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Le Meurtre de Marie-Anne Couillaud
The Crime of Marie-Anne Couillaud 


 
Les premiers colons a venir au Canada n'étaient pas tous des saints et l'historien Robert Lionel Séguin en a fait le sujet d'un de ses livres, "La VIE LIBERTINE EN NOUVELLE-FRANCE AU XVIIe SIÈCLE. Un des chapitres de ce livre publié en deux tomes se rapporte au Meurtre Passionnel. Dans ce chapitre on retrouve la fille de notre ancêtre Philibert Couillaud qui de connivence avec son amant aurait assassiné son mari. Voici donc cette histoire
 

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ommis avec préméditation, le meurtre passionnel n'en est que plus sordide et moins excusable. Tel cet attentat survenu à Saint-Ours au tout début du XVIIIe siècle.
En ce temps-là un nommé La Chaume et son épouse, Marie Couillau, habitent à cet endroit. Pour leur malheur, Pierre Viau dit Larose, soldat de la Compagnie du sieur de Saint-Ours, loge chez un voisin. Histoire de tuer le temps, Larose va souvent causer chez les La Chaume. Beau parleur, le militaire a vite fait de bouleverser le coeur de son accueillante hôtesse. Cette passion la mène droit au crime. Maintenant qu'elle est la maîtresse de Larose, Marie Couillau décide tout bonnement de se débarasser de son mari. Elle a tôt fait de mettre son amant au courant du projet. Le 28 février 1702, Marie Couillau et Pierre Viau décident d'en finir avec La Chaume «dans le temps quil Estoit Endormy». La nuit même, le mari aurait été transpercé de trois coups d'épée par l'amant de sa femme. La mort est instantanée.
Marie Couillau reste introuvable pendant que son présumé complice est incarcéré à Montréal. La disparition de la femme La Chaume tient du roman-feuilleton. Pour la soustraire aux poursuites de la justice, son oncle, Pierre Laporte dit Saint-Georges se serait mis en frais de la conduire en Nouvelle-Angleterre. En route, il rencontre des indigènes à qui il confie sa nièce pour qu'ils l'escortent jusqu'à destination. Entre temps, le procès se poursuit à Québec. Finalement convaincus de meurtre, les deux amants sont «condamnez à faire amande honorable nud Teste Et En Chemise La corde au Col Tenant En leur mains vne Torche de Cire ardente du poids de deux Liures audeuant de la porte Et prinsipalle Entrée de lEglise parroissialle de lad ville de Montreal ou Ils Seroient menez par l'Executeur de la haute justice Et la Estans nuds Teste Et genoux declarer que mechamment Et Sans aucun Sujet Ils ont commis Et fait led meurtre dont Ils Se repentent Et En demandant pardon a Dieu, au Roy Et a Justice, apres quoy Estre conduits par led Executeur En la Place publique ed lad ville pour y Estre pendus Et Etranglez Jusqu'à ce que mort Sensuiue a vne potence qui pour cet Effet Seroit dressée En lad place, Leur corps y demeurer douze heures Et Ensuite leurs Testes portées par led Executeur Et mise chacune Sur vn pieu debout Sur le lieu ou Ils ont fait led assassinat Et dans l'Endroit le plus passant»

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Cette horrible mise en scène est conforme à la mentalité du temps. En frappant le peuple de terreur, on pensait l'éloigner à jamais des sentiers du crime.
Enfin, les biens des condamnés sont confisqués; il en sera prelevée une amende de trois cents livres au bénéfice du roi. Mais la femme Couillau, qui a la jambe aussi légère que la cuisse, échappe à toute sentence, si sévère soit-elle. Pour sauver la face, le tribunal décide que «Seroit Icelle Sentence Executée par Efigie allencontre de lad Marie Couillau defaillante qui pour cet Effet Seroit pinte dans vn tableau qui Seroit attaché a lad Potence par led Executeur de la haute justice, au bas de laquelle Sentence Est mention de la prononciation d'Icelle» C'est tout simplement pendre quelqu'un en effigie. Chose surprenante: telle parodie n'est plus l'oeuvre de manifestants mais bien de responsables de l'ordre et de la justice. Ne pouvant atteindre un condamné dans sa personne, le pouvoir judiciaire se rabattait sur son honneur et sa dignité.

