Prince Of Modena

The Self-Styled Prince of Modena

In the beginning of the year 1748, a small French merchantman, which was bound from Rochelle to Martinique, was so closely chased by the British cruisers that the captain and crew were compelled to take to their boat. By so doing they avoided the fate of the ship and cargo, which fell a prey to the pursuers, and succeeded in effecting a safe landing at Martinique. In their company was a solitary passenger—a youth of eighteen or nineteen summers, whose dignified deportment and finely-cut features betokened him of aristocratic lineage. His name, as given by himself, was the Count de Tarnaud, and his father, according to his own showing, was a field-marshal in the French service; but the deference with which he was treated by his shipmates seemed to suggest that his descent was even more illustrious, and his dignity loftier than that to which he laid claim. He was unattended, save by a sailor lad to whom he had become attached after his embarkation. This youth, called Rhodez, treated him with the utmost deference, and, while on an intermediate footing between friendship and servitude, was careful never to display the slightest familiarity.

This strangely assorted couple had no sooner landed upon the island than the pseudo  De Tarnaud asked to be directed to the house of one of the leading inhabitants, and was referred to Duval Ferrol, an officer, whose residence was situated near the spot at which he had come on shore. This gentleman, attracted by the appearance of the youth, and sympathising with his misfortunes, at once offered him a home, and De Tarnaud and Rhodez took up their abode at the maison  Ferrol. The hospitable advances of its proprietor were received by his new guest in a kindly spirit, yet more as due than gratuitous; and this air of superiority, combined with the extreme deference of Rhodez, aroused curiosity. The captain of the vessel which had brought the distinguished guest was questioned as to his real name, but professed himself unable to give any information beyond stating that the youth had been brought to him at Rochelle by a merchant, who had privately recommended him to treat him with great attention, as he was a person of distinction.

Ample scope was, therefore, left for the curiosity and credulity of the inhabitants of Martinique, who at this time were closely blockaded by the English, and were sadly in want of some excitement to relieve the monotony of their lives. Every rumour respecting the stranger was eagerly caught up and assiduously disseminated by a thousand gossips, and, as statement after statement and canard  after canard  got abroad, he rose higher and higher in popular repute. No one doubted that he was at least a prince; and why he had elected to come to Martinique at such an inconvenient season nobody stopped to inquire.

As far as could be made out from the disjointed stories which were afloat, this mysterious individual had been seen to arrive at Rochelle some time before the date of his embarkation. He was then accompanied by an old man, who acted as a sort of mentor. On their arrival they established themselves in private lodgings, in which the youth remained secluded, while his aged friend frequented the quays on the look-out for a ship to convey his companion to his destination. When one was at last found he embarked, leaving his furniture as a present to his landlady, and generally giving himself the air of a man of vast property, although at the time possessed of very slender resources; and that he really was a person of distinction and wealth the colonists were prepared to believe. They only awaited the time when he chose to reveal himself to receive him with acclamations.

After treating him hospitably for some time, Duval Ferrol precipitated matters by informing his strange guest, that as he did not know anything of his past life, and was himself only a subaltern, he had been under the necessity of informing his superior officers of his presence, and that the king's lieutenant who commanded at Port Maria desired to see him. The young man immediately complied with this request, and presented himself to the governor as the Count de Tarnaud. M. Nadau (for such was the name of this official) had of course heard the floating rumours, and was resolved to penetrate the mystery. He therefore received his visitor with empressement, and offered him his hospitality. The offer was accepted, but again rather as a matter of right than of generosity, and the young count and Rhodez became inmates of the house of the commandant.

