History of the Hercé family and their 'Maison Particular'
Early Family: In 1191 Philippe-Auguste announced the Third Crusade calling the men of Maine, "who came running in crowds". Listed among the volunteer crusaders was is the first known Hercé, Guillaume of Hercé, knight Baron. The family de Hercé thrived & eight generations later L'Hotel de Hercé was 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.
The town house: In 1720c. Jean Baptiste & Françoise chose to setup up their first home together in the new fashionable square first called Place Haute. Created in 1691 in the Parish of Notre-Dame de Mayenne, where a number of prominent noble families were building new style town houses. 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 cities. The ancestral country estate; Chateau du Plessis Essenley in Colombiers, was less than a days ride from ville de Mayenne. The old 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. The Baron Jean Baptiste 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 daughetrs surviving to adulthood, 3 take the veil as nuns. Of the 8 surviving sons, one is the heir, 3 enter the Military, 4 the 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 Bretegne, 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 Barony title & all property, his mother Françoise dies 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, with his uncles Urban Renée-Bishop of Dol, Uncle Francis a priest, & young 16 yr old Jean Francoise Simon novitiate, flee France for Jersey . Uncle Jean Francoise 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 clan later moved onto Bath, 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 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 Convent Daughters of Calvary 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. They ended up being 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.
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
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