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

5) Louise + Jean (translated by Keith Hewlett)

Preview (by the author): Pierre’s eldest son Jean (John), 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 will 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 (Michael) had a prestigious wedding, but his knight fate was shattered, and so will be his baby son’s destiny. The second son, Jacques (Jack) had a very successful magistrate and diplomate carreer that led him to the national State level. The third son, Jean (John) 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’ (Jack) 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 (Jack) 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 finds protection and education in Prince François de Valois’ entourage. He follows the Prince who plots against his brothers, fights with him in the Netherlands. He also must find a wife.

10) Théodore facing King Henry III’s anger (part 3)

Preview (by the author): Troublesome Theodore gains power, but political chaos grows within the kingdom of France. As a candidate for a national forum election, Theodore has to face king Henri III’s anger and risks his head…

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

12) Théodore (part 5)

13) Many sons, few heirs

14) Louis and the loss of Courville

15) Mysterious Albert

16) After Louis, the canon and the brigadier

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

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)

According to blog principles, articles are in antichronological order.

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-Baptist, Louis XIV’ European wars military officer

Jean-Baptiste, Louis’s youngest son, grew up without knowing his father, who died a few months before his birth. The material and moral situation of his mother Louise had to be difficult. The young widow (who is not thirty years old) has to take care of her three sons, whose eldest is only seven, and make sure to generate income with the three small estates of her missing husband. The children grew up in the castle of Beauvais (in the current commune of Champrond-en-Gâtine, west of Chartres, at the entrance of the Perche area) during the years 1670-1680.

Jean-Baptiste sees his brother Philippe entering a religious career, then the cadet Louis-François engaging in the army. He followed him a few years later, probably about age fifteen, around 1690, and also became an officer of the king’s bodyguards.


At that time, severe climatic disturbances (a very cold year in 1692, very humid in 1693) caused famine and scarcity – especially in the plains of the Paris basin specialized in the monoculture of wheat, which is the case of the Beauce area. This terrible crisis of subsistence of 1693-1694 makes two million victims in France (at equivalent proportion, that would represent 6 million dead people within a few months in today’s France).

Yet, after Louis XIV’s decision in 1661 to govern alone, had followed an unprecedented twelve years period of institutional, economic and social organizational in-depth reforms. The Colbert ministry two decades, from 1661 to 1683, thus created a favorable conjuncture throughout the country. But the period that followed saw the accumulation of difficulties of all kinds.

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 was accompanied by violence and humiliation against the Protestants, who were more than 200,000 to exile. Their departure increased economic difficulties and tarnished the image of the self-proclaimed « Sun King » abroad. This event came after the Reunions policy (the annexation by Louis XIV of territories on the kingdom borders from 1679 to 1684), the French aggression against the Spanish Netherlands in 1683-84, and the interference in the Palatine Elector succession in 1685, so that the worried Protestant European powers hardened their opposition to Louis XIV and engaged in 1688 in the League of Augsburg war.

Thus during the 1690s the young officers Louis-François and Jean-Baptiste des Ligneris probably actively participated in the conflict with their elite military unit. The main fighting took place near the French borders in the Spanish Netherlands, the Rhineland, Catalonia, and Piedmont-Savoie. The conflict ended in 1697, when the exhausted belligerents agreed on the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick.

Carte de l'Europe au traité de Ryswick, 1697
Carte de l’Europe au traité de Ryswick, 1697

But barely three years have passed when King of Spain Charles II dies without descendants. The War of the Spanish Succession then began, in 1701, and lasted until 1714.

As an interlude in the midst of these conflicts, Jean-Baptiste des Ligneris married Marie-Anne Beurier, daughter of Michel lord of Hauville, officer of the House of the Duke of Vendome, and of Barbe Cottereau, dame de Chevillon (1). Jean-Baptiste is already thirty-three years old. For reasons we do not know, his brother Louis-Francois did not get married until very late, in 1720.

Their mother Louise died in 1708 at the Beauvais castle, where she was buried.

The terrible 1708-1709 winter was marked by cold, hunger and fear throughout much of France, for the wolves came out of the woods. « In many towns and villages, it is said that bands of wolves ravage the countryside and even prowl to the doors of the houses » (2).

The two brothers who meet almost everyday within the King’s bodyguards units, probably have two different career orientations: Jean-Baptiste after many military campaigns will no doubt try to stay more often with his family; While Louis-Francois, covered with glory since the battle of Malplaquet of 1709, follows a strict military career.

Indeed, Marie-Anne and Jean-Baptiste go through a difficult period, during which several of their children die in the cradle. There will be 6 babies to be buried in Saint Lazare-les-Chartres. They will also have two young dead sons, buried in the church of Saint André de Chartres.

This situation is not extraordinary. « Nursing, a common practice in the city, aggravates the urban demographic deficit. Carried most often in conditions of hygiene and comfort quite deplorable, poorly cared for, malnourished, these newborns die in great number. » Famous author Montaigne, who no longer knew exactly how many of his children had died, recalled this: « And I have lost some children, two or three, if not without regret, at least with annoyance « .

Indeed, the 17th century, which historians usually end in 1715 with the death of Louis XIV, was marked by a stagnation of the population, throughout Europe. « In France, the threshold of 20 to 22 million inhabitants had been reached in the middle of the sixteenth century and had not been exceeded. » The explanation lies in the absence of an agricultural revolution or a technological change: the average yield of wheat remains stable and weak … Thus, the fragile agrarian economy, everywhere dominant, is subjected to the slightest climatic disruption; A rainy spring or too severe a winter … are enough to provoke a sudden surge in prices that inexorably condemn the poorest to scarcity. And hunger, which weakens bodies, is often combined with epidemics that kill hundreds of thousands of lives.  » (4)

Thus, only four of the twelve children of Jean-Baptiste and Marie-Anne survive: Marie-Barbe (born August 15, 1710), Marie-Anne-Thérèse (born May 7, 1712), Louis-François (born September 4, 1715), and Catherine-Therese (born January 16, 1718).

Jean-Baptiste gave his son the name of his brother. One can not help but seeing in this choice the mark of a strong affective bond between the two brothers, who are as much brothers of blood as brothers in arms.

Jean-Baptiste will marry only one of his daughters, the eldest, perhaps because he could not economically do otherwise? Marie-Barbe married in Chartres on July 30, 1737 with Pierre-René de Thieslin, lord of Lorriere and Boisginaut (or Bois-Hinoust) in Maine (5). They will have a daughter, Marie-Anne, who will marry on January 11, 1754, with François-Victor de Feugerets, count of Feugerets (near Bellême in Perche).

Marie-Anne-Thérèse was placed in Saint-Cyr (a religious establishment), while Catherine-Thèrèse became a nun at the Carmelites of Chartres, where she became the Prioress in 1759.

Jean-Baptiste had to be concerned with the management of his lands. In 1728, he was on trial about lands located in Bouglainval (6). Moreover, some of his fiefs, like that of the « Four », depended on the Chapter of the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Chartres (of which his brother Philippe is one of the administrators); He must carry out « acts of faith and enumeration » (7), ie confirm his vassalage commitments – and probably above all taxation – for these lands.

The son of Jean-Baptiste, Louis-Francois, married on February 19, 1740 with Marie-Françoise Davignon, daughter of Claude, Prosecutor and mayor of Chartres.

Jean-Baptiste lost his brother Louis-François in 1743, and Philippe in 1751. He himself died on June 16, 1754, the very day of his 80th birthday.

His son Louis-François is now the only male representative of the family …

(1) Marriage contract passed before Gabriel Chantier, notary in Chartres. The fief of Hauville is located in the current commune 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. This is really an interesting book.

(5) Contract of marriage passed before Evrard, notary in Chartres.

(6) Departmental Archives of Chartres, Document B 995.

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

16) After Louis, the canon and the brigadier

Louis des Ligneris was only 16 years old when his father died in 1652, but his older brother François watched after him. Alas, he also died, aged only 24, in 1656. Nobody’s left but Louis, his sister Angelique, and their mother Genevieve.

Louis inherited the lands of Beauvais-en-Gâtine, Saint-Jean-de-la-Foret and Fontaine-la-Guyon. It seems that he became a military officer in the king’s bodyguards troops, but it is not certain (1).

