An intriguing late 18th Century mystery of map authorship finally solved: the French “Pimpernel” is at last unveiled…

Writing in Treasures from the Map Room ((Ed. Debbie Hall) Bodleian Libraries, 2016), Assistant Map Librarian John Mackrell highlighted one of the most curious and intriguing maps in the Bodleian’s remarkable collections.

It is a map whose mysterious authorship and hitherto undiscovered back story will finally be revealed in the ensuing jottings…..

It is a remarkable back story, with its French Revolutionary setting and Paris-London axis of action, especially in and around London’s Marylebone, the cradle of French emigré life and culture in the late 18th and early 19th Century. And one so full of historical incident, adventure, drama & personal misfortune that it could almost have been lifted from the pages of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities….

( Everett Henry – Detail from his “Literary Map” of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, Harris Seybold, 1957 )

….or, equally, Baroness D’Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, in which the foppish English gentleman, Sir Percy Blakeney, secretly assists condemned French aristocrats escape the blade of Madame guillotine at the height of the Revolutionary Reign of Terror in 1793-94.

The Bodleian map in question is an imaginatively designed allegorical piece published in London during the French Revolution, three years after the execution of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1793, and depicting the former Kingdom of France as a symbolic Oak tree:

Bodleian (E) C21 (114)

Image courtesy of Bodleian Library / Atlas Obscura

Source: Atlas Obscura Blog (Anika Burgess) 2016

The title cartouche reads as follows:

The Kingdom of France, Being one of the most Ancient in Europe is represented as an Oak, whose Branches extend towards those Countries where the Present Anarchists have endeavoured to fix their infamous principles. The monarchs began under Pharamond in the year 420, since which time there have been 67 Kings, to the unfortunate Louis 16, born at Versailles August 23d 1754. Crown’d June 11 1775. Married May 16th 1770 to Maria Antoinette, Archdutchess of Austria born at Vienna Novr 29, 1755

A further cartouche describes the Kingdom of France in 1789 with its established hierarchy of political, legal, religious, educational & adminstrative institutions & divisions. In contrast, the country itself is depicted with 83 new départements, following the boundary reorganisations that had taken place in 1790.

One either side of the map, an extensive letterpress provides an exposition of the unfolding events of the Revolution between December 1790 and February 1795, classified by location in alphabetical order, and focusing especially on the places where many of the terrible revolutionary outrages and massacres had taken place during this period, each of which are clearly marked on the map itself by the the symbol of a small axe.

The Kingdom of France as an Oak Tree [London, 1796]

(Source: Barron Maps ©2024)

Our example of the same map (illustrated above), in attractive contemporary hand colour, follows the Bodleian example in having the exact same imprint inscribed in contemporary ink (and, intriguingly, seemingly written by the very same hand (that of the author?)) at the bottom centre of the sheet, just inside the plate mark. It reads:

Published as the Act Directs June 28 1796 By the Author, No 49 Great Portland Street

As John Mackrell outlines, the Oak tree map of France had an equally imaginative companion piece, clearly designed and published by the same author and depicting the Kingdom of France as a ship of State. It bears the same date & imprint as its companion, this time engraved in printed text at the bottom left of the central panel directly below the map.

The Kingdom of France (is) represented under the form of a Ship [London, 1796]

(Source: Barron Maps, ©2024)

Examples of this map are preserved in the map collections of the British Library as well as of the Library of Congress. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris also holds an example, whilst Canada’s McMaster University holds an example of the companion Oak tree map.

The title cartouche of the Ship of State map reads as follows:

The Kingdom of France is represented under the form of a Ship, that, being the Arms of Paris, and that City being known on the 13th and 14th July 1789, by its insurrection, to have given so great a shock to the monarchy, that its influence extended to all the provinces, except those distinguished as land. The Vendeans remaining steadfast in the Royal Cause and to the present time preferring death to a renunciation of their principles: are supposed embarked to recover the lost standard of their ancient Constitution

It is clear that this is the exact map described by Augustin Calmet in 1814:

It is true, that we have lately seen the map of England crumpled into the shape of a woman riding on a fish; and that of France, in the form of a ship in distress; published during the revolution in that country.

It seems clear that the mystery author still held out great hopes for the anti-revolutionary Royalist cause in northwest France. On the Oak tree map, the leaves of the tree are here depicted as especially green and full of life (and in the Vendée region, symbolic fleur-de-lys are also added to denote the strength of Royalist support).

On the Ship of State map, as the title makes clear, counter-revolutionary forces clearly remained a significant influence and presence in these Northern & Western départements. The Vendée, with several other neighbouring départements in Maine, Brittany and Normandy, are depicted as land (as opposed to parts of the distressed Revolutionary Ship of state). This was where the royalist Chouannerie insurrection against the new French Republic, begun in 1793-1794, with British naval support and military assistance, was still playing out its course, despite some initial setbacks & defeats.

Off the western coast, the ship’s broken bowsprit, topped by the fleur-de-lys pennant, languishes in the waters of the Atlantic as a boatload of Vendean sailors row out to recover it, hoping to repair & reinstate it to its rightful position on board a restored royalist French Ship of state.

