Thomas de Mahy, marquis de Favras
Born in Favras near Blois, he belonged to an impoverished family whose nobility dated from the 12th century. At seventeen he was a captain of dragoons, and saw some service in the closing campaign of the Seven Years' War. In 1772 he became a first lieutenant in the Swiss Guards of King Louis XVI's younger brother, the Comte de Provence. Unable to meet the expenses of his rank, which was equivalent to that of a colonel in the army, he retired in 1775.
Favras married in 1776 Victoria Hedwig Karoline, Princess of Anhalt-Bernburg-Schaumburg, whose mother, after being deserted by her husband Karl Louis, Prince of Anhalt-Bernburg-Schaumburg-Hoym in 1749, had found refuge with her daughter in the house of Charles de Rohan, prince de Soubise. After his marriage, Favras went to Vienna to attempt the restitution of his wife's rights, and spent some time in Warsaw. In 1787 he was authorized to raise a patriotic legion to help the Dutch against the Stadtholder William V and his Prussian allies.
Returning to Paris in 1789, he became involved in Royalist plans initiated by his former employer, the Comte de Provence, to save the King and end the French Revolution. In order to finance this venture, Provence (using one of his gentlemen, the Comte de la Chàtre, as an intermediary) commissioned Favras to negotiate a loan of two million francs from the bankers Schaumel and Sartorius.
Arrest, trial, and execution
Favras took the unfortunate step of taking into his confidence certain officers by whom he was betrayed. It was stated in a leaflet circulated throughout Paris on December 23, 1789 that Favras had been hired by the Comte de Provence to organize an elaborate plot against the people of France. In this plot, the King, Queen and their children were to be rescued from the Tuileries Palace and spirited out of the country. Then the Comte de Provence was to be declared regent of the kingdom with absolute power. Simultaneously, a force of 30,000 soldiers was to encircle Paris. In the ensuing confusion, the city's three main liberal leaders (Jacques Necker, the popular Finance Minister of France, Jean Sylvain Bailly, the mayor of Paris, and the Marquis de La Fayette, the commander of the city's new National Guard) were to be assassinated. Afterwards, the revolutionary city was to be starved into royal submission by cutting off its food supplies. As a consequence of the leaflet, Favras and his wife were arrested the next day, and imprisoned in the Abbaye Prison. Terrified of the consequences of the arrest, the Comte de Provence hastened to publicly disavow Favras, in a speech delivered before the Commune of Paris, and in a letter to the National Constituent Assembly.
A fortnight after the arrest, Favras and his wife were separated, and Favras was removed to the Grand Châtelet. In the course of a trial that lasted nearly two months, witnesses disagreed about the facts concerning the case and evidence was lacking. Even Sylvain Maréchal, the anarchist editor of the republican newspaper Révolutions de Paris, admitted that the evidence against Favras was insufficient. However, an armed attempt to free him by some Royalists on January 26, which was thwarted by La Fayette, aroused the suspicion of the Parisians, and on February 18, 1790, in spite of a notable defense plea, Favras was sentenced to be hanged.
Although he had previously implicated others in the conspiracy (most notably, the Comte d'Antraigues), Favras refused to give any further information to the authorities on the plot's details or participants, and his sentence was carried out in the Place de Grève the next day - a measure which was received with enthusiasm by members of the Parisian population, since it was the first instance when no distinction in the mode of execution was allowed between noble and commoner. Purportedly, upon the reading of his death warrant, he remarked, "I see that you have made three spelling mistakes."
Favras was generally regarded as a martyr to the Royalist cause for his refusal to implicate the Comte de Provence, and Madame de Favras was pensioned by Louis XVI. She left France, and her son Charles de Favras served in the Habsburg and the Imperial Russian armies. Under the Bourbon Restoration, Charles received an allowance from Louis XVIII. Her daughter Caroline married Rudiger, Freiherr von Stillfried und Rathenitz, in 1805.
The official dossier of Favras' trial for high treason against the nation disappeared from the Châtelet, but its substance is preserved in the papers of a clerk.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.