It was only at the age of 31 that Louis got married: on February 22nd 1667, he married Louise de Gravelle (2). She was the daughter of the lord of Arpentigny, Jean de Gravelle, and of Madeleine de Coutances de la Fressonniere. It is a long-time allied family, for the land of Arpentigny was formerly possessed by Louis’ grandfather, Theodore, before being sold. The links between families are thus perpetuated from one generation to the next.

On November 18th the same year, a first son was born. This was Philippe, who was followed two and a half years later by Louis-François (Louis-Francis) on March 15th, 1670, and then by Jean-Baptiste (John the Baptist) on June 16th, 1674.

The latter was a posthumous son: his father died a few months earlier, on January 6th at Tarouvilliers near Chartres. He was only 38 years old, and his wife was three months pregnant. Once again transmission is impossible between two successive generations. In spite of three sons, only one will engender a posterity, in this case Jean-Baptiste who will not have known his father at all. Once again, the family line almost disappeared.

Louise, who was between 18 and 22 years old at her marriage, is not even thirty when she finds herself a widow with three young children. The situation is certainly difficult: how to manage three small domains far from each other and obtain regular and sufficient income? Possibly living in Beauvais-en-Gâtine (where she will be buried), she can count on her sister-in-law Angelique whose mansion is less than two kilometers away. Her parents live quite far away, more than forty kilometers from her home. Having succeeded in raising her children, she will live until age 60, in 1708.

Let us return to Louis and notice that he bore his uncle’s first name, which seems to reflect an affective connection from his father Albert to his own elder brother. In the same way, a generation later, Louis-François carries the mixed names of his father and his uncle. The first names of Philippe and Jean-Baptiste are on the other hand real innovations in the family.

Unusual for an eldest son, Philippe follows a religious career. Perhaps a true vocation, or is it the symptom of a lack of financial means to start a military career? He becomes canon of the cathedral of Chartres, and later archdeacon of Blois. He will have a long life – 83 years, thus crossing the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV, until July 1751.

In the cathedral churches there is always a Chapter of canons, which plays an important role in the government of the diocese. Considered as the senate and council of the bishop, its opinion or consent is necessary for most acts of administration. The chapters are endowed with legal personality in canon law. As such, they may own temporal, movable and immovable property.

The secular canons are clerics, but remain owners of their possessions. The revenues of the canons are called the prebends, that is to say annuities derived from a part of the property belonging to the chapter as a juridical person, which are attributed to them. There are only two common law dignities: the archdeacon and the archpriest (3). Philippe rose to the first of these dignities, often regarded as the footstool for being appointed bishop.

Established since the 9th century, the Chapter of Chartres that Philippe des Ligneris integrated stands as very powerful. It had accumulated numerous properties and lordships over the centuries, and possessed « considerable authority (…) in the city and country of Chartres, at the cost of incessant quarrels with the lords, and often also, at the risk of social peace ». (4) Indeed, it should be remembered that Philippe’s own great-grandfather, Theodore des Ligneris, had made numerous lawsuits against the Chapter.

The second son, Louis-François, inherited the lands of Saint-Jean-de-la-Forêt. Probably early enough, aged fifteen or twenty, that is to say in the 1680s, he started a military career, which led him to serve in the King’s bodyguards, an elite troop belonging to the Military House of the King of France.

Established gradually since at least the sixteenth century (the Scottish Troops, the Hundred Swiss, …), the Military House had just been just organized by Louis XIV in 1671. Led by both the Secretary of State, Head of the House of the King, and the War Secretary of State, it fulfills several functions: it protects the person of the King and the security of the Court. But also as a permanent army, it is an elite troop which serves during the wars.

The troops composing the Military House are distributed according to the dominant color of their uniforms, between the Blue House: they are the bodyguards; and the Red House, composed of infantry (« gendarmerie »), light cavalry, musketeers and grenadiers.

Louis-Francois des Ligneris fought at the battles of Osterht, Neerwinden (1693), and Malplaquet (1703) « where he distinguished himself by his great bravery and good behaviour, especially at Malplaquet, where the greater part of the Company was destroyed, which did not prevent him from putting himself at the head of his comrades, where he held firm for a long time against the enemy, and then made a retreat which did him honor, and deserved the cross of St. Louis as brigadier. » (5) (6) (7) Though the French army retreated, it inflicted on its enemies losses four times greater than its own, and the invasion of France was prevented.

An infantry brigadier, in battle, was on horseback in order to be able to move faster to the various battalions of the brigade, whose movements he was to order. There were brigadiers not only in the light cavalry and in the infantry, but also in the dragoons and the gendarmerie. In order to attain the title of brigadier, it was necessary to be a captain of the bodyguards, an officer of the gendarmes, light-cavalry, or musketeers. (8) This rank precedes those of maréchal-de-camp and lieutenant-général, that correspond roughly to the nowadays ranks of colonel and brigade general.

It was only at age 49 that Louis-Francois got married, on October 15th, 1720, with Marie Garnier de Sainville. At 72 years old, he died in Chartres, on June 29th, 1743, without posterity.

What happened to Jean-Baptiste, the last of the three brothers?

Reconstitution de la bataille de Malplaquet, tricentenaire de 2009
Reconstitution de la bataille de Malplaquet, tricentenaire de 2009
Bataille de Malplaquet, 1709
Bataille de Malplaquet, 1709

(1) A single source mentions for Louis this rank of officer in the King’s bodyguards troops : the « Historical record on the House of Ligneris, Marquis of Ligneris, Baron of Courville, & c. » published in the Yearbook of the Nobility of France in 1906. Other classical works, such as the Dictionnaire de la Noblesse by La Chenaye-Desbois, published at the end of the 18th century, do not mention this quality for Louis, whereas it mentions it e for two of his sons, his grandson and his great-grandson. Moreover, the title of Brigadier, who at first was only a commission and not an office or a rank, was officially instituted in the cavalry only in 1667 and in the infantry in 1668. That is to say, after the wedding of Louis, who was already 31 years old and supposedly had his career largely behind him.

(2) marriage contract passed before M. Bourgeois, notary at Ferté-Arnaud.

(3) It was up to the dignitaries:

  • To substitute the bishop in cas he was prevented from celebrating sacred ceremonies at the most solemn festivals of the year;
  • When the bishop celebrated pontifically, to offer him holy water at the entrance of the church and to hold the office of assistant priest;
  • To administer the sacraments to the sick bishop and, after his death, to celebrate his funeral;
  • To convene the chapter, to preside over it, and to order what concerns the direction of the choir, provided that the dignitary belongs to the chapter.

(4) Article « The Advocates of the Cathedral Chapter in the Middle Ages », by Louis Amiet, in the Revue d’histoire de l’Église de France, pp297-329, published in 1924.

(5) Cited in the Letters of creation of the marquisate des Ligneris, November 1776. The originals are in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, but a handwritten copy of it stands in the « Register of causes and hearings of the Marquisat Desligneris, Year 1778 « in the Archives Départementales d’Eure and Loir, document B3135.

(6) The battle of Malplaquet took place on 11th September 1709 during the Spanish Succession War, at the south of the city of Mons in what was then the Spanish Netherlands. The forces commanded by General John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy, essentially Austrian and Dutch, confronted the French commanded by Marshal de Villars. (Source Wikipedia, for more details see the page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Malplaquet).

(7) The Battle of Neerwinden or Landen took place in the context of the Augsburg League War on 29th July 1693 between the French Army under the command of the Marshal of Luxembourg and the Allied Forces under the command of Guillaume d’Orange. 75,000 men (some 190 squadrons of cavalry, 90 battalions of infantry and 2 regiments of artillery) make up the French army. 50,000 men (142 cavalry squadrons and 64 infantry battalions where there were at least two Spanish battalions) for the allies. Guillaume is installed on a good defensive position and decides to wait for the French attack that first affects the center. The Military House of the King is decisive: it is the French Guards who open a breach in the Anglo-Dutch system, and it is the cavalry of the House of the King which is sent urgently to resist the counter-attack of The cavalry of the Anglo-Dutch wings. The resistance of this elite cavalry allows the rest of the slower French riders to arrive and exploit this breach, and to overfly the wings, putting their opponents in rout but they do not pursue them because their losses are heavy with 9,000 deaths. The allies lost 18,000 men. It was during this battle that Guillaume III, furious that the French did not retreat before the fire of the Allied forces, exclaimed: « Oh! The insolent nation! « . (Source Wikipedia, for more details see the page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_of_Neerwinden_(1693)).

