In this article:
- There are many legends and ghost stories from France’s capital city of Paris. In fact, there are haunted tours all around the city to teach you about them. However, this article is dedicated to the Red Man (or “L’Homme Rouge”) who haunted the Tuileries Palace for centuries.
- The Red Man is believed to have first appeared in Tuileries Palace as soon as it was built by Catherine de Medici, the Queen of France. He’s clothed in all red, has a humpback, only one eye, and cloven feet.
- Some stories say that the Red Man is a harbinger of bad things to come. However, other stories claim that he contributed to the military success of Napoleon.
Since I began writing this Occult Captured column, I’ve covered many folktales from many different parts of the world. However, I recently realized that I’d only written about two myths from the European continent: the Bean-Nighe from Scotland and the numerology of magpies in Ireland. So, for this installment, we’re taking things to freaky France with the legend of “L’Homme Rouge” or the Red Man.
The legend of the Red Man dates back to the 16th century and is believed to have started with Catherine de Medici, an Italian noblewoman from one of the most powerful and influential families in history that became the Queen of France through her marriage to Henry II.
The Red Man is said to be a harbinger of misfortune. Many claimed to have seen the devilish little man scampering around before some tragedy occurred. Belief in this demon (or fortune-teller, whichever you believe) has been widespread throughout France for centuries. In fact, Napoleon Bonaparte’s superstitious belief in this legend even guided many of his decisions during his military campaigns. So, whether or not you believe that the Red Man is real, we can say with certainty that he’s had a large effect on the course of French history and the history of the world as a whole.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the origin of the Red Man legend, the role it’s played in history, and some reported sightings of this mischievous little man.
The Origin of the Red Man
The Red Man legend is said to have originated in France’s capital and largest city of Paris around the 16th century during the reign of King Henry II. As I mentioned, King Henry II married Catherine de Medici, an Italian noblewoman from a very powerful family, who then became the Queen of France. There are two main stories about the Red Man originated, but both have Catherine de Medici right in the middle.
The first story is said to have occurred after the death of Henry II. After her husband’s death, Catherine became a little too power-hungry and began hiring a henchman to murder her political foes. Her assassin’s name was Jean l’écorcheur (which translates to “Jean the Skinner” or “Jean the Flayer”). However, after doing Catherine’s bidding for years, Jean learned some unflattering secrets about the Queen.
So, for fear that he might expose her transgressions, Catherine ordered a man named Neuville to murder Jean. Neuville managed to off Jean in the Tuileries gardens (outside the palace where Catherine resided); however, when Neuville came back to get rid of the corpse, it had disappeared.
After this strange event, Catherine consulted an astrologist who told her that Jean would forever haunt the grounds of Tuileries. Reportedly, from then on, every time something terrible would happen at Tuileries, the Red Man would appear to its inhabitants.
The second story is a bit tamer. As it goes, Catherine de Medici had the Tuileries Palace built but was dismayed when she moved in and discovered that the new palace was already inhabited by a strange ghost clothed in red. The ghost prophesied that she would die near Saint-Germain.
Because Tuileries Palace was built in the parish of Saint-Germain, she left her new palace and never returned. However, despite her attempt to evade fate, she discovered on her deathbed that the friar conducting her last rites was named Laurent de Saint-Germain.
Who Is the Red Man?
Regardless of whether the Red Man is a former henchman that Catherine de Medici turned against or an ancient spirit that has inhabited the grounds of Tuileries for millennia, most accounts of the phantom’s appearance are fairly similar.
The Red Man is said to be dressed in red, obviously. Some believe that this being is a devil and that he has a hooked nose, a misshapen mouth, and even cloven feet. Others have reported that the Red Man has a humpback or that he has only one eye. However, that single eye is said to be so piercing and otherworldly that not even the bravest of humankind can bear to look at it.
The Red Man is known for appearing just before catastrophes happen, specifically, within Tuileries Palace. However, once the Red Man realizes that he has been noticed, he will quickly vanish.
There are claims that the Red Man was present on the evening of Henry IV’s assassination in 1610. Others reported seeing him just before King Louis XVI died in 1793. There are even written records claiming that the Red Man appeared to some of Marie Antoinette’s ladies inside Tuileries Palace before the Insurrection of 10 August 1792 (a pivotal moment in the French Revolution). Here is an account of the ladies’ experience:
“Marie Antoinette’s women were sitting in the Salle des Gardes, when they became suddenly aware of the presence of a small man clothed from crown to heel in scarlet, who looked at them with such unearthly eyes that they were frozen with terror. They rushed to the apartments of the Madame la Dauphine and related their adventure.”
However, one prominent figure who is reported to have had a deep belief in the L’Homme Rouge is Napoleon Bonaparte, the most well-known military leader in the nation’s history.
Napoleon and the Red Man
Napoleon Bonaparte, who became the de facto leader of the French Republic after the French Revolution, was said to have had a strong belief in the Red Man. In fact, many claim that the Red Man actually influenced Napoleon’s military strategy.
As the legend goes, the Red Man first appeared to Napoleon in Egypt just before the Battle of the Pyramids during the French invasion of Egypt. The Red Man encouraged the invasion and the French enjoyed a resounding victory at this battle; however, afterward, Napoleon’s hubris got in the way and stopped heeding the warnings of the Red Man.
Before the Battle of Wagram, the Red Man is said to have warned Napoleon not to conduct his Russian campaign and that his days of victory were coming to an end. Unwilling to concede, Napoleon went ahead with his invasion of Russia, leading to disastrous consequences.
Despite the fact that Napoleon had amassed the largest army ever to date, the Russians conducted a strategic retreat, harassed the French flanks, and starved their supply lines. Soon, the French army was reduced to a mere third of its original size before any major battle had even taken place. The result was an utter disaster for the French and they soon withdrew from Russia.
On top of that, there are many other stories about Napoleon receiving military advice from the Red Man, whether he chose to follow that advice or not. And, considering the fact that Napoleon is often considered one of the greatest military strategists of all time, the Red Man probably could have been a fine general if he weren’t too busy terrorizing Tuileries Palace.
Where Is the Red Man?
The last reported sighting of the Red Man was in May of 1871 just before Tuileries Palace was burned to the ground. This occurred during the suppression of the Paris Commune when a man named Jules Bergeret commanded twelve men to swath the palace in petroleum, liquid tar, and turpentine. The palace ignited like a pile of dry leaves and was soon reduced to rubble and ash.
It would seem as though the Red Man may have died during the fire as he’s never been seen since. Or, perhaps, he’s been lying in wait to bring misfortune to Tuileries once more.