Moneuse route: the fall of a bandit, the birth of a legend - Quévy

Historic at Quévy

4.7 km
Walking/pedestrian
1h
Medium
4.7 km
Touring cyclist
30min
Medium
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  • This route takes you in the footsteps of Antoine-Joseph Moneuse, the famous bandit and Captain of the Chauffeurs du Nord (heater uppers from the North of France and Belgium).

    Here we will focus on this character’s downfall, from his arrest at Quévy-le-Petit through his sentences in Mons and Douai up to his execution on 18 June 1798.

    But Moneuse’s story doesn’t stop at his death. It is only beginning thanks to popular legend. Here we will focus on the festival in Beria, a local folklore largely inspired by Moneuse, which takes place every year in Quévy-le-Petit.

    Have a good walk and watch out... Bandits are about.

    The route follows that of the Beria one, created by not-for-profit organisation Petit Kévy with the support of Hauts-Pays natural park. Marker points and information signs are in place.

    Route created and put together by Hauts-Pays natural park

    Illustrations Claude Renard
  • Difference in height
    38.22 m
  • Documentation
    GPX / KML files allow you to export the trail of your hike to your GPS (or other navigation tool)
Points of interest
1 The context
It was in troubled times that events unfolded. The borders were diluted according to the victories and defeats of the French and Austrian soldiers. After the French Revolution (1789), Belgium went to Austria (1793) before going to France (1794). This was a period of famine during which the people were restless and justice was meted out in a summary manner.

It is in this context that gangs of bandits prevailed in the region. One of them caused a particular stir: the Chauffeurs du Nord (Northern Heaters). It is said they had the habit of burning the feet of their victims to make them confess where they hid their possessions. Rumour has it that a certain Antoine-Joseph Moneuse was their leader.
2 Joseph-Antoine Moneuse
But who really is Antoine-Joseph Moneuse? A miller’s son born in Marly in 1768 and raised in Saint-Vaast, he arrived in the region in January 1794 where he settled as a grain and livestock dealer. His business was flourishing, which couldn’t fail to provoke jealousy in this context of widespread poverty.

Of a playful and extroverted nature, he is also said to be a womaniser. One thing is certain: the man certainly aroused curiosity. As acts of robbery multiplied, this curiosity would soon turn into suspicion. When men are guided by fear, rumours spread like wildfire. What if Moneuse was this famous bandit nicknamed “Mendeck”? And what if he was the captain of the Chauffeurs du Nord?

Since his arrival in 1794, his name has been systematically cited in the criminal cases that affected the region, without any credible evidence being demonstrated. Among the most striking cases are the attack of the merchant Léon Lagroux between Audregnies and Élouges, the Houlette massacre in Roisin (he was found not guilty), the pillage of the Ferme Populaire in Wasmes, and the attack on the collector of Belle-Vue in Dour or that of Rombies windmill...
3 Accusation
The justice system was overwhelmed. Unable to stem the epidemic of crimes that hit the region, they therefore relied on the rumour mill. In 1795, Judge Harmegnies had done his utmost to indict Moneuse for the Houlette massacre at Roisin. In vain. Due to lack of evidence and a botched investigation, he’d been forced to declare him not guilty.

Since then, two arrest warrants were issued against Moneuse. Then in February 1797, a mysterious anonymous report put policemen on the trail. Some say the report come from Madeleine Colin, widow of Guillaume Gérin, brother of Nicolas and Félix Gérin, both allegedly accomplices of Moneuse. She is not believed to have supported the idea that Moneuse had a relationship with her daughter. Here is her statement:

“In the municipality of Quévy-le-Petit, retreating bandits have long brought terror to the country who, despite the activity of officers, non-commissioned officers and policemen who have made frequent unsuccessful patrols in the canton’s various municipalities, had never been captured.”
4 The origins of the Béria festival
In the nearby courtyard, a bonfire is prepared here every first Monday of September during the traditional Béria festival. Feel free to read the information panel.

Alain Michel, from not-for-profit organisation “Petit Kévy”, has been actively involved in this event since he was 16 years old. He is also behind this walk’s route.

In the audio extract provided, he explains to you the origins of the festival and the legend. As you’ll see, Moneuse isn’t far away.
5 The cavalry are coming
Judge Carbonaro went in person to the constabulary barracks in Mons. Immediately, a detachment of the gendarmerie led by Lieutenant Martin headed off towards Quévy-le-Petit.

Their mission was to locate and arrest Moneuse and any of his cronies. They knew they couldn’t make a mistake. On site, they interrogated several people, without ever naming Moneuse so as not to alert him. According to the information collected, they held the view that their man was at the bistro run by Joseph Allard.
6 Arrest
On 11 February 1797, Lieutenant Martin and his men arrived near the Allard bistro they surrounded to observe the goings-on there. A few hours later, the order was given to go inside.