(8) according to the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of the nobility of France, by Nicolas Viton of Saint-Allais, Paris, 1816

15) Mysterious Albert

After their son François who was born in 1632 or 1633, Albert and Geneviève des Ligneris had a daughter, Angélique, two other daughters whose first names we do not know, and a second son Louis born on 6th January 1636.

Whereas the 1620s saw the religion wars ending, completed by the victorious siege of La Rochelle in 1628, the thirties were marked by numerous and violent aristocratic revolts.

They were also the years of central power strengthening, the political authority embodied by the king being hardened. The absolutism process was led by Richelieu. The same phenomenon occured, with a striking parallelism, in England and Spain. (1)

But there was a strong resistance. Thus Gaston of Orleans, king brother and potential heir as long as Louis XIII had no descendants (until 1638), tried to provoke a revolt in his province in 1630. After having failed, he found refuge in Lorraine, whose duke supported the Habsburgs, France traditional enemies. He published a manifesto against Richelieu, then participated in the revolt of the Duke of Montmorency in Languedoc. The latter was finally defeated by the royal troops, and decapitated in 1632, which for a time assuaged the aristocracy pretensions. As for Gaston of Orleans, as presumptive heir, he could not be worried …

Then in 1635, after five years of indirect struggle at the kingdom edges against the Habsburgs, war was declared. This has made it possible to impose a high tax burden, and extended powers to the provinces king representatives, which reinforced the state omnipresence in local affairs.

Louis XIV was born in 1638. His father died in 1643 just after Richelieu. Queen Anne became regent, with Mazarin as prime minister. Disorders increased, either from aristocracy or peasants confronted with crop failures and heavy taxes. They were to provoke the Fronde uprising : from 1648 to 1652, small Louis XIV wandered in the provinces with his mother and Mazarin, surrounded by royal troops, while the gates of Paris were closed to him.

Here we find Prince Henri II of Bourbon-Condé sequels, whose epic life we had already followed, and whom Louis des Ligneris was chamberlain. Indeed, his children were the leaders of the Fronde uprising : the Duchess of Longueville (who was born in prison as we remember), the Prince of Conti and the Prince of Condé.

The civil war devastated the South-West, the Île-de-France (Paris area), 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, Gaston of Orleans’ daughter, meaning Louis XIV close cousin, ordered to cannon fire on the royal troops. Louis XIV will never forget the lessons of the Fronde revolt ; he will distrust the powerful aristocrats as well as the people of Paris.

At the heart of this dramatic situation, which did not spare Chartres surroundings, it was probably around 1650 or 1651 that Angelique des Ligneris married René d’Ecauville, Lord of Lignerolle.

Her two sisters became nuns in Courville. This may be seen as a means of limiting the dispersion of family property, which was reduced to the congruous portion since Albert des Ligneris only inherited two small pieces of land.

It was a classic method which had been used for centuries by noble families. Precisely since the thirteenth century, when the number of knights had exploded: many of them had returned after a few generations towards nothing by lack of sufficient income, or had been condemned to sell military services. Indeed, in the thirteenth century, « as all sons inherit according to the old Frankish estate law, paternal patrimony risks breaking up into several units at each generation, to the point of becoming totally inadequate for the ultimate beneficiaries when precautionary measures were not taken in time. The most radical is to prohibit marriage to the cadets; The most common one prescribes that the elder of a sibling group will receive the best share, leaving only a congruous portion to his brothers, even if he has to nourish them for the rest of his life, as he is bound to his uncles who have remained unmarried. Daughters are generally endowed with the goods brought by their mother on the occasion of their own marriage, or sent to Church in order to serve God under the veil. « (2) These “precautionary measures” remain valid in the seventeenth century.

We do not know the activity of Albert des Ligneris. He had to have one, for it is unlikely that his lands brought him enough income, especially in these difficult times of poor harvests. He married late (at approximately 35), does that mean he first pursued a military career? Did he engage as a noble rebel? Did he remain quietly in his domains after his marriage? His life remains a mystery to us. We can only guess that he was surrounded by the family clan, made up of his brothers, sisters and nieces, all residents of domains close to his own.

Albert died on January 12th, 1652, at the age of 56. His remains were taken to the church of Fontaine-la-Guyon the very next day.

His son Francois survived him only a few years – he died at age 24, around 1656, without being married. Again, there is only one male representative of the Ligneris family: Louis, who was only 20 years old in 1656. What will become of him?

signature d'Albert des Ligneris (Archives départementales d'Eure-et-Loir)
signature d’Albert des Ligneris (Archives départementales d’Eure-et-Loir)

(1) This and the following three paragraphs are documented in « Histoire de France », 1998, Larousse-Bordas, pp 228-235.

(2) In «1180 – 1328 The Capetian golden age», by Jean-Christophe Cassard, 2011, éditions Belin, p394.

14) Louis and the loss of Courville

Here is Theodore’s « clan » on early 1620. His eldest son Louis des Ligneris becomes chamberlain of Henry II de Condé in 1623.

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

It is now necessary to introduce this prince, as his destiny was eventful from birth: he was indeed born in prison, posthumous son of Henry I de Condé, for his mother was accused of poisoning her husband, who died suddenly and without apparent cause in 1588. Due to his mother’s favours towards a page, the parentage of Henry II was not recognized as legitimate. His status remained uncertain for some years, while he was in theory « premier prince du sang » (« prince of first blood »), meaning heir to the throne after his close cousin Henry IV if the latter died without a male child. In 1596, under the pressure of several high nobles, and under the condition of converting to Catholicism, his mother was released by Henry IV, her son legitimized, so that young Henry II incorporated the Court with the status of presumptive heir.

After the birth of Henry IV’s son in 1601 (Louis XIII), Henri II grew up amid general indifference. Deemed as homosexual, he is summoned by the king in 1609 to marry Charlotte de Montmorency, whom the king fell in love with, to become a complaisant husband. But his wife does not yield to the king’s wishes, and these eventually make the prince so jealous that he abducts his own wife in early 1610 and flees to Brussels, in the Spanish Netherlands!

Henry IV is furious. Fearing a French invasion, the government of the « Iberian »province only allows his wife to stay. Henri II must journey further, to Cologne (Köln). The situation, that is compared to that of Helen of Troy, escalates between France and Spain, to the point that Henry IV is planning a war. But the king’s death in May stops the confrontation.

The Prince of Condé then returned to France, where the Regent Queen offered him a privileged position. But jealous against the Queen’s favorite Concini, Henri II became in 1613 the main political opponent of the Queen mother. After a treaty in 1616, the prince became Head of the Regency Council. Nevertheless, counselor Richelieu distrusted him, and had him arrested during a Council meeting that same year. Imprisoned in the Bastille Castle, then in Vincennes, he was joined by his wife. There she gave birth to two stillborn children and to a daughter in 1619, the future Duchess of Longueville who will play an important role in the Fronde uprising of 1648. A curious coincidence for that prince who was himself born in prison …

Released in late 1619 by young Louis XIII who had come into power in 1617, Prince Henry II becomes a faithful servant of the king.

It is in this context that Louis des Ligneris becomes his chamberlain in 1623. A good position with one of the most prominent princes. But far from being anecdotal, this situation will cause for Louis the loss of his Courville baronny.

The news broke in 1629 after several years of lobbying and negotiations : Louis sold his Courville property to Maximilien de Bethune, better known by his title of Duke of Sully. 

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

Sully, a military officer and former companion of Henry IV, became one of the king’s closest advisers. He held several ministery positions, including minister of finance, during which he has greatly enhanced the kingdom’s situation. After Henry IV’s assassination in 1610 (who actually was on his way to visit Sully, sick in his Parisian home, when he was stabbed by Ravaillac), Sully became a member of the Regency Council. But since he totally disagreed with the Queen Mother Marie de Medici, he resigned from almost all its positions.

