English Version

To read the Short History and Genealogy document, please clic here. Many thanks to Keith Hewlett for translating the text from French to English.

Table of Contents

1) Preamble

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

2) 12th, 13th, 14th centuries: unverified origins

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

3) The English Beauce during the Hundred Years War

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

4) Pierre the survivor, and Jeanne

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): Pierre, born around 1435, survived the Hundred Years War. He fought against the English, and was higly rewarded. Loyal to his feudal overlords Jean II and René d’Alençon, with his wife Jeanne they built together a well-positionned family.

5) Louise + Jean

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): Pierre’s eldest son Jean, born in 1468, joined the military as knight of St John of Jerusalem. He had to make a very difficult decision in order to marry Louise, a young widow. She would prove to be the love of his life.

6) The Golden Age : René I, Michel, René II, and Jacques (part1)

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): René, born in 1470, successfully held a position in the service of a national figure. He paid much attention to his children’s education. The eldelst, Michel had a prestigious wedding, but his knight fate was shattered, and so will be his baby son’s destiny. The second son, Jacques had a very successful magistrate and diplomate carreer that led him to the national State level. The third son, Jean rather lived with the love of his life even if he couldn’t marry her.

7) Claude and the Pleiade

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): A well-educated young student, gifted for music and littérature, Jacques’ eldest son Claude was close friend with Pierre de Ronsard, about to become French Renaissance leading poet and author. But Claude’s fate was tragically sealed.

8) Jacques (part 2) and Théodore (part 1)

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): Jacques achieved a successfull career ending but was struck by grief. His young son Theodore had to face tragic events in search for his Protestant cousin René amidst a raging civil war.

9) Théodore and prince François de Valois (part 2)

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): Young Theodore found protection and education in Prince François de Valois’ entourage. He followed the Prince who plotted against his brothers and fought with him in the Netherlands.

10) Théodore faces the wrath of King Henry III (part 3)

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): Troublesome Theodore gained power, but political chaos grew within the kingdom of France. Théodore indirectly challenged King Henry III at the risk of losing his head…

11) Théodore (part 4) : Courville vs. Réclainville

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): Chaos and assassination happened at the highest level, while an uprising in Chartres was stirred up by Theodore, who switched allegiances.

12) Théodore (part 5)

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): While the new King Henry IV tried to establish his authority, Françoise des Ligneris was besieged in her castle of Courville.

13) Six sons, but still no heirs

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): Theodore and Françoise’s eleven children experienced various ways of life, from local marriage with landed gentry, to adventurous carrer as a soldier/monk in Malta. But the absence of male heir raised concern.

14) Louis and the loss of Courville

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): While no heir was born yet and global political turmoil worried the family, what would the Barony of Courville become ?

15) Mysterious Albert

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): In the 1630s, while violent aristocratic uprisings brought much trouble, Albert and Genevieve des Ligneris had five children. Two daughters became nuns, in this XVIIth century characterised by heightened and radical religiosity.

16) After Louis, a canon and a brigadier

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): In the 1650s, Albert and his elder son died. The second son Louis married in 1667 but soon died at age 38, leaving a young widow with 3 children.

17) Jean-Baptiste, an officer in Louis XIV’s European wars

(translated by Keith Hewlett)

18) Louis-François and Marie-Françoise, the associated elites

19) « Louis XIV killed me » : an essay about French nobility

20) Louis-François, in extremis apogee

21) Jean-Baptiste-Claude in the turmoil of the French Revolution (translated by Keith Hewlett)

22) Marianne’s splendid destiny (translated by Keith Hewlett)

23) Anne-Louis and Maximilien, from the tumultuous Napoleonic times until the July Revolution (translated by Keith Hewlett)

24) The carefree Maximilien (translated by Keith Hewlett)

25) Maximilien and Marie-Augusta: gentrification under the Second Empire (translated by Keith Hewlett)

26) The sabre and the rose (translated by Keith Hewlett)

27) Maximilien, a physician in South Africa (translated by Keith Hewlett)

28) Jacques and Charles: quarrelling brothers (translated by Keith Hewlett)

According to blog principles, articles are in antichronological order.

28) Jacques and Charles: quarelling brothers

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlet

The Belle Époque (1874-1914) was a period of stability that came into being after the end of the Franco-Prussian War. The two brothers, Jacques and Charles des Ligneris, witnessed the development of a society that was characterised by major economic and technological progress, and which reawakened a feeling of optimism for the future among the population. These four decades were regarded as a period of joie de vivre, especially for the burgeoning urban middle classes. Nonetheless, society was still heavily agricultural. More than half the population were actively working in the fields, but a growing number of people were now beginning to look for work in the developing industrial sector. The old elite searched for a destiny between a republic that was gaining momentum and a Catholic church that was losing influence. The description presented by author Mark Girouard (cf. insert below) perfectly illustrates the complex situation in which Jacques and Charles found themselves at this time.

Le Domaine des Gués à Ouzouer sur Loire
des Gués estate, Ouzouer-sur-Loire

As was the case with numerous families at the end of the 19th century, this situation signalled the end of the age-old heritage. In July 1871, Claire-Armande des Ligneris, Countess of Valanglart, sold the splendid des Gués estate located at Ouzouer-sur-Loire, which had been left to her by her mother, Agathe du Roux de Reveillon, and which had been handed down through inheritance and had never been sold during a period of more than 250 years.

One of the other cousins of Jacques and Charles – Marie Le Roy de Valanglart, Marquis de Maupas, who had suffered from ill-health since childhood – died on 9 July 1879 at just the age of 39 while undergoing a thermal cure at Eaux-Bonnes (department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques).

After his release from captivity in Prussia, Jacques des Ligneris was assigned to the 8th cavalry regiment, where he would remain for the rest of his career. He achieved the ranks of lieutenant (1872), second captain (1877) and first captain (1881), which he held until 1890. He was probably stationed in Senlis, which enabled him to remain close to Paris. At the age of 45 he decided to retire from military service. He also served with the 9th Dragons regiment for one year as a squadron leader and was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1891, which permitted him to terminate his military career with an honourable discharge.

Jacques and his wife Charlotte did not have any children. From 1891 onwards they divided their time between their large apartment in rue de Rivoli in Paris and Château du Plaix in Lignières-en-Berry (department of Cher). Château Méréglise (department of Eure-et-Loir) still belonged to Maximilien, Jacques’ father, who lived in Paris with Elizabeth Möller, and subsequently in Munich.

Jacques became involved in the development and modernisation of the village of Lignières, where he was appointed president of the racecourse, financed a power plant (which was the first in the department of Cher and was operated until 1934) and constructed a leather-tanning mill.(1) Jacques was a former military officer, but he also had a variety of cultural and scientific interests. He was an honorary member of the Société des Vétérans de Terre et de Mer de France (Association of French Army and Navy Veterans); of the Sabretache (a military history research organisation which was the basis for the creation of the Invalides museum of military history); and the Société d’encouragement du cheval de guerre (an association for the promotion of war horses). He was also a member of the Société des agriculteurs de France (French farmers association), the French geographic society, the French chemical society and the French society of prehistory.

Charlotte quarrelled with her sister over the inheritance of their father’s estate (he died in 1894). She even sued her sister, but the court ruled against her. The ruling was upheld by the court of appeal in Bourges in 1897 and the court of cassation in 1901. This sequence of legal proceedings illustrates the extent of Charlotte’s persistence.

Charles des Ligneris in the uniform of the Dragons regiment

During this period, Charles pursued a career that to a certain extent was similar to that of his elder brother: he was a lieutenant in the 12th Dragons regiment in 1873, a captain in the 23rd Dragons regiment in 1878, and became an instructor in 1879. Then in 1881 an incident occurred for which there is no immediately obvious explanation: he resigned in April, then was reinstated in May at the lower rank of sergeant for a period of just two weeks, after which he was promoted to the rank of captain again, this time in the light cavalry.(2) Six years later he was appointed squadron leader, a rank he held for five years until 1892. Like his brother, he retired at the age of 45 and was awarded the Legion of Honour the following year.

Charles des Ligneris with his son Etienne, ca. 1880

After inheriting the château of Bressolles (in the department of Allier) from his uncle, Charles moved in alongside his aunt (who was the estate’s beneficial owner), with his wife Alexandrine (also known as Jeanne) and their two children, Etienne and Jean. Their third child, Michel, was born there in 1882, followed by Marie in 1883, but the family mourned the loss of their baby daughter fifteen months later. Charles became actively involved in the community of Bressolles, of which he also became mayor. In 1879 he joined the geographic society and the photographic society. He was a good-looking man, collected shooting medals and sent his photo accompanied by charming dedications to attractive women. He signed one of these, “from the smiling author of these lines.”(3)

His wife Alexandrine was intelligent, had long blonde hair, a pale complexion and clear blue eyes. She had serious problems with one of her legs, which made walking difficult for her. In 1890 when she was 40, the doctors in Moulins tried a particularly aggressive form of treatment, the sole outcome of which was to condemn her to the use of a wheelchair for the remainder of her life. She was fairly serious by nature, and during her adolescence she had appeared to be destined for a religious life, until she finally renounced the pronouncement of her vows and decided to marry (perhaps under pressure from her family?). She preferred not to receive visitors because she did not care for what she regarded as superficial and pointless conversations.(4) She preferred the company of simple, good-hearted people. Her best – if not her only – friend was her maid, Marie Minard, who remained loyal to her until the end of her life.(5)

Marie-Augusta, the mother of Jacques and Charles, went to live in her Château de Voisenon (in what is now Seine-et-Marne) after her separation in 1868. Most probably during the 1880s she moved into a lovely villa in Nice, where she lived very comfortably. She was keen on horse racing and tended to draw attention to herself through her “excesses”, so she was probably rather demonstrative by nature. She died in 1896.

With both parents deceased, Jacques and Charles began to quarrel over the inheritance. Jacques retained the rue de Rivoli property and received Château Méréglise (which was quite understandable in that he was the elder brother and the 4th Marquis des Ligneris), while Charles already possessed Bressolles. Unlike much of the population, they were clearly able to live in freedom from want, but they nonetheless fought over money and became estranged.

Jacques died in 1904 at the age of 58. He had no offspring, but in his will he declared that the title of Marquis des Ligneris must not be inherited by his brother Charles, but should pass directly to one of the latter’s sons to be chosen by his wife, Charlotte, whom he had designated as his sole legatee. This clause was his posthumous “settling of scores” with his brother. However, the clause was in contradiction with the method of vesting of title stipulated in the Letters of Patent of 1776. Charles ignored this clause and assumed the title of 5th Marquis des Ligneris, whereupon his sister-in-law, Charlotte, took him to court to contest his right to hold the title. This was a somewhat noteworthy case in that it was initiated in France at a time when the republicans were triumphing over the ancient order with their vote on the separation of church and state (1905). Charlotte lost the case, appealed, then called on the court of cassation (6). Her case was finally dismissed in 1908 in a ruling that would set a precedent definitively reaffirming the validity under law of the Letters of Patent. Enraged by this ruling, she disposed of Château Méréglise and its 400 hectares of land so that Charles would not be able to possess it. She simply gave it away to the priest of her parish in Paris. Father Bérard, the priest of La Madeleine, was delighted: he became the owner of the enormous estate with all its dependencies, furnishings and family memorabilia. And he made the most of this windfall by residing there until his decease in 1931, having diminished the estate by selling it off piece by piece. There were several more changes of ownership, and when the château was sold again in 2002 there were barely 6 hectares of land attached to it. However, the new owner initiated a major renovation project in which the château and its lodges were restored to their earlier splendour, and he also began to increase the size of the estate, which as of 2022 encompassed 40 hectares.

Charlotte returned to Château du Plaix where she lived in the company of several servants and a confessor,(7) deliberately squandered her husband’s fortune and gradually became increasingly mentally unstable. She died alone in Villejuif asylum in 1931. Needless to say, the name Charlotte would not be given to a child in the family again for many years.

Meanwhile in Bressolles, Charles’s three sons grew up in the small enclosed world of the château. They would not attend the republican municipal school – that would have been out of the question. Instead, several strict tutors were engaged to provide the boys with an education, during which they were subjected to multiple and varied forms of physical punishment. Why several tutors? Because the boys did their best to resist them, for example by soaping the stairs leading to their apartment so that the tutors would slip and break a leg, and thus have to be dismissed.

Etienne des Ligneris with his tutor, ca. 1886

Extract from the memoirs of Françoise des Ligneris, 1990, p. 25 (unofficial translation):
The photo [above] shows my father at the age of eight, together with his tutor. The rigidity of both the man and the boy is somewhat surprising. Some portraits can be highly revealing: this photo shows a small fair-haired boy dressed in an outfit as severe as the expression on his handsome face. He looks bored and indifferent. He is standing next to a man in his fifties, dressed in black – an unmistakeable embodiment of dignity and formality.

The eldest son, Etienne, spoke Latin at the age of six and wrote verse in that language at the age of nine. Still in his adolescence he attended a private college in Moulins. He was an outstanding pupil who showed a strong flair for mathematics, passed the demanding baccalaureate and subsequently attended a preparatory scientific school. An ambitious and probably somewhat pretentious boy, he considered that only the polytechnic college would be of interest for him. He qualified for admission, but failed the interview. Ignoring the successes he had achieved at other prestigious schools, he abandoned everything and decided to simply be an annuitant – a landowner who was his own master.

Château Lonzat

When Etienne was nearing 30, his family set out to find a wife for him among the local nobility. A Jesuit put the family in touch with Madeleine Mourins d’Arfeuille, a refined 21-year-old lady (8). Negotiations were initiated between the two families. Madeleine brought in Château Lonzat as dowry, which was located in the municipality of Marcenat (not far from Bressolles), while Etienne contributed several domains. Etienne and Madeleine married on 4 May 1908 in Lonzat, where they subsequently took up residence. Their first daughter, Françoise des Ligneris, was born in March the following year.

Château Génégauds

Etienne’s brother Jean married Micheline Gaude de Montpensin on 30 August 1909 in Bressolles. The couple moved into Château Guénégauds in Saint Pourçain-sur-Sioule, where they enjoyed a stylish and socially active life, holding frequent splendid receptions attended by the local nobility.

Charles’s aunt, the beneficial owner of the Bressolles estate, died in December 1908. Thus Charles had waited thirty-one years in order to inherit the property. In 1909 he initiated major work aimed at adapting the château to suit his own taste. But fate can be capricious: he died on 20 November 1910 and was thus unable to truly benefit from his new situation. He was buried at Château de Bressolles in a majestic tomb prepared in accordance with his own instructions, which bore the alpha and omega symbols and was embellished with a boastful motto: Impossibile, feci (“I achieved the impossible”).

Etienne and Madeleine had three more children: Maurice (in 1910), Geneviève (in 1912) and Xavier (in 1913). But the Belle Époque came to an abrupt end in 1914 following the events that culminated in World War I.

Etienne and Madeleine des Ligneris, ca. 1910

The social transformation of the French nobility at the end of the 19th century

The following passage is an unofficial translation of a paragraph in the French edition of Mark Girouard’s book, “Life in the French Country House” (published by Knopf in 2000). [The French edition, La vie dans les châteaux français, was translated by Allain Jean-François and published by éditions Scala in 2000].

France’s noble families were severely weakened but far from annihilated by the Revolution, and they survived in the 19th century to form the heart of an upper class that readily regarded itself as the bastion of religion and tradition against the forces of republicanism and anti-clericalism. A chapel in the château, visits from the bishop once a year and from the parish priest for dinner once a week, six months in the country residence and six in an apartment in Paris, good deeds in the village, management of the forests, but also the breeding of ducks and raising of livestock in the family farms, stables, kennels, marriages between people from the same background, but occasionally also with a carefully chosen heiress from elsewhere, sojourns in Trouville or in another seaside resort during the summer, perhaps even a house on the coast – a general pattern was emerging, even though infinite variations and interesting tensions could be observed within this fundamental unity. As a class, these families lost their privileges – their direct connections with the authorities and their near-monopoly in certain sectors of public life – but they remained influential in the field of diplomacy, in the church and in the armed forces. Generally speaking, they abstained from any political involvement, but nonetheless assumed mayoral duties. They remained a force to be reckoned with in view of their wealth, their cohesion, their social and historical status, and the prestige of the country houses in which they lived.


(1) In 1913, the village of Lignières-en-Berry renamed one of its streets “Rue des Ligneris” – the street still exists today. Source: the magazine, “Les Mangeurs de Grenouilles” (“The Eaters of Frogs”) and its eponymous blog (in French only), the aim of which is to preserve the local history of Lignières-en-Berry. Greetings to its co-publisher, Francis Gaillard.

(2) According to oral memory within the family, but which is not based on any specific document, Charles may have participated in a 14 July parade in Paris with his unit, but because he felt unable to pay tribute to the president of the republic (Charles was a fervent royalist), he preferred to fall off his horse at the moment of the salute. This incident would explain his sudden resignation, which would have been the only possible outcome of that kind of behaviour. However, it does not explain his almost immediate reinstatement, even at a lower rank, nor in particular his rapid reinstatement to his original rank. It would be interesting to delve more deeply into this matter. It is likely that, at that time, the French army still had a large number of royalists, particularly among its officers, the majority of whom belonged to the former nobility. This was also only a few years after the attempt to restore the monarchy by Count de Chambord and his partisans between 1871 and 1873, which had every prospect of succeeding, but ultimately failed due to the Count’s total lack of political sense and his obstinate refusal to accept the tricolour flag. In 1881, the royalist communities were more or less disseminated in the army but were still governed by bitterness, and were able to secretly applaud Charles des Ligneris’ gesture, which, though perhaps not very subtle, was in their eyes at least courageous. Charles’s reinstatement and rapid return to his former rank without the knowledge of republican authorities represented a response by the military hierarchy against a power it absolutely did not acknowledge.

(3) Source: Françoise des Ligneris, “C’était un vieux château cerné de corbeaux”, (“It was an old château surrounded by ravens”), unpublished memoirs, 1990, p. 19.

(4) Please excuse the pleonasm.

(5) Françoise des Ligneris, op. cit., pp. 21-24.

(6) Initial ruling by the civil court of Moulins on 21 July 1905; ruling by the appeals court of Riom on 20 December 1906; ruling by the court of cassation on 3 August 1908.

(7) Abbot Morisseau, who was found drowned under mysterious circumstances on 12 August 1906 in the Arnon, the river that runs past the château.

(8) Madeleine, who was born on 19 August 1887 in Santheny (Oise), was the daughter of Jean Mourins d’Arfeuille (1844-1898) and Gabrielle Brac de La Perrière (1856-1915).

Gabrielle Brac de La Perrière, ca. 1910

27) Maximilien, a physician in South Africa

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlet

When Maximilien des Ligneris settled in what was then called the Union of South Africa in 1911, the country had only been formed a year earlier. The four colonies – the Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Orange River (which included two former autonomous republics from the 19th century defeated in the two Anglo-Boer Wars) – were reunified to become a self-governing dominion of the British Empire under the British Crown.

Map of the territories of South Africa in 1885 (1)

Maximilien had recently obtained his Doctor of Medicine degree at the University of Bern. He was born in Paris on 10 July 1882 and was given the same first name as that of his father, Marquis des Ligneris. The latter, who was 69 years old at that time, had been separated for quite some time from his first wife, from whom he was desperately trying to get a divorce. He already had two sons who gave him grandchildren when he became a father again with Elizabeth Maria Dorothea Möller, a Danish woman thirty years his junior, who gave birth to a boy. Marquis des Ligneris immediately recognised the child as his legitimate son and named him Maximilien too.

Marquis des Ligneris and Elizabeth Möller, ca. 1890

Marquis des Ligneris was granted a divorce from his first wife at the end of July 1890 and the ruling was upheld by the court of appeal in Paris in December the same year. The Marquis then married Elizabeth Möller on 8 July 1891 in Paris.

But in the meantime his ex-wife initiated another lawsuit with the aim of preventing young Maximilien from bearing his father’s family name. The court ruled in her favour in June 1891. As a consequence of this ruling, the boy had to be named Maximilien Möller.

Together with his new wife and child, Marquis des Ligneris then left Paris for Munich, where he stayed at the residence of the Count and Countess of Reichsberg. His choice of Munich was not as surprising as it may initially seem, because his mother was the granddaughter of Christian IV, the Duke of Bavaria and Prince of the Palatinate, while the Marquis’s godfather was none other than the first King of Bavaria, Maximilien of Wittelsbach, after whom the boy had been named. The Marquis’s education was immersed in Germanic culture, and there is no doubt that he also spoke fluent German. Furthermore, the family maintained strong ties with the Bavarian ambassador, Antoine de Cetto (2), as well as with his offspring (3). So it was really quite natural that Marquis des Ligneris decided to move to Munich.

Here he acquired German citizenship for himself, his wife and his son, as well as formal recognition of his marriage and paternity. This meant that the boy could now be renamed Maximilien des Ligneris.

On 16 June 1894, Marquis des Ligneris died in Munich, when his son Maximilien was only 12 years old. Elizabeth decided to move to Bern, Switzerland, where her son attended school. He was an outstanding and hard-working pupil, obtained his high-school diploma in 1899, then studied medicine at the University of Bern and graduated in 1907. He was initially interested in surgery and worked for five years under Dr Theodor Kocher during the period when the latter was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1909. Then urged by his parish, in 1911 he agreed to go to South Africa to work in a Protestant mission in Elim, where he held the position of medical superintendent. The journey by sea would probably have been something of an adventure.

Emilie and Maximilien

It was in Elim where he met Emilie Mingard, a nurse and midwife in the same hospital. She was 23 and he was 28. They got married the following year, on 9 May 1912 in Elim. Emilie’s parents, Rudolphe and Augustine, were French-Swiss. At the age of 20, they had emigrated to South Africa in 1882, where Rudolphe worked as a cabinet maker for the hospital. Their seven children (Emilie was the fifth) were born in the British colonies of South Africa.

Maximilien and Emilie’s first daughter Louise was born on 22 June 1914. But it was not long before the turmoil in Europe culminated in the outbreak of World War I. Although he was “Swiss at heart” (4), Maximilien had to seek legal consultation in order to determine his nationality: was he French through his father and by birth, German through his mother and her citizenship, or Swiss through his residence and education in Bern? As a vibrant testimony of the absurdity of the conflict, he could well have found himself fighting on the side of either of the warring parties without a genuine reason and as a total stranger to the respective nationalistic causes. Undoubtedly he was anxious to avoid being regarded as a deserter by the French army if he did not register (thereby risking possible execution), which meant he had to enter into negotiations with France. Happily for him, his Swiss nationality was ultimately confirmed.

Maximilien was then called up for military service in Switzerland as an officer in the medical corps at the hôpital des étrangers (aliens’ hospital). At the time he only spoke very little English, and because this language was necessary in order to communicate with the refugee patients, he was sent to London. Here he not only became fluent in English, but also returned with a supplementary surgery degree.

Maximilien des Ligneris in the uniform of an officer of the Swiss army, in 1915,
with his wife Emilie, daughter Louise and mother Elizabeth

Emilie travelled with him to Switzerland, together with Louise. Here she met her mother-in-law, Elizabeth Möller, who despite the unfortunate circumstances was undoubtedly overjoyed to see her son again and meet her granddaughter. Emilie discovered her roots for the first time, i.e. the country in which her parents were born and grew up. Here, too, is where the second child, Charles, was born after the end of World War I on 22 March 1919. A few months later the family returned to Elim. Maximilien was offered the position of lead surgeon of the district of Zoutpansberg. Then in 1921 in a move that slightly complicated the question of his nationality he was granted South African citizenship. He brought his mother to South Africa, who continued to live near him until her death in 1932.

Having discovered the high incidence of certain types of cancer among the non-European population, Maximilien decided to dedicate his life to researching this disease. His work quickly gained recognition, and he was offered a position as a researcher at the South African Institute of Medical Research at the University of Witwatersrand. Thus he and his family, which had increased following the birth of René on 15 February 1921, moved to Johannesburg in 1926. Their fourth and final child, Yvonne, was born on 10 July 1927. The family lived in a pleasant house near the research institute, and spoke French in the privacy of their home. The children also spoke fluent English and learned the local language, Shangaan.

Maximilien was a keen mountaineer and hiker and was one of the founding members of the Johannesburg Hiking Club, of which he was president for thirteen years. Emilie shared his passion, and the couple undertook numerous hiking tours in the nearby mountains.

As a pioneer in the field of cancer research and a specialist in cell cultivation, Maximilien received international acclaim for his achievements. He frequently exchanged correspondence with the director of the centre for cancer research in Leningrad, USSR. In 1931 he was also one of the founding members of the National Cancer Association of South Africa. He retired in 1942 and settled in the district of Rustenburg.

His first granddaughter, Norma, called him Popeye because she could not pronounce Papa properly, and this nickname stuck within the family. Emilie was called Khoki, a diminutive form of the Shangaan word khokwaan (grandmother). Maximilien died in 1952, and Emilie in 1962. (5)

The ties with the paternal French family were very quickly erased. Maximilien undoubtedly never knew his half-brothers Jacques and Charles des Ligneris. However, his father had bequeathed him a family tree from the 18th century, which is still carefully preserved by his descendants. Because the language the family used at home was French, the offspring were able to read and understand the document. Thus the memory of French ancestry remained vivid, but perhaps in the form of a “legend” that was no longer embodied through physical ties.

Louise married Frank Rosslee in 1937. They had three children: Norma (1937), Frank (1940) and Meryl (1943), plus numerous descendants.

René, who was epileptic, drowned in 1954 at the age of 33, as the result of a seizure he suffered while swimming in a dam. He did not have any offspring.

The youngest child, Yvonne, married Josias Schutte. They had four children: François, Etienne, André and Odette – it is interesting to note the French first names – and these children in turn produced many descendants.

Charles des Ligneris married Molly Graves. They had five children: Michael (1946), John (1948), Geoffrey (1950), Patricia Ann (1952-1968) and Kenneth (1953). These were the offspring who still bore the name des Ligneris in South Africa. At the age of 24, Geoffrey visited Switzerland for a holiday, where he fell in love and has remained ever since. Then in the early 1990s, on a bottle of Saint-Emilion, Château Soutard, he noticed that the proprietor bore the name des Ligneris. Out of curiosity he decided to write a letter, and the members of the French family were greatly surprised because they had totally forgotten the existence of Maximilien, an amnesia that probably set in after the 1890s. The letter reached me, and I had the pleasure of filling in the resulting gap by finding the family ties and discovering the story of our cousins in South Africa. Since then, the number of contacts and visits has increased, in particular with John, Geoffrey and their offspring, to the great delight of everyone.


(1) Source: Bartholomew, John George (author), Hugh A. Webster and Arthur Silva Whitein (editors), The Scottish Geographical Society, vol. I, 1885. University of Texas Libraries, Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection.

(2) Antoine de Cetto is cited in the certificate of baptism of Marquis Maximilien des Ligneris in 1813, as Plenipotentiary of the King of Bavaria, the child’s godfather.

(3) Baron and Baroness de Cetto are cited on the announcement of the death of Marquis des Ligneris in 1894.

(4) “He was educated here and always felt at heart a Swiss”, in S.A. Medical Journal, 4 October 1952, p. 805.

(5) A large amount of the information provided here has been drawn from the unedited manuscript of the memoirs of Norma Colleen Vorster (née Rosslee in 1937), daughter of Louise des Ligneris and first granddaughter of Maximilien des Ligneris. We wish to thank her for her thorough and moving work. Other sources include articles in medical journals, obituaries, birth and marriage certificates, divorce decrees, and reports by lawyers concerning the question of Maximilien’s nationality.

26) The sabre and the rose

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlet

Confédération allemande du nord crée en 1867 (en rouge)
The North German Confederation,
which was established in 1867 (in red) (1)

It is now January 1871. Jacques and Charles des Ligneris, cavalry sub-lieutenants aged 24 and 23 respectively, spent Christmas and New Year’s in captivity in the North German Confederation following the comprehensive defeats of the French army by the Prussians. They recall witnessing the deaths of their comrades during a bombardment of shelling and gunfire. As was the case during the Battle of Reichshoffen, many were massacred at point blank range.

The experience of captivity undoubtedly left its mark on Charles, and especially on Jacques. Following the defeat at the Battle of Sedan, the 80,000 prisoners were kept for several weeks in a makeshift camp in appalling conditions on the peninsula of Iges, where they suffered from starvation and abuse. They were then taken across the Rhine after being marched in convoy to the embarkation points. When they reached their destination in a state of utter destitution they were again crammed into makeshift camps. Following these hardships, however, in view of their officer status Jacques and Charles were probably allowed to stay in private homes on parole and at their own cost.(2)

They were also stripped of their illusions regarding the role of the cavalry in which they were engaged and which still symbolised the roles of the military and the nobility at that time. The French leadership still believed in the might of the cavalry, whereas in reality the firing speed of the rifles and machine guns (a recent invention), combined with the additional impact of artillery, halted cavalry charges and rendered them ineffectual. While at virtually the same time the Civil War in America was primarily characterised by the use of cavalry, the Franco-Prussian War signalled the start of the irreversible decline of cavalry in Europe.

In the meantime, life in Paris in January 1871 had become characterised by hardship. Within a fortified enclosure and protected by ramparts and forts, the city sheltered around two million inhabitants who were defended by some 400,000 inconsistently trained men. Around 400,000 Prussians supported by heavy artillery had surrounded the city since 17 September 1870.

Rather than exposing his troops to street fighting, General von Moltke chose to count on bringing about the starvation and exhaustion of the Parisians, and concentrated on repelling all attempts to break through his lines. The French had indeed attempted to disrupt the Prussian lines: fighting took place in Clamart, Châtillon, Saint-Cloud, Rueil-Malmaison, Champigny and Bourget, but all attacks by the French were repelled.

"Bivouac après le combat du Bourget, 21 décembre 1870" par Alphonse de Neuville, 1873 (collections du Musée d'Orsay)

“Bivouac after the battle of Bourget, 21 December 1870”, by Alphonse de Neuville, 1873
(collections du Musée d’Orsay)

Inside Paris, the food supply diminished rapidly. People began to slaughter horses for food, then dogs, cats and rats, and ultimately all the creatures in the menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes. There was no more wood or coal to heat the buildings, and the winter was exceptionally severe.

At the beginning of January 1871, the Prussians initiated a massive bombardment of Paris using new cannons they had installed in Boulogne and Meudon. The resulting damage was enormous and the psychological impact was extremely severe for the inhabitants who had already been weakened by hunger and the cold weather.

On 12 January the French army in the west was defeated in Le Mans. Then on 19 January the army in the north was defeated in Saint-Quentin, while the army in the east surrendered in the region of Doubs.

Meanwhile, shooting broke out in Paris. With the increasing unrest among the population the provisional government feared there could be an uprising, so it entered into negotiations and signed an armistice on 26 January.

At the same time, all the German states united behind Prussia to form the new German Empire. Wilhelm I was proclaimed Emperor in Versailles, not in Berlin.(3),(4) Chancellor Bismarck’s strategy had proved to be a resounding success, while France had been humiliated.

In compliance with the terms of the armistice agreement a French National Assembly was hastily elected on 8 February. Thanks to the rural vote it comprised a monarchist majority that was in favour of a peaceful resolution. The peace treaty was signed on 26 February.

France lost Alsace (which had become French in 1648), the territories annexed by Louis XIV in 1681, and Moselle. It also had to pay the enormous sum of 5 billion gold francs. The Prussian troops only liberated the territories progressively until the total amount had been paid. A large portion of eastern France therefore remained occupied until 1873.

Charles des Ligneris was released by the Prussians on 7 March 1871, and Jacques on 8 April. Jacques had hardly arrived back in France when he was apparently involved, together with his regiment, in the suppression of local unrest. On 18 March the working class in Paris had risen up against the monarchist assembly which it refused to recognise, but also out of frustration at having been “robbed” of its own revolution in September 1870, as well as in response to a government that wanted to disarm the population.

The insurgency quickly gained the upper hand in Paris, causing the government to flee to Versailles. The municipal council comprising 80 members elected by the people sat in the City Hall under the name “Commune de Paris”. Without a leader and comprised of a majority of workers and artisans, it managed the city “with integrity and a certain degree of moderation.”(5) As a veritable body of social innovation, this council envisaged the separation of church and state, as well as mandatory secular education.

The Prussians were somewhat taken aback when the French regular army (nicknamed the Versaillais) launched an attack on Paris against the communards entrenched behind the city’s fortifications. The fighting continued for several weeks. Many historic buildings were set on fire during the fighting, including the Palais des Tuileries, the Bibliothèque impériale du Louvre, the Hôtel de Ville de Paris and the Palais de Justice, resulting in irretrievable losses in terms of national heritage and historical archives.

The conflict culminated in the Semaine Sanglante (Bloody Week) of 21 to 28 May 1871, during which the regular army entered Paris and exerted merciless repression. The number of deaths remains uncertain to this day, and is cited at between 6,000 and 30,000, including numerous summary executions sparing neither women nor children. Around 5,000 people were taken prisoner, and a further 5,000 were deported to New Caledonia. We have to ask ourselves whether Jacques des Ligneris really appreciated the role he had been asked to perform, which was undoubtedly not what he had expected to play as a serving officer.

