Cancer in Antiquity




The three lives of Count of Bonneval alias Osman Pasha alias Kumbaracibasi Ahmet Pasha (1675-1747)

André J. Fabre 

Count Claude-Alexandre de Bonneval (1675-1747), had a strange destiny : he could lead three consecutive lives…


.1. Bonneval Royal Guard officer in the French Army

Claude Alexandre de Bonneval was born in an aristocratic Limousine family. At the age of thirteen, he joins the Royal Navy with Admiral de Tourville, friend of his family and, in 1692, at the decisive naval battle of La Hougue, will fight bravily. However, after several duels and an affair with his officer's wife, he had to leave the Navy and switch to the Royal Guards.

There, during the Spanish Succession War, Bonneval holds a major role although giving, once again, evidence of his arrogant temper. Thus, when the Minister of War requests some clarification for his campaign expenses : Bonneval only replies by sending a highly provocative letter.

After that, the only thing left was to leave the army, but Bonneval was convicted as deserter and his effigy set on pillory.


.2. Bonneval Major-General in Austrian army

For the two following years, Bonneval keeps wandering all over Europe : in Venice, he is contacted by a secret agent to enter the service of Austria, sworn enemy to France.

Under the command of prince Eugène de Savoie, Bonneval gains an extraordinary reputation of bravery and is very soon promoted Major-General.

Always lucky, at the 1709 Battle of Malplaquet, Bonneval will be given, by mere chance, to save life of his own brother (fighting in enemy camp !).

Far from battlefields, Bonneval was still an enraged duellist but, also, a dedicated amateur of fine arts and philosophy, corresponding with the whole "intelligentsia" of his time : Leibniz, Fénelon, Voltaire and Montesquieu, and, last but not least, a fervent amateur of nice ladies

His career reached a peak in 1715 at the Battle of Petrovaradin in Serbia : Bonneval, deeply wounded (he will keep all his life a silver plaque incrusted in his belly), stands up bravely among his soldiers. Praised as a national hero in France, Bonneval now plans to return in his country . The Duke of Orleans, another Limousine, gave him help (even if Duke of Saint Simon was quite reluctant) : in 1717 a solemn Parliament ceremony grants Bonneval an official clemency.

At that time, Bonneval was 42 years old and had to found a family : his mother arranged a marriage with Judith de Gontaut-Biron, a parent to the Regent but ten days after the wedding, Bonneval leavec Judith to come back to his commanding post in Austria...

In fact, "the Tarpeian Rock was close to the Capitol", thus, after a triumphant campaign, Bonneval gets sentenced to jail : he had cracked bad jokes about his protector, Prince Eugene. After a perilous escape from the sinister Spielberg fortress, Bonneval, once more, finds refuge in Venice but, after a few months, run of money, he has to seek fortune elsewhere and flee to Bosnia. Unfortunately, after his arrival in Sarajevo, he is arrested as deserter. After several months in jail, threatened to be sent back in Austria, there was only one issue left  : abjure his religion and convert to Islam


.3. Bonneval becomes Pasha in Constantinople.

Bonneval when he got refuge In Constantinople had planned to modernize the Turkish army : instead, he was sent on mission to the most distant parts of  the Ottoman Empire, from Petra to Mecca.

However, after a "Palace revolution" and a change of Sultan, Bonneval obtained the highest dignities, Grand Master of Artillery, governor of Caramania, Petrea and Chios, being thus given with the name of Achmet Kumbaracibasi, the title of " Three tails Pasha".

Nevertheless, Bonneval was doomed to live a chaotic life : in 1738 a riot occurs among the "Bombardiers" in Constantinople, sending once more Bonneval to exile but, the following year he is back, commanding a Turkish army, to fight against Austria : his last victory will be in Bosnia at the battle of Nis.

After so many adventures, Bonneval had only one dream, return to his birth place but, this time, his fate did not give him any chance : on March 23, 1747 Bonneval dies in his Scutari palace : he was 72 years old.

His tomb still lies outside the "Whirling Dervishes Tekke" bearing as inscription: "God is permanent; God, glorious and great for the true believers, give peace to the deceased Achmet Pasha, Chief of Bombarders, in the year of the Hegira 1160".

Claude-Alexandre de Bonneval was a man of multiple facets : soldier and political adviser, swordsman and world traveller, friend of Casanova or Fenelon, Montesquieu or Leibniz, but also inveterate transgressor of all rules and, in the end, renegade apostate.

Incredible as it may seem, there is no fiction in his life : clear evidence is given by all contemporary witnesses  : Bonneval has lived each of three consecutive lives, each one more amazing than the other…

Obviously, Bonneval kept hidden in himself, behind a flamboyant personality, some kind of psychiatric fragility which could suggest in retrospect emotional instability or a "paranoid syndrome" but, certainly no trace of this disgrace so common in psychopathic patients : weariness of life. He loved each of his three lives and the feeling was mutual.

André J. Fabre M.D.


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