Sully had already bought the castle of Villebon in 1607, located near Courville, but he actually resided there only after 1621. That’s when he sought to become a powerful landlord through successive land purchases in the Perche area. Prince Henry II de Bourbon-Condé sold him the nearby town of Nogent-le-Rotrou in 1624 (1). And this prince was Louis des Ligneris‘ boss. Therefore it is very reasonable to think that Louis had no choice. His Courville barony became a collateral victim of the agreement between the Prince of Condé and the Duke of Sully. Probably under very high pressure, the Baron weighed nothing against these two powerful national figures.

Exploring a little further this interlacing case, it is interesting to note that Prince Henry II held Nogent-le-Rotrou as a legacy of his father Henri I, Prince of Condé, who by then shared it with his half-brother Charles, Count (Earl) of Soissons, whose chamberlain was none other than Théodore des Ligneris until 1607 … When Charles died in 1612, Henry II gained full suzerainty over Nogent.

It seems that Louis has nevertheless retained the title of Baron during his lifetime through some form of co-lordship with Maximilien de Bethune. Indeed, the Chapter (that is to say, the assembly of monks of the Chartres Cathedral) swore fealty (2) to « the Barons of Courville: Louis des Ligneris, François and Maximilian de Bethune and Catherine de la Porte, widow of M. de Bethune. « 

Similarly, Jacques de Renty with other lords and ladies within the fief of La Henrière (parish of Chuisnes) swore fealty (3) to « Louise de Vieuxpont, widow of Perceval (Parseval) de Billy, to Louis des Ligneris and François de Bethune, lords and ladies of Courville. « 

As a matter of fact, it is with Louis des Ligneris that the barony of Courville leaves the family fold. He loses this land, which had been transmitted from one generation to the next, and by successive alliances without ever being sold for six centuries at least.

It is also by this time that Louis and his wife got separated. His brother Geoffrey, knight of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, died in Malta.

The remaining youngest son, Albert, marries on May 31, 1631 with Genevieve du Laurent (Lorent) (4). It’s a late marriage since he is about 35 years old. His in-laws are Geneviève Langlois and Jacques du Laurent, Lord of Douceré, Viscount of Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais. Albert owns the small castellanies of Saint-Jean-de-la-Forêt and Beauvais-en-Gâtine.

His father Theodore des Ligneris dies at age 81 on June 4, 1634 at his castle of Fontaine-la-Guyon. He had time to see Albert’s first male child, named François (Francis). His only grand-son during his lifetime, – but not even the one who will continue the tradition …

After Theodore’s generation, the family possessions are scattered. All the efforts that have been made since 1460 to acquire land, by marriage or purchase, are nullified. Each generation had managed to increase the family estate, despite a first rupture, marked by the end of the elder branch formed by Michel and his son René, who died without heir. Michel had taken with him most of his ancestors’ land, nothing being wagered on other sons. But the younger Jacques having proved a brilliant man of law, famous administrator and renowned diplomat, made it possible to gain land again. His son Theodore experienced another discontinuity since he did not know his father, but he inherited his lands, to which he added those obtained by marriage and, thanks to its position in the princes´ shadow by many acquisitions.

 Yet with eleven children, he had to separate the property for his five daughters’weddings, and provide his sons with means of social and material existance. He preserved for the elder son the main land, Courville and the title of baron associated with it, but without any male grandson and a forced sale of this jewel, the family land disappeared . His other son Jacques did not have any son, leaving his property in the dowries of his daughters. Albert being one of the youngest son received only secondary lands. He nevertheless acquired, perhaps through his brother’s legacy, the castle of Fontaine-la-Guyon much favored by his father.

After their son Francis, Albert and Genevieve had a daughter they nammed Angelica, two other daughters whom we ignore the names, and a son nammed Louis born on January 6, 1636.

Angelica married René d’Ecauville, Lord of Lignerolle, while her two sisters became nuns in Courville.

We do not know anything about Albert’s activities during his lifetime. He died on January 12th, 1652, at the age of 56 years ; he was burried the next day in the church of Fontaine-la-Guyon.

His son François follows just a few years later (1655) – he dies at the age of 24, without being married. Again, there is only one male representative of the Ligneris family : Louis, who was only 19 years old in 1655. What will he become?

(1) For more details about Henri II’s life, go to https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_II_de_Bourbon-Cond%C3%A9

(2) Archives Départementales de Chartres, document G1631.

(3) Archives Départementales de Chartres, document E1429.

(4) The marriage official document was written by Germain Nasse, legal officer in Chateauneuf-en-Thymerais.

13) Many sons, few heirs

Theodore and Françoise des Ligneris had eleven children whose birth dates are not known, but probably range from 1578 (one year after their marriage) to the late 90s.

In the 70s, Theodore’s only family was his sister Jeanne. Married to Claude du Puy, lord of Coudray and Baron of Bellefaye, she took with her as dowry the lands of Crosnes and Etioles that came from their mother. Jeanne early became a widow, in 1576. Like her older brother she probably never met, whose name was also Claude, Jeanne’s husband died in Rome – and like her brother, was buried in the church of St. Louis des Français in Rome. Deadly coincidences.

Her namesake daughter Jeanne (for centuries most of the girls in the family were prenamed Anne or Jeanne) will be Theodore’s children only close cousin. She married to Mr. de Saint-Gelais Lusignan; then, after becoming a widow, to Prejean de la Fin, Viscount of Chartres.

Theodore and Françoise’s first son was named Jean-Baptiste, soon followed by Louis, Jacques (Jack), Jeanne (Jane) and Marie (Mary) in the 1580s. Then, Albert, Geoffroy (Geoffrey), Angélique (Angelica) Jacqueline, Lucrèce (Lucretius) and Charles in the 1590s. The birth order is not certain.

In the early 1600s, Theodore and Françoise lost both their eldest son Jean-Baptiste who died at the age of 20, and their latest Charles, a two years old baby.

Their daughters Marie and Jeanne got married (1) in 1601 and 1602 with landlords from local families – they must have been young, probably between sixteen and eighteen years old.

Geoffrey was sent to Malta, despite his young age, to become a warrior-monk. He was received as page of Grand Master of Malta Alof de Wignacourt on July 11th, 1603 ; and will become a few years later 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
Portait d’Alof de Wignacourt Grand Maître de l’Ordre de Malte avec l’un de ses pages, en 1607, peint par Le Caravage

A native of Flanders, Wignacourt was elected Grand Master in 1601 and remained so until his death in 1622. He welcomed Caravaggio in Malta in 1607 until his arrest and expulsion of the Order in 1608 (2), which gives us an outstanding portrait of the Grand Master painted by Caravaggio, where he appears with one of his pages. The latter could even be Geoffroy in all likelihood because the dates match (3) – but we have no proof; it nevertheless allows us to get a good idea of the appearance and life of Geoffrey des Ligneris.

Geoffroy witnessed in 1614 the Ottomans last attempt to conquer Malta. Six thousand Turkish troops landed in the Bay of Marsaskala and attacked the village of Żejtun. The troops of the Order of Malta helped by civilians managed to contain the Turks who had to withdraw.

Alof de Wignacourt’s parade armor is now one of the Grand Masters Palace treasures in Valletta.

Let’s come back to Theodore des Ligneris who receives at his castle of Courville on September 11th, 1614 the young King Louis XIII and the Queen-Mother Marie de Medici. Back from a trip to Brittany, the monarch and his entourage spend the night at the castle.

At that time, the young king was thirteen years old. He was nine when his beloved father was murdered. Since then, he’s been constantly humiliated by his mother, who doesn’t want him to assume his crown. His very Catholic confessors require him to disclose the least of his inner thoughts, and warn him against « flesh sins » and women, in what we would today call a real brainwashing. He became taciturn.

