The Edinburgh Letters

By Jim McKeague

The “Edinburgh Letters” are a collection of letters written by the fortune-teller Marie-Anne Lenormand to a friend and client, Alexander Humphrys-Alexander, who called himself the Earl of Stirling. The letters were found during a police raid on Humphrys-Alexander’s house in Edinburgh, Scotland, on February 14, 1839, when he was arrested on a charge of forgery. In order to understand the letters, we must tell the entire story of Humphrys-Alexander and his relations with Marie-Anne Lenormand. This astonishing true story is put together here from many books (mostly 19th century books) published about this famous case (see “References” at end).

BEGINNINGS OF A FRIENDSHIP

In 1812, Marie-Anne Lenormand met a young, newly-married girl, Fortunata, the only daughter of Giovanni Bartoletti of Naples. Fortunata had just married, on January 4, 1812, an English prisoner of war, 28 year old Alexander Humphrys. Young, vivacious, impressionable, Fortunata had her cards read of course, but she and Marie-Anne also became good friends. Soon the new husband was brought along to have his fortune told also by the celebrated seer.

Alexander and his father, William Humphrys, had come to France from England during the short peace of 1802. The father was a very successful merchant from Birmingham whose French business interests had been severely damaged during the wars between England and France, and he had brought his son to Paris in an attempt to salvage what they could of the family’s fortunes. But when hostilities broke out again, William and Alexander were imprisoned by Napoleon along with all the other English visitors in France. William died at Verdun in 1807. After his father’s death, Alexander was permitted to leave Verdun and live in Paris, but was still detained in France until 1814.

In 1812, when his new wife brought him along to see Marie-Anne Lenormand, Alexander was greatly impressed with the destiny predicted for him. There can be little doubt that Fortunata had let the prophetess know something of her husband’s background. Alexander’s mother, Hannah (nee Alexander), had said she was a descendant of Sir William Alexander, the First Earl of Stirling, who had received grants of vast tracts of land in Canada and the United States, and estates in Scotland, from the English Kings James I and Charles I in the 1620s and 1630s. Because the male heirs of the First Earl had died out in 1739 with the death of Henry, the Fifth Earl, Hannah believed that she was in the line of descent, and that her own son Alexander should rightfully be the next Earl of Stirling. But she warned Alexander there would be much trouble from the current possessors of the lands if ever he tried to claim his inheritance.

Mademoiselle Lenormand told the newly-married Alexander that he would suffer many setbacks, trials and tribulations, but that he would eventually succeed in attaining great honours and great wealth. It was a brilliant fortune predicted for him, and with his mother’s words ringing in his ears, the enthusiasm of his young wife, and the reputation of the prophetess, Alexander believed it. [1]

When peace returned after the Battle of Waterloo, Alexander returned to England with his new family (the couple now had two young boys). His mother Hannah had died only weeks before his return. The Humphrys’ business was destroyed, and the affluence Alexander had enjoyed as a youth was gone with it. Alexander was forced to take a position, firstly as assistant and afterwards as headmaster, of a school called Netherton House at Worcester.

But the impoverished schoolmaster clung to his belief in the sibyl’s prophecy, and set the wheels in motion to lay claim to his inheritance. Together with a rather unprincipled genealogist named Thomas Christopher Banks, he began putting together the paperwork to prove his descent from the First Earl and his right to the title.

THE NINTH EARL OF STIRLING

His first step was to apply for a royal licence to assume his mother’s surname, Alexander, in addition to his own, and this was granted in March 1824 when his name became Alexander Humphrys-Alexander (he did not use the hyphen, but it is included here for clarity).

Then in a series of legal manoeuvres he had himself declared heir-male to his mother (in February 1826), heir-in-general to the First Earl of Stirling (in October 1830), and finally, at Edinburgh Castle, heir-in-special to the First Earl in his possessions in North America (July 1831). The original Royal Charters in favour of the First Earl of Stirling had stipulated that inheritance was to be through heirs-male. Humphrys-Alexander, who claimed descent through his mother, could not have inherited. But he alleged that there was also a later Charter, a “Royal Charter of Novadamus” of December 7, 1639, in which King Charles I was said to have altered the conditions of inheritance to allow heirs-female to take up the peerage and the grants of lands. The original of this Charter was said to have been stolen from the family years before, so it could not be produced, but an “Excerpt” or abridged copy of it was mysteriously posted by some anonymous person to the genealogist Banks when he was seeking information and documents to support all these claims.

All of these legal moves were costly, and Humphrys-Alexander raised money by offering bonds at a discount, accepting for example loans totalling £13,000 on a promise to return £50,000 after he was fully in possession of his inheritance. His legal claims had raised considerable interest throughout Britain, and also in Europe and America, and although the newspapers made considerable fun of him, he had much public sympathy for his cause and readily found speculators willing to bank on his possible success. So although in late 1829 he was in severe want, by such means he raised considerable sums of money and by mid-1830 was living luxuriously in London, complete with a carriage and horses, and calling himself the Ninth Earl of Stirling. Then, as soon as he was pronounced heir-in-special to the First Earl with regard to the possessions in Canada and the U.S., Humphrys-Alexander began offering land for sale there – a million acres of land!

Through all these years Marie-Anne Lenormand was not forgotten. Correspondence still flowed across the English Channel between Lord and Lady Stirling and the Parisian seer. A letter dated May 3, 1828 from Humphrys-Alexander to the genealogist Banks shows his utter belief in Lenormand. He writes:

We were no less pleased to hear that my first letter had reached you safely, and, as we thought it would, had astonished and gratified you by its own communication of the display made at this crisis by our Parisian friend, of her wonderful powers. [2]

But the Ninth Earl had opponents to his schemes. He sought title not only to lands in Canada and the U.S., but also in Scotland, for the old 17th century Royal Charters had granted to the First Earl the Scottish estates of Gartmore, Tullibody, Tillicoultry and Menstrie. Their current possessors showed fight, and so did authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. Notices appeared in Britain and America warning potential investors that the Ninth Earl’s title to the lands offered for sale was not recognized anywhere by officialdom outside of Scotland.

As well, suspicion arose regarding some of the documents Humphrys-Alexander had presented in making his claims. In December 1836 it was decided at Edinburgh that Humphrys-Alexander had not proved his descent from the First Earl. Two links in the chain of descent were not satisfactorily documented. As well, although earlier Charters of the 1620s and 1630s were genuine, the “Excerpt” of the Charter of Novadamus of 1639 was suspect. The Ninth Earl was stripped of his titles. His whole fantasy of wealth collapsed before his eyes.

THE MAP OF CANADA

Immediately, he left Britain with a false passport and travelled to Paris under an assumed name. From late December 1836 to August 1837 he remained in Paris, in regular contact with Mademoiselle Lenormand.  Beaubis, the porter at 5 Rue de Tournon, was later to give evidence that Humphrys-Alexander visited her there for about two hours almost every night around that period – “in winter and in summer,” said Beaubis.

Humphrys-Alexander denied this constant contact, and would never reveal what name he used on his passport during this visit to France. What he did claim was that Marie-Anne Lenormand asked him to visit her on July 12, 1837, and showed him an ancient map of Canada with inscriptions on the back. She claimed it had been left in her office the day before by two well-dressed ladies who had come to her to have their fortunes told. She did not know their names. The packet containing the map also contained an anonymous letter saying that the sender held a high position which made it necessary to withhold his or her identity, that he or she owed Mlle Lenormand a great obligation for past services, and understanding she was greatly interested in Lord Stirling’s affairs, hoped the map would be useful. The letter had a postscript which read:

I confide this packet to trustworthy persons. They will go to consult you; do not be surprised to find it on some table or chair in your study. [3]

This old map of Canada could never be traced back to any previous holder before coming into the possession of Marie-Anne Lenormand. It was an incredible document. The map itself was a production of the celebrated geographer and map-maker, Guillaume DeLisle (the name is spelled in various ways), and bore the date 1703. On the back were various hand-written notes, some on the paper itself, and some on paper glued to the map’s back. And – wonder of wonders! – these notes just happened to supply the information required to verify the defective and suspicious documents which Humphrys-Alexander had previously tendered in Scotland to advance his claims. The writings were signed by some unknown and some very well-known figures of the past, including Esprit Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, whose signature was dated June 3, 1707; and Francois Fenelon, Archbishop of Cambray, whose signature was dated October 16, 1707. Another unsigned note of four lines was in the well-known handwriting of King Louis XV.

