HAVARD DE BEAUFORT, FRANÇOIS-CHARLES, known as L’Avocat, soldier, “sorcerer”; b. c. 1715 in Paris; returned to France in the autumn of 1742, date and circumstances of death unknown.
François-Charles Havard de Beaufort was known in the Montreal region as a public entertainer and “sorcerer.” But, having an ingenious mind and a superior education for the period, he tried, as he himself admitted, to make use of his card and knife tricks not only to divert and amuse spectators but also to “intimidate ordinary people in serious matters.”
The judicial annals of New France relate certain facts concerning Havard de Beaufort that merit some description because they throw light in several respects on the social history of Canada during the French régime. In 1737 Havard de Beaufort tried “by some craftiness and card tricks” to discover the thief of a “valuable ring” which the wife of Jacques Testard* de Montigny, Marie de La Porte de Louvigny, had lost. He was not able, however, to identify the robber. Despite this lack of success Havard de Beaufort tried his skill again five years later. On 28 June 1742, when stationed at Montreal, he learned that the shoemaker Charles Robidoux, from the suburb of Saint-Joseph, had been robbed of 300 livres and that the search for the guilty person had been vain. Havard de Beaufort then made an offer to the shoemaker, for the sum of 20 livres, to conjure up the thief’s face in a mirror. Prepared to go to any lengths to get his money back, Robidoux agreed to the bargain and immediately paid Havard de Beaufort six livres. The seance of catoptromancy was held that same evening in Robidoux’s home in the presence of a dozen persons, all of them relatives, neighbours, or friends of the shoemaker.
Havard de Beaufort first tried to create an atmosphere that would impress his spectators. He set on a table near the fireplace a white tablecloth, a little bottle of olive oil, three packages – one white, one yellow, one black – of gunpowder and powdered rosin, two candles, and a mirror. He turned the mirror upside-down on the table and placed it between the two lighted candles. The “sorcerer” held a book of prayers, the Verba Jesu Christi ex Evangeliis, in his hands and read aloud some verses, spreading pinches of powder on the back of the mirror after each verse. On the powder he placed the crucifix that René-Charles Laigu, dit Lanoue, had brought him, poured on each end a mixture of olive oil, gunpowder, and powdered rosin called “viper oil,” and without losing any time dried the oil up with the candle flames. When this rite was ended he prepared three slips of paper into which he poured a little gunpowder. He had the candles extinguished and the fire covered up in the fireplace, seized the moment when the room was plunged into darkness to pick up the mirror, and, holding the crucifix, muttered some Latin prayers. At that instant the thief’s face was supposed to appear in the mirror. Nothing happened, and Havard de Beaufort ordered the fire in the fireplace to be uncovered and threw into it, one after the other, the three small packages of powder he had just prepared, each time taking care first to read a verse from the Gospel. This new ceremony was just as ineffectual.
It seems clear that the dread which the sorcerer created among his spectators was not sufficient to lead the thief to reveal himself. After an hour of “divinations and prognostications” he had to admit that he was incapable of identifying the thief. But he did not admit that he was completely vanquished and wanted to prove to his spectators that he was indeed a diviner. Therefore he had the candles lit again and drew three black lines on the mantel of the fireplace, using the edge of the cross and a piece of charcoal. Then he invited his spectators to touch the black lines, stating that he would name all those who did so without seeing them. In fact, having withdrawn to the vestibule of the house, he succeeded in identifying everyone who touched the lines. They amused themselves with this little game for some time more.
