Proem

 

It has been a difficult task to piece together the fragmentary documents which alone throw a light--dim and flickering at the best--upon that mysterious personality known to the historians of the Napoleonic era as the Man in Grey. So very little is known about him. Age, appearance, domestic circumstances, everything pertaining to him has remained a matter of conjecture--even his name! In the reports sent by the all-powerful Minister to the Emperor he is invariably spoken of as "The Man in Grey." Once only does Fouche refer to him as "Fernand."


   Strange and mysterious creature! Nevertheless, he played an important part--the most important, perhaps in bringing to justice some of those reckless criminals who, under the cloak of Royalist convictions and religious and political aims, spent their time in pillage, murder and arson.


   Strange and mysterious creatures, too, these men so aptly named Chouans--that is, "chats-huants"; screech-owls--since they were a terror by night and disappeared within their burrows by day. A world of romance lies buried within the ruins of the chateaux which gave them shelter--Tournebut, Bouvesse, Donnai, Plelan. A world of mystery encompasses the names of their leaders and, above all, those of the women--ladies of high degree and humble peasants alike--often heroic, more often misguided, who supplied the intrigue, the persistence, the fanatical hatred which kept the fire of rebellion smouldering and spluttering even while it could not burst into actual flame. D'Ache Cadoudal, Frotte, Armand le Chevallier, Marquise de Combray, Mme. Aquet de Ferolles--the romance attaching to these names pales beside that which clings to the weird anonymity of their henchmen--"Dare-Death," "Hare-Lip," "Fear-Nought," "Silver-Leg," and so on. Theirs were the hands that struck whilst their leaders planned--they were the screech-owls who for more than twenty years terrorised the western provinces of France and, in the name of God and their King, committed every crime that could besmirch the Cause which they professed to uphold.


   Whether they really aimed at the restoration of the Bourbon kings and at bolstering up the fortunes of an effete and dispossessed monarchy with money wrung from peaceable citizens, or whether they were a mere pack of lawless brigands made up of deserters from the army and fugitives from conscription, of felons and bankrupt aristocrats, will for ever remain a bone of contention between the apologists of the old regime and those of the new.


   With partisanship in those strangely obscure though comparatively recent episodes of history we have nothing to do. Facts alone--undeniable and undenied--must be left to speak for themselves. It was but meet that these men--amongst whom were to be found the bearers of some of the noblest names in France--should be tracked down and brought to justice by one whose personality has continued to be as complete an enigma as their own.

 

©Blakeney Manor, 2002