Flammermont’s Court Case

By Jim McKeague

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Marie-Anne Lenormand : portrait by Francois Dumont circa 1793

In an obituary of Marie-Anne Lenormand which appeared in the French paper L’Illustration (No. 19, Saturday, July 8, 1843) there is the following description of how a consultant was treated when attending for a reading:

Marie-Anne Lenormand had adopted a regular ceremony for all those who consulted her.  An old servant dressed in black showed the consultant into the antechamber, saying, “Mademoiselle is busy, please wait.”  This dilatory process, in use among doctors and lawyers, is to persuade the client that he or she is but one unit of a long queue.  After ten minutes, the old servant led you into an oblong study at the end of which the priestess sat, her brow shaded by a turban.

This old servant was Claude-Francois Flammermont, who met Marie-Anne about 1793-4 and fell deeply in love with her – perfectly understandable when we see Dumont’s portrait of her from about that time.  Although she is often described as overweight and repulsive in her old age, Marie-Anne when young was very beautiful.  Flammermont loved her and served her faithfully for the rest of her life.

Flammermont lent Marie-Anne money, 6,000 francs, and was never repaid in her lifetime; so he applied to her heir (her nephew Alexandre Hugo) who refused to recognize the debt.  Flammermont was forced to take him to court in 1844.  In this court case he was joined by a young man named Tribouil, a medical student who sometimes acted as a secretary to the prophetess and who claimed that he was owed 1,300 francs.

This court case was very interesting to the public, for it revealed previously unknown information about the fortune-teller and her business affairs.  The case was written up in detail in the legal publication, Gazette des Tribunaux.  The writing style suggests the story was put together in a rush by the journalist.  The report is valuable for the insights into Lenormand’s work and domestic arrangements given by the speeches of the advocate M. Chapon-Dabit (who was briefed by Flammermont) and the advocate M. Dejouy (who was briefed by Hugo).  This is material which is perhaps not completely untainted by Lenormand’s own publicity, but is less tainted than many other writings.  Here is the Gazette’s account translated into English:

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(From the Gazette des Tribunaux, issue dated May 9, 1844)


Civil Tribunal of the Seine (Chamber 4)

(Presidency of M. Salmon)

Hearing of 7th May

Estate of Miss Lenormand

Mr Chapon-Dabit, counsel for the plaintiffs, sets out the facts of the case:

Gentlemen, on the occasion of the two applications filed by Messrs. Flammermont and Tribouil, I will reveal some intimate details of the life of a woman long celebrated in a quite bizarre way, a woman whose name was surrounded by a credulous public with immense prestige, and whose reputation spread throughout Europe: Miss Lenormand.

Mr Flammermont claims against the estate a legacy of 700 francs as a life annuity, and a debt of 6,000 francs.  Difficulties arise with this latter claim: to appreciate, it is necessary to explain, in the past life of Miss Lenormand, a number of circumstances which furnish the origin and understanding of this debt; showing that Mr Flammermont was first a protector, then an intimate friend, and finally a devoted servant for fifty years of this woman, sharing both good and bad fortune.

In year 2 of the republic (1793-4), three people met in a lodging house in Paris.  First, a woman, Fontaine Gilbert, a card fortune-teller; then Mr Flammermont, a baker’s boy; and finally Miss Lenormand, a young seamstress of 22 years of age.

These three people united to form together a partnership which had the purpose of exploiting for their own profit the credulity of the public.  Mrs Fontaine Gilbert drew the cards; Mr Flammermont distributed the handbills, gathered the necessary information, and protected his two associates whose sex did not enable them to defend themselves; and Miss Lenormand, who had been a seamstress, became a young American predicting the future and reading with ease the books of fate.

A rather odd fact was the original cause of a friendship that would last fifty years between Miss Lenormand and Mr Flammermont.  A member of the Convention (politician) came to consult the partners on the fate that awaited him.  Miss Lenormand foretold that within three months he would ascend the scaffold (be guillotined).  It was a common fate at this wretched time.  The Convention member did not regard the prediction as unexpected, but neither was it comforting, and gloomily he waited for his destiny to be fulfilled.  Three months elapsed, and by chance, unexpectedly – unluckily for the prophetess – our Convention member preserved his head; but as soon as this painful term with death hanging over him had expired, he desired revenge for the worrisome days he owed Miss Lenormand.  He complained to the law and denounced the three associates, who were put in prison and brought before the criminal court, which pronounced the following judgement:

Extract from the records of hearings of the Police Criminal Court.

