Phantom of the Queen's Assassin
The story of Jean l’Ecorcheur which translates to John the Flayer or John the Skinner has its origins from the intrigue of the 14th century, French court.
It was said that he was an assassin who acted at the behest of Catherine de Medici, whose own family of origin was notorious for dark political machinations, when she was the Queen of France. Not surprisingly John the Scourge as he was also known came to a violent end, but not before promising to return and carry out his deathly curse.
So who was the Demon of the Tuileries who haunted the French monarchy for over 200 years? Jean l'Ecorcheur was a butcher by trade who had his shop and home on the grounds where the queen decided to build her new palace that would be known as the Tuileries.
She enlisted him to carry out dark deeds for her, some political and others for occult reasons. Some believed that he provided human viscera for her acts of witchcraft.
There is no doubt that John the Skinner had knowledge of many secrets, some were about the Queen, and others were about the powerful lords and ladies he was instructed to spy upon. In other words he knew where all the bodies were buried.
What motivated Catherine's assassin to turn against her is unknown. Some claim that he wanted to leave her employ, but she refused to give him an allowance so he could retire into obscurity. Others believed that she started to fear all the knowledge that he had about her nefarious acts.
As the story goes, John the Flayer imprudently talked about the Queen to force her hand to pay him off. In some versions it's about her lack of morality, in others it's to stir political opinion against her as a "foreigner". Whatever the motive, Catherine knew of only one solution to this problem, which was to assassinate the assassin.
Catherine chose a knight of Neuville to carry out the murder. He waited until night when Jean l'Ecorcheur was unarmed and staying at a small shack in the garden of the Tuileries. The butcher tried to defend himself, but he could not withstand the onslaught. He was strangled, and pierced by the knight's sword. As he lay dying bathed in blood he said, "Be cursed, you and your masters! I'll be back!" The knight for good measure slit his throat and Jean l'Ecorcheur gurgled as he drowned in his life's blood. Once his eyes became glassy and unseeing, the knight left convinced he killed the man.
As he traveled down a dark and deserted alley he felt as if a hostile presence followed him. When he turned around, out of the shadows the image of John the Flayer stepped forward, dripping with blood and looking at him defiantly. He thrust his sword towards the apparition and encountered only empty air. He hurried back to where he had left the butcher's body, but inside the ravaged cabin he found nothing but the pallet where the corpse once lay.
Neuville told the queen that the butcher was dead, but that he had also cursed her. He described the phantom who followed him down the alley. She dismissed his concerns, because she did not believe in the power of the curse, but that was soon to change.
A few days later, she visited her favorite astrologer Cosme Ruggieri. He told her that during a divination dream he had been visited by a ghostly man surrounded in red mist, telling him that she would be driven out of the Tuileries and she would die near to St. Germain. The specter also confirmed the curse on the future occupants of the palace and that they would all die under terrible circumstances. He ended by saying that the spirit would only leave when the palace had gone up in flames and smoke.
Catherine supposedly saw the bloody apparition of the gnome-like little man in her drawing-room in broad daylight. It disappeared among her courtiers and she realized she was the only one that could see him.
Catherine was very superstitious and remembering the dire prophecies attributed to the little man dressed in scarlet robes, she moved from the palace as it was located in the Saint Germain parish.
Many years later, when Catherine de Medici lay dying in Blois, the Benedictine friar sent to give her extreme unction was called Laurent de Saint-Germain.
Le petit homme rouge is next seen on May 13th, 1610 in Saint Denis during the coronation of Queen Marie de Medici. The next day her husband, Henry IV was stabbed to death by Ravaillac a religious zealot.
Throughout the years this phantom was described in various forms, and this is but one of them, "He is described as a small man, clothed from top to toe in scarlet, whose eye is so piercing and unearthly that it terrifies the most courageous. He never speaks, nor are his visits of much length; he vanishes soon after his presence is discovered.”
The specter was next seen on the eve of the death of Mazarin in 1661. Mazarin had been a power political figure who succeeded his mentor Cardinal Richelieu.
