Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A Stitched Plea from the Bastille 1700

There was an unfortunate tendency in the past to class stitched items which can easily be framed (and gainfully sold) as samplers. Some important and poignant items are in this way glimpsed with the preconception that they are a trivial exercise of some sort; not the prolongation of the silent scream they once were. The Elizabeth Parker so called sampler in the V&A is one of this class. There is also a sampler in a private collection stitched by someone describing their symptoms of schizophrenia. Another example is in Carrow House in Norwich which can best be described as a stitched blog by a woman in prison who, whenever she ran out of fabric upon which to stitch her daily misery and complaints, would beg and patch more fabric until she had a roll that was 13 feet long, or more (an additional fragment which had been used as a pot holder turned up in a junk shop!). While admiring a wonderful French blog - of which more tomorrow, I came across this example from the Bibliotheque National in Paris (Mss. fr. 8123, f. 126) and I obtained permission from the BNF to share it with you. It was stitched in 1700 by Maillefer, the Prior of Valsecret, using silk unpicked from his black scarf. Imprisoned in a tower in the Bastille in Paris, where he has been taken suddenly and by surprise, he is desperately trying to get his protest of innocence and whereabouts known to officials who he believes can save him. He stands accused by a fellow priest of trying to poison the king and of sodomy. Accompanying this item in the archives is a letter reporting the confiscation of this 'never-seen way of writing on cloth'. So, Maillefer's protest never made it out of prison. My thanks to Paule Motton for aid with the translations. First the stitched cloth:
There are ten gold Louis for whomever makes it known to Monseigneur Du Vaux auditor of accounts (note: cases were tried in the Parisian Court of Finances) who lives in the rue de la Tuandrie that the Prior of Valsecret Maillefer is imprisoned in a tower of the Bastille without access to Mass and Sacraments and in a very sorry state he is innocent and he must ask the Commissioner or make plea to the Monseigneur the Chancellor who knows about the affair or even to the Marshall D'Argenson who is in charge the Prevost de la Coste arrested him and he fears it was all made by surprise. The order (of imprisonment) was dated January 13th and signed by Phelippeau. Keep the secret. May 24th.

And here is the text of the report:
Monseigneur, when we visited the prisoners, we found (in the cell of) the priest of the 'prémontré' (name of a catholic monastic order) the present never-seen new way of writing on cloth. He used the silk of a black scarf he had brought with him. As I find him a bit too inventive in finding ways of making known he is here, I hope you'll not find it bad if I...


  1. What an extraordinary and moving document! Thanks for showing it (and to BNF for permission).

  2. How fascinating! Thank-you Paule for your translation! Thank-you Jacqueline for such a wonderful blog!

    -Holly in Virginia

  3. I love this blog the best ever! what increcilbe research you must do. I love that it opens us up to so much more than what we thought we signed on for. thank you a thousand times!

  4. Nothing less than fascinating. I feel like I am surrounded by all the things I love when I come here. Your blog is the best! Thank you.