The handwriting and signatures of these three celebrated Frenchmen of more than a century before could easily be verified by experts in France, so in August 1837 this was arranged by Mlle Lenormand. Two highly respected authorities (M. Daunou, Keeper of the Archives, and M. Villenave, Member of the Institute) added their signatures on the back of the map, verifying the writings as genuine.

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Fig. 1.  DeLisle’s 1703 Chart of Canada. Even today, copies of this chart are sought after by collectors.

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Fig. 2. A 19th century facsimile of the writings on the back of the chart handed over by Lenormand. The four lines in the top right corner were said to be in the handwriting of King Louis XV. The dark writing just below it is Villenave’s attestation that the king’s handwriting is genuine.

While all this was going on in France, another incredible set of documents turned up in England. Said to be some of the family documents stolen many years before, these were handed in, once again anonymously, to a business with which Humphrys-Alexander had dealings, with the request they be passed on to him. Like the writings on the map of Canada, these papers just happened to supply some needed information which the pronouncements of the Edinburgh court in December 1836 had said was lacking; and these documents and the writings on the back of the map of Canada agreed with and supported each other.

OFFICIAL ENQUIRIES

The Officers of State in Scotland smelt a rat. Enquiries were made in France. Marie-Anne Lenormand was called in to the Prefecture of Police and questioned on how she obtained the map. British investigators also questioned her, and she claimed afterwards that they tried to bribe her to discover the origins of the map. She stuck to her story that it was left anonymously in her office. Again and again she returned to her simple argument: why should authorities worry about the previous ownership of the map? Since it bore some lines written by Louis XV, it was probably stolen from the private office of his grandson, Louis XVI, during the turmoil of the French Revolution, and passed on through various hands, making it impossible to establish its provenance and history. Either it was genuine, or a fake. If it was genuine, as the French experts said, Lord Stirling should receive his inheritance. If the British authorities claimed it was a fake, then they should prove it!

The authorities in Britain questioned the genealogist, Banks, about the mysterious appearance of the “Excerpt Charter” of 1639. By this time Humphrys-Alexander and Banks had fallen out over money, as Banks wanted more than his fair share of the loot. The financial agent who had raised the initial loans in London had similarly upset the would-be Earl and they too had parted company. Everyone was questioned, and Humphrys-Alexander was interrogated several times. What was his connection with Mlle Lenormand? She was a friend of his wife, he said. (It must be understood that the disputed Canadian lands, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, etc., had changed hands between England and France more than once during the wars, so it was logical that French friends should be asked to search in the records of France for any documents which might relate to Humphrys-Alexander’s claims.) Asked if and when Marie-Anne had told his fortune, he admitted she had, in 1814 he thought, but after some more probing questions he changed his mind, and thought it must have been in 1837. He had paid her 5 Napoleons (100 francs) for the reading, he said.

At last Humphrys-Alexander was arrested and his house in Edinburgh was searched on February 14, 1839. Amongst his papers the Crown agents made an astonishing discovery: a collection of letters from Mlle Lenormand, and a private financial deed or agreement between the would-be Earl and the prophetess that he would pay her 400,000 francs plus interest at 5% from the date of the agreement.

Humphrys-Alexander was brought to trial in April, 1839, on a charge of having forged the “Excerpt Charter,” the writings on the back of the map of Canada, and other documents, and/or of using them to advance his claims while knowing them to be forged. The Lenormand letters found in his house featured prominently in the evidence.

THE LENORMAND LETTERS

Before dealing with the trial, we will now look at these letters from Mlle Lenormand, for they reveal a great deal about her personality and the way she operated. They are a mixture of personal communication, reporting on the investigations being made by the British authorities in France, assistance and encouragement and advice on how to proceed in his endeavours, and prophetic statements regarding his legal case and his family’s health.

Some of the letters found were not the originals written by Marie-Anne, but copies and translations of them made by Humphrys-Alexander. When asked why he made the copies and translations, he said they were for the use of his counsel, because Lenormand’s writing was difficult to read. When asked for the originals, he could not produce them, and they were never found. This suggests that he edited out some details which might be incriminating. All of the letters used as evidence are presented here, and the 19th century English translations given are those that were accepted as accurate by both the prosecution and the defence at the trial. The source is indicated at the end of each letter, from the books by Swinton and Turnbull.

The earliest of the letters used as evidence in the trial is dated October 18, 1837. At that date Lenormand still held the map of Canada in her possession. Humphrys-Alexander, when leaving Paris in August 1837, possessed only copies which were made of the map and its inscriptions to take back to Edinburgh. This letter is addressed to his wife Fortunata, who is recognized by the prophetess as the “Countess of Stirling”:

My dear Countess,

Receive my best thanks for your remembrance, and pray, be persuaded that I feel happy in being able to contribute to the establishment of your husband’s rights. I like to believe that the truth and authenticity of the important document cannot possibly be doubted. I have, for a long time past, mentioned your claims to personages of influence, who have told me – “We know the affair of Lord Stirling, but he has a powerful party opposed to him.” Justice, however, is pure, and will not make her scales incline on the side of the strongest. The map of Canada which I have in my possession, and which you may lay before the Judges composing the Sovereign Court of Scotland, will not only serve to enlighten them, but also to convince them. As a French woman, I cannot know any thing of your English laws; but, truly, in this country, our Magistrates would say, “These are, indeed, speaking proofs!” I cannot tell you, my dear Countess, that I have had this map of Canada since the Revolution of 1789. Certainly not! But, at that unfortunate period, every thing which belonged to Lewis XVI. and Marie Antoinette’s private cabinet was scattered abroad. This map, therefore, could not be found in the archives of the State, but became an object of distinct curiosity, separated from the royal cabinet. The person who, from feelings of respect, presented it to me, writes thus: “I bought it in 1819 as an object of curiosity, on account of the autographs upon it. The tradesman told me it was believed to have been taken from the interior of the cabinet of Louis XVI.” “It might well have formed a part of a collection belonging to that unfortunate prince: so much the more so, as his grandfather wrote a marginal note upon it.” I am also told in this letter – “If the document can be useful to the family whom you know, and for whom you feel so much interested, I shall be glad, especially as I am under personal obligations to you, Mademoiselle Le Normand. The situation I occupy prevents me from openly declaring myself,” &c. &c. Being curious, beyond all power of expression, about whatever is connected with the arts, with politics, or with antiquity, it cannot appear surprising to those who know me, that I have in my possession valuable autographs. If my Lords, your Judges, raise any difficulties about this matter, as regards my name, or the friendship which has united us since 1812, show them first the works of your friend, and afterwards let them make enquiries in France. I have lived in the Rue de Tournon since 1795. I am a proprietor of houses and lands, and a patented bookseller since 1810, established at Paris. In short, I could have told you, “I have had this map twenty-five years;” but I should have told a falsehood, and never did a falsehood defile my lips. Besides, if it had been in my possession, I should long since have given it up to you. I hope all your wishes will be accomplished. Send an express to me to fetch the map. I will deliver it to the person in the same envelope in which it was sent to me. Adieu my dear Countess. Once more, be happy, as well as my Lord and your children. – Your friend,

Le Normand [4]

Humphrys-Alexander sent his second son, Charles, who was now 23, to Paris to collect the map. Lenormand gave it to him, then sent this letter to his father. Here she declares that the only way to discover who possessed the map in previous years would be for her to raise the ghost of the English King Charles I. At the end of the letter she mentions “Albion,” which is an ancient name for England:

(Letter dated Paris, November 8, 1837)
My Lord,

I have received your letter by the hands of Mr Alexander, your second son. I have caused enquiries to be made, which I am still continuing, to ascertain who were the possessors of the map of Canada from the year 1789. But it is impossible, my dear Lord, to establish this fact. Our Revolution caused the overthrow and destruction of every thing that was in the palace of our kings. How many documents of value to families have been scattered abroad, sold, or torn in pieces! It was by a great and signal miracle that your map, covered with authentic autographs, fell into my hands. Monsieur Villenave observed to your son – “The possessor of this map must be under the greatest obligations to Mademoiselle Le Normand, to have parted with so scarce a document in her favour.”

