The terrible death of marshal Brune in Avignon

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Brune dragged in the river Rhône (H. Martin, 1867) - ©The British Library / Public domain Brune dragged in the river Rhône (H. Martin, 1867) - ©The British Library / Public domain
Place Crillon Street District Homicide Tragic destiny Marshal Brune

A quiet square

The place Crillon was called, in the past, place de l’Oulle, from the old medieval gate, the porte de l’Oulle, destroyed in the 19th century. This old city fortified gate was named after the oulles market, which stood here. Oulle? A patois word which referred to "pots" made in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon!

Oh, look at that, on a corner of the square: the façade of the old theatre, raised in 1732 by Parisian architect Thomas Lainée. But when they inaugurated the new theatre on the place de l’Horloge in 1824, the old theatre was closed...

Oh, come on now! In front of the theatre, here’s the old Palais-Royal city house, the current hôtel d’Europe. Bonaparte slept here in 1798, and they murdered French marshal Brune in 1815...

Marshal Brune’s ending

A young marshal

Guillaume Brune, young son of a lawyer, went in Paris to be a printer. He became a general in 1793, fighting with Napoleon in Italy in 1797. But Brune always remained a born republican... the Emperor didn’t like this sympathy!

In spite of his victories in Italy, Napoleon dismissed Brune from his duties until 1814. Ooo, the little Napoleon was very upset! Brune was even the rare Empire marshals who didn’t receive a letter patent of nobility...

Napoleon called him back after his exile in Elba island, when he came back to France, until his exile in Saint-Helena. But Bourbons came back on the throne... And Brune, as he went back to Paris, was murdered by Royalists in Avignon. In the hotel of the place Crillon!


Let’s see the course of events: on August 2th, Brune arrived at the hotel, at 11AM. He wanted to eat something. The square was the liveliest one in Avignon, it was swarming! And yet, an old royalist officer recognized Brune.

The rumour went quickly: Brune was in Avignon! A man started to shout: "He killed the princess de Lamballe!" Another one said: "Some told that he shown her head on a pike around Paris"... Royalists were upset. The square was full of angry people!

Man jumped on roofs of the neighbour houses, others took weapons and guns. There was trouble ahead... Brune’s carriage left the square but a huge crowd started to throw him stones. Forced to do a U-turn, Brune came back in his hotel room and locked the door, waiting for the end of the riot.

But the crowd wanted Brune’s life! The city mayor tried to calm them down. In vain... the assault began! They ran by the hotel windows, knocked Brune’s door down... and one of them shot... Brune fell, he was deadly wounded. It was 2PM, and his death agony lasted 4 hours.

Lost in the water

Outside, people were talking, talking... What happened in that bloody room? As an answer, they heard that the marshal committed suicide!

Even the report said that. And yet, royalists started to sing another song: Un ange subtil Mit dans le fusil L'excellente prune Qui tua le maréchal Brune, which means "An angel put the excellent shot in the riffle that killed marshal Brune"...

They put his body on a stretcher and sent him at the hospital, waiting for the burial. But a crowd of royalists diverted it on St-Bénezet bridge. There, they throw the corpse in the river Rhône, while they wrote on the bridge: "Here’s marshal Brune’s cemetery..."

The poor Brune drifted 4 days in the water, followed on the bank by a hysterical crowd. Real madness... Finally, Brune ended somewhere between Arles and Tarascon. Someone buried him, at the risk of getting caught.

And Brune’s widow will only know the exact location of the body in 1817. Worst, the crime stayed unpunished until 1821: they condemned 2 men for the murder. One of these guys died before the execution...

And also!