Moneuse route: the Houlette massacre - Honnelles

Historic at Honnelles

9.8 km
Walking/pedestrian
2h
Medium
9.8 km
Touring cyclist
1h
Medium
  • This route takes you in the footsteps of Antoine-Joseph Moneuse, the famous bandit and Captain of the Chauffeurs du Nord.

    During this walk, you’ll relive this dark day of 22 November 1795. At that date, one of the most bloody events to have hit our region took place: the Houlette massacre.

    Moneuse was soon suspected of being the perpetrator of this heinous crime that killed nine people. But the truth is never simple ...

    Through the fields and paths of Roisin and Meaurain and the French village of La Flamangrie, you’ll have to cross the Franco-Belgian border several times where our region was torn between Austria and France, recalling a troubled period of history.

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

    Route created and put together by Hauts-Pays natural park

    Illustrations Claude Renard
  • Difference in height
    66.32 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 A troubled period
Our story, which is true, began on the 1st Frimaire of year IV. In our calendar, this date corresponds to 22 November 1795. But the Republican calendar was more timely than ever at this point. Indeed, the French Revolution (1789) took place, generating hope for change before giving way to a period of chaos under the Directory (1795-1799). Justice was meted out in a summary manner and the people were famished and malcontent. Taking advantage of this unstable environment, gangs of bandits hit the region.
2 Saint-Brice church
A church dedicated to Saint Brice existed in Roisin before 1841, in fact since the 7th century. Missing a ceiling, this building fell into ruin. It was demolished in 1841 and a new church was rebuilt in 1841-1842.

Inside, and to the left of the building, is the so-called ”du Château” chapel. Under it is a crypt where the bodies of the old lords of Roisin lay to rest.

In the centre of the small nave on the right is the chapel or the sanctuary of Saint Ghislain, protector of pregnant women and early childhood.

Sources: C. Debiève - http://users.skynet.be/cbou/roisin/eglise.htm
3 The vanished vineyard
You’re currently following the path of the vineyard. The reasons for this name are historical...

Towards the 600s, Roisin was only a part of the town of Meaurain (unlike today). Roisin was simply the land of grapes. Our country indeed had many vineyards at that time. This path crosses the area where this cultivation took place. It is still called “vineyard field”.

An old communal seal also represents the armours of Roisin surmounted by a helmet dominated by a monkey holding the lord’s banner in one hand, and a bunch of grapes in the other.

Another seal existed, with the letters DR in the centre and around the inscription “De Roisin vient le vin” (From Roisin comes wine). These two documents, of which we have a photo, prove that a vineyard existed in Roisin.

You can view the pictures of these seals.

Sources: C. Debiève - http://users.skynet.be/cbou/roisin/vignoble.htm
4 Saint Cécile
Let’s go back to this 22 November day in 1795. On that day, Saint Cécile, patron of musicians, was celebrated. In Hainaut and over in France, music resounded throughout the villages. People celebrated to forget hunger, poverty and insecurity.

Mr Gumez was a violinist from Roisin. That night, he played in Bry (nearby French municipality) with his sidekick called Godin. At the end of the evening, the latter suggested to Gumez that they stop by at Houlette hostel located on the border between the two villages for one last drink. So they were on their way to the inn run by Jean-Philippe Couez.

There the celebrations were in full swing. An orchestra assembled in front of the door were playing fiery tunes which people were dancing to inside. Couples were formed and unformed. People were drinking, laughing, forgetting the everyday grind. There were absolutely no apparent clues to the impending tragedy...
5 Night falls on Roisin
Shortly after nine o’clock, the mad evening ended. Our two musicians, Gumez and Godin, continued on their way. The first headed towards Roisin while the second set off towards France. On his way, Gumez crossed two lines of soldiers. Unless they were bandits ... A tax collector named Ribeaucourt later stated he also bumped into them. One of the men allegedly even asked him the way to Valenciennes.

Night fell on Roisin and death hovered over Houlette inn...
6 A macabre discovery
It was around 5.00 am when Antoine Libert, a tailor residing in the French border village of Eth, headed towards Roisin. Like every day, he passed the Houlette crossroads. He noticed the door was open. He drew nearer and cried: “Couez?” No answer... He decided to enter.

The room was in darkness, barely lit by the embers of the extinguished fire. In this nightmarish setting, he went on to make a horrible discovery.

He immediately rushed outside towards Roisin to raise the alarm. “It’s Moneuse!”

Moneuse ... No sooner were the corpses cold than the name was already dropped.

Meet at Houlette to discover the harsh toll of this terrible news item.
7 Houlette
It was in the walls of this seemingly ordinary house that the drama unfolded. Even today, this locality is fresh in everyone’s memory. The inscription “La Houlette” and the date “1782” written in wrought iron on the west facade can also be found. There’s no doubt we’re at the crime scene.

And what a heinous crime! The word massacre is more apt. Nine corpses would be found, bathed in their own blood. Men, women and children... no member of the Couez family escaped the murderers’ wrathful madness. Doctor Hubert Moreau also numbered among the victims.

