiracy, before the Assize Court of the Seine, is a major political event. The French Charbonnerie did not recover from these failures and lost all initiative after 1823.

Image Analysis

The portrait is that of the main accused, Staff Sgt Bories of 45e line, on the spot, as he appeared in the 1822 trial. Bories introduced Charbonnerie to the regiment. He was in contact with civilian officials, perhaps with General Lafayette himself. He refused to admit and maintained at trial that the association of which he was a member was only a philanthropic society. Supporting the accusation, Advocate General Marchangy fiercely denounced the anti-French character of Carbonarism and the cowardice of those who preferred the conspirator's dagger to the soldier's rifle. The attack was extremely clever because it returned the reproach against the monarchy for having taken advantage of the French defeats to return to the vans abroad. The print responds directly to this accusation. Bories is portrayed as a man with a straightforward gaze and high, military-like appearance even though he is not wearing a uniform. The two texts at the bottom of the drawing refer to the bravery and heroism of the accused to confuse the suspicion of cowardice that Marchangy sought to insinuate. At the end of the indictment, Bories tries, in desperation, to take full responsibility for the alleged charges. This is the text of the first quote. The second is taken from the plea of ​​his lawyer Me Mérilhou, himself a high-ranking Carbonaro. It focuses not on the plot but on the courage of Sergeant Bories, wounded in Waterloo, a sign that symbolic issues have taken precedence over the case itself.

The poster is well after the events. It promotes the novel by Jules Beaujoint, The Four Sergeants of La Rochelle which begins to appear in 1890. The scene is known: The farewells of the condemned at the foot of the guillotine were represented by many artists, including Raffet, after the revolution of 1830 when the victims of the Restoration were the subject of a real political cult. But the image of the four sergeants going up to the scaffold is inserted into a setting that takes precedence over the action: The space is structured by a diagonal, from the guillotine's cleaver to the gendarme in the foreground. The death machine, which occupies most of the poster, is colored red in advance, evoking the blood of torture. This composition makes the novel akin to the literature of the "great dramas of the Assize Court" in which Arthème Fayard and Beaujoint had made themselves the specialists.


The two images come under two different diffusion logics. A few hundred copies of Bories’s portrait were clandestinely lithographed to counter the propaganda of royal power at the time of the Carbonari trial. It is a prohibited image and its possession could result in serious legal trouble. This lithograph is the first stone of a revolutionary myth in the process of being constructed, that of the four sergeants as martyrs of freedom. After 1830, the memory of the four sergeants was annexed by the Republican opposition. Young martyrs are particularly popular with Parisian students who pay homage to them in 1830 and then in 1848 at the Montparnasse cemetery. The myth of the sergeants of La Rochelle gives rise to the publication of many eulogies and a serial novel by Clémence Robert among the most popular of the second half of the 19th century.e century.

The Fayard poster belongs to another era of print, that of advertising and mass reading. Fayard uses the novel process in deliveries of one or two cents (5 or 10 centimes) to reach a large readership but not very fortunate. The delivery offers an alternative to the serial of the newspaper and allows the book to enter homes where large volumes remain financially inaccessible. The priority here is to sell based on the public's taste for criminal novels. The political romanticism of the myth of the four sergeants, very weakened on the poster, nonetheless persists in this river novel published in 400 issues. Jules Beaujoint is a republican, exiled for a time in Belgium after the coup d'etat of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, and, even when he became moderate, he was marked by the republican culture of protest.

  • execution
  • charcoal
  • conspiracy
  • Napoleon III


BEAUJOINT Jules, The Four Sergeants of La Rochelle: Follow-up to the Patriot Hunt, Paris, Fayard frères, 1890-1892, 4 vol.FUREIX Emmanuel, France of tears: political bereavements in the romantic age (1814-1840), Seyssel, Champ Vallon, coll. "Epoques", 2009. GRANDJEAN Sophie, "The Popular Collections of Arthème Fayard", Tapis-Franc: A review of the popular novel, 1997, n ° 8, p.94-100 GRANDJEAN Sophie, "Les Editions Fayard and the popular edition", in The Bookstore Trade in France in the 19th Century. 1798-1914, edited by Jean-Yves Mollier, Paris, IMEC / Maison des sciences de l'Homme, 1997, p.229-232 KALIFA Dominique, Ink and Blood: Narratives of Crimes and Society in the Belle Époque, Paris, Fayard, 1995.SPITZER Alan B., Old Hatred and Young Hopes.The French Carbonari against the Bourbon Restoration, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1971. TARDY Jean-Noël, "The torch and the dagger. The contradictions of the clandestine organization of the French liberals, 1821-1827", Journal of modern and contemporary history, n ° 57-1, January-March 2010, p.69-90.

To cite this article

Jean-Noël TARDY, "The Four Sergeants of La Rochelle"