Jacques and Charles each pursued their military career. Jacques was promoted to lieutenant on 30 April 1872, and Charles on 15 March 1873. But it is likely that their hearts were no longer in it. Deputy Montebello would later refer to the trauma sustained by men of his generation after entering into the life “following the collapse of what they considered to be the fine patriotism of France.”(6) Worse, the former prisoners were not regarded as heroes. “The shock wave of defeat coupled with the trauma of the Commune […] led to the disregard of the prisoners, who were considered to be unfortunate, worthy of pity rather than interest. […] Prisoners bore this mark on them which the humiliated nation did not wish to see after 1871.”(7)

Left, Jacques des Ligneris / right, Charles des Ligneris (undated photos). While the only recorded detail about Jacques is his height (1.75 metres), Charles’ military dossier tells us he was 1.72 metres tall, had chestnut hair and blue eyes.

The situation was equally traumatic for their father, Maximilien des Ligneris. From our perspective today, marked by the awareness of the two subsequent world wars against Germany, we can well imagine that the German states in 1870 might have been regarded as a kind of hereditary enemy. But for the people at that time the perception was quite different. For centuries, France’s traditional adversaries had primarily been England, Spain and the House of Austria. Only Louis XIV was a genuine aggressor towards the Germans. The princes of the German states mostly battled among themselves, and France sometimes even dispatched troops to help one against the other. In 1870, the French upper classes tended to show warmth and admiration for German culture. This applied all the more to Maximilien who, as already noted elsewhere, had been raised by a mother whose education was entirely Germanic, and in an atmosphere of fond memories (perhaps fantasised) of the Bavaria of his mother’s childhood. It is highly likely that Maximilien spoke fluent German. He was also probably greatly aggrieved by the fact that Prussia had ravaged and humiliated France, making him a witness of a catastrophe he would not have thought possible.

Rose Marquise des Ligneris (source https//www.panteek.comJamainindex2.htm)
The Marquise des Ligneris Rose (9)

On a lighter note, an intriguing horticultural work was published in 1873: “Les Roses”, by Eugène Forney (Paris, éditions J. Rothschild), which contained a sketch and description of the “Marquise des Ligneris” rose, a hybrid created by Eugène Guenoux in Voisenon in 1869.(8)

It was in Voisenon, near Melun, where Marie-Augusta owned real estate that she rented out. When her relationship with Maximilien faltered after twenty years of marriage and resulted in a legal separation and division of property in 1868, Marie-Augusta undoubtedly settled in Voisenon, where she had clearly formed close ties with the local inhabitants.

Maximilien entered into a new relationship (perhaps in 1868) with Elsabe Maria Dorothea Möller, a 24-year-old German (thirty-one years younger than Maximilien). She was originally Danish, having been born in 1844 in Rendsburg in the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein, and became a German citizen in the wake of the annexation of the Duchy by the Prussians in 1866.

Marie-Augusta refused to divorce Maximilien, so he was unable to remarry.

Château de Vaux-le-Pénil
Château de Vaux-le-Pénil

It was also in the immediate vicinity of Voisenon that Marie-Augusta met the Fréteau de Pény family, which was residing in the Château de Vaux-le-Pény, near Melun. Héracle, special adviser to the Cour des Comptes (French Court of Auditors), had been a widower for more than ten years (his wife was Anne-Céline Petit). He lived with his eldest daughter Alexandrine and his son Pierre. His youngest daughter, Gabrielle, was no longer living there, having married Amédée de Boissieu in 1870.

It was probably Marie-Augusta who arranged the meeting between Alexandrine Fréteau de Pény and her son, Viscount Charles, and subsequently their marriage, a grand affair which was held at Château de Pény on 12 October 1874. Numerous uniformed officer friends attended the reception. Charles was almost 27 and Alexandrine 25, which might seem a little old for a bride. She was described as highly intelligent and cultured, as well as religious: as an admirer of the Dominicans she entered the Third Order of St Dominic at a very young age, before returning to civil life.(10)

At this time a death occurred in the family: René des Ligneris, who was the brother of Jacques and Charles and about whom we know very little, died in Guyana at the age of just 24.(11) What was he doing in this exotic country? Had he perhaps gone there as an prospector in search of gold? Did he have ties with the prison authorities there? Was he there to do business? Was he a sailor on stopover there?

In 1877, Marie-Augusta’s brother, Adolphe Thourou de Bertinval, Baron of Bressolles, died. Since he and his wife Marie de Chamerlat did not have any offspring, he designated his nephew Charles des Ligneris as his heir. However, his wife retained the right of use of the chateau on the Bressolles lands. She was small and slender but had a strong constitution, and she lived in the chateau with no heating.(12) She also had to handle old legal proceedings that had been ongoing for several decades.(13)

Château de Rezay, à Mâron (Indre)
Château de Rezay, à Mâron (Indre)

Other relationships were formed during this period: Count Jacques des Ligneris married Charlotte Tailhandier du Plaix on 20 December 1877. He was 31 and she was 23. The sumptuous wedding took place at Château de Rezay, in Mâron (near Châteauroux), where Charlotte was living with her father and her oldest sister. The latter inherited Rezay, while Charlotte des Ligneris received Château du Plaix, situated in a locality which by unlikely coincidence was named Lignières.

Château du Plaix (pictures 2 and 3 by Michel Laporte des Thiaulins)

Charles had been seconded with his regiment to Verdun, which is where Alexandrine gave birth to her first child on 7 August 1878, which they named Etienne. She subsequently gave birth to Jean on 25 June 1880 in Meaux, and Michel on 2 August 1882. On 27 September 1883, Alexandrine also gave birth to a daughter named Marie, who sadly died at the age of only 15 months on 22 December 1884. Meanwhile, Jacques and Charlotte remained childless.

Another childbirth would take place during this period – one that would have significant consequences for the family…

(1) The independent southern German states are shown in yellow, while the French territories annexed by the Prussians in 1871 are depicted in pale pink. Source: Wikipedia. Based on map data of the IEG-Maps project (Andreas Kunz, B. Johnen and Joachim Robert Moeschl: University of Mainz) – http://www.ieg-maps.uni-mainz.de .

(2) Information from an article by Odile Roynette, “500,000 prisoners”, published in l’Histoire no. 469, March 2020, page 55.

(3) Otto von Bismarck would have chosen Versailles in retaliation for the two ravages of the Palatinate (German: Pfalz) region in 1674 and 1689 by the troops of Louis XIV. These little known episodes in France (perhaps due to a kind of voluntary amnesia?) concern the exactions in 1674 by Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne, during the Franco-Dutch War in the region of the German Empire known as the Palatinate. In order to cut off the movements of enemy troops and terrorise the population, Turenne ordered large-scale massacres and atrocities and thus clearly committed what international law defines today as war crimes. And in 1689, massacres were again carried out in the Palatinate region on the orders of Louvois, Louis XIV’s chief adviser. These two ravages of the Palatinate gave rise to a wave of indignation in Europe against Louis XIV. While there had been pillaging and sacking during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), this could be explained at that time by the depletion of the state finances and the impossibility to pay the troops, as well as by religious hatred. But these later massacres were the implementation of a deliberate policy of terrorisation by a state with healthy finances and disciplined troops.

(4) The Franco-Prussian War gave rise to another consequence of international significance: the achievement of Italian unity. As the French troops stationed in Rome to protect the Pope had been repatriated in France at the beginning of the war, the new Kingdom of Italy took advantage of the situation by annexing the Eternal City and making it its capital. Thus the Pope was no longer a temporary sovereign and the unity of Italy had been accomplished.

(5) Histoire de France, published by Larousse-Bordas, 1998, pages 435-36.

(6) Cited by Yannick Rippa in his article, “Une affaire de femmes”, published in L’Histoire, no. 469, March 2020, page 44.

(7) Odile Roynette, article entitled “500,000 prisonniers”, published in l’Histoire, no.469, March 2020, page 57.

(8) Today you can still order a plate decorated with this rose and called “Marquise des Ligneris rose” from the website of New York merchant John Derian. Price: 8.50 US dollars.

(9) Source of image: https//www.panteek.comJamainindex2.htm

(10) Source: Bulletin de la Société d’Emulation du Bourbonnais, 1927, page 292.

(11) Source: Archives de l’Allier, Fonds des Gozis, ref. 2Mi3920, page 279.

(12) Recollections of Gabriel des Ligneris, extract from an article (dating from the 1970s?), the text of which I have in my possession.

(13) The Bressolles domain was particularly rich in complex legal proceedings. In the archives kindly provided by Madame Zivy we find a reference to a court case in 1841: “M. de Bertinval versus M. Delageneste et al”, and another in 1847: “Monsieur Touroux (sic) de Bertinval versus Monsieur Pierre-Auguste Vermin d’Aigrepont”. And earlier, a conflict in 1749 involving “the islands of Mousta and Saule and the cultures damaged by grazing cattle on these islands”.

25) Maximilien and Marie-Augusta: gentrification under the Second Empire

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

When news of the revolution that took place in Paris in February 1848 reached Château de Méréglise, Marie-Augusta des Ligneris immediately grew concerned about her two infants: Jacques was just 18 months old and Charles barely 4 months. Were there going to be beheadings again or the seizure of properties? Nothing she subsequently learned would reassure her. Immediately after the abdication of King Louis-Philippe on 24 February, the provisional Lamartine government removed nobility titles by decree on 25 February and 2 March. In rural areas, residences of the nobility and money-lenders were attacked, and machinery was destroyed.

On 5 March, universal suffrage was enacted … but exclusively for men, despite the mobilisation of part of the female population behind George Sand, with demonstrations by hundreds and signatures of petitions by thousands. In the newly established journal, La Voix des Femmes (The Voice of Women), Eugénie Niboyet declared: “The slavery of women must cease together with labour servitude.” But her appeal went unheard. (1)

Then a major breakthrough occurred: slavery was definitively abolished thanks to the persistent efforts of Victor Schoelcher. (2) “The months of February and March through to June represent an exceptional occurrence of the possible in history, which expresses a hope of social communion and the realisation of a better future, articulated by a European, colonial and imperial revolutionary outbreak.”(3)

However, in April the election of the representatives of the Constituent Assembly was a setback for the revolutionaries. The moderate republicans regained the absolute majority, with the monarchist right as the second force, well ahead of the extreme-left socialists who had already been labelled “the reds.

The revolutionaries had in fact overlooked the effect of numbers, in this instance for the universal suffrage for men it was the peasant vote that defined the outcome, i.e. the vote of small landowners “who wanted neither a return to the Ancien Régime nor a revolution by the socialists.” (4)

At the end of May, the street protests that primarily took place in rural areas were harshly suppressed. At the beginning of June, there were signs of disturbance in Paris. Then at the end of June, barricades were erected again, a state of siege was declared and fighting broke out in the streets.

Exceptionnelle photo de Paris le 25 juin 1848 avant l'attaque rue du faubourg du temple (daguerréotype de Thibault, publié par le magazine L'Histoire en février 2018)
A rare photograph of Paris taken on 25 June 1848 showing the barricades in Rue du Faubourg du Temple that were erected before the attack (daguerreotype by Thibault, published in the journal, L’Histoire in February 2018)

At least 40,000 insurgents fought against the forces of law and order. Around 3,000 were killed and 15,000 imprisoned or deported. The armed forces in their turn suffered 1,500 casualties. (5) This indicates how feverish the atmosphere was and how determined the two sides were to prevail. Society as a whole was shaken. A civil war had broken out.

The Constituent Assembly proclaimed the Second Republic in November. (6) The presidential election scheduled for 10 December 1848 resulted in a huge victory for Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon I. (7)

In 1850, citizen Maximilien des Ligneris, who was then aged 37, welcomed with joy the birth of his third son, René. But at the same time he was deeply saddened to learn of the death of both his mother Antoinette (61) and his father-in-law, Joseph d’Hervilly (60). Because the latter was without issue, the Brocourt estate was sold. The new owner demolished the château and replaced it with a building of excessive proportions. It is possible that Maximilien’s sister, Charlotte, remained there in order to continue to manage the boarding school for young girls that she had established there.

Le château de Brocourt après 1850
The new Château Brocourt after 1850

In December 1851, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte suddenly instigated a coup. This spelt the end of the Second Republic, which was replaced by a consular republic in January 1852. The latter was then replaced by the Second Empire in December that year. Among his first actions, Louis Napoleon (now Emperor Napoleon III) reinstated the titles of nobility on 27 January 1852.

In September that year, Viscount Augustin des Ligneris, Maximilien’s uncle, died at his home in Paris (10 Rue de l’Université) at the age of 68.

Marquis Maximilien des Ligneris entered into politics. He sought the office of General Councillor in his own Department (Eure-et-Loir), and was successful. (8) He held this office for more than fifteen years: a nobleman, simultaneously an heir of the Ancien Régime and representative of the Second Empire – a wealthy figure living in his own château.

In the course of the 1850s, the three brothers (Jacques, Charles and René) grew up in the peaceful surroundings of the Beauce countryside, where they were educated by tutors. They played alongside the ponds that bordered the grounds of Château de Méréglise, and in the river Thironne that flows through the grounds. They undoubtedly visited the grandchildren of the late Augustin and Agathe des Ligneris, their second cousins Charles and Marie Agathe de Vauguion (children of Eudoxie), as well as Agathe, Louise, Vincent and Marie Le Roy de Valanglart (children of Claire-Armande).

Maximilien purchased a large quantity of shares in the Suez Canal – a risky project, work on which commenced in 1859 and lasted ten years, and which was threatened several times by the English. When this major commercial infrastructure was completed, Maximilien became considerably wealthier.

His wife, Marie-Augusta, managed the properties she inherited in Seine-et-Marne, comprising fields in Voisenon which she rented to farmers, and at least one house in Melun. (9)

In 1860, following a referendum Napoleon III annexed the County of Nice and Savoy in exchange for France’s support in Piedmont-Sardinia against the Austrians.

Jacques des Ligneris obtained his baccalaureate in humanities in 1864, then he attended the Saint-Cyr Special Imperial Military College. He graduated as a cavalry officer in 1867 (Vénétie promotion) and was subsequently appointed sub-lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of Cuirassiers. His brother, Charles, followed suit and graduated as a cavalry officer in 1868 before joining the 12th Dragons Regiment as a sub-lieutenant. Neither of them were outstanding students and in fact they both graduated at the bottom of their respective promotion class. (10)

Their grandmother, Anne-Laurence d’Origny, Baroness Dowager de Bressolles, disappeared in 1868 at the age of 68. (11) Then Jean-Marie Le Roy, Earl of Valanglart and husband of Claire-Armande des Ligneris, died on 20 February 1870 in his own property at 8, Rue de Varennes in Paris.

At the international level the Spanish Succession created tensions between France and Prussia. Anti-French feelings were widespread in Germany, while crowds in Paris demanded war, which France declared on 19 July 1870, officially due to “public insult”, in response to a deliberately contemptuous dispatch from Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who was pushing for a conflict in order to galvanise the ongoing German unification.

Charge de Reichshoffen, tableau d'Aimé Morot, 1870, collections du Château de Versailles
Cavalry charge at Reichshoffen, painting by Aimé Morot, 1870 (collections of the Château de Versailles)

Jacques des Ligneris was the first of the two brothers to participate in the conflict, with the 8th Regiment of Cuirassiers (heavily armed cavaliers). He fought in the battle of Froeschwiller-Woerth, Alsace, on 6 August 1870, where 45,000 Frenchmen faced 130,000 Prussians. His regiment was decimated during the disastrous cavalry charges at Reichshoffen and Morsbronn commanded by General Michel. Jacques was one of only 17 survivors from his regiment. (12) However, the sacrifice of the cavaliers enabled the remainder of the French army to retreat.

La charge de Morsbronn, 6 août 1870, tableau de Detaille (collections du musée de Woerth)
Cavalry charge at Morsbronn, 6 August 1870, painting by Edouard Detaille (collections of the Museum of Woerth)

Jacques may have been reassigned to another unit that participated in the battle of Sedan on 1 September: he was listed as a prisoner of the Prussians on 2 September. The battle involved 120,000 French troops commanded by Napoleon III and General MacMahon, who faced 200,000 Prussians led by King Wilhelm I and General von Moltke. The French were defeated and Napoleon III surrendered. He was taken into captivity in Germany, while 80,000 French soldiers and officers were taken prisoner-of-war, including Jacques.

On 4 September in Paris, Gambetta proclaimed the deposition of the Emperor and the establishment of the French Republic. But the provisional government refused to accept defeat and reconstituted an army. Paris was besieged from 17 September, and this is where Charles des Ligneris enters the scene. His regiment’s first battles commenced on 23 September and continued until 5 December, perhaps until the Battle of Orleans. He survived, but he too was captured by the Prussians. 

Paris was encircled and under attack, the Emperor had been deposed, and two of their sons had been captured by the Prussians: at the end of 1870, the picture looked grim for Maximilien and Marie-Augusta. What would the future hold in store for them?

schema de descendance Anne Louis et Augustin

(1) Quentin Deluermos: extract from the article, “Le grand rêve de la Fraternité” (The grand dream of fraternity), published in the journal l’Histoire, no. 444, February 2019, page 36. See also the excellent article by Michelle Perrot, “Qui a peur des femmes?” (Who’s afraid of women?), l’Histoire, no. 218, February 1998, repeated in no. 444, February 2019, page 52.

(2) Slavery was only abolished in the French colonies, because it had already been officially abolished in France as of 3 July 1315 by royal decree of Louis Le Hutin, who postulated that “the soil of France shall liberate the slaves who touch it.” This provision, which remained in effect throughout the centuries, permitted slaves brought into France with their master in the eighteenth century to initiate proceedings against the latter and to be supported and supervised by the French courts which liberated them, in some cases awarding them compensation for harm suffered.

(3) Quentin Deluermos: extract from the article, “Le grand rêve de la Fraternité” (The grand dream of fraternity), published in the journal, l’Histoire, no. 444, February 2019, page 37.

(4) Michel Winock: article entitled “A l’épreuve du suffrage universel” (Putting universal suffrage to the test), published in the journal, l’Histoire, no. 444, February 2019, page 53.

(5) Michel Winock: article entitled “A l’épreuve du suffrage universel” (Putting universal suffrage to the test), published in the journal, l’Histoire, no. 444, February 2019, pages 55-56.

(6) The Constitution of the Second Republic granted legislative power to a single assembly, and executive power “to a citizen who is appointed President of the Republic” and elected by universal suffrage (male) in a single round. If no absolute majority of votes was attained, the assembly would designate the President from among the five candidates who received the most votes.

Michel Winock: article entitled “A l’épreuve du suffrage universel” (Putting universal suffrage to the test), published in the journal, l’Histoire, no. 444, February 2019, page 56.

(7) As candidate, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte presented himself as “reconciler of the classes, friend of religion, protector of the poor and advocate of the wealthy.” In the view of Karl Marx, who was present in Paris in March and April that year, the vote on 10 December 1848 was a victory for the peasant class, “a country versus city reaction.”

Michel Winock: article entitled “A l’épreuve du suffrage universel” (Putting universal suffrage to the test), published in the journal, l’Histoire, no. 444, February 2019, page 57.

(8) Maximilien is cited in the 1855 reports on the deliberations of the General Council of Eure-et-Loire as a member of the “accounts commission” (source: Gallica). He is cited again in 1859 as a member of the “miscellaneous affairs commission” (!), and again in 1869 as a member of the “accounts commission” (source: Gallica).

It should be noted here that, although every man over the age of 25 could declare himself a candidate, it was the State that designated official candidates. The Prefect was instructed to assist them in every way: subsidies, ballot-stuffing, threats against candidates, etc. These practices were not new, but they were rendered systematic by the Second Empire. In view of the status of Maximilien and the longevity of his mandates, it is very likely that he was an official candidate of the regime and thus a fervent supporter of it.

(9) Lease agreement of 1867 between Marquise des Ligneris and a farmer in Voisenon; lease agreement of 1874 concerning the same object; lease agreement of 1880 between Marquise des Ligneris and the town of Melun concerning the rental of a building to the latter (documents in my possession, donated by Madame Zivy).

(10) Source: service reports, base LEONORE, French Ministry of Culture, for Legion of Honour medals. These documents are published in the appendix on the Documents and Sources page.

(11) It was discovered that her husband, Charles Thourou de Bertinval, had already married once before. He was 28 when he married Claudine Molland on 28 November 1804. She was a divorced woman, the daughter of the President of Petitions at the appeals court (Parlement de Paris). The marriage contract was concluded without a joint property clause. Astonishingly, given that her father was very high ranking and undoubtedly wealthy, she only possessed a few items of furniture which were listed in the deed. However, her husband’s assets were not voluntarily listed, as is revealed in the document. Here, the imbalance between their assets is clearly apparent, and it was therefore undoubtedly a marriage of love which is unlikely to have met with enthusiasm from either family. It is not known what happened to the marriage, nor whether they had any children (source: marriage contract in my possession, donated by Madame Zivy).

(12) Detailed information about this battle can be obtained from the following website – https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataille_de_Frœschwiller-Wœrth_(1870) – which describes it very well. Jacques’ service reports (base LEONORE) confirm that he participated in the campaign on 6 August 1870.

24) The Carefree Maximilien

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

Maximilien des Ligneris was 19 years old when a global cholera pandemic struck France in 1832. It originated in India in 1826, reached Moscow in 1830, where it provoked riots, then crossed Poland and Finland, hit Berlin in 1831 and London in February 1832, then Paris a month later before subsequently taking hold of most of France. Irish immigrants carried it to Quebec. It then struck Ontario and Nova Scotia, and before long it had entered the United States via Detroit and New York. The pandemic reached South America in 1833, where it persisted until 1848.

Maximilien and his sister Charlotte were undoubtedly confined by their mother to Château Brocourt in the Somme. Within six months, the cholera outbreak had claimed around 100,000 lives in France, including 20,000 in Paris alone. The streets were deserted, no one dared go out of doors and people were wary of their neighbours. Some of the leading scientific minds of the era succumbed to the disease, including Sadi Carnot, the father of thermodynamics, as well as leading political figures such as Casimir Périer, president of the Council of Ministers. The pandemic constituted one of the greatest traumas of the 19th century.

During the following decade, the Kingdom of France experienced deep-seated social, economic and political transformations. King Louis-Philippe was anxious to reunite the French people, who had been profoundly divided in the wake of the revolution of 1830, around the principles of moderation. After adopting the tricolore, suppressing censorship and acknowledging that Catholicism was no longer the state religion, he abolished formal court etiquette and began to take walks in the streets of Paris. This closeness to the people made him a popular figure.

Louis-Philippe governed from the centre, combining a royalist orleanist and a liberal tendency. He was not recognised by the ultra royalists, who in turn were split into two concurrent factions, nor by the bonapartists, who supported Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon I.

The establishment of a parliamentary system and the accession of the bourgeoisie to manufacturing and financial activities gave rise to a major economic boom. Steam engines and trains made their appearance in France and their development was as rapid as that of large industrial companies. (1)

Maximilien des Ligneris was a young recipient of annuity, as was typical of the nobility of the Ancien Régime. Rather than joining the armed forces like his father and grandfather, he chose to hunt with his friends and visit the fashionable salons. He probably led a lavish lifestyle in Paris for around a decade and did little to hide his enjoyment of it.

La marquise de Béthisy se rendant à une soirée, 1835, tableau de Ch. Steuben, Musée des Beaux Arts de Lille. Maximilien des Ligneris doit beaucoup fréquenter ces salons mondains où se retrouvent les clans aristocratiques.
Marquise de Béthisy, 1835, by Ch. Steuben,
Musée des Beaux Arts in Lille.

He was 32 years of age when he decided to get married, perhaps at the urging of his mother, Antoinette. His marriage to 17-year-old Marie-Augusta Thourou de Bertinval took place on 27 October 1845 at 1 p.m. at the town hall in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. Her mother, Anne-Laurence d’Origny, attended the ceremony. However, her father, Charles, Baron of Bressolles, had died four years earlier. (2) Given the discrepancy in their ages, Maximilien could not have met Marie-Augusta during his time in Paris. This was most likely an arranged marriage rather than a love match – a beneficial alliance for both families.

Maximilien was accompanied by his mother, his step-father and his cousin and witness, Jean-Marie Leroy, Earl of Vallanglart. However, his sister Charlotte was conspicuous by her absence. Perhaps she had quarrelled with him, or she disapproved of his carefree behaviour. Unlike Maximilien, she remained in Brocourt (Somme) and engaged in the local life there, for example by establishing a boarding school for young girls. She never married.

Pensionnat de jeunes filles de Brocourt
The boarding school for young girls in Brocourt

The couple stayed briefly in Paris where their first child, Jacques Joseph Maximilien Charles, was born on 11 September 1846. Perhaps their stay in Paris was to allow sufficient time for the refurbishment of Château de Méréglise (Eure-et-Loir), which had probably remained unoccupied since the death of Maximilien’s grandfather in 1827. They moved in there a few months after the birth of Jacques, and their second son, Charles Marie Anne Théodore, was born there on 2 November 1847.

It is quite possible that, basking in the delights of fresh parenthood, the couple did not notice the deterioration of the general situation in the country. King Louis-Philippe’s popularity began to wane as his government grew increasingly conservative and monarchical. The living conditions of the general population worsened considerably and income disparities increased. From 1846, an agricultural and economic crisis led to a further deterioration of the situation brought about by the Republican Party, and this would give rise to a major political upheaval.

From 22 to 24 February 1848, France found itself in the throes of revolution for a third time. For the majority of players, however, this came as quite a surprise: “It was completely unexpected and struck like a bolt of lightning,” exclaimed orleanist Albert de Broglie, while at the other end of the political spectrum socialist Etienne Cabet recalls, “The revolution hit like a bomb or a thunderbolt”. (3)

Lamartine, chef du gouvernement provisoire, 25 février 1848 (tableau de F. Philippoteaux, 1848, Musée Carnavalet ou Hôtel des Ligneris)
Lamartine, 25 février 1848 (by F. Philippoteaux, 1848, Musée Carnavalet (alias Hôtel des Ligneris))

At the end of three days of barricades and fighting in the streets of Paris, King Louis-Philippe, now aged 75, abdicated on 24 February 1848. Since his son and heir had died in an accident six years earlier, he named his grandson as his successor. The Chamber of Deputies hesitated, but then proclaimed the Second Republic. The royal family immediately fled to England, while crowds invaded the Tuileries and devastated the palace for several hours, starting with the throne hall, which was completely ransacked.

Louis-Philippe en mars 1848 à Claremont House en Angleterre
Former King Louis-Philippe in March 1848, in exile at Claremont House, England. A rare early photography.

This was just the start of a highly tumultuous period which would shake the whole of Europe: a “Spring of Nations”, comprising a succession of almost concurrent insurrections and uprisings; an emotional idealism that elevated the concepts of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in France.

But how would Maximilien and Marie-Augusta get through this period which threatened their social status and their way of life? What would become of their two offspring?

(1) Sources of this and the preceding paragraph: Histoire de France. Larousse, 1998; Wikipedia, article on Louis-Philippe I.

(2) Source: Deed of marriage dated 27 October 1845, copy dated 25 August 1970, certified as authentic by the Paris archives service. Marie-Augusta lost her father at the same age as Maximilien was when he had lost his. The relatives of Maximilien who accompanied him were his mother, Antoinette (aged 57), his step-father, Jean-Baptiste, Viscount of Hervilly (55) and his cousin and witness, Jean-Marie Leroy, Earl of Vallanglart (37). Marie-Augusta’s witnesses were her relatives, Antoine, Earl of Nanteuil (68) and Napoléon, Marquis of Bréhan (40). Anne-Laurence d’Origny was 45 years old at the time of her daughter’s marriage.

(3) Source: L’Histoire magazine, no. 444, February 2018, page 30, article by Quentin Deluermos.

23) Anne-Louis and Maximilien, from the tumultuous Napoleonic times until the July Revolution

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

In November 1813, Maximilien des Ligneris was an infant less than a year old. At that time, Napoleon’s troops were withdrawing from the German states towards France in the face of the coalition formed by England, Austria and Russia. The troops were also rapidly retreating from Spain. A popular uprising against the French took place in Amsterdam. In January 1814 the coalition invaded France. Joachim Murat, a general under Napoleon I, betrayed him by offering his services and men to Austria to fight against the French. In February, the French Emperor planned the evacuation of the French government from Paris.

Maximilien and Charlotte, his older sister by three years, undoubtedly sensed the anguish of their parents, Anne-Louis and Antoinette, who hesitated to flee from their residence in Paris to Chartres to try and protect their young offspring. The battle for Paris commenced at 6 a.m. on 30 March and was already over a day later when Paris capitulated. The Senate declared that Napoleon I had been removed from the throne and replaced with Louis Stanislas Xavier (Louis XVIII). On 30 May 1814, France was reduced to its 1792 borders.

If those times were troubled, the same has to be said for the private life of Anne-Louis des Ligneris. His relationship with his wife was strained. They could have divorced, which would have been permitted by the Napoleonic Civil Code of 1804 but was prohibited again by Louis XVIII in 1815.

In 1823, Jean-Baptiste-Claude des Ligneris sold the residence in Chartres that had been acquired by his own father in the 1760s. The private mansion was transferred to the newly appointed General Council (1), which placed it at the disposal of the Prefect of Eure-et-Loir. (2) Thus Anne-Louis was living in Paris, while 77-year-old Jean-Baptiste-Claude was no longer able to move far beyond Méréglise.

That same year, Anne-Louis – about whose activities between 1800 and 1810 nothing is known – joined the King’s Guards (Gardes du corps du Roi, Compagnie de Rivière) as a sub-lieutenant. (3) Is it a coincidence that this was the same military household to which his father belonged, which was dissolved by the revolutionary government, then reinstated at the beginning of the Restoration through the Ordinances of 1814 and 1815?

From this posting it has to be assumed that Anne-Louis had already served in the armed forces: after all, you do not decide to join the military at the age of 43. Some sources refer to him as a Lieutenant-Colonel and holder of the War Cross. (4) But under which banner did he serve? The counter-revolutionary forces from the age of 20 until the end of the 1790s? Napoleon’s armed forces? The latter would be highly surprising, since he had undoubtedly always been a monarchist. If he had betrayed that cause, he would not have been able to join the military elite of the King’s Guards.

The trajectory of his de Courtavel cousins (the offspring of his aunt Marie-Thérèse-Françoise des Ligneris, wife of René-César de Courtavel) can shed a light on his political loyalties. A painting in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres that depicts them attending the reunion on 1 December 1823 of Louis-Antoine de Bourbon, Duc d’Angoulême (the son of the future King Charles X) and his cousin Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte (daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette), whom he married in 1799, provides us with a clear indication. The Duchesse d’Angoulême had come to Chartres from Paris to join her husband, who had returned from the expedition that had been sent to Spain to help Ferdinand VII restore his absolute monarchy.

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres, tableau d’Etienne-Barthélémy Garnier (1759-1849) : « Entrevue du duc et de la duchesse d’Angoulême », 1823
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres,  painting by Etienne-Barthélémy Garnier (1759-1849) : « Entrevue du duc et de la duchesse d’Angoulême », 1823
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres, détail du tableau d’Etienne-Barthélémy Garnier (1759-1849) : « Entrevue du duc et de la duchesse d’Angoulême », 1827. Le comte et le vicomte de Courtavel se trouvent au dernier plan, à gauche et à droite.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres: detail from the painting by Etienne-Barthélémy Garnier (1759-1849), “Entrevue du duc et de la duchesse d’Angoulême” (1827). Count and Viscount de Courtavel are in the back row on the left and on the right.

This occasion was only attended by the leading local authorities, notable figures from the Department and some members of the court of the spouses. (5) It is moving to find these images of the faces of Viscount de Courtavel (Deputy), and Count de Courtavel (Peer of France). They both enjoyed a successful political career despite the turmoil of the revolution and empire. (6) As already mentioned, they attended the wedding of their close cousin, Anne-Louis des Ligneris, in 1807. Nothing tells us that they maintained close ties until 1823, but the admittance of the latter to the King’s Guard points to a parallelism of their political tendencies, i.e. a strong monarchist commitment.

During this period, Louis XVIII succeeded in securing the transition from the collapsed Napoleonic Empire towards a nation at peace. After his death in 1824, his brother succeeded him as Charles X. He organised an elaborate ceremony in Reims for his consecration in the style of the Ancien Régime.

Whether it is thanks to the support of the King of Bavaria, his godfather, or of Count de Courtavel (Peer of France), Maximilien des Ligneris was chosen to participate in the grandiose consecration ceremonies as a page boy for Charles X. In other words, this 12-year-old boy dressed in magnificent ceremonial robes marched in the prestigious procession together with several other boys of his age, behind the four Knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit, carrying offerings (wine, gold and silver bread, coins), and in front of the Marshall of France. (7) There is little doubt that 29 May 1825 was a day that would remain firmly embedded in his memory for the rest of his life.

In that same year, his cousin Eudoxie des Ligneris married Aimé de Vauguyon, a member of the King’s Guard. (8) Later on, Eudoxie’s sister, Claire-Armande, married Jean-Marie Le Roy, Count of Valanglart.

But in the following year, Count Anne-Louis des Ligneris died on 2 August. He was only 48 years old.

His father was still alive: Jean-Baptiste-Claude was 82, a very advanced age for that epoch. Because it was only possible to have one living Marquis (the royal deed of 1773 specified this clearly, and it was also customary law), Anne-Louis never became Marquis des Ligneris.

