The knight with the sentence

The era is prodigious. Not only does life, loved ones and friends shower us with amazing stories, just waiting to be turned into chronicles, but now the machines are getting started. The other day I left a meeting in the rue d’Assas in Paris. The street is long, I didn’t know where exactly is the metro station I wanted to reach. Today we no longer bother with city maps, our pocket computers know everything about everything. On the keyboard of mine, I typed “Rue d’Assas”. And I saw the streets of Assas in Dijon, Amiens, Chamalières, Clermont-Ferrand, avenues of Assas in Montpellier, Teyran, Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, squares of Assas in Nîmes, in Vigan. There were a lot of tributes to a name (a celebrity? a place? an event?) that I knew nothing about.

The following days, people around me were surprised that I had never heard of the Chevalier d’Assas. By way of honorable amends, I would have liked, by evoking his life here, to give him in turn a tip of the hat. But we will see that it is not so simple.

This very handsome boy, according to the statues, medals, engravings and prints bearing his effigy, will have lived only twenty-seven years. He was born in 1733 in Vigan, from an old Languedoc family where one was a soldier from father to son. In 1746, at the age of 13, he entered the Auvergne regiment as a hunter. He will participate in this unit in the two wars of Austrian Succession and Seven Years. (The era is magnificent – ​​our era: in one click you can access the complete history of the Auvergne regiment online, from its creation in 1597 until its transformation in 1791 into the 17and infantry regiment, with its successive denominations, all the wars, campaigns and battles in which it took part, the names of its officers, its heroes, its dead, and even the description of the uniform at different times of its existence).

The young Louis d’Assas studied at the siege of Tournai, at the Battle of Fontenoy. When the Seven Years’ War began in 1756, he was 23 years old. He is first of all for a few months in Lower Normandy where the English are eagerly awaited. Then the course of the war took him to Germany. 1757, 1758, 1759, 1760, battles of Minden, Hanover, Closterseven, Hammelspring, Krefeld, Minden again, Korbach, Marienhagen: there are victories, there are reverses. In mid-October 1760, the Auvergne regiment was near Kamp Abbey. The Battle of Clostercamp took place here, the scene of the end of Louis d’Assas and the beginning of his glory.

The battle is a success for France and a disaster for the Auvergne regiment, which loses eight hundred soldiers, several dozen officers, its colonel, its lieutenant-colonel. Of the company of chasseurs, of which the Chevalier d’Assas was second captain, only seven soldiers and their captain survived. Louis d’Assas is mortally wounded, we don’t really know where or how. So much for the facts. But the story is already on. (…) With a dull noise, suddenly, his ear is struck. / Fearing some surprise, he takes his steps there. /He asks: Who lives? We don’t answer him. / Intrepid, he advances…immediately he is stopped…/ If you speak, you die: but his response is ready… /Auvergne, it’s up to me to shoot, it’s the Enemies. / He dies victorious, the camp is not surprised. » (1)

Some of those who were on the spot may say that the person who pronounced the heroic sentence was not from Assas but a corporal named Dubois, the dying man himself may – it is said – repeat before expire “Children, it was not me who shouted, it was Dubois”, we can’t stop the legend. Louis d’Assas became a model. Later, memorialists (including Rochambeau, the colonel of the regiment of Auvergne in 1760) will try to rehabilitate Dubois, in vain.

It is that Voltaire confirmed the heroism of the knight in 1769, in the second edition of his Accurate of the century of Louis XV. In the first edition, he said nothing about it. It seems that, reading this book, a former comrade in arms of Louis d’Assas wrote to the author to inform him of his comrade’s noble conduct. Voltaire had the episode added to the second edition of his Precisespoke of it to the Duc de Choiseul, solicited from the King a pension for the family.

Never among historians was agreement. Some continued to cry usurpation. The others loved the beautiful story of the Chevalier d’Assas so much that they defended his memory. However monuments, books, prints honored him, warships, streets, and squares immortalized his name.


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