History Plain & Simple

Book Review : The Huguenots

Geoffrey Treasure's hefty "The Huguenots" was published by Yale University Press earlier this year with this blurb from the publisher:
Following the Reformation, a growing number of radical Protestants came together to live and worship in Catholic France. These Huguenots survived persecution and armed conflict to win—however briefly—freedom of worship, civil rights, and unique status as a protected minority. But in 1685, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes abolished all Huguenot rights, and more than 200,000 of the radical Calvinists were forced to flee across Europe, some even farther.   In this capstone work, Geoffrey Treasure tells the full story of the Huguenots’ rise, survival, and fall in France over the course of a century and a half. He explores what it was like to be a Huguenot living in a “state within a state,” weaving stories of ordinary citizens together with those of statesmen, feudal magnates, leaders of the Catholic revival, Henry of Navarre, Catherine de’ Medici, Louis XIV, and many others. Treasure describes the Huguenots’ disciplined community, their faith and courage, their rich achievements, and their unique place within Protestantism and European history. The Huguenot exodus represented a crucial turning point in European history, Treasure contends, and he addresses the significance of the Huguenot story—the story of a minority group with the power to resist and endure in one of early modern Europe’s strongest nations.
For a few years, now, authors -- and some readers -- have bemoaned the collapse of the infrastructure of publishing companies and Mr. Treasure's thorough history is a good example of why. Publishing companies have been doing away with employees such as editors, fact-checkers, proofreaders. In their places, they have hired.....no one. 
Mr. Treasure retired from his job as senior master at Harrow School when he was sixty-two, in 1992. Since then, he has published a number of books, including a biography of Mazarin. "The Huguenots" is an extraordinarily comprehensive history of the French Protestants, placing them in the context of European Protestant beginnings and showing that they were not passive victims of religious persecution but were themselves most militant, marching into war bellowing their own Battle Psalm. He is clearly an expert on his subject, but Mr. Treasure's erudition -- and his readers -- have been sorely let down by his publisher's failings:
  • An editor would have helped Mr. Treasure clarify just what type of book he was writing, either scholarly treatise or popular history. Though the book is marketed to the general public, the author seems to assume the reader has an extensive knowledge of French history under his or her belt. We required a couple of encyclopaedias to help us along, as well as complete genealogies of the Valois and Bourbons.
  • An editor might have pointed out that end notes that refer to other pages in the book are not much help. Essentially, they say "I'll get to that later."
  • A proofreader or fact checker might have caught typos and mistaken dates, such as that concerning one of the crucial events before the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day, the hanging of Philippe de Gastine, given as being in 1569 instead of 1571; or the transposition that places Achille de Harlay's petition to the king in 1589 instead of 1598.
  • An editor would have guided Mr. Treasure's style from one that reads like a bumpy ride on a bad road (often giving the sense that we are reading his notes) to a smoother prose with greater clarity. 
  • The little Glossary is a nice touch, especially as Mr. Treasure sprinkles his writing with rather a large number of French words.
  • A few maps would have helped.
  • A chronology would have helped.
  • A bit less popular psychology as an effort to explain barbarism would have helped.

In short, imperfect but essential. 

Click on the cover in the right-hand column of this page to buy it.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Occitan and Southern France



Many of our Dear Readers have written to say that -- since discovering their French ancestry -- they have been studiously learning French, but we say to hold your horses. If your ancestors came from the southern half of France, though they would have spoken French at school and work, but at home they would have spoken Occitan, (once known as Limousin and in the far south as Provençal). It was the language of the troubadours, such as Bertran de Born,  and of Eleanor of Aquitaine. 

The area where Occitan was and still is spoken, called Occitania, stretches across France from the Atlantic to the Alps, with the southern boundary being the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, and the northern boundary being a bit more vague than the others but including the regions of Limousin, the Auvergne and the southern half of Rhone-Alpes, thus, almost half of modern France. All those ancestors from Albi, Toulouse, Barcelonette, Bordeaux, Montauban, Montpellier, Nice, etc. spoke French well enough, but their native tongue was Occitan. 

To know more about the history and dialects of Occitan, we recommend the pages on it at orbilat.com. If you wish to read the most detailed and haughty description, we recommend the article from the Glorious Eleventh. If you wish to try reading the news in Occitan, there is La Setmana. For a blog in Occitan about events in Occitan, read Rubrica en òc. For a radio broadcast, there is the regular show, "Meitat chen, meitat porc" on France bleu. Type Occitan in the YouTube search box and get thousands of results, including this cutie pie singing the Occitan Hymn. (The melody sure sounds like a familiar other.) Be sure to read the comments below this video to get a feel of just how important the language still is to many.

There are almost no parish registrations and definitely no civil registrations written in Occitan, so to be sure, keep up the French lessons. If, however, your ancestors spoke Occitan, we suggest a few lessons in that as well.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Was Your Ancestor's Private Journal Preserved?


Le livre des vacances

Sad to say, the long-used and perfectly respectable term for a person's written thoughts not intended for publication, "private writings", has been binned and such writings renamed by people who should know better as "egodocuments", giving the terminology of a certain philosopher of mind whose fundamental theories on relationships have been largely debunked rather more prominence than we should like to see. But there it is. "Egodocuments" are now a field of historical research, with a couple of French historians from the Sorbonne -- Jean-Pierre Bardet and François-Joseph Ruggiu -- leading the way.

Why should those researching their French ancestry give a zut about this new and obscure corner of academic pursuit? Because private writings include diaries, travel journals, various manuscripts, commonplace  books, personal meditations, memoires and the like. And because many of these have ended up in archives. And because Messieurs Bardet and Ruggiu run a team of people who are working on locating every such document in every archives facility or library in France, and listing it on their website, Les écrits du for privé. Not only are the documents listed, their location and description are given, they may be searched on the website by many criteria. They have not been scanned, but partial transcriptions are given.

If you come from a line of those who have the uncontrollable need to write their thoughts, hopes, fears, sermons, reasonings, meditations, then you could find an ancestor's scribblings here. There are two ways to search the collection, the division apparently being based on who provided the funding, an oddity which may indicate that all too common academic malady, testiness, somewhere. 

  • Base de repérage - built in partnership with the Archives de France and showing their strict divisions of archival territory. One searches first in the archives hierarchy: national, departmental or municipal, then, many useless clicks later, in a list of locations.
  • Inventaire analytique - built in partnership with the Agence nationale de la recherche and allowing for searches on names, regions and subjects.

We did a simple search for anything written by a woman in Franche-Comté. It brought "Personal Notes on Religion and Education" by an anonymous woman in Jura, writing in the late nineteenth century to her daughter. It is signed by two priests. There is a partial transcription. Another search brought the "Memoires of Madame Meslier de Rocan, née Barbe Henry d'Aulnois, written by herself and dedicated to her daughter" name her sisters.

The site has glitches. If the search has too many results on the Inventaire analytique, there is an error message repeated for each result not shown, it seems, that is extremely annoying. Still, the value is that there are quite a lot of names and family relationships in these documents, and this website could be of some slight help to the genealogist.

Why not give it a go?

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy