Madame Tison Goes Mad

Madame Tison was one of the people appointed to guard the French Royal family imprisoned at the Temple. Her horrible behaviour towards the prisoners and her spying activities caused her to go mad. Charles Younge, in his biography of Marie Antoinette, thus sums up her sad story:

From the time that her own attendants were dismissed, the only person appointed to assist Cléry in his duties were a man and woman named Tison, chosen for that task on account of their surly and brutal tempers, in which the wife exceeded her husband. Both, and especially the woman, had taken a fiendish pleasure in heaping gratuitous insults on the whole family; but at last the dignity and resignation of the queen awakened remorse in the woman’s heart, which presently worked upon her to such a degree that she became mad.

In the first days of her frenzy she raved up and down the courtyard declaring herself guilty of the queen’s murder. She threw herself at Marie Antoinette’s feet, imploring her pardon; and Marie Antoinette not only raised her up with her own hand, and spoke gentle words of forgiveness and consolation to her, but, after she had been removed to a hospital, showed a kind interest in her condition, and amidst all her own troubles found time to write a note to express her anxiety that the invalid should have proper attention.

Marie Therese of France, Marie Antoinette’s daughter, offers more details:

About this time, Madame Tison went mad. She was uneasy about my brother’s illness, and had been long tormented with remorse: she got into a state of languor, and would not take the air. One day she began to talk aloud to herself; alas! that made me laugh, and my poor mother and aunt looked at me with an air of satisfaction, as if they observed with pleasure this short moment of gaiety.

But the poor woman’s derangement soon became serious: she raved of her crimes, of her denunciations, of prisons, scaffolds, the Queen, the royal family, and all our misfortunes. Conscious of her crimes, she thought herself unworthy to approach us; and she believed that the persons against whom she had informed had perished. Every morning she was in anxious hope of seeing the municipal officers whom she had denounced; and, not seeing them, she went to bed every night in a deeper melancholy. Her dreams must have been dreadful, for she screamed in her sleep so loud, that we heard her.

The municipal officers permitted her to see her daughter, of whom she was very fond. One day, that the porter, who was not apprised of this permission, had refused to let the daughter come into the prison, the officers, seeing the desperate grief of the mother, sent for the girl at ten o’clock at night. This untimely visit alarmed her still more; it was with great difficulty they persuaded her to go down stairs, and on the way she repeated to her husband, “We are going to prison.” When she saw her daughter, she did not know her; the fancy of being arrested had seized her mind.

She was coming back again with one of the officers, but in the middle of the stairs she suddenly stopped, and would neither go backwards nor forwards. The officer, alarmed, was obliged to call for assistance to remove her up stairs; but nothing could induce her to go to bed, and during the whole night she disturbed us by raving and talking incessantly. The next morning the physician pronounced her quite mad.

She was for ever at my mother’s feet, asking her pardon; and nothing, indeed, could exceed the compassion which both she and my aunt showed to this poor creature, of whose previous conduct they had had too much reason to complain. They watched and attended her while she remained in this state in the Temple; and they endeavoured to pacify her with the warmest assurances of their forgiveness. The next day, she was removed from the tower to the palace; but her disorder increasing every hour, she was at last sent to the Hotel Dieu, where a woman belonging to the police was placed to watch her, and to gather whatever she might, in her phrensy, say concerning the Royal Family.

Further reading:
Royal memoirs of the French revolution: Private memoirs of what passed in the Temple from the imprisonment of the royal family to the death of the Dauphin, by madame Royale, duchess of Angoulême
The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Charles Duke Yonge

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