The portress who forgave the revolutionary murderer of her only son

July 11, 2011

Château de Thuré

When the Chouans first took up arms, there lived as portress in the chateau of Thuré a poor widow woman named Madame Huneau. She was known to all the country round for her works of mercy. Having acquired some practical knowledge of medicine, she was a constant attendant upon the sick-beds of the poor; and when her skill was insufficient to effect a cure, she soothed and comforted the dying with the consolations of religion, for she was of an exemplary devotion.

Château de Thuré

She had an only son, too young to take any part in the insurrection; but he contrived to be useful to the Chouans by carrying their correspondence and watching the movements of the Blues. The partisans of the Republic in the neighborhood, suspecting the cause of his frequent absence from home, laid wait for him; and as he was returning one evening from one of his expeditions, he was shot in the avenue of the chateau, and within a few paces of his mother. At the same time a man rushed through the bushes, and made his escape. Her skill, poor woman, was useless, for he was mortally wounded; but, in resignation to the will of God, she gave herself up with greater diligence to her works of charity.

Painting by Lovis Corinth

Not long after the murder of her son, she heard of the dangerous illness of a notorious terrorist in the neighborhood. His cries and blasphemies were so frightful, that none of his own people would venture near his bedside. The poor woman trembled at hearing the name of the sick man; but, with a generosity which grace only could inspire, she approached his house. He was then lying prostrate after a paroxysm of delirium; but at the sound of her voice he started up in a sort of frenzy, crying—“What has brought this woman here? Does she know what I have done? Has she come to enjoy my torments? Away, out of my sight! There is no pity or mercy for me. I am certain to be damned; God Himself could not save me.” The poor widow shuddered at his ravings; but she stayed, and collecting all her strength, said—“O miserable man! Why blaspheme? Repent, and God will have mercy upon you. Has He not sent me here to you? And now I know that you are the man who killed my son. Ah, since God has sent me here to pardon you, without doubt He will pardon you also. Merit, then, His forgiveness by repentance.”

Last Rites

The heart of the reprobate was touched. He was contrite; but to render his conversion more profitable and complete, there was needed still the minister of God, to receive the solemn confession of his sins, and pronounce, in the name of God, his entire absolution. In the canton was a priest, with whose retreat Huneau was acquainted. With great danger both to herself and to him she brought him to the dying penitent, and had the satisfaction of seeing him reconciled to heaven, and able to meet death with confidence. He lived eight days, during which the holy woman never quitted the bedside of her son’s murderer; and, as he expired with a blessing on his lips, received his last sigh. One such incident as this seems enough to make reparation for a hundred acts of revenge; and such as was Madame Huneau was, in his way, many a rough Chouan, who fought for his God and his king, and when the fight was over forgave his enemies and spared their lives.

Château de Thuré

George J. Hill, The Story of the War in La Vendée and the Little Chouannerie (New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co. n.d.), pp. 197-198.


Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 91



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