Hello and welcome back to Paname, a podcast that boldly goes through doors, even if they are marked not entry to sneak a peak at Paris’ history
There is a legend that tells of the Little Red Man that haunted the Tuileries palace for over 300 years, between about 1570 when it was built to 1871 when it was burnt down by the Paris Commune. He appeared only to the inhabitants of the palace, in other words kings, queens and emperors and was a harbinger of doom or bad tidings. Like all legends it is allegedly based on a real man and a real event, although men of short stature, dressed in red seem to crop up not only at the Tuileries and at Christmas. In Normandy there is the so called ‘Nain Rouge’ Red dwarf (nothing to do with red dwarf tv show..) who is a sort of house spirit or hobgoblin that appears and gets up to mischief. But apparently not content with staying in Normandy he hitches a ride all the way to the US, to Detroite which was a French settlement. This American creature is described as a ‘small childlike creature with red or black fur boots. He’s also said to have "blazing red eyes and rotten teeth." And like the red man of the Tuileries he foretells woe and bad tidings with each sighting being shortly followed by some sort of terrible event.
But let us delve into the story of l’homme Rouge The Red Man and see what we can learn about him, his predictions and what it all might mean.
Here we are at the Louvre museum in the first arrt. It was once a fortress, then a Royal residence and today the biggest art museum in the world. Its of course home to the Mona Lisa, works by da Vici, Venus de Milo, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Louvre. Now you might know if you have already been or seen a photo that there are 3 wings that form a sort of U or horse shoe shape, but there did used to be a fourth building that would have made the Louvre into a rectangle; the Tuileries palace. Built in 1564 by one of my favourite historical figures, Catherine De Medici following the death of her husband Henry II. The building of the palace and the beginning of the legend go hand in hand so lets look at how it all began.
On the 30th of June 1559 Henry II King of France and husband of Catherine Medici was killed near what is now places des Vogues during a jousting tournament. A long splinter from his opponents lance pierced his eye and brain. Death unfortunately, was not instantaneous for him and he died some 10 days later in agony as the wound slowly festered and poisoned him. Catherine was heartbroken. Although their marriage had been a complicated one she had always loved him. The same sadly could not be said of Henry. His heart had already been taken by the beautiful noblewoman ‘Diane de Poitier’ who had once been his babysitter and was 14 years his senior. Throughout her marriage Catherine had to suffer the public humiliation of being second best to Diane. As queen her one role was to provide children, but married at the tender age of 14 it was nearly 10 years before she was able to produce an heir. So worried was she about her failure and afraid maybe of her fate if she continued to fail to do her duty that she took drastic measure to remedy the problem, consulting doctors and fertility ‘experts’ who gave her frankly bizarre advice – such as to drink, mules urine, which she did, although under not account to go near the actual mule itself. Because that would be terrible if she went near the mule. Totally undo all her good work. When this proved unsuccessful, not surprisingly, she turned to an Alchemists who made her up a sort of fertility paste which included such delightful ingredients as cow dung and ground stag’s antlers. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to where she was obliged to smear this concoction, needless to say it did not entice Henry. And when this did not yield the desired results she conclude that she must indeed be doing something very wrong and, even though it must have been rather painful she is said to have drilled a secret spy hole through the floor of her bedroom to watch the activities of her husband, the king, and his mistress Diane, to see what they were doing and thus what she was doing wrong. Finally however a sensible doctor was found and he must have given them better advice because in the end Catherine would bear 10 children to Henry – 3 of which would go on to be king.
Just a side fact and something to look out for if you do go to the Louvre. As I mentioned it used to be a royal palace. For this reason you can see the insignia of the various monarchs who lived and added to the building. L for Louis, F for Francois etc. Look out for they symbol of Henry the II. It Is the capital H, for Henry of course, with two Cs back to back for Catherine. But since the Cs touch the line of the H they look very much like two Ds for Diane. This symbol appears frequently and must have been yet another insult to poor Catherine. Talk about having your nose rubbed in it. I’ll put a picture on the website as its hard to explain.
Anyway, following her husband’s death Catherine, now the queen regent to her young son, abandons the hotel des Tounelles, which used to be situated over by the Marais and no longer exists, and it’s where Henry died. She decides to build a new residence, make a fresh start: the Tuileries palace in the gardens just next to the Louvre. This area had been home since the 13th century to the workshops of the tile makers the ‘Tuileries’ which gave their name to the area. Francois the 1st had already acquired some land here and built a small residence for his mother, now Catherine wanted to build a new residence and lay out gardens. But what of the Red Man? I’m getting to that.
