Anglo-French Relations The Cloak of Secrecy A personal voyage of detection



The Characters of Balzac's 'La Comédie Humaine': Fact or Fiction?

“The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes was decreed,” he went on. “You are no doubt aware, monsieur, that this was an opportunity for many favourites to make their fortunes. Louis XIV bestowed on the magnates about his Court the confiscated lands of those Protestant families who did not take the prescribed steps for the sale of their property. Some persons in high favour went ‘Protestant-hunting,’ as the phrase was. I have ascertained beyond a doubt that the fortune enjoyed to this day by two ducal families is derived from lands seized from hapless merchants.

“I will not attempt to explain to you, a man of law, all the manoeuvres employed to entrap the refugees who had large fortunes to carry away. It is enough to say that the lands of Nègrepelisse, comprising twenty-two churches and rights over the town, and those of Gravenges which had formerly belonged to us, were at that time in the hands of a Protestant family. My grandfather recovered them by gift from Louis XIV. This gift was effected by documents hall-marked by atrocious iniquity. The owner of these two estates, thinking he would be able to return, had gone through the form of a sale, and was going to Switzerland to join his family, whom he had sent in advance. He wished, no doubt, to take advantage of every delay granted by the law, so as to settle the concerns of his business.

“This man was arrested by order of the governor, the trustee confessed the truth, the poor merchant was hanged, and my ancestor had the two estates. I would gladly have been able to ignore the share he took in the plot; but the governor was his uncle on the mother’s side, and I have unfortunately read the letter in which he begged him to apply to Deodatus, the name agreed upon by the Court to designate the King. In this letter there is a tone of jocosity with reference to the victim, which filled me with horror. In the end, the sums of money sent by the refugee family to ransom the poor man were kept by the governor, who despatched the merchant all the same.”

The Marquis paused, as though the memory of it were still too heavy for him to bear.

“This unfortunate family were named Jeanrenaud,” he went on. “That name is enough to account for my conduct. I could never think without keen pain of the secret disgrace that weighed on my family.”

 
 

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