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

The Characters of Balzac's 'La Comédie Humaine': Fact or Fiction?
  • Balzac’s d’Espards were in fact Nègrepelisse.
  • The d’Espard name and titles were acquired by marriage at the time of Henri IV
  • The original d’Espards were an old family from Bearn
  • They were allied to the d’Albrets through the female line
  • Balzac gives the arms as: quarterly, paly of or and sable; and azure two griffins’ claws armed, gules in saltire – with the motto: Des Partem Leonis
  • The Nègrepelisse had been militant Catholics whose property was ruined at the time of the church wars
  • Captain de Nègrepelisse had been a friend of Montluc
  • King Charles IX favoured him
  • There was a Nègrepelisse among the hostages of St Louis

These seemed to be solid pieces of historical information, but could they be verified. How good an historian was Balzac? I read Balzac’s book on Catherine de Medici which seemed to me to demonstrate a good level of research and attention to detail. He was clearly a great admirer of her and was able to describe her achievements at a time when France was divided by both religious and political battles. Marie de Medici, on the other hand, he despised as a wastrel who undid many of the good works of her husband Henri IV and those of Catherine.

It is clear too that Balzac had assistance from a group of informed friends and contacts. Important among these was Ferdinand de Grammont. He was both a friend and secretary to Balzac, and he created the ‘L’armorial de La Comédie Humaine’, which was refined by Balzac.

The following dedication appears in ‘La Muse du Département’:

To Monsieur le Comte Ferdinand de Gramont.



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