At the time of their father’s death, Maximilien was only 13 and Charlotte 15. They lived in Paris with their mother, Antoinette, who subsequently married Viscount d’Hervilly in 1827, i.e. precisely at the end of the accepted “suitable” period of mourning of one year following the decease of her husband. Antoinette had no longer been living with Anne-Louis, and had probably been living together with Joseph d’Hervilly for several years. The newly formed family moved to Château de Brocourt in the Somme (130 km north of Paris).

When his grandfather died in 1829 in his castle in Méréglise, Maximilien inherited the title of third Marquis des Ligneris at the age of 16. Unless his uncle Augustin was still alive, Maximilien was now the sole male representative of the family.

Then the year 1830 marked a turning point in his life.

This was the year of the July Revolution in Paris. Charles X, who had been pursuing ultra-monarchist and strict policies with a dictatorial tendency, alienating him from both the liberal bourgeoisie and the lower classes, was forced to abdicate following the insurrection that took place at the end of July. His son was also forced to abdicate. On 9 August, his cousin Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, was proclaimed “King of the French” as Louis-Philippe I and the tricolour flag replaced the white Restoration flag.

For Maximilien, this was also the year in which he inherited the estate and château of Méréglise, near Chartres. (9)

Maximilien was just 17 years old, very rich and titled, and the world around him was changing rapidly. What would he do with his life?

The cultural heritage of Maximilien des Ligneris

Did Maximilien know his father well? Once again the hand-down from father to son was unclear. It is possible that his grandfather played the role of constructing the identity of Maximilien’s immediate family, but this is by no means certain. One of them was living in Paris and the other in Eure-et-Loir and was too elderly to travel often.

In reality, Maximilien des Ligneris grew up in the period from 1810 to 1830 in a mixed French and Germanic culture. His grandmother, Elisabeth de Deux-Ponts (or rather, von Zweibrücken: “Deux-Ponts” is merely the literal French translation) was in fact brought up by her German father, Duke Christian IV, until the latter’s death when Elisabeth was nine years old. She also had to converse fluently in French, which was the language of all European elites, and this facilitated her integration and life at the court of Louis XVI during the next fifteen years. She married a Frenchman, but was only together with him for five years before he died prematurely at the beginning of the revolutionary period. Their only daughter, Antoinette, who was born in 1789, was also brought up by her mother and grandmother in exile in the Duchy of Bavaria – in other words, immersed in a distinctly Germanic culture.

Maximilien Ier von Wittelsbach, roi de Bavière
Maximilien I von Wittelsbach, King of Bavaria

Antoinette was already twelve years old when her family returned to France in 1801. She only knew the German side of her family, in particular Maximilien I, the reigning duke and future king. She had grown up playing with her cousins, the offspring of the duke: Louis (her elder by three years, the future king Louis I of Bavaria), Augusta-Amélie (one year older than her, a duchess who would marry the Frenchman Eugène de Beauharnais) and Charlotte (three years younger than her, who would marry Emperor François II of Austria).

It is therefore not surprising that at the age of 24 she named her son Maximilien in honour of her uncle and protector, who in the meantime had become King of Bavaria and also willingly agreed to be the child’s godfather. We should also note a sign of kind affection towards her young cousin in naming her daughter Charlotte.

Without a doubt, Antoinette’s cultural references were more German than French, and German was the language she was immersed in throughout her childhood. Perhaps she felt a certain amount of nostalgia for the childhood years spent in Bavaria. Here the hand-down functioned completely between grandmother, daughter and granddaughter. There is little doubt that it was this distinctly Germanic identity that was absorbed by Maximilien des Ligneris during his childhood.

(1) The General Councils were established in 1790 by the revolutionary government and the Prefects by Bonaparte in 1800 as intermediary executive offices between the state and the departments, to control the General Council.

(2) Hôtel des Ligneris is still the residence of the Prefect of Eure-et-Loir today. It was joined with the neighbouring houses and Hôtel de Mézières in 1823 and housed the offices of the prefecture until 1970. Due to a lack of space, a new building was constructed in the town in order to retain the Hôtel as a residence, with several offices for the office of the prefect. The building is known for having housed Jean Moulin, Prefect of Eure-et-Loir in 1939. It was here that the great man carried out his first acts of resistance against the Nazi occupiers before going underground and becoming the national unifying force behind French resistance movements until his tragic death as a martyr in 1943. The desk on which he worked still exists in the Hôtel des Ligneris and is used by the current prefect.

(3) Charles-François Riffardeau de Rivière was captain of the Fifth Company of the King’s Guards from 1821 until 1828.

(4) Source: Annuaire de la noblesse de France (directory of the nobility of France), 1906 edition, page 239.

(5) Source: Explanatory note regarding the painting, “Entrevue du duc et de la duchesse d’Angoulême” by Etienne-Barthélémy Garnier (1759-1849) at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres.

(6) Count de Courtavel had just been appointed Peer of France that same year (1823), and his brother, Viscount de Courtavel, would follow suit in 1827.

(7) Source: “Relation complète du Sacre de Charles X” (full report on the consecration of Charles X). Jean Jérôme Achille Darmaing, Editions Baudouin Frères (Paris), 1825.

(8) Eudoxie was the oldest daughter of Augustin, brother of Anne-Louis des Ligneris, and Claire-Armande was the youngest.

(9) Source: Archives Départementales d’Eure-et-Loir, document 2E4 762, “Succession de Monsieur le Marquis des Ligneris, janvier 1830” (19 pièces). (Archives of the Department of Eure-et-Loir, document 2E4, 762, Succession of Marquis des Ligneris, January 1830 [19 items]).

22) Marianne’s splendid destiny

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

Whether they stayed in France during the revolution or fled into exile, Jean-Baptiste-Claude and Anne des Ligneris saw their two sons grow up in the midst of severely troubled times: Anne-Louis Jean-Baptiste Théodore was born in 1778 and Augustin Louis François was born in Paris in 1784. (1)

Augustin was admitted to the Knights of the Order of Malta (2), probably at the age of sixteen in 1800 or thereabouts. In 1805 or 1806 (i.e. still at a very young age) he married Agathe du Roux de Reveillon, with whom he had two daughters: Eudoxie and Claire-Armande (3). It is possible that a minor scandal occurred which precipitated the marriage and rattled the nerves of Jean-Baptiste-Claude’s family, because as a rule men did not marry before the age of thirty, and especially not men who were Knights of the Order of Malta.

The elder brother, Anne-Louis, waited until he reached the age of twenty-nine before marrying eighteen-year-old Antoinette Chastellier du Mesnil on 27 April 1807 in Paris. I cannot resist the temptation to list all her first names: her full name was Antoinette Marie-Anne Françoise Eléonore Elisabeth Esprit Christian Guillaume Chastellier du Mesnil.

But there is a history behind all these first names, which were not given to her by chance. Why “Christian”, for example? To find the answer we have to go back to 6 September 1722, the date of birth of Christian IV of Wittelsbach, Duke of Bavaria, Reigning Duke of Zweibrücken, Prince of Birkenfeld and Bischweiler, Prince Palatine of the Rhine, Count of Weldentz and Count of Sponheim. The elder son of Christian III and Caroline of Nassau-Saarbrücken, he succeeded his father at the age of thirteen and remained under the guardianship of his mother until he was eighteen.

Christian IV had a “weakness”: he was passionately in love with, and remained faithful to, one woman, the dancer Marianne Camasse, whom he met in 1751. She was just seventeen, he was twenty-nine. She was well below his social rank, but they lived together and quickly had three children without being married (Christian, Guillaume and Caroline). Christian IV took the bold step of marrying her in 1757, causing a scandal that shook all the princely houses of Germany. The marriage was attended by a small group of celebrants at the church in Zweibrücken.

Christian IV von Wittelsbach
Christian IV von Wittelsbach

Due to the fact that they did not come from the same social background, their marriage was regarded as morganatic. Christian was aware that their offspring would not be able to succeed to their father’s duchy (4). However, he conceived the notion of acquiring the county of Forbach (in Lorraine), a project he patiently pursued from 1756 until 1767. With the support of Louis XV and the latter’s father-in-law, King Stanislas of Poland and Duke of Lorraine, Christian IV was thus able to make his wife Countess of Forbach in 1757. The couple had two more sons (Charles-Louis and Julius) and another daughter (Elisabeth, born on 6 February 1766) after they had married.

Marianne Camasse et ses deux fils Christian et Guillaume en 1764
Marianne Camasse et ses deux fils Christian et Guillaume en 1764

His Serene Highness Christian IV of Bavaria officially acknowledged his six children in a deed dated 21 September. Sadly, he passed away on 5 November 1775 at Château de Potersheim (near Zweibrücken), while his offspring were still young.

His various titles and domains were inherited by his nephew, Charles II (1746-1795), who became the new Duke of Bavaria and reigning Duke of Zweibrücken. Then the latter was succeeded by his brother, Maximilien (1756-1825), who obtained from Napoleon in 1805 that the Duchy of Bavaria was elevated to Kingdom of Bavaria. It is interesting to note that the famous eccentric King Louis II of Bavaria, who ordered the construction of numerous extravagant chateaus and palaces, including Neuschwanstein, was none other than the great-grandson of Maximilien.

Following the accession of the new Duke of Bavaria, Charles II, Marianne (“whose charm and intelligence were widely recognised”) returned to Paris with her offspring where she frequented the salons and surrounded herself with artists and intellectuals. “In 1772, Denis Diderot, who was said to be devoted to her, received from her an Essay on Education that she had written by hand. After reading this document, Diderot replied in a letter of academic importance that was published in 1799”. She was reported to be close to Louis XVI, and later on to Marie-Antoinette. She also periodically stayed at her chateau in Forbach. (5)

But let us now return to the offspring of Christian IV and Marianne. The elder namesake, Christian, marquis of Zweibrücken and Count of Forbach, won acclaim together with his younger brother, Guillaume, in the American War of Independence. He was also a general in the armed forces of the King of France, commander of the Royal Zweibrücken Regiment and Knight of Saint-Louis, and subsequently Major General in the Infantry of the King of Bavaria, his first cousin. He married a French woman in Versailles in 1783.

In his turn, his brother Guillaume, Viscount of Zweibrücken and Count of Forbach, became a colonel in command of a Dragons Regiment for the King of France and colonel of the Regiment of the Chasseurs de Flandres. He was also made Knight of Saint-Louis in France, as well as of the Order of Cincinnati in America. Like his brother, he married a woman from a French aristocratic family.

Their sister, Elisabeth Auguste Frédérique de Deux Ponts, who is of interest to us, became a naturalised French citizen by royal deed dated 2 April 1783. In April 1786, at the age of twenty she married marquis François-Esprit Chastellier du Mesnil “in a contractual arrangement signed by Their Majesties and the Royal Family” (Gazette dated 28 April 1786).

Elisabeth’s husband, who was fourteen years older than her, was a cavalry colonel, commander and inspector of the Hussards Regiment, and was made Knight of Saint-Louis in 1784. (6) He was admitted to the Honours of the Court in January 1786 (Gazette dated 27 January). It would not be surprising that their marriage had been arranged at that time. Elisabeth was also presented to the Court in the following year, namely on 4 February 1787 (Gazette dated 9 February).

They only had one child before François-Esprit prematurely died in 1790: Antoinette, who was born in 1789, was heiress of the elder Chastellier du Mesnil branch and granddaughter of the Duke of Bavaria. She would become the wife of Anne-Louis des Ligneris in 1807.

So now we can understand where all these first names came from – they are a clear reflection of her complex family history: Antoinette (her paternal grandmother), Marie-Anne (her maternal grandmother), Françoise (the feminine version of her father’s first name), Eléonore (?), Elisabeth (her mother), Esprit (her father again), Christian and Guillaume (her grandfather and maternal uncles).

Antoinette’s cousin, who was born in 1785 and was the daughter of Guillaume von Zweibrücken, was named on the same basis: Marie-Anne Jeanne Françoise Antoinette Maximilien Joseph de Deux Ponts. The last two first names refer to her father’s cousin: Maximilien Joseph, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria (later, King), who was the baby’s godfather. This indicates that the ties remained very strong between the Duke of Bavaria and his cousins and nephews domiciled in France, and this would prove to be of importance for the continuation of the history of the des Ligneris family.

The French Revolution forced Marianne and her sons to emigrate to Bavaria. The county of Forbach was occupied by the revolutionary forces in 1793 and confiscated, together with the emigrants’ assets. All the properties of her children were also seized.

In the wake of the coup by Napoleon in 1799 and the establishment of the Consulate, a law that entered into effect in 1800 allowed the emigrants to repatriate. They were also able to recover a portion of the assets that had been confiscated. Marianne returned to Paris in 1801, where she did not hesitate to make use of her connections and befriend Josephine, Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, “who valued her charm and her remembrances of times past” (5).

Then on 27 April 1807, Anne-Louis des Ligneris and Antoinette Chastellier du Mesnil were married in grand style – the notarised deed contained no less than 28 signatures (7). Touchingly, the widow of Christian IV, the famous Marianne, attended the event in order to be by the side of her granddaughter Antoinette. Aged 73, she signed her name in small and tight handwriting as “marianne douairière [dowager] de Deux Ponts Ctesse [Countess] de Forbach”. This was all the more touching in that she passed away during the following winter on 28 December.

The bride’s mother was the first to sign the deed in large and firm handwriting: “E.A.F. Chastellier Dumesnil née Deuxponts”. Jean-Baptiste-Claude des Ligneris, who was visibly beginning to age, signed in shaky handwriting as “Desligneris Père”. Two other members of the family were in attendance, probably Augustin and his wife. Their Courtavel cousins (offspring of the sister of Jean-Baptiste-Claude) were present, as well as the Pinons (on his wife’s side) and of course the Chastellier du Mesnils.

On 6 May 1811, Anne-Louis and Antoinette des Ligneris announced the birth of a daughter, Charlotte Elisabeth Claude Esprit, then of a son named Maximilien Joseph Auguste Théodore Emile Marie Esprit Antoine, who was born on 15 January 1813. As can be deduced merely from the list of first names, the newborn was named after Maximilien I, King of Bavaria, who was his godfather. This tie would have a major influence on the long life of this infant…

(1) In these first names it is surprising, but also touching, to see this reference to Théodore des Ligneris, who was born 225 years earlier.

(2) Inventory of the archives of the genealogists of the Order of Malta, compiled in 1909 on the basis of the “Archives de la Noblesse et du Collège héraldique de France” (Archives of the nobility and the heraldic college of France); extract from the 1909 “Annuaire du Conseil héraldique de France” (yearbook of the heraldic council of France), pp 61-173.

(3)  On 8 March 1825, Eudoxie des Ligneris, who was probably born some time between 1805 and 1809, married Aimé Daniel de Vauguyon, a King’s bodyguard; Claire-Armande des Ligneris would marry Jean-Marie Louis Ernest Le Roy, Count of Valenglart, and after a long life she died in Paris on 20 March 1889.

(4) Unlike in France, where nobility was handed down from male to male, regardless of the social background of the spouse, in Germany both parents had to be members of the aristocracy in order for this “quality” to be inherited. This explains why French families of aristocratic origin received women who were not from the nobility but came from the upper classes and were generously endowed, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is also the reason why the marriage of Christian IV, which was regarded as morganatic in Germany, did not pose a problem in France, where his offspring were received with all the honours and dignity of the nobility.

(5) Source of quotes: Wikipedia article on Marianne Camasse, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marianne_Camasse

(6) Source: Notices généalogiques, volume 1, Baron H. de Woelmont, p. 131

(7) The marriage deed can be viewed on the “Documents and Sources” page.

21) Jean-Baptiste-Claude in the turmoil of the French Revolution

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

1788. Concealed in the shade of the forest, Jean-Baptiste-Claude des Ligneris parts the foliage to view the entrance to his chateau in the distance. His two young sons, Anne-Louis and Augustin stand in front of the elegant brick building. He savours this moment of charm and tranquillity, whilst all around them he is aware of the brewing revolution.

Château de Méréglise (Eure-et-Loir)
Château de Méréglise (Eure-et-Loir)

France had for several decades been experiencing a severe structural economic and social crisis, while the monarchy “pursued a desperate financial policy that had reached breaking point” (1). The convening of the Etats Généraux in 1789 gave rise to major hopes of reform: “This disruption, reading the registers of grievances shows that no one wanted it, at least not openly. The formulated demands [in February 1789] merely called for comprehensive reforms, but never for a revolution” (1).

At the beginning of 1789, the king ordered the provincial assemblies to convene in order to prepare “a register of grievances and reprimands […] for the attention of His Majesty and to set out ways of providing assistance and support for the state” (2). These assemblies were also instructed to elect their representatives of the Etats Généraux. They convened without delay in March, despite the various practical and administrative obstacles. The chosen elective framework was the bailiwick, a judicial district with relatively imprecise boundaries (3).

After compiling the registers in each parish, the 600 delegates from the villages in the bailiwick convened a preliminary assembly on 2 March in Chartres in order to designate 200 of them to represent the common people at the official assembly. The members of the clergy and the nobility were in their turn summoned by the bailiff to appear at the assembly in Charters on 16 March. And Jean-Baptiste-Claude was among them.

After the oaths had been sworn, the activities of the representatives of each of the three orders (clergy, nobility, common people) took place in separate rooms in the Eglise des Cordeliers (4). The idea of a common register of grievances was put forward by the nobility, which even proposed to “renounce all tax distinctions to separate the orders”. But this proposal initially met with ill will, then with fierce opposition by the clergy, which was well-known for adopting very conservative stances. In addition, other topics relating to seigniorial property and rights strained relations between the representatives of the nobility and the common people. Thus each order compiled its list of proposals separately. Work was concluded on 20 March and the next step was to elect the four deputies who would sit in Paris. The contents of the list drawn up by the representatives of the common people (who represented around 98 percent of the population) showed that there was a very strong desire for profound change in society at all levels.

On 23 July 1789, following the events in Paris several hundred men and women gathered in the centre of Chartres and ransacked the tax office. The national guard, which had recently been constituted, restored order by firing into the crowd. Eight people were killed.

In February 1790, Jean-Baptiste-Claude was still residing in Méréglise (5). He had decided to stay, whereas on the day after the storming of the Bastille, the Count of Artois (who would later become Charles X) and senior lords of the court fled to Turin. The officers of the army and navy, together with priests who opposed the civil constitution of the clergy, started leaving in July 1790. The Count of Provence (who would later become Louis XVIII) only left France on the evening of 20 June 1791 – the same night as his brother, Louis XVI, who was arrested in Varennes – but he took a more direct route to the Austrian Lowlands.

On 4 July 1792, Jean-Baptiste-Claude des Ligneris had himself substituted in order to avoid participating in the war as a “requisitioned volunteer” (5).

On 29 July he left Méréglise for Paris. Undoubtedly he had become concerned about the increasing threat to his family’s safety in the countryside. It is also possible that his wife, Catherine, who had been brought up in Paris, insisted on rejoining her family. The couple and their offspring took up residence at Place Royale 17 (today, Place des Vosges).

But this move was not entirely prudent. Paris was in turmoil and was characterised by a climate of insurrection. On 10 August the Tuileries Palace, which was the residence of the king, was attacked and the Swiss Guards were massacred. This was the end of the constitutional monarchy.

This attack was soon followed by the September Massacres: as the result of rumours and panic, 1,300 people were arrested in Paris and killed in the prisons by mobs.

On 8 July 1792, Jean-Baptiste-Claude was still listed in the parish registers as “marquis des Ligneris, ci-devant seigneur”, but on 11 October that same year he had to have a “certificate of presence” drawn up in Paris and thus became a “citizen without a profession” (6).

But this certificate offered the advantage of providing us with a physical description of Jean-Baptiste-Claude: “height, five feet one inch (approximately 1 metre 65), chestnut hair and eyebrows, blue eyes, long nose, average mouth, rounded chin, high forehead, oval face”.

Jean-Baptiste-Claude was now 50 years old and had to make a drastic choice: stay in France with the constant threat of losing his life as well as that of his wife and adolescent sons, or leave the country for an unknown destination and without any money.

We do not have any trace of the choice he made, nor any family record from these turbulent times – as if it had been subsequently necessary to deny the existence of the turmoil. We can imagine, however, that he would not have survived if he had stayed in Paris under a regime of terror during which thousands of people were subject to arbitrary arrests and summary executions.

It is possible that he fled to England, Switzerland, Germany or Italy. We do not know what became of his sister, marquise de Courtavel, but Jean-Baptiste-Claude, Catherine, Anne-Louis and Augustin des Ligneris nonetheless made it through this difficult period … and would resurface.

(1) Eure-et-Loir, Préparation des Etats Généraux de 1789, by Roger Joly, 1989, published by Société Archéologique d’Eure-et-Loir, p. 19.

(2) Extract from “Ordonnance du Lieutenant-Général aux baillage et siège présidial de Chartres pour l’exécution des lettres de convocation des Etats-Généraux et réglement y annexe”, 13 February 1789.

(3) Cartographie du baillage de ChartresEure-et-Loir, Préparation des Etats Généraux de 1789, by Roger Joly, 1989, published by Société Archéologique d’Eure-et-Loir.

(4) This church no longer exists today.

(5) Source: parish register of Méréglise, pages for 7 February 1790 and 4 July 1792.

(6) Parish registers of Méréglise, which I consulted personally at the beginning of the 1990s in the town hall, and which include the certificate of presence of which I have a photocopy.

20) Louis-François, in extremis success

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

The marriage of Louis-François des Ligneris in 1740 was typical of the alliance between the rural military nobility and the urban bourgeoisie, a phenomenon that was particularly widespread in the 18th century. His father-in-law, royal prosecutor Claude Davignon, belonged to an old family of administrators from the town of Chartres, who were probably originally merchants who became wealthy traders, then went on to become lawyers.

When Louis-François ran for the office of mayor of Chartres in 1766, his in-laws had held this post almost without interruption for forty years. (1)

Elections were carried out in April 1766 for dignitaries, and in June and July for the office of mayor […]; M. des Ligneris, a nobleman and one of the candidates proposed for the office of mayor, was chosen by the Duke of Orléans and took office on 23 June 1776. […] His rivals were Messrs Nicole, Lieutenant-General of the bailiwick, and Parent, First President of the Presidium. They each received 13 votes.” (2)

As the register of aldermen at the time reported, “Following the inaugural session, the mayor was ceremoniously escorted to his hotel to the accompaniment of drums and violins; deputy mayor de Villererau addressed him and offered him a dozen bottles of wine on behalf of the town. (2) The hotel in question here was probably what is now the residence of the Prefect of Eure-et-Loir: on its gate there is a plaque with the wording, “Hôtel des Ligneris”. The building is located in Place Jean Moulin in Chartres.

Préfecture d'Eure-et-Loir, Hôtel des Ligneris (1795), Chartres (France)
Prefect headquarters, Hôtel des Ligneris (1795), Chartres (France)

Louis-François was the highest municipal official until 1770, when he handed over to Monsieur Parent, then resumed office in 1776:  “The votes and consent of the Duke of Orléans resulted in the adoption of presidency of the municipal body by M. Louis-François, Marquis des Ligneris, Lord of Méréglise, who assumed the office of mayor at the inaugural session on 3 June 1776. (3) In 1779, Monsieur de Pâris was elected mayor, but when he refused to accept this office, the Duke of Orléans retained Louis-François as mayor. (4) He remained in office until his death on 1 March 1780 at the age of 64, and was buried in Sainte-Foy church, directly opposite his own hotel.

But since such offices were very costly (cf. text box below), both for the municipality and for those who wished to hold them, but apparently only afforded the incumbents very little power, what was it that made them attractive? Were there privileges and financial rewards? In point of fact, Louis-François des Ligneris’ financial situation remains a mystery in that, without having performed duties for royalty or in the army, in April 1773 he was able to purchase large amounts of land from Viscountess de Montboissier in the municipality of Méréglise, and went on to establish the des Ligneris Marquisate by letters of patent dated September 1776, which were registered by Parliament in Paris that year (5). In 1769 he sold the land and chateau of Fontaine-la-Guyon, but this was probably not enough and he must have found other ways to earn a great deal of money.

It is clear, however, that Louis-François was someone who knew how to form relationships and develop them. Once he had obtained the title of Marquis he aspired to arrange for his son to marry into a noble family. And he succeeded: on 8 April 1777, Jean-Baptiste-Claude married Catherine Geneviève Pinon, who was the daughter of the President of the Parliament in Paris, at the Royal and Parish Church of Saint-Paul in Paris: “a very prominent and powerful lord, Monseigneur Anne-Louis Pinon, Viscount de Quincy, Lord of Batelière, Rebsechin and other manors, adviser to the King in all his councils, and President of Parliament.” Catherine was aged 23, and had previously resided in rue Saint Antoine, Paris. (6)

Louis-François also commissioned Quentin de la Tour to draw portraits of his wife and daughter. The two pastel portraits were sold in 1920 by Marquise Jacques des Ligneris (née Taillandier du Plaix). Sadly, the whereabouts of these works is not known. (7)

The 1770s were a highly rewarding decade for Louis-François. He had achieved all the goals he had set himself, and had attained the pinnacle of social recognition. He had put his family on the path to success which he undoubtedly felt would be long-lived – like the monarchy. Yet less than ten years after the end of that decade, the revolution would shake the country to the core. What would become of his son, Marquis des Ligneris, member of the royal guard, and his daughter, Marquise de Courtavel?

How did someone become mayor of Chartres in the 18th century?

Back then, the office of mayor was very different to what it is in France today. As the result of a series of reforms imposed by the central powers in 1677, the Chambre de Ville was stripped of some of its prerogatives. With effect from 1689, functions such as town clerk were sold by auction and the proceeds went to the royal treasury. Three years later the offices of mayor and assessor were created. Then in 1704, the need for more revenue prompted the royal authority to create three hereditary aldermen’s offices, followed by the office of mayor’s lieutenant in 1708. As the result of political disputes, all these offices were abolished in 1717, reinstated in 1722, abolished again in 1724 and reinstated yet again in 1733.

But it was not enough to simply “buy” such an office – in addition, the Duke of Chartres also had to give his consent. Thus in 1735 the town had to find 90,000 livres to elect three candidates from whom to choose a mayor for three years, plus six aldermen. The municipal body was completed by two canons, as well as a procurator and a town clerk appointed by the Duke. (8)

In 1765, the deputies of the town’s districts elected a council of fourteen dignitaries, who proposed candidates to the Duke from whom to choose a mayor, four aldermen and six councillors. In 1771, the royal authority again changed the rules and created a new series of moderately financed offices. The town had to pay and take steps to obtain a ruling by the Council of State in 1773 in order to consolidate the structure of its municipal body.

But it was not the mayor who embodied the real local authority. The Duchy of Chartres had returned to the royal crown in 1660 and was assigned to the Orléans lineage. No duke or duchess ever resided in the town, in which the old comtal chateau was a long way from matching those in the Loire Valley. It was in fact the representative of the Duke, the lieutenant-general of the bailiwick, who actually exercised power (9).

(1) Two generations earlier, the father and father-in-law of Claude Davignon (Michel Davignon and Jean-Robert Bouvart) were jointly elected to the administrative benches of the municipal body as lieutenants of the mayor. The son of the former married the daughter of the latter. Following the decease of the president of the municipal body in 1726, Bouvart succeeded him before being officially appointed mayor in 1736. Then in 1742 he was succeeded by Michel Davignon and in 1749 by his son, Claude Davignon. After an interlude with another mayor between 1758 and 1766, Claude’s son-in-law Louis-François des Ligneris was appointed mayor.

Source : Histoire de Chartres, volume II, by E. de Lépinois, published by Garnier in Chartres in 1854 and reissued by Editions Culture et Civilisation in Brussels in 1976 (p. 620).

(2) Idem, p. 492.

(3) Idem, pp 494-95. The source cited by the author is the aldermen’s register of the period.

(4) Idem, p. 621 and p. 495. The author notes that the nomination was confirmed by the general assembly of 31 March at its session on 12 May 1779.

(5) The original patent letters are in the National Archives under shelf mark X1a 8817, folio 43. Copies can also be seen in the “Registre des Causes et Audiences du Marquisat Desligneris”, a manuscript dating from 1778 in the Archives of the Department of Eure et Loir, shelf mark B3135.

(6) The witnesses at the wedding are just as interesting to note because we find the following on the groom’s side: “Joachim Dedreux marquis de Brézé, lieutenant-general of the king’s army, Grand Master of Ceremonies, Governor in Loudun” and “Messire Jean-Louis marquis de Courtavel, knight and Lord of Lierville”. And on the bride’s side the witnesses were a cousin, “Messire Anne-Louis Pinon, marquis de Saint-Georges, field marshal in the king’s army, knight of the royal and military order of Saint-Louis” and “Messire Armand Degourgues, king’s counsellor and president of Parliament”. Joachim, marquis de Dreux-Brézé (1722-1781), a former musketeer and general, married Demoiselle de Courtavel in 1755. As already noted, it was the sister of Jean-Baptiste-Claude des Ligneris who married the marquis de Courtavel.

Source: Register of Marriages, 8 April 1777, according to a document dated 8 February 1872 that formed a part of the reconstitution of the Paris civil status records following the fire in the town hall.

(7) Source: handwritten note by Pierre des Ligneris in the second half of the 20th century on the back of a postcard depicting the chateau of Méréglise.

(8) Histoire de Chartres, by R. Joly, éditions Horvath, Roanne, 1982, pp 78-79.

(9) A bailiwick was a relatively extensive administrative district. At the end of the 19th century, the Chartres bailiwick covered around a third of the Department of Eure-et-Loir.

19) « Louis XIV killed me »

Before discovering what happens to Louis Francis, who seeks to obtain the title of marquis, let us dive into nobility titles meanings throughout western European history. What real functions and powers did these titles represent in the course of history? Have the words « baron, » « count, » or « marquis », as one understands them today, always had the same meaning? To know it, we must explore the political and social organizations, starting from the Early Middle Ages premises.

The Roman empire formed a highly centralized state, which did not know local lords. The central power representatives were appointed, while the political elite consisted of patrician families, members of the Senate. When the Germanic peoples began to migrate from Eastern to Western Europe in the ‘300s, they settled on the empire borders, and even on its internal margins. Tolerated if they paid a tribute, they gradually imbued themselves with the rights and customs of Rome, and provided contingents to the imperial army – some « Barbarians » even becoming Roman generals.

But in the ‘400s the Huns invasion, combined with the weakening of the central power, led to the political collapse of the Western Roman empire. At the end of the century, the Visigoths occupied the center and south-west of present-day France, the Ostrogoths Provence, the Burgundians occupied the area now known as Burgundy, while … the Bretons did not leave Brittany.

The Franks had originally settled around the river Scheldt mouth, in a territory now divided between Belgium, Holland and French Flanders. Conducted by their chief Clovis, they embarked on a vast conquest at the end of which they expelled the Visigoths towards the Iberian peninsula, the Ostrogoths towards Italy, took possession of what remained of the Roman empire in Gaul, and settled the Merovingian dynasty on a great kingdom. Clovis’ successors will take precedence over the Burgundians and push back their kingdom’s frontiers to encompass the present territories of France, Switzerland, Belgium and South Germany.

The then Merovingian society was highly hierarchical, endowed with a corpus of elaborate laws, skilfully combining Frankish customs with Roman law. It is almost totally rural; serfdom remains widespread. The Merovingian aristocracy proceeds from both the former Gallo-Roman senatorial nobility and a Frankish elite of military origin. The position of the first comes from its wealth of lands, as well as its positions held in the military organization and civil service, later from occupying episcopal seats. These Gallo-Roman families, for example the Salvii and the Syagrii in the south-west, thus maintained their rank for several centuries in the Merovingian kingdom. The Frankish military chiefs, companions of the king, received land properties as a reward for their services, as well as the military campaigns booty. The two elites gradually mixed.

Bréviaire d'Alaric (Wisigoth) de 506, copie du IXe siècle, où l'on voit le roi, un évêque, un duc et un comte
Bréviaire d’Alaric (Wisigoth) de 506, copie du IXe siècle, où l’on voit le roi, un évêque, un duc et un comte

Breviary of Alaric (Visigoth), year 506, copy from the ninth century, where we see the king, a bishop, a duke and a count.

Political power belonged only to the royal clan (which of course is continually torn by disputes). To enforce his authority far from his palace, the king delegates some of his prerogatives (comitatus) to a count (comites) which he appoints among the local aristocratic groups. The count’s work consists in exercising justice, assembling the army, and collecting tax revenues. It is the king’s skill in exploiting the competition between the family groups, by arbitrating the redistribution of properties and positions, that enables him to maintain himself at the head of his kingdom. In certain areas, particularly the frontier zones, the sovereign would create provisional commands consisting essentially of military prerogatives, the duchies (ducates).

Two hundred years later (in the mid-700s), the real power was in fact assumed by the hereditary « prime minister » (his real title being “palace mayor”), Pepin small-sized alias Le Bref (“the short one”). His father, Charles Martel, had already tried a putsch but he had not succeeded. This time Pepin did better than his father, he deposed the Merovingian dynasty sovereign and created the political consensus which enabled him to proclaim himself king of the Franks. His own son will do even better: Charlemagne will become Emperor of Western Europe in the year 800.