As for me, my dear Lord, I again affirm, that on the 11th of July of this year, the large envelope, which I preserve with its seals, contained, 1st, the map of Canada, &c.; 2d, a letter addressed to me, of which your son must have sent you a copy. I have already said and repeated, that it is not surprising the possessor gave up the map to me. I have spoken to persons holding high stations in society of your rights, of the justness of your claims. On that account, it was considered making me a really acceptable present, in grateful return for my advice, when homage was made to me of such important writings. If your just cause were mine, I would say, in presence of the Supreme (Sovereign) Court of Scotland – “Either the map I have the honour to submit for your enlightened judgment is not a true original, or it is one. In the first case, it belongs to you, gentlemen, to furnish the proof; in the second, good and valid justice ought to be administered; prejudices ought to be dismissed from this cause. Were it otherwise, and you persisted in requiring me to declare who have been the possessors of the map from the year 1789, it would then be necessary for me to invoke the shade of the unfortunate Charles the First. It would tell you, my Lords, I granted the charter of 1639 in favour of the Earls of Stirling. My successors ought to know, that if good faith be banished from society, it ought still to dwell in the breast of kings! King Charles the Second granted a desert to William Penn in America. He transported thither men of pure lives and vigorous arms. Their descendants enjoy at present the fruit of the labours of their founder. You cannot do less in favour of the Earl of Stirling, whose ancestor was the creator, in a great measure, of your possessions in Canada. The demand that I should retrace [go back, re-ascend] to the year 1789 is indiscreet. Judge whether the attestations are genuine, and then pronounce your decision. Several advocates of the Parisian bar have declared that the question was not, whence came the precious document, but whether it was or was not valid? Therein lies all the pith of the enquiry. Lord Stirling presents it. He relies on its contents for support. All vain formalities are evasions of the truth.”

Your Scotch Judges will no doubt be sufficiently enlightened, without admitting the ambiguous reasons of your adversaries! Appeal to public opinion. Strike down the hydra, and prove that you would be unworthy of the title of a Peer of Scotland if you overshadowed [deviated from] the truth.

I speak to you according to the dictation of my thoughts, but truly there are so many resources in what you demand, that I would hope in the present reign prompt and “eclatante” reparation will be granted to you. Otherwise I should say – “What then, surely Albion, noble Albion, cannot show herself less generous than was France towards the United States”!!!!!!!

Be the interpreter of my sentiments to the dear Countess and her children. The map is delivered by me to your son under a sealed cover, and he has given me your receipt.

I have the honour to be,
My Lord,
Your very humble servant,
Le Normand. [5]


The next letter is a copy made by Humphrys-Alexander from the original of Lenormand. He copied it in French, then added at the end: “This is a true copy of the original letter of Mademoiselle Le Normand, received this day, 23d of April 1838. STIRLING.” The Lord Cockburn mentioned at the end is the Judge who stripped Humphrys-Alexander of his titles in December 1836:

Paris, 19th April 1838.
My Lord,

I beg to confirm what I stated in my preceding Letter. I shall only add that on the 12th current, an Englishman presented himself at my House, accompanied by an Interpreter. He said to me: “The map procured by you for Lord Stirling, and by means of which he pretends to bolster up his claim is forged; or rather the Autographs. You have been asked by the Police Authorities whence came that document. We again put the question to you. We are even willing to pay a sum of money for the discovery of its true origin. You have a letter which accompanied the map – be pleased to shew it to us.’ The proposal as to the money was instantly met by this answer – ‘It is really not to me that offers should be made, but to Lord Stirling, who has so long been demanding what is due to him!’ ‘It would require too large a sum!’ was the reply; ‘We are anxious to put an end to this affair; to effect a quiet settlement of our differences!’ (‘laver son linge en famille!’) Such was the very expression. ‘But what would then become of Lord Stirling and his family?’ ‘Some sacrifice might be made to keep them quiet!! (the very expression) – after all this map is genuine, but the Autographs – No!!! The question is no longer as to the decision of the Supreme Court of Scotland – that is at an end ̶ but the question is as to the origin of the map; not with any intention of giving pain to Lord Stirling. We are merely anxious to ascertain whence it comes.’ On my refusal to shew the accompanying letter, the french interpreter said, This Englishman is not instructed to make you any offers, it is an error in the Translation.’ I could not avoid exclaiming: ‘THAT IS TOO MUCH!’ (‘C’EST TROP FORT!’) It appears they have been at Mr Villenave’s. In short, that Gentleman is convinced of the authenticity of the Autograph of Flechier and of the few lines of Louis the Fifteenth’s. I told you, that you should have consulted the French Bar; that you should have had all the documents approved by men of skill (Experts) and Judgement given to that effect. Your Scottish Judges could not proceed in the face of such evidence. – How is it possible that in France any Judgement can be formed on fac similes. I tell you – that the prejudice is against you; that the belief is that judgement has already gone forth; that this interminable process must be stranded. The point for you now is to demand that the map, on which the Autographs appear, be sent back to France, in order that it may be recognized by those who have seen it, and attested by those who will verify the autographs. Upon this, counsel will make their observations, the Court will deliver its Judgement. It appears that it is through the medium of the English Ambassador at Paris that this verbal enquiry is going on (how can your Scotch Judges be guided by on dits?) Send some one speedily; or, if possible, come in person, to follow up a legal enquiry. Now is the moment for action. Without that, my dear Lord, I should much fear the terrific Club stroke. It is said that your children and you yourself came to Paris in 1836, under assumed names. My answer was, ‘Had my Lord come to Paris, I should have seen him. It was not till the end of October, or about the first of November, that I received a visit from his son Charles. He remained but a few days in the Capital. I gave him the map of Canada, carefully wrapped up – on receiving Lord Stirling’s receipt.’ You are assailed on every side – fortune, reputation, &c. &c.  Now is the time to speak out and to summon all your resources, otherwise you will be rudely handled by the arbiters of your destiny. Consult your Counsel – I saw that your path was strewed with thorns, and I was right. If they refuse your demand of sending back the map to France, protest against any future decision. It appears to me that a process cannot be considered as terminated, when it is not so. I hope all those who call themselves your friends, may remain as sincere as I am. I know nothing but the truth. If this map is genuine, why doubt it? If they are of a contrary opinion, to what purpose so much investigation? It is a legal enquiry before magistrates (torn) that must be heard on the merits of the autographs – not conversations. These gentlemen were to have returned. I have not seen them. They did not relish my frankness, and the interest which I bore your family. Altho’ according to them, stript of your titles, by the judgement of Lord Cockburn, -̶ you are not the less, in my eyes, a perfectly honest man; and I sincerely hope the English Government may treat you with kind consideration; and that the House of Lords, if there (torn) may indemnify you for your protracted misfortunes, and do justice to your demands! My duty to the Countess.

‘Your’s, L.M.’ [6]

Another letter suggests that the self-styled Earl was trying to raise funds in France in 1838. It shows Lenormand as anxious to be kept in touch with developments in Edinburgh. It is also evident that she was aware that correspondence between herself and Humphrys-Alexander was being intercepted. Where she says “Notice to the Reader” she is probably referring to public notices warning investors of the risks of buying American land from the self-styled Earl.

My Lord,

How comes it that after all the interest I have borne and still bear towards you, you should totally neglect me! I had formed the design of going to London, at the period of the brilliant assemblage for the Coronation and to advance your claims. No letter from you in answer to my last; In it I gave you information – your silence grieves me – can it be that you or the dear Countess or children are unwell: Do pray remove my doubts. I forewarn you to be upon your guard against false promises. In France they may throw out the possibility of entering into engagements with you and even of providing you with funds. This is a snare; Sign no paper till you hold something tangible. They have worked up the public mind in every possible way against you. Notice to the Reader. What length have you got with your process. I was to have been summoned the 18th of May. In your last letter you ask me the description of the persons sent – I have drawn it faithfully for you; Did you receive that letter – it was just addressed to the Countess at Edinburgh – and was only closed with a wafer – I did so that the inquisitive might not imagine that it contained any mystery. I should be highly gratified to learn that success has crowned your efforts – for after so many disappointments it would be high time that reason and just right should be heard – pray answer me immediately and let me know how things get on and rely as hitherto upon my zeal, attachment and the pleasure it would afford me to learn that you are happy as well your amiable family and the dear children. Awaiting news from you so precious to me and of which I have been deprived for more than a month, I beg you to believe me with the most distinguished consideration – Your very humble servt.