As with the Oak tree map, on either side of the Ship of state map, a detailed printed resumé of Revolutionary events in Paris is provided, as they unfold, month by month, from July 1789 to December 1795.

Both texts provide intriguing clues as to the identity of the author.

He is evidently a French aristocrat, now living in London exile, and a man who was clearly a very close confidant of the French Royal family. The text would suggest that he lived & worked within the innermost circles of the Royal Court at Versailles over many years.

The two detailed resumés of Revolutionary events between 1789 and 1795 also suggests a man who was remarkably well-informed and well-connected, with a network of correspondents & personal contacts within both the French emigré community in Britain aswell as across the Channel in Revolutionary France, and with access to contemporary newspaper reports that enabled him to compile these uniquely personal and fascinating texts.

On the Oak tree map, under C for Chartres we are told:

Indeed some of the descriptions given on the two maps seem almost like first-hand eye-witness accounts of several of these pivotal & momentous Revolutionary events.

For example, on the Ship of State map, the author alludes to the fact that he attended the King during his fateful journey to the Paris Hotel de Ville on 17th July 1789, just days after the storming of the Bastille, providing special measures to ensure the King’s safety by insisting eight Parisian hostages be taken as surety for Louis’ safe passage into Paris & back to Versailles.

Mayor of Paris, M. Bailly presenting Louis XVI with the Keys to the City of Paris, July 17th 1789

It seems certain the maps’ author was amongst Louis’ personal entourage on this occasion…..

Louis XVI returning to Versailles from the Hotel de Ville in Paris, July 17th 1789

In another vivid account, on the Oak Tree map, the author describes the assault of the Parisian mob (made up largely of women and many thousands strong) upon the Royal Chateau at Versailles on October 5th-6th 1789. Loyal bodyguards are killed and beheaded in a frenzy of mob violence, the Queen’s bedroom is ransacked & her bed hacked to pieces with hatchets, leaving the terrified Marie Antoinette to address the assembled crowd in the Courtyard below from one of the palace balconies…..

Marie Antoinette on the balcony at Versailles – October 6th 1789 (Source : Wikipedia)

….and with a calmness and personal courage that, according to its author, succeeded in winning over the hostile Parisian masses:

This was in fact the last time that the French Royal Family would see Versailles.

So we have our well-connected French aristrocrat & exile who in June 1796 was residing in London’s fashionable Great Portland Street…

Are there perhaps any clues from contemporary British archives or records that might perhaps provide documentary proof and shed definitive light on the identity of our mystery French emigré mapmaker?

Great Portland Street was in the very heart of Marylebone, the beating epicentre of French emigré life in London, both revolutionary and royalist, during the final decade of the 18th Century. With the advent of the French Revolution, London witnessed a huge influx of French exiles and emigrés, largely royalist.

Euphemistically known as “bon tons”, these new arrivals gravitated towards the Soho & Marylebone areas, in part because of their proximity to the French Embassy in Portland Place, but also because of numerous Catholic churches in the locality, most notably St.Patrick’s Chapel (formerly Carlisle House), now St.Patrick’s Church, in Soho Square, first opened in 1792 and restyled & much-embellished during the Victorian period.

Present-day St. Patrick’s Church & Soho Square

It is no coincidence that Charles Dickens locates the Manette family’s residence adjacent to back wall of the Chapel, just off Soho Square in A Tale of Two Cities (now permanently commemorated in Manette Street):

And it is perhaps no surprise to discover that Dickens himself lived in the Marylebone area for many of his formative years and knew it well.

It is said that by 1801 there were some 4000 French emigré Catholics and some 5600 French clergy and priests residing in the Marylebone area alone.

This area was, of course, a core part of the Portland Estate, the principal London land holdings of William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland [1730-1809], a prominent Whig and anti-Jacobin who was deeply uncomfortable with unfolding revolutionary events across the Channel. In 1794 he had been appointed Secretary of State for the Home Department in William Pitt’s Ministry and, in that position, exerted enormous political influence and patronage.

Horwood’s Map of Great Portland Street & environs showing the location of No.49 [1792]

Land Tax records for the area in this period provide a snapshot of the many illustrious neighbours who lived close by, but sadly fall silent over the exact identity of our author at No.49 Great Portland Street in June 1796.

We know from newspaper records that five years earlier, in 1791, No.49 had been the residence of “a Gentleman, gone abroad”, probably a surgeon or physician, whose furntiture, goods and chattels had subsequently been auctioned on the premises. These included “valuable physical books” and “a fine prepared skeleton and wet and dried anatomical preparations.” (Morning Post & Daily Advertiser, September 6th 1791)

128 Great Portland Street today – the Horse and Groom Pub – the probable site of No.49 in 1796

(The site of Boswell’s House is on the far right and commemorated by a blue plaque)

Just two doors down, at No.47, was to be found the London home of James Boswell [1740-1795], famous biographer of Samuel Johnson. He had moved here in 1791 and had died at the property just a year previously, in May 1795. Boswell had recorded frequent Sunday excursions to the nearby Portland Chapel in his letters and correspondence. His eldest daughter Veronica (Miss Boswell) continued to occupy the property after his death.

