I uncovered a puzzling and rather unsettling error in historical research by an author I trusted.
A man by the name of Toussaint de Beausire played a very small part in history but a much bigger part in the work of historical fiction I’m currently slogging through. The fiction is really just the words and one or two characters–remarkable amounts of information exist about everyone, everything, and ever place involved.
In doing my research, I relied on Frances Mossiker’s The Queen’s Necklacefor my information on most things. The characters involved all gave his-hand accounts, which are translated and pieced together by Mossiker. What is said by the people involved is inherently suspect; these people all had strong motives to lie (generally speaking). Not to mention, quite a few of them were writing these years (sometimes many years) after the events, and their memories are demonstrably faulty.
Which is, I think, what must have happened in the case of Abbé Georgel, the secretary of Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan [see the sidebar for a link to my post on Rohan], who was the man duped into handing over a necklace of 2400 carats to a pretty, youngish adventuress.
The error in question is this: Mossiker quotes Abbé Georgel’s summation of the end of both Beausire and Nicole d’Oliva [see the sidebar for a link to my post on Oliva]. He died by guillotine, she died alone and abandoned in convent. Having taken a look at some other secondary sources, and some birth and death records, it seems that Abbé Georgel and Mossiker (who supports his words in a footnote) are both wrong.
The person in question, Beausire, was the husband of one Nicole d’Oliva, a reformed lady of the night. Nicole was, as the link to my profile makes clear, involved in the jewel heist of the century without being aware of what she was doing. Nicole met Cardinal Rohan in the darkened gardens of the Chateau de Versailles and during the trials. There is no reason to believe that Beausire ever came any closer than that to Abbé Georgel: Beausire’s wife saw Georgel’s employer briefly in a garden. The relationship is pretty tenuous.
Georgel also wrote his memoirs in 1817, over thirty years after the events took place.
Both explain the error that Georgel made. These were, more or less, tangential characters, especially to Georgel, who was interested mostly with the Cardinal and the conniving Comtesse. He had barely known these people, and besides so many years had passed . . . he remembered the sad demise of Nicole d’Oliva, and remembered something vague about Beausire.
As it turns out, Toussaint de Beausire appears to have lived until 1818. In fact, he must have been alive when Abbé Georgel’s memoirs made the error about his (Beausire’s) death. I found this book online as I was doing a quick search to see if I could find anything more about Beausire’s exact date of death. On page 69 of Cagliostro and Company by Frantz Funck-Brentano and translated by George Maiment, I found a very full account of Toussaint de Beausire. His story is fascinating. He was quite the juvenile delinquint, running away from school, stealing from his teachers, running up debts. The real kicker came at the end, when it says that Beausire not only lived until 1818, but had remarried after Nicole d’Oliva died (young and abandoned by Beausire). He had six children by his second wife and was a servant of the Empire under Napoleon.
This needed further investigation. As far as I knew, Beausire had been executed during the French Revolution. I was inclined to believe Mossiker, who I’d been following, and assume that the authors of this new resource had mixed up my Beausire with someone else with a similar name. I dug into a few genealogy sites and found a few interesting documents. There was a record of the birth of Toussaint’s child by Nicole d’Oliva. There was a marriage license for a man I could only assume was that same son many years later. Then I found some other births. The mother’s name seemed to match what was said in Cagliostro and Company. However, the name used for the father was slightly different. The initials were a bit off. It was as though Toussaint was used sometimes as a surname and other times as a first name. In any case, this still left some room open for the possibility that there were two men with similar names and that everything attributed to Beausire in Cagliostro and Company had been the works of another man.
Quite a lot is attributed to Beausire in Cagliostro and Company. He was active in the French Revolution, turning informant and getting a relative executed because of an old grudge. There are speeches and such attributed to him. There is an account of his trial–he was acquitted. This was still a little baffling; he was meant to have been condemned. With the records I’d found, I was beginning to suspect that Mossiker was wrong and Cagliostro and Company was right.
Then I stumbled across ancestry.com’s archive of those guillotined during the French Revolution. Search as I might, Beausire was not there. This, to my mind, closed the case. The mystery appears to be solved. As far as I can tell, Frances Mossiker took Georgel’s word for Beausire’s death. Unfortunately, she didn’t double check his words. This is understandable but a little sloppy. As said before, Beausire was peripheral and Mossiker clearly had some respect for Georgel’s words. She must have believed enough of what he said to not check on this one small item. Of course, I’m probably one of very, very few people who would ever think to ask about Toussaint de Beausire, but when I did, I found that Mossiker had fallen down a little here. Don’t get me wrong; the book is fantastic and I rely on it heavily, but it’s a lesson to check things if and when you can.