Le Normand.
16 June 1838.–
P.S.  My Friendly regards to all the family.
[7]

By August 1838, Lenormand was certain that her letters to Humphrys-Alexander were being read by the authorities, and it is clear that from then on her letters were deliberately written for them to see as well as for viewing by Humphrys-Alexander and his family. In this letter of August 13, she mentions a person she calls “M.T.” It was suggested at the trial that this referred to a close friend of hers, a young medical student named Triboul (spelled Tribouil in French documents), who was suspected of being involved in forging the writings on the map. Humphrys-Alexander admitted that he had employed Triboul to make copies of those writings to submit to various authorities in Britain, but insisted he never met the young man until after the map of Canada had been left with the prophetess. But “M.T.” could have been an agent whom Humphrys-Alexander employed to raise funds in France or elsewhere – nobody knows.

(Letter docqueted Paris, 13th August, 1838)
My Lord,

I had foreseen the delay in your business, and not being able to accelerate its progress, I thought it better not to disturb your peace of mind, or paralyze your resources. They are immense. Your enemies frantic. Some of them even blame me for having given you the map of Canada. I feel happy if, by my anxious wish to serve you, and my influence in society, I have been able to contribute to establish and support your claims, and bring to a close this interminable process. Courage, then, for the present, in expectation of future triumph. The death of one of your Judges, would appear to be prejudicial to you: there are, however, at present some of them better inclined towards you. Don’t place reliance upon hopes that may prove delusive; but be upon the watch! for new machinations would appear to be in preparation!!!! I am visited by Englishmen who are hostile to your claims. I have convinced several by the force of my arguments. They then end by exclaiming Oh! Oh! What hitherto appeared a fable, would then turn out to be a reality; yes, yes, what you say will be accomplished??? My Dear Lord, I accept the omen for you and your interesting family. I have again caused the most searching inquiries to be made. As to the former possessors of the map of Canada, I know nothing positive; but the fact is, that the most enlightened lawyers of the capital agree, that, if it be submitted to the examination of enlightened judges, they will pronounce in favour of its validity. Either it is true in its contents, or it affords room for difference of opinion. It is the business of the Court, not yours, to say at what period it was in the closet of Louis 16th King of France. Subsequent to the year 1789 it was sold with a number of other papers. A dealer in old books resold it to an Amateur; this Amateur presented it to a Minister of State who was curious in Autographs, &c. &c.; the fact is, that this map is worthless as far as French Politics go. We have reserved no rights upon Canada. It would therefore be the effect of the greatest chance if they recovered any trace of a correspondence; doubtless, before reaching Louis the Fifteenth a memorial must have preceded it; but where is it? Our revolution has upset and thrown every thing into confusion! And according to the opinion of the most enlightened of the Bar, it is too rigorous to exact from you the certificate of the origin of the old Map of Canada. Form therefore your plans from my reflections, and be on your guard against crafty arguments. As to M.T. he could have wished to have been sole negotiator!!! Confidence ought to be discreet and not unlimited; Beware of giving offence; he is a Janus but to be carefully treated!!! Money will be rather scarce. Some partial loans, but M.T. has paralyzed. Your sons ought to employ the language of persuasion to convince. But your enemies have the effrontery to say, – ̶ that your last title is your own handywork, &c. – that you have returned to Paris – my answer has been No! for I should have seen him. This Cabal is really infernal, they are full of spite at the zeal I have shewn to serve you. You will be much pinched to reach the month of November. A little money will be given. Contrive so that there may be no farther delay, for delay would be productive of the most serious consequences – Assure the Countess of my attachment: my compliments to your Sons. Believe me my Lord with devotedness your devoted.

L.N. [8]

Letters of September and October 1838 repeat advice she had given before, that Humphrys-Alexander should demand the map be sent back to France for verification by experts if Scottish authorities continued to question it. Only extracts from these two letters were presented as evidence at the trial:

(Extracts from letter of September 26, 1838)

“I can no longer understand the difficulties they oppose to you regarding the veracity of your great map. How can we re-ascend to the origin of an autograph document which has perhaps passed through various hands! Either it is a legal title, or it is not. Your Judges must decide the question; and it is, according to the opinion of well-informed people, doing you a remarkable injury, as well as myself, to pretend a possible falsification. I delivered it up to you in the state in which it was deposited at my house. I shall feel happy if this document serve to establish your rights. The pleasure of being useful has, at all periods, been the honourable mission I have constantly fulfilled. If your Judges knew me they would also know, that whatever partakes of intrigue is foreign to my character,” &c.

“I return to my argument. Either the proof is good, or it is a forgery. In the first case you must gain your suit. In the second hypothesis, demand an enquiry in France. Let the map of Canada be submitted to a jury of men of skill (des Experts). Let it be deposited in a public place, where every one shall be able to judge of it. Let the newspapers repeat an appeal to impartial justice. I would oppose myself to a final judgment of my equals, if I saw their non-conviction of the signatures attached to it in France. I would say, ‘Strike the forger, or declare the merit of the document produced on the day of pleading.’ I conceive all your embarrassments – others will arise. The will of God be done! I am willing to believe that the term of your trials is at hand,” &c. [9]

 (Extracts from letter of October 17, 1838)

“How can the map be acknowledged genuine here while we have it not in view! If it were in Paris, indeed, we might appeal, and good luck would perhaps enable us to find out some former proprietor of it; but how can anyone say, ‘I have seen,’ without seeing! No, assuredly. What, therefore, you had better do, is to give powers to your son, and a copy of the map, failing the original, causing it to be attested that it is in every respect like it. He would then present himself to some public man, deposit it, make an appeal to the lovers of books and amateurs of autographs. By that means the truth might be established. If the Edinburgh judges doubt of the validity of the document produced, to the point of rejecting it, then demand an investigation in France. Let one of our judges come over before pronouncing judgment. The map will then be judged of and appreciated. Believe me, my Lord, in so serious an affair you must not abuse yourself. Your traducers are numerous. You cannot imagine what steps they have ordered to be taken. This very day I learn that they have hazarded insidious speeches respecting me. They positively maintain that the map must be your work, or that of your sons. It is, therefore, great eclat that is required. You must make the newspapers speak out,” &c.

“Don’t let them take you by surprise. They are plotting again. Strike great blows. All the calumnious discourse they have indulged in respecting you, is infamous. It is reflected back upon me, who feel interested about you. This is carried to such a pitch, that already I have felt inclined to repair to England, and thence to Scotland, to unmask the traitors! Now, it would inspire them with no confidence, were a single man to say, ‘I have seen that map.’ It is necessary, either that they believe in the veracity of my declaration, or that a public enquiry be made.

“Your fac-similes are inexact, at least those I saw. Moreover, how can an opinion be formed of documents on separate pieces of paper! My Lord, I tell you, in the sincerity of my heart, out of friendship for your excellent wife and your children, you should carefully enquire what is the opinion of your judges,” &c.

“Either send your son, or, according to the appearance of things, insist upon the map being sent by a judge. The delay of a month will be more desirable to obtain a triumph, and the re-establishment of an attacked reputation!

“If I were not known, I should lose, by serving you, tranquillity, hope, and even health. Answer me immediately what you decide upon doing.” [10] 

By November, the prophetess was furious at the intrusion into her affairs by the Scottish investigators. In this next letter she speaks of ‘Votre Anglais’ (‘your Englishman’), and the translator who rendered her French into English for the trial explains in a footnote: Mademoiselle, like most foreigners, confounds in one mass English, Irish, and Scotch. She means, however, no person but Mr Rodk. Mackenzie, whom she alludes to as “Votre Anglais.”