Other notables, according to the 1798 Land Tax records, included Rear Admiral Sir Thomas MacKenzie [1753-1812] at No.42; the former Governor of East Florida, John Moultree [1727-1798] at No.67, and Emma, Lady Hamilton, whose London residence was almost directly opposite, at No.84. She and her husband later relocated to No.26, in 1806. It was as the 26 year old Emma Hart that she had married the 60 year old Sir William Hamilton, British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, at nearby Marylebone Parish church in September 1791. It was following his famous victory at the Battle of the Nile in September 1798, and his triumphant return to Naples that Admiral Lord Nelson began his much-famed relationship with the captivating Lady Hamilton.

The Marylebone area was seemingly not exclusively a French Royalist exiles’ ghetto, for in 1792, Scottish doctor, William Maxwell [1769-1826], best-known perhaps as Scottish poet Robert Burns’ doctor, aroused considerable controversy and the deep antipathy of a local royalist mob when he advertised a pro-Jacobin gathering at nearby No.73 Great Portland Street, with the aim of raising funds for the new revolutionary regime. Imbued with many of the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, Maxwell had been captivated by unfolding events in France. Giving up his profession, he moved to Paris during the pivotal early stages of the Revolution where he associated with many of the revolutionary leaders of the new Republic and even went so far as to procure British weapons for the Jacobins. He would leave London shortly after this Portland Street gathering, returning to Paris and joining the Revolutionary National Guard, in which capacity, he apparently served as part of the personal escort that accompanied Louis XVI to the guilltone in January 1793. There was a widely-held belief that endured for the rest of his life that he had dipped his own handkerchief in the executed king’s blood. Maxwell returned to Britain shortly after Louis’ execution, resuming his medical career and establishing a moderately successful practice in Dumfries in the Scottish Borders, where he died in 1824.

John Mackrell concludes his description of the Oak Tree map in Treasures from the Map Room with the following words:

We do not know the name for the mysterious mapmaker of Great Portland Street; he appears to have been brave enough to express his views but sufficiently cautious to conceal his identity.

The map invites more questions. Could this cartographer and chronicler of current affairs, a man of fine taste, living or working from a fashionable address in London, also have been a satirist, and a dandy – perhaps even a Pimpernel?

Thankfully, it is an obscure & extremely curious early 19th Century document also lodged in the archives of the Bodleian Library and just recently unearthed during our researches that has finally provided the answer to all of these questions and solved this two centuries-old mystery.

At last we can definitively assert the identity of our elusive French “Pimpernel”

This printed letter, dated 15th August 1804, is addressed to the Charles, Comte d’Artois [1757-1836], younger brother of Louis XVI and of the Count of Provence, the future Louis XVIII. Its author is fellow French emigré and exile, Baron Charles Antoine de Thierry [1755-1824], now languishing in the King’s Bench Prison, following an unfortunate sequence of events which have brought him to this personal & financial low point.

In the letter, de Thierry provides a detailed account of his own family history and royalist credentials, emphasising repeatedly how often he had “put himself forward” on behalf of the French crown. He itemises (with a healthy degree of inflated self-importance) repeated demonstrations of his own courage, patriotism and loyalty on behalf of the Bourbon cause, “more than twenty times…near losing my life”, not only through the Revolutionary period in France but also, more recently, in Britain, since his arrival with his wife and two young children in November 1794.

He continues: “I have never put myself forward here, amongst partisans of the French Republic, I have never acknoweldged that or any of its chiefs. I have ever avowed my sentiments in those works which I have published, and my motto has ever been “Dieu et mon Roi”.

The letter concludes with a series of personal testimonials, reiterating de Thierry’s good character and loyal personal service on behalf of the French crown since 1789. Ever one for a bit of timely name-dropping, de Thierry reels off a list of personal commendations from the great and good of the French royal court and aristocracy, many of them now fellow exiles in London. The list even includes one from the Comte d’Artois himself (in case he might have forgotten!), a special missive dated October 4th 1797 and sent to him from Edinburgh in which he personally acknowledges that de Thierry “has always been faithful to the principles of honour & loyalty, having on every occasion which has presented itself, given proof of his zeal and devotion to the service of the King.”

The testimonials throw further light on de Thierry’s activities during the Revolutionary period and highlight the elevated circles in which he clearly moved.

Perhaps most interestingly, de Thierry is variously described as Captain Commandant of the Versailles Guard; Captain of the 15th Company of the Versailles Guard; and Captain of the Royal Artillery of France.

His evident hope is that d’Artois, taking note of his dedicated service, loyalty and patriotism, will come to his aid financially, call off his current creditors, and extract him from what had become an increasingly desperate situation for both himself and his family.

