Pugs, Jane Austen, political conspiracy and mass murder
Fans of Jane Austen will remember Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park sitting on her sofa with her pug by her side. “The next time Pug has a litter you shall have a puppy,” she tells her niece Fanny. Lady Bertram can think of no higher mark of her regard.
Indeed pugs were great favorites for ladies of fashion in Regency England. Across the Channel, they were no less popular with Parisian élégantes.
Yet imagine my surprise when I found a pug dog mixed in the real story of the deadly Rue Nicaise attack, the backdrop of my new novel For the King.
What was a pug doing in the midst of this grim tale of political conspiracy? Well, it turned out that one of the assassins, Pierre de Saint-Régent, during the weeks leading to the attack, rented a room in the dingy lodgings of a poor widow, Citizen Jourdan, and her teenage daughter Toinette. The widow had found a pug, lost on the street, and brought it home.
From then on, Saint-Régent could have no rest until he secured the pug. Toinette, feeling like a fine lady with her fashionable little dog, which she called Mirza, was most reluctant to part with it. But Saint-Régent would not take no for an answer, and he finally reached an agreement with Toinette: she would trade the pug for a pretty new dress.
Please keep in mind that, at the same time, Saint-Régent was deep into the preparation of the attack, manufacturing the bomb, purchasing feet of wick to detonate it, calculating the length of the fuse to time the explosion with perfect accuracy, all that with mass murder and mayhem on his mind.
Where the story gets still more incredible is that Saint-Régent, once he had secured the pug from young Toinette, proceeded to have a dog collar custom made for it. He was very specific in his requirements: green leather, with sterling silver bells and medal. This entailed ordering the collar from a jeweler, an obvious risk at a time when it was crucial for the conspirators to keep as discreet as possible. Yet Saint-Régent deliberately took that risk. He must have been very much in love…
The pug was presented to a lady, his lady. Who was she? The actual investigation never discovered her identity, but I took the liberty of making her one of the characters of FOR THE KING.
As a novelist, I would have hesitated before making up such a detail. Who was going to believe that a cold-blooded, fanatical killer, bent on assassinating Napoléon and killing dozens of innocents in the process, would compromise all of this in the pursuit of a gift for his ladylove? Yet it is true. Life is made of such riddles.
Many thanks to the bloggers of Historical Tapestry for hosting this guest post!