(Letter dated Paris, 26th November 1838)
My Lord,

I have deferred answering you, because I have again caused enquiries to be made respecting the origin of the map of Canada. I have not been able to learn any thing, unless it be that well informed persons agree in saying ̶ “if it be found genuine, it ought to be admitted; if otherwise, it ought to be rejected!” for it would be impossible to discover the former possessors of this map. If this affair is the cause of torment to you, which I am willing to believe may be put an end to, it is not the less so to myself, who have no desire but to be useful to you. Every day I learn something new. Either your enemies must be very powerful or very cowardly! I who have only candour (or good faith) to guide me; who would not for a great deal utter a falsehood; who might have said, “I have possessed this map since 1789,” but who would not say so. The truth, nothing but the truth.  It was sent to me, and I also gave it up to you. Your Englishman and his interpreter have been circulating all sorts of false reports. They have been enquiring whether my property belongs to me ̶ whether I have any debts ̶ whether I have paid for my estate! They have written to the Conservators (Conservateurs). They have had the audacity to enquire in my own province whether I have houses there, and whether they have been paid for! In short, there are no kinds of vexations which these men have not made me experience, on account of the interest I have constantly felt for your family. The purest disinterestedness has governed all my actions. I have seized every occasion to do what might be agreeable to you; but I cannot support the idea that my reputation suffers on that account. I prefer it pure and untouched to all the fortunes that could be offered to me. It is infamous on the part of this English agent to endeavour to defame a woman who is more deserving than he ̶ Money, money, Morbleu! That must have made him undertake his journey to Paris. Not content with having denounced me to the police, to his ambassador, to all who were willing to listen to him, HE HAD THE BASENESS TO WISH TO BRIBE ME! Superior to such offers, my indignation could not be restrained. It was then that he began to cry me down. Your lawsuit, according to him, is a tissue of lies; – those who are faithful to you, are in your pay! How shall I express it? This has been repeated in high, in the middling class, and in the lowest society. They even went to interrogate the wife of my gardener! Up to this period I had always believed the Scotch a brave people. I believe them so still; but the envoy of your enemies deserves that the severest correction be applied to him. It is not, therefore, the mere babbling of wicked people or of bad Englishwomen – no – it is the man accredited by your government who comes here to overwhelm an unoffending woman, whose only fault is her feeling for your estimable family, and seeking to the utmost of her power the means of restoring you all to hope and happiness!

The tenor of your correspondence is known. It is dreadful thus to violate the secrets of your letters. It appears that one of your letters which was addressed to me was subjected to inspection.

My Lord, I never could put up with a gross offence, and your Scotchman shall be unmasked. If he be ill-disposed towards you, that is no reason why he should attack me. I am neutral in your suit. I presented to you – I did not sell the map of Canada. There are laws, and I shall know how in proper time and place to confound the wicked; but really this Scotchman has done his utmost to ruin you in public opinion, and me also. The cabal is regularly appointed and paid. It is for you to display all your courage in the maintenance of your rights. This map of Canada requires no certificate of birth, no certificate of its origin. Either it is genuine or it is not. To re-ascend to its source, after our revolutions, is to attempt what is impossible. This affair is much discussed – matters of the greatest consequence cannot fail to be very soon revealed to you. I am very sorry to hear of the illness in your family. We must hope for the best. Keep me informed of what is going on. I greet you cordially, as well as the dear Countess. Better health to you all! Let us hope that the equity of your judges will repair serious mistakes, and put a term to your misfortunes. It is the sincere wish of your devoted

LE NORMAND [11]

Only a few days later Lenormand sent this next letter, which requires explaining. Lenormand knew, of course, that she had no hope of convincing British authorities of the validity of the map’s inscriptions by raising the ghost of King Charles I. She and Humphrys-Alexander needed some evidence that the map and its writings existed long before 1837 when they were accused of forging it. So she set about providing such evidence. The “certificate” mentioned in this letter was a “bordereau” or memorandum containing a list of papers in the effects left by a British prisoner of war, Rowland Otto Bayer, who was said to have died a prisoner at Verdun in 1805. This list mentions some letters and some maps, and – wonder of wonders! – one of the maps was described as a “Map of Canada, or New France, by Guillaume De L’Isle. On the back of this map are several documents, viz: an epitaph in English, an original letter of J. Alexander, with a marginal note by Fenelon; a note by the traveller Mallet; some attestations, &c.” [12] The memorandum was signed by M. Parmentier, who was Secretary of the fortress of Verdun, and dated May 6, 1807.

If the Scottish authorities could be convinced that this paper was genuine, it would follow that the inscriptions on the back of the map of Canada were in existence many years ago. In this letter Lenormand is suggesting that Humphrys-Alexander should return the “bordereau” to France to have Parmentier’s signature authenticated by the Ministry of War. This was actually done, for the document later bore the attestation of Counsellor of State, Martineau, who signed on December 22, 1838, verifying the signature of Parmentier.

 However, Humphrys-Alexander never produced this memorandum as evidence at his trial. His problem was that the name Rowland Otto Bayer did not appear on any of the lists of prisoners at Verdun, so he knew this document would also be branded a forgery. This letter of Lenormand ends with a further reference to illness in Humphrys-Alexander’s family:

Paris, 30th November, 1838
My Lord,

I have just received information concerning the signer of the Certificate, if indeed they admit it, and you think it may be of service to you. For I am completely in the dark as to who sent it me, and your enemies are using every exertion to make you lose your suit. I cannot conceive how your Judges shew such prejudices and how the constitution of your Court should be such a mockery. Your antagonists have forsooth a capital game of it – Were I to see Judges so ill disposed towards me I would not be tried by them and would challenge their competency, or demand an enquiry in France. I would advise you, if indeed you think it of advantage, to send back the certificate immediately, in order that the signature of Parmentier may be verified by the Minister at War. The following is the information I have received :– ‘After having been wounded in the army of the North, Monsieur Parmentier was appointed in Vendemiaire, in the year six (October 1797) Governor’s Secretary at Verdun, and held that appointment till 1812. The act of his nomination is deposited at the office of the Laws and Archives of the Old Staff of Fortified Towns (in alphabetical order.) Ask for the verification of it at the War Office Department of Military Claims; giving the above directions.’ Should this observation prove useful to you, should this certificate be acknowledged authentic, then your cause would assume a new aspect. You cannot give sufficient publicity to the intrigues of the agent; for he has run you down in a most infamous manner, and causes me to be looked upon as the accomplice of a forged map.

It will be difficult for your son to stand a new crisis. God alone can restore his life. The professional men are without hope. I feel for the sorrows of the Countess; she must take care of herself for the sake of her family and friends. By return of post let me know your decision.

Your’s,
LE NORMAND
[13]

 In January 1839, two letters dated 8th and 9th were written by Lenormand. The first was hand-delivered to Humphrys-Alexander by his son Charles. The letter says the son will personally tell his father her answers to some questions asked of her. These answers were obviously of such a private nature that they could not be written down. But also in this letter she alerts him to the fact that a British agent had found “the man on the Quay” who sold maps:

Paris, 8th January 1839
My Lord,

I am obliged by your kind wishes. May every good attend you and your amiable family. That you may all be happy, is the wish of my heart. I thank the good Countess for her kind remembrance. May that excellent wife and tender mother witness the progressive recovery of her dear son, and at length visit that France, where peace and happiness seem to be promised her. You will receive by Post, a letter from me, which you may shew to the Court. As to your questions, your son will answer them viva voce. I shall only mention that they have found out the man on the Quay. They wish to make him go to Scotland. He says that 18 months ago he sold a map of Canada to an Englishman, who repeatedly called on him; when asked if he could recognize him, ‘I think so.’ The agent has put up at Meurice’s Hotel. I shall find out more and report to you. My love to all. Your’s, [14]  

The other letter, sent by post and dated January 9, was obviously meant for the eyes of Humphrys-Alexander’s accusers rather than for his own. The Officers of State had discovered there were financial arrangements between Humphrys-Alexander and the prophetess, and this letter was designed to bolster up the fiction that this was simply money which had been owed for a long time, accumulated loans which Lenormand had made to Humphrys-Alexander’s wife and to himself over many years:

