Jail Breaks Latude Escapes the Bastille Part 1

About the famous jail break of Jean Henry Latude, history of the French prison escape.


Latude Escapes the Bastille--1756

It is one of the anomalies of history that the scatterbrained ambitions of a young provincial army officer should help to bring on the great French Revolution and lead to the absolute destruction of the very fortress into which his foolishness had cast him for 35 years of pitiless imprisonment.

For this, in essence, is the story of Jean Henry Latude, who was just 25 when he conceived a scheme to gain favor with the shrewd and vengeful Marquise de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, a woman who used her absolute influence over a weak monarch to virtually rule France for two decades.

Latude, son of a marquis from the town of Martagnac, planned to dupe Madame de Pompadour into granting him favor and high position by informing her of an "assassination plot." Since it all revolved around a packet of "poison" (actually a harmless powder) which the young officer had addressed and mailed to her. He was easily found out and thrown--without indictment or trial--into the infamous Bastille, a Parisian political prison which had come to symbolize Bourbon tyranny.

Supposedly escapeproof, the main building of the Bastille was an eight-towered stone fortress completed in 1369, with walls 6 ft. thick and over 150 ft. high. It was surrounded by an outer wall and a moat 25 ft. wide.

As Latude recalled in his Memoirs, it would be necessary for his escape to obtain "1,400 ft. of cord, two ladders, one of wood, from 20 to 30 ft. in length and another of rope 180 ft.; to remove four iron bars from the chimney of the cell and to bore a hole in one night through a wall many feet thick, at a distance of only 15 ft. from a sentinel.

"It was necessary to create these articles I have mentioned to accomplish our escape, and we had no resource but our own hands. It was necessary to conceal the wooden and the rope ladder of 250 steps, a foot long and an inch thick, and several other prohibited particulars, in a prisoner's room; though the officers, accompanied by the turnkey, paid us a visit many times a week, and honored our persons with a strict examination."

All of these preparations were accomplished in a most ingenious manner, and on accomplished in a most ingenious manner, and on Feb. 25, 1756--after seven years' incarceration--Latude and fellow prisoner D'Alegre were prepared to escape the grim fortress-prison under cover of darkness.

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