The centralized Carolingian power rests on a network of governors who represent the emperor, still called counts. A county is by then a very large territory, the size of a current French region. The count is a civil servant, in the sense that he is appointed by the government, revocable at all times, regularly audited by emissaries (the missi dominici), and his position is not hereditary. The incumbents are nevertheless chosen by the king within the same extended family clan. The count has considerable power. To help him manage this vast territory, he has a deputy, the viscount.

The frontier zones of the empire are called « marches ». They are in contact with other peoples, sometimes turbulent, which necessitates granting extraordinary powers to the one who governs them, in particular to act autonomously without delay in order to wage war if necessary. This is why the governor of the marches is a marquis (marchio), that is to say, a count with extended powers. Progressively, there are groups of counties, far from the boundaries, whose leader bears the title of marchio, superior to that of count.

The bishops are the other holders of local and regional power. The few towns, which are little more than large villages, had survived the Roman Empire fall only because they were the seat of a bishopric, which gave them a certain renown and some economic activity. The bishop is a temporal lord (as a sovereign of the city and its territory, head of his army, he levies the tax and renders justice), and a spiritual master who even decides the cult organization and its content (which is unthinkable today). Since the Pope was merely the bishop of Rome, the bishops enjoyed a very wide autonomy – the Church was not by then an ultra-centralized monolithic organization.

Finally, the numerous monasteries belonging to various rapidly expanding religious orders gradually became landowners of considerable economic power. Finding themselves increasingly in competition with the bishops, “[the monks] embark on new paths in matters of lordship, control of space and ideological framework”. (1). Being the only ones mastering writing skills, brilliant administrators, the monks are the jurists of the princes.

Through marriages, the prince families possess immense territories scattered throughout the empire. They share the same cultural codes and form a homogeneous elite that truly has a political vision on the scale of Western Europe. The organization of power set up by Charlemagne and pursued by his son ensures inner peace, but the grandsons break up the empire into several kingdoms. In the course of the following century, the Carolingian centralizing model is gradually nibbling. The counties and marquisates gradually become hereditary. They remain in the hands of powerful families who make them quasi-autonomous territories over which they have almost all power, with the financial means to exercise it.

There are no fortresses in the countryside, nor villages as we see them today. The habitat consists of dispersed small groups of two to three homes. These units depend on vast estates of several thousand hectares from the ancient large Roman properties, the villa. The domains belong to the king, the great laity (the aristocracy) or the Church (monasteries or bishoprics). The legal status of peasants is either that of free men (but the poorest are very dependent on the domain master), or that of servile dependents attached to the land and their master. « The upper fringe of free men forms the nobility, which corresponds to no legal status, but constitutes the ruling fraction of society. (2) The qualifier « noble » applies to the person alone, therfore within the same clan the conditions of each can be very diverse.

In the mid-900s, the Carolingian dynasty was also depleted, discredited by its inability to contain the invasions of the Vikings to the north and west, Hungarians to the east and Saracen pirates to the south. The princes of the kingdom of Francia, the bishops and heads of lineage of the few families who hold power over the great regions, meet in 987 to elect among them a king to unify their action. It will be Hugh with a coat (« Capet ») (3). This king possesses only a relative, symbolic power, each prince remaining master at home.

In reality, from the ninth century until the twelfth century, power was gradually redistributed, disparately in time and geographical areas. The local aristocracy families have long participated in the exercise of power alongside the Counts, as military officers and members of the plaids, the assemblies. The count control over his territory relies entirely on the relations he maintains with his faithful, to whom he cedes part of his prerogatives.

To ensure security, but also physically mark the power center, fortresses emerge from earth everywhere, initially in the form of simple wooden towers surrounded by a palisade. The number of castles explodes between 1060 and 1110, which leads to an unprecedented densification of their network in the Western countryside. Some are far from places of power, on colonization fronts (forests, wasteland), or on rivers and roads to control or tax trade flows. Adulterine fortresses also appear, that is to say without prior authorization, on private lands or in zones of peasant colonization. It is a period of intense agricultural growth, which sees the foundation of many villages, generally around castles, abbeys and monasteries, as well as the construction of parochial churches.

The aristocracy families leave the county cities, which were the centers of regional (or sub-regional) power, in order to guard the strongholds entrusted to them by their master, then acquire relative autonomy by receiving delegations of justice, and the monopoly of so-called banal installations (the mill, the oven, etc.) which give rise to a tax for their use by the peasants. The model of the banal lordship spreads, and with it coercively reinforces the seigniorial levy on the peasants work. More generally, « possession of land is not only economic dominance, but implies a form of social discipline and legal and religious protection. « (4)

In order not to be swept away by neighbors, everyone seeks alliances, even a network of alliances. Feudalism was born. It organizes a hierarchy of reciprocal duties and mutual help which stabilizes the social edifice and regulates violence. The success of the fief model (which is a possession granted by a lord in exchange for a service) is due to the voluntary action of princes, bishops, and some great secular or monastic lords. Warlike ideology has long been shared by the aristocracy, but the feudo-vassalic relations pervasion, such as the structuring of the chatelains paternal lineages, constitute new forms of the exercise of power which are generalized and stabilized only after 1100.

There is no longer any mention of the role or title of marquis. The princes, who can bear the titles of duke or count, according to the regional history, form the high nobility, with, from the twelfth century onwards, the barons who hold their fief directly from the king. The old counts and viscounts having patrimonialised their domains and positions constitute the medium nobility. Finally, the knights who became local lords (domini, or sires) formed the small nobility, to which they aggregate by rituals (like the knighting) and the sharing of the so-called courteous values. Those of them who can not finance the knighting ceremony and the expensive military equipment, but who are recognized by their peers as being of noble status, bear the title of Esquire.

Un chevalier des XIIIe-XIVe siècle (vue d'artiste)
Un chevalier des XIIIe-XIVe siècle (vue d’artiste)

A thirteenth-fourteenth century knight (artist’s view)

From the eleventh to the fourteenth century, the cavalry constituted solely of nobles, was the spearhead of the French army, its absolute weapon, capable of breaking the infantry ranks and winning the victory. The nobility then merged with the aristocracy, for it exercised power.

But it pays a heavy price to the Franco-English conflict and the early 15th century civil war. Destruction, plundering, wartime inflation, desertion of fields and villages, wasteland, nobles ransoming, and impoverishment of fiscal resources provoke the clans dislocation and their collapse.

Moreover, if the cavalry had been the armies trump card for three hundred years, it operates in a system of feudal ost, that is to say of two months a year compulsory military service to its suzerain, which does not work during long wars. The cavalry will be supplanted by the more flexible and disciplined regular troops.

Thus, at the end of the Hundred Years War, in 1453, “in a bloodless and ruined country, the medieval nobility had drastically diminished in number, if it did not entirely disappear. It was at least singularly amputated, leaving the social edifice vacillating. » (5) It is estimated that 80 to 90 per cent of the medieval nobility fell into the Hundred Years War abyss (6).

At the same time, two phenomena had transformed nobility social content: firearms multiplication – which renders personal courage unnecessary, since the first comer can overcome the most trained knights; and the transformation of landowners into annuitants. (7)

Places are to be taken: « the total renewal of the French nobility in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, at first very rapid, gradually slowed down during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” (8) This is why today’s families, which really date back beyond 1400, are only a handful (less than 300), and for others we must not be fooled by the eighteenth century mythologies one can find in books – vain attempts to distinguish in the royalty twilight race for honors. They should be given constructive historical criticism.

The French kingdom was unified in the sixteenth century, thus leading to the disappearance of independent duchies and counties. The barons lose their specificity as first vassals to become mere lords in a system that becomes more complex. The king gradually withdraws from the lords their right of regalian justice by entrusting them to the bailiffs (who are lords possessing a charge of justice, but appointed by the king). The titles become favors granted by the king, without historical or geographical reality. « In the Renaissance, the nobility is a group (and a status) that is both open, accessible and very attractive ». (9) But the monarchical control over the group is still very limited.

« In the sixteenth and into the middle of the seventeenth century, entry into the nobility was more the result of notoriety and general acceptance: to be recognized by his peers as noble, and to be accepted as such by popular fame as by the financial supervisory bodies.” Wealth becomes the predominant criterion. « It sounds like a tax leak, similar to our tax havens, … with the growth of a pervasive royal taxation.” (10) For the nobles are exempt from taxes, it is their privilege. From 1550 to 1650, half of the state’s extraordinary resources came from the sale of ennobled offices. On the other hand, a transfer of heavier fiscal burdens takes place towards the third order (bourgeois, artisans, peasants), and brings about a feeling of overflow characterized by an anti-nobiliary literature.

The religion wars provoked a challenge to the royal dynasty and monarchical absolutism, first from the Protestant nobles, then from the Catholic League. The great problem for the seventeenth century French nobility was the absolute monarchy rise, which took place in three stages: from 1594 to 1610 by Henry IV, from 1624 to 1642 by Louis XIII with Richelieu, then 1652 to 1715 by Mazarin and especially by Louis XIV. During the lifetime of Henri IV and Richelieu, plots happened, with assassination attempts, which culminated in 1610. While the reign of Louis XIII was riddled with noble rebellions and attempts to overthrow the Cardinal. Only Louis XIV was able to impose his power, not without concessions. (12)

This is why author Jean Meyer asks: « Can we claim that every nobility is in itself anarchy, perpetually unsatisfied and demanding? It is true that if we examine in the long run the political attitude of more than one family, we see that they have always been in more or less marked political opposition.” In my opinion, this teaching of history would do well to be assimilated and understood today by some of our contemporaries who confuse noble names and royalism. It is a great mistake to believe that nobility and royal power have formed a coherent or inseparable system. On the contrary, they constitute two parallel social realities, which have merely clashed.

Louis XIV was the king who truly buried nobility, “the purpose was to have an eye on those who could form a party, who recluded in a distant province, escaped direct surveillance. […] it was necessary to amuse the Great, to entertain them, in a word, to annihilate them in the « servitude » of gifts and amusements. Wild beasts are too dangerous.” This is how the lords of superb estates, who could live in their magnificent castles, found themselves living in tiny apartments, in a wing of Versailles castle, and got ruined for sumptuous clothes demanded by an etiquette designed to enslave them.

Le marquis de Marigny et sa jeune épouse, en 1769. Peinture de Louis-Michel van Loo.
Le marquis de Marigny et sa jeune épouse, en 1769. Peinture de Louis-Michel van Loo.

The Marquis de Marigny and his young wife, in 1769. Painting by Louis-Michel van Loo.

The title of marquis had resurfaced from limbo in the middle of the sixteenth century, with a number of baronies having been erected to the honorary rank of marquisate. Given this new prestige, Louis XIII and Louis XIV transformed the lands of their principal ministers into marquisats. The kings also adorn their mistresses with the title of Marquise! Then in the eighteenth century the use of a courtesy title of marquis develops, often carried with impunity.

In the eighteenth century, the nobility no longer had a military foundation based on individual courage, nor a role of social supervision or of legal and religious protection, and even less of economic domination. It no longer had a political role in the face of royal absolutism. Through the offices it occupies, that is to say, positions in the administration, it is no longer anything other than a fiscally privileged mechanism of a State which has asserted itself.

How then can we understand Louis-Francis des Ligneris’ will to obtain a title of marquis? Probably a strong social ambition; perhaps a willingness to adapt to the times and to be recognized in the midst of the artificial honors inflation; or even simply to continue to exist in an elite condemned to the worldliness of fashionable salons. But with hindsight, it will be a costly expense, which will materialize in 1776, just before the whole system collapses. A rearguard combat in reality, since Louis XIV had already annihilated the nobility by emptying it of its ideological and political content.

1. « 888-1180: Féodalités », by Florian Mareil, at Belin, 2010, p645.

2. « France before France 481-888 », by Geneviève Bührer-Thierry and Charles Mériaux, at Belin, p517.

3. Founder of the Capetian dynasty, Hugues belonged to the clan of the Robertians (born of Count Robert the Fort, who died in 866). Heir of a dozen counties and several abbeys, Hugues seems to be nicknamed because of his status of owner and leader of the Abbey of Saint-Martin-de-Tours, one of the largest and most famous of his time, where the pilgrims came to worship the famous cloak (capa) of Saint Martin, a precious relic preserved by the abbey and which made its richness. But this nickname was attested in the written sources only from the twelfth century.

4. « 888-1180: Féodalités », by Florian Mareil, at Belin, 2010, p647.

5. « The French nobility in the modern period (XVIe-XVIIIth centuries) », Jean MEYER, 1991, Collection Que sais-je?, Presses Universitaires de France, pp. 5-6.

6. Idem, p 18.

7. Economically, after the devastation of the Hundred Years War, inflation decreases fixed annuities. The old medieval nobility, but above all the new, adapt themselves: « the lords regroup the old tenures scattered and deserted by their occupants, in farms. These are made up of parcels that are grouped together so that they are easier to work with. They are no longer seigneurial tenures (giving rise to a rent) but have been attached to the lord proper domain. The latter keeps the meadows and the land nearest to the manor, but leases the majority of these lands in new farmhouses from six to nine years. The soil rentier has partially turned into an owner adapting himself to the course of things. Because the leases follow the rise in prices, in successive stages. In “The French nobility in the modern period (XVI-XVIIIth centuries)”, Jean MEYER, 1991, Collection Que sais-je?, Presses Universitaires de France, p 20.

8. It is a French specificity. The equivalent for the Netherlands, the German Empire and Eastern Europe will be the Thirty Years War in 1618-1648.

9. « 1453-1559: the Renaissances », by Philippe Hamon, at Belin, 2009, p155.

10. « The French nobility in the modern period (XVIe-XVIIIth centuries) », Jean MEYER, 1991, Collection Que sais-je?, Presses Universitaires de France, p.

11. This dispute was particularly acute in the years 1560-1570. See the Franco-Gallia treaty of Francis Villiers de Saint Paul in 1572; The pamphlet of the years 1570 « Of the voluntary servitude or Against One »; Or La Boetie advocating civil disobedience in 1561. A current of parliamentary pseudo-liberalism developed within the nobility, which refered to the Roman Senate and the contemporary Venetian model.

12. “The French nobility in the modern period (XVIe-XVIIIth centuries) « , Jean MEYER, 1991, Collection Que sais-je?, Presses Universitaires de France, p37.

13. Idem, p51. It is true that the comment applies fairly well to the family des Ligneris, especially through the long life of Theodore sprinkled with rebellions against the royal authority (see the corresponding articles of this blog).

14. Idem, p46.

18) Louis-François and Marie-Françoise, or the associated elites

When Louis-Francis des Ligneris was born on September 1715, Louis XIV expired. The reign of the old king « ends in sadness, fatigue, disillusionment and misery » (1). France had been exhausted by fighting against the whole of Europe for twelve years, from 1701 to 1713 so that the grandson of Louis XIV, Philip V, could seize the crown of Spain. The royal princes likely to reign have disappeared one after the other, so that it is the great-grandson of Louis XIV who succeeds him, a five years old child. The exercise of absolute power left a bitter taste, everyone wants Louis XV to be different.

The regency was assured by Philip of Orleans, Louis XIV’s nephew. In 1722, to put an end to any attempt at rebellion, he had Louis XV crowned, his majority being set at thirteen years. When the Regent died in 1723, he left a mixed memory among the population, not to say sulphurous, but it is necessary to acknowledge that his diplomacy was oriented towards peace, as concretized by the alliance with England and Holland in 1717.

During the years 1720-1730, Louis-François des Ligneris grew up in a period of economic growth: currency remained stable, agricultural and craft production increased strongly, part of the population got richer and stimulated demand, the national market began to unite. The population grows for the first time in a long period, while peace is preserved within the borders of France.

On February 19, 1740, Louis-François was only 24 years old when he married Marie-Françoise, daughter of the King prosecutor in Chartres, Claude Davignon, who later became mayor of the city from 1748 to 1757.

Probably ambitious, Louis-Francois would like his name to regain the prestige it had a hundred years ago. He notes that support and money go hand in hand. Without well-placed connections or the support of personalities, there is no access to the responsibilities that make it possible to get rich. And without money, no relationships or support. Some rules never change, whatever the revolutions that pass …

The history of the Ligneris family is quite representative and even emblematic of what most ordinary noble families have to go through in their relationship to power.

Let us go back two centuries to understand this dynamic. In the middle of the sixteenth century, Theodore had bathed very early in a politicized world: orphan, it is first thanks to the relations of his late father that he was raised at the royal court of Navarre; then with the help of a family support(2) he was placed with Queen Catherine de Medici’s son, Prince Francis of Alencon. Having become a baron by marriage, close to Prince Francis for more than twenty years, he knew all the powerful men. Theodore, despite his likely difficult but determined character, sharpened his political sense. Indeed, every action of a prince being analyzed with a political scope, nothing could be done at random. It is doubtless how he rebounds after the death of its master, at a time when France was divided between rival factions and by the religion wars. In spite of some back and forth hesitations between the League party and the royal power, he survived the end of Henri III reign and Henri IV installation eddies. He even found a prestigious position with the Prince of Conde, which was not possible without strong alliances. At the same time, he acquired new fiefs and greatly increased the family estate around Chartres, and thus his wealth.

Louis, Theodore’s eldest son, enjoyed the same relations, and the position of baron. He was a senior military officer. He also became a chamberlain with the new Prince of Conde. But this perfectly maintained mechanism was stopped in the 1620s when it became clear that neither Louis nor even his younger brother would have a male heir. The heart of the family estate was sold, the rest scattered among the dowries, and the title of baron, attached to the land, was lost.

The youngest brother, Albert, a simple knight, was the only one to have a son. But he had married belatedly, possessed only secondary lands as a base of income, and had not been brought up to take over from his father. He therefore had neither prestigious relations nor wealth. The family social position suddenly deteriorated.

His son Louis was still a teenager when he lost his father, but no support allowed him to be placed with a prince or duke on a responsibility that would secure him stable incomes. It is probable that he became an army officer, one of the rare employment possibilities permitted to noble families (no commerce and even less craftsmanship without derogating from the state of nobility).

But fate is fierce, he died young without having been able to develop a career, and left behind him a wife with three young children. The economic conditions of the family were precarious, the supports nonexistent. Not being able to purchase an officer’s license, the mother placed her elder in the religious branch. Fortunately, Philippe was brilliant and soon became able to financially support the installation of his two young brothers Louis-François and Jean-Baptiste as military officers in an elite corps. As a result, the latter made a correct marriage that consolidated his social and financial position.

Thus we find Louis-Francois, Jean-Baptiste’son, who grew up in a military officers environment without fortune, but with an uncle well positioned with the bishop.

It is possible that he began a military officer career, but only one source mentions him as « lieutenant of the King’s regiment » (3). In any case, the fact that he was only a lieutenant indicates that he quickly left the army anyway.

Early on, he set out to reconnect with the personalities who matter. He was probably the author of the 1739 (4) greeting card addressed to the Duke of Sully, grandson of the man who had bought the barony of Courville from Louis des Ligneris in 1629.

Sceau de la lettre de 1739 adressée au duc de Sully
Sceau de la lettre de 1739 adressée au duc de Sully

At the age of 24, he married much sooner than his father, grandfather or great-grandfather. Louis-Francois enters into a family-in-law who is one of the most notable of Chartres: nobility from the judicial branch, influential and fortunate.

After Jean-Robert Bouvart, who was mayor of Chartres from 1735 to 1741, Michel Davignon succeeded him from 1741 to 1748. Jean-Robert’s daughter, Marie-Thérèse Bouvart, had married Michel’s son, Claude Davignon. Then the latter succeeded his father as mayor in 1748, until 1757. As can be seen, these Chartres notables formed a hermetically locked clan; a typical case of local elites endogamy. Louis Francis came from a different world, that of military officers; I imagine him rather intelligent, good speaker and charmer, in order to succeed in entering this clan. Honoring and perpetuating this brotherhood, he also will become mayor, as we shall see later.

A first child was born on March 26, 1742, a daughter named Marie-Thérèse-Françoise (or Françoise-Thérèse according to different sources). We find here the mixed names of her grandmothers.

A second child was born on December 24, 1743. The boy was named Jean-Baptiste-Claude, as his two grandfathers, who are still alive and had to appreciate such an homage. This happy event perhaps consoled Jean-Baptiste the elder, who had just lost his brother Louis-François on previous June, who was 73 years old at the time, his long-time comrade-in-arms.

Schéma Jean Baptiste Louis Francois Jean Baptiste-page001

Louis-Francois’s sister, Catherine-Therese, became the highest official in the Chartres Carmelites convent in 1759.

At that moment, after almost thirty years of peace, foreign conflicts resumed in 1744, for France was engaged in the Austrian Succession war. Louis XV, who personally participated in the operations, distinguished himself and gained a great popularity. But from 1747, the mediocre crops caused trouble, while the p Aachen eace treaty translated into a disappointing status quo. The costly court parties, and above all the exorbitant favors of the king towards his mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour, transformed the king « Bien-Aimé » (Beloved) into « Mal-Aimé » (Ill-loved). From the 1750s, the French monarchy was attacked on all sides. Criticism fused and undermined the king’s authority, and parliaments practiced a systematic obstruction on the registration of laws. Enlightened authors set reason as a goal in order to remove prejudice and positively transform the world, which led to a challenge against political, religious and social authorities.

It is in this context that Louis-Francois married his daughter Marie-Thérèse-Françoise des Ligneris on March 5, 1759, (she was barely 17 years old) with René-César de Courtavel, infantry lieutenant, aged 30 years. (5) They will have several children.

In the early 1760s, Jean-Baptiste-Claude des Ligneris became a King’s Musketeer, Second Company.

His father Louis-Francis des Ligneris became mayor of Chartres, first in 1766, until 1769. During a visit in Chartres recently, with the Tourist Office, the guide mentioned that he was rather appreciated, and that at the end of his first term Louis-Francois was accompanied by a marching band and a procession to his private mansion.

Around age 55, in 1770, he began to negotiate for the purchase of land that would form a single domain, in the villages of Voves and Méréglise (near Chartres). What was he trying to do?

(1) History of France, Larousse-Bordas, 1998, page 271.

(2) René Babou of La Bourdaisière, father-in-law of his close cousin René des Ligneris.

(3) This source is the article Historical notice on the House of Ligneris, published in the Yearbook of the Nobility of France of 1906, page 239.

(4) This letter is presented in the « Documents » page. At that time, only four men could sign « Desligneris »: the three brothers Philippe, Louis-Francis and Jean-Baptiste, and their nephew / son Louis-Francis. The first three were between 65 and 72, the last 23 years. Given the writing and the statement, it does not seem that it was an elderly person who wrote it. The only plausible author is therefore Louis-Francois the younger.

(5) The marriage contract was passed before Mr Marie, a notary in Chartres. René-Caesar is the younger son of Caesar de Courtavel, known as the Marquis de Saint-Remy, a knight, Lord of Lierville, Verde, and Boursay-en-Dunois. He had died a year and a half before the marriage, on September 18, 1757. René-César had lost his mother early: Marie-Jeanne de Prunelé-Saint Germain had disappeared on May 28, 1733, when René-César was only five years old . It will be noted that we again cross the family Prunelé, which we had already met at the very beginning of the XVIth century.

17) Jean-Baptiste, an officer in Louis XIV’s European wars

Jean-Baptiste, Louis’ youngest son, grew up without knowing his father, who died a few months before Jean-Baptiste was born. His mother’s situation, both materially and morally, would have been very difficult. The young widow (she was not yet thirty years old) had to raise her three sons, of whom the eldest was only seven, while ensuring the generation of revenue from her deceased husband’s three small domains. The boys were raised in Château de Beauvais (in what is now the municipality of Champrond-en-Gâtine, to the west of Chartres, near Perche) in the period from 1670 to 1680.

Jean-Baptiste’s older brother, Philippe, took holy orders and his younger brother, Louis-François, joined the army. Jean-Baptiste also joined the army a few years later, probably in 1690 or thereabouts when he was fifteen or sixteen. He too became an officer in the King’s Guards.


During this period, severe climate disruptions gave rise to major food shortages (1692 was extremely cold, then 1693 was unusually wet), especially in the plains of the Paris basin in which agricultural production focused on the cultivation of wheat – and this certainly included the region of Beauce. The subsequent terrible famine of 1693-1694 resulted in the death of some two million people in France (today, this would be equivalent to around six million victims in France within just a few months).

The announcement by Louis XIV in 1661 of his decision to adopt personal rule was followed by a twelve-year period of innovation during which comprehensive institutional, economic and social reforms were implemented. The two decades of finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s term of office (from 1661 to 1683) established a positive economy for the entire country. But in the years that followed, a broad variety of difficulties arose.

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 was accompanied by opposition and violence against the Protestants, causing more than two hundred thousand of them to flee the country. Their departure resulted in economic difficulties and tarnished the image of the self-proclaimed “Sun King” abroad. As a result of this situation, which arose after the King’s Reunion policy (the annexation by Louis XIV of the territories at the kingdom’s borders between 1679 and 1684), the aggression against the Spanish Netherlands (1683-84) and the intervention in the succession of the Electoral Palatinate in 1685, the troubled European Protestant powers increased their opposition to Louis XIV and in 1688 they joined forces to form the Grand Alliance (also known as the League of Augsburg).

It was during the 1690s that the young officers, Louis-François and Jean-Baptiste des Ligneris, probably actively participated in the conflicts with their elite unit. The main battles took place near the French borders in the Spanish Netherlands, the Rhineland, Catalonia and the Piedmont-Savoy region. The conflicts terminated in 1697 when the depleted and exhausted belligerents agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick (also referred to as the Peace of Rijswijk).

Carte de l'Europe au traité de Ryswick, 1697
Map of Europe at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697

But barely three years would pass before the King of Spain, Charles II, died without leaving an heir. This initiated the War of Spanish Succession in 1701, which lasted until 1714.

In the midst of these conflicts, on 2 April 1707 Jean-Baptiste des Ligneris married Marie-Anne Beurier, the daughter of Michel, Lord of Hauville, an officer at the house of the Duke of Vendôme, and his wife Barbe Cottereau, Lady de Chevillon (1). Jean-Baptiste was already thirty years old. For reasons we are not aware of, his brother Louis-François only married at a very late date (namely in 1720).

Their mother, Louise, died in 1708 at Château de Beauvais, where she chose to be buried.

The terrible winter of 1708-1709 was characterised by extremely cold weather and caused hunger and fear across much of France, because wolves came out of the forests in search of food: “There were reports from many towns and villages of packs of wolves roaming the countryside and even coming right up to the doors of people’s homes” (2).

The two brothers, who had probably remained in their respective companies in the King’s Guards, went on to pursue different paths: after participating in numerous military campaigns, Jean-Baptiste undoubtedly endeavoured to spend more time with his family, whereas Louis-François, who had covered himself in glory since the 1709 Battle of Malplaquet, focused on a career in the army.

Marie-Anne and Jean-Baptiste went through a difficult period, during which several of their children died in infancy. They had to bury six babies in Saint Lazare-les-Chartres. They also lost two young boys, who were buried at Saint André church in Chartres.

This situation was by no means out of the ordinary. “Wet-nursing, which was a widespread practice in the town, aggravated the demographic trend in the towns and cities. Babies were more often than not transported under truly deplorable hygienic conditions, were poorly cared for and malnourished, and very large numbers of them died in their infancy.”(3) Montaigne, who no longer knew exactly how many of his offspring died, declared, “And I lost some of my wet-nursed infants, two or three I think, not without regret but at least without anger.”

The 17th century, which historians tend to bring to a close after the death of Louis XIV in 1715, had in fact been characterised by stagnating population growth throughout Europe. “In France, the threshold of 20 to 22 million inhabitants that had been reached in the middle of the 16th century, remained unsurpassed.” This was attributed to “the absence of agricultural or technological change: the average yield of wheat remained stable at a low level […]. In addition, the weak agrarian economy, which prevailed everywhere, was impacted by climate disruption: an unusually wet spring and an extremely harsh winter […] caused a sharp increase in prices, and this inevitably condemned the poor to food shortages. And hunger, which weakens the body, often gives rise to epidemics, and thus to the loss of thousands of lives.” (4)

Only four of the twelve children produced by Jean-Baptiste and Marie-Anne survived: Marie-Barbe (born on 15 August 1710); Marie-Anne-Thérèse (7 May 1712); Louis-François (4 September 1715); and Catherine-Thérèse (16 January 1718).

Jean-Baptiste named his son after his brother. This clearly demonstrates how close the ties were between the two brothers, both as siblings and as brothers in arms.

Jean-Baptiste only enabled one of his daughters – the eldest – to marry, perhaps because he was not financially in the position to enable the other daughters to do so. On 30 July 1737, Marie-Barbe married Pierre-René de Thieslin in Chartres. He was Lord of Lorrière and Boisginaut (or Bois-Hinoust) in the Maine district (5). They had one daughter, Marie-Anne, who married François-Victor de Feugerets, Earl of Feugerets (near Bellême, in Perche), on 11 January 1754.

Marie-Anne-Thérèse was sent to Saint-Cyr, while Catherine-Thérèse joined the religious order of the Carmelites in Chartres, of which she became prioress in 1759.

Jean-Baptiste also had to take care of the management of his domains. In 1728, his attention was on the lands located in Bouglainval (6). In addition, some of his fiefdoms, including that of Four, depended on the Chapter of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Chartres (of which his brother Philippe was one of the administrators); he had to confirm his commitments to vassalage, and probably above all to taxation, for these domains.

On 19 February 1740, Jean-Baptiste’s son, Louis-François, married Marie-Françoise Davignon, daughter of Claude, Royal Prosecutor and Mayor of Chartres,

Jean-Baptiste’s brother Louis-François died in 1743, and Philippe in 1751. Jean-Baptiste died on 16 June 1754 (his 80th birthday).

His son Louis-François was now the sole male representative of the family, responsibility for which now rested firmly on his shoulders…

(1) Marriage contract notarised by Gabriel Chantier, notary public, Chartres. The fiefdom of Hauville is located in what is now the municipality of Bailleau-le-Pin (Eure-et-Loir).

(2) Source: “Histoire de France”, Larousse, 1998, page 241.

(3) Source: idem, page 243.

(4) Source: idem, page 238-239 (an interesting publication!).

(5) Marriage contract notarised by Evrard, notary public, Chartres.

(6) Departmental archives of Chartres, document B 995.

(7) Departmental archives of Chartres, document G 915.

16) After Louis, a canon and a brigadier

Louis des Ligneris was only 16 years old when his father died in 1652, but his older brother François looked after him. But then, François died too, in 1656 at the age of just 24. Only Louis, his sister Angélique and their mother, Geneviève, now remained.

Louis inherited the properties in Beauvais-en-Gâtine, Saint-Jean-de-la-Forêt and Fontaine-la-Guyon. It appears that he went on to become a brigadier in the French Royal Guard, but this is not certain. (1) (carte des possessions d’Albert et Louis des Ligneris, et lieu de vie d’Angelique des Ligneris, carte de cassini [map of possessions of Albert and Louis des Ligneris, and place of residence of Angélique des Ligneris, Cassini Map]).

Louis was 31 years old when he married Louise de Gravelle (2) on 22 February 1667. She was the daughter of Jean de Gravelle, Lord of Arpentigny, and Madeleine de Coutances de la Fressonnière. Louis’ marriage kept him within the family’s circle of acquaintances: the Arpentigny estate had once been owned by Louis’ grandfather, Théodore. Thus the ties between the two families were maintained from one generation to the next.

Lucrèce, the widow of Jacques des Ligneris and Louis’ aunt, died in Digny on 16 November 1667. Her body was transported to the Fontaine-la-Guyon church where she had asked to be laid to rest. This bereavement cast a shadow on the birth of Philippe, the first son of Louis and Louise, that took place two days later. Then Louis-François was born on 15 March 1670, followed by Jean-Baptiste on 16 June 1674.

The latter was a posthumous birth: his father died a few months earlier, on 6 January 1674 in Tarouvilliers, near Chartres. He was only 38 years old and his wife was three months pregnant. Once again, direct transmission between two successive generations was impossible. Although there were three sons, only one – Jean-Baptiste, who never knew his father – would produce any offspring. The family line was again in danger of extinction.

Louise, who was between 18 and 20 years old at the time of her marriage, was not even 30 when she became a widow with three young children to raise. Her situation must have been very difficult: how could she manage three small domains located some distance apart from one another in order to obtain regular and sufficient income? She probably lived in Beauvais-en-Gâtine (which is also where she would be buried): here she could count on her sister-in-law, Angélique, whose residence was less than two kilometres away. Her parents’ place of residence was more than forty kilometres away. Having succeeded in raising her children and positioning them well in society, she died in 1708 at around the age of 60. 

Louis bore the first name of his uncle, which would appear to point to an emotional tie between his father Albert and his elder brother. Similarly, a generation later Louis-François bore the combined first names of his father and uncle. The names Philippe and Jean-Baptiste, however, were used for the first time in the family.

Unusually for a firstborn, Philippe decided to take holy orders. This may have been a genuine vocation, but could also have been a sign of his mother’s lack of financial resources and thus her inability to offer him a military career. He served as canon of the Cathedral of Chartres and archdeacon of Blois. He lived to the age of 83 and thus through the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV. He died in July 1751.

In cathedral churches, there is always a chapter (a college of clerics), which plays an important role in the administration of the diocese. It is regarded as the bishop’s senate and governing council, and its advice or consent is required for the majority of the administrative tasks. Cathedral chapters are a legal entity under canon law and as such may own temporal goods, as well as moveable and immoveable assets.

