Gaspard de Besse The Robin Hood of Provence 

Written by on August 3, 2017 in Guest Blogs

Gaspard de Besse robbed from the rich (who detested him) and gave to the poor (who adored him). Often compared to the British Robin Hood but whilst the latter’s roots are shrouded in mystery, there’s no doubt about the identity of the famous French outlaw.

Gaspard de Besse

Gaspard Bouis, later known as Gaspard de Besse, was born February 9, 1757 in Besse-sur-Issole, a small village in the Var region of southern France. His father died one year later, and Gaspard was placed in the care of the local priest. The priest assumed Gaspard would follow his footsteps into a religious life and made sure he had a proper education. However, Gaspard, a charming, handsome smooth-talker who wasn’t suited to the priestly way of life left Besse at the age of 17 for Toulon where he began his life of crime.

According to some, Gaspard’s life changed when he saw a poor mother with four children living in appalling circumstances because her husband had been put into forced labor for stealing salt. Gaspard couldn’t abide this injustice. He helped the father and another prisoner escape, and these two men became his lieutenants for the new band of outlaws that he formed.

Another story says that army recruiters got Gaspard drunk and convinced him to enlist. After he sobered up and realized what had happened, he deserted and went to live in the mountains.

Recruiting Robbers

However it came about, wanted posters were pasted up all across the south of France bearing pictures of Gaspard’s handsome face. He set up shop in a cave in Mont Vinaigre (Mount Vinegar) near Frejus, and hung out his “help wanted” sign. Soon he had a band of about fifty robbers working for him.

To work for Gaspard, they had to abide by strict rules: he insisted that though they carried muskets (which made people more agreeable to handing over their goods) they weren’t allowed to shoot anyone. In addition, only the rich could be robbed and part of the takings would be invested back into the community… that is, given to the poor locals. Those who benefited from Gaspard’s generosity were loyal, happy to tip him off and hide him when the police came snooping around.

Convicted

Eventually Gaspard’s luck ran out, and in 1779, he was arrested. He was thrown into prison in Draguignan, but escaped a few months later – possibly with the help of the jailer’s daughter. Even though Gaspard wasn’t there, his trial went ahead as scheduled and he was found guilty of armed robbery in absentia.

Gaspard carried on robbing from the rich and giving to the poor for another year or so. Then one evening, after he and his merry band had relieved some travelers of their heavy burden in the gorges of Ollioules, they went out to dinner to celebrate. It was in the auberge at La Valette where he was arrested. One story says that he was captured by accident when someone tipped off the police that there was a band of criminals in the auberge. The lawmen swooped in and arrested them without even knowing it was the infamous Gaspard de Besse and his gang. Another version says he was turned in by a jilted lover.

On October 25, 1781, at twenty-four years old, Gaspard de Besse was tied to the wheel of torture and met a slow and agonizing death in Aix en Provence. After he died, his head was cut off and nailed to a tree at the edge of the Taillades woods where he had carried out many of his robberies.

Gaspard’s Treasure

It was rumored that Gaspard’s hoard was hidden somewhere in the region of Cuges les Pins, just east of Marseille. Every chateau in the area was searched from top to bottom and every field looked like it was infested with moles, but his treasure was never found… as far as we know. Even today, if you are in the area of Cuges les Pins, you might see some people with their metal detectors, still hoping to find Gaspard’s hoard.

Margo Lestz lives in Nice, France and blogs at curiousrambler.com.  She is the author of Curious Histories of Nice, France and French Holidays and Traditions, details: curiousrambler.com/margos-books

Related Articles

Honfleur | The Belle of Normandy

Honfleur | The Belle of Normandy

Written by on August 8, 2019 in Guest Blogs

Honfleur is a French fishing village in the department of Calvados, Normandy. It sits on the southern bank of the Seine estuary where the great river flows into the Atlantic Ocean. If you love authentic old French towns, then you will find Honfleur one of the most beautiful there is. What to see in Honfleur […]

Continue Reading

The Lot-et-Garonne | Authentic France in Fongrave

The Lot-et-Garonne department is in the southwestern of the Nouvelle Aquitaine region (previously Midi-Pyrénées). It’s has been described as “the France that you always hoped existed but could never quite find”. It’s idyllic; a paradise… Discovering Fongrave I looked over at my friend as she was talking feverishly about the still, quiet beauty of the […]

Continue Reading

Vintage Cars and Campers, Bicycles and Bader in Saint Omer, northern France

If you’re looking for a fun way to visit northern France, Les Belles Echappees in Saint Omer fits the bill. Located within the peaceful Ferme de L’Abbaye at Clairmarais, this family run organisation hires out restored classic vintage vehicles. Choose from sparkling VW camper vans to prestigious Citroen 2CV cars and VW convertible Beetles. There’s […]

Continue Reading

What did the Pont d’Avignon originally look like?

Sur le Pont d’Avignon L’on y danse, l’on y danse Sur le Pont d’Avignon L’on y danse tous en rond Many of us learned that song as kids, about the famous Pont d’Avignon in Provence (real name: Pont Saint-Bénézet). For those of us lucky enough to visit Avignon and see the bridge in all its […]

Continue Reading

How the French do politics

I live part of the year in Provence and one day I was reading Le Monde and a headline about a “sexy politician” caught my eye. “Well, those are two words you don’t see together very often,” I thought. So I read the article and found out that there had been a poll asking French […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top