Two days after young Taraud's removal to the dwelling of Nadau, the latter was entertaining some guests, when, just as they were sitting down to dinner, the count discovered that he had forgotten his handkerchief, on which Rhodez got up and fetched it. Such an occurrence would have passed without comment in France; but in Martinique, where slavery was predominant, and slaves were abundant, such an act of deference from one white man to another was noted, and served to strengthen the opinions which had already been formed respecting the stranger. During the course of the meal also, Nadau received a letter from his subordinate, Duval Ferrol, to the following effect:—"You wish for information relative to the French passenger who lodged with me some days; his signature will furnish more than I am able to give. I enclose a letter I have just received from him." This enclosure was merely a courteous and badly-composed expression of thanks; but it was signed Est, and not De Tarnaud. As soon as he could find a decent excuse, the excited commandant drew aside one of his more intimate friends, and communicated to him the surprising discovery which he had made, at the same time urging him to convey the information to the Marquis d'Eragny, who lived at no great distance. The marquis had not risen from table when the messenger arrived, and disclosed to those who were seated with him the news which he had just received. A reference to an official calendar or directory showed that Est  was a princely name, and the company at once jumped to the conclusion that the mysterious stranger was no other than Hercules Renaud d'Est, hereditary Prince of Modena, and brother of the Duchess de Penthièvre. The truth of this supposition was apparently capable of easy proof, for one of the company, named Bois-Fermé, the brother-in-law of the commandant, asserted that he was personally well acquainted with the prince, and could recognise him anywhere. Accordingly, after a few bottles of wine had been drunk, the whole company proceeded uproariously to Radau's, where Bois-Fermé (who was a notorious liar and braggart) effusively proclaimed the stranger to be the hereditary Prince of Modena. The disclosure thus boisterously made seemed to offend, rather than give pleasure to, the self-styled Count de Tarnaud, who, while not repudiating the title applied to him, expressed his dissatisfaction at the indiscretion which had revealed him to the public.

At this time the inhabitants of Martinique were in a very discontented and unhappy position. Their coast was closely blockaded by the English fleet, provisions were extremely scarce, and the necessities of the populace were utilised by unscrupulous officials who amassed riches by victimising those who had been placed under their authority. The Marquis de Caylus, governor of the Windward Islands, was one of the most rapacious of these harpies; and although, perhaps, he was more a tool in the hands of others than an independent actor, the feeling of the people was strong against him, and it was hoped that the newly-arrived prince would supersede him, and redress the grievances which his maladministration had created. Accordingly Nadau, who entertained a private spite against De Caylus, lost no time in representing the infamy of the marquis, and was comforted by the assurance of his youthful guest, that he would visit those who had abused the confidence of the king with the severest punishment, and not only so, but would place himself at the head of the islands to resist any attempt at invasion by the English.

These loyal and generous intentions, which Nadau did not fail to make public, increased the general enthusiasm, and rumours of the plot which was hatching reached Fort St. Pierre, where the Marquis de Caylus had his headquarters. He at once sent a mandate to Nadau, ordering the stranger before him. A message of similar purport was also sent to the youth himself, addressed to the Count de Tarnaud. Upon receiving it he turned to the officers who had brought it, saying—"Tell your master that to the rest of the world I am the Count de Tarnaud, but that to him I am Hercules Renaud d'Est. If he wishes to see me let him come half-way. Let him repair to Fort Royal in four or five days. I will be there."

This bold reply seems to have completely disconcerted De Caylus. He had already heard of the stranger's striking resemblance to the Duchess de Penthièvre, and the assumption of this haughty tone to an officer of his own rank staggered him. He set out for Fort Royal, but changed his mind on the way, and returned to St. Pierre. The prince, on the other hand, kept his appointment, and not finding the marquis, proceeded to Fort St. Pierre, which he entered in triumph, attended by seventeen or eighteen gentlemen. The governor caught a glimpse of him as he passed through the streets, and exclaimed "that he was the very image of his mother and sister," and in a panic quitted the town. Nothing could have been more fortunate than his flight. The prince assumed all the airs of royalty, and proceeded to establish a petty court, appointing state officers to wait upon him. The Marquis d'Eragny he created his grand equerry; Duval Ferrol and Laurent 'Dufont were his gentlemen-in-waiting; and the faithful Rhodez was constituted his page. Regular audiences were granted to those who came to pay their respects to him, or to present memorials or petitions, and for a time Martinique rejoiced in the new glory which this illustrious presence shed upon it.

