From Monsieur E, we have received the most astonishing of responses to our series attempting to identify Marie Fouyol. He sends us a beautifully told and well-researched study of a lovely sampler by Marie Fouyol's daughter. Read on.
Fanny Mansell’s sampler of 1818
Recently I followed a link to Anne Morddel’s wonderfully helpful French Genealogy Blog and soon came upon her ten-part series of blogposts on her quest for records of Thomas Mansell, the Yorkshire weaver detained at Fontainebleau and then in Paris when renewed conflict between England and France erupted in 1803, and his French wife Marie Fouyol.
I was greatly excited by this because, some years ago, I purchased at an antiques show in Canada a textile sampler (marquoir) made in France by Joséphine Fanny Mansels (sic) in 1818 at the age of seven. The dealer thought it was French Canadian, and somewhat unusual for that reason. [Salahub] But upon doing some research I soon identified Fanny as Thomas Mansell’s daughter, the later Mrs. Greig, and realized her story was a lot more complicated. The wording on the sampler records, in French, the day they left Paris, which she evidently added later. This is the only sampler I have seen that records an act of migration. As it was produced in Paris under French influence it differs from English samplers in a number of respects. And it introduces some new hints about the family’s life in France.
Samplers originated as exemplars: oblong pieces of cloth bearing sample stitches as teaching and memory aids for young seamstresses. Over the course of the eighteenth century they became more ornamental: a demonstration of a young girl’s accomplishments and something to be framed rather than kept in a drawer for reference. Sometimes a series of samplers was produced as a girl gained in knowledge and experience [Mouillefarine 88]; usually only the last was retained once her training was complete. As many were produced in schools and female academies, they reflect standardized motifs typical of their time and place as well as occasional unique elements specific to the maker.
Some scholars view samplers as a form of life writing or autobiography. This viewpoint has been popularized by a spate of articles about an unusually introspective English sampler from the 1830s consisting of the textual lamentations of a servant girl who had been abused by an employer. [e.g. Flower, Pezzoli-Olgiati] Samplers in the English tradition tend to be more didactic than introspective. Many contain moralistic verses derived from books of instruction for children, but most are personalized to the extent of naming the maker of the textile, and stating her age and the date it was made. A location is also fairly standard, and less often the name of the school or instructor under whose direction the child produced the item. Samplers reveal or at least suggest information about the creator’s education and values: or at least the values which the instructor sought to inculcate.
Typically of early 19th century French examples, Fanny Mansell’s sampler was worked in silk threads on linen using cross-stitch. [Pouchelon 5, 108] Her sampler tells us nothing overtly about its creation – she names no school or teacher – but as is typical it gives her name and age and the year. But the text is in French, and the conventions of the sampler are culturally more French than English. Though French samplers are less likely to include moralistic or religious verses than English ones, they are more likely to include religious symbols. Fanny’s resembles other French samplers from the First Empire and Restoration in using an alphabet based on the Encylopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert and featuring discreet Catholic religious symbols and naïve flowers and animals, [Mouillefarine 48] with about 80% of the space devoted to the motifs. [Pouchelon 108]
The top row begins with the monogram of Jesus in blue: IHS with a cross atop the crossbar of the H, but with the S reversed. To the left of the alphabet is an outlined cross atop a stepped base. The alphabet commences, as in most French samplers, with a small cross with equal arms called the Croix de par Dieu: Sampler historian Catherine Pouchelon explains that a French child reciting the alphabet began by making the sign of the cross and, following the Encyclopédie, model alphabets included the symbol as a reminder to the student. [Pouchelon 91-94]
While many French samplers from this period feature a centrally-placed altar, Fanny’s centres a monstrance (a stand incorporating a glazed shrine for displaying the host) below the alphabet but omits the altar. Above it two birds face a crown, as in an example from c.1814 [Pouchelon 110]. An 1819 example [Mouillefarine 66] similarly shows a crown above the monstrance but flanked by lions instead of birds. Even lacking the lions the crown may reference the Bourbon restoration of 1814. The monstrance in Fanny’s sampler is smaller than many of the other motifs. To the right below her name are five small tools. The third may be an arrow, the fifth a pair of tongs or pincers. If these are intended to represent the instruments of the Passion, a common set of symbols on French samplers, they are given a fairly token presence. Various potted plants dominate, with a few small birds and animals and in the bottom row a windmill, ship, and table-and-chairs, common motifs in samplers of the era.
The alphabet is in blue, with only a few letters having both capital and lower-case letters: Aa, Cc, Mm Nn Qq. The capital Q interestingly is in English form but with the tail pointing left, rather than resembling a backwards P following the Encyclopédie. As in most French alphabets there is no W. Z is followed by an ampersand and the numbers 1 through 10. In the texts toward the bottom of the sampler Fanny employs mostly lower case letters in recording her name and age (also in blue) but with upper case D and G (the lower case letters for which are lacking from her alphabet). But she makes liberal use of the lower case e despite not recording an exemplar in her alphabet. And again we find a reversed capital S. She is careful to include the accent on the “e” where appropriate, something her teacher may have emphasized. In recording her departure from Paris, in red, she employs all capitals apart from in the opening word “quiter”. Her arrival in England is added in white using mixed characters, omitting an “r” from “ARIVé” and abbreviating the month “Juillet” to “Jet”.
Despite the muted Catholic symbolism and the attempt at an anglo capital Q, Fanny’s sampler suggests she was raised in the Parisian cultural milieu of her mother – French and Catholic – rather than in a self-isolating English émigré community. In the 1901 census of Carleton Place, Ontario, Fanny stated her mother tongue as French, again suggesting she was raised and educated in a French Catholic environment. As her father seems to have been illiterate, this should not surprise.
