The Temple: Napoléon’s political jail


The Tower of the Temple in 1795

For the King relates the circumstances of the Rue Nicaise conspiracy, a failed attempt to assassinate Napoléon Bonaparte on Christmas Eve 1800. Indeed Napoléon had a surfeit of political enemies. They fell into two opposite camps: the Chouans were Royalists and wanted to restore King Louis XVIII to the throne, while the Jacobins yearned to return the ideals of liberty and equality promoted by the Revolution.

Their ultimate goals couldn’t have been further apart, but their immediate aim was the same: they wanted to rid France of Napoléon Bonaparte. Thus, after the Rue Nicaise attack, it was not obvious at all who, of those two factions, were the culprits.

Many Royalists and Jacobins were jailed together at the Tower of the Temple, named after its first owners, the Templars. Within its grim walls had been jailed the royal family: Louis XVI until his execution on January 21, 1793, Marie-Antoinette until her transfer to La Conciergerie in August of the same year. Madame Elisabeth, Louis XVI’s devoted sister, had stayed behind until her turn had come to face the guillotine. There too had poor little Louis XVII died in 1795. His elder sister Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte had stayed there until she was exchanged against other prisoners and freed a few months later.

In 1800, all royal prisoners were long gone, but the medieval Tower of the Temple, with its pointed turrets, remained the political jail of choice for all prominent opponents to Bonaparte’s regime. Many of them were held there indefinitely without trial. Some only left the Temple the face the summary proceedings of a Military Commission and, later the same night, the guns of a firing squad.

In FOR THE KING, I have my protagonist’s father, Old Miquel, an imprudently outspoken former Jacobin, jailed at the Temple after his arrest. I describe the camaraderie between him and the Royalist prisoners. Old Miquel is a fictional character, but I didn’t make this up.

I based it upon the Memoirs of the Marquis de La Maisonfort, a Royalist secret agent who spent much time at the Temple himself. Unlikely as it may sound, the shared loathing of the Royalists and Jacobins for Bonaparte brought them together at the Temple.

The tower, convenient as it was as a jail in the heart of Paris, still made Napoléon uneasy. It had become a focal point of Royalist sentiment, a reminder of the tragic ends of the royal family, a place of pilgrimage. The very existence of the ancient building was a political threat to the regime.

In 1808 Napoléon ordered its demolition. Only the outlines of the turrets remain now, next to the City Hall of the 3rd Arrondissement of Paris.



Outline of the Tower of the Temple in Paris

My thanks go to She Read A Book for hosting this post!

Photograph of the outline of the Tower of the Temple by Parisette via Wikimedia Commons.

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5 Comments to “The Temple: Napoléon’s political jail”

  1. Thanks for your kind words! Don’t hesitate to link to the posts that are of interest you and your readers. And if you wish to send me photographs you took of the places I mention, I will be delighted to link to your posts as well.

  2. Sab says:

    Hi There Catherine,
    I’m so happy to have found your blog and articles. I’m also fascinated by Paris but come to the city from a completely different angle to you: that of photographer.

    Having said that, I’m starting to insert little historical snippets into some of my photo commentaries and also building up my knowledge for my Paris photo walks and shall be gently stealing some of the info I find here from time to time to make myself sound far more knowledgeable than I really am…

    So thanks for posting all these interesting items for us to enjoy and educate ourselves with!

  3. Penny, you seem to have developed quite a fondness for revolutionary prisons! :)

    Miss Moppet, it is a complex story. When the assets of the Templars, including the Paris Temple, were confiscated, they passed to another military religious order, the Chevaliers de l’Hopital de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem, commonly known as the Hospitalers (the successor nowadays would be the Malta Order). The Head of the Hospitalers in France before the Revolution was the Comte d’Artois, younger brother of Louis XVI. So he didn’t own the Temple, which belonged to the Hospitalers, but he could use the Temple compound, which comprised a palace, as his Paris residence.

    You are right, Marie-Antoinette begged Artois to get rid of the Tower, which she found sinister. He never did. Did he even have authority, as head of the Order, to alter the layout of the Temple buildings? I am not sure of it.

    What is certain is that before the Revolution, the Temple was a vast enclosure, with many shops in it. Those, because the land belonged to a religious Order, enjoyed a special legal status: they were not subject to the regulations that governed the Ancien Regime “corporations.” More economic freedom, less regulations: those businesses were thriving.

    I guess I should write a post on the pre-revolutionary Temple…

  4. Miss Moppet says:

    Interesting photo! I didn’t realise the outlines were still there. Nor did I know anything of the Temple’s use as a prison after the royal family left it until I read For the King.

    I did know that before the Revolution, it belonged to the Comte d’Artois, Louis XVI’s younger brother, and that Marie Antoinette found the old tower sinister and begged Artois to tear it down. I also did some research into shopping in Ancien Regime Paris at one time and found that the Temple enclosure was famous for its shops selling artificial jewellery – fake gems and pearls – and also for the furs which were sold at its annual October fair.

  5. Penny says:

    First of all, since I did hang up the concierge photo/drawing you had, I now have this one to match it but I still don’t know what artwork would fit well below my Eiffel tower
    clock(neutral colored clock)

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