Complaints about Arrest

Men detained for sodomy or at least solicitation for sodomy in eighteenth-century Paris reacted in a variety of ways. Most of the sodomites entrapped or captured in public spaces surrendered, but some resisted by trying to flee the scene, bribe the guards, or rouse a crowd. Many answered questions about their activities and acquaintances, but others gave false names or colorful excuses. The comte de Murcé, infantry colonel, insisted that “it is the first time he has been seized by the desire to commit this crime, which he himself knows to be abominable” (AB 10255, f. 329v). Jean Jacques Grelet, married for three years, declared that he “had done the thing only to see if it were true that there are folks ready to commit the actions for which he had been arrested because he had heard them discussed by various people” (AB 10256, f. 270v). Nicolas Denise, 30-35, lackey, maintained that he had been accosted by “several people” and that he “had wished to feel out the one he was with” (AB 10255, f. 344v), to what end? These men acknowledged inconsistency and curiosity but not criminality. A few men complained vociferously and persistently about their arrests. The cases outlined in the following paragraphs involved officers Simonnet and Haimier, who delivered so many sodomites to prison in the 1720s and 1730s.

Fleury vs. Simonnet (AB 10778, ff. 61-81)

According to police records Louis Fleury, 35, single, ready for a good time, accosted a decoy and then a young man in the Tuileries on the night of Saturday, 19 June 1723. On the way to a tavern he told them that he had been “debauched and turned to this taste” in Lyon, by a young man from Paris, and that he had enjoyed himself in both cities. When they passed the For-l’Evêque, Simonnet arrested and imprisoned Fleury.

A barrister named Fabry, friend of Fleury, contacted lieutenant general d’Argenson at his behest and on his behalf. He described Fleury as a bourgeois de Lyon with a wife, eleven children, and an impeccable reputation. Fabry made three main points in his letter. First, he disbelieved that anyone with an “abominable inclination” could have concealed it for forty years. Next, he suggested that the sister of a man who had left his fortune to Fleury bribed someone to charge him with “the desire to commit a despicable crime.” Last but not least, he emphasized that the prisoner was “accused only of a desire alone.” In other words, he challenged the accusation, offered an explanation, and questioned the imprisonment. He highlighted the gap between intention and commission as a weakness in the rationale for arrests in public spaces.

After Fabry secured his release Fleury wished to make a formal complaint. Three other commissaires rejected his request because they did not want to implicate Simonnet, but François Desance recorded his statement.[1]

On 26 June 1723, in the afternoon, appeared before us, François Desance, royal councilor, commissaire of the Châtelet of Paris, M. Louis de Fleury, bourgeois of the city of Lyon, usually living there, currently in Paris, lodging on rue de l’Arbre sec, who filed a complaint with us. He said that having come to this city two weeks or so ago, in pursuance of several family affairs, on Saturday the 19th of this month, he went to take a walk in the Tuileries and was curious to watch the swivel bridge[2] close, which obliged him to remain until about 9 to 10 pm. While he was busy studying the machinery that made the bridge turn, two men unknown to him approached him and, after they addressed several remarks to him that decency does not allow to be stated, as far as asking him, the deponent, questions about sodomisty and telling him they were in erection. They offered him supper, which he refused and prepared to return to his place on the rue de l’Arbre sec. The two men wished to accompany him, in spite of him, which they did, on the pretext of leading him to his place by the shortest route. They had him walk the length of the quai du Louvre and the quai de l’Ecole and enter rue Saint-Germain de l’Auxerrois, where, across from the For-l’Evêque, they seized him and made him enter the Fort-l’Evêque prison. One of them, whom he later learned is named Simonnet, exempt, committed him, and then he had him put in a cell in the prison, where he remained for a week, with all possible severity, without seeing daylight, unable to talk to anyone. When, however, several friends of the plaintiff who knew him to be a man of probity, in business, with a family in Lyon, surprised by the mistreatment that the plaintiff suffered and by Simonnet’s conduct, took all the measures necessary to secure him his liberty. Yesterday about 9 pm Simonnet came to release him from his cell, but he did not wish to set him free unless he signed a statement that he presented to him, without letting him read it. He, the plaintiff, wishing to secure his liberty, signed the statement without knowing what it contained. Simonnet put it in his pocket and then released him, after making him pay the turnkey three livres and ten sols. As he has a stake in getting amends for the insult and everything done to him by Simonnet and the other man who had him detained without any reason and without subjecting him to interrogation, he appeared before us to file this complaint against Simonnet and the other man, requesting that the facts, circumstances, and the rest in the complaint be investigated. He requests a record of it and likewise of the declaration that he made here of taking legal action against the statement that Simonnet made him sign against his will while he was in prison, which record we gave him, to be used as thought proper, and signed.

After filing this complaint, Fleury repeated the specifics in a petition addressed to Attorney General Joly de Fleury, in which he reported that the two men in the Tuileries had “addressed several remarks to him, which propriety does not allow to be stated, as far as asking him questions about the crime that caused the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to be destroyed by fire.” [3] He used less explicit and less awkward (deliberately awkward in order to suggest that he knew nothing about such things?) language than in the complaint. He concluded this account of his adventures with these words: “After prolonged resistance, the love of liberty and the desire to leave a place as frightful at this one, whose name alone makes decent folks shudder, he found himself forced to sign this document, whose terms he does not know. He knows only that Simonnet told him to leave this city immediately.” The document in question contained the usual “promise not to frequent the public promenades of Paris and to return to his native region.” Fleury not only assured Joly de Fleury that “he would prefer death to a life stained with the mere suspicion of a crime as abominable as the one in question” but also informed him that “the petitioner is not the only one whom Simonnet has insulted in this way. The For-l’Evêque prison echoes with the pitiful cries of an infinity of unfortunates who groan in the cells against whom he has exercised similar violence and who are as innocent as the petitioner.”

