Louis-Alexandre De Launay, Comte D'Antraigues - Diplomat, Conspirator, and Spy

Diplomat, Conspirator, and Spy

He first escaped to Lausanne, Switzerland where he was quickly followed by his mistress, Madame de Saint-Huberty, one of Marie Antoinette's favorite opera singers. They soon married and moved to Italy where a son was born. In the Republic of Venice, he became an attaché to the Spanish embassy, and then to the Russian legation. In 1793, he became a secret agent for the comte de Provence, the future King Louis XVIII. When Provence moved his court-in-exile to Verona, a town controlled by the Venetians, d'Antraigues acted as his minister of police. The Venetian government later expelled Louis XVIII from its territory in 1796 as a direct result of threats from France, but d'Antraigues remained in Venice.

He was forced to leave, however, when the French Directory invaded Italy in 1797. Travelling with the Russian ambassador to Venice and his entourage as they attempted to flee, d'Antraigues was arrested in Trieste by French troops, who then transported him and his family to Milan. There, he was interrogated by Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon went through d'Antraigues' private papers, which had been confiscated, he discovered that among them were notes concerning a 1796 interview d'Antraigues had had with a supposedly counter-revolutionary spy, the comte de Montgaillard, who was seeking money from d'Antraigues to finance future intrigues. In the interview, Montgaillard detailed his past negotiations with General Charles Pichegru over the betrayal of the French Republic. Despite this discovery and being under house arrest, d'Antraigues and his family were able to escape to Austria.

Soon after, Louis XVIII dismissed him as an agent because he feared that d'Antraigues had willingly betrayed the Pichegru negotiations and other Royalist secrets to Napoleon in exchange for his freedom. More likely, the escape was due to the intervention of Napoleon's aristocratic wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, who greatly admired the singing skills of d'Antraigues' famous wife. The experience greatly embittered d'Antraigues toward Louis XVIII. In 1798, he claimed that Malesherbes, Louis XVI's last lawyer, had entrusted him with papers written by the King shortly before his execution, stating that his brother, the future Louis XVIII, had betrayed the royal cause out of personal ambition and for that reason alone should not succeed him on the throne.

For the next five years, d'Antraigues and his family lived in Graz and Vienna on an allowance provided by Czar Paul I of Russia. In Vienna, he became friends with the Prince de Ligne and Baron Gustav Armfelt, the Swedish ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1802, Czar Alexander I of Russia sent him as a Russian attaché to Dresden, the capital of the Kingdom of Saxony, but in 1806 he published a violent pamphlet against Napoleon and the French Empire, and was expelled by the Saxon government. He then went to London where he developed a close relationship with both George Canning, the British Foreign Secretary, and the Duke of Kent, one of King George III's sons. It was universally believed that d'Antraigues was the agent who revealed the secret articles of the Treaty of Tilsit to the British cabinet, but his biographer, Leonce Pingaud, contests this. In England, he also became an intimate of fellow émigrés, Charles François Dumouriez and the duc d'Orléans (the future King Louis Philippe of the French).

In 1812 he and his wife were assassinated with a stiletto at their country home in Barnes Terrace by an Italian servant whom they had dismissed. It has never been established whether the murder was committed from private or political motives. Some claimed that the motive behind the murders was simply the fact that d'Antraigues' wife treated her servants badly. Others saw more sinister political machinations at work. Both Napoleon and Louis XVIII had ample cause to want d'Antraigues removed from the scene.

Throughout his long exile (1790–1812), he published a number of pamphlets (Des monstres ravagent partout, Point d'accommodement, etc.) against both the French Revolution and Napoleon.

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