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THE DEMONIC RED MAN OF THE TUILERIES

Posted on: December 3, 2014

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Legend has it that a mysterious, gnome-like creature haunted many French leaders for hundreds of years at the Tuileries Palace in Paris.   The Tuileries Palace was built in 1564 by Catherine de Medici, one of the most controversial women in history.  Catherine was Italian by birth, but at a young age she was packed off to France to marry the heir to the throne, the dauphine Henry.  It was not to be a happy marriage, although in it’s own strange way it worked, after a fashion.

Henry was infatuated with his mistress, an older woman called Diane de Poitiers, so he very much saw Catherine as a duty to be fulfilled.  Catherine was said to be so consumed with jealousy over their affair that she had a hole drilled in the floor of her bedroom, so that she could spy on the two of them in the room below.  In spite of Henry’s indifference to his wife, the two of them did manage to produce ten children together, and it is thought that after a time Henry did grow to respect Catherine, even if love didn’t appear.  Diane de Poitiers wa.s an elegant, sophisticated woman who dressed strikingly in black and white.  In spite of being dumpy, and not terribly attractive, Catherine also asserted herself as a bit of trendsetter though.  She brought high heels to the French court, and pioneered the wearing of bloomers as undergarments (easier for riding astride on horseback).

The supernatural never seemed to be terribly far from Catherine’s life.  Nostradamus was said to have predicted Henry’s death in a freak accident, with the words ‘The young lion shall overcome the older one / on a field of combat in single battle / He shall pierce his eyes in a golden cage / Two forces one, then he shall die a cruel death’.* In the summer of 1559 Henry, now King Henry II, took part in a jousting tournament.  He was fatally wounded when the lance of Gabriel Montgomery pierced the protective cage covering Henry’s eyes.  He was to die in agony, from septicemia, several days later.

Catherine didn’t lose any time getting revenge on Diane de Poitiers for all the years of public humiliation she had had to suffer at her hands.  She refused to let Diane visit her husband’s deathbed, demanded the return of the jewels he had given her, and banished her to her country estates.  Catherine was now determined to milk being a widow for all it was worth.  She decked herself out in black from head-to-foot, as such would present a strikingly formidable figure at the centre of her colourful court.  She also liked to surround herself with her legendary Flying Squadron, a band of beautiful ladies-in-waiting who were all ordered to dress in white as contrast.  It must have been a striking sight when Catherine and her entourage appeared.

In 1564 Catherine ordered the construction of the Tuileries Palace.  She was so impatient to move in that she took up residence before the work was fully finished.  Her time there was to be short though.  It is said that she was confronted by an ugly gnome-like little man dressed in scarlet robes.  It is thought that he gave her some dire prophecies, including one that she would die in the Saint-Germain area.  As the palace was located in the Saint-Germain parish, Catherine hastily moved out again.

The Queen Mother of France was to earn her place in infamy in August 1572, when for a week the streets of Paris ran with blood when the massed slaughter of it’s Hugenot (Protestant) citizens took place, known as the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.  Many historians blame Catherine for being the brains behind this terrible event, and it has certainly earned her a place as one of the most ruthless women in history.

Catherine was to die in the winter of 1589.  It is said that the Benedictine monk attending to her last rites went by the name of Laurent de Saint-Germain.

Over the next 200 years the devil-like l’Homme Rouge is thought to have appeared to King Henry IV on 14 May 1610, the day he was assassinated by a mad schoolteacher.   In 1793 Queen Marie Antoinette was being held prisoner in the Tuileries.  It was a grim time.  Her husband, Louis XVI, had been executed in the January.  She had been forcibly separated from her son, had seen the head of one of her closest friends, the Princesse de Lamballe, paraded on a stake beneath the window of her room, and is now thought to have been seriously ill with cancer.

On 10 August the women attending the deposed queen claimed to have been terrified by the Red Man putting in an appearance in the Salle des Gardes.  They rushed to tell the Queen.  It’s not recorded how Marie Antoinette reacted to this odd news.  Two months later, in October, she was to follow her husband to the guillotine.

Napoleon Bonaparte was reputedly the last French ruler to have seen the Red Man.  Napoleon was fascinated by the supernatural, and firmly believed in the prophecies of dreams.  In his memoirs he recorded seeing the grotesque, gnome-like little man several times.  The Red Man had allegedly told him “I know you better than you know yourself”.

So who was this weird, devil-like character?  Some have it that he was the ghost of Jean l’Ecorcheur, a butcher, who had often worked as one of Catherine de Medici’s henchmen, earning himself the nickname Jack The Skinner.  It is said that Catherine had had him strangled because she was afraid he knew too much.  It is now thought that this undesirable ghost was finally laid to rest when the Palace was deliberately set on fire in May 1871, on the orders of Jules Bergeret, the chief military officer of the Paris Commune.  Perhaps this is just as well.

* Although Wikipedia has it that the poem was actually written at the beginning of the 17th century, over 50 years after the King’s death.  Frankly, where Nostradamus’ prophecies are concerned, I suspect you can put any interpretation you like on them.

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