Not many people take vampires seriously these days. The few who believe are far outnumbered by those who don't. But when vampires first started receiving press coverage in the early 18th century, not everyone was offhandedly dismissive of the unusual phenomena reported in Eastern Europe. Indeed, press coverage was fuelled by seemingly bewildered coroner reports detailing exhumations in Serbian villages.Vampires were the talk of the town and, sometimes, this talk went right to the top.
I have seen other references to the Duc de Richelieu's investigation, elsewhere. Gianfranco Manfredi relates, 'En 1792, le Roi Louis XV . . . chargea d’une enquête le Maréchal de France Louis François Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, troisième duc de Richelieu, qui avait été ambassadeur à Vienne de 1725 à 1729,' which Google Translate renders, 'In 1792, King Louis XV . . . ordered an investigation of the [sic] Marshal of France Louis François Armand du Plessis Vignerot, third Duke of Richelieu, who was ambassador in Vienna from 1725 to 1729.'2
Unfortunately, neither Marigny or Manfredi explicitly state their sources for this information. Nor do they relate the Duke of Richelieu's findings. The date Manfredi gives is also obviously misprint, as Armand de Vignerot du Plessis (1696–1788) and Louis XV (1710–1774) were both dead at the time.
However, if Marigny was correct about the intent behind the investigation—an examination of the Peter Plogojowitz (alt. Plogojovitz) case—then reversing 9 and 2 gives us a much more plausible date: 1729. The Plogojowitz case took place four years beforehand and it was the final year of the Duke's role as ambassador to Vienna. The Vienna connection is significant, because Plogojovitz was a resident of Serbia—then under Austrian rule.
Even though I haven't yet been able to track the Duke of Richelieu's report, I have stumbled across an 18th century reference to it. While seeking references to the report via Google Books, I came across an entry for 'Vampire' in The Penny cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1843). It says, 'during the five years from 1730 to 1735 that vampirism reached its height', 'Louis XV of France comissioned his ambassador at Vienna, the Duc de Richelieu, personally to ascertain, in Hungary and other Austrian dominions, the reality of vampirism.'3 His conclusions are also revealed: 'The French diplomatist denied in his report to the king the existence of the vampires' and 'informed him at the same time that the anecdotes about them were inserted in the contemporary records of the Austrian tribunals.'4
Thankfully, the Penny cyclopædia provided a source for its entry: 'Dom Calmet's Dissertation sur les Apparitions des Anges, des Demons, et des Esprits et sur les Vampires d'Hongrie, Paris 1746, 2 vols. 12mo.; translated into English and published 1759.'5 Once again, a paper trail saves the day.
Google Books has Augustin Calmet's 1746 work (the second volume dealt with vampires), but not the 1759 translation, unfortunately. The only other English edition I can think of, was published in 1850 as The phantom world: or, the philosophy of spirits, apparitions, & c. (also on Google Books). It's a translation of the 1751 edition of Calmet's work, which appears to have omitted the references to the Duke's investigation. Therefore, I need to rely on the 1746 French original. Not an easy task, considering I don't know French. Apologies if my transcriptions are incorrect.
Sure enough, references to the Duke's investigation were mentioned by Calmet.6 He was, indeed, sent by the king to suss out the vampire thing and apparently became rather knowledgeable about the subject. The rest is kinda hard to make out, as 'répondit au Roi que rien ne paroissoit plus certain que ce qu'on publioit des Revenans de Hongrie', translates 'said to the king that nothing seemed more certain than we [sic] publifhed [sic] of ghosts of Hungary.' The reference to Hungary might seem like a different region was being investigated, but as Paul Barber notes, 'Plogojowitz's village is usually identified as Hungarian . . . but this is because of the confused political situation of the time. Actually, Kisilova was in Serbia.'7
The other confusing thing about the text, is that it implies (at least, going by this translation), that the Duke actually believed in the phenomena. But then Calmet went on to say, 'Les incrédules ne se rendirent pas, & supplierent le Roy d'ordonner de nouveau à son Ambassadeur de se transporter sur les lieux, & devoir tout par lui-même', or 'Unbelievers do not surrender, and begged the King to order back to his Ambassador to visit the scene, and having all by itself.' Come again?
It appears the Duke went back there and either changed his mind (?) or reported differing conclusions about the phenomena—'Il obéit, & trouva dans rout ce qu'on difoit des Vampires & des Redivives , plus de prévention & d'imagination que de vérité'—'He obeyed, and found what is faid [sic], in rout of the Vampires & Redivives [sic], Prevention & more imagination than truth.' Apparently, these conclusions caused some division in the Courts of Vienna: 'De sorte qu'encore aujourd'hui dans la Cour de Vienne, il y a fur cela deux partis , dont les uns tiennent pour la vérité de ces apparitions, & les autres les tiennent pour chimeriques & illusoires', 'So even today in the Court of Vienna, there are two parties as this [sic], which some take for the truth of these appearances, and the others take for CHIMERIC [sic] & illusory.'
If readers can provide better translations, you're more than welcome to post 'em here. But it's clear from the content we have at hand, that Calmet is making no explicit connection to the Plogojovitz case, unless I'm missing something here, but he certainly hasn't given the year in which this investigation was supposed to have taken place. So, the question is: who/what was Calmet's source? That appears to be answered by Calmet's footnote. At the start of the section, Calmet wrote 'Aussi j'ai appris d'un homme très-éclairé & très-bon esprit', 'So I learned [from?] a very enlightened man, and very good spirit', which links to a footnote reading 'M. le Marquis de | d'Ypresen 1744', 'Beauvau mort au Siege', that is, 'The Marquis de | Ypresen to death in 1744', 'Beavau Siege'. Hmm, ok.
I might have figured it out. 'Ypresen' looks suspiciously like Ypres to me and we've got other key words to work with: 'Marquis', '1744', 'Beauvau', 'siege'. Off to Google Books again!
And there, I scored a probable hit. J. Lemprière's Universal biography (1810) features a listing for one 'Beauvau, Lewis Charles marquis de, a French general who distinguished himself at the siege of Philipsburg, 1734, at Clausen, Prague' and, most importantly, 'Flanders at the siege of Ypres'. During that battle, 'he received a mortal wound, 24th June 1744, aged 34.'8 Was he Calmet's source?
1. J Marigny, Vampires: the world of the undead, trans. L Frankel, New horizons, Thames and Hudson, London, pp. 47–8.↩
2. Translation via Google Translate. Subsequent translations via this website.↩
3. The Penny cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, vol. 26, Charles Knight and Co., London, 1843, p. 105.↩
5. ibid., p. 106.↩
6. A Calmet, Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des démons & des esprits et sur les revenans et vampires de Hongrie, de Boheme, de Moravie & de Silesie, vol. 2, Chez De Bure l'aîné, Paris, 1746, pp. 453–4.↩
7. P Barber, Vampires, burial, and death: folklore and reality, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 1988, p. 7.↩
8. J. Lemprière, Universal biography; containing a copious account, critical and historical, of the life and character, labors and actions of eminent persons, in all ages and countries, conditions and professions, vol. 1, E. Sargeant, New York, 1810, p. 153.↩