Secular canons are clerics, but they retain ownership of their assets. Their income is assured through the provision of a “prebend” (a form of stipend), i.e. revenue allocated to them from a portion of the assets belonging to the chapter as a legal entity. There were only two dignitaries under common law: the archdeacon and the archpriest. (3) Philippe attained the position of archdeacon, which was often regarded as a stepping stone towards nomination as bishop.

The chapter of the Cathedral of Chartres in which Philippe des Ligneris served was founded in the ninth century and was still very powerful. It had accumulated numerous properties and seigneuries (a form of land tenure) in the course of the many centuries since its inception, and possessed “considerable authority (…) in Chartres and its environs, at the cost of constant disputes with the seigneurs, and often even of the threat of social unrest.” (4) As already noted elsewhere, Philippe’s own great-grandfather, Théodore des Ligneris, instigated numerous legal proceedings against the chapter.

The second son, Louis-François, inherited the seigneurie of Saint-Jean-de-la-Forêt. It was probably at an early age – between 15 and 20 – that he embarked on a military career in the 1680s, which led to his service in the French Royal Guard – an elite troop that was an integral part of the Military Household of the King of France, which had been constituted progressively from at least the sixteenth century onwards (Scottish Guards, Swiss Guards, …) and was restructured by Louis XIV in 1671. It was under the joint command of the Secretary of State for the Royal Household and the Secretary of State for War, and its responsibilities included guarding the King and protecting the Court. But as a permanent elite corps it also participated in military campaigns.

Based on the predominant colour of their uniforms, the various corps that formed the Military Household were allocated to the Maison bleue (Blue Household) – the Royal Body Guard – and the Maison rouge (Red Household) – comprising the gendarmes, light cavalry, musketeers and mounted grenadiers.

Louis-François des Ligneris fought at the battles of Osterhout and Neerwinden (in 1693), and Malplaquet (in 1709), where “… he distinguished himself through his great courage and good conduct, especially at the battle of Malplaquet, where the company suffered major losses, which did not stop him from leading his comrades like a veteran and holding firm against the enemy for a considerable length of time until the subsequent retreat, for which action he was honoured and awarded the Cross of Saint Louis in his capacity as brigadier.” (5) (6) (7) Although the French army was forced to retreat, it inflicted losses on its enemies that were four times greater than its own, and the invasion of France was thus prevented.

In a battle, an infantry brigadier would be on horseback so that he could quickly reach the various battalions whose movements he had to command. There were brigadiers not only in the light cavalry and infantry, but also in the dragoons and gendarmerie. To attain the rank of brigadier, it was necessary to be a captain in the Body Guard, and an officer in the gendarmerie, light cavalry or musketeers. This rank preceded those of field marshal and lieutenant general, which were more or less equivalent to the ranks of colonel and brigadier general. (8)

Louis-François did not marry until he was 49: on 15 October 1720 he married Marie Garnier de Sainville. He died in Chartres on 29 June 1743 aged 72 and with no offspring.

 What is the story of Jean-Baptiste, the youngest of the three brothers?

Reconstitution de la bataille de Malplaquet, tricentenaire de 2009
Re-enactment of the Battle of Malplaquet: tercentenary in 2009
Bataille de Malplaquet, 1709
Battle of Malplaquet, 1709

Albert des Ligneris 1596-1652 marries Geneviève du Laurens in 1631

François des Ligneris ca. 1632-1656 No offspring

Angélique des Ligneris ca. 1634-? Marries René d’Ecauville ca. 1650

Louis des Ligneris 1636-1674 marries Louise de Gravelle (in 1667) ca. 1645-1708

Françoise des Ligneris Nun No offspring

Geneviève des Ligneris Nun No offspring

Philippe des Ligneris 1667-1751 Cleric No offspring

Louis-François des Ligneris 1670-1743 marries Marguerite Garnier de Sainville (in 1720) No offspring

Jean-Baptiste des Ligneris 1674-1754 marries Marie-Anne Beurier (in 1707)

(1) Only one source mentions Louis’ position in the Royal Body Guard: the “Historical report on the des Ligneris household, Marquis des Ligneris, Baron of Courville, etc.”, published in the 1906 Directory of the Nobility of France. Other historical reference works such as the Dictionary of French Nobility (La Chenaye-Desbois), which was published at the end of the eighteenth century, do not mention this, although it does cite it for two of his sons, his grandson and his great grandson. Furthermore, the title of brigadier, which was initially only a commission and neither a rank nor grade, was only officially incorporated in the cavalry in 1667 and the infantry in 1668, i.e. after the date of Louis’ marriage when he was already 31 years old and his career was more or less over.

(2) Source: marriage contract signed before Bourgeois, notary at Ferté-Arnaud.

(3) Duties of the dignitaries:

  • In the event of the bishop’s absence, to celebrate holy ceremonies during the most solemn occasions of the year;
  • When the bishop was to perform pontifical celebrations, to offer him holy water at the entrance to the church and to fulfil the function of assistant priest;
  • To administer the sacrament to the dying bishop and celebrate his funeral service after his decease;
  • To convene the chapter, preside over it and arrange the leadership of the choir, providing the dignitary is a member of the chapter.

(4) Source: article entitled “Les avoués du Chapitre cathédral au Moyen-Age” (The jurisdiction of the cathedral chapter in the Middle Ages”), by Louis Amiet, published in Revue d’histoire de l’Église de France (Journal of the History of the French Church), pp. 297-329 (1924).

(5) Source: cited in the letters patent concerning the creation of the des Ligneris Marquisate, November 1776. The originals are archived in the French National Library, but there is also a copy in the “Registre de causes et audiences du marquisat Desligneris, année 1778” (Directory of cases and hearings of the des Ligneris Marquisate, 1778), in the Archives of the Department of Eure-et-Loir (Document B 3135).

(6) The Battle of Malplaquet took place on 11 September 1709 during the War of the Spanish Succession, at a location to the south of Mons in what was then the Spanish Netherlands (in the territory of what is now Taisnières-sur-Hon, in France). The army jointly commanded by General John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, and Prince Eugene of Savoy (primarily Austrian and Dutch soldiers), confronted the French under the command of Marshal de Villars. Source: Wikipedia: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataille_de_Malplaquet [also available in English].

(7) The Battle of Neerwinden (Landen) took place in the framework of the Grand Alliance (League of Augsburg) on 29 July 1693 between the French army under the command of Marshal Luxembourg and the allied forces led by William of Orange. The French army comprised 75,000 men (around 190 cavalry squadrons,  90 infantry battalions and 2 artillery regiments), while the allied forces numbered 50,000 (142 cavalry squadrons and 64 infantry battalions, including two Spanish battalions). William of Orange adopted a sound defensive position and decided to await the French assault, which initially focused on the centre. The royal military household proved to be decisive in the battle: it was the French Guard who breached the Anglo-Dutch defences and the cavalry of the royal household which was urgently deployed to resist the counter-attack by the Anglo-Dutch army. Thanks to the resistance by this elite cavalry, the remainder of the French cavalry were able to slowly approach and take advantage of the breach and outflank the allied troops. They succeeded in forcing the enemy to retreat, but chose not to pursue them because they had themselves suffered heavy losses (around 9,000 men – the allied army had lost around 18,000). It was in the course of this battle that William III shouted out, “What an insolent nation!” in anger at the fact that the French did not retreat when under fire from the allied army. Source: Wikipedia: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataille_de_Neerwinden_(1693) [also available in English].

(8) According to the Dictionnaire encyclopédique de la noblesse de France (Encyclopaedic Dictionary of the French Nobility). Nicolas Viton de Saint-Allais, Paris, 1816.

15) Mysterious Albert

After the birth of their son François in 1632 or 1633, Albert and Geneviève des Ligneris had a daughter they named Angélique, followed by two more daughters (Françoise and Geneviève) and a second son, Louis, who was born on 6 January 1636.

While the 1620s saw the end of the French Wars of Religion following the capture of La Rochelle in 1628 and the 1629 Edict of Alès (also known as the Edict of Grace), the 1630s were characterised by numerous and violent aristocratic uprisings. This was also the decade during which the power of the central government was strengthened, with a pronounced tightening of political authority embodied by the king. The process of absolutism was lead by Richelieu. The same phenomenon was also witnessed in a striking parallelism in England and Spain.(1)

But there was a great deal of resistance. For instance, Gaston, Duke of Orléans – the king’s brother and potential heir to the throne because Louis XIII did not have a descendant (until 1638) – incited his province (Orléans) to revolt against the central power in 1630. When this failed he fled to Lorraine, where he supported the policies of the Habsburgs, who were the traditional enemies of France. He published a manifesto against Richelieu, then participated in the revolt of the Duke of Montmorency in Languedoc. The latter was ultimately defeated by the royal troops and beheaded in 1632, and this curbed the resistance of the aristocracy for a while. But as heir presumptive, Gaston of Orléans did not seem to be too concerned…

Then in 1635, after five years of indirect conflict at the gates of the kingdom against the Habsburgs, war was declared. This conflict enabled the authorities to impose a strong tax burden, and enhanced the powers of the state entrusted to the police, the justice system and the finance system, thus strengthening the omnipresence of the monarchy in local affairs.

Louis XIV was born in 1638. His father died in 1643, shortly after Richelieu. Anne of Austria thus became regent, with Mazarin as chief minister. But there was frequent unrest, on the part of either the aristocracy or the local farmers confronted with crop failures and taxes. This would give rise to the Fronde (a series of civil wars between 1648 and 1653): during this period, the ten-year-old Louis XIV moved to the provinces with his mother and Cardinal Mazarin, surrounded by royal troops while the gates of Paris were closed to him.

Here we come across Prince Henri II de Bourbon-Condé again, whose turbulent path we have previously described, and to whom Louis des Ligneris was chamberlain. This time it is his three children who would create turmoil: the Duchess of Longueville (who had been born in prison), Prince de Conti and Prince de Condé were leaders of the series of civil wars in France known as the Fronde.

The civil wars devastated the southwest, the Île de France, Champagne and Picardy. Some villages lost a quarter of their population due to military violence and epidemics. At the siege of Paris, La Grande Mademoiselle, daughter of Gaston of Orléans and thus a cousin of Louis XIV, ordered canons to be fired on the royal troops. Louis XIV would never forget the lessons of the Fronde: he was always distrustful of the “Grands” and the people of Paris.

In the midst of this dramatic situation, which did not spare the surroundings of Chartres, Angélique des Ligneris married René d’Ecauville, Lord of Lignerolle, probably in 1650 or 1651.

His two sisters became nuns in Courville. This is perhaps the reason for the limited distribution of the family wealth, which was limited to the congruous portion after their father Albert only inherited the two small castellanies. But it was undoubtedly a sign of the times in the seventeenth century characterised by heightened and radical religiosity. Numerous religious orders were established: la Visitation in 1610, l’Oratoire in 1613, les Dames de la Charité in 1617, la Congrégation de la Mission in 1625, les Filles de la Charité in 1633. The rise of these orders was phenomenal, with dozens being established in just a few decades.

We know very little about Albert des Ligneris’ activities. He probably held a public office, because it is unlikely that his lands would have yielded sufficient revenue, particularly in those troubled times during which there were repeated crop failures. He married late (around the age of 35), so that could possibly indicate that he initially pursued a military career. Did he live quietly on his properties after his marriage? His life remains very much a mystery to us. We can only assume he was surrounded by the family clan, comprising his brothers, sisters and nieces, all of whom resided in domains near his own.

Albert died on 12 January 1652, at around the age of 56, and on the next day was laid to rest in the church of Fontaine-la-Guyon.

His son François only outlived him by a few years, and died in 1656 or thereabouts without offspring at the age of just 24. So once again, there was only one male representative of the des Ligneris family: Louis, who was 20 years old in 1656. What would become of him?

signature d'Albert des Ligneris (Archives départementales d'Eure-et-Loir)
Signature of Albert des Ligneris (Departmental Archives, Eure-et-Loir)

Note: (1) Source of this and the three following paragraphs: Histoire de France, Larousse-Bordas. Paris, 1998, pp. 228 to 235.

Century of religious devotion

Fears of Protestant reform and Catholic radicalisation had fuelled the League (which called itself “The Holy Catholic League”), a major player in the French Wars of Religion in the second half of the sixteenth century. Following the disappearance of the House of Guise, and thanks to efforts on the part of Henri IV to bring about peace and reconciliation, the League was not able to live on at the end of the sixteenth century. Its supporters and their ideas remained in society, if in a disseminated form. With the rise of the Counter Reformation (also referred to as the Catholic Reformation), the seventeenth century saw the birth and development of fervent religious devotion and heightened mysticism.

The Catholic Reformation, which was formed in the period from 1545 to 1563 at the Council of Trente (where Jacques des Ligneris was in office), effectively gave rise to a movement of Catholic reform based on a doctrinaire reaffirmation and a disciplinary manifest. The latter involved an accentuation of discipline at various levels, namely that of the clergy itself as well as of society, plus the respect of rites. Thus priests and bishops were required to live in their parish or bishopric, the one to supervise the other, and to educate them and audit them. The priests were required to moralise the population to combat pre-marital relationships and illegitimate births, as well as to strengthen paternal authority and family order. They also had to make their parishioners respect Catholic rites (mass, confession, communion) and subdue rural magical practices, especially the cult of the saints. Religious establishments had to be enclosed by walls.

A social aspiration for greater moral and religious discipline facilitated a renewed rise in spiritual thought and the development of religious orders and congregations. The established orders such as the Capuchins and the Dominicans reformed internally. They benefited from imposing a more interventionist tutelage on female orders such as the Ursuline convents. Numerous orders were also created: Vincent de Paul established la Visitation in 1610, les Dames de la Charité in 1617, la Congrégation de la Mission en 1625, and les Filles de la Charité in 1633. His spiritual director, Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle, a leading figure in the renewal of religious thought of the seventeenth century, established l’Oratoire in 1613. The rise of these orders was phenomenal, with dozens having been established in just a few decades. Their integration into the networks of influence afforded them considerable moral and political clout.

Abundant devout literature quickly developed in response to a social need for spirituality and religious orthodoxy: for example, the book by François de Sales, “Introduction à la vie dévote” (Introduction to the Devout Life), which was published in 1608, set out to spread spiritual practices among the laity using simple language, without the inclusion of Greek and Latin citations. It was addressed to the general population, was highly successful and was reprinted many times.

14) Louis and the loss of Courville

Let us now return to Théodore’s “clan” in the early 1620s. His son Louis des Ligneris was appointed chamberlain to Henri II de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, in 1623.

Henri II de Bourbon-Condé, par François Clouet en 1618
Henri II de Bourbon-Condé, by François Clouet in 1618

Here is some background information about this prince, whose life had been eventful right from the start. The posthumous son of Henri I, Prince of Condé, he was born in prison, his mother having been accused of poisoning her husband, who had died suddenly and with no apparent cause in 1588. Due to his mother’s ties with a young servant, Henri II’s filiation was not initially recognised as legitimate. His status remained indeterminate for several years, while he was in principle “first blood prince”, i.e. heir to the throne after his cousin King Henri IV if the latter were to die without a son. In 1596, at the insistence of several high-ranking Court officials, and providing she converted to the Catholic faith, his mother was acquitted and released by Henri IV. Thus her son was declared legitimate and the young Henri II, Prince of Condé, was integrated into the Court.

Five years later, following the birth of the son of Henri IV (the future Louis XIII) in 1601, Henri II lost his status as heir apparent. He subsequently grew up in general disregard. Although he was reputedly homosexual, he was compelled by the King to marry Charlotte de Montmorency, with whom the King was infatuated, in order to provide cover for an affair. He obeyed this command in 1609. However, Charlotte did not respond to the King’s overtures. The Prince grew jealous and fled to Brussels (at that time the Spanish Netherlands) with his wife at the beginning of 1610!

This infuriated Henri IV. Fearing a French invasion, the Netherlands government only permitted the Prince’s wife to stay there. Henri II continued his flight until he reached Cologne. The situation, which was compared to that of Helen of Troy, resulted in worsening relations between France and Spain, to the extent that Henri IV envisaged war. But the death of the King of France in May put an end to thoughts of confrontation.

The Prince of Condé returned to France, where the Regent (Marie de’ Medici) offered him a privileged position. But he was jealous of the favoured Concini and as of 1613 became the principal political opponent of the Queen Mother. An agreement formalised by a treaty in 1616 led to his appointment as Head of the Council of Regency. However, Richelieu distrusted him and ordered his arrest that same year. He was imprisoned, initially in the Bastille, then in Vincennes, where he was soon joined by his wife. Here she gave birth to two still-born babies, then to a daughter in 1619 – the future Duchess of Longueville, who would play an important role during the civil wars of the Frond in 1648. An interesting turn of events for the Prince, who was of course himself born in prison…

Henri II was released at the end of 1619 by the young Louis XIII, who as we have already seen, seized power by force in 1617. The Prince then became a loyal servant of the King.

It was in this context that Louis des Ligneris became his chamberlain in 1623. This was a good position alongside a Prince – a calmer position, but one of the most prominent in the kingdom. Far from being anecdotal, this situation would mean the loss of Courville for Louis.

The blow struck in 1629: after several years of pressure and negotiations, Louis des Ligneris sold Courville to Maximilien de Béthune, better known by his title, Duke of Sully. This situation requires a few explanations.

Maximilien de Béthune, duc de Sully
Maximilien de Béthune, duc de Sully

Sully, an army officer and a former comrade-in-arms of Henri IV, was one of the closest councillors to the King. He held a variety of government offices, including that of finance minister, during which time he succeeded in greatly remedying the kingdom’s financial situation. Following the assassination of Henri IV in 1610 (who by the way was on his way to visit Sully, who was ill at his home in Paris, when he was stabbed to death by François Ravaillac), Sully served on the Council of Regency. But after taking issue with the Queen Mother, Marie de’ Medici, he resigned from almost all his functions.

Sully had already purchased the magnificent chateau of Villebon (near Courville) in 1607, but did not really take up residence there until 1621. It was at this time that he sought to create a large seigneury in Perche through a series of acquisitions. Henri II de Bourbon, Prince of Condé1 sold him the neighbouring Nogent-le-Rotrou in 1624. This of course was the Prince to whom Louis des Ligneris was chamberlain, i.e. who was Louis’ employer. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Louis did not have much of a choice: his Barony of Courville became a collateral victim of the agreement between the Prince of Condé and the Duke of Sully. Having probably been submitted to a great deal of pressure, the minor Baron was regarded as insignificant by these two powerful figures of the kingdom.

Delving a little more deeply into this matter, it is interesting to note that the Prince inherited Nogent-le-Rotrou from his father, Henri I de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, who shared Nogent with his half-brother Charles, Count of Soissons, whose chamberlain was none other than Théodore des Ligneris until 1607… When Charles died in 1612, Henri II recuperated the suzerainty over Nogent in its entirety.

Thus it was through Louis des Ligneris that the Barony of Courville was removed from the bosom of the family. He lost the domain that had been passed down from generation to generation and through successive alliances without ever having been sold for a period of at least six centuries.

It appears that Louis nonetheless retained his title of Baron during his lifetime through a form of co-seigneury with Maximilien de Béthune. The Chapter (i.e. the Assembly of the Canons of the Cathedral of Chartres) cites2 “the Barons of Courville: Louis des Ligneris, François et Maximilien-Alpin de Béthune and Catherine de la Porte, widow of M-A. de Béthune.”

Similarly, a certain Jacques de Renty, together with other lords and ladies of the fiefdom of Henrière (parish of Chuisnes), acknowledge3 “Louise de Vieuxpont, widow of Perceval (Parseval) de Billy, Louis des Ligneris and François de Béthune, lords and ladies of Courville.”

It was also at this time that Louis and his wife separated, and Geoffroy des Ligneris, knight of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, died in Malta.

The youngest of the remaining sons, Albert, married Geneviève de Laurent (or Lorent) on 31 May 1631.4 This was a fairly late marriage in that he was already around 35 years old. His parents-in-law were Geneviève Langlois and Jacques de Laurent, Lord of Douceré, Viscount of Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais. Albert himself possessed the small chatellenies of Saint-Jean-de-la-Forêt and Beauvais-en-Gâtine.

His father Théodore des Ligneris died at the age of 81 on 4 June 1634 in Fontaine le Guyon. He lived long enough to see the birth of Albert’s first son, François. This was his only grandson born during his lifetime – but François was not yet the one who would continue the family line…

After Théodore’s generation, the family’s possessions were dispersed to the four winds. All the efforts that had been undertaken since 1460 to acquire lands, either through alliance or purchase, had been wiped out. Each generation had succeeded in augmenting the family lands, despite an initial interruption brought about by the end of the first generation constituted by Michel and his son René, the latter having died without an heir. Michel had taken with him the majority of the lands of his ancestors, leaving nothing for the other sons. But the youngest son, Jacques, who was a brilliant man of letters, as well as a famous magistrate and renowned diplomat, was able to restore some land ownership. His son, Théodore, had incurred a renewed family discontinuity because he did not know his father, but he inherited his lands to which he added those obtained through his marriage, together with many acquisitions he made thanks to his position in the close proximity of royalty.

However, with eleven offspring he had to divide his assets in order to endow his five daughters, and otherwise provide for his sons socially and materially. While he retained the principal domain, Courville, and the associated title of Baron, for his eldest son, the subsequent lack of a male heir and ultimately the forced sale of this flagship property brought about the dispersion of the family lands. Because his other son, Jacques, did not have a boy, his assets went on dowries for his daughters. Albert, who was one of the youngest sons, only received minor properties. He recuperated the chateau of Fontaine-la-Guyon (perhaps through the legacy of his brother), which his father was especially fond of.

But for the family this was a new beginning, and Albert and his successors were now going to have to rebuild everything.

(1) For further information about the eventful life of Henri II and his impact on French politics, cf. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_II_de_Bourbon-Cond%C3%A9

(2) Departmental Archives of Chartres, Document G1631.

(3) Departmental Archives of Chartres, Document E1429.

(4) The marriage deed was notarised in Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais by Germain Nasse.

13) Six sons, but still no heirs

Théodore and Françoise des Ligneris were the parents of eleven offspring. Their exact dates of birth are not known, but probably range from the early 1580s to the end of the ’90s.

In the 1570s, Théodore’s only relative was his sister, Jeanne. She married Claude du Puy, Lord of Coudray and Earl of Bellefaye, bringing the domains of Crosnes and Etioles into the marriage as dowry, coming from their mother. Jeanne was widowed in 1576. Like her elder brother, who was also called Claude, her husband died in Rome – and again like her brother, he was buried in the church of Saint-Louis-des-Français in Rome. Two unwelcome coincidences.

Her daughter, who was also named Jeanne (for several centuries, the majority of daughters of the family were named Anne or Jeanne), was the sole close cousin of Théodore’s offspring. Her first marriage was to Monsieur de Saint-Gelais-Lusignan and her second was to Préjean de la Fin, who was Vidame (a rare feudal title) of Chartres.

The first child of Théodore and Françoise was named Jean-Baptiste, and he was followed by Louis, Jacques, Jeanne and Marie during the 1580s. Then Albert, Geoffroy, Angélique, Jacqueline, Lucrèce and Charles were born during the 1590s. However, the order of birth is uncertain.

Around the turn of the century, Théodore and Françoise lost two of their offspring in quick succession: their eldest son, Jean-Baptiste, who died at the age of 20, and their youngest boy, Charles, who was just two years old.

Their daughters Marie and Jeanne married (1) landed gentry from local families in 1601 and 1602 respectively. They were probably very young brides – at most, between sixteen and eighteen years old.

One of the youngest sons, Geoffroy, was sent to Malta at a very young age to serve as a soldier/monk. He became a page boy to Alof de Wignacourt, the Grand Master of Malta, on 11 July 1603, and a few years later was made a Knight of the Order of Malta (“Order of St. John of Jerusalem”).

Portait d'Alof de Wignacourt Grand Maître de l'Ordre de Malte avec l'un de ses pages, en 1607, peint par Le Caravage
Portrait of Alof de Wignacourt, Grand Master of Malta, with one
of his page boys in 1607 – painting by Caravaggio

Originally from Flanders, Wignacourt served as Grand Master of Malta from 1601 until his death in 1622. He was Caravaggio’s patron following the artist’s arrival in Malta in 1607 until his arrest and subsequent expulsion from the Order in 1608 (2). Caravaggio painted an excellent portrait of the Grand Master in which he is depicted with one of his page boys. It is quite conceivable that the page boy could be Geoffroy, since the dates would match (3), but we do not have any actual proof of this. Nonetheless, the painting enables us to at least imagine Geoffroy as a page boy.

Geoffroy experienced the final attempt by the Ottomans to conquer Malta in 1614. Six thousand Turkish soldiers disembarked in Marsascala Bay and attacked the village of Żejtun. The Order’s cavalry and Maltese civilians, however, managed to overcome the Turks who were forced to retreat.

Today, Alof de Wignacourt’s parade armour, which he is seen wearing in the Caravaggio portrait, is one of the treasures in the Grand Master’s Palace in Valetta.n Valletta.

To get back to Théodore des Ligneris, on 11 September1614 he received the young king Louis XIII and his mother Marie de’ Medici in Courville. On his way back from Brittany, the king and his entourage spent the night in the chateau.

Louis XIII was then just thirteen years old. He was nine when his father was assassinated, and since then had been constantly demeaned and humiliated by his mother, who was in no hurry for him to assume his crown. His rigidly Catholic confessors forced him to divulge even the most minor of his private thoughts, and constantly warned him against the “sins of the flesh” and women, in a manner we would describe as clear brainwashing today. He subsequently grew taciturn and withdrawn.

His mother’s rule as regent during the early days of his reign was disastrous. A person of average intelligence, she removed her husband’s former ministers from office and surrounded herself with schemers and upstarts, whilst pursuing her obsession with jewellery and astrology. She squandered the treasury that Henri IV had patiently built up to prepare for the future of the kingdom. Marie de’ Médici delegated all affairs to one of the women in her entourage with whom she had been brought up in Italy, Léonora Dori Galigaï, and to the latter’s husband, Concino Concini. Ennoblements and key positions were now negotiated in Léonora Dori Galigaï’s own apartments in the Louvre, which she never left and where there were large amounts of gold. During this period, Concini retained the respect of the leading households, thanks to his legitimacy as a marshal and admiral (even though he never fought in battle or commanded a ship, other than perhaps a rowboat) and the ascendancy of his wife over the weak-minded queen mother.

In 1615, Théodore and Françoise des Ligneris grieved the loss of another of their children: Angélique, who died at the chateau of Sours, the domain of her husband, Nicolas de Dangeul, Lord of Sours and Arboulin, and gentleman-in-waiting of the King (4). The young couple did not have any offspring.

Then on 3 November that same year, Théodore’s wife Françoise died in Courville. For Théodore, now aged 63, this was probably a turning point in his life. From now on he let his sons take over the management of their portions of the family domains. Legally speaking, his wife’s lands (and in particular the Barony of Courville) did not belong to him. Although the roles of men and women in society were clearly defined, the former did not have any “custody rights” over the latter with regard to their assets. Even after marriage, a wife remained the sole owner of the assets she had brought in, and these were then directly inherited by the couple’s offspring. Contrary to what we might believe today, society at that time firmly guaranteed these rights to women.

In November 1615, Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, even though both of them were only 14 years old. Anne was the eldest daughter of the king of Spain, Philippe III of Habsburg, and Margaret of Austria. Although her name made reference to Austria, where her family originated from, Anne was in fact Spanish. The wedding night did not go at all well, and the marriage was not consummated at that time. As a consequence of the powerful influence of his strict confessors, Louis XIII found his wife repellent and was unable to approach her. Four years passed before he felt able to share her bed, but the marriage nonetheless remained childless for many more years.

In 1616, Louis des Ligneris married Anne de Fromentières, and his brother Jacques married Lucrèce de Fromentières, Anne’s sister. Their father was Joachim, Lord of Montigny-en-Dunois (5). Théodore and Joachim apparently got on well, for this double alliance signified that a substantial portion of Joachim’s lands was granted in dowry to Théodore’s eldest sons.

Following the death of their mother on 1 February 1617, the first apportionment was effected between three of the four sons: Louis, Jacques and Albert. Louis received the lion’s share of the Barony of Courville. Their father, Théodore, had withdrawn to the chateau of Fontaine-la-Guyon, which he had purchased (6). But in order to secure the inheritance of his other sons he separated the castellenies of Chuisnes and Fontaine-la-Guyon from the Barony of Courville so that they would go to Jacques. Albert received the chatellenies of Saint-Jean-de-la-Forêt and Beauvais-en-Gâtine. Geoffroy was excluded from the apportionment because, as a monk/soldier, he could neither own land nor marry. By way of compensation, he received an annuity. (7)

Vue aérienne du château de Fontaine-la-Guyon, copyright 2008 Ville de fontaine-la-Guyon, avec l'aimable autorisation du Maire
Aerial view of Fontaine-la-Guyon chateau. © 2008 by the municipality of
Fontaine-la-Guyon. Reproduced by kind permission of the Mayor.

In April 1617, a major upheaval occurred at the head of the regime, when Louis XIII instigated his own coup. Although he was still only sixteen years old, with a small group of around a dozen loyal followers he arranged for the assassination of Concini in an ambush. Having now taken charge, he had Léonora Dori Galigaï executed and exiled his mother. He then assumed the throne.

To return to the family history, Théodore’s youngest daughters, Jacqueline and Lucrèce, both married (8) local noblemen, probably at the beginning of the 1620s. The network of the alliances was at the local level.

In 1623, Louis’ daughter Renée (9) was born, followed by Anne (10). Several years earlier, Louis had fathered a boy who died at the age of two. Jacques (11) also had two daughters: Marie (12) and Anne (13). Albert was not married.

At this time, Théodore did not have any grandsons. So once again, even though he had fathered six sons, the survival of the des Ligneris line remained uncertain…

(1) In 1601, Marie des Ligneris married Lancelot de Kaerbout, Lord of Gémassé, bringing in the Ormoy lands as dowry. In 1602, Jeanne married François de Fontenay, Lord of Fresnaye and Saint Germain de la Coudre, and ensign of the gendarmes of Marshal de Lavardin. Her dowry comprised the chateau and lands of Saint-Hilaire-des-Noyers. Albert had once been the joint Lord of Saint-Hilaire-des-Noyers with his brother Jacques and brother-in-law Lancelot de Kaerbout who had inherited it, then abandoned it to Jeanne and her husband (receipts dated 17 November 1622 and 7 January 1623 given by Jeanne de Ligneris to her brother and brother-in-law). Jeanne was widowed in 1620 and sold St-Hilaire to Louis Petigars de la Guériniére on 31 October 1622 for 21,000 Tournois pounds (one of numerous currencies used in France in the Middle Ages). Source: http://www.saint-hilaire-des-noyers.org/id11.html

(2) Information on Wignacourt come from Wikipedia.

(3) Geoffroy arrived in Malta in 1603 when he was probably not yet 10 years old; the portrait that was painted in 1607 or 1608 shows a page boy aged between 12 and 14. The Grand Master probably had several page boys, but the hypothesis remains plausible.

(4) cf. Société archéologique d’Eure-et-Loir, Chartres, Mémoires (Volume 7-8) (Archaeological Society of Eure-et-Loir, Chartres, Recollections, vol 7-8). Memoirs (Volume 7-8)

(5) Incidentally, it should be noted that the de Fromentières family, which was originally from Brittany and Maine, numbered “du Bellay, de Ronsard, de Maillé, de Ligneris, du Theil de Samoy” among its alliances. So here is another link with Pierre de Ronsard’s “Brigade”, which we already came across in connection with Claude des Ligneris, who was one of the initial members, in 1551.ne of the very first members in 1551.

(6) He negotiated Fontaine-la-Guyon with Charlotte de Saint-Simon, Adrien Gallot’s widow.

(7) Archives Départementales de Chartres, document E2430: Geoffroy donne quittance de la pension de 400 livres qui lui est due (vers 1620). (Departmental Archives of Chartres, document E2430: receipt from Geoffroy for the amount of 400 pounds due to him [ca. 1620]).

(8) Jacqueline des Ligneris married Jacques Charpin, Lord of Gineprès, while Lucrèce des Ligneris married Joachim de la Cigoigne, Lord of Bois du Maine.

(9) Renée des Ligneris would marry Charles de Fresnois.

(10) Anne des Ligneris would marry René de Douhaut, Lord of Bois du Maine.

(11) Jacques des Ligneris is cited in an agreement dated 1628 as entitled to collect the levies and annuities on the properties and lands of the domain of Luy in the parish of Villebon. Archives Départementales de Chartres, document E2651, signé de la main de Jacques. (Departmental Archives of Chartres, document E2651: hand signed by Jacques).

(12) Marie des Ligneris would marry Charles de Molitard, Lord of Durbois, in 1637. The marriage contract is kept in the Departmental Archives of Chartres (document E3396).

(13) Anne des Ligneris, the daughter of Jacques and Lucrèce, was baptised on 13 April 1620. Her godfather was Jacques de Courivert, Lord of Saint-Rémy and her godmother was her aunt, Anne de Fromentière, wife of Louis des Ligneris, which demonstrates the close ties between the brothers and sisters. Anne would marry Louis de Saly. Their son Pierre de Saly was born in 1645: his godfather was Pierre du Halquoi, Lord of Chuisnes and Bérangeville (and other domains,) and his godmother was his grandmother Lucrèce. Source: historical notes published on the website of the municipality of Fontaine-la-Guyon.