Having fled Paris in July 1789, first to the Netherlands and then to Turin in Piedmont, d’Artois had been closely involved in the Vendée Revolt of November 1795, becoming heavily endebted in his attempts to raise money for the renascent monarchist cause. When he eventually arrived in Britain in early 1796, it seemed there might be a very real threat of the Count being immediately arrested for non-settlement of those escalating debts. The British government were both keen to keep him away from London and avoid the embarrassment of unsavoury legal proceedings against such a high-profile exile.

Holyrood House in the 1790s

They found the ideal solution in offering him residence in long-unused private apartments within the ancient Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, whose buildings stood within the precincts of a medieval monastery and, in that capacity, also provided a long-established sanctuary for local debtors.

Arriving in Edinburgh in January 1796, it took some four months to refurbish the dusty old apartments, forcing the Count and his entourage to take up temporary residence with the governor of Edinburgh Castle, Lord Adam Gordon.

Caricature of Lord Adam Gordon, Governor of Edinburgh Castle (left) & Comte d’Artois in 1796 by John Kay

D’Artois was eventually installed in Holyrood over the summer of that year. His wanderings were ordinarily limited to a three-mile circumference around the Palace precincts. But it seems he did not always stay within its borders, as every Sunday, he was free to roam at large around Edinburgh and beyond, legal writs in Scotland being unable to be served on the Sabbath.

Archive records suggest that de Thierry had not always been a courtier at Versailles. Born in 1755 with the the surname “Thierry“, he was originally a master mariner in the French merchant fleet and had seen service in the American War of Independence. There is evidence to suggest that during this period he acquired land and property near Princeton in South Carolina, including an estate known as the Black House, where cotton and indigo were grown. Just prior to the Revolution he appears to have decided to abandon a life on the seas and to return to a more comfortable life in Paris.

From de Thierry’s account, we learn that his wife, Marie Louise Pierrette de Laville, the grand-daughter of the Marquis de Monbion, had been introduced at Court with her mother by the Prince de Soubise, and granted a pension of 1200 livres from the privy purse by the Queen, who had also bestowed on her brother the French consulship of Drontheim in Norway. On de Thierry’s marriage to Mademoiselle de Laville in about 1788, the full family name became “Thierry de Laville“, as was customary at the time, and was then the amended & abbreviated to simple “de Thierry” shortly afterwards, though de Thierry seems to use all of the different variants almost interchangeably. The title “Baron” appears to have been added, somewhat spuriously, after the family reached England in 1794.

Queen Marie Antoinette had reassured the newlyweds of her continued support, according to the letter, stating that “the King and myself will do everything which depends on us to make you happy.”

It is in the ensuing pages of this oft-rambling 44 page letter, in which de Thierry provides repeated instances of “putting himself forward” during the initial stages of the Revolution in the summer of 1789, that we finally become aware of the very close similarities between these accounts and the exact same events as recorded in the border texts of the two allegorical maps.

So it is that on the 15th of July 1789, de Thierry notes…at four o’clock in the morning, I took post and went to Paris, to hear what was said concerning the Royal Family. I was there near losing my life, being mistaken for one of my relations, who was afterwards massacred at the Abbaye on 1st September 1792. *

On my return to Versailles I took the liberty to observe to her majesty the Queen, that it would be better for her to give up the idea of going to Paris, that it was necessary the King should go there alone, after the horrid threats I had heard among the people.

The 17th at eleven in the morning was fixed on.

[* The executed relative mentioned here is probably Marc-Antoine Thierry, Baron de Ville D’Avray, intendant and valet to Louis XVI. He was killed during the so-called September Massacres in 1792. In the 1804 letter, de Thierry claimed 17 members of his close & immediate family had fallen victim to the blood-letting of the Revolution. Amongst the most gruesome of fates was that of his mother-in-law, the widowed Madame de Laville, who was reportedly pinned to the altar of a Parisian church by fifteen pikes as she begged for mercy in front of a rampaging revolutionary mob.]

One of de Thierry’s ill-fated relatives, Marc-Antoine Thierry, Baron de Ville D’Avray, with whom he claims he was confused during a dangerous foray into Paris on 15th July 1789, and which almost cost him his life at the hands of the mob. Marc-Antoine was murdered in the so-called September Massacres in 1792

(Image Source: Wikipedia (Chateau de Versailles))

On the Ship of State map, the same events are described, with de Thierry, somewhat surprisingly, going so far as to reveal his own identity:

In the letter, de Thierry elaborates further on the events on that fateful July day:

M de la Fayette came to Point-du-Jour near Chaillot, to take possession of the King. Being at the head of the Versailles guard, I opposed it, demanding hostages and his word of honour, that the King should return the same evening to the castle. Every thing was agreed to. It was then that Bailly (the Mayor of Paris), in presenting the keys of Paris to the King, made use of those remarkable words (the most gloomy and artful expression of Jacobinism): “Henry the Fourth conquered his people: to-day the people have conquered their King.”

A month later, as indicated on the Oak Tree map, the Court and town at Versailles faced up to the very real threat of starvation….

