The history of the family de Hercé and their maison in Ville de Mayenne, mirrors the history of France
COMBAT DE QUIBERON EN 1795 by Jean Sorieul (1825-1871) painted in 1850, Cholet- Museum of Art & History
Mass said by Bishop Urban Renée de Hercé
Jean Sorieul's vast painting revisits the story of the Battle of Quiberon Bay in Brittany. In 1795 an attack is launched against the Revolution in France, part of the well known Vendee Rebellion. A Catholic-Royalist & English armada sailed from England lead by Earl of Puisaye. The painting is set in the Royalist Catholic fort "Sans-Culotte" on the Quiberon peninsula, where they are pinned down by the Republican Forces. In the days after their disastrous landing in France, the opposing armies both strengthen with new supplies of men and food. On the 16th July, the Royalist attempt a second break out, which fails. In response, the Republicans launch an offensive, seizing the fort, the leader Earl of Puisaye flees. The painting captures the last heroic resistance, with new leader Charles de Virot de Sombreuil on the left and the last Royalists Military force trying to halt the Republicans. They are protecting the hundreds of women, children, wounded soldiers trying in vain to reach the English fleet in the harbour. On the left of the painting, a second scene of the drama plays out, a blue figure stand high, arm raised to god. Bishop Urban Renée de Hercé is saying mass to the desperate.
The defeat of the Royal Catholic Army at Quiberon was a stinging failure for the Royalist cause in the West, and lead to a vast number of executions of those involved in the invasion and the massacre of royalist civilians in Auray and Nantes.
Bishop Urban Renée de Hercé, his younger brother Priest Francoise de Hercé & the Count of Sombreuil were executed July 28, 1795. The three stood shoulder to shoulder, along with 17 other prisoners and 11 priests. A plaque on the facade of L'Hotel de Hercé, Mayenne commemorates the two bothers born in the house and who died together at Auray. They rest in the chapel of the field of martyrs at Brech near Auray, whose pediment is adorned with the bust of Charles de Sombreuil.
Under the Empire, the publication of testimonies of Quiberon's expedition revived historians' and artists' interest in the event. In October 1829, two commemorative chapels were inaugurated in memory of the royalist victims of Quiberon.
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 Minister. 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 a 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 has pride of place of the heritage of Mayenne.
Hercé new Townhouse:
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 townhouses. 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 a 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 18 children,
The first de Hercé family of L’Hotel de Hercé Mayenne
Jean Baptise de Hercé, 1699- 1767 Marries January 1719 Françoise Tanquerel 1704 – 1775
19 Children- 6 died in infancy
1719 Michel César; Dies infancy No children
1720 B. Jean René; Heir to the Title 1757 Married Françoise Urban Marie Billard de Lorière Son 1759 Jean-Armand
1723 Francoise-Charlotte; Nun after leaving the school, worked with her Brother Bishop of Dol. No children
1724 – 1750 Jeanne Françoise; Enters Covent nursed at Ernée No children
5. 1726-1795 Urban-René; Priest & Bishop of Dol for 25 years, leading Catholic participant the Battle of Quiberon Bay, and as a result was executed in Vannes. No children
6. 1727 -1793 Marie Josephine; Nun Nurse at Ernée, known as Madame Sainte-Elizabeth, No children
7. 1732 -1758 Rene-César; Naval Officer Lieutenant killed on French Flag Ship, Zodiaque; Battle Negapatam French siege
British Colony of Madras; 7 Years War. No children
8. 1731-1760 René- Urban Santo Domingo dies January 1760 second lieutenant Royal Artillery Regiment, 1st company of gunners (1758). Image Santo Domingo City View 1750
9. 1733-1795 b. Francoise; Priest serving brother the Bishop of Dol 1795 Shot at Vannes with his brother the Bishop of Dol after their leading participation in the Battle of Quiberon Bay. No children
10.1735-1802 Louis–Joachim; Teacher & Priest No children
12. 1740-84 Jean Baptiste; Arch Deacon & Vicar General Lucon No children
13. 1743-1796 Jean François-Simon Charles;
known as Chevalier de Hercé. Extensive Naval career, later a Politician Died from war wounds in exile outside Bath. 1775 Married Jeanne Dubois de la Bas-Maignée. two sons Jean-François de Hercé politician Mayor of Laval and Bishop of Nantes
Louis de Hercé Mayor of Mayenne from1816-1830
14. 1744- 1811 Julien-César; Arts & Law Degrees, Regular canon diocese of Nantes, Vicar General (Administer & principle deputy of Bishop) Nantes 1778, He obtained a substantial income from the king from the Abbey of Bellefontaine No children
Plus 5 more children names not known, who died in infancy
The de Hercé family book records they had a happy loving & devout home highly favouring education. The surviving children 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, 2 enter the Navy and die abroad in Service, 1 the Military who dies in exile in England from war wounds. 4 sons enter the church, two executed for their participation in the Royalist Catholic Vendee rebellion against the Revolution. 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.