“From the collection of 18th of Floreal, Year 2 of the Republic (May 7, 1794),

There appeared before the Tribunal in this case, a prosecutor and the plaintiff, on the one hand;

Claude-Francois Flammermont, Louise Gilbert (Mrs Fontaine), and Marie-Adelaide Lenormand, accused of being fortune-tellers, defendants, on the other;

Considering the time of their detention, and usual leniency;

The court condemned the aforesaid Flammermont, Mrs Fontaine, and Lenormand, to a fine of 10 livres, jointly, with a prohibitive order against offending in future against the strict rule of the law;

And ordered that they be released immediately, and that their advertising handbills and their cards (or charts) that were found should be confiscated and burnt.

Delivered by me, Clerk of the Court,

DARTINVILLE, Clerk of Court

Recorded, f. 134, R.c. 3, received 10 francs.

Paris, 20 Floreal, year 2 of the Republic (May 9, 1794).”

Thus was sentenced in year 2, as an unfortunate bohemian, as a poor fortune-teller, the woman around whom a few years later were thronging all of the imperial aristocracy.

In year 2, confiscation was in force, and those who were fortunate enough to save their heads could hardly dare to reclaim their fortunes.  Miss Lenormand and Mr Flammermont were not rich when they were put in prison.  When they came out they were almost ruined.  Misfortune united them.  From that moment, a deep friendship which lasted throughout the life of Miss Lenormand, was established between Mr Flammermont and the prophetess with whom he had shared captivity – proven friendship, dedication that no suspicion can wither; for, Gentlemen, your ears as men of the world have probably heard, in the year since the death of our celebrated fortune-teller, physiology proclaimed this opinion, that Miss Lenormand, this modern prophetess, had always remained faithful to the worship of this belief of ancient priestesses, who thought that the gods only opened the eyes of a virgin to the tables of the future.

From 1793 to 1798 Miss Lenormand owed her existence to the care of the baker boy; and there was even between them at this time a plan to marry which came to nothing.  Meanwhile the stormy times of our revolution passed, and calm returned; the reputation of the prophetess was already established, and the confidence which this inspired had given her a certain ease (comfort, affluence).  It was in 1799 that she came to live in the Rue de Tournon, in the Luxembourg section, in a house that was then numbered 1153, and since then has been renumbered 9 on the same street.  Mr Flammermont followed her and continued to serve with zeal and devotion.  He was her agent and her friend.  The bad days were gone, never to return.  In 1808 a tailor’s memoir tells that men’s clothes were provided to Miss Lenormand and Mr Flammermont, and more two years later.  In 1812 Miss Lenormand bought a property at Migneaux, department of Seine-et-Oise.

The financial life of Miss Lenormand, even for her closest friends, has always been beyond understanding.  Thus, at this time, although she received many visitors, although she made a lot of money, she was always embarrassed (constrained, in want), always borrowing.  Her furniture was never completely present around the house; a part was always deposited at Mont-de-Piete (the pawnbrokers).  This was an almost constant habit throughout her life, so much so that at her death there were found among the papers of her estate recognitions of debt to the amount of 6,000 francs.  With this habitual disorder, it is easy to understand that she lacked the money when it came time to pay for the property she had acquired.  This was indeed what happened.

At that time (1814), Mr Flammermont, who was already no longer a prospective husband, but a devoted friend, subject to all the wishes (whims, caprices) of Miss Lenormand, received the inheritance of his father, sold up all of it, and placed the resultant 6,000 francs in the hands of his old friend to help pay the price of her acquisition.  That is the origin of the claim that is the subject of this case.

This claim is proven by two strange securities today crossed out and overwritten in the margin, endorsements which affect the value.  Everything is written in the same hand by Miss Lenormand.  We will have to examine and explain the state in which these securities are today.  Moreover, we have to say that the interest on this sum, which was never paid, would have served for two years.

In 1819, the loaned capital had not been repaid.  The old friend was able to wait, and indeed, we say, Flammermont, who from the first was the protector of Miss Lenormand, had naturally benefited from the rise of this woman, and had turned into the old servant.