It so happened that the Duc de Penthièvre was the owner of considerable estates in the colony, which were under the care of a steward named Lievain. This man, who seems to have been a simple soul, no sooner heard of the arrival of his master's brother-in-law in the island than he hastened to offer him not only his respects, but, what was far better, the use of the cash which he held in trust for the duke. He was, of course, received with peculiar graciousness, and immediate advantage was taken of his timely offer. The prince was now supplied with means adequately to support the royal state which he had assumed, and the last lingering relics of suspicion were dissipated, for Lievain was known to be a thoroughly honest and conscientious man, and one well acquainted with his master's family and affairs, and it was surmised that he would not thus have committed himself unless he had had very good grounds for so doing.

On his arrival at St. Pierre the prince had taken up his quarters in the convent of the Jesuits; and now the Dominican friars, jealous of the honour conferred upon their rivals, besought a share of his royal favour, and asked him to become their guest. Nothing loth to gratify their amiable ambition, the prince changed his residence to their convent, in which he was entertained most sumptuously. Every day a table of thirty covers was laid for those whom he chose to invite; he dined in public—a fanfaronade of trumpets proclaiming his down-sitting and his up-rising—and the people thronged the banqueting-hall in such numbers that barriers had to be erected in the middle of it to keep the obtrusive multitude at a respectful distance.

Meanwhile vessels had left Martinique for France bearing the news of these strange proceedings to the mother country. The prince had written to his family, and had entrusted his letters to the captain of a merchantman who was recommended by Lievain. And the discomfited governor, the Marquis de Caylus, had forwarded a full account of the extraordinary affair to his government, and had demanded instructions. Six months passed away and no replies came. The prince pretended to be seriously discomposed by this prolonged silence, but amused himself in the meantime by defying M. de Caylus, by indulging in the wildest excesses, and by gratifying every absurd or licentious caprice which entered his head. But at last it became apparent that letters from France might arrive at any moment; the rainy season was approaching; the prince was apprehensive for his health; and the inhabitants had discovered by this time that their visitor was very costly. Accordingly, when he expressed his intention of returning to France, nobody opposed or gainsaid it; and, after a pleasant sojourn of seven months among the planters of Martinique, he embarked on board the "Raphael," bound for Bordeaux. His household accompanied him, and under a salute from the guns of the fort he sailed away.

A fortnight later the messenger whom the governor had despatched to France returned bearing orders to put his so-called highness in confinement. An answer was also sent to a letter which Lievain had forwarded to the Duc de Penthièvre, and in it the simple-minded agent was severely censured for having so easily become the dupe of an impostor. At the same time he was informed that since his indiscretion was in part the result of his zeal to serve his master, and since he had only shared in a general folly, the duc was not disposed to deal harshly with him, but would retain his services and share the loss with him. This leniency, and the delay which had taken place, only served to confirm the inhabitants of Martinique in their previous belief, and they were more than ever convinced that the real Prince of Modena had been their guest, although neither his relatives nor the government were willing to admit that he had been guilty of such an escapade.

The "Raphael" in due course arrived at Faro, where her illustrious passenger was received with a salute by the Portuguese authorities. On landing, the prince demanded a courier to send to Madrid, to the chargé d'affaires of the Duke of Modena, and also asked the means of conveying himself and his retinue to Seville, where he had resolved to await the return of his messenger. These facilities were obligingly afforded to him, and he arrived at Seville in safety. His fame had preceded him, and he was received with the most extravagant demonstrations of joy by the inhabitants. The susceptible donnas of the celebrated Spanish city adored this youthful scion of a royal house; sumptuous entertainments were prepared in his honour, and his praises were in every mouth. His courier came not, but instead there arrived an order for his arrest, which was communicated to him by the governor in person. He seemed much astonished, but resignedly answered, "I was born a sovereign as well as he: he has no control over me; but he is master here, and I shall yield to his commands."