 Le 25 du même mois, Pierre Viau en appelle de la sentence de mort que le tribunal a prononcée contre lui. De nouveaux témoins sont assignés, entre autres « vne des filles du nommé Lagazaille et Anne Bellet, femme de François Quercy dit Laviolette, habitant de Saint-Ours. « La cour prend suffisamment de temps pour étudier toute l'affaire. Finalement, le 17 octobre, Viau est amené «Entre les deux guichets du Cachot ou Il Est detenu » pour apprendre que la première condamnation est maintenue dans toute sa rigueur. N'ayant rien à perdre, le condamné « Estant nud Teste Et a genoux a dit Quil souffriroit volontiers lad question pour la Justification de son Innoncence» En Nouvelle-France, des accusés sont soumis à la question comme il est de coutume en Europe. La question est la torture qu'on donne aux criminels pour savoir la vérité de quelque crime qualifié. C'est le détecteur de mensonge du temps. Dans les causes criminelles, on donne la question si l'accusé est prevenu d'un crime capital, & qui mérite la mort, & si le crime est constant, il peut être condamné à la question, s'il y a preuve considérable contre lui, & que cependant la preuve ne soit pas suffisante pour le convaincre, & pour le condamner à mort Le brodequin est l'appareil qui sert généralement à appliquer la question ordinaire et extraordinaire.

 Enfin, la terre et l'habitation que la victime possédait, en la seigneurie de Saint-Ours, seront vendue «ainsy qui la moytié du bled qui Est prouenu d'Icelle par la récolte de la présente année Et ce pardeuant le Juge Royal dud Montréal pour les deniers En prouenans Estre Employez a payer tous les frais du Proces Et le Surplus sil y En a, En oeuures pieuses pour le repos de lame dud La Chaume»

 Le même jour, comme il en a exprimé le désir, Viau «Sera apliqué à la question ordinaire Et Extraordinaire» en présence du conseiller Delino. L'interrogatoire portera « Sur les faits contenus au Proces Et retenu qu'au cas que le corps dud deffunt La Chaume ayt Esté trouué percé de trois coups d'Eppée que led Viau a auoué donné» Cette nouvelle procédure ne changera rien au sort réservé à Viau.

 Il reste un fait capital qu'aurait présentement retenu tout jury. Si l'amant de Marie Couillau a avoué son crime, allant même jusqu'à dire de quelle façon il l'a executé, le corps de la victime n'a pourtant jamais été retrouvé. On a présumé que son assassin l'a jeté dans le Richelieu. Vers la mi-octobre, le procureur du roi est informé qu'«En la Seigneurie de Beaumont ou Il auroit Esté trouué des le mois de Juin dernier un corps mort Sur la riuage qui pourrit Estre celuy du dit La Chaume autour duquel le Curé dur dit lieur auroit fait amasser des pierres et du sable pour sepulturer attendu la grande corruption ou Il se trouuoit». En apprenant la nouvelle, le Conseil ordonne « que le dit Sr de lamartinière, le dit Procureur general Et Le greffier En chef Se transporteront auec le Sieur Sarrazin medecin Et Chirurgien Et auec vn huissier En la dite Seig.rie de Beaumont pour visiter le dit corps mort». Les quatre hommes s'acquittent de cette mission le lundi 23 du même mois. Malheureusement, cette démarche n'apporte rien qui puisse éclairer la justice.

