article | Reading time4 min
article | Reading time4 min
If the first prisoners in the Constance's tower were Templars, it's the imprisonment of Protestants for their faith that history has remembered.
The Constance's Tower is a place of remembrance for Protestants, and the town is part of the history of French Protestantism, from the Peace of Aigues-Mortes between Francis I and Emperor Charles V, to the liberation of the last prisoners in the tower in 1768.
In October 1560, a preacher, Hélie du Bosquet, was imprisoned in the tower along with some of his listeners. A few days later, they were hanged by order of Marshal Villars. They were the first Protestant prisoners in the tower.
In 1688, Paul Ragatz, a Swiss soldier, was incarcerated in the tower. Through the oculus, he conversed (probably singing psalms) with the women in the lower room. To stop these disturbances, the administration had the opening bricked up. This is undoubtedly the reason for the presence of the millstone
in the upper room, whose diameter corresponds to the notch in the oculus
Abraham Mazel and thirty-three Camisards under his command were captured in 1704 and thrown into the upper room. In July of the following year, thanks to the creation of a sharp tool (from a nail? a piece of door hardware?), Mazel and his men succeeded in loosening the lower stone of an archway (probably the east archway) in three days and three nights, then escaped using a rope made from their shirts.
Mazel and sixteen of his companions managed to escape before the rope broke, throwing a seventeenth man off the rope, who broke a limb on landing, raising the alarm.
The affair caused quite a stir: the king's lieutenant and the major of Aigues-Mortes were dismissed for misconduct. A guard was installed on the conch wall and gates were installed on the arches. From 1717, only women were incarcerated in the tower.
Marie Durand is undoubtedly the emblem of the Tower's captives. Originally from Bouschet de Pranles, in the Ardèche region, she was locked up at the age of 19, in 1730, while her father and husband, Matthieu Serres, were incarcerated at the Brescou fort, off the coast of Agde.
The reason: to secure the arrest of Pierre Durand, Marie's brother, a desert shepherd preaching revolt against the king's men. Pierre's pregnant wife was able to flee to Switzerland, and Pierre went into hiding in the Cévennes. He was arrested in 1732, summarily tried in Montpellier and executed.
Matthieu Serres remained locked up for 20 years, his father-in-law for 23 years, and Marie... 38 years. Throughout her captivity, Marie wrote to French and foreign authorities, trying to influence the king's policy towards Protestants. Some of this correspondence, followed by that with her niece - from 1751 onwards, who came to visit her for a whole month in July 1759 - and the lists of her fellow prisoners that she drew up on a more or less regular basis, have been preserved and published. It's a source of insight into the daily lives of these women.