The scandal of Nicolas Léonard Tourte

New research into the life of François Xavier Tourte has uncovered some unexpected revelations about his brother, Nicolas Léonard

By Duane Rosengard and Paul Childs May 16, 2017

Our research focuses on François Xavier Tourte but of course includes looking into his family, as well as others who had important dealings or relations with him. Early on we have come across a most interesting, even sordid matter involving his slightly older brother, Nicolas Léonard, also a bow maker.

Nicolas Léonard Tourte was born in the Paroisse Ste.-Margueritte on January 20, 1746. The next document we have found so far regarding his life is that of his marriage to Catherine Landry on February 21, 1767 at the Paroisse St.-Paul. Their son, Charles Tourte, was born c. 1770 possibly in the Hospice des Quinze-Vingts, where Nicolas Léonard had a privileged residence during the 1770s.

The following known marker of his life is that of his second marriage, to Marie Jeanne Guillaume Marion, on November 25, 1788 at the Paroisse St.-Philippe du Roule. At that time Nicolas Léonard was 42 years old and lived on the rue des Fossés-Montmartre; his bride was just 19. Even more interesting is that in their marriage contract Tourte’s given names were re-ordered to Léonard Nicolas.

One would assume that Catherine Landry had died since divorce was not legal at this time in France.  However, the DQ8 Enrégistrement series at the Archives de Paris reveals that Madame Landry died on ‘5 Prairial an IX’ (May 25, 1801) on the rue de la Savonnerie in the ‘Lombards’ section (the 6th Arrondissement) of Paris. It is stated in this document that she was indigent and the address of her husband Nicolas Léonard Tourte was unknown! Their son, Charles Tourte, described as an employee, provided this information. So by marrying Marie Jeanne Guillaume Marion, Nicolas Léonard had become a bigamist.

We wonder why Tourte would have taken this great and seemingly foolish risk

The punishment for one convicted of bigamy, a very rare crime, was severe. The Penal Code of 1791 prescribed 12 years ‘in irons’, which in practice meant 12 years of hard labor in a seaport labor camp. Juries convicted on the basis of witness testimony only and if a jury found the defendant guilty, judges had no discretion or flexibility in sentencing. We wonder why Tourte would have taken this great and seemingly foolish risk. The obvious reason would be the anticipation of his wife inheriting a substantial sum from her parents, or perhaps someone else close to her.

At this time Paris was rather a number of interconnected villages (48 ‘sections’, as shown on the map of l’An III), not the big, beautiful city we know today. Some people didn’t venture from their own part of town to another, perhaps for their entire lives. So Tourte may have imagined that his colleagues and neighbors around his current home on the rue des Fossés-Montmartre in the parish of Saint Eustache might never know of this second, probably hidden, marriage, although the ceremony was public. And he obviously changed the order of his given names to escape the notice of the state, the church, his bride and her family. For the remainder of his life Tourte’s names were presented in this ‘Léonard Nicolas’ order.

Divorce was legalized in France in 1792 and after about six years of marriage, Marie Jeanne Guillaume Marion and Nicolas Léonard Tourte were formally divorced on ‘5 nivoise an 3’ (December 25, 1794). At this time Tourte lived on the rue du Roule while Marion was on the nearby rue de l’Arbre sec. The documentation on the preliminary hearing(s) and divorce proceedings was destroyed in the Paris fire of 1871, but it is easy to imagine that Tourte’s bigamy had come to light. Whether this was presented to officials regarding the divorce is impossible to know.

Divorce was legalized in France in 1792 and after about six years of marriage, Marie Jeanne Guillaume Marion and Nicolas Léonard Tourte were formally divorced… in 1794

Before long, however, Tourte and Marion were together again, and we find them renting an apartment in a building on the rue de l’Oratoire in 1795. It was here that their second daughter, Madeleine Jeannette, was born on November 13, 1796, though the baby was not baptized until January 3, 1807 at St.-Germain l’Auxerrois, religion having been suppressed from 1794. The couple seems to have remained mostly together until Nicolas Léonard’s death. Their third daughter, Mélanie Joséphine Eléonore, was born on September 12, 1803 and baptized at St. Eustache.

Marie Jeanne Guillaume Marion was probably quite helpful to Nicolas Léonard during his later years.  She was an intelligent woman who became important to an eminent Parisian engineer and may well have been instrumental in gaining entry for François Xavier Tourte into the quai de l’Ecole address he made famous, living and working there for many years.

[Tourte’s] death notice conspicuously omits the name of a wife or widow

Nicolas Léonard Tourte entered the Hospice Beaujon on August 19, 1807 and died there on September 10 of that year of a stomach infection. His death notice conspicuously omits the name of a wife or widow. In 1820, almost 13 years after Tourte’s death, Marion obtained, at her expense, an act legally re-ordering his given names back to Nicolas Léonard, as they had been of course entered as Léonard Nicolas in the documents recording their marriage, their daughters’ baptisms and Tourte’s death. Her reasons for this re-ordering remain an enigma.

Duane Rosengard and Paul Childs are conducting research for a book about François Xavier Tourte, due for publication in the next few years.

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