12) Théodore (part 5)

In 1591, Henri IV captured the town of Chartres after a siege lasting several months. The local League was defeated and its leaders were exiled, with the exception of Théodore des Ligneris, who had chosen to side with the king before it was too late – even if this decision had perhaps been taken because of his personal opposition to the lord of Réclainville, who had led the League in the Chartres region. Théodore had brought about his downfall by turning the population against him.

At the national level, the League faced fierce resistance. Although it was crushed at the Battle of Ivry (1) on 14 March 1590, having been subjected to two successive sieges of the capital, the League did not disarm. Its most extremist members went so far as to unleash a reign of terror in Paris. While organising spectacular processions of armed clerics and thousands of children, they imprisoned Catholic men reputed to be Royalists (Politiques, i.e. Political Catholics). Under the authority of the Council of Sixteen, the reign of terror conducted by the Parisian League reached its peak in 1591 with the execution of the president of the Paris supreme court (parlement de Paris), Barnabé Brisson (who was still a Leaguer). Henri IV and his troops endeavoured to take Paris by trickery, sending in soldiers disguised as farmers carrying flour in carts, but this attempt was a failure. (2)

Procession armée de la Ligue en 1590 (Musée Carnavalet)
Armed procession of Leaguers in 1590 (Carnavalet Museum)

The League experienced a split when the Duke of Mayenne returned to Paris to punish the extremists who had decided to execute Brisson. Then from 1591 onwards, the excesses of the League, together with its penchant for a foreign prince, its Spanish funding and its calling into question of the monarchy, led to the progressive departure from it of the Royalists, followed by one town after another. Nonetheless, the League only truly disarmed when Henri IV renounced his Protestant faith in favour of Catholicism. He was crowned king in Chartres on 27 February 1594, and entered Paris a few months later.

The fall of Paris signalled the beginning of the end for the League. The last remaining Leaguers (led by the Duke of Mayenne and supported by the Spaniards) were defeated at Fontaine-Française in Burgundy on 5 June 1595. At the Treaty of Vervins (1598), the Spaniards abandoned the last places they held in France. The definitive end of the League came following the submission of the Duke of Mercœur, Governor of Brittany.

Henri IV put an end to the French Wars of Religion in 1598 with the Edict of Nantes and the Treaty of Vervins. He is counted among the great kings of France, having succeeded in easing the tensions, maintaining the central power and putting an end to the civil war. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be overlooked that, when he was assassinated in 1610, half the French population supported him, but the other half hated him.

Let us now return to Chartres, where the situation began to gradually stabilise after 1591. It was in this year that the Baron of Courville was made a Knight of the Order of Saint Michael.

Théodore des Ligneris already had several offspring from his wife, Françoise de Billy. It was May 1582 before his first son, Jean-Baptiste, was born. (3) We should not overlook the fact that, until 1584, Théodore was probably unable to be together with his wife very often. He was away for many months at a time, and even for more than a year with Prince François de Valois, in Flanders and the provinces of the Low Countries. The births of the couple’s numerous offspring (eleven in all) were thus spread over the 1580s and ’90s: Jean-Baptiste was followed by Louis, Jacques, Geoffroy, Albert, Jeanne, Marie, Angélique, Jacqueline, Lucrèce and Charles.

When she was besieged in the château of Courville at the end of the 1580s, Françoise was a young mother still in her twenties, surrounded by several children under the age of ten, some of whom were still in their infancy. She had no choice but to surrender, and was only freed again upon payment of a ransom (like her husband, who suffered the same treatment after defending Verneuil). We can well imagine how traumatising this episode would have been for the entire family.

Some time between 1590 and 1595 (the exact date remains unknown), Théodore des Ligneris was appointed chamberlain to Charles de Bourbon, Count of Soissons. He retained this position until 1607. It was a highly prestigious position that was equivalent to secretary general in the management of the affairs of one of the most important princes in the reign of Henri IV.

Charles de Bourbon, comte de Soissons
Charles de Bourbon, comte de Soissons

Charles de Bourbon, Count of Soissons and of Dreux, was born in 1566 in Nogent-le-Rotrou, near Chartres, and was 13 years younger than Théodore. He was a son of Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, and the step-brother of the Prince of Condé, who became leader of the Protestants. As a Catholic prince raised in the royal court, he initially joined the League during the French Wars of Religion. But he became disenchanted and was won over to the anti-Guise cause by Henri de Navarre and left the court to fight by his side. Théodore was able to work alongside him from 1588 at the General Assembly in Blois, in which they both participated.him in 1588 at the General Assembly of Blois, which they both attended.

Taken prisoner during a battle, Charles de Bourbon was detained in the château of Nantes, from where he escaped to rejoin the king’s army in Dieppe. After the Battle of Ivry he took command of the king’s cavalry in the siege of Paris in 1590, and demonstrated his military valour during the sieges of Chartres (1591) and Rouen (1592). Charles de Bourbon attended the coronation of Henri IV in 1594. He was a loyal collaborator of Henri IV during the siege of Laon (1594). Once the peace treaty had been concluded with Spain, he took command of the royal troops in the Savoy wars in 1600. He was appointed Governor of Dauphiné in 1602, and of Normandy in 1610.

Reportedly, Charles de Bourbon was the great love of his cousin Catherine de Navarre, the sister of Henri IV. But the king did not want to hear any talk of a marriage that did not bring a diplomatic advantage. For several years, Charles and Catherine tried in vain to persuade the king, and Catherine in her turn refused all other suitors. Ultimately, she had to yield to her brother’s command and marry the elder son of the Duke of Lorraine, Henri Duke of Bar.

Meanwhile, as the sixteenth century drew to its close, Théodore was deeply afflicted by the successive deaths of his oldest son Jean-Baptiste at the age of 20, and his youngest son Charles, who was less than 2 years old.

When he left his position as chamberlain to the Count of Soissons, Théodore was 54. Back then, that meant he was already an “old man”, but he continued to manage his family (all his children were still minors), as well as his domains and . . . his lawsuits. Throughout his life he was involved in litigation against numerous people or institutions.

Théodore was probably a “difficult” person. He was orphaned at a very young age and had to learn how to fend for himself. Did he find maternal affection among the women who looked after him at the Court of Navarre when he reached the age of five? He was maltreated (perhaps tortured) at the age of nine during his imprisonment in Loches, then entrusted to the entourage of François de Valois, so he obviously had to become self-sufficient and forge his character when he was still very young. At the age of fifteen he occupied a position that provided him with some income, but he had to meet his various obligations on his own. It was not long before he found himself on the battlefields, where he had to confront fear and death, and always had only himself to count on for survival.

So he did not hesitate to call on the courts when he felt that his interests had been violated (or perhaps as a means to impose his will). In 1594 he initiated a lawsuit (4) against Nicolas de Nicolaï concerning lands in la Varrie (5).

In 1602, in a dispute over land he opposed the clerics of Saint-Père, Abbey of Chartres. We tend to forget that, at that time, religious orders were often large landowners and temporal lords with the same status as the nobility – and this had been the case since the Early Middle Ages: between the years 700 and 1000, bishops were even warriors, who fought at the head of their armies, as well as administrators of towns and domains. Théodore contested the right of use of a domain with the clerics of Saint-Père. He was very familiar with legal intricacies and filed lettres de committimus against them. This instrument constituted a privilege of exemption from judicial proceedings that was only applicable to princes, senior officials of the kingdom (for example, the president of the supreme court), and knights of the Order of Saint Michael. It was from the latter status that Théodore was able to benefit here. Thanks to these letters, which could only be obtained from the king’s chamberlain, Théodore’s legal matter could not be heard in an ordinary court, and could only be ruled on by a special court constituted in Paris.

Théodore des Ligneris initiated another lawsuit in 1611 against Lancelot de Barrat, lord of Brunelles, regarding the succession of the lordships of Courville and Brunelles. (6)

For reasons that remain unknown, between 1616 and 1621 he disinherited his three sons, Louis, Jacques and Albert. (7)

When his son Louis and daughter-in-law Anne initiated proceedings in 1630 regarding their legal separation and division of property, he contested the nomination of the guardian of their children via a legal deed bearing his personal signature, which is still in the possession of the Archives of the Department of Eure-et-Loir. (8)

Furthermore, in addition to pursuing his legal disputes, Théodore also managed his domains and above all the rights pertaining to them. The latter generated income, for example from the harvesting of timber from the forests or from the right to operate the mills. He also carried out numerous shifts of ownership in the family lands.

With Jeanne de Billy, Théodore sold La-Salle-de-Morancez manor to René le Beau, Lord of Sauzelles.

Before 1594, he had sold Villette-les-Bois manor (situated in the fiefdom of Amboy in Villette) to Jacques de Mondreville. But the fiefdom still depended on Théodore after Jacques de Mondreville had pledged “fealty and homage” to him in 1594. (9)

He entered into an agreement (10) with Charlotte de Saint-Simon, the widow of Adrien de Gallot, concerning the tenure of Fontaine-la-Guyon manor (before 1602), and concluded another with the Chapter of Chartres (i.e. the Canons of Chartres Cathedral) “governing the division and separation of their censives (landholdings subject to an annual “cens” or levy) and manors (11), between 1610 and 1620.

He sold a smallholding in 1621 (12) or thereabouts and concluded a transaction (13) with the Chapter of Chartres concerning a communal mill on the lands of Fontaine-la-Guyon.

Together with his second son, Louis, Théodore achieved a noteworthy publicity coup by receiving the young king Louis XIII and his mother, Marie de Médicis, in Courville on 11 September 1614. The monarch was on his way back from a visit to Brittany and spent the night in the château.

Théodore drew up his will on 23 April 1626. He died in Fontaine-la-Guyon in 1634 at the very respectable age of 81. Having become the sole male representative of his family at an early age, Théodore had restored hope in the continued existence of the family by fathering six sons. But as we shall see later, only one of them went on to secure the family’s future. What had clearly been a clan at the beginning of the sixteenth century had now been reduced to a family.

Théodore’s death coincided with the end of an era, namely that of the grand feudal lords, and signalled the beginning of a new epoch for the family. What would his offspring become in the new society, that of the “Great Century” of Louis XIII and Louis XIV?

To conclude I am including a reproduction of a signature by Théodore in 1630, a touching and somewhat shaky signature of a 77-year-old man nearing the end of a full and meaningful life.

Signature de Théodore des Ligneris en 1630
Signature of Théodore des Ligneris in 1630

(1) The village is now called Ivry-la-Bataille in memory of this decisive 1590 confrontation. It is located near Dreux, in Eure-et-Loir, to the north of Chartres –  clearly the epicentre of the battles of that period.

(2) This and the two following paragraphs have been taken from the (French) Wikipedia article on the League.

(3) “On 22 May in the church of Saint Nicolas de Courville, one of the sons of the eminent and influential lord Messire Théodore Desligneries, husband of Lady N…, Baroness of Courville, was baptised.” Documents historiques et statistiques sur les communes du canton de Courville (historical and statistical documents concerning the municipalities of the district of Courville), vol. 1, by Edouard Lefèvre, published in 1870, reissued by Le Livre d’Histoire, collection managed by M-G Micberth, 2005.

(4) Departmental Archives of Chartres, document B2524.

(5) Lands situated in the parish of Vichères.

(6) Departmental Archives of Chartres, document B2554.

(7) Dep(7) Departmental Archives of Chartres, document G251.

(8) Departmental Archives of Chartres, document E2432, signed by hand by Théodore

(9) Departmental Archives of Chartres, document E3936.

(10) Departmental Archives of Chartres, document E2428.

(11) Departmental Archives of Chartres, document E2429.

(12) Departmental Archives of Chartres, document E2430.

(13) Departmental Archives of Chartres, document G253.

11) Theodore (part 4) : Courville vs Réclainville

Assassination of King Henri III by the monk Jacques Clément (from a propaganda document of the Catholic League)
Assassination of King Henri III by the monk Jacques Clément (from a propaganda document of the Catholic League)

In January 1589 the situation was extremely chaotic in Paris, due to the actions of supporters of the Catholic League against both King Henri III and the Protestants. All the gates were heavily guarded and it became very difficult for people to flee from the city.

While the civil wars in the 1560s were fought between the Huguenots and the Papists, the latter were now called the Catholics. In the following decades they split into factions: moderate Catholics (Politiques, or Political Catholics) andmembers of the French Catholic League(or Leaguers). The other Catholics still regarded the Political Catholics, who preferred to negotiate for peace, as a more serious threat than the Huguenots. But the Leaguers, too, were divided into factions: the Zealots, who wanted to put the Politiques and the Huguenots “to fire and the sword”; the Spaniards – French Catholics coaxed by gold from Peru and whose goal was to transfer the French crown to the King of Spain or to the Infanta, his daughter; and the « Clos et Couverts« , who called for “the extirpation of the new religion but without the destruction or mutation of the State”. (1)

Jacques-Auguste de Thou, ca. 1615. Engraving by Morin after L. Ferdinand
Jacques-Auguste de Thou, ca. 1615. Engraving by Morin after L. Ferdinand

In February 1589, the Bishop of Chartres received a visit from his nephew, Jacques-Auguste de Thou, a historian, man of letters and adviser to the parlement de Paris (supreme court). He was a Political Catholic, and he and his wife had come to Chartres after having escaped from Paris. She had been arrested and imprisoned, but was freed the next day by one of her supporters. Then “disguised as a bourgeois woman” (2) she succeeded in passing through the city gates and riding to Chevreuse. Jacques-Auguste was hidden by his friends in a monastery in Paris, then disguised as a soldier to accompany a procession outside the city. “It was with great joy that the exiled innocent couple were reunited in Chevreuse, recalling the dangerous situation they had succeeded in escaping and the way in which they had deceived the guards. He was greatly amused by his wife’s bourgeois clothing and her chaperon, and she in her turn by her husband’s disguise as a soldier.” (3)

Shortly afterwards, “Théodore de Ligneris, who for several reasons was a special friend of de Thou, warned him that Chartres was about to declare itself in favour of the League, which obliged de Thou to leave immediately in order to stay safe.” (4)

Théodore des Ligneris, who was described by his contemporary, Philippe Hurault, as “a man of spirit and integrity” (5), was not so strongly associated with the League that he would have forgotten his friends.

On 1 August 1589, King Henri III of Valois was assassinated by a fanatic from the Catholic League. Robert Merle described the scene with his considerable talent in his work, Fortune de France. He describes how the monk Jacques Clément arrived and demanded an audience with the king in order to disclose some confidential information. The king’s bodyguards were wary and wanted to prevent Clément from approaching the sovereign. But Henri III had always had special respect for monks, and he signalled to his bodyguards to let Clément approach. Clément then leaned towards the king as if to whisper something in his ear, suddenly pulled a large knife out of his habit and stabbed the king in the stomach. The guards rushed at the monk, seized hold of him, ran him through with their swords and threw him out of the window. He fell several storeys to the ground, dead. But the deed had been done: Henri III died after suffering from his wound throughout the night.

In August 1589, the Protestant Henri III of Navarre became King Henri IV of France, as the legitimate heir to the throne in accordance with the law of succession. But neither the majority Catholic population, nor the influential families that constituted the League, recognised him as king. They preferred his uncle, Cardinal Charles de Bourbon, also referred to as “Charles X”. But he was already very elderly and had been detained by Henry IV. He died in prison in 1590.

Charles, Duke of Mayenne, ca. 1580
Charles, Duke of Mayenne, ca. 1580

Some towns and cities rebelled, with support from Spain. Rural regions, including Perche in particular, aligned themselves with Henri IV. By contrast, in Chartres the interim governor, Jean d’Allonville (Lord of Réclainville) benefited from the assassination of the Duke of Guise, which had occurred six months earlier in December 1588, by replacing the appointed governor, François de Sourdis, who was loyal to the king. Having rallied the inhabitants of Chartres to the League, he had shut the gates of the town to the troops of King Henri III on 17 January, and received Charles de Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne. The latter had effectively taken over as head of the League following the death of his brother the Duke of Guise. However, he did not have the necessary charisma, was corpulent and reputedly miserly, lacked political understanding and demonstrated defiance and cunning.

“Jean d’Allonville’s first deed was to save François de Sourdis, whom the Duke of Mayenne wanted to behead; then he obliged the remainder of the inhabitants to swear allegiance to the “Sacred Union” (i.e. the League). Réclainville also chased the Huguenots out of the town and imprisoned a number of them.” (6)

Nicolas de Thou, Bishop of Chartres
Nicolas de Thou, Bishop of Chartres

“The only people the king could count on were the Bishop, Nicolas de Thou, and the governor, François de Sourdis, but they had little influence on the inhabitants of Chartres. In vain the king sent the Attorney General of la Guesle to try and persuade the population to listen to reason. But the reply he received was a loud ‘Sacred Union!’ There was not even any respect for people’s rights. […] Théodore des Ligneris had the Attorney General arrested and only released him after he had obtained a large ransom.” (7)

Following the assassination of Henri III, Jean d’Allonville refused to recognise Henri of Navarre as king of France. However, in Chartres there were Leaguers who accused him of a lack of commitment, and even betrayal.  They claimed that he had, through negligence, taken on a lieutenant sent to him by the Duke of Mayenne. He was reproached for having released François de Sourdis; and the Baron of Courville [Théodore des Ligneris], to whom he had refused full powers, stirred up the people (8). There were uprisings against him, and he was even imprisoned on 15 September 1589 by the most extremist of the Leaguers.

In the words of the Earl of Cheverny:  “Similarly, for the town of Chartres I can truthfully state that its inhabitants easily let themselves be taken in by the persuasions of Sieur de Lignery, also a neighbour of said town, a man of spirit and integrity, who had become an enemy of the said Sieur de Maintenon, and the said Sieur de Réclainville.” (9)

After his release some time later, Jean d’Allonville refused to resume the position of governor and handed over to Georges Babou de La Bourdaisière. (10) “The situation of Réclainville needs to be clarified. […] His behaviour was that of a nobleman of the type that was numerous in the 16th century. The solidarity he demonstrated towards the royalist nobles and governor Sourdis is typical of the attitudes during that era and one is inclined to think that he did not act with the faith of a crusader, but rather in accordance with the conventional morals of the nobility, the enemy of religious fanaticism. It also appears he was characterised by loyalty to the Guises and in particular to Mayenne. […]”

In 1590, Théodore des Ligneris made amends with Henri IV. “Assured of his sincerity”, on 8 March the new king gave him a company of 50 lances so that, in the king’s words, “he could be rendered worthy and capable, thanks to his virtues and merits, of being honoured with the duties and administrative tasks of the state.”

Thus Théodore des Ligneris, who had pushed for Chartres to support the Catholic League, suddenly switched allegiances. He handed over Verneuil to Henri IV, much to the displeasure of the burghers of Chartres, who sold his assets by auction in order to purchase the necessary artillery to defend their town.” (11)

But François de Rouxel, a high-level Leaguer, caught Théodore by surprise in Verneuil and imprisoned him, while his wife, who was trapped in Château de Courville, had no choice but to capitulate. They were able to regain their liberty by paying a ransom.”
Henri IV receiving the keys to the town of Verneuil-sur-Avre in
March 1594 (painting reproduced in “Le Pays de Verneuil-
Sur-Avre”, 1987, viewable in the town hall)
Henri IV receiving the keys to the town of Verneuil-sur-Avre in
March 1594 (painting reproduced in “Le Pays de Verneuil-
Sur-Avre”, 1987, viewable in the town hall)

It appears that Théodore had turned his back on Henri III following the episode of the General Assembly in Blois. He also undoubtedly harboured feelings against him, given that he had grown up since the age of nine with, and shared all his life with, François de Valois, who was extremely jealous of his brother Henri and criticised him at every opportunity. With regard to Henri IV, Théodore had played with him as a child in the courtyard of Château de Pau during the 1550s between the ages of five and nine.

In 1590, the Leaguers in Chartres were living in dread of a conspiracy, a fear that was shared among all the towns and which justified repressions. The citizens of Chartres had good reason to be worried, because their town was an important strategic location in the greater Paris region and was also one of the capital’s grain markets. Furthermore, in addition to Brittany and Rouen, Henri IV controlled most of the regions in the west, including Normandy, Touraine, Anjou, Maine, Poitou, Angoumois, Aunis, Saintonge, Guyenne and Gascony. It was therefore necessary for him to eliminate the Leaguers’ barriers to the gates of these regions represented by Chartres. (12)

The siege began on 11 February 1591 (13). The infantry under the command of Sourdis occupied the surroundings in a way that clearly demonstrated their determination to the besieged inhabitants. On 16 February the king made a final attempt to persuade the citizens of Chartres to surrender. The mayor and inhabitants replied that they were ready to do so if Henri IV were to become a Catholic. The parish priest of Saint-Aignan, Cailleau, organised a procession in the purest Parisian style, barefoot in the ice and snow, to ask God to protect the town against the threatened cannonade. But on 27 February the assault commenced at six a.m. and caused severe damage. Knowing that he did not possess the necessary military means for resisting such an attack, the new governor –La Bourdaisière, a League supporter – proposed that the town should be handed over to the king, but the citizens of Chartres were unwilling to submit to a “heretic” at any cost and thus refused. Between 17 March and 10 April, negotiations alternated with attacks and cannonades. Little by little the people’s morale waned, however, and the governor succeeded in convincing the inhabitants to accept the demands of the besieging forces, despite the continued hostility of the clergy.

The example of Chartres illustrates the case of a town without a true municipal tradition that fell into the hands of the League thanks to a successful conspiracy. Here the role of the nobility was more important than that of the dignitaries. Reacting minorities served as intermediaries and urged radicalisation after the assassination of Henri III and once it became apparent to everyone that Chartres was going to be besieged by the new king, who was regarded by many Leaguers as the devil incarnate.  The alienation of the dignitaries, in particular the governor, […] in favour of local leaders (at the street, district or parish level) symbolised the evolution towards a more popular League.Personal ambition is a factor that should also not be overlooked, especially because Réclainville had a rival within the League nobility, according to the Chancellor of Cheverny who noted this in his memoirs: “Théodore de Ligneris, whom Henri III had not wanted as deputy of the nobility in the bailiwick of Chartres in 1588. Local authors recalled that Baron de Ligneris intrigued against Réclainville and that he was the source of the sedition that led to his dismissal because he was ‘disgruntled’ that he had neither been elected as deputy nor chosen as governor by Mayenne.”

In April 1591 the inhabitants of Chartres surrendered. Henri IV granted them the guarantee of exercising the Catholic religion, prohibited reformed worship in the town and the suburbs, confirmed their privileges and permitted those Leaguers who wished to do so to exile themselves to another location. It is recorded that some of them, for example Jean d’Allonville, moved to Orléans. The Chancellor, and then the king, made their entry and the municipality was reconstituted in accordance with its ancient custom.

The League in Chartres had prevailed.

(1) This analysis was reiterated by a certain Pâquier in Satyre Ménippée, vol. II – Remarques (Notes), 1711 edition published by Ratisbonne, pp. 24-25, consulted on 14 October 2019, Numelyo, Bibliothèque Numérique de Lyon (Electronic Library Nyon), ref. 809624.T02.ehan II d’Allonville de Réclainville ».

(2) Mémoires de la vie de J-A de Thou (Memoirs of the Life of J-A de Thou). First edition, translated from Latin into French, 1711, published by R. Leers in Rotterdam, p. 145, consulted on Gallica on 14 October 2019, Bibliothèque Nationale de France (French National Library), ref. 4-LN27-19601.

(3) Idem, p. 147.

(4) Idem, p. 147.

(5) Source: Nouvelle collection de mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de France : Mémoires de messire Philippe Hurault, comte de Cheverny, chancelier de France (New collection of memoirs to serve as a history of France: memoirs of Philippe Hurault, Earl of Cheverny, Chancellor of France), p. 493, 1838 edition, Joseph-François Michaud. Bibliothèque Nationale de France (French National Library), ark:/12148/bpt6k308850 , consulted on Gallica on 14 October 2019.The Earl of Cheverny was also the brother-in-law of Jacques-Auguste de Thou! He was born in 1528 and initially pursued a religious career before entering the parlement de Paris (supreme court). In 1566 he renounced his religious status with a dispensation from Rome in order to marry Jacques-August de Thou’s sister, who was the daughter of president de Thou. Having been noticed by Catherine de Médicis and acted as close adviser to Henri III, he was appointed Custodian of the Seals in 1578 and Chancellor of France in 1581. A few years later he was disgraced by Henri III, but was recalled to service by Henri IV and was appointed Governor of Chartres and Lieutenant General.  He died in 1599.

(6) This paragraph was taken from a Wikipedia article entitled “ Jehan II d’Allonville de Réclainville”.594880

(7) Histoire universelle de Jacques-Auguste de Thou: depuis 1543 jusqu’en 1607 (History of Jacques-Auguste de Thou, from 1543 to 1607)

(8) Baron de Courville is Théodore des Ligneris. People were called both by their family name and by the name of their domain, with or without their title. Thus encountering one of his acquaintances,  Théodore could have been addressed as follows: “Ah, Courville, good to see you!”.

(9) Source : Nouvelle collection de mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de France: Mémoires de messire Philippe Hurault, comte de Cheverny, chancelier de France (New collection of memoirs to serve as a history of France: memoirs of Philippe Hurault, Earl of Cheverny, Chancellor of France), p. 493, 1838 edition, Joseph-François Michaud, Bibliothèque Nationale de France (French National Library), ark:/12148/bpt6k308850

(10) Here we come across the in-laws of René des Ligneris (who was Théodore’s cousin – he was killed in 1562 at the Battle of Dreux, where he commanded the light infantry of Prince de Condé). The father of Georges who is mentioned here, Jean Babou de la Bourdaisière, had rescued Théodore in 1562 after he had been arrested at just the age of nine, and maltreated and imprisoned in Loches. (cf. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famille_Babou_de_La_Bourdaisi%C3%A8re )

(11) La Ligue. Jean-Marie Constant, Fayard, 1996. http://www.fayard.fr/la-ligue-9782213594880

(12) This and the next four paragraphs have been taken from La Ligue, by  Jean-Marie Constant, published by Fayard in 1996. http://www.fayard.fr/la-ligue-9782213594880

(13) Inside the fortifications of Chartres, “the regular troops and six companies of the citizens’ militia numbered around 3,500 footmen and 300 horsemen. But the entire population, increased by a large number of refugee farmers, supported them at the fortifications and barriers.” (Source: Wikipédia, article “Jehan II d’Allonville de Réclainville”).

10) Théodore faces the wrath of King Henri III (Part 3)

It is 1582: Théodore controls almost all routes into Chartres from the north, south and west. Benefiting from the troubles of the French Wars of Religion, he prohibits merchants from crossing his lands, or at least makes them pay a higher toll (carte 1582).

With the governor of Chartres, François de Sourdis, having been sent to Italy in September 1582, Henri III appointed Jean d’Allonville, lord of Réclainville, as ad interim governor. The captain arrived on 23 January 1583, raising the hopes of the aldermen (the administrators of Chartres) who were counting on him to suppress the plundering by the soldiers and the actions of some of the neighbouring lords. He succeeded in bringing the trouble makers under control, including Théodore in particular, who had to remove his barriers from the various routes. (1)

In 1584, Théodore was 31 years old at the time of the death of his master and protector, the Duke of Alençon. Taking advantage of his numerous relatives at the Court, he became governor of Verneuil, i.e. military commander of the stronghold which controlled access between Île de France and Normandy, in the Avre Valley to the north of Chartres. It was not his stronghold but that of the king, who had appointed him to this position.

But then a fresh crisis broke out at the national level. Because Henri III did not have any offspring, his younger brother François d’Alençon was the natural heir to the throne. Upon his death, the closest male parent in the line of succession – in accordance with Salic Law (an ancient law excluding females from dynastic succession, which governed succession to the French throne) – was Henri III of Navarre, a Protestant prince from the House of Bourbon (who would become Henri IV of France upon his accession to the throne). (2)

Henri de Guise, prince of the House of Lorraine, then became leader of a new Catholic League. Since 1582, King Philippe II of Spain had been providing the Catholics with financial support, undoubtedly with the dual objective of strengthening catholicity and weakening the king of France, who was his rival in the European arena. He underscored this support by signing the Treaty of Joinville on 31 December 1584 with the Guises, in which he recognised the Cardinal of Bourbon (the uncle of the king of Navarre and second in the line of succession – and of course a Catholic) as successor to the French throne.

On 31 March 1585, the League published a proclamation in Péronne in which it declared its intention to reinstate what it called “the sole religion”, remove the king from the influence of his favourites and oblige him to regularly call on the General Assembly. Rallying calls by military leaders began to increase.

With the Treaty of Nemours, Henri III of France had to give in to the demands of the League, which had now become too powerful. The eighth French War of Religion ended in a military status quo, in which the Protestant victory in Coutras was balanced by the victories of Henri de Guise in Auneau and Vimory (1587), which again enhanced the reputation of the prince and House of Lorraine.

However, King Henri III prohibited Henri de Guise from entering Paris, where rumours of an insurrection were circulating. But de Guise ignored the order and entered the capital on 9 May 1588. With the movements of the royal army and the population of Paris supporting de Guise, the city did not delay in putting up barricades. Having lost control of Paris, Henri III fled to Chartres.

Henri III then decided to reconcile with the Catholic League: on 15 July 1588 he signed the Edict of Union against the Protestants on 15 July 1588 and handed over the harbour town of Boulogne-sur-Mer to the Catholic League so that the latter could receive the Spanish fleet there. In addition, Henri de Guise was appointed Lieutenant-General of the Armies of the King of France (i.e. commander in chief of the armed forces). He was popular and influential, and began to prepare his assumption of power. In “La Ligue”, which was published by Fayard in 1996, Jean-Marie Constant describes what happened next: (3)

In 1588, having failed to regain control of his kingdom by force, King Henri III endeavoured to achieve his aims at the political level, at which he excelled. He decided to convene a session of the General Assembly, declaring that the meeting of the three levels of government was necessary in order to reform the kingdom and restore authority to the king.

The Guises and the League were not at all impressed by this manoeuvre and launched themselves into a comprehensive electoral campaign from which the Protestants were practically excluded, but who opposed both the League and the followers of the king.

King Henri III did everything in his power to influence the election in favour of his followers […]. In many bailiwicks the electoral assemblies became the scene of veritable political confrontation. In some cases, a certain degree of pressure was exerted on the deputies or local authorities.

In Chartres, Henri III summoned the governor, Jean d’Allonville, Lord of Réclainville, to speak about the future representative of the nobility of the bailiwick. Coming from an ancient and honourable lineage of noblemen from Beauce, he was in the position to understand the mood that prevailed in the country. The king firstly asked him if steps had been taken to “nominate a deputy”. Cautiously the governor replied that “nothing had been done as yet”, but that either “Sieur de Mémulon, a nobleman from Dunois and a well qualified and honourable man, or Lord des Ligneris, Baron of Courville, could come into question.” But the king did not care for the candidature of these two men, stating that he wanted someone more dependable. He described Mémulon as “stubborn and an old dreamer”, and criticised des Ligneris for an obscure military defeat at Verneuil.

He then proposed someone close to him for election: Louis d’Angennes, Lord of Maintenon, after which the dialogue rapidly escalated. The king grew angry when faced with the reticence of his interlocutor, while the latter, who had a stammer and became increasingly emotional, did not dare to tell the king that the nobility did not care for Maintenon, whom they accused of leaning secretly towards reform, and above all of not being independent of power since he belonged to the King’s Council. Henri III was furious, and loudly demanded that Maintenon must be elected, shouting that there was neither a more loyal nor a better servant than in that house. In front of the unhappy governor, he event went so far as to threaten to have the Baron of Courville [Théodore des Ligneris] beheaded if he dared show his face in Blois. In the end, Maintenon was elected and the King’s Council, which was called on to mediate, voted in his favour.

(Book available in French only – above is an unofficial translation)

Despite the king’s threat to have him beheaded, Théodore nonetheless presented himself at Blois on 15 August 1588 as having been duly elected by the nobility of Chartres, and he held a seat together with the other representative for the full duration of the session. (4) “From that moment onwards, des Ligneris was on the side of the League.”

“On the whole, despite the conflicts and pressures, the two parties maintained a balance in the Assembly in line with the order of the nobility. The same cannot be said for the clergy and non-nobility, who gave the majority to the League.” (5)

A few months later (in December 1588), Henri III had Henri de Guise assassinated by his personal guard, together with the Cardinal of Lorraine, brother of the Duke of Guise. He also had the Archbishop of Lyon, the Cardinal of Bourbon, the Prince of Joinville, the son of the Duke of Guise, his mother the Duchess of Nemours and his cousin the Duke of Elbeuf arrested, together with several deputies of the General Assembly. Following the execution of the Guise bothers, Duke Charles de Mayenne, brother of Henri de Guise, took charge of the League.

This coup provoked a general uprising. The Sorbonne relieved subjects from their duty of loyalty to the king. All the provinces in the hands of the League (Champagne, Midi, Burgundy, Brittany, Normandy and the region of Paris) rose up against the “tyrant” Henri III, who joined forces with the king of Navarre and their joint army placed Paris under siege.

Then on 1 August 1589, Henri III was assassinated by Jacques Clément, a Dominican monk and member of the League.

