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
- Points of interest
1 The context
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
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...
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
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
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.
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
8 Other arrests
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
10 The torchlit procession
11 The investigation
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
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
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
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
17 The Douai trial
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
Yet, Moneuse knew the chances were slim.
19 The cleaver
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.
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.”
22 Moneuse is not dead
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