The front door opened. Lieutenant Martin entered first. Moneuse was indeed seated at a table, playing cards with his lieutenant, Nicolas-Joseph from Ciply, Alexandre Buisseret from Frameries, and Allard, the manager. To the policemen’s surprise, Moneuse and his men didn’t put up a resistance when they arrested them. They knew that day was coming. Perhaps they secretly hoped it would...
7 Béria’s tune
All good folklore has its songs and Béria is no exception. In the audio commentary provided, Alain Michel talks about Béria’s tune before leaving room for music.
8 Other arrests
Moneuse, Nicolas-Joseph Gérin, Alexandre Buisseret and Allard were imprisoned in Asquillies prison. Two arrests would soon follow. Suspected of complicity, Félix Gérain, Nicolas’s brother, and François Ciriez joined them under lock and key.

The day after the arrest, magistrate Carbonaro questioned Moneuse. He denied his charges. The magistrate then transferred the defendants to Mons prison so the investigation could begin.
9 The people breathe easy
News of Moneuse’s arrest was spreading rapidly through the region, where it was greeted with great relief. Naively perhaps, the people believed that this heralded the end of insecurity, famine and misery. In March 1797, bonfires illuminated the sky.
10 The torchlit procession
In addition to the information panel devoted to the torchlit procession, explore some pictures of this Béria festival magical moment when the crowds draw near to the bonfire, torch in hand.
11 The investigation
The investigation would last almost a year. Carbonaro ordered searches. These were fruitless. So he appealed to all nearby magistrates to provide him with information. He didn’t receive much in response. The investigation was going nowhere.

Five months later, the presiding judge of the grand jury, Mr Perlau, finally brought in Moneuse. He still hadn’t been entitled to contact a lawyer. Moneuse denied his charges again and asked to call a witness: Caroline Dubuisson, a victim in the attack on Ferme Populaire by a gang of bandits in Wasmes, on 3 December 1795.

This would never happen. Worse still, the Populaire case was withdrawn from the charges. Why? Ultimately, the defendants were thus not confronted with any witnesses, just the public accusation.

The indictment included 19 counts. These were misdemeanours including petty theft and four more serious cases including the attack on the collector from Belle-Vue in Dour.
12 A crucial choice
With the indictment drafted, the judgement could begin. The defendants had the choice of being tried before the criminal court of Jemappes or before that of Douai. For Moneuse, the choice was obvious. It was crucial to leave the Mons region, its particular climate and the judges’ spite towards him. The four men therefore logically chose Douai.

However, against all odds, Allard changed his mind. He chose to stay in Mons. Judge Perlau then organised a draw to apportion the votes. Allard took the draw... and won. Jemappes’ name resonated in Moneuse’s head like an early death sentence.
13 The Mons trial
It was thus in Mons that Moneuse’s trial and that of his alleged accomplices began. The people came from afar to see the famous bandit. Mons’s square swarmed with a blood-thirsty, vindictive mob.

The various witnesses failed to bring much information. They wavered, failing to formally recognise Moneuse. It was then that the court took a disturbing direction. It decided to read the testimony of Auguste Clicq, a servant who witnessed the attack on the notary Lehon in Pommeroeul. The only problem was that Clicq was deceased and his statement therefore no longer carried any legal value.

A few days later, the sentence was handed down. Ciriez and Allard were acquitted. Moneuse took this as a sign of treason. After all, it was Allard who decided the venue of the ruling. Would this be his reward?

Buisseret was sentenced to 14 years in prison, and Félix Gérin 6 years. Moneuse and Nicolas Gérin were sentenced to death.

The variation in the severity of sentences (from acquittal to death) was surprising given the men supposedly belonged to the same gang. It should be recalled that they were not charged with any murders. An example must be set. Outside, the crowd applauded.
14 Béria’s sentence
Just like Moneuse, Béria is sentenced every year at the festival. Alain Michel explains to you what he is accused of during this ritual in the audio commentary provided.
15 Appeal
As a last resort, Moneuse appealed in cassation. He intended to rely on the testimony of the deceased Clicq. Once written, the request was sent to Paris. It only remained to stay hopeful. Two months later, the sentence was overturned. Moneuse could finally be tried in Douai as he wished.

