Jail Breaks Latude Escapes the Bastille Part 2

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


Latude Escapes the Bastille--1756

Latude removed the already loosened iron bars from the chimney of his cell and climbed up the chimney and onto a parapet at the very summit of the Bastille. D'Alegre then went up the rope ladder, which Latude had lowered for him, and the two prisoners moved their supplies (more than two horses could have carried, Latude tells us) to the parapet's edge. The longer rope ladder with wooden steps was 5 ft. high and 1 ft. thick and was wheeled like a "millstone on the tower of the treasury. . . ."

"We fastened this ladder securely to a piece of cannon," wrote Latude, "and then let it gently down into the trench. In the same manner, we fastened our block, passing through it the rope 360 ft. long. . . .I tied my thigh securely to the rope of the block, got on the ladder, and in proportion as I descended its steps, my comrade let out the rope of the block; but, notwithstanding this precaution, every time I moved my body resembled a kite dancing in the air, so that, had this happened by daylight, of a thousand persons who might have seen me reeling, not one but would have given me up for lost; yet I arrived safe in the trench."

D'Alegre followed, and the two men started to cut a hole through a thick outer wall while standing in a moat of ice-cold water up to their necks. All this while armed guards patrolled within 30 ft. of them.

"Before midnight," recalled Latude, "we had displaced two wheelbarrows of stones; and in three hours had made a breach in the wall, which is 4 1/2 ft. thick."

Now that they were outside the Bastille, Latude and D'Alegre "fell on [their] knees to thank God for the great mercy He had bestowed on [them]. . . ."

The two men took refuge in the Abbey of St. Germain-des-Pres, where they remained for nearly a moth. D'Alegre then left for Brussels, where he was apprehended; Latude, who was to meet him there, made his way to Amsterdam, but the Dutch police discerned his whereabouts, and he was soon back in custody.

Latude-despite two more unsuccessful escape attempts-was to remain imprisoned for 20 long years after Pompadour's death. He was finally released on Mar. 24, 1784, after his case had become a cause celebre among Parisians.

Five years later-on July 14, 1789 ("Bastille Day")-Latude was on hand to see a revolutionary mob seize the prison and level it with cannons and the fury of their bare hands.

The National Assembly granted Latude a pension (later withdrawn), and a court awarded indemnification against the heirs of the Marquise de Pompadour (of which Latude received only a sixth).

He died in 1805 at the age of 80, a man whose story of unjust imprisonment, escape, recapture, and years of unspeakable agony was totally eclipsed by the new glory of the Napoleonic Era.

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