The Murder of Alain de Moneys (Part Two of Two)

Continued from Part One

Alain de Moneys' brutal murder quickly became the most talked-about news story of the year. 

While episodes of mob violence aimed at wealthy landowners and businessmen were hardly unique, the newspapers played up the bizarre details, especially the roasting of the victim's body as if he were a butchered hog.   For the conservative press especially,  the villagers who took part in the murder were portrayed as subhuman monsters who need to be "dealt with" to ensure that the people of France could be safe.

Though no women had been arrested, many of the editorials written about the case insisted that the women who were present were just as guilty as the men for spurring the men to violence (despite there being no evidence of this).  The fact that the murder had been politically motivated and that the villagers believed they were killing a Prussian spy was irrelevant.  All that mattered was that these villagers  be punished to the full extent of the law because of the danger they posed to public order.

And then there were the villagers themselves and their supporters throughout the French countryside.   Though de Moneys had not been a Prussian spy after all, the fact that he had been killed in the name of the Emperor caused many Bonapartistes to believe that Napoleon III would intervene somehow to save his supporters.   |Though that the Emperor had much bigger problems, it helped show just how political the entire bizarre spectacle had become.   If it had happened just a few decades earlier, such as during the French revolution or the Napoleonic wars that followed, the public reaction would likely have been much more subdued.  Incidents of mob violence in the French countryside were fairly common back then but, as the villagers of Hautefaye were soon to discover, things had changed forever.   

Part of the irony surrounding what had happened in Hautefaye was that many of the people who had taken part likely had no idea that what they were doing was illegal. Since they were convinced that the man they were killing was actually a Prussian agent (he was a total stranger to most of them), they believed their actions were perfectly justified.   In the months leading up to the killing, the only news they had about the war was about the evil Prussian troops who would come to burn their homes and rape the women.   When the mob ringleaders told them that the then-unnamed Alain de Moneys was an enemy that needed to be destroyed, the half-drunken villagers simply did as they were told.  The mass arrests that followed  likely came as a shock to many of them.   That many of the people arrested would later go on trial for their lives would be an even bigger shock.

The hearing began on December 13, 1870 in the nearby city of Perigeux and would continue for another eight days.  In all there were twenty-one defendants, a sharp drop from the six hundred people who had been originally arrested.  Newspapers were filled with allegations of the cannibalism that had supposedly occurred and regularly referred to the villagers a a "brutish mob" that had been "drunk on blood."   In much the same way that the mob had reduced Alain de Moneys to the status of an animal by roasting him and referring to him as a "fine pig" afterward,   newspaper editorials referred to the accused as "creatures with human faces" who had no trace of human decency or feeling.

Over the course of the trial, the court heard from the star witness in the case, Hautefaye's mayor, Bernard Mathieu.  It was Mathieu who identified Chambord, along with three other men, as the ringleaders of the mob and the ones who were the most responsible for what had happened.    While defense attorneys tried to argue that the villagers had been caught up in an act of mob psychology, conservative politicians and the press objected to any attempt at leniency.   Many members of Alain's family were also in attendance, including his father (his mother had already died of grief by that time.)

Considering the general sense of venom aimed at the people on trial, nobody but the defendants seemed surprised at the guilty verdict.  Four of the villagers who were deemed to be primarily responsible for the killing were sentenced to death while a fifth was sentenced to life imprisonment.   Most of the others were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from eight years to a few months.   One of the defendants, who happened to be fourteen at the time of the killing, was sent to a reformatory.   Only the youngest of the accused, a small child, was actually acquitted.   As for the aged mayor, Bernard Mathieu, he died on December 25, not long after the trial ended.

Once the guilty verdict was in, the presiding judge and most of the newspapers approving the verdict called for the execution to take place was soon as possible.  While defense attorneys tried to halt the execution, an appeal court upheld the decision.   Given that the murder had taken place in Hautefaye, the court ruled that the executions should take place there as well.   A portable scaffold and guillotine were set up in the town square of Hautefaye, as close to where Alain de Moneys had died as possible.    With 200 infantry standing guard, along with gendarmes, the four ringleaders were guillotined on February 6th, 1871 (Chambord was the last to be executed).    It likely added to the sense of betrayal felt by the condemned men and their followers that their beloved Emperor, the man for whom they had committed murder, had been  driven out of power just months before.  

After the executions at Hautefaye, life slowly returned to normal.   Alain's father moved away from the region, too upset to remain near the town where his son died.   All the other convicted men served their sentences and the last living witness to Alain de Moneys' murder died in 1950 at the age of 92.    On August 16, 1970, a full century after the killing, the church in Hautefaye held a special "mass of forgiveness" attended by members of Alain's family as well as descendants of his killers.  

Despite the numerous books that have been written about the Hautefaye Affair, it is still hard to understand how and why such a brutal murder could occur.  Even today, it remains as a graphic example of what an enraged mob is capable of under the right circumstances and the town of Hautefaye continues to be haunted as a result.   Though the town's mayor has repeatedly called for a commemorative marker to be placed on the site of the killing, other villagers continue to oppose it due to the sense of shame linked to what happened so long ago.







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