July 4, 2001
- Ange Pitou
Ange Pitou was a character of the Revolution
fictionalized in the book of the same name written by Alexandre
Dumas. In the book, Ange Pitou was a young revolutionary hero
from the region of Dumas' home town of Villers-Cotterêts.
The fictional character participated in the storming of the Bastille
and every other major event of the time. Dumas must have been
impressed with the real Ange Pitou to use this persona to tell
his story. But the real man was a completely different person
and even more interesting in real life. I recently passed through
the village of Valainville near Chateaudun where the real Ange
Pitou was born.
In real life Ange Pitou was a journalist,
song writer, singer, secret agent and a rascal of a man who was
sympathetic to the Royalist cause. He was arrested sixteen times
but always escaped the guillotine. This feat is most remarkable
since a mere suspicion was enough to justify execution at that
The people of the Beauce have the reputation
of being dour, uninteresting people but Ange Pitou breaks the
mold of the sober Beauceron. His jovial, optimistic personality
and confidence in the future permitted him to overcome many hardships.
In one of his many imprisonments, he shared a cell with the infamous
Marquis de Sade who marveled at this man so full of life. He
once said of him, "I don't know how you do it, Pitou, you
are always so gay and happy". In one of the many criminal
trials that he survived, the jury was so impressed with his defense
that they acquitted him then took him out to dinner afterwards.
He surely had a sweet personality because in his school days
at Chateaudun, his friends described him as being like a warm
His aunt dreamed that he would go to the
seminary in Chartres and become a priest but he was too popular
with the ladies and too curious to ignore the action in Paris.
In 1789 at twenty years of age, he left the seminary with only
his backpack and took route to Paris. Upon entering the city
he met a mob of hungry people carrying the head of a baker on
a stick and quickly learned the horror of the excesses of the
revolution. Perhaps this event and the experiences of his first
job as a journalist covering the early political trials of the
revolution, made him a sympathizer for the royalists. One of
his articles got the attention of Marie Antoinette who arranged
a meeting in which he swore fidelity to her and the royalist
cause. She also gave him 1500 pounds but it was not the money
that drove this man. He gave away most of his money to support
the royalist cause and save friends from prison and execution.
Despite his sympathies for the royalists,
Ange Pitou was above all a journalist. He wrote for a number
of royalist newspapers but he was not content to just write.
He joined the garde nationale which permitted him to be
present at all the events of the revolution while other journalists
were being arrested and executed. He was present for the assault
on the Tuileries in June, 1792 and the massacres of August 10
massacres but had to hide to save his life during the September
massacres. He continued to write for the most counter-revolutionary
newspapers but he also had the audacity to write for the newspaper
of Marat who was the bloodiest of the revolutionaries.
It was after the fall of Robespierre that
Ange Pitou became a true star in the modern sense of the word.
He composed and sang songs in the streets of Paris that eventually
gave him rock star status. He became extremely adept at changing
the act to suit the audience. If the police were present, he
was conservative. But if the crowd was large enough, he would
incite them by grabbing his ass each time the word republic or
government was pronounced. This is where Jim Morrison got the
idea to expose himself in Miami.
Ange Pitou became known as "that incorrigible singer" and was feared by the authorities because of his popularity. The police were constantly plotting to entrap him but he was too clever to be ensnared. He was eventually arrested for his seditious message and the indecent ass grabbing gestures that made him so popular. He was deported to Guyana where he suffered for four years before being released. He published a book telling of his imprisonment entitled Voyage à Cayenne that was the precusor to the story of Papillion.
Ange Pitou was fearless and thrived during
the most dangerous years of the revolution. However, he failed
in his business ventures during calmer times. Perhaps he was
just an ordinary man who became extraordinary because of the
time that he lived but still I sure would have loved to see him