Beaubrun Ardouin. Haiti 1811

King Henri Christophe

Source: Beaubrun Ardouin, Études sur l'Histoire d'Haïti (Vol. 8). Dézabry et Magdeleine, Paris, 1853-1860;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor.

[In 1811,] His Most Serene Highness, My Lord the President, our Very-Gracious Sovereign, had hardly rendered Juan Sanchez’s memory the funereal honors we have just spoken of than he thought of having himself granted the honors of Majesty he had aspired to since conceiving of the project of killing Emperor Dessalines in order to replace him. He was clever enough to understand that his approval of Dessalines’ death made the reestablishing of the Empire difficult. The army and the populace, though subject to his absolute power, had rightly or wrongly become accustomed to considering the title of Emperor as something evil. What is more, there was in his presidential court a man, Juste Chanlatte, who often declaimed the verses of the great poets, and this actor had pronounced the following lines:

A new name is needed for a new empire
The first to be king was a fortunate soldier

King was thus the title that His Most Serene Highness preferred. He recalled that in 1793 the city of Cap Français had had, precisely in the month of March, a king and queen who ruled over one of its sections, Carénage.

To this effect, Christophe gave a feast at Fort Liberté, where he was joined by his family, by generals, and by public functionaries. A carousel was added, in the manner of the kings of France, who were being imitated. Madame President, at the head of the ladies, held the rank of queen; Monsignor the President, at the head of the men, that of king. The occasion to proclaim him king offered itself naturally. The chevaliers at the feast spontaneously cried out Vive le Roi! Vive la Reine! The spouses kept these titles thanks to this skillfully manipulated ploy. The troops and people of the city, which became Fort Royal, had no choice but to share in the enthusiasm that intoxicated the notables who attended the feast. General Joachim Deschamps walked through the crowd with a large entourage, proclaiming Their Majesties.

On the evening of the same day Their Majesties returned to Cap-Henry along with those who had accompanied them, and to the great astonishment of the population of the garrison the latter immediately proclaimed them there, too.

They set to work at the already prepared organization, and a number of acts consecrated the establishment of the royalty and the nobility. The ideas of the north of the country were applied in these circumstances.

On April 1 an edict of the king established the royal motto: “God, My Cause, and My Sword.” Another established his coat of arms: “On blue, a phoenix crowned in gold accompanied by stars of the same color; around the phoenix these words: I am reborn from my ashes.” A third edict established princes, dukes, counts, barons, and knights of the kingdom; a fourth established the good city of Cap-Henry as capital of the kingdom.

On April 4 entire council of state was presented to the king and queen, surrounded by the royal family and the grand master of ceremonies, and offered them the constitutional law of Haiti, which received their approval and was published. On April 5 a royal edict created, or rather regularized, the creation of a hereditary nobility, with titles, endowments and fiefs. Another determined the number of these nobles: four princes, eight dukes, twenty-two counts, thirty-seven barons, and fourteen knights, without, however, limiting the numbers to these alone, the king being able to create nobles at will. On the seventh an edict established an archiepiscopal seat at Cap, and Corneille Brelle, named archbishop, was also the king’s grand chaplain. The same edict established (on paper) three bishoprics, in Gonaïves, Port-au-Prince, and Cayes. On April 12 the grand costume of the nobility was determined, based on title. On April 15 two edicts set the livery of the king, the queen, the royal price and princesses, and the nobles. On April 20 the royal military order of Saint Henry was created. It was made up of the king, the grand master of the order, the prince royal, the sixteen great crosses, thirty-two commanders, and whatever number of knights it pleased the king to name. For the moment, this number was fixed at 250. An endowment of 300,000 livres was attached to it, to be distributed among those who were members, the great crosses at 3500 livres each, etc. The cross bore the image of Saint Henry with these words around it: “Henry, founder, 1811,” on one side, and on the other a crown of laurels with a star and the motto “Prize for Valor.”

The dignitaries and knights of that order were made to take a vow while kneeling before the king and “to swear and promise to be faithful to him, to obey him, to defend and support him, to reveal to him all they might learn that is against his person and kingdom, etc...” As long as it doesn’t please divine providence to strike his royal person with apoplexy and paralysis.

On May 3 His Majesty had second thoughts, and in an edict expressed his true intentions concerning several clauses contained in the edict of April 5 dealing with the creation of a nobility as it related to fiefs given as endowments to nobles. It had been said that the fief would go to the oldest of legitimate male children. But the king now declared that he hadn’t meant to have enjoy “the benefits of this favor those children not issued from their own labor, but which they legitimized.” He had also accorded nobles the power to sell, alienate, and mortgage these properties. But the king declared that “he was persuaded they would not want to use this power without powerful reasons and without prior consultation with him, being their friend and father.” Finally, he declared that “it would contradict the principles of healthy policy, consecrated by all well-run governments, that after the death of dignitaries without descendants that their collaterals should succeed to the properties endowed, nor that said property should pass to strangers through clauses or the marriage of their widows.”

