Being the bearer of bad news can sometimes have unfortunate consequences as this tale will demonstrate.
It is August 1870. The setting is Hautefaye in the Dordogne. France was at war with Prussia at the time and three weeks later the Emperor, Napoleon III, would be captured by the enemy and deposed.
On the 16th of August the residents of Hautefaye were holding a fair. The cousin of a young nobleman, Alain de Moneys, turned up and reported that the war was not going well. Fuelled by alcohol the locals attacked the cousin and his party who managed to flee. The mob the turned their attentions to Alain.
Accusing him of being a Prussian spy and a traitor to the Emperor, they surrounded him. The local priest tried to pacify the situation by giving the crowd more drink. This only served to worsen the mob’s mood and unable to hold them back any more, the priest is reported to have said, “eat him if you want”.
For two hours the crowd set upon poor Alain, nailing horseshoes to his feet and bursting one of his eyeballs. They finally burnt him in the village square, probably whilst he was still alive, collecting fat from the burning body onto bread and, allegedly, eating the resultant tartines.
Three days later the gendarmerie arrested fifty people aged between 14 and 50. Of the twenty-one who eventually stood trial in Perigueux in December of that year nineteen were convicted, of whom four were sentenced to be guillotined. The sentences were carried out on 6th February the next year.
It was only in 1953 that the last direct witness of the collective madness at Hautefaye, Lavaud Noemie, died at the grand old age of 92. To mark the centenary of this horror the village bizarrely hosted a mass of forgiveness to which descendants of the victim, Alain de Moneys, and his killers were invited.
A truly gruesome story of collective mania. So if you have some bad news to convey, pause for thought.