The de Hercé family & L'Hotel de Hercé
Earliest Hercé History: In 1191 Philippe-Auguste announced the Third Crusade calling the men of Maine, "who came running in crowds". Listed among the volunteer crusaders was the first known Hercé, Guillaume of Hercé, knight Baron. The family de Hercé thrived & eight generations later L'Hotel de Hercé was owned and possibly built by Jean Baptiste de Hercé Lord of Rigardon, Plessis Colombiers and Coudray and his wife Françoise Tanquerel, daughter of René Tanquerel: King's Counselor, Attorney General of the Duchy of Mayenne.
Mayenne the Town
The Wars of Religion fight for control of Catholic Mayenne, subjected the town to numerous sieges, countless attacks, major destruction & looting, by 1595 the city was in a "very bad state". In 1640&49 plague hit the city. 1654 Duke Charles IV of Mayenne; who lived in Italy, was in financial difficulties forcing him to sell his title. This was the change in fortune for the town !
The title was bought by Cardinal Mazarin & Frances' Prime Minster. Mazarin sent Colbert his financial advisor; to take inventory of the duchy lands, linen industry, & numerous forges. Colbert wrote “This country is inaccessible to coaches; there can be no promenade, no park, no gardening. There are no buildings and there cannot be any. The city is very dirty, very ugly, the people are dirty and ugly city, wicked people".
1656 the cardinal endowed Mayenne with municipality, sending Colbert to redevelop the city. reorganize the administration of the duchy, develop Law Courts, creating new City Administration roles, "Mazarin wishes to embellish it & make it healthy, the ponds of the city will be drained, streets traced, channel the river, adding building foundations to avoid the many town fires, a city served by water to develop the trade in linen fabrics "
1660-68 Mazarin built the Palace of the Ducal Bar, new town square & 1683 the fountain. The building housed the new magistrates & high representatives of justice. Under the new Duke & Colbert 1693 the architectural momentum of the new town continued with new gardens in the new Square de Cheverus and the building of square Saint-Vincent & its new fountain which still runs today. The oldest houses were incorporated into the new Squares but most of the mansions that can still be seen today were built from that time. The 3 new squares, top & bottom fountain, gardens, a Palace de Justice can be visited almost unchanged today, and are pride of place of the heritage of Mayenne.
Hercé new Town house:
The Place Supérieure (Place de Cheverus) was a new suburb of the town of Mayenne, created in the Parish of Notre-Dame de Mayenne. Prominent noble families built new style town houses. In 1720c. Jean Baptiste & Françoise chose to setup up their first home together in the new fashionable square. The location was 1 min walk to the Palace de Justice where Francoise' Father served as Attorney General of the ducal bar of Mayenne. Their new style 'Maison Particular' -townhouse broke the tradition of the de Hercé's who had always lived outside town. The ancestral country estate; Chateau du Plessis Essenley in Colombiers, was less than a day's ride from ville de Mayenne. The family history tells the chateau continued as popular gathering place for the extended family.
The new townhouse is believed to have been built around the time of their marriage in January 1719. Jean Baptiste de Hercé was only 19 and his bride Françoise was only 15. They went on to have 23 children, only half surviving to adulthood. The de Hercé family book records they had a happy loving & devout home. The surviving children went on to lead interesting & dynamic lives, of the 4 daughters surviving to adulthood, 3 take the veil as nuns. Of the 8 surviving sons, one is the heir, 3 enter the Military, 4 the church. The most famous de Hercé born at Place de Cheverus in 1725 was Urban Renée who rose to the heights of the church as Bishop of Dol de Bretagne, Brittany. Famous in his own life time, a leading character in the story of the dramatic Royalist Catholic Vendée rebellion against the French Revolution. On the death of Jean Baptiste in 1767 his eldest son Jean Renée inherited the title & all property, his mother Françoise dies 8 years later in 1775.
New Generation; The de Hercé family continue to live a t L'Hotel de Hercé, Baron Jean Renée dies in 1791, and his eldest son Jean Armund and his wife Marie Ann become the third generation of de Hercé family at L'Hotel de Hercé. Yet the clouds of the French Revolution has formed, already was changing the de Hercé & all the noble families of France forever.