Catholic families were unwilling to accept a new king who was a Protestant, namely Henri IV, who was preparing to retake his kingdom. What would become of Théodore, who had taken the side of the League?

(1) This and the following paragraph are based on the excellent website of Pierre Braquet (http://www.saint-hilaire-des-noyers.org/), owner of the château of Saint Hilaire des Noyers in the municipality of Colonard-Corubert (Perche). Pierre Braquet has reconstructed the history of all the successive owners of the château, including Théodore des Ligneris.

(2) This and the following five paragraphs have been taken from the Wikipedia article on the Catholic League, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligue_catholique_(France), which I have adapted.

(3) These six paragraphs are from La Ligue by Jean-Marie Constant, published by Fayard in 1996 (pp. 158-160). http://www.fayard.fr/la-ligue-9782213594880

(4) A manuscript dating from 1588 and kept in the Departmental Archives of Chartres mentions Théodore des Ligneris among the deputies of the General Assembly. [référence à compléter]

(5) La Ligue, Jean-Marie Constant. Fayard, 1996. http://www.fayard.fr/la-ligue-9782213594880

9) Théodore (Part 2)

Théodore was nine years old and in prison in the town of Loches after undergoing interrogation, while the French Catholics and Protestants were engaged in killing one another in the surrounding townships.

He was an orphan, but belonged to a clan comprising allied and consolidated families. The father-in-law of his cousin René, Jean Babou de la Bourdaisière, had learned about Théodore’s arrest. He immediately sent him on a mission to find him and subsequently rescue him.

Jean Babou de La Bourdaisière (1511-1569) comte de Sagonne, peint par François Clouet en 1553. Musée Condé au château de Chantilly
Jean Babou de La Bourdaisière (1511-1569) Earl of Sagonne.
Portrait by François Clouet, 1553.
Musée Condé, Château de Chantillyly

Jean Babou was of course not just anyone: as Captain of the town and Château of Amboise he occupied a position of national importance, namely Master General of the Artillery, and was entrusted by Queen Catherine de Medici with the task of “governance of the person and household” of her son François, Duke of Alençon – in other words, he was appointed his tutor.

Thanks to Jean Babou, in 1562 Théodore was named “child of honour” of Prince François (who was two years younger than him). He went on to serve him as “Gentleman-in-Waiting” from the age of fifteen (in 1568) until François’ death in 1584. This position was equivalent to that of an official in the administration of the princely house. Above all it secured him an income and enabled him to establish himself in the Prince’s immediate entourage.

Portrait de François d'Alençon enfant

Portrait of François d’Alençon as a child

François de Valois was the youngest child of the royal family. He was a somewhat surly, taciturn and ambitious prince. He was extremely jealous of his older brother, the Duke of Anjou (the future King Henri III), in whose shadow he was brought up. He was described by his contemporaries as “very ugly”. It should be noted here, however, that the fact that he contracted smallpox as a young child certainly did not help his appearance.(1)

François de Valois was the youngest child of the royal family. He was a somewhat surly, taciturn and ambitious prince. He was extremely jealous of his older brother, the Duke of Anjou (the future King Henri III), in whose shadow he was brought up. He was described by his contemporaries as “very ugly”. It should be noted here, however, that the fact that he contracted smallpox as a young child certainly did not help his appearance.(1)

Following the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, François became the leader of the “Malcontents”, a group that opposed the reinforcement of royal authority. He gradually grew aware of the role he could play in the politics of the kingdom. During the Siege of La Rochelle in 1573, François (who was eighteen years old) marked his opposition to his brother, the Duke of Anjou, who was twenty-two at the time and led the siege. This was when he befriended his brother-in-law, the Protestant King Henri III of Navarre – the future King Henri IV of France, who was the husband of his sister Marguerite (aged twenty-one), also known as “Queen Margot”.

Portrait de François de Valois en 1572
Portrait of François de Valois in 1572

Following the departure of the Duke of Anjou for Poland, where he became king, François hoped to succeed his elder brother, Charles IX (aged twenty-three) as king of France, whose health was deteriorating day by day and who only had a daughter from his marriage with Elisabeth of Austria. Together with Henri de Navarre he established a plot under the name “the Malcontents” with the aim of imposing himself as successor to his brother Henri. His mother Catherine de Medici foiled the plot and François was arrested. Having returned from Poland following the announcement of the death of his brother, Charles IX, Henri became king of France under the name Henri III and pardoned his brother. However, his younger brother was kept under surveillance at the Court, as was Henri de Navarre.

In 1575, François was still leader of the opposition party at the Court. He was subject to bullying and mockery at the hands of his brother’s favourites. Catherine de Medici tried to calm things down, but her efforts proved to be in vain: one evening during a grand ball, François was directly insulted and decided to flee. He escaped via an opening that had been made in the ramparts of Paris.

His escape caused an uproar. The “Malcontents” were opposed to royal policy and they united with the Protestants in his support. And in September he was reunited with the king of Navarre who had also succeeded in fleeing.

The war that ensued was promising for François. Henri III had to lay down his arms. On 6 May 1576 he proclaimed the Edict of Beaulieu (also referred to as the “Peace of Monsieur”), which granted freedom of religion throughout the Kingdom of France, allocated eight towns to the Protestants and rehabilitated the victims of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre. François received Anjou as a legacy (in other words, this region became his own personal domain), as well as an extraordinary allowance. He and the King were reconciled and he triumphantly regained his seat at the Court under the title of “Monsieur”.

It was in this atmosphere of a return to grace that Gentleman-in-Waiting Théodore des Ligneris married Françoise de Billy on 16 February 1577,(2) a move that gained him the Barony of Courville. Undoubtedly prompted by his social environment, Théodore set out to establish his situation as would have been normal for a member of the nobility. He could not continue indefinitely to lead the life of an adventurer in all corners of Europe as an officer or adviser of Prince François. He needed to marry and secure the posterity of his name, and above all rely on a domain, partly for the revenue this would bring him, but also because ownership of a domain was the basis of the feudal system. Thus his marriage gave him the title of Baron. At that time, a title was attached to a domain, not to a family.(3)

Courville has a fortified castle. It is not far from Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais, where Théodore’s grandfather and great-grandfather performed the duties of Captain and High Bailiff. Nearby is the small village of Champrond, where a domain was established as a des Ligneris fiefdom in 1517. For Théodore this was something of a return to his roots, since he had never lived in the region in the course of his busy life, although he possessed some lands through inheritance. His father had mostly lived in Paris when he was not away in Italy.

The marriage was beneficial for both parties. For the Billy family it meant it was able to preserve a domain without having to break it up – a domain that had been held by just two families in the course of four hundred years. For them it produced a reputable successor. Théodore was apparently highly regarded in the Chartres region. He was a “local child”, and at the same time he was part of the immediate entourage of a full-blood prince. At the age of twenty-four he had already demonstrated his courage in numerous battles – something that was of considerable importance in the current nobility model. This was an ideal solution for the Courville domain that no longer possessed a male heir.

In the following year (1578), Théodore and his sister Jeanne sold the private mansion that had been built for their father in the Marais quarter in Paris to Madame de Kernevenoy, née Françoise de la Baume.(4) It had been rented for more than twenty years following the death of their parents, and the two siblings had never lived in it. The sale gave rise to various legal disputes that lasted dozens of years because Théodore retrospectively decided that the sale price was too low.

The new owner was the widow of a Breton lord, François de Kernevenoy, whose name was changed to de Carnavalet at the Court, and it is this name that has remained permanently attached to the building. The governor of Forez and Bourbonnais, he was an outstanding knight who was celebrated by Montaigne and  Ronsard, and was highly regarded by Henri II, who appointed him the tutor of his son, the future Henri III. François de Kernevenoy died in 1570. He left very little to his son, having spent to excess, as the story goes, during the festivities that took place to celebrate the entrance of King Charles IX and Queen Elisabeth of Austria.

It was said that “his widow was more faithful to her horses than to his memory.” Brantôme, a soldier, courtesan and chronicler who recounted the amorous exploits of members of the Court, described her as “the very beautiful and loveable widow” (in the literal sense). Françoise de la Baume belonged to the immediate entourage of Queen Margot as a close companion. It was said that she assisted the exploits of her Queen while at the same time not neglecting her own love affairs.

It was said that “his widow was more faithful to her horses than to his memory.” Brantôme, a soldier, courtesan and chronicler who recounted the amorous exploits of members of the Court, described her as “the very beautiful and loveable widow” (in the literal sense). Françoise de la Baume belonged to the immediate entourage of Queen Margot as a close companion. It was said that she assisted the exploits of her Queen while at the same time not neglecting her own love affairs.

In 1581 the negotiations on the marriage between François and Queen Elisabeth I of England were still ongoing. He was aged twenty-six, Elisabeth forty-seven. Elisabeth nicknamed him her Frog. Their meeting appeared promising, but no one knew how the Queen really felt about him. The population was strongly opposed to the marriage because François was a French prince and a Catholic.

François then returned to the Low Countries where he was officially enthroned. He received the title of Duke of Brabant in 1582, but then he made the mistake of deciding on a sudden impulse to take Antwerp by force. His troops were repelled on 18 January 1583. This failed attempt was known as “the French Fury”. Théodore participated in this battle and was taken prisoner. He owed his liberation to the payment of a heavy ransom – a common practice at that time.

This defeat did not stop the Duke of Anjou from reinstating negotiations with the provinces of the Low Countries. But in June 1584 François died suddenly of tuberculosis. Théodore was thirty-one years old. All of a sudden he was on his own and would now have to find a new master and protector.

L'entrée de François de Valois à Anvers en 1582
Arrival of François de Valois in Antwerp in 1582

(1) All texts relating to François d’Alençon have been sourced from Wikipedia.

(2) The marriage contract was concluded in Nogent-le-Rotrou in front of Monsignor Julien du Pin. The signatories were the bride’s mother, Félice Rosny; Lancelot de Rosny, Lord of Brunelles, Gentleman-in-Waiting to the King and the bride’s grandfather; and her uncle, Jean de Rosny.

(3)Titles were attached to a domain, were clearly delimited and were instituted in the form of a chatellany (for knights) or a barony. Counties constituted extensive entities which as a rule were owned by members of the royal family or their descendants (for example, the County of Chartres) as elements of their private domains. Marquisates were originally defined (in the High Middle Ages) as counties located on the frontiers of a kingdom, i.e. areas susceptible to invasion and thus needing a greater military capacity. The title of marquis later lost its military specificity and disappeared before being incorporated again into the range of titles in use from the 17th century onwards. Duchies were either very large independent domains (especially throughout the Middle Ages), or fiefdoms comprising several counties assigned to princes of the blood (i.e. direct descendants of a hereditary monarch).

(4) Source: “L’Hôtel Carnavalet” by Michel Gallet and Bernard de Montgolfier (Bulletin du Musée Carnavalet)

8) The Golden Age: Jacques (Part 2) and Théodore (Part 1)

Jacques would have been devastated when he learned of the death of his 18-year-old son, which occurred in Rome towards the end of 1552 or the beginning of 1553.

It was at precisely this time in the history of France that the des Ligneris family found itself on the verge of extinction. Jacques’ older brother died leaving behind just one son, who died ten years later in 1562 without leaving any heirs. One of Jacques’ other brothers was a priest, while the other fathered a daughter. His only uncle, Jean, had married Louise de Balu, who gave birth to two daughters. Jacques himself also had a daughter, Jeanne, who was born in around 1542. His grandfather Pierre did not have a brother. So there was no one left to bear the name.

However, by a strange twist of fate, at the time of Claude’s decease his mother became pregnant – eighteen years after she gave birth to her first child. And it was this son who rescued the family from extinction. A kind of miracle child, but one for whom life would by no means be easy.

Théodore, the second son of Jacques des Ligneris, was baptised on 18 April 1553 in Chauvigny, near Chartres, barely a few months after the death of his brother.

Jacques returned from Italy for good – his time at the Council of Trent was over. He stayed with his wife, daughter and son.

“Upon his return, her Majesty declared that she was pleased with the services Jacques had rendered her, both on this occasion and at other times when she had employed him.” In his decree pronounced in May 1554 the king created four new presidents of the supreme court (Parlement) of Paris and he honoured Jacques as the first of the new presidents in a “letter patent” delivered in Compiègne on the 18th of that month. Jacques swore the oath on 29 May.(1)

He performed this function for two years. Then on 27 June 1556 the court (i.e. Parlement de Paris) sent him, “in accordance with an act of entrustment by the king”, to appear before Cardinal Carasse, the papal legate in France, and to accompany him upon his entry to Paris, which took place the next day. A few weeks later, Jacques died. He was buried in the church of Sainte-Catherine du Val-des-Ecoliers, not far from his own residence. “The entire court attended his funeral.”(2)

Théodore was only three years old when his father died, and five when his mother died in 1558 and was buried alongside her husband. His sister Jeanne was 14 when her father died and 16 when she lost her mother.

Théodore and Jeanne were placed in the care of their guardians. In Théodore’s case this was his cousin René, who was 31 at the time. This was a strange turnaround of history: Théodore’s father became René’s guardian when René was orphaned at the age of just 18 months.(3) This was also a good example of family solidarity – for which there was unfortunately no shortage of occasions when it proved to be a necessity. Thanks no doubt to his father’s status, but also to René, who maintained the ties between the des Ligneris family and the Court of Navarre, Théodore was sent to Pau to be raised as an “honourable child” of Henri de Bourbon, the son of the queen of Navarre. The two boys were of the same age, and until he was nine years old Théodore played marbles with the future king Henry IV.

During this time in Paris, on 6 August 1559 the residence received a visit from François II, the young and short-lived king, and subsequently from the princes who “came with their cloaks and their mourning chaperones to bless the late king Henri II with holy water. The king had died nearby at the Palace of Tournelles as the consequence of a mortal injury incurred at the Saint Antoine tournament” (where he was struck in the eye by a spear, even though he was wearing a helmet).(4) The residence had been leased by the children’s guardians.(5). Jeanne, who was around 17 years old at the time, was undoubtedly living with her guardian. Two years later she had become old enough to be pushed into the arms of a husband: on 9 January 1561 she was married to Claude du Puy, baron of Bellefaye and lord of Coudray, knight of the royal order.

At the beginning of 1562, Théodore was taken to château d’Azay-sur-Indre, which belonged to his cousin René des Ligneris, who was considerably older (they were a generation apart). We should also recall to mind here that he, too, was raised at the Court of Navarre. Having become a Huguenot, René was now strongly committed to the Protestant cause. He participated in the Amboise Conspiracy (also referred to as the Tumult of Amboise), which was instigated in 1560 by the Protestant princes of Bourbon. Their objective was to arrest and imprison the two Guise brothers in order to liberate the young king François II from what they regarded as the brothers’ bad influence on him and their uncompromising Catholic doctrine. However, due to leaked reports the brothers were able to organise their defence by entrenching themselves in the chateau of Amboise. The resulting terrible repression marked the start of eight years of religious wars between the Protestants and Catholics that took place in the second half of the sixteenth century. René had to retreat to Germany, where he served as an officer in the armed forces of the Protestant princes. Château d’Azay was besieged in 1561 but was able to defend itself successfully.

Théodore was unable to find his uncle in Azay and was immediately sent to the home of the lords of Poitou, to whom he was related. The persistence of the ties between family clans is remarkable in that it can be traced back to his great-grandfather Pierre, whose wife was the daughter of Isabeau de Baudiment, exactly a century earlier.

But then Théodore was detained in Loches: although he was only nine years old, at the demand of the royal prosecutor he was interrogated in connection with the Amboise Conspiracy. We can imagine that the conditions were severe and he was subjected to brutal treatment.(6)

The situation in France at that time appeared to be especially difficult, and everyone was very nervous. The Protestants had been massacred on 1 March. Their leader, Louis de Condé, called for revenge. He took Tours on 30 March, then Sens, Rouen, Blois and Angers during the spring. Around Loches where Théodore was detained, bloody confrontations between Catholics and Protestants took place in Tours, Orléans and Angers.

It was in this context that his cousin René was involved in the Battle of Dreux on 19 December 1562, where he commanded the light cavalry of the prince of Condé. His troops initially gained the upper hand, but were ultimately defeated. René was mortally wounded and died on the battlefield. He and his young wife did not leave any offspring.

This victory by the Catholics marked the halt of the Protestant forces converging on Paris. But the wars of religion in France were only in their infancy, and Théodore was going to have to live through them.

But firstly he would have to somehow get out of Loches jail . . .

(1) [Source to be added]

(2) [Source to be added]

(3) Sources: Jacques des Ligneris is cited as guardian of René on a number of occasions, notably in a lease he concluded in his name on 28 May 1540 (National Archives, ref. MC/ET/XIX/155). And again on 30 May 1541: “Jacques des Ligneris, counsellor to the supreme court, guardian of René des Ligneris, son of the late Michel des Ligneris, lord of Morancez, gentleman-in-waiting to the king’s household” (National Archives, ref. MC/ET/XIX/158). Then in 1546: “Procuration, as guardian of René des Ligneris, nephew of Jacques des Ligneris, lord of Blanville, Crosnes, to vow faith and homage to the lieutenant-general of the king at Châteaudun” (National Archives, ref. MC/ET/XIX/168).

(4) [Source to be added]

(5) For example, in 1565 it was noted that “Georges de Clermont […] in Paris, housed at the residence of the late president de Ligneris (sic), Couture Sainte Catherine.” Source: National Archives, ref. MC/ET/XIX/234.

(6) [Source to be added]

Schéma de descendance de Pierre et René des Ligneris

Family tree: Pierre and René des Ligneris
La Bataille de Dreux 19 décembre 1562, tableau de 1846

Battle of Dreux, 19 December 1562. Painting by Auguste Debay, 1846 (collection of the Museum of Art and History, Dreux)

7) Claude and the Pleiade

Claude des Ligneris (almost) made his mark in literary history when he became an early companion of the father of French poetry, Pierre de Ronsard. In 1548, a small group of young people formed around Pierre de Ronsard and Joachim du Bellay. They named themselves “the Brigade” and its members would go on to revolutionise French poetry. “The group comprised students from the Collège de Coqueret: du Bellay, Baïf, Urvoy, Peccate, Denisot, Harteloyre, Latan, des Mireurs, Ligneri and Capel.”(1) The ambition of this literary movement was to emulate and surpass the Italians, Petrarch and Dante, by creating a style of literature in the French language that could match the classical Greek and Latin poets.

Jean Dorat (1508-1588), BNF, Département des estampes, vers 1585

Exceptional portrait of Jean Dorat
(1508-1588), approx. 1585.
Prints Department, National Library of France.

Pierre de Ronsard was already 24 years old and had gained initial experience as a diplomat, but after a lengthy period of convalescence from an ear complaint he decided to devote himself to study. When he was attached as secretary to the diplomat Lazare du Baïf he befriended his son Jean-Antoin – a future member of the Pléiade – and the latter’s tutor, Jean Dorat. At the age of 40, Dorat – the renowned Hellenist and Latinist – was a highly charismatic figure somewhat reminiscent of Professor John Keating in the film, Dead Poets Society. He was director of the Collège de Coqueret,(2) which was located on the hillside of Sainte Geneviève in Paris, and it was only natural that his students gathered around de Ronsard, du Baïf and himself.

In 1549, Joachim du Bellay published Défense et illustration de la langue française (Defence and Illustration of the French Language), which was the manifesto describing the ideas of the Pléiade. Only ten years after the signature of the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, which decreed the use of French as the official language for all legal and official texts, the manifesto was a plea in favour of the French language which called for its augmentation so that it would also become a reference and education language as powerful as Latin.

We can picture Claude des Ligneris as an alert, cheerful and carefree 15-year-old, as could be expected of a privileged son of an upper class family in Paris: “It was in 1549 during the festivities that marked the ‘enjoyable outing to Arcueil’ that Lignery demonstrated his talent as a lyre player.”(3)Brigade lute players. » He is close friend with Pierre de Ronsard and Antoine Chasteigner:

He remained a loyal member of this group of friends: “Lignery was one of the Brigade’s most fervent lute players.” He was a close friend of Pierre de Ronsard and Antoine Chasteigner: “[Antoine] undoubtedly wrote the verses at Ternay on the banks of the Loire, strolling in the company of Ronsard and ‘dear friend’ Claude de Lignery through the meadows and woods that Lignery owned near the village, the lands of Jeanne de Ronsard, Pierre’s aunt.”(4)

Thus Claude played a part in the composition of the Odes, the first major work of Ronsard that was published in four volumes in 1550. This was followed by Les Amours de Cassandre in 1552, a poetic work that was praised at the court of Henri II.

Claude des Ligneris’ father, who was president of the Chamber of Inquiries at the Parlement de Paris (Supreme Court), became an ambassador at the Council of Trent (Italy). Claude was sent on a diplomatic mission to Rome in the service of the king, at the age of just 17. He may have resided at the Papal Court alongside Jean du Bellay, the uncle of his friend Joachim.

“Ronsard sent him Ode no. 10 in the month of January 1552 at the latest; we read that, after assuring him of his strong and lasting friendship, he regretted that he would not be able to accompany him to Italy due to certain difficulties that were troubling him (a love affair, perhaps, or lack of money?) and because of the hardships of winter. Upon his return they would have much to tell one another: Ligneri would describe his impressions of his travels, while Ronsard would read the opening of his (unfinished) epic poem, La Franciade (English title: Franciad), to him and offer him a small bull that had been raised in the meadows of the Loire Valley…”. The ode to “de Ligneri” was published in September 1552: ».

A Ligneris, sur son voyage en Italie

Qui par gloire, et par mauvaistié,

Et par nonchalante paresse

Aura tranché de l’amitié

Le nœud qui doucement nous presse,

A celui de rigueur expresse

Je défends qu’en nulle saison

Ne s’héberge dans ma maison…

Que sert à l’homme de piller

Tous les printemps de l’Arabie,

Et de ses moissons dépouiller

Soit la Sicile, ou la Libye,

Ou dérober l’Inde ennoblie

Aux trésors de son bord gemmé,

S’il n’aime, et s’il n’est point aimé?…

Quand tu te seras approché

Des plaines grasses d’Italie,

Vis, Ligneris, pur du péché

Qui l’amitié première oublie;

N’endure que l’âge délie

Le nœud que les Grâces ont joint.

O temps où l’on ne soulait point

Courir à l’onde Hyperborée!

Telle saison fut bien dorée,

En laquelle on se contentait

De voir de son toit la fumée,

Lors que la terre on ne hantait

D’un autre Soleil allumée,

Et les mortels heureux, alors

Remplis d’innocence naïve,

Ne connaissaient rien que leur rive

Et les flancs de leurs prochains bords.

Tu me diras à ton retour

Combien de lacs et de rivières

Lèchent les murs d’un demi tour

De tant et tant de villes fières,

Quelles cités vont les premières

En brave nom le plus vanté;

Et par moi te sera chanté

Ma Franciade commencée,

Si Phébus mûrit ma pensée.

Tandis sur le Loir je suivrai

Un petit taureau que je voue

A ton retour, qui jà sevré

Tout seul par les herbes se joue;

Blanchissant d’une note au front,

Sa marque imite de la Lune

Les feux courbés, quand l’une et l’une

De ses deux cornes se refont.

“We know from elsewhere that they never saw one another again, because Ligneri died at the age of 18 towards the end of 1552 or the beginning of 1553 in Rome, where he had been sent in the service of Henri II.” We do not know what happened to Claude – no mention can be found in any sources. Perhaps he succumbed to an illness during the winter, was murdered in a dark alley, or died in a duel. He was buried at the church of Saint-Louis-des-Français in Rome.

Their mutual friend, Antoine Chasteigner, “composed an ode to Ronsard about the death of de Ligneris.”(5) But he himself died a few months later during the siege of Thérouane in June 1553. Ronsard composed an elegy on the death of Antoine Chasteigner. “In his memory and affections, Ronsard did not separate Lignery from Antoine Chasteigner”:(6)

Dans les Champs Elysées

Souvienne toy de moy et, dans un pré fleury,

Te promenant avec mon Lignery

Parle toujours de moy 

(1) Source: Jean-Paul Barbier: “Ma bibliothèque poétique, deuxième partie: Ronsard” (“My Poetic Library, Part Two: Ronsard”).

(2) “Collège de Coqueret was established in 1418 by Nicolas Coquerel (or Coqueret) on the hillside of Sainte-Geneviève in Paris. Little is known about it until Jean Dorat was appointed as teacher (and probably as principal) there at the beginning of 1547. This would become the birthplace of the movement that came to be known as the Pléiade. Dorat was surrounded by a large number of students, and above all by a small group of boarders which included Ronsard and Baïf. A little later, Du Bellay joined the group. The schedule was similar to that of other colleges during that era, which is described with barely any exaggeration in Rabelais’ La Journée de Garguanta – at least with regard to academic activities. When from time to time the teacher took the group on an outing to the suburbs (Ronsard described an ‘enjoyable’ outing to Arcueil), practically the whole day and part of the night were devoted to study (Ronsard’s biographer tells us that Baïf got up when Ronsard retired, so that ‘his place could be kept warm’). Under Dorat’s tutorship, in the course of which he passed on his own enthusiasm to them, the young men (who were keen on the sciences) acquired perfect command of the classical languages and, thanks to direct and assiduous studies, also gained a remarkably comprehensive and detailed knowledge of Latin as well as Greek literature (which was a much less common achievement). They focused on the poets in particular and also enthusiastically read Petrarch and contemporary Italian works. They also began to dabble in verse themselves. It was in this atmosphere of intense and fervent intellectual life that the work called Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse evolved. The initial “Brigade” was formed at Collège de Coqueret and it was not long before it was enlarged by students from a neighbouring college. Thus a movement was born in which a host of young writers set out to give France a form of poetry worthy of the works of classical and Italian literature.”
Source: Bernard Croquette, Encyclopédie Universalis website, accessed in August 2019.

Paris V impasse Chartière, plaque signalant l'ancien Collège de Coqueret

Above : nameplate marking the site of the former Collège de Coqueret in Impasse Chartière, 5th arrondissement, Paris

(3) Source: Guillaume Colletet, “Pierre de Ronsard: ses juges et ses imitateurs” (Pierre de Ronsard: his judges and imitators).

(4) Idem.

(5) Source: A. du Chesne, “Histoire Générale des Chasteigner” (A General History of the Chasteigners).

(6) Source: Guillaume Colletet, “Pierre de Ronsard: ses juges et ses imitateurs” (Pierre de Ronsard: his judges and imitators).

6) The Golden Age : René I , Michel, René II and Jacques (part 1)

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

Following their marriage in 1496, the young couple René des Ligneris and Jeanne de Champrond initially gave birth to a daughter, Anne, in 1499. Their first son, Michel, was born in 1500 and their second, Jacques, in 1502. Their second daughter, Jeanne, was born in 1506.(1)

Charles IV, Duke of Alençon

René des Ligneris held the position of Captain of Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais, taking over from his father. He was probably efficient and intelligent and caught the attention of his suzerain, the Baron of Châteauneuf, who was none other than Charles IV, Duke of Alençon. René was thus appointed first equerry at the stables of the Duke of Alençon, a position equivalent to that of an officer in the Duke’s household and which opened up a vast network of contacts for him. Charles IV was in fact a major figure in the hierarchy of the kingdom. As Duke of Alençon, Peer of France, Lieutenant General of Normandy and Champagne, he was the “first prince of blood”, i.e. the heir apparent to the throne, following the accession of François I in 1515 until the birth of the latter’s first son, François, in 1518 (the future François II, whose reign was short-lived). In 1519, Charles IV, Duke of Alençon, became the godfather of the young Henri (the future King Henri II). He had married Marguerite de France, the sister of François I, in 1509, but died in 1524 at the age of thirty-five, without any offspring. The Duchy of Alençon would later return to the throne.

Meanwhile, René des Ligneris remained close to him for more than twenty years, serving him faithfully and consolidating the position of his own family. He wisely invested a great deal in the future of his offspring.

As the eldest son, Michel was educated to become a knight and follow in the footsteps of his father. He took over as Captain and Bailiff of Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais in 1527. In addition, no doubt thanks to his father’s network of contacts he had already assumed the positions of equerry of the Duke of Alençon and Gentleman-in-Waiting of the royal household.(2) These functions secured income for him, but were also distinguished social positions that assured him of access to influential circles.

Michel married Claude de Cardonne in approximately 1525. She was the daughter of Jean-François de Cardonne, a knight, king’s counsellor and chamberlain. A Spaniard by birth and the husband of Françoise de La Boissière, Jean-François was the brother of Dom Federigo de Cardonne, Viceroy of Naples for the King of Spain.(3) The occurrence of this fruitful alliance can undoubtedly be attributed to René des Ligneris.

Through his marriage, Michel became lord of Augé and of part of Azay-sur-Indre. Jean-François de Cardonne had divided the rights to his Azay property between his three daughters Claude, Marguerite and Anne in the form of dowry. Azay château was a manor house that was subsequently classified as a stronghold in 1572.(4)

Michel and Claude gave birth to a son in 1527 who they named René after his grandfather, possibly in order to maintain family tradition, or perhaps as a result of Michel’s admiration for his father or his wish to pay homage to the latter shortly after his decease that occurred during the same year.

René was brought up at the Court of Navarre, however, far from the family properties in Touraine and Beauce, because his father Michel died at barely thirty years of age without producing any more offspring. In one source we read: “René, only son, was 18 months old on February 15 1529 when he was placed under the guardianship of Guillaume des Feugerets” (his aunt Anne had married Charles des Feugerets).(5) His uncle Jacques des Ligneris was also appointed René’s guardian. The infant was taken in charge as cup-bearer to the Queen of Navarre, which raises questions concerning the mechanisms that facilitated this solidarity (see below).

Later, as a qualified equerry (and not a knight), he assumed the position of Bailiff of Châteauneuf-en-Thimeray (near Chartres) that had been held by the eldest sons of the family since his great-grandfather. In 1554 he bought back the portions of the property inherited from Jean-François de Cardonne by his maternal uncles and thus became the sole owner of the château at Azay-sur-Indre.(6)

In approximately 1560 he married Antoinette Babou from the house of Bourdaisière. Her father was captain of the town and château of Amboise, Master General of the Artillery of France and was entrusted by Catherine de’ Medici with the “management of the person and house” of her son, François, Duke of Alençon (i.e. to act as his tutor).(7) It was a good arrangement. The Bourdaisière château was situated in Montlouis-sur-Loire, between Tour and Amboise, 25 kilometres from the Azay-sur-Indre property which René des Ligneris assumed from his mother but then sold.

Having become a Protestant, René entered the service of the King of Navarre and played an active role in the 1560 uprising against the power of the Catholic Church. He was one of the players in the Amboise conspiracy, which we shall come back to. He commanded the light cavalry of the army led by the Prince of Condé during the battle of Dreux in 1562. After initially gaining the upper hand over the royal armed forces, the Huguenots were ultimately defeated and René was mortally wounded on the battlefield. He and his wife Antoinette did not have any children, and the oldest branch of the des Ligneris family was thus extinguished.

What became of the brothers and sisters of Michel des Ligneris, who formed the youngest branch?

According to some heraldry record-keepers, Jean, who was born in around 1507, “died at the age of 20”. But he reportedly bought a house in Paris in 1542,(8) where he worked as an adviser to the Supreme Court of Paris (Parlement de Paris). He made his will on 11 June 1544 (thus at the age of 37): “Jean des Ligneris, equerry, lord of Arpentigny and Chesnay, residing in Paris, being of sound body and mind, wishes to be buried at the church of Sainte Foy, Chartres; he herewith bequeaths to his natural daughter, Marie, the sum of 500 livres tournois (the currency in use at that time) to provide for her marriage or entry into religion; he leaves his Arpentigny and Chesnay properties to Claude des Ligneris, his nephew, son of his brother Jacques des Ligneris, and to Jeanne des Ligneris, his sister.”(9) Perhaps Jean made his will because he had become a father? His daughter Marie was born in Thymer-en-Thymerais in the village of Repentigny, i.e. on his lands in the vicinity of Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais. She was his “natural” daughter, but he recognised her as officially as possible because she was “legitimised by the king”. As a legal adviser at the Supreme Court of Paris he was undoubtedly in a good position to successfully conclude this procedure. If he was unable to marry Marie’s mother, who was living on his lands, perhaps this was due to a difference in social status? He defied the prohibition of living together with her, so this was probably a case of true love. The possibility should not be ruled out, however, that Jean, as the youngest son and thus only inheriting small secondary estates, was probably only able to obtain his position at the Supreme Court of Paris thanks to his elder brother, Jacques. As we shall see, Jacques was a powerful figure within this institution and this explains why, in his will, Jean included recognition of his brother’s support by bequeathing his lands to Jacques’ children while leaving out the offspring of his other siblings. To come back to the wording, “died at the age of 20”, which can be found in several historical records, this formulation implies that he died without marrying and thus without descendants. It would appear that the family as a social entity had wanted to forget Jean and above all expunge his “natural daughter” from the family history, and that Jacques was the only relative who supported Jean throughout his life. Marie des Ligneris married Pierre Leclair, a young equerry from Normandy, in Paris in 1565.(10) Jean was no longer around to witness it, but he would have been pleased to know that his daughter was able to free herself from the social barriers and marry a nobleman.