Paris, 9. January 1839.
My Lord,

At the time of your son’s arrival in our capital, I was unwell, which prevented my hearing many details of your interminable process. I have, however, learned, that your adversaries have dared to call in question the existence of a debt as just as it is sacred, and which goes back to the year 1812; without taking into consideration that I have many times called into requisition the resources of my friends, in order to serve you in your times of need; to have obliged friends in misfortune during 27 years, would then be a crime in Scotland? in that land so rich in noble recollections!!!! I said to you, ‘You have only to make out my account, and you will pay me gradually as your income comes in.’ It goes farther back! You sent me your work, as to a publisher, and one able to distribute a number for you! I offered the work to persons of distinction who visit me. I spoke favourably of you – the friendship which I bear your Lady, your numerous family, make me eloquent! An old map of Canada, bearing autographs of Fenelon, Flechier, Louis 15th, &c. &c. was left at my House, the 11 of July 1837; it was hermetically enclosed in strong chocolate coloured paper, with three seals, and accompanied with a letter, a copy of which I have already sent you. I might say, I was in possession of this map, in the same way as of many other autographs since the revolution of 1789. A friend of truth, knowing nothing but the truth, I said ‘look at it and judge!!’ the odious part of it, is the possibility of supposing that Melle Le Normand has incurred the guilt of fixing a price upon a friendly service. You know my delicate feelings. I would look on myself with abhorrence, were I so far the slave of cupidity as to exact a high remuneration! Declare then boldly before your judges, that for these 27 years past you owe me large sums of money with accumulated interest. Were the reckoning as between clerk and master, I might easily claim 500,000 fr. God alone, my Lord, can enlighten your judges! God alone can work a miracle! had you paid me, I would have retired from business and should be more quiet. I say with Caesar, ‘The thought of suspicion I could not brook.’ My reputation is European, and that your countrymen should dare tarnish my name is what I will not endure. You owe me in good faith, I trusted to the good faith, to the known honour of a true Englishman, I still trust in it; but to pour forth censure, and to heap irony upon it, is what I will never endure. I refused the offers of your enemy; from you, I never received any; had it been so, I would have despised you! If they contest the authenticity of a map which you have received from me, demand that the same map be verified in presence of men of skill (Experts.) It is in France that an inquiry must be made. If it be recognized as genuine, in that case it is admitted as a proof of your descent; in the contrary event, judgment will be given. Subornation and idle talk can have no weight with your judges, who after all are honourable men, who would not betray their conscience for the purpose of robbing a family, as well as the creditors of a family, whose head is under the yoke of persecution.  All this makes me so indignant, that I get perfectly out of temper; but in truth, one might be so for much less. I have lent my money in the most generous way, and they would accuse me of simony. Horrid, horrid. I present to you my best wishes, as also to the Countess.

Your very humble Servt.
LE NORMAND
[15]

Humphrys-Alexander had told his interrogators that the repayment of Lenormand’s loans was not made contingent on the success of his claims of inheritance, but rather at certain fixed periods. However, that statement was contradicted by the document which was found when his house was raided on February 14, 1839. Here is the extract from that document which was tendered as evidence at the trial. The date of the agreement is not given:

I, Alexander Alexander, Earl of Stirling, &c. &c. acknowledge, that I am duly indebted to the said Demoiselle Le Normand in the principal sum of four hundred thousand francs, received in cash, both at Paris and in London, in different payments, some of which were made in the course of previous years. The said sum of four hundred thousand francs will bear interest at the rate of 5 per cent. from the present date, without any reduction: Moreover, binding me and mine, in honour, that so soon as my affairs, as well in England as in the United States and Canada, shall be concluded, to pay to Mademoiselle Le Normand, into her own hands, or into those of the person at Edinburgh, in Scotland, holding a power of attorney from her, or by drafts on the Bank of England, in the event of my having changed my residence, 1o. The arrears due on the said sum of four hundred thousand francs; 2do. within the six months after my recovery of my property I shall make a payment of one hundred thousand francs, to account of the principal sum, and so on, from year to year, till final payment, with the whole of the interest, which will take four years from the date of repayment of the first instalment, and for the general discharge of the said loan. [16]

The last of the letters from Lenormand presented as evidence at the trial was dated February 4, 1839, and addressed to Fortunata. By this time rumours were current on both sides of the English Channel that the self-styled Earl of Stirling was about to be arrested. When Humphrys-Alexander was arrested, his house searched, and the letters found, he was questioned about the line in this letter which advises him “carefully to go over all these papers.” The declaration which he signed on February 18 gives his answer: “declares, that that passage merely contains an intimation of reports, which Mademoiselle Le Normand had heard of persons boasting in Paris that he should be arrested, and a caution to the declarant’s wife, as a friend, to destroy any papers which might be prejudicial to the declarant’s interest; and declares, That that is a very natural caution for a Frenchwomen (sic) to give, because the seizure of papers is a very common step of procedure in France, when proceedings are instituted against any person. But he did not think it possible that such a proceeding, or criminal proceedings of any nature, should be instituted against him in Scotland; and, therefore, he treated the intimation with levity”. On the back of this February 4 letter was a marking, “Monsr. T”. Humphrys-Alexander declared that that was made by himself “to put him in mind that he had received a letter from Monsieur Triboul, by desire of Mademoiselle Le Normand, communicating some similar information; but he does not know where that letter is now.” [17] In the fifth sentence of this letter Lenormand speaks of between now and the 8th current but leaves out the word now. The translator has faithfully followed her original French:

4th February, 1839
Madam and Friend,

I am really uneasy about your health, and that of your interesting family. What is my Lord about? He must be in great distress. They speak of the departure of a Frenchman attached to the Archives of France, the bearer of various documents regarding both the descent of the Earl, and the map, on which are the disputed autographs. Between and the 8th current they start for Edinburgh. Your son, whom I have seen at my house, will have told you that I entertained serious apprehensions as to the personal liberty of my Lord. I had even solicited him carefully to go over all these papers. When out of humour, one often writes from indignation, what one would not wish an enemy to make public. You must be aware that in a struggle so unequal, all means are fair. The timid man, the guilty man, may be overthrown; but he whose conscience is pure knows not what it is to tremble! My dear Countess, do let me hear from you. Have you written to me since the return of your son? I have received no letter. It is reported that a letter written by your husband was intercepted. Who could have committed such an act of infamy is as yet unknown to me. My Lord claims the possessions granted to his family. It is for the Court to decide whether his demand be well or ill founded. But, clandestinely to pry into the secret correspondence between client and counsel, is the ne plus ultra of corruption. Besides, your detractors can derive no benefit from it. If I have been fortunate enough to oblige you during so many years; if your husband swore on his honour to refund an advance, I must, in his eyes, as well as in yours, be a person of great delicacy. I have received nothing; and I do nevertheless continue to offer you the assurance of my attachment and my wishes to see you all relieved of all your embarrassments. I fancy these are very great at this moment. Be of good heart, my dear Countess. It is in moments of danger that one must sustain one’s character, and in this my Lord is not wanting. Assure him of my continued interest. If he should not avoid the snares, let us hope that he will not be their victim:
Your devoted.
P.S.—It appears to me that it would be for the interest of my Lord, in the absence of better advice, to request Mr Daunou, head of the archives, as well as Mr Villenave, to be so good as attest, on soul and conscience, that any doubts started as to their conviction are unfounded.
[18]


That ends the collection of letters found in Humphrys-Alexander’s house in Edinburgh and used as evidence in the trial. But just before the trial began in Scotland, Lenormand wrote another letter, this time to a Paris newspaper, which shows her state of mind at this time. By now the upcoming trial was the subject of conversations internationally, and when she says that she will reveal a deep closet intrigue (une profonde intrigue de cabinet) she is pandering to the popular belief in some circles that the British government was using illegal means to destroy the just claims of a Scottish peer, through fear of what those claims would cost the nation if proven to be true. She was certain that all French experts, if given the opportunity, would declare the handwriting and signatures on the map genuine, and that would compel British authorities to acknowledge Humphrys-Alexander’s rights as claimed. She was hurt by the attempts to trash her reputation, and there is a childish plaintiveness in her wish to be regarded as one who freely provides a benefit “which must attract praise and not blame.” (Of course, it was no free benefit she was providing. If Humphrys-Alexander succeeded in his claims, she was due to collect almost half a million francs!) By now it was known that the British authorities had taken from France to Scotland several people who were to be witnesses for the prosecution. These included M. Teulet, an archival expert on French maps; M. Beaubis, the man who had been porter at 5 Rue de Tournon in 1836-37; and a past servant-girl from Lenormand’s own household. In this letter Lenormand pours scorn on the idea that the evidence of mere servants could overturn the attestations of the experts (Daunou and Villenave) whom she had approached to verify the handwritings on the map. She accuses the servants of doing it for money. Her mention of the waters of Pactolus is a reference to the Pactolus River in Lydia, which in ancient times was famed for its golden sands:

To Monsieur the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Debates

I found myself exposed to treacherous and ridiculous insinuations on the occasion of the great and mysterious trial of Lord Stirling. I must repel these with all the strength which comes from a feeling of righteous indignation. In a memoir to be published shortly, I will provide detailed information respecting the most curious facts of this case which is already the subject of all conversations in the circles of high society in London and Paris. I will reveal a deep closet intrigue. By appealing to France, to England, to all Europe, I will stir generous sympathy. I will obtain the support of wise and thoughtful men who identify with the cause of justice itself. And then Fame’s echoes will resound with my words!