His mother’s Regency is a disaster. She dismissed her husband’s former ministers, and is now surrounded by intriguing people. She deals only with jewelry and astrology. She has squandered the treasure Henri IV had patiently amassed to prepare the future of the kingdom. Marie de Medici has delegated all the business to one of the lady of her suite, educated with her in Italy, Leonora Dori called La Galigaï ; and to her husband Concino Concini. Ennoblement and positions are traded at the Louvre (the royal castle in Paris) in the very apartment of La Galigaï, which she never leaves, and where heaps of gold lie. Meanwhile, Concini neutralizes the powerful ancient families, thanks to his legitimacy as General and Admiral (though he never fought nor commanded a ship be it a canoe) and to his wife’s influence over the queen mother.

In 1615, Theodore and Françoise des Ligneris grieve again one of their children: Angelica dies at the castle of Sours, her husband’s domain. Nicolas Dangeul is the lord of Sours and Arboulin, gentleman of the Chamber of the King (4). The young couple had no children yet.

Then, on 3rd November that same year, Theodore’s wife Francoise dies in Courville. At age 63, it’s probably a turning point in the life of Theodore, who will therefore leave his sons take over their share of family estates. Please note that legally speaking his wife’s lands (especially the barony of Courville) do not belong to him. Despite the distinct roles of men and women in this society, there is no « guardianship » from the first one over the second one regarding their properties. Even after marriage, wives remain the sole owners of the property they have brought with them, which then directly pass as inheritance to their children. The society of that time very firmly guaranteed these rights to women.

In that same month of November 1615 Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, although they both were only fourteen years old. Anne is the eldest daughter of Spanish King Philip III of Habsburg and Margaret of Austria. She is Spanish, although her name refers to Austria, where her family originated from. The wedding night is a catastrophe. After years of mental conditioning by his confessors, Louis XIII is reluctant to get closer to his wife, he feels only disgust toward her. It will take four years before he accepts to share his bed with her. Despite this, the wedding will long remain sterile.

In 1616, Louis des Ligneris married Anne de Fromentières ; and his brother Jacques: Lucretia de Fromentières, Anne’s sister. Their father Joachimis the lord of Montigny-en-Dunois (5). Theodore and Joachim had to get along well, because this dual alliance means that a significant share of the latter’s lands will go to Theodore’s sons as dowry.

On 1st February 1617, following the death of their mother the first division of lands was pronounced between the three sons Louis, Jacques and Albert. Louis receives most of the barony of Courville. His father Theodore has indeed moved to the castle of Fontaine-la-Guyon (6). But in order not to prejudice his other sons, he separated from the barony the castellanies of Chuisnes and Fontaine-la-Guyon so that they are attributed to Jacques. Albert will receive the castellanies of Saint-Jean-de-la-Forêt and Beauvais-en-Gâtine. Geoffroy is not part of sharing, because in his state of warrior-monk he can not own land (nor get married). As a compensation he receives a pension (7).

Soon after, in April 1617, a thunderclap bursts at the head of the kingdom: Louis XIII just made his own coup. Aged only sixteen, he organized Concini’s assassination in an ambush, with a small group of a dozen loyal people. By taking the avantage, he has La Galigaï executed and sends his mother in exile. He finally takes his place as a king.

Closer to us, Theodore des Ligneris’ youngest daughters, Jacqueline and Lucretius, get married (8), probably at the turn of the 1620s, again with lords from the surroundings lands. The alliances between families are locally arranged.

In 1623 was born Renée (9), daughter of Louis, soon followed by Anne (10). A few years earlier he had a son, but he died at the age of two years. Jacques (11) also has two daughters: Marie (12) and Anne. Albert is unmarried.

At this stage, Theodore has no grand-son. Once again, despite six sons, the survival of the family line is at stake …

(1) Marie des Ligneris married in 1601 with Lancelot de Kaerbout, lord of Gémassé; she took as dowry the land of Ormoy. Jeanne married in 1602 to François de Fontenay, lord of Fresnaye and Saint-Germain-de-la-Coudre, a military officer. Her dowry consisted of the castle and lands of Saint-Hilaire-des-Noyers. Albert was during a short time co-lord of Saint Hilaire-des-Noyers with his brother Jacques and his brother-in-law Lancelot de Kaerbout who had inherited, but then abandoned it to Jeanne and her husband (archive receipts from November 17th, 1622 and January 7th, 1623 given by Jeanne des Ligneris to her brother and brother-in-law). Jeanne became a widow in 1620 and then sold St Hilaire to Louis Petigars-de-la-Guériniere in October 31st, 1622 for 21,000 tournament pounds. Source: http://www.saint-hilaire-des-noyers.org/id11.html

(2) Information on Wignacourt come from Wikipedia.

(3) Geoffroy arrived in 1603, probably before he was 10 years old. On the picture painted in 1607 or 1608 we see a young man aged between 12 and 14 years. The Grand Master had probably several pages, but the hypothesis is plausible.

(4) See Archaeological Society of Eure-et-Loir, Chartres, Memoirs (Volume 7-8)

(5) Incidentally, note that the Fromentières family from Brittany and Maine, was allied to the families « du Bellay, Ronsard, de Maille, Ligneris, Le Theil Samoy. » Here is another link with the Ronsard Brigade of Poetry, which we had previously met with the Claude des Ligneris, who was one of the very first members in 1551.

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

(7) Departmental Archives of Chartres document E2430: Geoffroy gave a receipt for the 400 pounds pension due to him (1620).

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

(9) Renée des Ligneris married to Charles de Fresnois.

(10) Anne des Ligneris will be the wife of René de Douhaut, Lord du Bois-du-Maine.

(11) Jacques des Ligneris was quoted in a 1628 lease for the right to collect the tawes and rents on houses and dependent lands of the lordship of Luy, parish of Villebon. Departmental Archives of Chartres E2651 document, signed by Jacques.

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

12) Théodore (part 5)

1591: Henry IV conquered the city of Chartres after a several months siege. The League was defeated locally, and its leaders were exiled. Theodore des Ligneris was actually not exiled because he had opted in time for the party of the king – even if that choice may have come from his personal opposition to the lord of Réclainville, who led the League in Chartres. We also remember that Theodore had raised the population against him.

At the national scale, the League still opposes fierce resistance. Although defeated at the battle of Ivry (1) on March 14th, 1590, and weakened by two successive sieges of the capital, it does not disarm. The most extreme members of the League spread terror in Paris. While organizing spectacular armed religious processions with thousands of children, they imprison men considered as royalists. Under the authority of the Sixteen, the terror of the Paris League will culminate in 1591 with the execution of the President of the Parliament, Brisson, however leaguer. King Henry IV and his troops fail in the attempt of conquering Paris. (2)

Procession armée de la Ligue en 1590 (Musée Carnavalet)
Procession armée de la Ligue en 1590 (Musée Carnavalet)

The League experiences a fracture when the Duke of Mayenne returns to Paris to punish the extremists who decided the death of Brisson. Finally, the exactions of the League, its attraction for a foreign prince, its Spanish financing, and its questioning of the monarchy gradually detach from it, starting 1591, first the royalists then the cities one after the other. However, it really disarms when Henry IV abjures his Protestant faith in favor of Catholicism. Henry is crowned in Chartres on February 27th, 1594 and enters into Paris a few months later.

The fall of Paris marks for the League the beginning of the end. The victory of French-Fontaine on June 5th, 1595 over the last Leaguers (led by the Duke of Mayenne, and supported by the Spanish), disbands it. Upon the peace of Vervins, the Spaniards abandoned the last positions they held in France. The final end of the League takes place after the submission of the Duke of Mercoeur, governor of Britanny.

Henry ends the wars of religion by the Edict of Nantes and the Treaty of Vervins in 1598. Great king among those that France counted, he managed to ease tensions, maintain the central authority, and end civil war. However one should not misunderstand : when he will be assassinated in 1610, half of the French population supported him, but the other half hated him.

Let’s go back to Chartres, where from 1591 the situation began to gradually stabilize. On that year, the Baron of Courville is nammed Knight of the Order of Saint Michael.

Theodore des Ligneris already has several children from his wife Françoise de Billy. First Jean-Baptiste, whom we do not know the date of birth, but who was born probably in the first years after the marriage, that is to say towards 1578-1580. We must realize that until 1584 Theodore was not often with his wife ; he left for months or even over a year to follow Prince François de Valois, particularly in Flanders and in the Provinces of the Netherlands. The births of Theodore’s numerous children spread over the years 80 and 90 : after Jean-Baptiste came Louis, Jacques, Geoffroy, Albert, Jeanne, Marie, Angélique, Jacqueline, Lucrèce, and finally Charles. That is, 11 children.