The debt not having been paid, the securities needed to be verified (renewed).  Flammermont took these old securities to Miss Lenormand who promised to renew them.  However, despite this promise, Miss Lenormand retained these securities for several years, promising sometimes to renew, sometimes to repay, but not hurrying to do what she promised.  Acting in this manner ensured that Miss Lenormand had a control that she was not sorry to have.  In vain Flammermont complained and reminded her of her promises without being able to obtain anything; and finally after several years, and for the sake of peace, Miss Lenormand returned to Mr Flammermont the securities he had entrusted to her, but in the state in which we have them today, that is to say, overlaid with writings some of which extinguish the debt, and others which impose upon the heir of Miss Lenormand the obligation to pay Mr Flammermont an annuity of 1,600 francs, without prejudice to any benefits she could make him subsequently in her will.

Upon receiving his entitlement papers thus cancelled, Mr Flammermont did not conceal his displeasure: a very lively discussion broke out between the two old friends; the creditor even left the debtor for some time to go and live at Migneaux.  However, what could he do?  Flammermont was old by then; he had no other resource.  Should he quit the house in which he had lived so long in order to take legal action against a person with whom he had shared his life?  At his age, in his position, it was difficult to take such a decision, so he gave in and continued to live in Miss Lenormand’s house.  This can be explained by the fact that his usual state of awkwardness (constraint) did not allow him to break free, whereas she was resolute.

However, years passed and Miss Lenormand’s conscience was not at ease.  She had contracted two debts to her friend, one of money and one of gratitude.  You will see how she discharged the one and the other:

On April 1, 1842, in a deed written in her hand, she recognized her debt to Mr Flammermont of a sum of 6,000 francs.  Having prepared this document, she did not deliver it, in fact, to her creditor, who could have used it immediately.  This betrays the domineering character she always kept in her relationship with Flammermont.  She put this acknowledgement in a small, locked casket (money box) and locked this in her desk, which is where it was found after her death, separate from all other papers.  If this fact is disputed, we offer proof of it.

Miss Lenormand thought that this acknowledgement would be given after her death to Mr Flammermont.  Indeed, in the month of April 1843, when her health was already shaky, one day, lying in the bed she would never leave, and seeing her old friend sad and worried about his future, to reassure him she revealed the existence of this document, and in the presence of her doctor she charged especially the trusted woman, the lady Alouix, to see to this when she was no more.  This is a fact that we also offer to prove. 

Some days later the state of Miss Lenormand had become more serious.  She left the Rue de Tournon, and her bed was transported to No. 5, Rue de la Sante.  The illness took on a more alarming character, and on June 23, 1843, two days before her death, a notary was called to make her will, in which, amongst other provisions, she bequeathed to her old Flammermont an annuity of 700 francs, and instructed the notary and Mr Tribouil, her secretary, to burn those papers that did not need to be revealed (literally, that ought not to see the light of day).

After the death of Miss Lenormand, the seals were affixed to her home in the Rue de Tournon.  Madame Alouix, who was then at the Rue de la Sante with her mistress, could not deliver the acknowledgement document that is the subject of the proceedings of Mr Flammermont, as she had been instructed by Miss Lenormand.  Upon the removal of the seals and the making of an inventory, the document was found in the casket and was filed; but the heir, the nephew of Miss Lenormand, refused to pay the debt of his aunt.  It is therefore this acknowledgement  document that we have to explain.

After the uncovering of the facts, the counsel for Messrs. Flammermont and Tribouil examines the document which is the subject of these proceedings.  He sees it as a new proof of the debt of Miss Lenormand, and as enforceable against her estate.  Although it was found in the papers of the debtor, he argues that Article 1282 of the Civil Code cannot be invoked against it.  The special structure of the deed in question, its particular form, the respective position of the master and the servant, everything, he says, is remote from the application of this article.  Then, passing to another line of thought, he sees in this acknowledgement a true compensatory provision; it has all the characteristics of a will; the terms in which she designed it, the particular place where it was deposited, the casket placed in the desk of the deceased, the existence of a subsequent will announced by this deed, everything indicates in the mind of the testatrix, it was to be dealt with after her death.  Finally, in any event, this document should be considered prima facie evidence in writing qualifying, pursuant to Articles 1282 and 1382 of the Civil Code, as proof of the facts articulated by Mr Flammermont.  Then, after having supported the line of reasoning of Toullier and consulted Mr Berryer, Mr Chapon-Dabit makes known the request of Mr Tribouil, the secretary of Miss Lenormand, claiming against the estate a sum of 1,300 francs for appointments resulting from the death.

