Charles Théveneau de Morande was not a man who kept friends for long. Throughout his sordid and occasionally bizarre life within London’s émigré community during the 1770s and 1780s, he would repeatedly charm his fellow Frenchmen with his wit, energy and saucy jokes, only to turn on them shortly afterwards by libelling them in newsprint, challenging them to duels or trying to squeeze them for as much money as they seemed capable of coughing up. Even his longstanding friendship with Beaumarchais rested on the understanding that the playwright would bail out Morande’s debts so that certain incriminating documents never came to light. Yet Morande served the French monarchy until its extinction in the Terror. This is something of a surprise since he began his career as the author of an outrageous libelle against Louis XV.
Morande was born in 1741 in Arnay-le-Duc in Burgundy. His reprobate tendencies were evident from an early age: on one occasion he contrived to imprison the Father Superior of the local Capuchin monastery in his cell as the latter was waiting to be shaved. Morande’s father sent him