I recounted in Breakfast, a museum, a ramble and a visit to the Dead House how we had visited Somerset House and explored part of the basement, there discovering the Dead House. This passageway had been used in the 17th century, when Somerset House served as a royal palace, as a crypt for the burial of important members of the court. There are still tombstones in place, affixed to the wall. One of these in particular attracted my attention as the inscription was in archaic French.
Why was a French nobleman buried here, in England, and afforded such a prestigious resting place? I decided to take a closer look and see what I could discover.
First, let us see what the inscription actually says. It is interesting both linguistically and historically and I suspect that the language used was slightly archaic even by the standards of the 17th century. The text reads as follows (I have replaced ‘v’ with ‘u’ where this letter is intended):
CI GISENT LES ENTRAILLES DE FEU HAULT ET PUISSANT SEIGNEUR MESSIRE JACQUES D’ANGENNES CHEVALIER MARQUIS DE POUGNY ET DU BOISORCANT SEIGNEUR DE LA RIVADIERE, LE CHASTELLIER, ORSEMONT, MONTIGNY ET AUTRES LIEUX. CON[SEILL]ER D’ESTAT DU ROY TRES CHRESTIEN ET SON AMBASSADEUR PRES LE SERENISSIME ROY DE LA GRANDE BRETAGNE DECEDDE A RYGATE EN LA CONTE DE SURREY LE NEUF[IE]M[E] JOUR DE JANVIER 1637 STIL NOUVEAU. PRIES DIEU POUR SON AME
(I am not giving the modern French equivalent because, if you know French, it is easy to transcribe, and if you don’t, then it doesn’t help!)
We may translate as follows: Here lie the remains of the late high and powerful Lord Jacques d’Angennes Knight Marquis of Pougny and of Boisorcant, Lord of La Rivadière, Le Chastellier, Orsemont, Montigny and other places. Counsellor of State of the Christian King [Louis XIII] and his ambassador to the most serene King [Charles I] of Great Britain, deceased at Reigate in the county of Surrey on the 9th day of January 1637, new style. Pray to God for his soul.
There are a number of fascinating points here. Modern readers might baulk at the phrase “Ci gisent les entrailles” since in modern French, as in English, entrailles means the inner parts of the body, i.e. the entrails. We might reasonably ask where they buried the rest of him! But this seems to be a conventional formula used on tombstones (often written more archaically still as Cy gisent…), corresponding to English “Here lie the (mortal) remains…”
Just as “Rygate” is more often known as Reigate, so “Pougny” is better known nowadays as Poigny in the département of Seine-et-Marne, though it has also appeared as Pougny or Pogny. To complicate matters, there is also a Pougny in Eastern France, a village still called by that name, but as I have found both Pougny and Poigny mentioned in relation to the d’Ancennes family, I assume modern Poigny is what is meant.
“Jacques” d’Angennes (1587-1637) proved difficult to find until I realized that he was better known as Jean-Jacques. The d’Angennes family was a well populated and ancient lineage with many titles and lands (just a few of which are listed on the tombstone). It would take a lot of time and effort to trace their history and I don’t propose to do so, fascinating as this would no doubt prove to be! Their properties seem to be be scattered in various parts of France, a result perhaps of family liaisons by marriage.
Suffice it to say that as the eldest of the three children (younger siblings were Charles and Julienne) of Jean d’Angennes, Jean-Jacques would have inherited his titles on the latter’s death in 1593. He was sent to London as Ambassador of Louis XIII in July 1634 and died less than three years later in Reigate of all places. I have not seen any record of the cause of death, which suggests that it may have been “natural causes”. Jean-Jacques was only 50 years old at death, young by our standards, but perhaps not by those of the 17th century.
The date of his death is here given as January 9th 1637, “New Style”. This refers to the changeover from the Julian (“Old Style”) calendar to the Gergorian (“New Style”) calendar. Because Catholic nations converted much earlier than Protestant nations, there was a period during which the two systems were in use and differed by 10 days. To avoid ambiguity, it was necessary during that period to distinguish between “Old Style” and “New Style” dates. Britain and its colonies did not change until 1752 (115 years after the death of Jacques), hence the need to state that the date recorded here is “New Style”, as used in France.
That, however, is not the only problem with the date. While the Somerset House tombstone gives the date as January 9th, all other sources give it as January 7th. Why the difference of two days? I have no idea. Possibly someone mis-reported the date to the French and everyone subsequently copied the wrong date. Or, possibly, the wrong date was carved on the tombstone. We may never know.
Nowadays, the body of an official of the status of Jean-Jacques d’Ancennes would be flown back to France and buried there with appropriate pomp and ceremony, perhaps in a family mausoleum. In the 17th century, it would have taken a long time to repatriate the body and so it was instead buried in London, in the private crypt of Somerset House. Were any relatives present? Did they even know of his death until long after the event? Again, we cannot know.
France and England have often been at loggerheads and even at war with one another. It is pleasant to record a moment of history when the two nations were on sufficiently friendly terms for the French ambassador to be accorded a resting place within a royal residence in England.