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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Marguerite and Julien de Ravalet

The story of Marguerite and Julien de Ravalet was quite famous in France in its time, and is still well known there. In the rest of the world, though, they are completely unknown. I myself was surprised that I had never heard of them, until I did research and found out that 99% of everything online and in print about them is in French. Making exact sense of the story has been difficult, since the ages of those involved during various events are different everywhere I find them. I could only find one English-language site which discusses the story in full.

Marguerite and Julien were two of eleven siblings born to the landed Ravalet family at the end of the Renaissance. The time period was a chaotic one, the culmination of religious and political conflict between the Catholics and Calvinists of France, who fought bloody battles and attempted assassinations all during the Ravalets' lives.

Marguerite and Julien grew up on the Ravalet estate in Tourlaville, northern France, and from a very early age they were extremely close. As they grew up and became even closer, their parents decided that it was a problem. They separated them by sending Julien off to boarding school. He didn't return until years later.

The Ravalet chateau

Their parents married Marguerite off to the tax collector, Jean Lefebvre, who was much, much older than her. (She was only 13 or 14 at the time.) By all accounts it was a very unhappy marriage. Eventually she couldn't take it anymore, and she left him and went home. Julien was there when she returned. Some time after, Marguerite became pregnant, and she fled home to avoid retribution.

Julien seems to have given his father the impressions that he would go and find Marguerite to bring her back. Instead, when he found her they absconded to Paris. When he found out, Jean Lefebvre (Marguerite's husband) went to the royal authorities and demanded that the two be charged with adultery and incest. They were arrested in Paris and thrown in prison. During their trial they were found guilty on both counts, and sentenced to death.

Over the course of this ordeal, word got around about the de Ravalet siblings and they became famous. Many people were sympathetic toward them, and their father personally begged King Henri IV to pardon them. King Henri explained that because Marguerite was married and had committed adultery, he couldn't publicly justify pardoning them. The only concession he could give was to allow for Marguerite and Julien to have a proper Christian burial, and not be thrown into the public mass graves.

Marguerite gave birth to her baby in prison, and gave the baby to her parents, to care for it in her absence. Shortly after, she and Julien were publicly decapitated. Their tombstone read:
Ci gisent le frère et la sœur. Passant ne t'informe pas de la cause de leur mort, mais passe et prie Dieu pour leur âmes.
[Here lie the brother and the sister. Passerby, search not the cause of their death, but pass and pray to God for their souls.]
After their death, the siblings became symbols in France of brave and tragic love. Paintings were made depicting them, and plays were written about them. Recently a modern retelling has come out which has reignited interest in their story: Marguerite & Julien. You can watch it here.

Edit: Bonus! It grossed out a New York Times film critic! I like it even more now!


  1. Ci gisent le frère et la sœur. Passant ne t'informe pas de la cause de leur mort, mais passe et prie Dieu pour leur âmes.
    [Here lie the brother and the sister. Passing does not inform you of the cause of their death, but move forward and pray to God for their souls.]

    The above translation is wrong -- "Passant ne t'informe pas...mais passe" renders as "Passerby, search not the cause...but pass..."

    1. I suspect it was worded that way in English as authorial license by the translator. Thanks for the correction.

  2. love is love. origination not withstanding.