Needlework was an integral part of girls’ education whatever their social rank, whether that education was formal or informal, though the formal education of girls in France lagged behind that in England. From practical exemplar to demonstration of accomplishment, learning this dexterous manual work was integrated with other types of knowledge. While some girls may have been instructed by their mothers, the samplers resulting would likely be less elaborate than those that were worked under the tutelage of a skilled needlewoman.
We have a clue to the possible identity of her instructor. Fanny’s godmother at the time of her baptism in 1814 at the age of two years and two months was Joséphine Thomassin, Mme. Cartier, a chamareuse [Morddel parts 2 and 6], one who decorates clothing with trimmings, lace, and braid. [Reymond n.p.] This implies that Thomassin made her living through sewing rather than embroidery and indeed chamareuse was accounted a humble occupation. But Mme Cartier was able to sign her name capably, and she may have worked below her skill level. Anne has traced Thomassin’s background, found record of her marrying Jean Baptiste Joseph Cartier in 1802, living in rue du Petit Lion Saint Sauveur, and having children in 1810 and 1812. While she has not tracked her beyond 1813 when she stood godmother to Françoise Joséphine Mansell (who likely took her middle name from her), the fact that her death has not turned up makes it plausible that she was still living in 1818 when Fanny made her sampler.
It is interesting that though she was baptized as Françoise Joséphine, she stitched her name as Joséphine Fanny Mansels, including the proper accent on the e but giving the name by which she was known, Fanny rather than Françoise. That she spelled Mansels with an s adds another spelling to the list of variants associated with documents relating to her English father, who was stated in French baptismal records as unable to sign.
The sampler includes an unusual biographical element in recording the date Fanny left Paris (April 1, 1819) and the day she reached her destination (July 20), presumably where members of the wider family were then living in Yorkshire. This was perhaps Strensall just northeast of York, where Thomas’s brother Robert lived in 1809, and where his brother John married in 1817. More likely Thomas joined his mother at Nunnington, in Ryedale, 21 km north. Here his father George had acquired a freehold by 1807 (having returned to his parish of birth) and had died in 1816. His widow Frances died there in 1829.
The information about the return from Paris appears to have been added later. The move is dated a year after the sampler itself, and the text breaks the symmetry, as for that matter does Fanny’s signature, which intrudes into the bottom tier of motifs. It is as if the idea of signing the sampler occurred as it was nearing completion, and even later the details of her travels were inserted in a small space remaining to the left.
Fanny understood the significance of leaving France, and gave it a permanent record here, and thus far this is the only record discovered of the precise dates of the family’s departure and arrival. She did not record their destination, but she did not have the space, and perhaps she thought they would be remaining there. Later changes to samplers are not unknown but they are unusual. Several authors refer to samplers in which the age or year have been unpicked later in life in an attempt to conceal a woman’s age. [Scott 47] Leaving Paris, journeying to England, and settling in rural Canada was also a major cultural shift for Marie Fouyol. Living in an Anglophone milieu, in localities where the Catholic minority was mostly Irish, she became Mary and appears to have made no attempt to retain her Catholicism. (Though recorded as Church of England in 1861 and in her death certificate, in the 1871 census the space for her religion was left blank: her son Alfred was Anglican but his wife was a Scot and she and the children were Presbyterians.) Did Fanny’s sampler move with her to Carleton Place, or 120 km north to Westmeath where Mary lived with Alfred? Hanging in either parlour, as it likely did, it was a tangible reminder of an earlier and very different life.
The story was not forgotten as Fanny’s gravemarker in the Auld Kirk Cemetery near Almonte, Ontario, records her birth in Paris, and the story is recounted in somewhat more detail in her newspaper obituary.[Morddel part 1] There are one or two factual errors due to the story being recounted by one of her children rather than by Fanny herself. Her younger brother Alfred was not born in England, as her obituary suggests, but rather in Elizabethtown Township near the St Lawrence River before the family relocated 90 km north to Ramsay. In the 1901 census Alfred gave his birthdate as April 28, 1821, and his death certificate states his place of birth as Elizabethtown. [Ont. d. cert. 1907/027101] This is consistent with Fanny’s obituary stating that the family lived at first near Brockville, though they may not have resided there all of the four years it claims.
- Flower, Chloe. “Wilful Design: The Sample in Nineteenth-Century Britain”, Journal of Victorian Culture 21, no. 3 (2016): 301-21
- Lukacher, Joanne Martin. Imitation and Improvement: The Norfolk Sampler Tradition. Redmond, WA: In the Company of Friends, 2013
- Morddel, Anne. French Genealogy Blog, Free Clinic, Case no. 9: Marie Fouyol, Parisian wife of Thomas Mansell (10 parts). https://french-genealogy-typepad.com
- Mouillefarine, Laurence. Les Marquoirs Anciens de Catherine Pouchelon. Éditions Mango Pratique, Cahier du Collectionneur, 2005
- Pezzoli-Olgiati, “’As i cannot write I put this down simply and freely’: Samplers as a Religious Material Practice,” Journal for religion, film, media www.jrfm.eu 7, no. 1 (2021): 95-122
- Pouchelon, Catherine. Abécédaires Brodés du Modèle a l’ouvrage. Paris: Les Éditions de l’Amateur, 2001
- Reymond, Paul. Dictionnaire des Vieux Métiers. Paris: Brocéliande
- Salahub, Jennifer E. Quebec Samplers: ABCs of embroidery. Montreal: McCord Museum of Canadian History, 1994
- Scott, Rebecca. Samplers. Botley, Oxford: Shire Publications, 2009
Thank you so much Monsieur E!
©2023 Monsieur E