There origin story differs slightly but it goes more or less like this: As well as the tile works there were a number of other businesses including a butchers where the ominously named ‘Jean l’ecourcher’ or John the skinner worked. Now, the story goes that as well as being a butcher he had also helped Catherine in a number of her nefarious plots to rid her of her enemies, Catherine as you will see was not much loved by the people at the time or to come and the idea that she had a wicked henchman seems totally plausible. It was decided however, that he knew too much and had to be done away with. So Catherine hires an assassin to go and murder him. A certain Neuville is despatched to do the task and finds Jean in his butchers at work in the Tuileries gardens. Neuville stabs the poor man but he is a shoddy assassin as it is not enough to kill him. They struggle and Jean is finally silenced but not before he has time to cry out ‘Je reviendrai’ I’ll be back. Like the terminator. Neuville hurries off to tell the Queen that the bloody task has been completed however, he feels a horrible sensation of being followed, he turns to see the blood soaked body of Jean following him. He thrusts his dagger one more time at him but there is nothing there. Confused he goes back to the scene of the crime. But m mysteriously the body of Jean has disappeared. And so the mystery, legend, fairy story or whatever you want to call it begins. Neuville then tells the Queen the whole story. There is something to know about Catherine she was a great believer in astrology, fortune-tellers and the occult. Another reason why it seems a natural fit to link her with a supernatural story. Catherine was fascinated with fortune telling and the occult - she had even consulted with Nostradamus, who, apparently, predicted the untimely death of her husband and her children saying they would go on to be kings, but would be outlived by herself which was of course true, as I’ve said 3 of her sons would be kings and all three would die an untimely death.
She had a close advisor and astrologer Cosmo Rugieri. Now either Cosmo predicted this much repeated anecdote, or the Red Man did but either way it is often told that he foretold that she would die near Saint Germain. As the Louvre and the Tuileries were part of the diocese of St.-Germain-L'Auxerrois – the church which still stands today just next to the Louvre and whose unfortunate bells gave the signal for the start of the St Bartholomew’s day massacre Catherine decided to leave. She abandons her, only recently built palace, and builds a new home the Hotel de Soissons near the St. Eustache church. Nearly nothing of this residence remains today as it was demolished in 1748 and replaced by the round building of the Bourse de Commerce (the stock exchange) which is still there today. There is however one curious remnant – a 28m high column, with a spiral staircase of 147 steps leading to a viewing platform, which four corners corresponding with the four directions of a compass. It is thought that Ruggieri used this tower for astrology. But as we all know it is impossible to avoid your fate. So when Catherine took ill while visiting Blois a young priest was called. On the 15th of January 1589 he gave her last rights, Catherine asked his name. Julian De Saint Germain.
The little Red Man it seems got it right. He disappears for a while, I suppose just haunting the Tuileries palace but will reappear the night of the 13th of May 1610 to Henry IV. Henry IV, whose statue can still be spotted on the Pont Neuf – Paris’ oldest bridge, inaugurated by himself in 1607, was a much loved king despite his difficult beginning. It was his marriage to Marguerite de Valois, Catherine’s daughter (who you might know as la Reine Margot) in 1572 that gave him a legitimate claim to the throne. The idea behind his marriage was political. France had been deeply divided by the wars of religion and the idea of marrying Henry a protestant, to Marguerite a catholic was thought might heal this rift. Sadly the nuptials did not result in harmony but rather tragedy with the St Bartholomew’s Eve day massacre which I have already mentioned but if you do not know the story then here it is in a nutshell. On the night of their wedding on the 24th of August 1572, Charles the IX the king at the time, and second of Catherine’s sons to hold the position is thought, with the advice of his mother to have ordered the killing of the protestants who had come to Paris to celebrate the wedding. Alleged saying the terrible words: “kill them so that none will be left to reproach me for it.” The signal for this massacre was the tolling of the bells of St Germain l’Auxerrois. Now weather the plan was to kill the key, important protestant leaders it’s unknown as the whole of Paris seemed to become involved and over the next few days some 15 thousand protestants were slaughtered. The Seine was said to run red with blood. Following this terrible event protestants fled to England en mass and, in a rather Dantesque way Charles XI, who had ordered this died of some unknown illness, sweating blood.