De Thierry again elaborates on these events in his letter:

In the commencement of August, bread and flour were inconceivably scarce. I proposed, and they were adopted, means for victualling the town of Versailles* (* it was at this period that the King gave me “carte blanche” for the good of the State, and public tranquillity). Although the Parisians had seized one of my convoys, I went to Chartres, and entirely at my own expense, loaded and escorted several waggons with flour. I had received my orders only from his Majesty and his ministers, therefore I would not acknowledge the Convention. I have never been reimbursed….All carriages were unladen at Poid-Le-Roi. I doubled the guard, and at four o’clock in the morning, ordered all the bakers to have their ovens heated ready for baking. They sent me a return of the number of sacks they daily consumed. I continued this method until victualling was effected….

Subsequenty we learn of de Thierry’s move to Paris after the assault on Versailles in October 1789. Eighteen months later, as he sought to rally support for the King in a project called the “House of Fraternity”, following a tip-off about his imminent arrest by the Duc de Villequier, he and his wife took flight to the Netherlands, arriving in Bruxelles on Good Friday, April 22nd 1791. It is at some point during this turbulent period that the de Thierrys’ eldest child, Caroline, was born. In one of the Duc de Villequier’s testimonials at the end of the letter, we learn that de Thierry “took service in the army of the Princes in 1792, serving in the Comte de Vergennes Company“. Eventually the family moved to Coblentz in May 1792, and thence to Grave, where “we heard of the martyrdom of the unfortunate Louis XVI” (his execution on January 21st 1793).

It was in Grave that de Thierry’s eldest son, Charles Philippe Hippolyte, was born on April 23rd 1793, a man who, over forty years later, through his adventurous exploits and a grandiose colonisation scheme in the Southern hemisphere, would bring to the de Thierry family name even greater notoriety.

Driven out of Grave by the approach of the French army, the de Thierrys subsequently sought refuge in the Hague, where they came under the patronage of the young Princess of Orange (probably Princess Amelia of Nassau-Weilburg) “who overwhelmed my family with her goodness”. With her help and through the good offices of the newly appointed British ambassador, Lord St. Helens, they finally obtained free passage to England. According to the 1804 letter, the de Thierrys arrived in London on 14th November 1794.

And on pages 13 & 14 of the letter, we finally obtain definitive proof that its author, Baron Charles Antoine de Thierry, and that of the two allegorical maps of France, are indeed one and the same person:

In 1796, the 28th of June, I published, by subscription, my “Two Historical, Geographical, and Allegorical Charts of the French Revolution.” I had the honour to present them to your Royal Highness in Edinburgh. It was then that you had the goodness to stand godfather to my eldest son…..

Charles Philippe Hippolyte de Thierry [1793-1864]

Ambrotype portrait taken in the final years of his life

(Courtesy of Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 5-1211)

We are fortunate that the younger de Thierry’s exotic life & adventurings have led to extensive research and writings about him, most notably Robin Hyde’s wonderful historical re-imagining of Baron de Thierry’s life, Check to your King [Hurst & Blackett, London, 1936] and James D Raeside’s exhaustive biography Sovereign Chief, A Biography of Baron de Thierry [Caxton Press, Christchurch, 1977].

In the former book’s early chapters, Hyde draws much from the older Baron de Thierry’s 1804 letter to the Comte d’Artois. And Raeside’s researches help fill in many of the gaps that mark the nomadic peripatetic existence that characterized de Thierry family life after first settling in London in November 1794.

From Reaside we learn that the family’s first home in London in early 1795 was at Woodford Bridge. By 1796 they had clearly moved to Marylebone and the Great Portland Street address indicated on the Baron’s two allegorical maps. Later that year, they appear to have moved again to the New Road (the present-day Marylebone Road), residing at both No.1 and later No.4. By 1798, apparently through the patronage on the Duke of Portland, the de Thierrys settled in Norton Street (present-day Bolsover Street), in an apartment with gardens backing on to Great Portland Street. It is interesting that Charles Dickens also resided at No.30 (Upper) Norton Street with his family some forty years later, in March 1837, shortly before moving to Doughty Street, where his original house is now a Museum.

In the 1804 letter, de Thierry recounts the family’s move to Weymouth, ostensibly for the health of their growing family of four children and to avail themselves of the beneficial effects of sea-bathing, a move made possible largely through the influence of both the Duke of Portland and Lady Egerton (Ariana Margaret Egerton [c.1752-1827], one of the Ladies of the Royal Bedchamber in the Queen Charlotte’s Household, who, from 1804, lived in apartments in the North Tower of Windsor Castle ). She was a well-known friend to many French royalist exiles. This appears to have been between the year 1798 and the conclusion of the Peace of Amiens in 1802. Whilst in Weymouth Baron de Thierry seems to have come under suspicion as a Jacobin sympathiser and was reported to the authorities before being unceremoniously drummed out of Weymouth by a hostile local cabal. The family then relocated to Bath and thence to Blandford in Dorset. It was here that de Thierry alludes to uncovering a mysterious plot by local miscreants to set fire to the Bryanston seat of local MP, Edward Portman [1771-1823] which reporteldy necessitated the calling out of the local Dorchester militia to disperse an assembled mob, with the only damage being the burning down of one local haystack! When they returned to London in 1801, the family lodged in Marylebone once again, this time at the house of a fellow French emigré, Dr Parmentier.