We do not know the dates of births, but a son was born in 1582 : « on May 22nd at St Nicolas de Courville, a son of the high and mighty lord Sir Theodore Desligneries, married to Lady N … Baroness de Courville, is baptized. « (3)

When she was besieged in her castle of Courville in the late 80s, Françoise was a young mother who had not reached the age of thirty, surrounded by several children under ten years old, some very young. She would quickly capitulate, and only be released on payment of a ransom (like her husband who suffered the same fate defending Verneuil). One can imagine that the episode was a trauma for the whole family.

At a date which is not precisely known, but probably around years 90-95, Theodore des Ligneris becomes chamberlain of the Count of Soissons, a position he held until 1607. This is a prestigious position which corresponds to Secretary General in managing the affairs of one of the most important princes of the reign of Henry IV.

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

Indeed, Charles de Bourbon Count of Soissons and Dreux, born in 1566 in Nogent-le-Rotrou near Chartres (thus 13 years younger than Theodore), is a son of Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Condé ; and the half-brother of the Prince of Condé, leader of the Protestants. As a Catholic prince raised at the court of France, he first joined the League during the Religion Wars. Disenchanted, he was convinced by Henri de Navarre to join the anti-Guise cause and left the court to fight for him. Theodore may have met him in 1588 at the General Assembly of Blois, which they both attended.

Captured during a battle, Charles de Bourbon was held in the castle of Nantes, from where he escaped to join the king’s army in Dieppe. After the battle of Ivry, he took command of the king’s cavalry at the siege of Paris in 1590, and proved its military value to the sieges of Chartres (1591) and Rouen (1592). Charles de Bourbon attended the coronation of Henry in 1594. He was a trustful collaborator of Henri IV during the siege of Laon (1594). Once the peace had been concluded with Spain, he took command of the royal troops during the Savoy wars in 1600. In 1602 he became governor of Dauphiné, in 1610 and governor of Normandy.

Charles de Bourbon was the great love of his cousin Catherine de Navarre, sister of Henry IV. The king would not hear of a marriage that brought no diplomatic advantage. For several years, Charles and Catherine vainly tried to convince Henry IV, while Catherine refused all other pretender. Eventually, she had to yield to the orders of his brother and marry the eldest son of the Duke of Lorraine, Duke Henry of Bar.

Let’s go back to Theodore, who in the very end of the sixteenth century, was hard hit by the successive deaths of his eldest son Jean-Baptiste, which occurred at the age of 20, and his youngest son Charles, who has not even 2 years old.

When Theodore leaves his position as chamberlain of the Count of Soissons, he is 54. For the time, he already is an old man. But he continues to manage his family (all his children are not yet adults), his lands, and … his trials. Indeed, throughout his life, he engages into countless litigation against individuals or institutions.

So to say, Theodore must have had a difficult character. Orphaned early, he had to learn to fend for himself. Has he found any maternal affection from women who cared for him at the Court of Navarre, when he arrived at the age of five ? Abused at age nine when he was arrested in Loches (tortured?), then entrusted to the House of François de Valois, he had to become independent early, and build character. From the age of fifteen he was in a position which gave him an income, but he had to face his responsibilities alone. And soon he found himself on the battlefield, faced fear and death, and still only counted on himself to get by.

So he does not hesitate to use the judiciary tools as soon as he believes his interests are affected (or perhaps to force things ?). He had thus filed in 1594 a lawsuit (4) against N. Nicolai, about the lands of Varrie (5).

In 1602 a land dispute opposes him to the Holy Father abbey of Chartres. We often forget that the religious orders were indeed very large landowners and temporal lords as well as the nobility ; in the years 700 to 1000 bishops were often warriors, who fought at the head of their armies, as well as administrators of cities and lands. In short, Theodore denies to the Holy Father abbaye the use of some lands. Well aware of the legal intricacies, he records against them letters of committimus. These were an exceptional privilege in court proceedings, which was accessible only to princes and great officers of the kingdom (the President of Parliament, for example) and to the Knights of the Order of Saint Michael. It is for this reason that Theodore benefits from this privilege. Obtained only from the King’s chamberlain, these letters meant that his criminal case could not be heard by the ordinary court but before a special tribunal constituted in Paris.

Theodore des Ligneris initiates another trial, in 1611, against Lancelot de Barrat, Lord of Brunelles, for the estates of the manors of Courville and Brunelles. (6)

For reasons we do not know, he will even disinherit his three sons Louis, Jacques and Albert, between 1616 and 1621. (7)

When his son Louis and his stepdaughter Anne initiate in 1630 a process of separation he challenges the appointment of a guardian for their children, through a legal document signed by him that the Departmental Archives still has. (8)

Moreover, beyond the quarrels, Theodore manages its lands and above all the rights that are associated to them. These actually generate revenue, whether for logging of forests or the right to use the mills. He also realized many property movements with the family lands.

Together with Jeanne de Billy, Theodore sold the lordship of the Morancez lands to Rene Le Beau, Lord of Sauzelles.

Before 1594, he sold to Jacques de Mondreville the Lordship of Villette. The lands still depend on Theodore, as Jacques de Mondreville acknowedged fealty in 1594. (9)

He makes a deal (10) with Charlotte de Saint-Simon, Adrien de Gallot’s widow, for the lordship of Fontaine-la-Guyon (before 1602); as well as with the Chapter of Chartres « for the split and separation of their censives and lordships » (11), between 1610 and 1620.

He sells (12) another farm, around 1621; and makes a transaction (13) with the Chapter for the right of using the mill on his land of Fontaine-la-Guyon.

Theodore realized with his second son Louis a mediatic event by receiving in Courville on September 11th, 1614 the young King Louis XIII and his mother Marie de Medici. Back from a trip to Brittany, the monarch and his entourage will spend the night at the castle.

Theodore makes his will on April 23rd, 1626. He died in Fontaine-la-Guyon on June 4,th 1631, at the respectable age of 78 years. He who, as a teenager, became the only male representative of the family, has given hope for continuity by having six son. But as we will see later, only one of them continued the family.

The death of Theodore coincides with the end of an era, that of the feudal lords, and marks the beginning of a new era for the family. What will happen to his children in this new society, that of the « Great Century » of Louis XIII and Louis XIV?

Finally, I can not resist the urge to show you this signature traced by Theodore himself in 1630, a moving and somewhat clumsy signature from a 77 years old man at the end of a long and adventurous life.

Signature de Théodore des Ligneris en 1630
Signature de Théodore des Ligneris en 1630

(1) The village is called nowadays Ivry-la-Bataille, in remembrance of this decisive confrontation in 1590. It is located near Dreux, in Eure-et-Loir, north of Chartres which appears as the epicenter of the struggles of the time.

(2) This paragraph and the next two are taken from the Wikipedia article on the League.

(3) « Historical records and statistics on the Courville area, » Volume I, by Edward Lefevre, published in 1870, republished by The Book of History, collection directed by M-G Micberth 2005.

(4) Departmental Archives of Chartres paper B2524.

(5) Land situated in the parish of Vichères.

(6) Departmental Archives of Chartres paper B2554.

(7) Departmental Archives of Chartres paper G251.

(8) Departmental Archives of Chartres, E2432 paper, signed by the hand of Theodore.

(9) Departmental Archives of Chartres paper e3936.

(10) Departmental Archives of Chartres paper E2428.

(11) Departmental Archives of Chartres paper E2429.

(12) Departmental Archives of Chartres paper E2430.

(13) Departmental Archives of Chartres paper G253.