But in the meantime I must give in advance some clarification on a trial in which my reputation is brought into play.

For many years Lord Stirling, a Scottish peer, has been reclaiming the heritage of his ancestors; yet today there is even a dispute as to his name and his legal titles which were recognized by H.M. William IV, King of England, of honourable memory.

This case which is being conducted before the High Court of Scotland presents a singular circumstance which may be unique in the annals of justice.

A chart of Canada by Guillaume de Lisle, First Geographer to the King, and covered with precious autographs of Fenelon, Flechier, Louis XV, etc., was submitted in support of the claim in question. But they dispute the authenticity of this document, despite the attestations coming from very capable experts (M. Daunou, Keeper of the Archives; M. Villenave, member of the Institute.)

And then the personal enemies of the Earl of Stirling, fearing much harm to their rights, proclaimed that it was from a soothsayer that he obtained this chart. However, as this seer knows everything, or at least many things generally ignored …..; her reputation extends beyond France and throughout Europe. Having relations with princes, kings, and emperors, she does not have to put herself in the position of receiving from a powerful and hidden hand the unique document, whose appearance surprises the foolish and frightens the malicious ….

And what witnesses oppose these attestations favourable to Lord Stirling? A porter and a hired servant barely able to read! Perhaps the vessel that transported them from France to Scotland sailed over the waters of the Pactolus, a river completely unknown to them until then! But finally Edinburgh resounded to their declarations, to the effect that the precious chart is nothing but the product of a falsification, etc….

And it is I who am accused of having co-operated!!! Perhaps the gold which a treacherous hand has dared to offer to Miss Le Normand has received a shameful destination!

Inaccessible to these seductions, I positively refused to lie to my conscience. In fact I have never had to blush for my actions. All my efforts have tended for good; often I was quite happy to see them crowned with success, and it is with great pride when I think back to the ill-fated days of our bloody revolutions, I think of the many victims whom I could snatch from the scaffold or conceal from infamy, of the horrors of hunger.

Like every good soul born, I have selflessly spread some benefits to the miserable, and offer consolations to suffering souls. Also my dedication in adversity, my firmness, all my conduct, has received at all times the approval of various parties.

And today I am put in the position so to speak in this Edinburgh case where they do not even call me! Oh! Without doubt benevolence has no part here, only the fear of revelations that might come from Miss Le Normand. She has known Lord Stirling and his family since 1812, was fortunate enough to render them notable services, and continues still to do everything in her power.

Always willing to lend a helping hand to the oppressed, Miss Le Normand therefore wants the trial which is engaging Lord Stirling to be delayed; she asks this of all the authorities in order to enter the lists and contribute toward finding the truth and also prove to be a free benefit which must attract praise and not blame.

For if they have obtained a delegate of the French government to bear to England documents extracted from our archives as a means of questioning the validity of the mysterious chart, would it not effect justice to return it to France to be subject to a counter-enquiry?

Perhaps today the powerful reasons that have kept anonymous the person who has so generously donated this important document no longer exist. She may consent to tear the veil for the great triumph of truth and the confusion of imposture!

The case should be solved soon; but the Court of Scotland, which has not heard all the elucidations, will not want, too hastily, to be exposed to rendering a judgement at odds with the prophet’s words:—
“Guard the law and practice justice.”

 A. Le Normand
Bookseller
5 Rue de Tournon
25 April, 1839
[19]

THE TRIAL

The trial of Humphrys-Alexander for forgery before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh finally got under way on April 29, 1839. The trial was a great sensation, for although some Scottish peers were against him, Humphrys-Alexander had great support and admiration from much of Edinburgh’s high society. The feeling was that the British government was attempting to rob a Scottish peer of his rightful inheritance. The courtroom was packed every day with his supporters who made their feelings known, often at the cost of judicial decorum. Many were women in colourful dress. The atmosphere was more like that of a theatre than a court of law.

Marie-Anne Lenormand in France had repeatedly challenged British authorities to prove that the documents on the back of the map of Canada were forged. The fact is, they WERE forged, and there can be no doubt that she arranged the manufacture of them. Her wide contacts in every strata of society in France meant that she knew the best penmen capable of creating such writings, and the forgeries were so good that she confidently presented them to the foremost experts in France and had the autographs verified as genuine. What could lawyers in Scotland do to challenge such verifications? Although the young medical student Triboul was suspected, the actual forger or forgers were never identified.

But unfortunately for Lenormand and Humphrys-Alexander, the forgers, though expert in penmanship, were not expert enough in their knowledge of ancient documents. The map of Canada was dated 1703, but the particular specimen on which the forged writings were placed was proven to be not printed off from the copper printing plate until after August 24, 1718. As the signatures of Flechier and Fenelon were dated 1707, and those two men had actually died in 1711 and 1715, the signatures must be forgeries.

The proof of this was very interesting. Monsieur Teulet, the expert from the Archives of France, explained to the court that the earliest copies of the map printed from the copperplate were dated 1703 and carried DeLisle’s name (spelled Del’Isle on the map) and his title, “Geographe” (Geographer). It was not until August 24, 1718, that the King bestowed on him the official title, “Premier Geographe du Roi” (“First Geographer to the King”). Only then could he have altered the printing plate to give this title on his maps, but he left the date 1703 on the copperplate because that was the date from which his copyright was to run. Lenormand and her forgers did not realize this, and had obtained a map dated 1703, but bearing the tell-tale inscription, “Premier Geographe du Roi”. The actual copper printing plate still existed in the French Archives, and had been handled and examined by Teulet, so his evidence was indisputable. Although the map itself was genuine, the inscriptions on the back were forged.

AAAAA delisle original cartouche

Fig. 3. The map name with DeLisle’s name and title (“Geographe”) as it appeared in the original 1703 printing.

AAAAAA delile cartouche iii

Fig. 4. Maps printed off from the copper printing plate show the altered title (“Premier Geographe du Roi”) only after August 24, 1718, the date the King bestowed this title on DeLisle. The map produced by Lenormand showed this title, but the autographs on the back showed earlier dates which proved they were forgeries. The date 1703 shown here refers only to the copyright, not to the printing date.

AAAAA Villenave

Fig. 5. Close-up of the so-called Louis XV inscription and Villenave’s attestation. The upper lines read, “This note is worthy of some attention under present circumstances: but let the copy of the original charter be sent to me” (Ostensibly, this refers to the alleged “Charter of Novadamus” of 1639). The lower lines read, “I certify that the above four lines are from the hand of Louis XV and fully conform with the writing of this King, of which I possess several pieces and signed letters. Paris, this 2 August 1837. Villenave” (To his dying day,Villenave could not accept he had been deceived by Lenormand, he still believed the handwriting genuine).

The Crown prosecutors also put on the witness stand “the man on the Quay” who sold maps. He testified that in Paris in the winter of 1836-7 he had sold several maps of Canada to an Englishman who was especially seeking the 1703 map of Canada by DeLisle. But when asked if Humphrys-Alexander was that Englishman, the map-seller said no, so his evidence fell a little flat.