Listen to the detailed report of the crime scene written by the surgeon using the audio file provided. (Voice: Roland Thibeau of Roulotte Théâtrale.)
8 Hearsay
Very quickly, a crowd of onlookers gathered in front of La Houlette. “It is said it’s Moneuse who did that”. The rumour mill was grinding. Since his arrival in the region in 1794, his name has been systematically cited in every criminal case. Antoine Joseph Moneuse, a miller’s son born in Marly and raised in Saint-Vaast. He is said to have led a gang of bandits named the “Chauffeurs du Nord”. It is said they would burn the feet of their victims to make them confess where their possessions were located. Much has been said...

In this case, another name quickly comes to mind: Trognon, first name Jean-Joseph. He was a fellow traveller of Moneuse. He lived in the French border village of Flamengrie. This is the next stage in this route.
9 The missing gun
The investigation was going nowhere. The investigators had no serious leads. A significant number of people had walked the crime scene. However, one detail was noted: the presence of a butt without a shotgun on the scene. The authorities acted on public hearsay and turned to possible gangs of bandits operating in the region.
10 Boundary marker
To the left of the route is a boundary marker. Dating from 1781, it’s one of the 65 markers at the time which delimited the border created between the French and the Austrians during the Treaty of Utrecht in 1714. Only twenty of them remain today.

Draw closer and spend some time observing it. On one side, it is printed with the three fleur-de-lis representing France, and on the other with the two-headed eagle representing Austria.
11 Trognon
A few days later, a lead mysteriously appeared. A stranger presented the mayor with a shotgun without a butt. It showed traces of blood and hair. The stranger claims he have found this shotgun in the stream you’re currently walking along, a stone’s throw from Trognon’s dwelling. This is where the police arrested Moneuse and his friend a few days later.
12 Boundary marker
Another boundary marker to the left of the road recalls the former Franco-Austrian border.
13 Towards the detention centre
The two men were escorted to Le Quesnoy to be placed at the disposal of Judge Contamine. He found the case file to be so thin that he sent it back to the magistrate of Bavay canton who, in turn, ultimately dismissed the case by having them brought before the magistrate of Thulin canton.

Moneuse and Trognon were brought to Mons detention centre on 3 December and the investigation began the next day.
14 Judge Harmegnies
Judge Harmegnies led the investigation. And he was absolutely determined to bring down both men. He seems to have made this his own responsibility.

However, after two weeks of incessant interrogations and visits to Houlette, he was still unable to lay a solid charge.

Moneuse said he had an alibi. On the day of the tragedy he was at Thulin, at his mistress’s. Two witnesses attested to this. A parish priest claimed he saw Moneuse in his parish that day. And then there’s the widow Gilmant (his mistress’s mother) who came to testify in Mons, stating that Moneuse was hunting duck in Thulin on the day of the crime and that he definitely spent the night at her place.
15 Saint-Amand former church
You’re currently in the small village of Meaurain. Until the heart of the Middle Ages, it was actually Roisin who depended on Meaurain. Then, the relationship reversed. Meaurain lost its independence but not its identity!

In front of you stands the former Saint-Amand church. Desecrated on 6 March 2006, it currently houses Honnelles’ cultural centre.

About the steeple, note that it houses a triptych probably dating from the 15th century, saved from the inevitable destruction of an older religious building following the ravages of 1789.
16 The missing gun
During the transfer of our two prisoners to Mons, the butt of the shotgun found at the scene of the crime mysteriously disappeared. A disturbing event because its association with the shotgun found in the stream could have mixed up the suspects (it would still have been necessary to prove that Trognon was the owner).

Is it just a coincidence? Did they realise that the two pieces didn’t fit together? Another detail: the surgeons’ report makes no mention of the use of the shotgun or the butt in their report.

The mystery thus deepened.
17 The law decides
After a prison sentence lasting several weeks, the verdict was given on 30 December 1795. Judge Harmegnies was finally forced to drop the charges against Moneuse, for lack of evidence.

Trognon remained in prison. He had already had dealings with the law beforehand and his statements occasionally lacked precision. He died mysteriously in his cell on 21 February 1796.

Moneuse was therefore a free man. At least for the moment ... because his life had many ups and downs and he would have to face justice in other cases.
18 The mystery still persists
The case was never resolved. Despite the fact that he was not found guilty of this crime, it is astonishing how far the Houlette case remains associated with Moneuse even today. This was the case for most of the misdeeds committed in the region at that time.

Ultimately, the mystery still persists and we’ll probably never know the truth.

Thank you for journeying on this themed route in the footsteps of Antoine-Joseph Moneuse.
66 meters of difference in height
  • Start altitude : 93 m
  • End altitude : 93 m
  • Maximum altitude : 118 m
  • Minimum altitude : 93 m
  • Total positive elevation : 66 m
  • Total negative elevation : -66 m
  • Max positive elevation : 13 m
  • Min positive elevation : -18 m
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  • Mooi

    Goede wandeling, leuk parcours. De begeleidende tekst is alleen in het Frans beschikbaar, dat was jammer. Maar goed te doen.

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