11) Theodore (part 4) : Courville vs Réclainville

(caution : the French text has been modified, while the present English version has not been updated yet)

August 1st, 1589. King Henry III de Valois has been murdered by a Catholic League fanatic, this party opposed to the pro-Protestant royal policy. French author Robert Merle brilliantly recounted the scene in his book Fortune de France. He described the arrival of the monk Jacques Clément, pretending to reveal confidential information to the king. The nervous bodyguards want to prevent Clement from approaching the king. But Henry III had always admired monks, he even made several retreats in monasteries. He ordered the guards to let him come close. Clement bent towards Henry, as if he was going to speak near his ear, suddenly held a large knife out of his coat, and stabbed the king in the stomach. Screaming, the guards rushed, grabbed the monk, pierced him with their swords and threw him through the window. He crashed several floors below, dead. But the damage was done, Henry agonized overnight before dying.

Assassinat d'Henri III par le moine Jacques Clément
Assassinat d’Henri III par le moine Jacques Clément

In August 1589, the Protestant Henry III of Navarre became Henry IV of France, legitimate king according to the French dynastic laws. But neither the predominantly Catholic population nor the powerful families constituting the League recognized him as such. They prefered his uncle, Cardinal Charles de Bourbon, once called « Charles X ». However, very old, and already held in jail by Henry IV, he will eventually die in prison in 1590.

Charles duc de Mayenne, vers 1580
Charles duc de Mayenne, vers 1580

Some cities then uprised with the help of Spain; the countryside (including the Perche area, near Chartres) held for the party of King Henry IV. In Chartres on the contrary, the interim governor Jean d’Allonville (Lord of Réclainville) had taken advantage of the murder of the Duke of Guise in December 1588 to replace the titular governor François de Sourdis who was loyal to the king. Having rallied the people of Chartres to the League, he had closed the doors of the city to the troops of King Henry III on January 17th, 1589, and had hosted his opponent Charles de Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne. The latter had indeed become the head of the League after the death of his brother the Duke of Guise. However, he did not have the same charisma. His overweight and stinginess reputation deserved him. With no great political sense, nor decisiveness he showed defiance and cunning.

« The first act of Jean d’Allonville was nevertheless to save François de Sourdis the Duke of Mayenne wanted to behead; then he forced the rest of the inhabitants to swear the Union [to the League]. Réclainville [(that’s another way of calling Jean d’Allonville)] also drove the Huguenots out of the city and imprisoned some of them. (1)

« The only people the king could trust were the Bishop Nicolas de Thou, and the governor, François de Sourdis, but they had little influence on the people of Chartres. The king sent the General Attorney de la Guesle to try to negotiate with the people. They replied by crying: The holy union! One did not even respected the laws of nations. […] Theodore des Ligneris arrested the Attorney General, and released him only after having drawn a large ransom. « (2)

Nicolas de Thou évêque de Chartres
Nicolas de Thou évêque de Chartres

But meanwhile « Theodore des Ligneris, who for several reasons was a close friend of M. de Thou « (3), sent word that he was in danger, which allowed the bishop to leave immediately and seek refuge with the king.

So when Henry III was assassinated, Jean d’Allonville refused to recognize Henry de Navarre as the new king of France. However, Chartres leaguers accused him of mildness and even of treason. They said he negligently left a lieutenant sent by Mayenne being captured. He was accused of having released François de Sourdis; and the Baron of Courville [(meaning Théodore des Ligneris)] whom he had refused full authority had the people of Chartres uprise (4). There were riots against him, he was even imprisoned by the League extremists on September 15th, 1589. « 

Released some time later, Jean d’Allonville refused to take the governorship back and let it to Georges Babou de La Bourdaisière. (5)

« The position of Réclainville requires clarification. […] His behavior is that of a gentleman as we could meet many in the sixteenth century. Thus the solidarity he has shown towards royalists and the governor de Sourdis is a typical attitude of the time, and inclines to think that he did not act with the faith of a crusader but according to the classic nobility morality, rather enemy of religious fanaticism. It also seems that he acted by loyalty to the Guise family and particularly to the Duke of Mayenne. […]

Personal ambition was not a factor to be overlooked, especially as Réclainville had a competitor among the League nobility, as Chancellor of Cheverny relates in his memoirs : Theodore des Ligneris, who Henry III had refused as a deputy of the nobility party representing the bailiwick of Chartres in 1588. Local chroniclers recall that the Baron of Ligneris intrigued against Réclainville and was at the origin of the sedition which caused his dismissal, because  » he was « disappointed » of not having been elected or chosen as governor by Mayenne. « 

In early 1590 Theodore des Ligneris reconciled with Henri IV. « On March 8th, assured of his sincerity, the new king names him commander of a troop of 50 spears for being », he said, « worthy and capable by his virtues and merits to be honored « .

« Theodore des Ligneris who had pushed Chartres to support the Catholic League, suddenly changed sides: he gave to Henry IV the stronghold of Verneuil, much to the displeasure of the citizens of Chartres who sold his furniture to purchase the artillery necessary for the defense of the city. « (6)

« But Theodore surrendered the place on April to François de Rouxel, one of the League leaders. He said he had not a numerous garrison to defend themselves. « According to another version, » Taken by surprise in Verneuil, Théodore was taken prisoner, while his wife, besieged in her castle of Courville, was forced to capitulate. A ransom allowed them to regain freedom. « 

It seems that Theodore was an opportunist with no major political or religious beliefs. He had turned away from Henri III after the episode of the General Assembly of Blois. No doubt he already had bad feelings against him even before this event, since he had been raised from age 9 – and shared his life, with prince François de Valois who was extremely jealous from his brother Henry and systematically spoke ill of him. As for Henry IV, Theodore had played as a child with him at the castle of Pau during the 50’s, from the age of 5 to the age of 9. More than politics, what lead Theodore was the ability of taking advantage of the immediate situation.

« In 1590, the Leaguers in Chartres lived in fear of conspiracy, a common attitude to all cities that justified repression. The people of Chartres were right to worry, because their city was an important strategic point in the Paris suburbs and one of the capital main supplier for wheat. Moreover, apart from Britanny and the city of Rouen, Henry IV controlled most of the West. It was therefore necessary for him to blow the leaguer lock at the door of these regions. (7)

The siege began on February 11th, 1591 (8). Infantry, commanded by François de Sourdis, occupied the suburbs. On the 16th, the King tried one last approach by summing the Chartrains to surrender. The mayor and residents answered that they were ready there if Henry IV became Catholic. The pastor of Saint Aignan Church organized a procession in true Parisian style, barefoot in the cold and snow, to ask God to protect the city against the cannonade. It nevertheless began on February 27th at six in the morning, and created great damage. La Bourdaisière, the new Leaguer governor, who knew he did not have the military means to resist such an attack, proposed to return the city to the king, but the people of Chartres refused, unwilling at any price to undergo a « heretic ». From March 17th to April 10th, negotiations alternated with attacks and cannon fire. Gradually the morale of the population decreased, and the governor managed to convince the people, despite the absolute hostility of the clergy, to accept the proposals of the besiegers.

The example of Chartres illustrates the case of a city without real municipal tradition that rallies to the League thanks to a successful conspiracy. The role of the nobles is more central than that of the notables. Active minorities have served as relays, and pushed to radicalization after the assassination of Henry III and when it appeared to all that Chartres was to be besieged by the new king, who was regarded by many Leaguers as the devil. The sidelining of notables, including the Governor, […] to make way for street leaders, neighborhood or ward, symbolizes the evolution to a more popular league. »

The people of the city of Chartres surrendered in April 1591. Henry IV granted them the guarantee of the exercise of the Catholic religion, the prohibition of Reformed worship in the city and suburbs, the confirmation of their privileges, and permission for Leaguers who wanted to go into exile to reach another city. We know most of them went to Orleans, like Jean d’Allonville. The chancellor and the king entered the city, and reconstituted the municipality according to ancient custom. The Chartres League had lived.

(1) This paragraph is from the Wikipedia article entitled « Jehan II d’Allonville de Réclainville ».

(2) Memoirs de Thou, book XCIV.