With the Peace of Amiens in 1802, de Thierry – like his fictional Pimpernel counterpart – returned to France in disguise as an Englishman, hoping to redeem the lost fortune and estates of one of his wife’s wealthy relatives who had died in 1792. This, it seems, may not have been the first time that de Thierry had returned incognito to France since his flight in 1791: one of the numerous testimonials at the end of the 1804 letter is from a Monsieur de Sandeville, commissary for the nobility, who states that “Mr. de Thierry in the course of a year since his emigration, had been twice into Normandy to engage others to emigrate, in order to assemble all the faithful subjects of the King under one standard”. His efforts in 1802, though modestly successful, were nullified when war with France broke out again just fourteen months later. He returned hastily to London, hoping to settle his finances on an even keel once and for all by resolving “to hire a house proper to receive English ladies as boarders.” The boarding house venture floundered, like so many of the de Thierry projects it seems, when the woman from whom he had borrowed some £120 to purchase new furniture with which to furnish the property, called in the loan early and immediately prosecuted him for the debt. Bailed by a supportive Holborn wine merchant, the family’s hand-to-mouth existence continued, exacerbated by the fact that the boarding house bedding had also been infected due to the poor quality of its fabric & fillings, which caused many of the residents to fall ill and rapidly vacate the premises. The meagre subsistence subsidy provided by the British government to French emigrés – initially one shilling a day for each adult (increased to two shillings in 1805) and twenty shillings a month for women with children – did little to mitigate their situation.

Norton Street on Horwood’s Map of London, 1792

Architect Sir William Chambers [1723-1796] had resided a few years earlier at No.75, just a few doors up the street. This subsequently became the residence of famous artist, J M W Turner [1775-1851] and his mistress Sarah Danby [1766-1861], who lived here between about 1799 and 1804 .

Direccly across from Turner and his mistress (at No.28 Norton Street ) was the long-time home of William Franklin [1763-1813], American Loyalist and estranged extra-marital son of Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding father of the United States. William lived here from the 1780s until his death in 1813.

Author Charles Dickens also lived for a very brief period at No.30 Norton Street, in March 1837.

Norton Street (Bolsover Street) today – de Thierry’s house (No.82) was midway up the street on left hand side

The final roll of the dice came in early 1804, when the ever loyal and patriotic de Thierry, now apparently residing at No.82 Norton Street, in Marylebone, a fact confirmed by the local Land tax records, took it upon himself to organise a special memorial service for the recently executed Bourbon prince, the Duc d’Enghien [1772-1814] at St.Patrick’s Chapel in Soho Square.

As he notes:

Great numbers of ladies, penetrated with sensibility at having been admitted with such marked distinction at the service before last, performed for the repose of the soul of one of the most accomplished Princes in Europe, the English, in the midst of the Chapel, expressed their acknowledgement and their intention to shew it, by a repetition of a similar solemnity, to which they would willingly subscribe to defray the costs. Their only difficulty was to find someone who would undertake the execution of it. They applied to me; I promised to comply with their wishes.

de Thierry’s “English” service followed closely upon the heels of the official commemoration and service for the repose of the Duke’s soul that had taken place in the Chapel on April 27th 1804, as recounted in The Revolutionary Plutarch [1806].

The description provides a flavour of what the Chapel looked like on this occasion and perhaps conveys at least something of the atmosphere at de Thierry’s rather less well-attended service just three weeks later:

St.Patrick’s Chapel, Soho Square, before its Victorian restyling, and as it appeared in the early 19th Century

Reportedly selling tickets by subscription in advance, de Thierry’s memorial service was postponed several times, before finally taking place on 18th May 1804 before a somewhat reduced congregation of only 300 well-wishers and supporters, given that some 1200 tickets had originally been printed.

Part of this was no doubt due to the fact that in the run-up to the ceremony malicious rumours began to circulate around London that Protestants would not be admitted to the Chapel not that their money would be accepted (given that a portion of the proceeds was to be given to support the poor of the local Catholic community). Moreover it was alleged that Catholics knew nothing about the service and that the whole occasion was in fact no more than an empty sham, a “theatrical exhibition”. As a result many of the English sympathisers & subscribers quickly withdrew their support.

De Thierry appears to suggest that many of these rumours may have emanated from amongst the Chapel’s own clergy and lay officials, who were perhaps ill-at-ease with the situation and ill-disposed towards St.Patrick’s being used for a service that would be attended by a largely Protestant congregation.

