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1632: Henri II de Montmorency

October 30th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1632, French noble Henri II de Montmorency was beheaded at Toulouse for rebellion against Louis XIII.

The lordly Montmorency (English Wikipedia page | French), sister to a famous knockout whom Henri IV wooed, was a Grand Admiral for his achievements knocking heads during the 1620s’ Huguenot rebellions. (It was Montmorency who, in the naval battle to capture Re Island, commanded the English ships controversially supplied by the Duke of Buckingham.)

His undoing? He hated Cardinal Richelieu‘s guts.

The red eminence had just attained his rank as Louis XIII’s consigliere, and set about using it to centralize the state in the king’s hands.

Toward that end, Richelieu pressed Montmorency to give up his “grand admiral” title, fearing that “grand” military generals running around the realm were liable to become a locus of sedition sooner or later. Similarly, Richelieu reduced Montmorency’s power as governor of Languedoc.* He wanted, altogether, fewer stumbling-blocks of leftover feudal authority laying about his absolute monarchy.

A seething Montmorency finally jumped — or was he pushed? — into outright rebellion in the party (French) of scheming royal brother Gaston, duc d’Orleans. The rebel force barely materialized, and was easily beaten at Castelnauday.

Orleans fled the country, not half so committed to his revolt as Montmorency — who assailed the king’s lines practically alone. The latter, captured wounded on the battlefield, was attested to have given a ferocious account of himself in a hopeless cause: “seeing a single man charge through seven ranks and still fight at the seventh, he judged that that man could be only M. de Motmorency.”

Jolly good show, and all the more reason for Richelieu to take his head, to make an example of the man to other powerful men who demanded clemency for the rebellion as if it were Montmorency’s birthright. Richelieu would argue in his memoirs that this pitiless act to pacify the realm at the risk of his own popularity was the height of patriotism.


Plaque at the spot of Montmorency’s execution in Toulouse. Image (c) [Cova] and used with permission.

The Montmorency title eventually became that of the Dukes of Enghien, in which guise it’s associated with an altogether more famous execution.

* Among Montmorency’s other titles, less obnoxious to Richelieu, was viceroy of New France — that mysterious land across the Atlantic. There’s a Montmorency Falls in Quebec, named for him by Champlain.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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