François Noel de Prigent commenced his military career at a very early age and obtained his Company when only nineteen, was promoted Colonel and aide-de-camp to Louis XVI when twenty-eight or thereabouts. He also served for many years as aide-de-camp to Louis XVIII prior to his accession to the throne of France.
He was created Chevalier (Knight) of L'Ordre Royal et Militaire de St. Louis on the 15th of May, 1799 in recognition of repeated acts of bravery and daring, when employed in the special service of importance and extreme danger, referred to below.
In addition to fighting for many years in Bretagne and La Vendée, his special service to the Royalist cause of France was the task of the personal conveyance of a long correspondence extending from 1790 to 1808 (the date of his death), between the Royalist leaders in France, to and from the British Government.
He undertook this dangerous and difficult commission voluntarily and never received any pecuniary recompense whatsoever, defraying his personal expenses from his own privte fortune, which he entirely devoted to further the Bourbon cause.
Speaking both languages (French and English) with equal fluency and possessed in a very exceptional degree with remarkable fertility of resource and an unshakable cool nerve, he successfully passed through the Republican and Napoleonic lines twenty-seven times, principally between Paris and London and vice versa (passing many times through the Republican guards at the gates of Paris) travelling alone by various routes, but chiefly via Normandy and Britanny, every inch of the coast being familiar to him.
He carried out these enterprises alone, adopting from time to time French and English uniforms (the latter he was specially entitled to wear) and various other disguises of almost any character to enable him to effect his purpose undetected; and, as a heavy price had for many years been placed on his head, first by the Republic and afterwards by Napoleon, to hide his well known personality.
All the despatches, with which he was entrusted, were safely delivered except on one occasion, when having crossed from England in a small open boat, he was overhauled by a French war vessel, when nearing an unfrequented part of the coast of Normandy. Knowing that escape was quite impossible, he sank his despatches -- was taken prisoner -- would say ... nothing -- and was sentenced to death, but while in prison, and under sentence of death, he ingeniously contrived to transmit to the Commander-in-Chief of the French Royalist Army the following written message:
"Je serai fidele àla mort comme je l'ai été pendant ma vie: nos enemis ne sauront rien. Vive le Roi!"
It is reputed that many of his exploits formed the basis on which Baroness Orczy wrote The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel. [Note from Ian Greene: Baroness Orczy visited Paris for several months in 1900. She had decided to write a novel, and was searching for the right subject. She became fascinated by the exhibits about the French Revolution that were on display that year because of the Paris Exhibition, and she decided to write a novel about the plight of the aristocrats during the revolution and the escape of some of them to England. Although she does not mention de Prigent in her autobiography, it is likely that she was inspired by what she learned while in Paris of his adventures smuggling the aristocrats to England. When she presented the idea for her novel to a publisher in London, she was told that a novel about a French hero would not do well in England, and so she decided to make the hero of her novel into an Englishman.]
There are dozens of documents about the exploits of François Noel de Prigent that my sisters and I have donated to the Archives at York University in Toronto. (Those interested in viewing these documents should contact Michael Moir, University Archivist (email@example.com or 416-5442). Here are links to several of the documents:
Appointment of de
Prigent to the Order of St. Louis by Charles Philippe, 1799 in Edinborough
Certificate of safe passage for de Prigent from British Commander in Chief of Jersey (Craig), 1793
Certificate of safe passage for de Prigent from British Commander in Chief of Jersey (Balcarres), 1794
Letter from lawyer to daughter of de Prigent, 1816, regarding Thierry inheritance: p. 1, p. 2, p. 3, p. 4 .
One of the aristocrats saved by de Prigent was the Count de Puisaye,
who was a good friend of de Prigent. After it became apparent that
the French Revolution would not soon end, de Puisaye devised an elaborate
plan to have the French refugees in England start settlements in Canada.
De Puisaye and about 30 settlers travelled to what is now Ontario in 1798
and 1799, and started settlements at Niagara-on-the-Lake and Richmond Hill.
An account of de Puisaye's settlement can be found at the Niagara
Historical Society and Museum. He house that de Puisaye built
has been preserved and can be found about three miles from Niagara-on-the-Lake
near an historical marker. An account of the Richmond Hill settlement
can be found at the Richmond
Hill Public Library.