However, the prosecution had another success in proving that the “Excerpt” of the Charter of Novadamus dated December 7, 1639, was also a forgery. A genuine document would have been entered into four different Registers when first drawn up, and the 1639 Charter was not in any of them. As well, one of the original witnesses of the Charter was said to be Archbishop Spottiswood, the King’s Chancellor. But the forgers were not aware that Archbishop Spottiswood had ceased to be Chancellor more than a year before the date of their so-called “Charter of Novadamus,” and in fact had died on November 26, 1639, eleven days before he was said to have signed as witness! These, and other errors in the document, proved it was a forgery, and that even if he was descended from the First Earl of Stirling, Humphrys-Alexander was not entitled to the honours and lands granted to the First Earl.

Faced with such evidence, the counsel for Humphrys-Alexander, prominent lawyer Patrick Robertson, could only produce character witnesses for his client, and plead with the jury to find at least that he was innocent of the charge of putting forward the documents knowing them to be forged. He painted a picture of his client as a quixotic old gentleman, deceived by the genealogist Banks and the fortune-teller Lenormand. He ended his speech to the jury, “I believe him innocent of the crimes here charged, and to have been merely the dupe of the designing, and the prey of the unworthy.” [20]

The presiding Judge, Lord Meadowbank, in his summing up to the jury, was savage in his criticism of Marie-Anne Lenormand. Speaking of Humphrys-Alexander’s sojourn in Paris in 1836-7, the judge said that he was proved “to have been constantly engaged in negotiating with this sybil (sic) – this notorious adventuress in Paris, to whom at least the uttering of these forged documents has been traced – a person obviously of the worst character, and who, although she says that a lie never passed her lips, is proved to you to have had no profession but that of fortune-telling – no means of subsistence but that of imposture, and of telling falsehoods from morning to night”. [21]

In a blistering attack, the judge drew attention to Lenormand’s letter of April 19, 1838, found in Humphrys-Alexander’s house. He declared that here you see Lenormand writing to the defendant – who, it is proved by the porter Beaubis and by his own declaration, had been at Paris, living under a false name, and known to herself to have been doing so – telling him of the deceptions she is practising, and the falsehoods which he saw she had been uttering on his account; writing letters also to Lady Stirling, telling her how she had been brazening it out to others that he was not in Paris, though she knew he had been there, and that she herself had seen him almost every night. “This letter,” the judge told the jury, “coming from the prisoner’s repositories, is important, to enable you to see what was the nature of the connexion which subsisted between them, and that fraud and falsehood formed the basis of their communications.” [22]

The jury retired for five hours, then returned with a verdict that the “Excerpt Charter” was proven to be a forged document, but that it was not proven that the defendant forged it or uttered it knowing it to be forged. At this announcement, the audience in the courtroom broke out in loud applause, which caused the presiding judge to clear the gallery. He then warned the remainder of the spectators that any similar outburst would result in more than just ordering them out: the perpetrators would be jailed!

The jury’s verdict then continued: the documents on the back of the map of Canada were proven to be forged, but the defendant was not proven to have forged them or uttered them knowing them to be forged.

The family documents which turned up in England in 1837 were not proven to be forged or uttered by the defendant as genuine while knowing them to be forged.

Finally, the copy of the anonymous letter to Lenormand which accompanied the map of Canada was not proven to be forged or uttered by the defendant as genuine while knowing it to be forged. (The original of this letter had never ever been released by Lenormand.)

At this point Humphrys-Alexander collapsed in the dock in a faint, and was carried out into an adjoining room. In his absence, he was dismissed by the Court and set free. His supporters were jubilant. When he had recovered from his fainting fit and appeared at the door of the courtroom, they cheered him, unharnessed the horses from his waiting carriage, and proposed themselves to pull his carriage through the streets of Edinburgh to his home.

Some of his supporters were later to claim that the family documents which appeared mysteriously in 1837 were found to be genuine and that he himself had been found not guilty [23], but that is not true. In Scottish courts, as well as the options of “Guilty” and “Not Guilty” the jury had the option of finding a charge “Not Proven,” which laid a defendant open to the possibility of being charged again at a later date with the same offence. This was the case with Humphrys-Alexander. He was very lucky to have escaped punishment. So was Marie-Anne Lenormand who remained in France beyond the reach of British justice. In that sense they got away scot-free, but financially their bold and audacious scheme came to nothing. If they had succeeded, they would have made billions of dollars in today’s currency. No other fortune-teller has ever schemed on such a grand scale; for they had tried to seize practically the whole of the known area of Canada including all its mining and fishing rights, etc., plus a great swath of land across the United States, and four old-established estates in Scotland.

The adventure was spread over almost 30 years, an “interminable process” Lenormand repeatedly called it. It was something of a “last hurrah” for her, for the old woman became bed-ridden and died in 1843. But Humphrys-Alexander, who never forgot what his mother had told him, went to his grave still gripped by the hallucination that he was the rightful Earl of Stirling. He went to France and tried to establish his rights in the French courts. Then in 1851, believing his life threatened, he went to America and continued his quixotic efforts there until he died in 1859.

The Edinburgh forgery trial is famous in legal circles in Scotland, but is practically unknown in cartomancy circles world-wide. I have found no other biographies of Lenormand, no other accounts of fortune-telling, which mention it. Yet this true story is one of the most important episodes in the life and adventures of the now legendary prophetess.

© Jim McKeague 2014

References:

[1] Swinton, Archibald, Report of the Trial of Alexander Humphrys Or Alexander, Claiming the Title Earl of Stirling, Before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh, for the Crime of Forgery: With an Appendix, Containing the Whole Documentary Evidence, Edinburgh: Thomas Clark, 1839, pages 170-171

[2] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, page xi

[3] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, pages 24-26

[4] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, pages lviii-lix

[5] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, pages lx-lxi

[6] Turnbull, William (Ed.), The Stirling Peerage Trial of Alexander Humphrys or Alexander, styling himself Earl of Stirling before the High Court of Justiciary for Forgery on 29th April 1839 and four following days, stenographed by Mr Simon MacGregor, Edinburgh: Blackwood and Sons, & London: T. Cadell, 1839, pages 66-68. (The initials at the end of the English translation say “L.M.”, but the original letter in French is given immediately before the translation, and shows the initials correctly as “L.N.”)

[7] Turnbull, William (Ed.), work cited, page 69

[8] Turnbull, William (Ed.), work cited, pages 71-2

[9] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, page lxv

[10] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, pages lxv-lxvi

[11] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, pages lxvii-lxviii

[12] Hayes, John L., Vindication of the Rights and Titles, Political and Territorial, of Alexander, Earl of Stirling and Dovan, and Lord Proprietor of Canada and Nova Scotia, Part 2, Washington: Gideon & Co., 1853, page 42

[13] Turnbull, William (Ed.), work cited, pages 76-7

[14] Turnbull, William (Ed.), work cited, pages 77-8

[15] Turnbull, William (Ed.), work cited, pages 79-80

[16] Turnbull, William (Ed.), work cited, page 83

[17] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, page lxxviii

[18] Turnbull, William (Ed.), work cited, pages 81-2

[19] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, pages xvii-xix. (Swinton gives this letter in French as a footnote, and it has been translated into English from there. The date is that of the letter, not the date of the issue of the Journal des Debats, which is not given.)

[20] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, page 300

[21] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, page 347

[22] Swinton, Archibald, work cited, page 348

[23] Hayes, John L., work cited, Part 2, page 57 and pages 63-4

OTHER WORKS CONSULTED FOR THIS ARTICLE:

Anonymous (An English Lawyer), Remarks on the Trial of the Earl of Stirling at Edinburgh, April 29th, 1839, for Forgery, London: Lewis & Co., 1839

Burn, J.I., Case of the Right Hon. Alexander, Earl of Stirling and Dovan, Respecting His Lordship’s Title to Nova Scotia, and Other Territorial Possessions in North America: Containing a Narrative of the ProceedingsTaken on His Lordship’s Behalf for the Restitution of the Property, with Observations Thereon, Piccadilly: Hatchard & Son, 1833

Macaulay, J.B., Life of the Last Earl of Stirling, Paignton: W.A. Axworthy, 1906

Rogers, Rev. C., Memorials of the Earl of Stirling and of the House of Alexander, Vol. 2, Edinburgh: William Paterson, 1877

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