On 8 February 1798, the four men were thus transferred. While being transported, Félix Gérin and Buisseret disappeared mysteriously. Moneuse and Nicolas Gérin would have to face justice alone.
16 When Moneuse invites himself to the Béria festival
During Béria festival, Moneuse comes back to life in the form of a character. In the audio commentary provided, Alain Michel mentions an episode of the 2007 festival, at Petit Cambrai castle. An information panel is also available if you want to learn more on this site.
17 The Douai trial
Four months after their departure from Mons, after an investigation that was soon wrapped up, the Douai trial began. Many (often exculpatory) witnesses were set aside. The two defendants then requested that the proceedings be adjourned in the absence of witnesses. The court ignored their petition.

Very quickly, Moneuse and Gérin yielded to the evidence. They were reliving the Mons trial.

When the verdict arrived on 8 June 1798, it is not surprising that Moneuse and Gérin were sentenced to death a second time.
18 New appeal
The verdict arrived. A desperate Moneuse tried everything. He appealed once again. He denounced the arbitrary replacement of a juror, the age of a judge and above all the fact the defence witnesses couldn’t testify.

Yet, Moneuse knew the chances were slim.
19 The cleaver
On the morning of 18 June 1798, 10 days after their sentence, Moneuse and Gérin were taken to the scaffold. This period is extremely short, given the fact that there was an appeal. For justice, a conclusion was needed.

The crowd came en masse to Douai market square to witness the final chapter of this character who had unleased uproar. The two men were placed on the guillotine, wearing a red shirt reserved for assassins and poisoners. It is said they didn’t say a single word.

At thirteen minutes past four in the afternoon, the cleaver fell.
20 Irony
On 16 August 1798, the Palais de Justice (courthouse) of Paris delivered its verdict on the appeal introduced by Moneuse. But the justice system didn’t wait for their decision. From his grave, Moneuse must have found himself smiling at the irony of the situation.

Here is the transcription of the rejected appeal:

“In the hearing of the criminal division of the court of cassation, held at the Palais de Justice of Paris, on 29th Thermidor, Year VI of the French Republic, one and indivisible. On the request of Nicolas Gérin and Antoine-Joseph Moneuse in appeal against the sentence handed down by the Criminal Court of the North department, on the 20th Prairial, Year VI,” having heard the report of citizen Chupiet, commissioned by an order of the 25th Messidor, and Halvin, deputy public prosecutor of the executive branch in his requisitions; “For the different pleas criticised by said Moneuse and Gérin, considering;” 1. That the juror who replaced whoever was absent on the day of the discussion session was drawn by lot pursuant to the law, and that the defendant in no way appealed against the replacement;” 2. That the judges in no way contravened Article 357 of the Code of Offenses and Penalties because the defendants had plenty of time and were not prevented from giving a full hearing to all defendant witnesses whose cases they claimed to have heard;” 3. That the military had the right to be judged by military councils or commissions only for military offences and by military crimes committed by them by dint of their military service;” 4. That no evidence demonstrated that one of the judges was not of the age required by law;” 5. That the appointed Applaincourt, brother-in-law of Moneuse, one of the defendants, was not really heard as a witness in the proceedings, as is observed in the minutes of the sittings, and that Article 358 does not prohibit the hearing of a defendant’s uncle, hence there is no contradiction thereto in said Article;” 6. That finally the other pleas only concern the merits and not the form and rules of the procedure, that on the other hand the indictment was drawn up as prescribed by the law, that the procedure was lawful and the sentence fairly applied;” the Court rejects the appeal of the said Moneuse and Gérin.”
21 Scarecrows
As you can read on the information panel nearby, from 15 August strange scarecrows appear throughout the village of Quévy-le-Petit. Discover why through the audio commentary by Alain Michel.
22 Moneuse is not dead
Moneuse remains strongly rooted in popular culture as evidenced by the Béria festival. Books have been written (including ‘Antoine-Joseph Moneuse, Aventures de paille et d’ortie’ by Yves Vasseur and Claude Renard who served as a reference for these walks), as well as a play by Roland Thibeau of Roulotte Théâtrale theatre group, and exhibitions and other shows created (the Grand Ouest Mons 2015 of the municipalities of Quiévrain and Honnelles is dedicated to him). The expression “frank as Moneuse” is still used to speak of an unruly child.

While his character fascinates, we know little about him apart from the legal acts. But in view of this justice system’s many failings, we can honestly ask ourselves if he really was this bandit, leader of the Chauffeurs du Nord. It’s unlikely that Moneuse is totally innocent of all he is accused of. Is he guilty of everything, however? The mystery remains unsolved and we’ll withhold our judgment.
38 meters of difference in height
  • Start altitude : 104 m
  • End altitude : 104 m
  • Maximum altitude : 109 m
  • Minimum altitude : 90 m
  • Total positive elevation : 38 m
  • Total negative elevation : -38 m
  • Max positive elevation : 13 m
  • Min positive elevation : -9 m
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