Who the Hell was the count Jean-François-Charles de Molette de Morangiès? The portrait on the left does not represent the count at all, but fits the idea I have of him: a charming man, neat, that you feel capable of anything...
The military career of Count, whose records in the Historical Service of Ground Army of Vincennes only contains useless information, has been unknown for a
long time and has been controversial.
Yer I will try to present him here and to show you his true face.
The usual story concerning JFC de Molette de Morangiès can be summ like this:
The count had been musketeer of the king and became Camp Master, and went to war for the Seven years war. He then ends on the island of Minorca in 1756, leading his regiment which is intergated to the invading army of Marshall Duke of Richelieu. He will become governor of the island and will stay in Port-Mahon until the peace in 1763.
That is where, according to some authors, he met Antoine Chastel (son of Jean, who killed the Beast) with who he decides to have revenge against the Gévaudan region. Once he came home, he started to have a life of luxury while leading his evil plan and works with low recommendable people in Paris.
Except the count never put a foot on that island.
Not him nor any soldier of his regiment of infantry of Languedoc.
He wasn't even near the mediterranean sea during the period in which he is accused of plotting revenge with Antoine Chastel (who never was animal keeper...).
Once again, thanks to the surgical relentlessness of
Lets start the story all over again:
Jean-François-Charles de Molette, count of Morangiès, was born in 1728 in the castle of Boy (Lanuéjols). At the age of fourteen, he joined the first company of the grey musketeers and on May 8th 1748, he becomes camp colonel at the regiment of infantry of Languedoc.
Concerning his love life, the count gets married on August 22d 1753 with Marie Paule Thérèse de Beauvilliers de Saint-Aignan (born on december 10th 1729). They will have two sons: François Paul and François Hyppolite. The count is emancipated on August 27th 1755 by his father, and the young countess is introuced in the court in 1756, beginning of the Seven Years war.
The first batalion of the regiment of Languedoc, which belongs to Jean-François-Charles is expensive and the count is a gambler, which does no good
to his finances... He sells woods, lands, so much that his two brothers and his two sisters begin to get angry because he spreads all the money they
deserve as well. But the older son has priority.
But we're at war and Jean-François-Charles leads his batalion on the German front. They are made prisonners in Minden during summer 1758. Officers, richer than their men, had the possibility to buy their freedom. I mean that they would pay a summ of money to go somewhere else than in prison, in an individual house where they still had to worl a bit as prisonners, but life was then much easier. At the very beginning of the year 1761, after a partial amnesty, his men are released and they all go back to France.
But during his stay in jail, the count contracted phthisis (a form of tuberculosis) ; he will travel between Germany and Paris, Toulouse and Bagnols, where he will have most of his cure before going back to Germany, to comme officially back to France and the city of Pont-St-Esprit (Gard) in February 1761.
Anecdote: He will never have back the summ of money he paid for the purchase and the maintenance of his unit: only 20 000 pounds on a total of 45 000. From that moment, he started to have debts which would lead him to the ruin of the family, starting in 1768!
At the end of the war, the count leaves the army and focuses on himelf: his glitzy lifestyle, always looking to regain a past glory, only increase his debts which, added to those given by his father when he emancipated him, represent such money (more than 450 000 pounds!) that he will be forced to join the dark side. Yet, when I say "forced", I exagerate because it seems that he excelled in the art of scam.
It must have been less an obligation than a game. He was called "golden tongue": no need to develop, he cheated on people with words and when he had their trust, he disappeared with his promises and generally a tidy sum of money he promptly squandered.
Most of his thefts were fake sales of land that did not belong to him anymore (they were in the hands of his creditors).
In fact, the main scam of the count was subtle, impossible to verify by anyone from the capital: he sold parts of a forest that did not
belong to him anymore, and for which he said that the trees were made for sawmill, but he never mentionned that it was almost impossoble to reach this forest
which was perched on a rocky plateau. He even had printed what we would call today a flyer extolling the benefits to make business with him.
A champion of scam, well ahead of its time for financial fraud.
There are plenty of pigeons in Paris and the count could even have become a legend if he didn't deal with two scammers at least as good as him.
At least two who will lead him to justice.
In this case, the count is asked for 100 000 pounds refund for an initial loan of 25 000! The case caused a stir both in Gevaudan and Paris,
where all the newspapers talk about tha trial, which will last from 1771 to 1773. Du Jonquay, his oponant, will be jailed in the conciergerie
after a first trial, but after that, the count will also be jailed on February 11th 1773.
