Prison des Madelonnettes

Madelonnettes Convent

The Madelonnettes Convent (couvent des Madelonnettes) was a Paris convent in the IIIe arrondissement of Paris. It was located in what is now a rectangle between 6 rue des Fontaines du Temple (where there are the remains of one of its walls), rue Volta and rue du Vertbois, and part of its site is now occupied by the lycée Turgot. As the Madelonnettes Prison (prison des Madelonnettes) during the French Revolution, its prisoners included the writers the Marquis de Sade and Nicolas Chamfort, the politician Jean Baptiste de Machault D'Arnouville and the actor Dazincourt.

Convent

Origins

Its origins date back to 1618, when the wine merchant Robert de Montry - after being rebuffed by the local prostitutes in his attempts to reform them - finally decided to put them back to the right path whilst being accommodated in his own home. With the aid of M. Du Pont (curé of Saint-Nicolas des Champs), the Capuchin Father Athanase Molé and M. de Fresne (an officer of the Gardes du Corps du Roi and a friend of Saint Vincent de Paul among others), de Montry worked to spread his charitable work to other prositutes. Quickly overtaken by their success, at first they rented rooms in the faubourg Saint-Honoré, before Robert de Montry lent them a house he owned in the quartier de la Croix-Rouge. A chapel for the house was improvised, served by Benedictiones from Saint-Germain des Prés.

The idea of creating an actual convent was down to the patronage of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and the generosity of the Marquise de Maignelay (née Claude-Marguerite de Gondi, sister of Jean-François de Gondi, archbishop of Paris), who on 16 July 1620 acquired from sister Dubuisson a property in rue des Fontaines, between the Abbaye Saint-Martin des Champs and the Temple enclosure, and left them 101,600 livres in her will. In 1625, Louis XIII granted them 3,000 livres in rents, and they were accorded a constitution by pope Urban VIII in 1631. Most of the buildings were constructed in 1637, with the complex's first chapel inaugurated by Anne of Austria on 22 March 1648 and a church built from 1680 onwards and consecrated on 2 September 1685.

History

This large gathering of sinners freely choosing the way of redemption slowly evolved into a more classical convent establishment in which women or girls suspected of misconduct would be confined on the orders of the king, judges or even just at their family's request, the most famous example being the courtesan Ninon de l'Enclos, imprisoned there in 1657 at the request of Anne of Austria, now queen-mother (though according to Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux, Ninon did not remain there long, so strong was the pressure of her gallants that gathered around the convent to demand her release). A number of them came from rich families who paid them (and thus the convent) a large pension. It was thus necessary therefore to strengthen the supervision, that was confided in turn to 4 sisters of the Visitation of Saint-Antoine (1629-77), the Ursulines (1677-1720) and finally to the nuns of Saint-Michel (1720 onwards), renowned for their severity.

The convent at its peak housed 165 pensionnaires, organized in 3 orders, each with a separate building:

  • the actual sisters of Saint Madeleine, after taking their solemn vows, white habit
  • the sisters of Saint Martha, after taking their basic vows, grey habit - these could move up to the order of Saint Madeleine after 2 years in the novitiate
  • the sisters of Saint Lazare, who had taken no vows and were generally held here against their will, in secular dress but with their face concealed by a black taffeta veil

Prison

French Revolution

After the decree of the National Assembly of February 13 1790 abolishing convents, a last inventory of the convent's goods and income was carried out March 17 that same year. Though the convent officially closed in 1790, the nuns were only dispersed by stages, since a new mother-superior and bursar were named on March 21 1791.

In the face of a new wave of imprisonments, in 1793 the convent buildings were converted into a prison for political and human rights prisoners, with its first prisoners arriving on 4 April under the direction of commissaire Marino and concierge Vaubertrand. The tempo of arrests quickened from May 1793 (up to 47 a day) and this led to overcrowding, with a prison only originally meant for 200 people housing up to 319 by 27 Messidor, crammed into cells only 5 square foot each. Human rights prisoners, nicknamed "les pailleux", held on the ground floor, and people of varying origins generals enrolled as "suspects". Despite the crowded conditions, the mood was good, with improvised poems, singing, music-making and gymnastics, all under the jailors' eyes, but despite this the prison regime was hard and insanitary. Commissaire Marino forbade any prisoner from going out into the courtyard, under the pretext that their detention was only provisional whilst they were awaiting transfer to another location. Promiscuity favoured the spread of infectious diseases such as smallpox, which claimed several victims.

At the end of December 1793 the political prisoners were moved to (among others) the Port-Libre, Picpus, and Saint-Lazare prisons, and the human-rights prisoners sent to Bicêtre. Little by little Madelonnettes was emptied of prisoners after the events of Thermidor, and so it reopened in 1795 as a women's prison for female criminals and debtors and young women shut up for correction by their fathers (as an annexe to the prison Saint Lazare). An image of the prison can be seen in a painting by Louis Léopold Boilly now at the Musée Carnavalet.

19th century

The prison remained a women's prison until April 1831, and also had the populations of other prisons transferred to it, such as the public daughters of the Petite Force (1828) and the prisoners at the Prison Sainte-Pélagie (1831). Finally all the prisoners from Prisons de la Roquette were transferred to les Madelonnettes in 1836 and it became a "maison d’arrêt" for men on their way to La Force. In the wake of the 1848 revolution large numbers of politicians were imprisoned here, and in 1865-1866 les Madelonnettes was finally demolished by Haussmann to build rue de Turbigo (in works which were photographed by Charles Marville) and replaced by Prison de la Santé.

Famous prisoners

Among the "suspects" held here were :

In fiction

The prison has been used as a setting in several works of fiction, including :

Notes and references

External links

Sources

  • "Abbayes, monastères, couvents de femmes à Paris, des origines à la fin du XVIIIe siècle" - Paul Biver - PUF (1975)
  • "Historiettes" - Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux
  • Archives Nationales - S4738
  • "Collection des mémoires relatifs à la révolution française" - Tome second - Saint-Albin Berville - Baudouin Frères, libraires éditeurs (Paris - 1823)
  • "Histoire physique, civile et morale de Paris" - Jacques-Antoine Dulaure et Jules-Léonard Belin - (1842)
  • "Les prisons de l'Europe" - Auguste Maquet et Jules-Edouard Alboise du Pujol (1845)
  • "Les prisons de Paris" - Maurice Alhoy et Louis Lurine - Ed Gustave Havard (Paris - 1846)
  • "Revue de l'Anjou et du Maine" - tome sixième - Librairie de Cosnier et Lachèse (Angers - 1860)
  • "La Prostitution et la police des mœurs au XVIIIe siècle" - Erica-Marie Benabou - Perrin (1987)
  • "La pendaison, la strangulation, la suffocation, la submersion" - Paul Brouardel. Paris, Librairie J.B. Baillière et fils, (1897)
  • "Enfants corrigés, enfants protégés - Genèse de la protection de l'enfance en Belgique, en France et aux Pays-bas (1820-1914)" - Marie-Sylvie Dupont-Bouchat - Revue du Réseau Européen Droit et Société
  • Photos de la démolition : "Le nouveau Paris sens dessus dessous (Marville - Photographies 1864-1877)" Ph. Mellot - Ed. Michèle Trinckvel (1995) - p.210-213

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