1791 June The Royal family of France Louis the XVI, Marie Antoinette & two children, flee Versailles for safety in Austria, they are betrayed arrested & escorted to Paris, never again to return to Versailles
1792 Oct New Laws of enacted by Revolutionary Government in Paris stating anyone who have taken up arms against France, or fled France in open rebellion, is subject to immediate execution when captured.
The Hercé men fled for their very lives. The Baron Jean Armund and his son Louis de Hercé, with his uncles Urban Renée-Bishop of Dol, Uncle Francis a priest, & young 16 yr old Jean Francoise Simon novitiate, flee France for Jersey . Thier Uncle Jean Francoise was serving in the Swiss Kings Guard, flees to Brussels & later joins his family in Bath, The Barons youngest Uncle Julien-César a priest fled to Spain. 1,000s of members of the nobility & church arrived within a short time in Jersey, the de Hercé family later moved onto Bath, in England.
1793 Jan Execution of Louis XVI
1793 Nov The Vendée rebellion challenged the Revolution Governments eventually reoccupying Mayenne but they only held on for 4 weeks. The threat from the rebellion saw the imprisoned de Hercé women moved north to a prison in Chartres.
"The consternation and stupor were so deep in Laval during the months that little
or no business was done; because commerce was paralyzed, and the purest citizens dared not
leave their homes. They only went to bed with the fear of being abducted during the night."
1793 Dec 23, a court christened Revolutionary Military Commission of the department of Mayenne began to "walk the guillotine" through the cities of the region. In ten months the commission judges 1,325 people, 454 are executed. The families of the fled 'emigres' were imprisoned. Baroness de Hercé and her sister-in-law Charlotte an infirm nun, were incarcerated in Chateau Mayenne for a year. Guilty of being the relatives of 'those who had escaped to England'. The l'Hotel de Hercé was confiscated from the de Hercé Family. The Revolution Military Commission did not recognize the ownership of the house at 19 Place de Cheverus by Madame de Hercé, as her husband held the property title. As he had fled France the Revolution Military Commission confiscated the house for the nation, stating it was to be converted to a public library for the public good. It was in fact used as a women's prison.
Feb 1794 the nuns of the adjacent Daughters of Calvary Convent were expelled and their property confiscated, some fled others took refuge in local homes. The Convent was immediately sold to raise funds for the revolution. Twelve of the remaining nuns are sentenced to death, & imprisoned in what was now the former l'Hotel de Hercé. They refused to swear an oath to the Revolution Military Commission Constitution and were sentenced to death.
March 1794 The new government establish guillotines in large towns across the region. In ville Mayenne it was located directly outside L'Hotel de Hercé. The spot marked today by the stature of Cardinal de Cheverus located now in green gardens, the Square was renamed in the 19thc to his memory. The nuns from their Hercé prison, could attend all the executions, knowing that their turn would come. Four were executed the remainder were pardoned, following the intervention of people of Mayenne. The back garden of L'Hotel de Hercé was once part of the convent land. We enjoy the view of the restored convent chapel from the garden of l'Hotel de Hercé. The convents history is forever tied to L'Hotel de Herce.
August 1794 The Revolutionary Military Commission moderates its sentences by pronouncing a majority of acquittals. Finally, 243 men & 82 women are executed in Laval, 116 men and 21 women in the other cities of the department Mayenne Ernée, Lassay-les-Châteaux , Craon and Château-Gontier
In late 1794 the Madams de Hercé were released after many pleas for clemency from friends & supporters. Another of the Barons Aunts a nun nursing the Vendée rebellion wounded died after contracting an infection.
February 1814 returning from England Jean_François Simon de Hercé, was elected Mayor of Laval, serving until 1829, then becomes a priest in 1830, elected bishop of Nantes in October 1835 until 1838 when he retires.
March 1816 returning from england Louis de Hercé is elected the first Mayor of Mayenne, serving until 1830.
To be continued: Members of the de Hercé family do survive the Revolution and go on to find leading roles in the new world of France. The house was never returned to the de Hercé family.
Historical research by Vanessa Williamson
Bac Arts Hons University of Sydney
©2018 l Hotel de Hercé, Mayenne