This provoques indignation of all nobility in Gévaudan and Voltaire, who defends the count since the beginning, tipped the scales in his favor by his intervention to prove his innocence.
In 1774, Pierre Charles de Molette, marquis of Morangiès dies, and is burried in Paris. Pretending he's dishonored, the count leaves for Metz. There he
meets Marie Fontaine, Frémin wife, renowned "gallant woman who trades her body" according to the police records of tha time. She is maried
and has a daughter (born in 1766), but that doesn't stop her from moving in with Jean-François-Charles and his older son François Paul.
For the anecdote, she supposedly chose her own husband to be witness when she married the count in Frankfurt. The husband was then the valet of the newly weds.
But when Jean-François-Charles recognizes the daughter of his new wife and that, therefore, she earns the title of a land near Saint-Alban, his brothers
and sisters get really pissed. The couple is riddled with debts and their creditors are after them. Theu both end in jail in 1786. Released, the count
blames his son, accusing him to be a "money executionner", even asking for a summ in return.
In 1791, the countess escapes from the Grand Châtelet prison and comes back to live with the count in Paris. She is then suspected of prostitution. After a few (very) hard years, the couple comes back to live in the castle of Saint-Alban.
But the situation is no better: still ruined, and Jean-François-Charles' brothers, ruined because of their brother, constantly harass him.
The oral tradition tells us that one day, at the end of the Sunday Mass, one of his brother ran after him with an axe in his hands, and the firm
intention to stabb him somewhere.
But there's not only his brother. His wife also beats him. Through a police report from April 24th 1801 (4 Floreal year IX), his brothers declare that the bad treatments the count has risk to lead him to his doom.
Indeed, on June 28th 1801 (9 Messidor year IX) the count dies from a hit on the head by the countess (with an ash-shovel - for fireplaces). Though the death report precises he is dead "because of shocks and mad treatment", no investigation will be lead. The castle in Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole will become a psychiatric institute, undermining his bad reputation.
The family de Molette de Morangiès, like Chastel, is quite big. Here are e few tables that will tell you more about his ancestors:
In fact, we know that the abbot of Castagnéri and Voltaire's mother were lovers, there were doubts by their time already, because of the resemblance between Voltaire and his Godfather, not between him and Monsieur Arouet (notary). However, Voltaire also liked to say that his father was the Knight of Rochebrune. I haven't serached very far because it's almost impossible to find a specialist on Volaire nowadays who knows about this case, most of official biographs don't even mention the long list of letters and writtings of the philosopher about de Moranghiès. It took three years of his life, during which he wrote dozens of letters, pamphlets and other texts that will be published to help the count.
He did not have anything to prove, as the Calas and Sirven casese took place before thgis one. The philosopher didn't have any interest to get involved in this delicate case, for which he will only be a distant spectator, never leaving his refuge in Ferney. He who never did anything for free wil defen the count without any compensation in return. What is the reason to such implication, if the count really was inknown to him?
Here is the table I've made from all these information, which shows where Voltaire and the Morangiès are linked together (click here to have the table in hugh resolution).
Let's summ up some important dates in the count's life:
So the count was no angel, I agree on that, but nothing prooves he could have been a killer. I would even say, considering his relation with his second wife untill his death (he was beaten, let's say it) put him in that category of people I would think unable to be violent. But there are sureley things about the human psychology that I ignore...
But concerning the legend, the hypothetical encounter with Antoine Chastel in Minorca in the early 1760ies is to dump defenitely from the story
(update your websites!) and we know now for what reason his military record almost has nothing in it: what army would want to keep the trace of
the defeat of its troops? So everything that was supposed to mention his capture in Germany and the detention of his whole batalion, or even the disease
he caught in jail and the cures it needed, was taken from the record.
Hopefully there were enough traces elsewhere.
I am quite satisfied about this new version of the count's life.
But that's only my own personnal private opinion!
For those who would like to read by themselves the letters the Voltaire wrote about the trial of the count, see the list below:
Voltaire, Correspondances (Paris, Gallimard La Pléïade, Edition Théodore Besterman), Tomes :
Voltaire Correspondances (Paris, Hachette, 1865) lettre 7171, de juin 1776.
The documents I used to establish the genealogy of the Morangiès and Voltaire come from the work by Miss Chantal Martin-Granier Baudin, 2005.
The biography of the count is based upon the work by MM Berthelot and Paquet, and Miss Martin-Garnier Baudin.
Thanks to Patrick, Marie-Hélène and monsieur K!Top of page