His letter conveys an atmosphere of considerable administrative chaos, confusion, mutual ill-feeling & misunderstanding between the different parties involved in the ceremony, particularly the Chapel authorities. Amongst those caught up in these mutual recriminations are the local Bishop & Vicar Apostolic of the District of London, John Douglass [1743-1812]; the Abbé Guy Julian Toussaint Carron [1760-1821], of Somerstown, a renowned supporter of Catholic education and the (Catholic) poor across London; Mr. Le Sage, the Chapel’s Sacristan; local printer and prominent member of the Chapel’s congregation, Robert Keating, whose firm printed the tickets for the service; Chaplain, Rev. Daniel Gaffey; and Undertaker, Mr. Thomas, who was the first to pursue de Thierry immediately after the ceremony for debts due for his services. Three days later de Thierry was arrested in his bed, accused of pocketing the funds received on the advance ticket sales and now due to settle the accounts of several creditors, including the undertaker, Mr. Thomas. According to de Thierry’s own calculations this debt should have amounted to no more than £76 2s in total, but had mysteriously grown to a figure of over £1500 in the writ that was served upon him. De Thierry was initally consigned to a so-called “sponging house” at No.35 Berwick Street in Soho, for three weeks, pending further negotiations with his creditors, which came to naught. His furniture and goods were seized by bailiffs and he was subsequently thrown into the King’s Bench Prison, the address provided at the conclusion of his letter, which is dated August 14th 1804. In its final paragraph, he writes movingly of his desperate straits :

In the meantime I languish in a prison! overwhelmed with misery, which increases every moment; the sad and desolate situation of a virtuous wife and children, who have scarcely bread to eat, and even that by the credit, which they are indebted for to an honest Baker, and which is moistened by their tears.- What a fate! Do I deserve, for having intended and performed so much good, do I deserve to suffer so many evils at once?

It seems this heartfelt appeal to the Comte d’Artois had the desired effect. The charges appear to have been dropped soon afterwards, his debts discharged and de Thierry at last released.

By now, he and his wife had a large family to support, consisting of seven children: Caroline [1791], Charles Philippe [1793], Louis [1795], François [1797], James [1804] and Frederick [1807]. Soon the elder children began to fend for themselves. For example, Louis joined the British Marines in 1810 and taking part in the American War of 1812, his younger brother François enlisting as a British naval cadet around the same time. Caroline married the French Vicomte de Frotte, who served as a Paymaster General in the Duke of Brunswick’s regiment, part of Wellington’s army in the Peninsula War, where he sadly died through illness. We also know that by 1814, Charles Philippe had come under the protection and patronage of the Portuguese Marquis de Marialva and accompanied his diplomatic entourage to the Congress of Vienna in 1814, where he gained some renown for his musical talents.

The old Baron de Thierry’s final years in London are shrouded in some mystery. Whilst he may have managed to use many of his now numerous British contacts and emigré connections to do the best for his children, his own personal & financial circumstances appear to have remained as fragile and precarious as ever.

Archive records from early 1811 record De Thierry’s confinement once again in King’s Bench Prison on 25th February, for unpaid debts owed to one Edward Davis for the amount of £24 3s.

Rowlandson & Pugin’s View of the King’s Bench Prison in 1809

In July 1811, Charles Baron de Thierry, “formerly of Norton-Street, Fitzroy-Square and late of East Street, Queen’s-Square, both in the county of Middlesex” is listed in The London Gazette in three sequential notices as an insolvent debtor (with debts under £200) and still confined within the King’s Bench.

This well-known London gaol was located off the Borough Road in Southwark, South London.

It is a recurrent feature in several of Charles Dickens’ novels, himself no stranger to the financial despair & social stigma brought on by a family breadwinner’s incarceration in the debtor’s prison, a memory indelibly imprinted on his childhood when his father John was sent to the Marshalsea Prison in 1824. Mr Micawber is imprisoned for debt in King’Bench Prison in Dickens’ Nicholas Nickelby, whilst Madeline Bray and her father are confined within the Rules of the King’s Bench in the same novel. The “Rules” were additional freedoms which could be purchased by individual prisoners within the King’s Bench which enabled them to live more freely outside the confines of the prison itself and within a three mile radius of its walls.

In John Feltham’s 1804 Picture of London he describes it as follows:

In the January 4th 1812 issue of the London Gazette, matters finally came to a head, with de Thierry senior discharged and released from the King’s Bench in August 1811 and arrangements made for the legal appointment of an assignee for his estate and effects:

Yet it appears de Thierry continued to struggle financially and perhaps live beyond his means.

Another advertisement in the Times newspaper of 30th October 1816 announces the fact that one Charles de Thierry (calling himself the Baron Charles de Thierry) had rented apartments in Margate during the months of October and November the previous year from former Margate actor and well-known local bookseller, William Garner, long-established proprietor of Garner’s Marine Library on Margate’s High Street, and was now being pursued for non-payment of this outstanding debt.

According to Raeside, shortly after the marriage of his son Charles Philippe to Emily Rudge [1791-1856], the daughter of the Archdeacon of Gloucester, in May 1819, a French police Report was lodged with the Comte de Pradel, Director General of King Louis XVIII’s household in Paris, describing the now elderly Baron as overwhelmed with troubles and deserving of help. Pradel recommended he should receive assistance for the rest of his life, and that, because of his age, this should be augmented: “He is a man who, inspite of a good marriage of his son, appears to be very unfortunate”…..

