Monday 13 January 2014

The Lynching of Nicolas Jean Hugou de Bassville

Nicolas Jean Hugou de Bassville (Abbéville, France, 7th February 1743 – Rome, Italy, 13th January 1793),

Today we meet a journalist, diplomatist and all-round man of opinions, Nicolas Jean Hugon de Bassville. Never one to keep his thoughts to himself, Bassville met a sticky end whilst on business in Rome.

Bassville was born in Abbéville and decided early in life to go into the priesthood, attending a seminary as both student and teacher. Although he spent many years passing on his knowledge of theology, Bassville had higher ambitions than this and eventually travelled to Paris. 

View of Via del Corso by Giovanni Battista Piranesi
View of Via del Corso by Giovanni Battista Piranesi

In the French capital, Bassville published Éléments de Mythologie and a collection of poems that gained him some small celebrity, allowing him to find a role as tutor to two American children touring Europe. As a member of their party he saw the continent and settled in Berlin, where he became a member of the Royal Academy before retuning to Paris once more to take up a career in journalism.

By the time the Revolution swept through France he was editor of Mercure International but his ambition was to go further than this and some political networking brought him into the diplomatic service. Initially he was given the position of Secretary of Legation at Naples, though he eventually found himself visiting Rome.

On arrival in the city he immediately made his mark, abandoning diplomatic niceties in favour of making his revolutionary ideals as well known as possible. He insisted that sheltering French émigrés be turned out of Rome and that any reminders of the monarchy be removed from the embassy and replaced with symbols of the Revolution. When papal emissaries intervened he sent them away with harsh words ringing in their ears and it was this that proved his undoing.

In the eyes of the conservative sections of Roman society, Bassville had insulted the pope and this insult could not go unmarked. Whilst travelling to an appointment on Via del Corso his carriage was attacked and Bassville was dragged from the vehicle and lynched by a crowd. The National Convention immediately claimed that the Pope himself had ordered the Frenchman's death and later issued a treaty compelling the Papal government to pay compensation to Bassville's family, recompensing them for his loss. 

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