His brother, Henry the III would then become Catherine’s third and last son to become king and the last of the Valois dynasty. He was assassinated and on his death bed named his brother-in-law as his successor. But Paris would not hear of it until he changed his religion. After a long battle and siege Henry finally relents and is famously meant to have said ‘Paris vaut bien une messe’ Paris is well worth a Mass in other words he did became catholic after all that. Henry became a much loved king and achieved quite a bit – he had great plans for Paris, of which sadly only a few remnants remain, the most famous the beautiful Places des Voges in the Marias is one. So the red man appear to Henry, but unfortunately Henry did not heed the supposed warning of the Red Man as the next day, on the 14th of May 1610 Ravaillac a 32 year old, who incidentally had red hair, took advantage of the bad traffic which held up the King’s carriage on the Rue Ferronnerie to leap in and fatally stabbed the king. Ravaillac was a devout Catholic Although his motives are complicated and it seems he may have been suffering from mental illness it also appears that he was angry with Henry’s tolerant approach to Protestants and the religious freedoms he granted them as well as a possible upcoming conflict with the Catholic Hapsburgs. Ravaillac, following this dastardly deed, was immediately seized for the crime of regicide was tried and a truly horrible execution meted out to him. Paris was not only furious that their beloved king had been killed but there was also concern that Raviallc was not working alone but that was part of a bigger plot to send the country into civil war. Consequently he was tortured to find out the truth although however he maintained that he had acted alone. He was then taken to the place de greve, today Hotel de Ville where, in the words of Alistair Horne from his book Seven Ages of Paris “He was scalded with burning sulphur, molten lead, boiling oil and resin. His flesh then being torn by pincers” end quote. If that was not enough his limbs were then attached to 4 horses that pulled in opposite directions and after an hour he finally died. He was then apparently set upon by the crowd who savagely attacked his remains. They were, to say the least, not happy. Today, a discreet plaque exists on the rue Ferronnerie at no 11 to show where the assassination took place. its not far from Les Halles shopping centre.
Then for 182 years no more is heard of the Red Man. Don’t forget that the Tuileries is left somewhat abandoned as the Kings move to Versailles for around 100 years, leaving our ghost to wander the corridors alone. But then in 1792 he once again appears. Following the storming of the Bastille and mob arrive at Versailles and take the Royal family prisoner. They are taken, at first to the Tuileries Palace and it is here supposedly that Marie Antoinette alone in her room sees, in her mirror a red mist appear and the form of a man covered in blood. The next day Louis XVI himself sees a vision of a small man dressed in red. The very next day they are transferred from the Tuileries palace to the Temple prison.
The Temple Prison, just because I thought you might find it interesting, was originally a the medieval fortress created by the Knights Templar. Their story is so fascinating that it deserves its own episode. It was ultimately destroyed – its demolition ordered by Napoleon in 1808 as it had become a sight of pilgrimage to royalists. Today nothing remains of the fortress but you can still visit the Square du Temple in the 3rd art. which occupies the site on which the fortress once stood.
The Red Man’s appearances do not end with Louis and Marie Antoinette. He also said to have visited Napoleon Bonaparte, who as emperor made the Tuileries his residence. The story of the Little Red Man, who is sometimes referred to as The Little Red Man of Destiny when speaking of Napoleon appears first to him in Egypt in 1798 - quite far we can all agree from the Tuileries, and rather than foretelling gloom and bad tidings, he tells Napoleon that he had ten years to en joy victory and triumph on European battlefields. He visits him at various stages of his many foreign campaigns, warning him not to invade Russia – advice Napoleon disastrously ignores. He even has an opinion about his marriage to Marie-Louise before finally appearing to him the night before his defeat at Waterloo.
The story of the Red Man, at least when it comes to Napoleon seems one of allegory rather than folklore or urban legend. Napoleon here is dealing with the devil how else could he create such a great Empire? Especially a man of such inconsequential birth? Or so at least the British, his arch foes would like to believe or indeed the Royalists who despised Napoleon and wanted to paint him as a despot and a dictator. And paint it is exactly what they did. Napoleon was in some ways unfortunate to live at a time when the art of political cartoons were very much in vogue in Britain. To this day people think of him as short – a clever tactic employed by the cartoonists to diminish his stature. When in reality he was of average height. A number of drawings can be seen where Napoleon is being cradled by a devil like figure or seen with one – I’ll put them and a few other famous drawings on the website for you.