As de Thierry junior, now married and seeking adventure abroad, grew ever more ambitious in his plans for a New Zealand colonisation scheme in the early 1820s, the pattern of financial insecurity and family instability so much a part of his father’s life began to be repeated in the next generation, the young de Thierry being prosecuted for outstanding debts of some £5000 and incarcerated first within the King’s Bench and then within the Fleet Prison in the summer of 1824, with his brother James also confined in the King’s Bench at the same time at the suit of one of the same creditors as his brother. Charles Philippe was released in October 1824 and quickly relocated to France, seemingly hoping to attract official French backing for his New Zealand colonisation scheme from France’s new King, de Thierry junior’s godfather.

For 1824 was also the year in which Charles Comte d’Artois, so long a supporter and patron of the family, finally returned in triumph to Paris as France’s new Bourbon King, Charles X, in succession to his infamous elder brother, Louis XVIII who had died in September. His coronation took place at Reims on May 29th 1825 and he made his official entry into Paris a few days later.

King Charles X in coronation robes [1825]

from a copy of Francois Gerard’s original painting

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

For de Thierry senior, Charles X’s long-awaited elevation to the throne of France brought few tangible rewards for a lifetime’s long-suffering and loyal support for the Bourbon cause.

For de Thierry junior, as well as pressing his New Zealand colonisation scheme with the French authorities, he appears to have established a short-lived retail emporium in central Paris, a sort of bargain store known as the Bazaar Saint Honoré at No.359 Rue Saint Honoré.

It was most probably during his residence in Paris and to impress potential French backers, that the young de Thierry, designed and produced a new family coat of arms. They are depicted quartered, with native New Zealand tui birds perched on branches of fuchsia, with European lions, castles and chevrons. Surmounted by a crown, they include the family motto in Latin and English, reading: Tenax – Strength and Harmony. Interestingly, the supporters either side are two Maoris wielding traditional taiaha staff and a European musket. Below the engraving is an inscription with an address in the Rue Saint Honoré, which certainly suggests it was produced during this 1824-1826 period.

Like so many de Thierry schemes, the Bazaar Saint Honoré business quickly went bankrupt and in May 1826 the spendthrift adventurer returned hastily to England to avoid his French creditors! Six months later he was on the move again, this time to the United States with his wife and family in tow.

His father’s moves were far more local. As his financial position appears to have grown ever worse, we witness his residential slide gradually eastwards across London, from the wealthy streets of Marylebone towards London’s impoverished East End. By the early 1820s the aged Baron had taken up residence in the Kingsland area in the rather less-than-salubrious eastern district of Hackney, just north of the City.

Chapel of Ease (St.Paul’s) West Hackney, engraving after Thomas H Shepherd, 1827

Baron Charles Antoine de Thierry was buried here, in the Chapel graveyard, in November 1824

In November 1824 he finally breathed his last. There with no pomp or ceremony, just a quiet burial service in a simple grave, now lost, within the confines of the small churchyard adjacent to the Chapel of Ease (St. Paul’s), West Hackney. It is not known if his eldest son was present at the funeral, having just have been released from the King’s Bench. Raeside suggests the younger de Thierry had already departed for Boulogne a month earlier, on October 16th, en route to Paris.

According to the local parish burial records, the elderly Baron was interred on November 13th 1824, aged 74 years. And afterwards no well-attended memorial service to pray for the repose of his soul, like those that he had organised for Louis XVI in 1793 and the Duc D’Enghien in 1804. No praise-filled eulogies nor glowing obituaries recorded in the magazines & newspapers of the time.

It was nonetheless the end of a truly remarkable if ill-stared life that might otherwise have been one largely overlooked by history and left wholly unrecognised in cartographic anonymity.

As Madame de Stael wrote:

L’exil, est quelquefois, pour les caracteres vifs et sensibles, beaucoup plus cruel que la mort

For individuals who are both full of life and sensitve, exile is sometimes even more cruel than death itelf

So it proved for de Thierry.

But like the Frenchies in Baroness Emma D’Orczy’s novel, we have sought him here and sought him there through our wide-ranging researches and the long paper trail of archive records and historical documents.

And after two hundred and twenty eight years of cartographic anonymity, we can at least now confirm the identity of John Mackrell’s “damned elusive Pimpernel” and shine new light on this adventurous French aristocrat-cum-mapmaker. And on the New Zealand epilogue to this extraordinary family story and the first two Barons de Thierry.


Debbie Hall (ed): Treasures from the Map Room [Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, 2016] (specifically: John Mackrell: France as an Oak Tree, pp.198-199)

J D Raeside: Sovereign Chief, A Biography of Baron de Thierry [Caxton Press, Christchurch, 1977]

Robin Hyde (Iris Wilkinson): Check to Your King [Hurst & Blackett, London, 1936]

See also our description of these two maps currently listed for sale