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CULTURE

Mystery solved in the case of the one-legged French general who died 200 years ago

Archaeologists are set to unveil the answer to a 200-year-old question over the remains of a French general who died during Napoleon's 1812 campaign in Russia.

Mystery solved in the case of the one-legged French general who died 200 years ago
Archaeologists say they have solved the mystery. Photo: AFP

Charles Etienne Gudin was hit by a cannonball in the Battle of Valutino on August 19th near Smolensk, a city west of Moscow close to the border with Belarus. 

His leg was amputated and he died three days later from gangrene, aged 44.

The French army cut out his heart, now buried at the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but the site of the rest of his remains was never known, until researchers found a likely skeleton this summer.

READ ALSO Medieval French king died 'after refusing to eat salad' says doctor


The general's heart is buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Photo: AFP

“As soon as I saw the skeleton with just one leg, I knew that we had our man,” the head of the Franco-Russian team that discovered the remains in July, Marina Nesterova, told AFP.

Genetic analysis is being carried out to confirm the identity, using DNA from one of the general's descendants, with the results to be announced on Thursday.

Gudin is said to have been one of Napoleon's favourite generals and the two men attended military school together. His name is engraved on the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris.

The fresh search for his remains  has been underway since May, funded by a Franco-Russian group headed by Pierre Malinowski, a historian and former soldier with ties to the French far-right and support from the Kremlin.

The team in Smolensk first followed the memoirs of a subordinate of Gudin, Marshall Davout, who organised the funeral and described a mausoleum made of four cannon barrels pointing upward, said Nikolai Makarov, the director of the Russian Institute of Archaeology.

When that trail ran cold, they checked another theory by a witness of the funeral and found pieces of a wooden casket buried under an old dance floor in the city park.

A preliminary report concluded that the skeleton belonged to a man who died aged 40-45.

Gudin's death near Smolensk came near the beginning of Napoleon's march toward Moscow, 400 kilometres further east.

Napoleon had hoped to defeat the Russian army at Valutino and sign an advantageous treaty, but it managed to escape and Russian Tsar Alexander refused to discuss peace.

“This battle could have been decisive if Napoleon hadn't underestimated the Russians,” Malinowski said. 

“Heavy losses in this battle showed Napoleon that he was going to go through hell in Russia.”

Napoleon's march on Russia ended in a disastrous retreat as Russians used scorched earth tactics and even ordered Moscow to be burnt to sap Napoleon's resources.

Less than 10 percent of his Grand Armee survived Russian invasion.

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MONEY

Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE

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