How to Get Arrested Without Commiting a Crime

September 5, 2012

The Bet

 Hortense Schneider dans le rôle de la Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein, Alexis Joseph Pérignon, 1874

The famous Parisian operetta star Hortense Schneider had many lovers throughout her career, but perhaps one of the most interesting (and hapless) of her collection is the young Duke Ludovic de Gramont-Caderousse also known as Emmanuel Jean-Ludovic de Gramont, Duc de Caderousse.

The Duke was, like many of the wealthy Paris society gentlemen of the age, a bit of a wild party boy. He had a love of betting and dares and had gotten into a duel with a man over some unsporting remarks about horse racing. He is a slightly enigmatic figure, now overshadowed by his famous mistress and hindered in history books by his early death by consumption, but what little can be unearthed is both amusing and slightly provocative, providing a strange snapshot of the Parisian world of the 1860s.

Though he pulled many lavish pranks and experimental bets throughout his short life, perhaps the most interesting bet the Duke ever made was his proposal that he could get arrested for doing absolutely nothing illegal. His friends took the bet with plenty of skeptical laughter and waited to see what the Duke would do. Changing out of his princely clothes into a coat and trousers of a beggar, Duke Ludovic de Gramont-Caderousse simply walked into one of Paris’s chic, upscale cafes, ordered a glass of champagne, and produced a purse full of thousand-franc bills to pay for it!

He was duly arrested and no doubt had quite an entertaining time explaining himself at the police station, especially considering his position as a member of the gentry and the infamous Parisian Jockey Club. We do not know how large the betting pool was, but no doubt Ludovic was the one laughing as he collected his friend’s bets!

John Taylor, sentenced 1 month for theft of a trowel, early 1870s

The Duke’s bets highlights how poignant the divisions between classes were. We still face this sort of profiling today (after all, if a vagrant showed up in your cafe with fistfuls of $100 bills, you would probably be pretty suspicious as well), but back in 19th century, classes were much more heavily segregated. The mug shot above is from the Newcastle City Gaol between the years 1871 and 1873. The man in the photo isn’t the Duke de Gramont-Caderousse– sadly no mugshot of him is to be found– but of John Taylor who was arrested for stealing a trowel. Yes, a simple trowel earned him over a month of jail time. Though he may look rather dapper to us, his clothes are obviously very ragged and torn, a common occurrence in most mug shots of the period.

William Hill, sentenced 6 months for theft of champagne, early 1870s

Very rarely do you find any wealthy, well-dressed persons among the convicted. Even those in less-tattered clothing are wearing coats with pulled buttons because they are too small or dresses left over from previous fashion eras. The appearance of any of these men or women in an upscale shop full of wealthy people in tailored suits would have been very, very unusual and alarming for the staff and patrons. There was a definitive line between rich and poor both in society and in the eyes of the law.

What may have been a highly entertaining joke for the rich Duke de Gramont-Caderousse actually makes a startling comment on the plight of the poor in 19th century Paris. The only change to his self was what clothes he had on and instantly he encountered intense suspicion. Clothes may or may not make a man, but they can definitely book him.

3 Responses to “How to Get Arrested Without Commiting a Crime”

  1. newcastle gaol, when it was in the castle was a general dumping ground. In the c17th, when no distinction was made for the sexes and male and female prisoners were thrown in the same cells, a bonny teenage lass was arrested for selling flowers on the town moor. she was thrown in the first available cell, which happened to contain seven convicted murderers, her body was pulled out several days later, she’d been dead for days, but they’d kept raping her. I’d say the chap getting his picture taken got off pretty lightly

    • Liz Says:

      He may have gotten off lightly in comparison, but all such prisons (even today’s) are still terrible places to be, especially for those who are wrongly convicted or punished for relatively small offenses. There’s always the joke that if you can’t pay for your meal in a restaurant, you work it off by washing dishes. In the Victorian era, it would have gotten you 4 months in jail and 10 days hard labour.

  2. Isis Says:

    An interesting and poignant read!

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