Of course, the news of this sorcery seance rapidly spread about Montreal and reached the ears of the law. The next day, 29 June 1742, the judicial authorities had Havard de Beaufort imprisoned, along with Charles Lanoue, Charles Robidoux, and the latter’s wife Anne Lehoux, all three on the accusation of being accomplices. The case was investigated by the lieutenant general for civil and criminal affairs in the jurisdiction of Montreal, Jacques-Joseph Guiton de Monrepos. Havard de Beaufort was accused of “having profaned the text of the New Testament as well as the representation of Jesus Christ crucified, by using them both for prognostications and other profane and unlawful uses.” He declared that his intention had not been “to profane his God” but rather to intimidate his spectators and thus lead the thief to give himself up. On 13 Aug. 1742, after a trial that lasted a month and a half, the accused was found guilty of “profanations of holy objects” and was sentenced to serve five years on the king’s galleys and to make the amende honorable on a market day before the main door of the church of Notre-Dame de Montréal, where he would be taken by the hangman, Mathieu Léveillé. His crime would be described on two signs which he would carry on his back and chest. Robidoux, who was convicted of having had recourse to François-Charles Havard de Beaufort’s “prognostications and divinations” and of “having permitted” these acts in his home, was sentenced to stay outside the government and town of Montreal for three years and to be present on his knees, “dressed only in his tunic,” at the amende honorable which Havard de Beaufort would pronounce in front of the parish church of Montreal. The Montreal court gave the same punishment to Charles Lanoue, convicted of having supplied Havard de Beaufort with the prayer book and the crucifix. But it acquitted Anne Lehoux, since the preliminary investigation had revealed her complete innocence.
Since Havard de Beaufort, Robidoux, and Lanoue had been sentenced to corporal punishment, the deputy king’s attorney, François Foucher, presented himself before the judge immediately after the sentences had been read to the accused to constitute himself an appellant before the Conseil Supérieur of Quebec against the condemnations, in compliance with chapter xxvi, article vi of the criminal ordinance of 1670, according to which any sentence to the galleys, corporal punishment, banishment for life, or the amende honorable had to be sent in appeal before a superior court. On 17 Sept. 1742 the court of appeal upheld the guilty verdicts reached by the Montreal tribunal but, as frequently happened, reduced the severity of the sentences. It modified Havard de Beaufort’s punishment by reducing the time to be served on the king’s galleys from five to three years but added flogging to the sentence handed down by the royal jurisdiction of Montreal. Instead of being sentenced to banishment, Lanoue had to appear before the councillors to receive a reprimand and pay a fine of three livres to the king. Robidoux was simply admonished by the councillors and given a fine of three livres which was intended to serve for the upkeep of prisoners. On 5 Oct. 1742 the executioner, Mathieu Léveillé, carried out in Montreal the sentences of the Conseil Supérieur.
Informed of this “sacrilege,” Bishop Pontbriand [Dubreil] of Quebec issued on 10 Sept. 1742 a pastoral order addressed to the clergy and population of Montreal. He ordered an adoration of the cross during a general procession of the faithful from the church of Notre-Dame de Montréal to the Bonsecours chapel. Later on, the bishop had the “desecrated crucifix” handed over to him. On 1 March 1744 he decided to entrust it to the Nuns Hospitallers of the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec, who had made an amende honorable and taken general communion at the time of the desecration to make atonement for the “sacrilege.” The crucifix later became the subject of special veneration on the first Friday of October, and after 1782 the faithful, as well as the nuns, could obtain plenary indulgence by visiting the chapel of the Hôtel-Dieu where the crucifix was exposed.
In the autumn of 1742 François-Charles Havard de Beaufort, dit L’Avocat, went on the king’s ship to France to be sent to the king’s galleys. After that no more is heard of him. In the history of sorcery in New France he was only a “false sorcerer,” of a kind to be found in France at the time. He used his talents as a good talker and public entertainer to take advantage of the credulity of simple and naïve people and to make ill-acquired gains at their expense.
AN, Col., B, 76, f.376 (copy at PAC). ANQ, NF, Documents de la juridiction de Montréal, XVII, août 1742; NF, Registres du Cons. sup., registre criminel, 1730–1759, ff.72v–75v. ANQ-M, Procès fameux 1734–1756, affaire Havard de Beaufort, 30 juin–13 août 1742. Bornier, Conférences des ord. de Louis XIV, II, 369–72. Mandements des évêques de Québec (Têtu et Gagnon), II, 19–21, 33–34. Raymond Boyer, Les crimes et les châtiments au Canada français du XVIIe au XXe siècle (L’Encyclopédie du Canada français, V, Montréal, 1966), 303–5.