Mr Dejouy, counsel for Mr Hugo, the heir of Miss Lenormand, then speaks in these terms:

 Gentlemen, before entering into the discussion of the facts of this case, it is necessary to let you know in a few words something of the private life and companions of Miss Lenormand.  The principal person in this house was the lady Alouix; this fact is mentioned in the will.  Miss Lenormand was constantly occupied receiving those whom she called her clients, and in drafting their horoscopes, and left to the lady Alouix the general running of the house.  As a result, this woman had taken on the huge empire of her mistress, and had come to dine at the same table.  She unsealed her letters, and finally it was through her eyes Miss Lenormand seemed to see everything going on outside the affairs of her profession.  This woman formed, with Mr Tribouil and Mr Flammermont, the staff of the household.  There existed between these three people an intimate relationship which the death of Miss Lenormand did not interrupt, for they are still in the same house in the Rue d’Enfer.  I speak here of Miss Alouix to explain how her influence was able to react to all provisions Miss Lenormand could make for Mr Flammermont.

As for the latter, only two words on how he …. (several words illegible) …. Lenormand, and the position he occupied in it. 

At the time of the revolution, when Paris was under the terrible and most severe of laws, Mr Flammermont was a baker boy.  Miss Lenormand succeeded in inspiring enough interest that he rendered her a service that we do not understand the importance of in reference to this terrible time: it was he who avoided queuing at the door of his master, the local baker, and provided bread secretly.  It was also roughly about the same time that he underwent with Miss Lenormand and Mrs Gilbert the punishment already told to you.  It is unnecessary to explain here how Miss Lenormand became a necromancer, not by human compassion but at the solicitation of Mrs Gilbert, who, having noticed the ease with which the young girl seemed to guess the characters of individuals by their physiognomy (facial and bodily features), sought to exploit this for profit, making it seem so in their salons, where she received all the politicians of the time.

Miss Lenormand always held the deepest gratitude towards Mr Flammermont for the persecution he suffered because of her, and the service I mentioned earlier.  Thenceforth she was attached to him at the time of her success; she admitted him to her house, employed him to run errands and to collect the information necessary for her profession; and for all this, having him share her table and paying his rent.  She even sought and obtained for him a place as employee in a tobacco factory.  Therefore, it was not that he wasted his time that he devoted to her then.  Later, when his age prevented him from staying in that place, he became a sort of introducer in the house of Miss Lenormand; he was there as more than a servant, but not there as a friend.  It was he who had the special task of receiving the people who came to consult Miss Lenormand, make them wait in the lounge, and introduce them into the sanctuary of the new Sibyl.  Such were the connections of Miss Lenormand with Mr Flammermont.  She always considered him just like a man in her service; as a result it was the constant intention of the mistress to ensure the livelihood of her servant, but nothing more.  However, she often varied the provisions she wanted to make in his favour.  Thus, in 1820, by the acts which have been read out to you, she showed a willingness to give him an annuity of 500 francs; in 1842, when Mr Flammermont was 20 years older, she no longer wanted to give him the fixed sum of 6,000 francs; on the contrary, whatever may have been said, she did not carry out this plan.  Finally, by her will of 1843, she bequeathed him an annuity of 700 francs.  These adversaries do not want to adhere to this last gift; but taking one of these plans as a reality, they prefer to give it the appearance of a real obligation requiring payment.  This leads me to consider the document of 1842, which is the main subject of the proceedings.

Here Mr Dejouy examines whether this document can be seen as an obligation, a will, or a gift “entre-vifs” (between living persons); he points out to the Tribunal that Mr Flammermont himself admits that he did not pay the sum of 6,000 francs in 1842, but the funds had been provided by him in 1816; and, citing references of reimbursement set in the margins of deeds under private signatures prepared in 1816, and the physical condition of these documents, cancelled by Miss Lenormand, he argues that Mr Flammermont was repaid the obligation of 1816 even before 1820; that therefore we cannot revive it in order to give an appearance of reality to the act of 1842.  Hence he concludes that this act cannot be considered an obligation based on serious grounds.

