Men of Rank or Means

Under the Ancien Régime French subjects did not have equal rights derived from nature as individuals. They had different privileges confirmed by custom as members of multiple collectives (provinces, cities, orders, professions, guilds) that defined their legal and social status. Before the promulgation of the principle of equality before the law in 1789, police and judges treated men who had titles or money differently than men who did not, out of deference and in order to protect personal and corporate honor. When the police arrested men of rank or means (clergymen, noblemen, officials, professionals, or even dependents of such individuals) in public spaces, they usually released them on the spot, after they revealed their names and addresses, escorted them to the residence of the lieutenant general of police, or let them go with instructions to report to him the next day. We have no records of these private conversations, but archival documents include some details. Lieutenant general Hérault gave the marquis de Grave “a reprimand due to his vile turpitude” after his arrest in the Tuileries on 5 August 1727 (AB 10257, f. 44). Lieutenant general Lenoir ordered Mathurin Duprey Defage, 25, a priest from Toulouse who befriended known Parisian pederasts, to leave the capital at once (AN, Y13408, 30 March 1781).

As an example, the morals series in the Archives of the Bastille allows us to track one man of rank and means through public spaces in the 1730s and 1740s in some detail. Michel Marie Noël Amelot de Gournay (1713-86), son of Michel Charles Amelot de Gournay, président à mortier in the Parlement of Paris, and Marguerite Pélagie Danycan, followed his father into royal service as conseiller clerc in the Parlement (1736), maître des requêtes (1739), and président in the Grand Conseil (1742). He married Suzanne Adelaïde de Belloy relatively late in life, in 1752, after the episodes recounted in the following paragraphs.[1]

On 2 April 1733 Amelot, who lived with his mother on rue de Taranne, encountered a decoy who recognized him as an infâme who frequented the Tuileries more than the Luxembourg and noted that he had had a previous and similar encounter with the young man (AB 10257, f. 271).[2]

On the 13th Amelot propositioned a decoy at the Saint-Germain fair, led him to the Luxembourg and then to a tavern on rue d’Enfer, and made a rendezvous with him at 11 am the next Sunday in the Tuileries, which the decoy did not keep (AB 10257, f. 272).

On the 18th Amelot propositioned a young man in the Tuileries and made a rendezvous with him the next day, in the same place, at the same time (AB 10257, f. 267). After Amelot repeated his propositions, he was arrested and conducted before the lieutenant general, who released him.

Amelot must have continued his misconduct and received a request from Hérault’s office for a return visit. He replied on the 27th that he could not leave home (on rue de Jarente) without his mother’s permission and worried that any conversation with the lieutenant general could ruin him in her mind (AB 10257, f. 274). “I hope that Monsieur Hérault will be pleased to excuse me. I believe he is too prudent and discreet not to imagine how important this would be for me. I count enough on his kindness to flatter myself that he will be pleased to excuse me from it.” In polite but pointed language, the prominent magistrate’s son, who had exposed himself to a decoy, declined to obey in order to avoid exposure at home and clearly expected the lieutenant general to accept his reasons.

Amelot’s letter to Hérault

On 6 September 1734 Amelot propositioned a decoy in the Luxembourg, undid his own breeches, and invited the other man to penetrate him (AB 10258, ff. 267-74).[3] “I am a young man who will give you pleasure. Look, here is my rear end all exposed. Do it to me, I beg you, and if you don’t do it to me you’ll make me die.” He expressed anxiety about arrest but boasted, “I’d be pleased to meet a spy. I would have him arrested because M. Hérault is a friend of mine.”

On 10 December 1738 Amelot propositioned a decoy, who pleaded lack of time, in the street and made a rendezvous with him two days later at the same time, at a horse trough in rue de la Bûcherie (AB 10258, ff. 511-12). On the 12th Amelot suggested that they enjoy themselves by the river, and the man offered the same excuse. They made a rendezvous on the 15th at 6 pm in the Luxembourg, which the decoy did not keep.

On 16 August 1739 a decoy saw Amelot, now identified as a magistrate himself, accost and fondle a wigmaker’s assistant in the street. The young man called for the watch because “he doesn’t think like that.” Amelot later accosted and fondled the decoy, who declined to do anything because, as he put it, “I don’t think like that,” and walked away.

On 14 October 1739 Amelot, now living in cloître Notre Dame, tried and failed to attract a decoy in the street with comments and gestures, so he walked away (AB 10258, ff. 530-33). The decoy added this note to his report: “This is the ninth or tenth time that M. Amelot has tried to pick me up in the same way, but since he does not speak to me I let him go without speaking to him.” The first clause is instructive because it connects multiple encounters, and the second clause is confusing, since Amelot allegedly spoke on this occasion.

On 17 September 1748 Antoine Charpentier, sheath-maker, told officer Framboisier that he had committed “infamies” several times with Amelot’s servant Saint-Louis, who informed his master that Charpentier was “of the taste of the cuff” (AB 10259, f. 417).[4] The magistrate accosted the artisan on the quays on the night of 28 June 1747 and led him into a deserted street behind the collège Mazarin, where they masturbated each other and Charpentier penetrated Amelot.

On 26 July 1749 François Lepoivre, saddler’s assistant, told Framboisier that the cook who had debauched him procured him to several notables, including Amelot (AB 10260, f. 323v). They masturbated in a room that the magistrate rented on rue Christine.

On 19 September 1749, finally, a decoy rejected Amelot on the quays and saw him pick up “a young man” with whom he walked along the river (AB 10260, f. 368.)[5] It remains to be seen if the prisoners series in the Archives of the Bastille contains additional references to the resolute magistrate.[6]

The reports on Amelot constitute an episodic history rather than a continuous narrative of impunity enjoyed by one man of rank and means, but they make the point effectively. As far as we know he received just one warning or, at worst, rebuke in fifteen years. These documents remind us that more than a few confident notables prowled public spaces themselves, instead of employing the services of procurers, and that some willingly adopted the passive role, which sodomites did not stigmatize, any more than the police did. Amelot did not experience desire for and exploits with men as a “phase” that he outgrew as he aged and advanced in his career. His sexual history may well be unusual not because of his persistence and defiance but because of the extensive paper trail.


[1] His father, for example, married at the age of 29. I do not know if Amelot and Belloy had any children.

[2] A note, f. 273, that identifies this decoy as Fleury also connects Amelot with another decoy named Tirbert.

[3] According to the last line on the last page, officer Simonnet and agent Delajanière had observed Amelot in action.

[4] Amelot attended “an assembly of men of the cuff two days before.” AB 10259, f. 182.

[5] See also f. 323v.

[6] For more references to Amelot see AB 10259, f. 170v; 10260, f. 566v.


Author: Jeffrey Merrick