Several witnesses also declared he had been seen on the very day of the death of Louis XIV on September 1, 1715. The king died in extreme pain from gangrene which reached his bones. He had been monarch of France for 72 years.
The mystery of the "little red man" persisted even during the end of the French monarchy. Marie Antoinette supposedly saw him one night in 1792, after she woke from her sleep. He stood silently next to her bedside.
On August 10, when rioters besieged the palace, the women attending the deposed queen were terrified by his appearance in the Salle des Gardes. The Queen was forced to take refuge in the hall of the Manège. He appeared to her once more in 1793, while she was in jail in the Tuileries castle, and within two months she had been beheaded by the guillotine.
The Red Man's appearance was not only limited to royalty, as he was seen in 1793 after the death of Marat, a rabid French revolutionary who was killed by Charlotte Corday. She plunged a five inch knife into his chest while he bathed. A soldier who stood guard over the corpse was struck into mortal terror at seeing it.
In 1815, Napoleon was the last French ruler to see the Red Man. In his memoirs he recorded seeing the grotesque, gnome-like little man several times. He was described as surrounded by fog and wearing a red cape and a Phyrgian beret. His face was skull-like and he told Napoleon, “I know you better than you know yourself”. It was not long before Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo.
In 1824, Louis XVIII received the visit of the red ghost soon before his death.
On September 4, 1870, Empress Eugenie fled the Tuileries Palace when her staff began to leave upon hearing the news her husband Napolean III had lost to the Prussians. Hostile crowds formed near the palace, and she took the opportunity to escape by slipping out among her entourage. She became lost in the great gallery of the Louvre. This is when she saw the Little Red Man who looked very emaciated. He indicated the exit with a furtive gesture. She wandered alone in Paris, without money or escort, and found refuge with her American dentist, Dr. Thomas Evans. He sheltered her in his mansion located at the height of the current No. 41 Avenue Foch. From there they made their way to Deauville, and then he accompanied her to England.
A journalist reported on a story he heard from the trembling lips of a Louvre concierge who saw the Red Man in person.
While making his accustomed round one night, lantern in hand, through the silent galleries, he observed in the Galerie d’Apollon a human form standing against a window, with crossed arms and drooping head, in an attitude of profound affliction. Believing he had surprised a robber, the concierge made towards the intruder, who hereupon disappeared in a most mysterious fashion. He tried to persuade himself that his senses had deceived him, when on reaching the Grand Galerie he saw the same figure again, in the same melancholy posture. On being challenged the form vanished. The official then remembered the legend of the Homme Rouge, and lost no time. Presently he returned with some of his comrades, to whom he had related what he had seen; but this time the search for the goblin was fruitless, and was cut short by another kind of apparition — a lurid glare in the sky.
On March 26, 1871, the insurgents named the Communcards set fire to the Chateau des Tuileries, after swathing it in petroleum, liquid tar, and turpentine. Flames poured out of every window at the Tuileries, and the fire starters as well as other people who assembled there saw the moment when the central pavilion exploded. Through a window a bloody specter surrounded by purple smoke could be seen. He reached out his hands before the ceiling of the Room of Marshalls collapsed upon him.
Thus, with the death of the Tuileries, the raison d'etre of the Red Man also met its end. This turned out to be the end of this beautiful but haunted palace. He was never seen again at this place, however...
In 1883, the charred walls of the Tuileries were demolished. Only two pavilions remained, Flore and Marsan. A Corsican contractor named Achille Picart bought stones, beams and other decorations, which he sold to a nobleman named Duke Jerome Pozzo di Borgo who used the material to build a castle on the Corsican family estate located in Alata, which was named the Chateau de la Punta. It was completed in 1891.
On August 7th, 1978 a bush fire spread to the castle's roof, causing serious damage. In 1991 the General Council of Southern Corsica bought the Chateau de la Punta and its 40 hectares park from the Pozzo di Borgo family. The repair of the roof was completed in 1996, keeping the castle safe from further damage due to rain. The interior walls still need repair, however some of the architectural treasures of the Tuileries was saved, and one hopes that the curse of the Red Man is truly over.