When Simonnet, who routinely prodded d’Argenson to punish sodomites more rather than less strictly, learned that Fleury had complained, he complained in turn, about Fleury, Fabry, and Desance. As for Fleury, “if we wanted to render him all the justice he is due, we would subject him to a criminal trial” (for intention without commission!), imprison him “for a while,” or at least “exile him to his native region.” “If complaints by these sorts of folks are authorized in such cases, and if they are heeded,” he warned, “it will oblige me to abandon the work I have done only for the glory of God and the public, without regard to my own benefit,” for twenty-three years. Simonnet faulted the barrister for giving bad advice and the commissiare for taking the statement.[4]

D’Argenson concluded that “it is not appropriate to allow officials charged with royal orders to be compromised in their functions, especially in such cases.” After spending a month in Bicêtre, Fleury was exiled to Lyon in July.

Tuileries & swivel bridge

Hurel vs. Haimier (AB 11013, ff. 206-31v)

According to police records Alexandre Hurel, employed as a decoy by Simonnet, frequented the Tuileries, Haimier’s territory, and corrupted others through his “addresses and indecent postures” there. When Haimier’s men instructed him to leave, Hurel responded with insults and “dreadful curses” and declared that “all the magistrates would not prevent him from coming there.” Haimier knew that Simonnet had already consigned Hurel to Bicêtre “for promoting vice, although he was appointed only to help to destroy it.” Haimier himself had seen Hurel accost two young folks during mass, provoke them through “nasty postures,” and leave the church with them. The officer had the decoy arrested and conducted to Saint-Martin prison on 6 September 1728.

Released after ten days, Hurel sought “justice for the affront and insult” he had endured by filing a complaint with commissaire Parent on the 17th.[5] According to his version of events, four men (including one Raymond, called Dutrouleau) seized him while he was reading a book in the Tuileries, punched him, threatened to shoot him if he resisted, detained him for three hours, and finally conducted him, on Haimier’s orders but without explanation, to Saint-Martin, where he “suffered a great deal.”

In petitions addressed to minister of the Royal Household Maurepas and principal minister Fleury, Hurel, 30, married with children, jeweler, described his unjust arrest in 1728 as the result of his unjust arrest in 1726 and his service to the police.[6] According to Hurel, Haimier arrested him the first time by mistake and the second time because he had complained so loudly about that injustice. He claimed that Abbé Théru, who denounced so many sodomites, recruited him to name more, but he did not label himself a decoy or explain how he happened to know numerous “sodomists.” Dutrouleau, previously arrested for sodomy, employed as a decoy by Haimier, accosted Hurel while he was reading not just any old book but the New Testament. Dutrouleau asked “if he were not of the taste for a vice in fashion that is creeping among certain young folks.” Hurel reprimanded him for impertinence and subsequently reported him to Théru, who reported him to Simonnet.

In 1728, as in 1726, Hurel undertook legal proceedings against Haimier. In his second petition to Fleury, composed in Bicêtre, he lamented that someone in power had protected the officer and authorized his arrest, on 4 November. That someone was lieutenant general Hérault, who warned Maurepas that “if folks of his type are allowed to take legal action against officers appointed to execute royal orders in this matter, none will be able to carry them out.” At Hérault’s request, Théru visited Hurel “to make him listen to reason.” The prisoner promised to apologize in writing and to terminate his lawsuit. The dossier contains no contrite letters signed by Hurel, but it does include Hérault’s recommendation for his release. By way of postscript, almost twenty years later, agent Guillotte advised Hurel not to frequent the Tuileries, Hurel complained to lieutenant general Berryer, and Berryer vindicated Guillotte.

Judging from police records no eighteenth-century sodomite or pederast claimed the right to do as he pleased, when, where, and with whom he pleased, not in so many words. French citizens did not even gain that right, without qualification, during the Revolution. The database will allow us to locate and study complaints about arrest and assess the extent to which we can contextualize them in contemporary debates about liberty and tyranny. During the conflicts over religious, fiscal, and constitutional issues that spanned the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, critics of royal agents, including ministers and intendants as well as police, routinely accused them of abuse of power and arbitrary imprisonment. These officials and officers, unlike magistrates, exercised authority without judicial procedures. Did the regular exercise of sexual agency, in defiance of church and state, and the uncommon indictments of repression by men like Fleury and Hurel have a political edge, for them or just for us?[7] The author of an unsigned memo charged that agents who earned eighty livres per arrest “seized folks on the slightest suspicion and very often by mistake and in public” (AB 10895, f. 50). He warned that “this made a very bad impression in Paris,” not because it violated the rights of subjects but simply because it “made this debauchery known to the young, who did not fail to do likewise.” Arrests provoked concern because they victimized innocents or publicized deviance?


[1] François Desance, commissaire, 1723-31. Jean François Tourton, commissaire, 1697-1731, rebuffed Fleury.

[2] Over the ditch at the west end of the garden.

[3] Guillaume François Joly de Fleury (1675-1756), Attorney General in the Parlement of Paris, 1705-46.

[4] For Simonnet’s complaints about other complaints, see AB 10778, ff. 240-41; 11120, ff. 315-16.

[5] Charles Jacques Etienne Parent, commissaire, 1723-50,

[6] Jean Frédéric Phélypeaux de Maurepas (1701-81), minister of the Royal Household, 1718-48; André Hercule de Fleury (1653-1743), cardinal as of 1726, principal minister, 1726-43.

[7] For more complaints, see AB 10255, ff, 94-114; 10256, ff. 33-34, 106-19; 10257, ff. 371-72; 11110, ff. 83-101.


Author: Jeffrey Merrick