 La mise en accusation d'un témoin donnera une nouvelle tournure à cette sordide histoire. Par compassion, Pierre Laporte dit Saint-Georges aurait favorisé la fuite de sa nièce en Nouvelle-Angleterre. C'est du moins ce qu'il a déclaré, lors d'une première audience. Mais le récit de cette pérégrination, à travers bois, n'est pas acceptable, du moins sur divers points. Si bien que l'oncle trop bavard est accusé« d'auoir tué lad Marie Couillau Sa niepce En ce quil dit lauoir conduitte vers le pays de la nouuelle angleterre Et de lauoir liurée a des Sauuages quil ne connoissoit pas.» Arrêté par « décret de prise de corps», Laporte réitère la déposition qu'il a antérieurement faite à titre de témoin.

 L'affaire en reste là, sans que personne ne puisse apporter aucun éclaircissement sur les mystérieuse disparitions du couple La Chaume. La femme n'est nulle part, alors que le corps du mari n'est jamais retrouvé.

THE TRIAL of-MARIE-ANNE COUILLAU

The first colonists to come to Canada were not all saints, and historian Robert Lionel Seguin made this the subject of one of his books, LA VIE LIBERTINE en NOUVELLE-FRANCE au XVIIe SIECLE or Libertine Life in New France during the XVII th Century. One of the chapters of this book, which was published in two volumes, deals with the Crime of Passion. In this chapter we find one of the daughters of our ancestor, Philibert Couillaud, who was accused of conniving with her lover to assassinate her husband. Here, then, is that story.

ommitted with premeditation, a murder of passion is all the more sordid, and all the less excusable. Such was the outrage which occurred at St-Ours at the very outset of the XVIIIth Century.
At that time, a man by the name of LaChaume and his wife, Marie Couillaud, lived at St-Ours. Much to their misfortune, Pierre Viau dit Larose, a soldier in the St-Ours Company is lodged with one of their neighbors. As a means of killing time, Larose often goes to his neighbors', the Lachaume, to enjoy some casual talking. A fine talker, the soldier quickly makes the heart of his hostess beat faster. This passion leads him straight to crime. Once she becomes the mistress of Larose, Marie Couillaud decides in good measure to get rid of her husband. And she soon advises her lover of her project. On 28 February 1702, Marie Couillaud and Pierre Viau decide to put an end to LaChaume "during the time he was asleep." That very night, the husband is stabbed three times with his sword by his wife's lover. The result is instant death.

 Marie Couillaud is nowhere to be found, while her presumed accomplice is locked up in Montreal. The disappearance of the LaChaume woman reads like a pulp novel. To protect her from legal prosecution, her uncle, Pierre Laporte dit Saint-Georges, is said to have assumed the responsibility of taking her to New England. On the way he is said to have met natives, to whom he would have entrusted the care of his niece, paying them to conduct her safely to her destination. Meanwhile, the trial continues in Quebec. Finally convicted of murder, the two lovers are "...condemned to pay for their crime honestly, bareheaded, wearing shirt only, the rope around their necks, holding in their hands a flaming wax torch weighing two pounds, in front of the main entrance of the parish church, in the said city of Montreal. Led there by the Executioner of the High Court, where, bare-headed and kneeling, they are to declare that they committed this crime wickedly and without good reason, and that they repent and ask pardon to God, the King and the Court, after which they are to be led by the Executioner to the public Square of the said city, to be hanged and strangled on the gallows until death results, all of which to take place in the said place, their bodies to remain there twelve hours, and then their heads to be carried by the Executioner and placed, each one on a post standing on the site where they committed the said assassination, as the most appropriate place."

 This horrible drama conforms with the mentality of the times. By terrorizing the population, it was believed that the paths leading to crime would be avoided.