His ready acquiescence in his inevitable fate was well thought of; and while it excited popular sympathy in his favour, rendered even those who were responsible for his safe-keeping anxious to serve him. Immediately on his apprehension he was conveyed to a small tower, which was occupied by a lieutenant and a few invalids, and very little restraint was placed upon his movements. His retinue were allowed to visit him, and every possible concession was made to his assumed rank. But he was far from content, and succeeded by a scheme in reaching the sanctuary of the Dominican convent. From this haven of refuge he could not legally be removed by force; but on the urgent representations of the authorities the Archbishop of Seville sanctioned his transfer, if it could be accomplished without bloodshed. A guard was despatched to remove him. No sooner, however, had the officer charged with the duty entered his apartment than the prince seized his sword, and protested that he would kill the first man that laid a finger upon him. The guard surrounded him with their bayonets, but he defended himself so valiantly that it became evident that he could not be captured without infringing the conditions laid down by the archbishop, and the soldiers were compelled to withdraw. Meanwhile news of what had been going on reached the populace, a crowd gathered, and popular feeling ran so high that the discomfited emissaries of the law reached their quarters with difficulty. This disturbance made the government more determined than ever to bring the affair to an issue. Negotiations were renewed with the Dominicans, who were now anxious to deliver up their guest, but his suspicions were aroused, and his capture had become no easy matter. He always went armed, slept at night with a brace of pistols under his pillow, and even at meal times placed one on either side of his plate. At last craft prevailed—a young monk, who had been detailed to wait upon him at dinner, succeeded in betraying him into an immoderate fit of laughter, and before he could recover himself, pinioned him and handed him over to the alguazils, who were in waiting in the next apartment. He was hurried to gaol, loaded with chains, and cast into a dungeon. After twenty-four hours' incarceration he was summoned for examination, but steadily refused to answer the questions of his judges. He was not, however, remitted to his former loathsome place of confinement, as might have been expected from his obstinacy, but was conveyed to the best apartment in the prison. His retinue were meanwhile examined relative to his supposed design of withdrawing Martinique from its allegiance to France. The result of these inquiries remained secret, but, without further trial, the prince was condemned to the galleys, or to labour in the king's fortifications in Africa, and his attendants were banished from the Spanish dominions.

In due time he was despatched to Cadiz to join the convict gangs sentenced to enforced labour at Ceuta. The whole garrison of Seville was kept under arms on the morning of his departure, to suppress any popular commotion, and resist any possible attempt at rescue, On his arrival at Cadiz he was conducted to Fort la Caragna, and handed over to the commandant, a sturdy Frenchman named Devau, who was told that he must treat the prisoner politely, but would be held answerable for his safe-keeping. Devau read these orders, and replied, "When I am made responsible for the safe custody of anybody, I know but one way of treating him, and that is to put him in irons." So the pseudo  prince was ironed, until the convoy was ready to escort the prisoners to Ceuta. On the voyage the pretender was treated differently from the other galley-slaves, and on reaching his destination was placed under little restraint. He had full liberty to write to his friends, and availed himself of this permission to send a letter to Nadau, who had been ordered home to France to give an account of his conduct. In this document he mentioned the courtesy with which he was treated, and begged the Port Maria governor to accept a handsome pair of pistols which he sent as a souvenir. To Lievin, the Duc de Penthièvre's agent, he also wrote, lamenting the losses which he had sustained, and promising to make them good at a future time. His prison, however, had not sufficient charms to retain his presence. He took the first opportunity of escaping, and having smuggled himself on board an English ship, arrived in the Bay of Gibraltar. The captain informed the governor of the fort that he had on board his ship the person who claimed to be the Prince of Modena, and that he demanded permission to land. A threat of immediate apprehension was sufficient to deter the refugee from again tempting the Spanish authorities: he remained on board; and the ship sailed on her voyage, carrying with her the prince, who was seen no more.