On the death of their father and Lord 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 at 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 enacted by Revolutionary Government in Paris state anyone who has taken up arms against France, or fled France in open rebellion, is subject to immediate execution when captured.
The de Hercé family men fled for their lives. The Baron Jean Armund and his son Louis de Hercé, the Baron's uncle Urban Renée-Bishop of Dol, Uncle Francis a priest, & young 16 yr old Jean Francoise Simon novitiate, flee France for Jersey. 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 28 March Key anti-émigré legislation, passed by the Convention defined seven categories of émigrés, with little distinction between nearly 150,000 French men and women that fled war, Terror, and political upheaval. All deemed “traitors” and “unpatriotic” and faced the death penalty upon return to France as well as the confiscation of their property along with other penalties borne by their families.
1793 17 Sept New legislation defined relatives of émigrés as “suspects” before the law
1793 1st Nov The Catholic and Royal Army arrives to liberate Mayenne. Louis de La Raitrie is liberated from prison young along with his father, they join the Vendée Rebellion. He finds their his friend and neighbour 15-year-old Louis de Hercé, nephew of Urban de Hercé has joined too. The Vendean Prince of Talmont new aide-major Louis de Hercé is to command a troop of peasants. After the disastrous rout of the Vendee army in Le Mans on 13 December 1793, they headed for Laval. 9 miles from Laval, Louis de Hercé, ill, takes refuge in a farm on the side of Nuillé-sur-Ouette and Louis de La Raitrie hides at his mothers Rallais farm.
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 prison in Chartres. The Baron's Aunt Marie Josephine a nun; know as Madame Sainte-Elizabeth, dies nursing the Vendée rebellion wounded died after contracting an infection.
"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.
1794 Jan Louis de Hercé is denounced and faces the revolutionary courts. Saved by his youth & ill health, thanks to the intervention of a neighbouring family who took him under his responsibility, preventing him from continuing the fight with the Chouannerie. Years later under the Restoration became deputy of the Mayenne and Mayor of Ville Mayenne.
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 view the executions. Four of the nuns were executed, becoming Catholic martyrs, following the intervention of people of Mayenne the remainder were pardoned. We enjoy the view of the restored 17thc convent chapel from the garden of l'Hotel de Hercé.
1793-1794, terror reigned in Mayenne. St. Anthony's Cemetery is full. The number of victims of the revolutionaries is so large that the mayor of the city, René-Marie Jacquier, is obliged to open a new cemetery.A rational and pragmatic choice, according to the deliberation of the revolutionary court. The aim was to avoid "mauvaises exhalations that could cause epidemic disease" if death row inmates continued to be buried in St. Antoine's Cemetery. "To avoid this, it would be necessary to choose another place in which death row inmates would be transported," the court concluded.
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 was released after many pleas for clemency from friends & supporters.
July 28, 1795, Bishop Urban Renée de Hercé & his younger brother Priest Francoise de Hercé were executed at Auray in Brittany. A plaque on the facade of L'Hotel de Hercé commemorates the two bothers born in the house who died together. They rest in the chapel of the field of martyrs at Brech near Auray.
6 March 1796 Jean François-Simon Charles dies in exile in England. Known as Chevalier de Hercé. He had an exceptional Naval career and later role as a Politician during the turbulent period of the early revolution. He died of an illness while still in exile in England; in a village just outside Bath.
February 1814 Jean-François de Hercé, (Son of Jean Francoise Simon Charles) returns from exile
in England and 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 Louis de Hercé returns from exile in England, he 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. I am still investigating if the L'Hotel de Hercé was ever returned to the family.
Historical research by Vanessa Williamson
Bac Arts Hons University of Sydney