French writers in exile such as Auguste Jean-Baptiste also got involved. He wrote the Mémoires et anecdotes sur la cour de Napoléon – Memories and anecdotes from The Court of Napoleon, even though he had never actually been there, in which he was keen to describe the devilish consort of the Emperor referring to a man ‘clothed in a Red Mantle’ who guided Napoleon throughout his reign.
But it was perhaps with the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s epistolary novel of post-Napoleonic France, Paul’s Letters to His Kinsfolk, in 1816 that the anglo world really fell for the Napoleon and The Red Man story. He discusses in one letter how Napoleon often consorted with his red clad advisor. Here’s a quote
« Tell the Emperor,” said he, that I Homme Rouge must speak with him.” He was then admitted, and they were heard to talk loud together. As he left the apartment, he said publicly, ” You have rejected my advice ! you will not again see me till you have bitterly repented your error.” The visits of Homme Rouge were renewed on Buonaparte’s return from Elba ; but before he set out on his last campaign, Napoleon again offended his familiar, who took leave of him for ever, giving him up to the red men of England, who became the real arbiters of his destiny.
And there you have it. As with all good vs bad stories, here the wicked, devil worshiping Napoleon against the just and righteous British - good wins out and Napoleon is defeated. Order is restored.
Some point to so called proof that the Red Man, at least for Napoleon existed – notably the memoires his aide-de-camp Count General Rapp, published in 1823 where he mentions Napoleons belief in his so called ‘lucky star’ that guided him.
That Napoleon was a superstitious man and had a strong belief in his own destiny is one thing but it seems a stretch to imply he consorted with ghosts or devils.
Later the line between the legend of the red man of the Tuilieres and the supposed Red consort of Napoleon are blurred with the publication in 1831 of a book by the clairvoyant, and inventor of the modern Tarot deck, Mademoiselle Lenormand in which she links the stories together.
The story, legend or folklore of the red man is intriguing but what use are these urban myths anyway? Is it just a waste of time to tell them? If your like me then you do quite like a ghost story and enjoy imagining some supernatural goings on. Of course, like the Christmas elf, I do not believe that the story of the Red Man is true. I do not think a red man, goblin or ghost stalked the corridors of the Tuileries nor do I think he gave military advice to Napoleon. But what I do find fascinating is how these sorts of stories come about and how they attach themselves to certain historical figures and why they stick.
The first person of note linked to this story is Catherine de Medici, who is allegedly at the origin of the story of the Little Red Man. She was not a loved queen and her memory will be forever bound with the truly awful events of the Saint Bartholomew’s day massacre and so it is unsurprising that a devilish legacy could be ascribed to her and believed. Secondly it is with Napoleon, rather than any of the other Kings or Queens that we associate this legend. Its clear that there was much fascination with Napoleon and, like him or not, he was truly a remarkable and brilliant man. The desire to demonise, fetishize or simple cut him down to size seems evident with this story. Many myths have lingered with Napoleon because people were fascinated with him and were prepared to believe the myths that surrounded him.
But we have not quite finished, what happened next to our little man? He quietens down quite a bit but nonetheless appears to the Duc de Berry just before his assassination by Louvel in 1820 then to Louis XVIII in 1824. The Kings brother, who suffered from insomnia was walking in the grounds of the Tuileries around midnight, as all good ghost stories happen then. He sees a red glow coming from his brothers window and he hurries back to the palace fearing a fire but there is none. The next day he tells his brother what he saw. In return the king tells his side of the story. He had been working late when, round midnight, he sees a red glow, looking up he sees a man, dressed in red, who disappears in a blink of an eye. Louis XVIII will die shortly after… not really very mysteries as he was in terrible health suffering from gout and gangrene.
Sometimes however the visits were easier to explain. In 1815 friends of Louis XVIII’s “’nice were dining in one of the Louvre apartments when a red devil came down the chimney, stanched a morsel from their table and retreated from whence he had come. Upon further investigation they found, rather than a ghost some art students had made a hole in the wall and decided to play a trick on the unsuspecting guests taking full advantage of the myth of the Red Man. Art students it would seem never change.
The Red Man is noticeably quiet during the reign of Charles the X, Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III. Then on the 23rd May 1871, the commune, a radical revolutionary group who following the defeat of Napoleon III at the hands of the Prussians took over and ruled Paris from the 28th of March to the 28th of May 1871 burnt the Tuileries palace to the ground. The Red Man was never seen or heard of again.