Consequently, the edict of May 3 decreed that “as related to princes and dukes, the fief, prerogative of the eldest child, shall consist of the two sugar plantations they were granted, and for counts, the one sugar plantation they were granted.” Only the children procreated by a noble and legitimized by his marriage with their mother were considered legitimate and had the right to enjoy the right of primogeniture. These eldest children, independently of their prerogatives must, share the succession of their mother and father equally with their other brothers and sisters. Children not procreated by a noble but legitimized by him upon his death were to have no more than a quarter of the total of his property, the fief excepted, and the rest of said endowed property “shall return to the domain of the crown.” In the future, no noble can legitimize or adopt if he hasn’t previously obtained the express authorization of the king. The dowager of a noble could only remarry by virtue of his agreement. No noble could accumulate more than one fief. His wife could enjoy the endowed property throughout her lifetime, with the exception of the fief, and said properties are to be returned to the crown’s domains immediately after the death of the widow.

A new edict in May formed the house of the king and his family by enumerating the grand officers attached to their persons, the governors of the royal palaces – to the number of nine – and the royal castles – to the number of seven. There were twenty-four chamberlains, fourteen pages, five masters of ceremonies, heralds at arms, etc.

This was the necessary complement to the monarchical system, just as the clauses of the edict of May 3 were a consequence of it. But one has a right to ask: what did the poor gain from all this pomp, from all the expense all this entailed in order to support a system at the cost of public poverty? It gained by its attendance at the spectacles that flowed from it, from dancing in public squares, and this is a lot for the people.

A church was improvised on the Champ de Mars of Cap- Henry. It was 250 feet wide and 250 feet deep. Its cupola was 80 feet high, and the dais of the throne was 70 feet high. It was built in less than two months by workers from the North and the Artibonite who had hastily been sent there. The crowning of the king and queen took place on June 2 with great ceremony in the church by the Archbishop Corneille Brelle. The feasts lasted a week. Official envoys from the eastern section attended in memory of the recommendations of the testament of Juan Sanchez. Sumptuous banquets were given.

How happy people are to arrive at such dignity. But the other side of the coin was the humiliated pride, the despair, and finally a pistol shot in a heart that never felt pity for its kind, a corpse barely covered with a few shovels of dirt, and a memory execrated by posterity.

Juste Chanlatte, having become the Count of Rosiers, composed a cantata for the occasion; a short time before he had written an ode on the taking of Môle. In these two pieces he exalted all of Henri Christophe’s merits, but reserved to himself, in netto, the right to draw the portrait of the tyrant, if the latter left him his head.

J. Prévot, Count of Limonade and secretary of state for foreign affairs, wrote an “Account of the Glorious Events That Bore Their Majesties to the Throne of Haiti; Followed by the Story of the Coronation of King Henry I and Queen Marie Louis.” He dedicated it to the prince royal, VictorHenry, presumptive heir to the crown, whose sad fate was to be murdered by the nobles who had sworn and promised to be faithful to his father, who had been forced to commit suicide to escape their fury.

It is easy to imagine that the crowns studded with diamonds, the royal mantels, etc. etc., that shone at the coronation of the king and queen were not improvised at Cap Henry. All these luxury items were made in England and had arrived before the carousel of Fort-Royal.

After the coronation King Henry took the following titles:

“Henry, by the grace of God and the constitutional law of the state, King of Haiti, Sovereign of the islands of Tortue, Gonaive, and other adjacent islands; Destroyer of Tyranny, regenerator and benefactor of the Haitian nation; Creator of its moral, political and military institutions; First crowned monarch of the new world; Defender of the faith, founder of the royal and military order of Saint Henry: to all those present and to come, greetings.”

These pompous titles were in perfect keeping with the usual splendor of the man, with his vain and proud character. One almost regrets that he didn’t take the title of emperor, in order to be able to say, instead of sovereign, “King of Tortue, Gonave, and other adjacent islands.”

Many other acts were subsequently published. On October 8 an edict suppressed the already existing tribunals of justice in order to create new ones, at the same time that the privy council worked at preparing the various law codes that were to rule the kingdom. A sovereign court of justice sat in Cap, two superior councils were to sit in Port-au-Prince and Cayes, ten senechausées and the same number of admiralty courts were decreed, the former established, the latter to be established like the superior councils. The sovereign court was composed of a president, a vice president, seven councilors and three substitutes. There was also a procurator general, an advocate general, a procurator and a deputy royal procurator, a clerk and eight marshals. There is no need to speak about the composition of the superior councils, which only existed on paper. But each senechausée had a seneschal councilor, a lieutenant, a royal procurator, a clerk and two marshals. The same held for the admiralty courts.

Several ministries were established; those of war and the navy, and that of foreign affairs.