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The Constance's tower as a prison

vue resserrée de la herse en bois de la tour de Constance

After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Aigues-Mortes transformed the Constance's tower into a prison for Huguenots.

Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

In 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in the name of the ancient principle of cuins regio eius religio (translated as "like king, like religion", in other words, the entire people must follow the religion professed by their prince).

Henceforth, Protestants had no right of residence in the kingdom, and were required to leave French soil, giving up their possessions or abjuring their faith. Failure to comply with the King's order could result inimprisonment.

As early as 1686, the first Protestants captured in the region were locked up in the Constance's tower, but also in other towers and city gates.

In most cases, these prisoners were only in transit through the city. The sturdy men were destined to supply the king's galleys with arms, and were quickly taken to Toulon. The young women were destined for the colonies, where they were forced to marry good Catholic settlers. The rest were taken to the prisons of Montpellier, Nîmes and Fort Brescou.

Photo de la tour de Constance depuis la porte ouverte du pont dormant
Tour de Constance

© Philippe Berthé / Centre des monuments nationaux

Living conditions

Until the early 18th century, women were incarcerated in the lower room, considered more sanitary, and men on the second floor. They were allowed out onto the terrace for fresh air. Prisoners were reduced to the king's bread and straw, and had access to water from the well. For the rest, they had to rely on their own work, their own resources or assistance from outside sources.

Living conditions are particularly difficult, and many people die in these gaols, either from the various epidemics that can develop there, or from malnutrition and other ill-treatment. Many cases of insanity are recorded (the sick are then returned to their families), as are cases of blindness, caused by the lack of light.

There were also four births in the tower (all before the mothers were arrested). Marie Durand's correspondence sheds light on the living conditions of these women.

Salle haute de la tour de Constance, dite salle des prisonnières
Salle haute de la tour de Constance, dite salle des prisonnières

© David Bordes

The liberations

In January 1767, the Prince de Beauveau, who had been governor of Languedoc for 20 years and was then presiding over the Estates in Montpellier, arrived in Aigues-Mortes to meet the prisoners. Contrary to the legend passed on by his nephew, Chevalier de Boufflers, not all fourteen women were released immediately.

In fact, only eleven women remained, two of whom were released on January 11. One of the prisoners died in June. The Prince de Beauvau acted against Florentin, Louis XV's main minister, and could therefore only proceed on a case-by-case basis.

On July 14, 1768, Marie Durand and Marie Vey were released and returned to Bouschet de Pranles (where Marie died in September 1776, aged 65). Five women remained in the tower, two of whom were never released. On October 28, a new prisoner is freed.

Finally, on December 27, Marie Roux and Suzanne Pagès, the last female prisoners, leave the Tour de Constance, which will no longer house any religious prisoners.

vue de l’escalier depuis le palier du 2ème étage de la tour de Constance
escalier tour de Constance - palier 2ème étage

© Philippe Berthé / Centre des monuments nationaux

REGISTER and graffiti

A world-famous graffiti, REGISTER (resist in Occitan), a kind of injunction engraved in stone by Marie Durand, who stood up against royal intolerance to preach resistance to her fellow sufferers.

Resisting the temptation of freedom too: an opportunity to leave the Tower was offered to the Tower's prisoners, but it had to come at a high price: abjuration. All they had to do was join the Catholic community and renounce their Protestant faith in order to return to their homes and families. It seemed a tempting proposition. But there were few candidates for this form of betrayal: of most of the women who entered the tower around 1730, there were only eight abjurations between 1735 and 1743.

Other Huguenot graffiti can be seen on the vault of the gun chamber. Protestant names are preceded by a capital W (perhaps a reference to the omega in the verse "Je suis l'alpha et l'oméga, le début et la fin", with the Protestant obviously at the end). The phrase "et sa metresse" is sometimes used.

Remember that until the Edict of Toleration promulgated by Louis XVI in 1787, Protestants were deprived of civil status, and marriages contracted in the desert were not recognized by law. Protestant couples were considered as concubines and not as legitimate spouses. The graffiti may therefore date back to the time when men were held captive on the second floor of the tower, while their wives occupied the lower room. We also know that such couples, and even entire families, were incarcerated in this tower.

Gravure REGISTER sur la margelle de l’oculus de la salle des prisonnières dans la Tours de Constance
Gravure REGISTER sur la margelle de l’oculus de la salle des prisonnières (Tours de Constance)

© Romain Veillon / Centre des monuments nationaux

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