Etienne was the youngest of the siblings destined to enter into religion. He pursued a successful career in that he became Abbot of la Prée, in Berry, i.e. the abbey’s administrator and leader, and Prior of La Madeleine de Quin Quelavant, near Nantes.(11) He inherited the Ormoy property from his maternal grandfather, and still possessed it in 1563 (12) as we can see from the list of homages (13) paid to Renée de France, Duchess of Ferrare and Chartres. Etienne lived until 1567.

Anne married Charles des Feugerets and Jeanne married Claude de Languedoue.

Jacques, younger brother of Michel, was born in 1502. As Michel was responsible for the military side of the family, Jacques focused on a career as a magistrate and for this purpose he left home to study at the prestigious universities of Paris, Louvain (14) and Padua,(15) – an international path that indicates that his father must have possessed considerable financial resources. It also shows that René des Ligneris placed a great deal of value on knowledge and education, which was rare in a society in which few people mastered the written word.

After he returned from Paris, Jacques “joined the Bar and became one of the most renowned lawyers of his time.”(16) He married Jeanne Chaligault, Lady of Crosnes and Etioles, in 1528 and their son Claude was born in 1535. King François I, who “took pleasure in supporting scholars”,(17) appointed Jacques initially to the position of Lieutenant General of the Bailiwick of Amiens, then soon thereafter to the position of Counsellor to the Supreme Court of Paris. “It was in this role that the Supreme Court elected him as one of the commissioners who had to preside over the extraordinary sessions in Poitiers in August 1541.” Then in 1544 he was appointed President of the Third Chamber of Inquiries. “In all these positions he acquired an excellent reputation.”

It was in these functions that “King Henri II perceived his ability and his eloquence,” and designated him as one of his ambassadors to the Council of Trento in Italy, “where he courageously supported the freedoms of the Gallican Church and defended the reputation of the monarch at the Supreme Court of Paris.”

Jacques and Jeanne had a daughter who was born in 1542 and who they named Jeanne after her mother.

On 18 March 1544, Jacques purchased “five plots of tillable land held by the Palais des Tournelles and within the Priory of Sainte-Catherine du Val-des-Ecoliers.” (18) It was on this plot of land, which is situated in the current Marais district but at that time was nothing more than wasteland, that Hôtel des Ligneris, which was later renamed Hôtel de Carnavalet, was constructed. “For the construction of his mansion, the President of the Supreme Court of Paris called on the finest contemporary architects and designers.” He chose Nicolas Dupuis as architect and sculptor Jean Goujon to carry out the decorative work. “These two masters started work without delay, and before he left Paris it is likely that the President was able to see the splendid gateway in the hands of the sculptors.”(19)

Inspired by the château of Écouen, its design in the form of a quadrangle “between the courtyard and the gardens” constituted an architectural innovation and would serve as a model for numerous other private mansions.

Hôtel Carnavalet in Paris (former hôtel des Ligneris)

It is interesting to note that the nearby Hôtel Lepeletier, Saint Fargeau was constructed on a plot of land initially purchased by Michel de Champrond on 23 May 1545. He was a knight and lord of Bourdinière, Montarville and Flacourt, as well as Baron de Croissy and Bailiff of Chartres, and belonged to the maternal side of the family of Jacques des Ligneris – perhaps a cousin. Jacques obviously convinced him to profit from the batch sale of the farmlands of the Priory of Sainte-Catherine du Val-des-Ecoliers. Michel de Champrond built a mansion there at the same time as Jacques. When he died in 1571 the property was sold. It was demolished in 1686 to make way for the present-day Hôtel Lepeletier, Saint-Fargeau.

During the ten years of his presidency of the Third Chamber of Inquiries, Jacques carried out a number of sensitive missions. During the visit to Germany by Henri II in 1552 he acted as envoy to the Queen and her privy council established in Châlons to explain to her that the edicts for which the King wanted verification were not acceptable (this procedure was referred to as verification), in particular those concerning the “enhancement of a chamber in the Court of Aids and attribution of criminal matters as a last resort of the Monetary Court (Chambres des monnaies).” The following year she sent him to the King to explain the reasons preventing the verification procedure for another edict concerning the establishment of trusts and “fathers of the people” by all the governments and provinces of the kingdom.” In general terms, “the court often entrusted him with affairs of great importance, especially when the aim was to admonish His Majesty.”(20) The term “admonish” referred to a regulated but delicate procedure that involved requesting the royal authority for changes to be made to the draft legal texts he wished to enforce. This clearly shows that the counter-powers of the monarchical system were structurally organised and real.

Meanwhile his daughter Jeanne was growing up and his son Claude was becoming a bright and cheerful youth about whom we will hear more. …

Why was René (II) des Ligneris raised at the Court of Navarre?

Portrait of Marguerite de Navarre dating from around 1530, attributed to Jean Clouet. (Photo: Google Arts Project). It was Marguerite who brought René des Ligneris to the Court of Navarre to be raised.

René’s father and grandfather both served the Dukes of Alençon, notably Duke Charles IV, who was married to Marguerite de France, the sister of François I. Following her husband’s death in 1524, Marguerite – who did not have any children – subsequently married Henri II of Albret, who was ten years younger than her. He was King of Navarre, Lord of Béarn, Duke of Nemours and Count of Foix. She therefore became Queen of Navarre.

However, it appears that she remained very loyal to the people she had known when she was Duchess of Alençon. She would undoubtedly have known grandfather René des Ligneris and his son Michel, both of whom were officers at the House of Alençon.

When the latter died suddenly at the age of 29 in 1529 leaving a son who was still an infant, Marguerite de Navarre set up a mechanism of solidarity in order to foster the child under the statute of cup-bearer and take charge of his education within the royal family of Navarre.

Later on, this loyalty remained intact when Jacques des Ligneris died in 1556, followed by his wife in 1558, leaving behind a five-year-old orphan. Having actively served and supported the Navarre family, as well as the Protestant army as an officer, René des Ligneris probably intervened in an effort to have his little cousin Théodore in his turn brought to the Court of Navarre. The reigning sovereign at that time was Jeanne III, the daughter of Marguerite de Navarre who had taken in René. Jeanne III was also the mother of young Henri, the future King Henri IV, with whom Théodore des Ligneris would grow up together for several years.

Schéma de descendance de Pierre et René des Ligneris

Family tree of Pierre and René des Ligneris

(1) According to some authors, Jeanne de Champrond died at the age of barely thirty, some time between 1506 and 1510. This means the children would have been barely ten years old when they lost their mother. René reportedly married the sister of his first wife, who was also called Jeanne. Two more sons, Etienne and Jean, were subsequently born. However, it is also possible that this was the same Jeanne de Champrond and that in fact there was no second marriage.

(2) Source: Laisné manuscripts, volume 5, p. 287

(3) Source: Dictionnaire d’Indre-et-Loire et de l’ancienne province de Touraine, par J.-X. Carré de Busserolle, tome I, 1878-1884, BNF. (Dictionary of Indre-et-Loire and the former province of Touraine. J.-X. Carré de Busserolle. Volume 1, 1878-1884. French National Library).

(4) Source: Dictionnaire d’Indre-et-Loire et de l’ancienne province de Touraine, par J.-X. Carré de Busserolle, tome I, 1878-1884, BNF. (Dictionary of Indre-et-Loire and the former province of Touraine. J.-X. Carré de Busserolle. Volume 1, 1878-1884. French National Library).

(5) Dossiers Bleus 396, Département des Manuscrits Français 29941, Cabinet des Titres, Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Consulté sur Gallica le 9 octobre 2019, cote de la matrice R212517. (Dossiers Bleus, 396. Department of French Manuscripts, 29941. Genealogical Catalogue, French National Library. Consulted on the Gallica website on 9 October 2019. Matrix reference R212517).

(6) We note here the reappearance of the Duke of Alençon, in 1559, as dower to Queen Catherine de’ Medici, then in 1566 in privilege to the youngest son François.

(7) Alongside René des Ligneris the co-heirs were Jean de Nourry, a knight, husband of Marguerite de Cardonne; and Philippe Tissent, husband of Anne de Cardonne. The following text is included in the list of lords of the fief: “René des Ligneris, equerry, cup-bearer of the Queen of Navarre, bailiff of Châteauneuf, son of Michel. Following a distribution agreement with his co-heirs concluded on 25 June 1554 he became the sole owner of Azay.” Source: Dictionnaire d’Indre-et-Loire et de l’ancienne province de Touraine, par J.-X. Carré de Busserolle, tome I, 1878-1884, BNF. (Dictionary of Indre-et-Loire and the former province of Touraine. J.-X. Carré de Busserolle. Volume 1, 1878-1884. French National Library).

(8) Source: National Archives: “Sale of property concerning Jehan des Ligneris, Counsellor of the Supreme Court,” ref. MC/ET/III/54.

(9) Source: National Archives, Wills, 1530-1540, ref. MC/ET/XIX/165.

(10) Source: National Archives, ref. MC/ET/XXXIII/50: “Marriage contract between Pierre Leclair, equerry in Paris, son of the late François Leclair, equerry and Claude de Thory, native of Belmesnil diocese, Rouen, and Marie des Ligneris, natural daughter legitimated by the King, of the late Jean des Ligneris, knight, Lord of Villette and Repentigny, native of Thymer-en-Thymerais, in the village of Repentigny, diocese of Chartres.”

(11) Source: National Archives, ref. MC/ET/XIX/161, “Proxy by Brother Etienne des Ligneris, prior of Madeleine de Quin Quelavant in the diocese of Nantes, to Guillaume Postel, referendum in the French Chancellery, 25 May 1542.”

(12) Ormoy is a small village located halfway between Chartres and Dreux.

(13) Source: Laisné manuscripts, vol 5, p. 560

(14) Located in what is now Belgium.

(15) In Italy, near Venice.

(16) Source: Dictionnaire Historique de Louis Morery, 9ème édition (1702), tome 1, article “des Ligneris, Jacques”. (Historical Dictionary, Louis Morey. 9th edition, 1702. Volume 1, article on Jacques des Ligneris).

(17) Idem.

(18) The quotes presented in this paragraph are taken from “Le Marais”, published by Editions Henri Veyrier, 1974.

(19) “The Hôtel des Ligneris – which is how this building has to be designated because of its original construction – comprises a main block between a courtyard and gardens, linked to the street by two low wings of galleries with high dormers. To close off the courtyard there is a further wing facing the street, of which the central pavilion in which there is a carriage gateway is surrounded by two more pavilions with higher roofs. Nicolas Dupuis is the architect of this gothic-style dwelling with its spiral stairway. The wings were added several years later. The main entrance, the appearance of which has not changed, is located in the centre of the pavilion, without any other openings except three high dormers in a gabled roof. The lateral pavilions are interrupted at two levels by small bays below the same dormers located in high slate roofs.

“The Abundance statue standing in a façade decorates the key to the doorway, while the tracery is ornamented with a bas-relief depicting two angels supporting an escutcheon. This work is attributed to Jean Goujon, as well as the two lions in the bas-relief framing the doorway, which were originally located on the courtyard side.

“Facing the street, the building’s façade is plain, while all the decorative effects are around the courtyard: the Italian-style influences including the sculptural decoration make this an architectural creation of exceptional quality.

“The main block is characterised by two levels of five high stone mullioned windows with three dormers with circular pediments, beneath which runs a short balustrade. Between each of the first-floor windows stand the statues of the Four Seasons surmounted by corresponding signs. Art experts agree that these statues were undoubtedly created by students of Jean Goujon in his studio and based on his sketches. The statue of Summer appears to be the most delicate, but the three others can be compared with those added in the middle of the 17th century, and in particular with those of the Hôtel de Sully.”

(Source: “Le Marais”, Editions Henri Veyrier, 1974)

The dwelling was extensively overhauled and enlarged by François Mansart in 1655.

(20) Source: Dictionnaire Historique de Louis Morery, 9ème édition (1702), tome 1, article “des Ligneris, Jacques”. (Historical Dictionary, Louis Morey. 9th edition, 1702. Volume 1, article on Jacques des Ligneris”).

5) Louise + Jean

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

The episode tells a beautiful love story, namely between Jean des Ligneris, the eldest son of Pierre, and Louise de Balu.

She was the daughter of Jean de Balu, an equerry, and Catherine des Ormes, who married on 12 June 1469.(1) Louise had married Étienne de Prunelé on 22 January 1486 (she was probably only around 15 at the time) and gave birth to several children. But Étienne died at the end of the century after fourteen years of marriage.

The barely thirty-year-old widow met Jean des Ligneris, or perhaps they already knew one another. They fell in love, but Jean was a knight of a religious and military order which prohibited him from marrying.

As a young man, Jean des Ligneris was initially a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (2) until it was abolished by Pope Innocent VIII in March 1489 and subsequently merged with the Order of St John of Jerusalem, which was based on the island of Rhodes. It was later renamed the Order of Malta.

In order to marry Louise, Jean probably had to revoke his vows and leave the Order – a move which undoubtedly would have amounted to a form of social suicide, though clearly a particularly demonstration of love.

Jean inherited the lands he owned in Anjou and Touraine from his parents, (3) while Louise inherited the Saint-Germain-en-Beauce property upon the death of her uncle in 1505. This is where the new couple probably lived.

On 26 May 1505, Jean des Ligneris made a “profession of homage” to the lord of Meslay in the name of his wife for the Saint-Germain land.(4) It should be noted here that women retained their assets after marrying. It was only in his capacity as representative of his spouse that Jean was able to renew his ties of vassalage to the Saint-Germain lands on the occasion of their change of ownership.

In 1505, Jean was also cited in an act of “faith and homage” to François de Montgommery, lord of Cormainville, for the la Porte lands. On Saturday 23 May 1506 he had to pay his taxes on the ownership of these lands.(5)

Louise’s children fathered by her first husband were still very young. Jean assumed responsibility for their education and the management of their assets, but these would be returned to the offspring of Étienne de Prunelé upon their attaining the age of majority. It is likely that the Prunelé family paid close attention to this: there was no question of the family’s assets being inherited by Jean des Ligneris and passed on to his own offspring. Thus the eldest son, Gilles de Prunelé, “came to an agreement with his step-father regarding the inheritance from his father” on 7 August 1513. He later inherited the Saint-Germain-le-Désiré property.

Louise and Jean produced two daughters: Jeanne des Ligneris, who married her cousin Urbain de Prunelé (6), lord of Guillerval (7), and Jacqueline des Ligneris, the future wife of Jacques de Gauville, lord of Aunay, one of the Hundred Gentlemen-in-Waiting to the king, the Grand Seneschal of Normandy in the 1520s.(8) Thus the lands in Touraine and Anjou, which constituted the dowry of the two marriages, left the bosom of the des Ligneris family.

After living together with Louise for more than fifteen years, Jean died on 7 June 1520. Louise was now fifty and would live in the chateau of Saint-Germain-le-Désiré until 1537.

Before she obtained her inheritance from her uncle, Louise had drawn up her will with her first husband, Étienne de Prunelé, according to which they had chosen their final resting place in the parish church of Autruy, not far from Chateau la Porte, in which they still lived. Following the death of her first husband, her son Gilles de Prunelé became lord of la Porte upon reaching the age of majority, and she withdrew to Saint-Germain. This explains why she was buried in the chapel of the chateau of Saint-Germain instead of in Autruy.  Terres de La Porte et Autruy : carte (References: maps of the La Porte and Autruy lands, near Etampes to the south of Paris)

But Louise remained attached to her two husbands, Étienne and Jean: on the reproduction of the tombstone at the chapel of Saint-Germain-le-Désiré, Louise de Balu is placed between her two husbands clothed in their armour bearing their coats of arms. She wanted to remain loyal to both the men in her life.


In addition to their coats of arms repeated on the edges of the tombstone, we can see their crests plus the following text inscribed on the perimeter of the tombstone:

“Here lies and rests in peace Louise de Balu, noble lady of Saint-Germain. Her first husband was the nobleman Étienne Prunelé, lord of La Porte and Gaudreville and her second husband was Messire Jehan des Ligneris, lord of Coer, knight of Jerusalem, who passed away on the seventh day of June, 1520. Pray to God for them.”

(1) De Balu coat-of-arms: “argent à un chevron de gueules brisé, accompagné de trois merlettes de sable ».

(2) Source: Dossiers Bleus 396, Department of French Manuscripts 29.941, Genealogical Catalogue, National Library of France, consulted on the Gallica website on 9 October 2019, matrix reference R212517.

(3) Idem.

(4) Following the death of her second husband, Louise de Balu paid homage herself for part of the lands of the lord of Bezou, for the fief without a domain of the same name as attested by the profession of 5 September 1525. This fief concerned the portion of two-third of the Puiset domain. On that same date she paid another homage for the stately Saint-Germain property to Louis de Vendôme, king’s chamberlain, vice-lord of Chartres. Departmental Archives, document E2830.

(5) de Laisné manuscript, volume 5, page 237.

(6) De Prunelé coat of arms: “de gueules à six annelets d’or, 3, 2 et 1”.

(7) It is an irony of history that the des Ligneris and the Prunelés faced one another in a lawsuit in 1266, i.e. 259 years earlier. Source: Moreri, Grand Dictionnaire Historique, article entitled “Prunelé”.

(8) Source: Dictionnaire généalogique héraldique historique et chronologique. Published in Paris in 1765 by Duchesne, a bookseller. Volume VII, page 151.

4) Pierre the Survivor, and Jeanne

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

The Hundred Years War ended in 1453. Beauce and Normandy had just been recaptured from the English by Charles VII. Nine out of ten feudal nobility families were unable to survive it intact, partly due to the losses they incurred during the war against England, but also as a consequence of the outbreaks of plague and the raids carried out by French lords against one another, since looting had become their sole means of subsistence. The result was carnage and almost all the noble families either disappeared or were severely decimated.

An intense “renewal” process was initiated, in the course of which those who emerged during the recapture were compensated. As we learn from the Dossiers Bleus,(1) which were introduced by the royal genealogists during the tax census of 1666: “Pierre Hoguerel, also named des Ligneris, a squire and captain of Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais, is the first known member of the family. He was living in 1460 and was married to Jeanne de Tournes, who is believed to be a descendant of the lords of Tournes parish, situated in Touraine along the River Loire. He owned properties in the provinces of Anjou, Touraine and Beauce. It is not known why he assumed the surname des Ligneris, which he passed on to his descendants.”

We might well ask ourselves about the use of the name “Hoguerel”, which is in fact a first name (the equivalent of Hugues), not a family name. It is also interesting to note that Pierre apparently already owned a number of domains in the above-mentioned regions. He obviously did not come from nowhere, and was quite probably a descendant of an already established noble family.

In any case, in 1478 Pierre is recorded as the knight and lord of Lachet, a domain situated in the parish of Saulnières (now Eure-et-Loir).(2) His wife Jeanne de Thornes (or de Tournes), who he married in 1467, is also named Jeanne de Baudiment, daughter of Jean de Thornes and Isabeau de Baudiment.

The domains owned by the de Thornes, (also named Thorus, if indeed these are the same), were situated some distance from Chartres, close to Château-Larcher (in Vienne), 20 kilometres south of Poitiers. Today the land is a farm situated in an attractive little valley of the La Douce river.

The village of Saulnières is situated in Eure-et-Loir in the Blaise valley, halfway between Dreux and Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais. The locality of Lachet still exists today. It is neither a village nor a chateau, but just as it was back then the fiefdom comprised a barely fortified farm surrounded by several domains. The farm is still there, situated on its own in a fold in the landscape. There are no other buildings as far as the eye can see, and the location is as tranquil as it was 500 years ago.

Pierre des Ligneris’ suzerain (feudal overlord) was Jean II d’Alençon (1409-1476), who was married to Marie d’Armagnac (1420-1473). He was the Duke of Alençon and the Count of Perche, and was also the direct Baron of Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais. He appointed Pierre as captain of Châteauneuf towards the beginning of the 1460s.

His son René d’Alençon succeeded him in 1476 bearing the same titles, and thus took over as Pierre’s suzerain.

Should we be surprised that the first name of Pierre des Ligneris’ eldest son, who was born in about 1468, was Jean, the same as that of his first patron and suzerain, and the first name of his second son (born in about 1470) was René?! The bond is striking and is a clear sign of respect.

The two sons were followed by two daughters: Marie and Jeanne. Marie married Hugues de Ternes, a squire and lord of Hamel, and gave birth to a daughter called Jacqueline.(3) Jeanne married Gilles d’Adonville, a squire and lord of Auvilliers (probably the fiefdom of Auvilliers located near Meslay-le-Vidame, 20 kilometres south of Chartres), and gave birth to two children.(4)

In 1483, after a reign lasting 22 years, King Louis XI was succeeded by his very young son, Charles VIII.

René d’Alençon died in 1492, when his son Charles IV, who was designated to succeed him, was only three years old.

There are no more records of Pierre des Ligneris after 1494. The four siblings divided up the estate of their father through a notarised deed dated 22 June 1499. Thus Pierre had succeeded in forming the solid foundations of a family that was loyal to the Dukes of Alençon and which would repay him well.

(1) Source: Dossiers Bleus 396. National Library of France, French Manuscripts Department, Genealogical Catalogue, consulted on the Gallica website on 9 October 2019, matrix reference R212517.

(2) Source to be added

(3) Coat of arms of the de Ternes family: ermines in a cross of gules.

(4) Source: manuscripts of Prior Laisné [details to be added]

3) The English Beauce during the Hundred Years War

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

None of the events described here that occurred prior to 1460 have been substantiated. They are all cited in the manuscripts of the Cabinet des Titres (genealogical catalogue) of the National Library of France dating from around 1660 to 1712, which are apparently merely based on family memories of events that occurred prior to the Hundred Years War.

In line with this tradition, in 1333 Jean (John) des Ligneris, a knight, formally avowed his services to his suzerain (feudal lord), the Count of Foix (who was also the Count of Etampes), in return for the land of Méreinville.(1) This strong act of feudal life is apparently recorded in an official document of the time, a valuable source if we could find it.

There is another mention of the family at that time: in Aigrefin, which is a hamlet in the village of Saint Antoine du Rocher (near Tours), “around 1340, tithes were returned to Godefroy de Ligneris, a priest”.

It was the recapture of Normandy from the English that led these knights to the strategic strongholds located to the north of Chartres.

The plague struck in 1348. It caused a shortage of manpower and a sharp rise in wages. Lords and large-scale farmers became disillusioned and farming declined into a lasting slump. Following the outbreak of 1348-49, the plague re-emerged in 1360-61, 1369 and 1375 and the region went through periods of famine in 1348, 1361 and 1375.

France was in the throes of the Hundred Years War. In October and November 1370, the English troops led by Robert Knolles ravaged the Beauce region. Coming from Paris, they reached Vendôme and Le Mans.

According to the works of Prior Laisné at the beginning of the 17th century and the manuscripts of the Cabinet des Titres (3), a son of Jean des Ligneris named Godemart, who was also a knight and lord of Méreinville, married Agnès Trousselle, with whom he had three daughters: Jeanne (Jehanne) des Ligneris, who married Jacques de Brizay (in Poitou, near Mirebeau); Marguerite des Ligneris, wife of Jean d’Argenton, a knight; and Françoise des Ligneris, wife of Jean de Gamaches, who was also a knight (near Eu le Tréport. There may have also been a son called François, but not according to all sources. Perhaps there was some confusion between the names François and Françoise.

François des Ligneris, a knight, was reportedly living in 1389. He served the Duke of Brittany and married Anne de Tournemine, daughter of Raoül from the House of Guierche and Hunadaye.

In 1411, the militia of the butchers of Paris confronted the Armagnac army in the plain of Beauce, on behalf of Jean Sans Peur, the Duke of Burgundy.

A general renewal of the bailiffs and governors took place in 1418. That same year, a battle against the English took place before the gates of Verneuil-sur-Avre, which marked the boundary between Normandy and Beauce. The French lost this battle and as a consequence the Chartres region was under English rule during the 1420s.

A captain of King Henry VI of England, François de Surienne (a.k.a. the Aragonese), held Verneuil-sur-Avre in 1449. But King Charles VII of France launched a major offensive to recapture Normandy. Verneuil was retaken on 20 July 1449 thanks to an accomplice who opened the gates.

Pierre des Ligneris, who was possibly a grandson of François (or Françoise), lived in the second half of the 15th century after the end of the Hundred Years War. He was attached to the House of Vendôme and served Charles VII, perhaps in the framework of the recapture of Normandy or its stabilisation. Pierre is the first member of the des Ligneris family who is truly documented (4) as living in 1460. In return for his services he was awarded the Lachet property (5) and appointed captain and grand bailiff of Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais, a stronghold and town situated halfway between Verneuil-sur-Avre and Chartres.

This was the beginning of a new era.

(1) Source to be added
(2) Source to be added
(3) “Mémoires généalogiques de Guillaume Laisné, prieur de Mondonville y relatifs à des familles de Chartres et du Pays Chartrain, de la Beauce, de l’Orléanais, du Blaisois, etc.” (“Genealogical memoirs of Guillaume Laisné, Prior of Mondonville, relating to families of Chartres and Pays Chartrain, Beauce, Orléanais, Blaisois, etc.” National Library of France. Department of French Manuscripts, reference 24125
(4) Dossiers Bleus 396, National Library of France, Manuscripts Department, Genealogical Catalogue, consulted on the Gallica website on 9 October 2019, matrix reference R212517
(5) Cassini Map

2) 12th, 13th, 14th centuries : unverified origins

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

As the royal genealogist declared in the middle of the 17th and at the beginning of the 18th century (1), the first member of the des Ligneris family who was recorded by title and to whom we can trace the family’s lineage lived in 1460.

Before that date, the only documents we can refer to for the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries are local memoirs devoid of titles. (2) The earliest reference can be found in the manuscripts by a prior, Guillaume Laisné, which date from around 1600. (3) But these documents have to be treated with a great deal of caution, because it has not been possible to verify their content to date.

The earliest representative of the family could be a certain Étienne des Ligneris (“Estienne”), who lived in 1184. He was a knight and the lord of Méreinville (4), near Etampes. He married Henriette Lestendars, the daughter of Baron de Besne (or Beyne). Points of reference: past and present-day maps of Etampes and Méréville.

It appears he had a son called Guillaume des Ligneris, who was lord of Mérainville, a knight and king’s chamberlain. He was alive in 1230 and is said to have married Radegonde de Meslot (or Mello). It is interesting to note that his wife was probably a sister of Guy de Meslot, Bishop of Auxerre – bishops were key figures in the social structure during this era.

The manuscripts of the Cabinet des Titres (a genealogical catalogue) mention that Guillaume des Ligneris obtained a judgement by the Appellate Court (Parlement) of Paris against Guillaume de Prunelé, lord of La Porte, his vassal. This ruling “can be found in the parliamentary records, Olim entry, reported by Basquet (?) in 1233”.

But this same matter was also cited by Moreri in his Grand Dictionnaire Historique published in 1759, in an article on Prunelé containing more detailed information but citing a different date: “It was he [Guillaume III de Prunelé] who constructed a kind of stronghold on his land in La Porte, which he held in fief of the king, on which occasion he instigated proceedings against Guillaume de Ligneris, lord of Méréville, now Mérinville-en-Beauce, following a judgement by the Appellate Court of Paris, delivered in the Octave of Candlemas in 1266”.

We would need to be able to trace this matter in greater detail in order to obtain definitive evidence of Guillaume’s existence. But even more to the point, we would also need to determine whether he really belonged to the des Ligneris family that is chronicled in these pages. The orthography was not defined at the time and the texts were written in Latin. So the reference could possibly be to the de Lignières family (de Lineriis in Latin), which was powerful in the Middle Ages but no longer existed in the 16th century.

Guillaume’s offspring were reportedly Olivier, Guérard and a daughter who married a Reillac. Guérard would become Bishop of Auxerre after his uncle, and chaplain of Philip IV (also called Philip the Fair). He was sent to Rome where he remained until he died. His body was brought back to Auxerre.

Olivier des Ligneris reportedly became a knight and king’s counsellor (i.e. a local administration official). He was entrusted with the task of constructing the College of Navarre in Paris. But once again I wish to emphasis that none of this has been verified. He was apparently still alive in 1290 and was later buried in the Priory of Sénart. His wife was reportedly Antoinette de Moy (or Moüy), an offspring of a reputable family.

The manuscript by the Prior of Mondonville tells us that the initial coat-of-arms of the des Ligneris family was “gold with a rampant sand lion”, i.e. it depicted an erect black lion against a uniform yellow background. Here it should be noted that the earliest coats-of-arms were also the most simple ones because they had to be painted on shields in order to indicate allegiances on battlefields.

Armoiries des Ligneris
des Ligneris coat-of-arms

The Moüy coat-of-arms comprised a “fretté d’or sur champ de gueules” (i.e. intersecting diagonal yellow bars interlaced over a uniform red background). Could it be that, following the marriage referred to above, the motifs of the des Ligneris and Moüy coats-of-arms were combined to form “de gueules fretté d’or au franc-quartier d’or chargé d’un lion de sable(gules, fretty or, within a canton or, a sand lion). Why were these two coats-of-arms combined? Did the house of Moüy enjoy a reputation superior to that of the lords of Méréville? Perhaps Olivier’s marriage was a sign of achievement and an elevation of social status which he found beneficial to communicate via his new “logo”.

One of Olivier’s sons, Hoguerel (alias Hugues des Ligneris), a knight, was reportedly alive in 1319. He is said to have married “Louise d’Escrones” (or des Crosnes) a “lady from the said location near Villeneuve Saint Georges and Etiolle” (in what is now Seine-et-Marne). The coat-of-arms of her family comprises “de gueules fretté d’argent” (intersecting diagonal white bars interlaced over a uniform red background) and is very similar to that of the Moüy family.

Then the Hundred Years War broke out, causing major disruption to the family…

(1) Dossiers Bleus 396, National Library of France, Manuscripts Department, Genealogical Catalogue, page 29.941, edited on the Gallica website on 9 October 2019, matrix reference R212517.

(2) Idem.

(3) “Genealogical memoirs of Guillaume Laisné, Prior of Mondonville, relating to families of Chartres and Pays Chartrain, Beauce, Orléanais, Blaisois, etc.” National Library of France. Department of French Manuscripts, reference 24125.

(4) Mérinville, or Mérainville, or Méréville (near Etampes, in Essonne)

1) Preamble

Translated from French to English by Keith Hewlett

Feudal society at the beginning of the era of the Capetian dynasty relied on the entanglement of servitude ties from the bottom of the property pyramid, the stronghold of a knight, to the top, namely the king.

However, in this territorial fragmentation structured by the invisible ties of promised word, there were numerous opportunities for brave men who distinguished themselves on the battlefield to be allocated land as a reward for their military exploits and their loyalty.

This is probably what happened right at the beginning of the des Ligneris family history.

Tracing individual family members from those times is by no means an easy undertaking. Certain works published in the 17th and 18th centuries contain genealogies, more commonly as a result of tax surveys than in order to substantiate a title or admittance to the court. These compilations produced by families as “evidence” often tended to deviate from the facts in order to embellish them or quite simply to invent distant roots (this was the case, for example, with a dictionary of nobility published at the end of the 18th century by François Alexandre Aubert de La Chenaye-Desbois Dictionnaire de la Noblesse). Nonetheless, we will base our narrative as far as possible on the existing historical documents while endeavouring to gauge their degree of reliability.

With respect to the family origins, numerous sources intersect in a coherent manner and enable us to readily trace them back to the marriage of Pierre des Ligneris in 1467. But prior to this, possibly even as far back as the 12th century, the story is more or less based on speculation, despite some intriguing sources and interesting pointers which we will come back to later.

One of our main sources for the 15th and 16th centuries is the set of manuscripts produced by Guillaume Laisné, prior of Mondonville, at the beginning of the 1600s. He patiently chronicled the history of the diocese of Chartres in thirty volumes, and portions of this work are kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France) today. His writings document the events that took place in the region and record the history of all the local notable families. The name des Ligneris occurs numerous times and the family is even the subject of a (short) genealogical note.

Laisné’s manuscripts form an especially rich and interesting source because they were written less than a century after the described events and in the same region in which they took place, i.e. in close proximity to the descendants who still had a vivid memory of their family history during the past century.

The main difficulty we face lies in deciphering the manuscripts, but of course this will be the key to tracing the family’s history further back in time. Another invaluable document is the survey of 1666 conducted by the official genealogists under Louis XIV. The resulting documents (Dossiers Bleus), which contain detailed information about family members, are also kept in the National Library of France. Finally, as we shall discover, numerous notarial deeds (including some from the mid-16th century), plus various publications by scholars and contemporary accounts, will enable us to gradually add pieces to the puzzle until we can obtain an overall picture, despite a few missing pieces.

So now we are ready to journey back in time, through the lives of people who really existed, who faced life with all its ups and downs in the prevailing circumstances of their time and who helped make the world the place we know today. This journey also gives us a reason to pause for a moment and perhaps reflect on the path of our own lives in order to view the past with greater hindsight and a better understanding.

Un aperçu du manuscrit de Guillaume Laisné, conservé à la Bibliothèque Nationale, ouvert à la page relatant l'histoire de la famille des Ligneris (manuscrit des années 1620 environ)
Un aperçu du manuscrit de Guillaume Laisné, conservé à la Bibliothèque Nationale, ouvert à la page relatant l’histoire de la famille des Ligneris (manuscrit des années 1620 environ)

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