 Finally, the possessions of the condemned were confiscated; from them, a fine of three hundred livres (pounds) was raised for the benefit of the king. But the Couillaud woman, whose leg is as nimble as her thigh, escaped all sentencing, as severe as it was. To save face, the tribunal decided that this sentence would be executed by effigy, inasmuch as the said Marie Couillaud is defiant and for that reason she would be depicted in a scene to be attached to the said post by the said Executioner of the High Court, beneath which is to be stated the pronounced sentence." Quite simply, it was a matter of hanging her in effigy.
A surprising thing: consider it a travesty that this was not the work of demonstrators, but of those who were responsible for law and order and administration of justice! Unable to execute one condemned in person, the judicial authorities were determined to save their own honor and dignity.

 On the twenty-fifth of the same month, Pierre Viau appealed the death sentence to which the High Court had sentenced him. New witnesses were called, among whom was "...one of the daughters of a Lagazaille, and Mme Ballet, spouse of Francois Quercy dit Laviolette, a settler residing in Saint-Ours." The court took the time necessary to study the entire case. Finally, on 17 October, Viau was brought to the double windows of the prison where he was being held.
To learn that his first condemnation was being upheld, with all its ramifications. Having nothing to lose bareheaded and kneeling, he said that he would voluntarily submit to "the question" as proof of his innocence. In New France, as it was in Europe, the custom of "the question" was used to determine the innocence, or guilt, of the accused. "The question" was a form of torture administered to criminals in order to learn the truth concerning a crime that qualified for this. It was the lie detector of the times. In criminal cases, "the question" was used if the accused could expect to be tried for a capital offense, which was punishable by death, or if the crime was established, the accused could be sentenced to "the question," if there was considerable proof against him, or if there was rot sufficient proof to convict him and sentence him to death. The bradequin ( a limb stretching machine) was the tool which was generally applied to obtain the answers to ordinary, as well as extraordinary questions.

 Finally, the property and dwelling which the victim owned in the Seigniory of St-Ours are to be sold "as well as half of the wheat grown on it from this year’s crop, and, this decreed by the Royal Judge of said Montreal that the money from these sales to be used to pay the cost of said trial, and any amount gained above the cost, if there is any, to be applied to pious deeds as offering for the repose of the said La Chaume.

 On the same day, as Viau had wished, he "will be subjected to the question, ordinary and extraordinary, in the presence of the counsel Delino. The interrogation will be confined to the facts made known in the trial and retained so that in case the body of the said deceased La Chaume should be found pierced with three stabbing wounds from a sword, which the said Viau has confessed to administering" this procedure will not change in any way the fate already reserved for Viau.

 It remains a capital offense on which any modern jury would have agreed. Even though Marie's lover admitted his crime, going so far as to state in what manner he had committed it, the fact remains that the victim's body has never been recovered. It was presumed that he (Viau) had thrown it into the Richelieu. Toward mid-October the king's attorney was informed that "..in the Seigniory of Beaumont, where, early last June, was found on the riverbank a dead body which, although decomposed, was undoubtedly that of the said La Chaume, about which the priest was said to have arranged for stones and sand to be gathered for burial, taking into account the state of decay in which the body was found. On learning the news, the Counsil ordered that Seigneur de Lamartiniere, the said attorney-general and the chief notary go, along with physician and surgeon Sieur Sarrazin, and also a scribe, to the said Seigniory of Beaumont to see the said body. The four man acquitted themselves of their mission on Monday, the 23 rd of the same month. Unfortunetely, this joumey brought no information to enlighten the court.

 The formal accusation of a witness put a new twist on this sordid story. in a manner of compassion, Pierre Laporte dit Saint-Georges was said to have aided the flight of his niece to New England. At least, that is what he claimed during an early interview. But the tale of this joumey across forests was not found acceptable on several points. The result was that the tell-tale uncle was arrested on grounds of having killed his niece, the said Marie Couiilaud, in having taken her toward New England and having turned her to savages whom he did net knew. He was arrested for kidnapping. He reiterated his earlier statement, made while he was a witness. There has rested the case without anyone’s ever having been able to shed new light on that mysterious disappearance of the LaChaume couple That woman was nowhere to be found, while the body of her husband was probably never found.

Translantion by Bernice LaRocque Heiter