(3) « Universal History of Jacques Auguste de Thou: from 1543 until 1607 »

(4) The Baron de Courville is Theodore des Ligneris. We remember that people were either nominated by their surname or the name of their land with or without title. Thus Theodore crossing an acquaintance could be talked to using the following manner: « Ah! Courville precisely I had to see you. « 

(5) we find here the in-laws of the René des Ligneris (cousin of Theodore, he was killed in 1562 at the Battle of Dreux, where he commanded the light cavalry of the Prince of Condé). The father of Georges cited here, was Jean Babou de La Bourdaisière, who saved Theodore in 1562 when just aged 9 years he was arrested, mistreated and imprisoned at Loches. See also: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famille_Babou_de_La_Bourdaisi%C3%A8re

(6) The League, Jean-Marie Constant, Fayard, 1996. http://www.fayard.fr/la-ligue-9782213594880

(7) This paragraph and the next three are from the book The League, by Jean-Marie Constant, Fayard, 1996. http://www.fayard.fr/la-ligue-9782213594880

(8) Inside the fortifications of Chartres, « the regular troops and six companies of the bourgeois militia formed a workforce of 3,500 infantry and 300 horses. But the entire population, increased by a large number of peasant refugees, worked on the fortifications and breaches. « (from Wikipedia, article » Jehan II d’Allonville de Réclainville « ).

10) Théodore (Part 3)

We are in 1582. Theodore controls almost all the roads coming north, south and west of Chartres: he was lord of Ormoy, Morancez, Fontaine-la-Guyon and Courville, but also Bailly, Chauvigny, Aumane La Mothe. Taking advantage of religious wars disorders, it prohibits merchants to cross his lands, or, at least, makes them pay. carte 1582

The Governor of Chartres Francois de Sourdis, having been sent to Italy in September 1582, King Henry III commissioned the office to John d’Allonville, Lord of Réclainville. The captain arrived January 23, 1583, to the great satisfaction of the aldermen, who relied on his firmness to quell looting of the soldiers and the harassment of some nobles of the neighborhood. Indeed, it puts troublemakers to reason, including Theodore, who must lift its roadblocks. (1)

In 1584, on the death of his master and protector the Duke of Alencon, Theodore is 31 years old. Taking advantage of his many contacts at the Court, he became governor of Verneuil, that is to say military chief of the stronghold that blocks access between the Ile de France and Normandy in the valley of the Avre, north of Chartres.

Collier_Saint-Michel_avers actu

According to the letters of 1776 which briefly tell the story of the family, « [after the death of Prince] Theodore made war in Italy and Germany, where he fought at several sieges and battles as captain of fifty men of arms of the king’s orders, and was later honored by the collar of the order of Saint Michael. « 

But at the national level, a new crisis opens. Henry III having no children, his younger brother François d’Alençon was the natural heir to the crown. With his death, the next in the male line – according to the Salic law that governs succession to the throne of France – is King Henry III of Navarre, House of Bourbon, a Protestant prince (later Henry IV of France). (2)

The Prince of the House of Lorraine, Henri de Guise, then became head of a new Catholic League. Since 1582, King Philip II of Spain had provided financial support to Catholics, as a means of promoting Catholicism and of weakening the king of France, his rival on the European stage. He confirms this support by signing the Treaty of Joinville December 31, 1584, where he recognizes as successor to the throne of France Cardinal de Bourbon, uncle of the King of Navarre, second in line of succession but Catholic.

The League publishes a proclamation on March 31, 1585, to restore the unique religion, subtract the king from the clutches of his favorites, and force him to call regularly to the General Assembly (« Etats Généraux »). Many military leaders join the League.

By the Treaty of Nemours, Henry III of France must yield to the demands of the League, which became too powerful. The eighth religious war ended with a military status quo, the Protestant victory at Coutras being balanced by Henri de Guise victories at Auneau and Vimory (1587), which further enhances the prestige of the prince and the House of Lorraine.

However Henry III forbade Henri de Guise to enter Paris, where rumors of uprising were spreading. But he enters into the capital town on May 9, 1588. Seeing the movements of the royal army, the population of Paris who supported Guise, builds barricades. Having lost control of his capital, Henry III fled to Chartres.

Henry III pretends to reconcile with the Leaguers: he signs in Rouen on July 15, 1588 the Union Edict against the Protestants, and let the port city of Boulogne-sur-Mer for the Leaguers so that they can receive the Spanish fleet. Moreover, Henri de Guise is made Lieutenant General for the kingdom (that is to say, chief of the army). Popular, powerful, he prepares to take over.

« In 1588, King Henry III who has not managed to regain control of his kingdom by force will attempt to achieve its goals through political game, where he excelled. He decided to call the meeting of the General Assembly, stating that the meeting of the three Orders was necessary to reform the kingdom and restore the authority of the king. (3)

Guise and the Leaguers were not in the least impressed by this maneuver and threw themselves into a formidable election campaign from which Protestants were virtually excluded, but that opposed Leaguers and supporters of the king.

Henry III sought by all means to promote the election of his faithful […]. In many bailiwicks, the electoral assemblies were real political confrontations. Sometimes, without being too direct, pressure was exerted on elected members or local authorities.

Thus in Chartres, Henry III summoned the governor Jean d’Allonville, lord of Réclainville, to discuss the future representative of the nobility of the bailiwick: belonging to an ancient lineage of honorable gentlemen from Beauce, he was able to know the mindset that prevailed in the country. The king first asked if they had made « the appointment of a deputy. » Prudently, the governor replied that « nothing was done » but that « Sieur de Mémulon, gentleman of Dunois, a qualified and worthy person, or the lord of Ligneris, Baron de Courville, might have a good hand. « The king did not like the candidacy of these two men, he wanted someone more secure: he called Mémulon an  » old dreamer and stubborn « and reproached Ligneris an obscure military defeat in Verneuil.

He concludes by proposing one of his men, Louis d’Angennes Lord of Maintenon. The King got angry because of the reluctance of his interlocutor. The latter, who was a stutterer, and more and more excited, would not dare say to the sovereign that the nobility did not like Maintenon, whom she accused of secretly lean toward the Reformation and especially not to be independent since he belonged to the King’s Council.

Henry III was angry, yelling « we insist he must be elected, having no more loyal or better servant in that house. « He even threatened to cut the head to the Baron of Courville if he dared to go to the Assembly in Blois. Finally Maintenon was elected and the King’s Council, called to arbitrate, decided in his favor. « 

Although his head was threatened, Theodore went on August 15, 1588 to Blois as elected member representing the nobility of the country of Chartres, and sat with the other representative throughout the duration of the session. (4) « From that moment, the Ligneris embraced League party. « 

« Overall, despite these conflicts and pressures, both parties balanced in the assembly of the order of the nobility. It was not the same for the clergy and the third estate, which gave the majority to the League. « (5)

A few months later, in December 1588 Henry III had Henry de Guise murdered by his personal guard, as well as the Cardinal of Lorraine, brother of the Duke of Guise. He arrested the archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal de Bourbon, the Prince de Joinville, son of the Duke of Guise, his mother the Duchess de Nemours and his cousin, the Duke of Elbeuf. Several deputies of the General Assembly were also arrested. Charles Duke of Mayenne, brother of Henri de Guise, became head of the League.

The coup caused a general uprising. All provinces held by the League (essentially Champagne, Midi, Burgundy, Brittany, Normandy and the Paris region) rebelled against the « tyrant » Henry III, who allied with the King of Navarre ; and their army laid siege to Paris.

It was then that Henri III was assassinated on August 1, 1589 by Jacques Clement, a Dominican League member.

Catholic families arereluctant to accept a new king who is Protestant, Henri IV, who then began to regain his kingdom. What will happen to Theodore, who sided with the League?

(1) This paragraph and the next are inspired by the excellent website of Mr. Pierre Braquet (http://www.saint-hilaire-des-noyers.org/) owner of the castle of Saint Hilaire des Noyers, located in the village Colonard Corubert, in Perche. Mr Braquet has written the history of all the successive owners of the castle, Theodore of Ligneris being part of them.

(2) This paragraph and the next five are derived from Wikipedia, article on the Catholic League, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligue_catholique_(France), I have used and adapted.

(3) These six paragraphs are taken from the book The League, Jean-Marie Constant, Fayard, 1996, pp158-160. http://www.fayard.fr/la-ligue-9782213594880

(4) A 1588 manuscript preserved in the departmental archives of Chartres says Theodore des Ligneris was among the deputies of the General Assembly.

(5) The League, 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 (John)

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 (Peter) 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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