And let no one say, says the lawyer, that in 1820 Miss Lenormand was unable to repay what she had borrowed in 1816 from Mr Flammermont; because at this time, having returned from Belgium where she had suffered a long detention for meddling in politics, fortune seemed to smile again.  The Bourbons had returned to France, and she herself revived her heartfelt attachment to Louis XVI.  This singular woman had risked her life to enter the prison of Marie-Antoinette, in an attempt to save her, and she had shared the captivity of the first families of the time; so the descendants of these families, supporters of the new government, returned to the temple to consult the oracle, to ask her about happy days, and what they should hope for or fear.

Then returning to the examination of the 1842 deed, counsel for Mr Hugo argues that if we should consider it as a serious obligation, its retention by Miss Lenormand formed proof of release, in accordance with Article 1282 of the Civil Code.

He further claims that this deed does not have the character of a will, since Miss Lenormand wrote it in such terms as though it were out of her hands to pass into those of Mr Flammermont, that the latter could demand, even during his lifetime, payment of 6,000 francs which she recognized she owed.

As to the question whether it is a gift “entre-vifs,” it is still maintained that this deed would be void because it is not secured with the formalities required by law.  In the presence of the legacy of the annuity of 700 francs, it is impossible to consider it as a remunerative gift.  It is therefore a proposal which cannot be the foundation of any sort of obligation, and which is not even the beginning of the written evidence necessary to order the enquiry requested by our adversaries.

Coming finally to discuss the request made by Mr Tribouil, Mr Dejouy argues that this claim is a veritable act of ingratitude on the part of the applicant.  Miss Lenormand was born in Alencon, and was raised in the same convent as her grandmother, who was an intimate friend of his mother.  After misfortune came to the family of Mr Tribouil, touched by the sad situation of those she loved, she welcomed into her home their child as her adoptive son, and provided the means to embrace the profession of physician, by providing lodgings, food, and even paying his registration at the School of Medicine.  Besides, on what grounds does Mr Tribouil make this claim?  As secretary of Miss Lenormand; but what evidence is there that he acted in such a capacity?  Where are the documents written in his hand?  We have the Memoirs of Miss Lenormand, part at least, because we are searching for what has disappeared.  If Mr Tribouil had been Miss Lenormand’s secretary, obviously it would be he who would have written them: well, is it so?  No.  They are written by Miss Lenormand herself.  The request of Mr Tribouil is therefore not justified.

The Tribunal, after hearing Mr Lafeuillade, lawyer of the King, in his conclusions favourable to the heir of Miss Lenormand, and after a long deliberation, stated that there was division of opinion, and put off the case for 15 days when it will be argued again.


That is all the Gazette des Tribunaux tells us about the case.  But the decision of the Tribunal can be found in the English press, which was also greatly interested in this court case.  In the English newspaper, Hereford Times, of June 1, 1844, there is an abridged version of the same story which ends:

The other suit was founded by M. Tribouil, who claimed a large arrear of salary for having acted for many years as the secretary of the deceased.  But as it was proved that Mlle. Lenormand from an early intimacy with his mother and grandmother, had taken him from his childhood, maintained and educated him, and obtained his admission as a physician, and as he could not show any engagement on her part, to allow him any specific remuneration for his services, the Court dismissed his claim with costs.  M. Flammermont’s case is decided in his favour, ordering the executor to pay him the 6,000 francs, with interest from the death of Mlle. Lenormand; and also the annuity, together with his costs of suit.


It would seem likely that Monsieur Tribouil could not show any secretarial work that he had done for the prophetess because his work was of a secretive nature, the mysterious work which is kept out of sight by professional fortune-tellers.  Notice above that the sibyl on her deathbed ordered him to destroy “those papers that ought not to see the light of day,” probably information on clients, etc.

Monsieur Tribouil is met with again in the story of the “Edinburgh Letters” which is elsewhere on this website.  In Edinburgh his name was spelled “Triboul” and he was suspected of illicit secretarial work in that affair as well.

© Jim McKeague 2014





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