Until the 1950s, the Marquis de Montcalm was a hero. A martyr. Then the demi-god was thrown down from his pedestal. Montcalm became the narrow-minded aristocrat. The completely null general who lost the battle of the Plains of Abraham by his fault. But now, recent works, notably those of the historian Dave Noël, propose a more nuanced version of the unloved. And if Montcalm was a more ordinary man than we thought? Neither hero nor zero? Or half-hero, half-zero?
Q uébec, January 1759. The capital of New France is hungry. Refugees from Acadia are reduced to searching the garbage cans. The word “revolution” is pronounced. Four hundred women are demonstrating in front of the Intendant’s Palace in the lower town. They demand bread. To calm them down, one promises to dig in the reserves of the army, in Montreal.
The misery of the people does not prevent the good society from stuffing itself. Bals. Games of chance. Banquets. The English will be at the doors of Quebec in June. Maybe before. So much fun before it’s too late. “One is entertained, one thinks of nothing […]”, writes the Marquis Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, who directs the army of the colony. (1)
Born in the south of France, the marquis is an aristocrat. A real. He has already moved in … sedan chair! In spite of everything, it is difficult to explain the multitude of sumptuous dances and banquets, at the moment when the country is starving. Note. It does not prevent him from enjoying it. Monsieur is a regular at the salon of the beautiful Angélique Péan, on Saint-Louis Street. He compares the pleasures of the place to those of several salons of Versailles.
It is whispered that Mrs. Péan is the mistress of Intendant François Bigot, who will later be accused of fraud. Madame is nicknamed “Sultane” and “Pompadour of Canada”, in reference to the favorite of King Louis XV. The steward even has his beloved Angelique build a vault sheltered from the bombs. In New France, the authorities have a sense of priorities.
Between two gay parties, Montcalm is pessimistic. In his Journal , he believes that New France is “lost”. With hindsight, historians will go so far as to suggest that he is “depressed”. Even “depressive”.
The Marquis is homesick. His back makes him suffer. He dreams of his castle of Provence. He misses his wife and four daughters, whom he has not seen for three years. In May, Bougainville, who returns from France, informs him of the death of one of his daughters. Except that the messenger does not know which one it is! (2)
Day after day, Montcalm notices the lack of food, soldiers, gunpowder. Lack of time, too. When the ice melts, we rush to improve Quebec’s defenses. But it’s getting late. According to Montcalm, the work should have started “three years” before.
To top it off, relations between Montcalm and his superior, Governor Vaudreuil, are execrable. Their differences are so well known that even a newspaper in New York has spoken of them. At the enemy! The previous summer, despite his military success, Montcalm was fed up. He asked for his recall in France. Before you change your mind
Too many mouths to feed
Our history books have seized the case. On one side, Vaudreuil, the native of the country. From the other Montcalm, the arrogant little aristocrat. In the right-hand corner, the “Canadian” daring, adept war “Indian”. In the left corner, the amorphous Frenchman, who dreams of pitched battles, as in Europe.
However, according to the historian Dave Noël, period documents do not confirm these caricatures. “Vaudreuil is a director more than a soldier. He does not have much fighting experience. As for Montcalm, he knows the “little war” well, since he practiced it in Europe, then in America. He does not hesitate to use it. ”
That’s right, Montcalm rages against the “indiscipline” of Canadians. Or against the “unpredictable” nature of the “Indians”. But let us bet that he does not approve the last taunts of Voltaire, published in Paris. It reads as follows: “You know that (…) two nations are at war for a few acres of snow to Canada, and they are spending for this beautiful war far more than all of Canada is worth.” (3)
Despising, General Montcalm? Perhaps. But what of the steward Bigot, who advocates the offensive outrage? At a certain point, Monsieur suggests to multiply the deadly attacks on the English positions, to reduce the number of mouths to feed … (4)