Your Hosts

Vanessa & Matthew Williamson  

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Vanessa Williamson

B.A University of  Sydney Archaeologist & Medieval History 

              Bonjour, I am Vanessa born in Sydney Australia, your host and co-owner of L'Hotel de Hercé with my husband Matthew.   I am an archaeologist by profession and now retired to a new life in France.   I studied at the University of Sydney, including Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern and Australian Pre-History archaeology.  With a co-major in Medieval Studies,  and some History, Classics, and Heritage Conservation. All of which now form the foundation of my skills in our Business. My Archaeology Thesis included training at the Australian Museum for my research on prehistoric Coastal Occupation in Australia and Shell Middens analysis. The work contributed to an Arnhem Land Project from Australia's Northern Territory.  I presented at the AAA Australian Archaeology Association Annual Conference in 2010 and the annual Australian Museum Scientific Research Seminar.     

         After University I continued contributing to research at the Australian Museum, working on Balmoral Beach Rock Shelter project. As a Consultant Archaeologist worked on excavations and post-excavation research projects across Sydney. As a member of the National Trust in Sydney, I sat on the  Industrial Heritage Committee and contributed to ongoing projects with the committee.

     After backpacking around France in 1984, I never gave up on my dream to live here one day. I  now live immersed in European history and now live in such an extraordinary house and town, my very own archaeology and history research project. As lifetime sewer, with interest in the history of Clothing & Historical Textiles.  A recent discovery in our attic, of antique textiles, was a special find.  Vanessa 

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Origional owners of the L'Hotel

           The earliest history of the de Hercé family goes back to 1191. When a Philippe-Auguste announced the call out for men to accompany him, in joining the king of  England on the Third Crusade to the Holy Land.  He is recorded as calling the men of Maine, "who came running in crowds".  Listed among them was is the first known Hercé, Guillaume of Hercé, knight Baron.  There are breaks in the family history records, but we do know eight generations later L'Hotel de Hercé was built or purchased by Jean de Hercé Lord of Rigardon, Plessis Colombiers and Coudray and his wife Françoise  Tanquerel, daughter of René Tanquerel: Attorney General to the  Duke of Mayenne. We believe the acquisition happened around 1719 at the time of their marriage in the Basilic of Mayenne. Three generations of de Hercé lived in the house known as l'Hotel de Hercé, until the family was expelled, by the Revolutionary Government around c.1789. Follow the links to read more about this fascinating family In summer of 2019 an elegant lady and gentleman arrived in our courtyard, you can imagine our delight to discover and welcome Madame and Monsieur de Hercé.  M. de Hercé is a direct descendant of the family who once lived here, and it was a first visit to the ancestral home. It was our great honour to have them as our guests to dinner and learn of the fascinating story of their family.     

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Matthew Williamson

Ex Aust Army Royal Engineers           B.A History Aust Nat University

            Hi, I hail from the country town Glenn Innes NSW Australia, where I grew up on a dairy and cattle farm. I began my career in the Australian Army Royal Australian Engineers, training as a feild engineer and surveyor. I was posted to Asia and seconded to the Australian War Graves Commission in Malaysia and Thailand, working on the Thai-Burma Railway memorial at Hell Fire Pass . After an parachute accident,  I left the army and worked in the road, rail and telecommunication construction, doing a part-time Degree in History at Australian National University, Canberra at this time I also worked as a Guide at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, and later in Sydney at the Military Installation Battery Point in the Rocks.

          Military History and Wargaming are my lifelong interest, French Medieval, Renaissance, Napoleonic, and WW2 history favourites.  I have run large events for Medieval and Napoleonic re-enactor groups, and wargaming conventions and events, and over the years held roles as President of local wargaming clubs. For decades I have run a  side business painting on commission wargaming figures and armies for private clients. I really enjoy writing and in-depth historical research contributing Military History articles to magazines; publish consistently to my blog "Storm and Conquest Blog Spot". I contribute support to worldwide Wargaming community working as a group Administrator and coordinator on many on-line military history Forums and on Facebook.

            Most evenings you will find me at my painting table creating new, armies, representing real French Battles. Many of the figures actual men with authentic heraldry; all painstakingly researched. My ongoing research ensures we have the best Western France Military History Guided Tours on offer for French enthusiasts and Wargamers. Matt

L'Hotel de Hercé

18th Hôtel Particulier c.1720

            Mayenne’s finest 18thc mansions are located on Place de Cheverus and Place de Hercé, two adjoining Squares forming the most beautiful quarter of Mayenne.  The period townhouses reflect the new style of town life of the Nobility and merchant classes emerging at the end of the 17th and over the 18th century.

           L’Hôtel de Hercé was built in the first quarter of the 18th century. The facade is an imposing three levels, divided by bands of impressive cornices, 5 sets of windows across the street facade, and graduating window dimensions on each level.  The centre of the roof is marked by a cupola, with a viewing platform, and one of the highest points in Mayenne. The simple and elegant early neoclassical façade gives no indication of the beautiful woodwork and sculptured panelling within the house. The contrast between facade and interiors was also a feature of the houses.

          Many of the houses on Place de Herce and Cheverus are described as "L’Hotel Particuliers"; a French architectural style of a townhouse with a private main entrance off the street often enclosed within a private courtyard, each house being inhabited by only one family and its staff. They were often second homes or even winter residences, significant funds were required for construction, purchase of land, architect, expensive interior decor, and ongoing maintenance, and staff (maids, cooks, grooms, cook).

            Other characteristic features included a porch with ornate carriage door to the street,  paved courtyard, outbuildings housing stables, kitchens, laundry room, servants' rooms.  The interiors featured a vestibule entry to the ground floor or the noble floor with impressive reception rooms divided into “parade rooms” and “company rooms” for friends. These public rooms overlooked the street and gardens are distinguished from private apartments. The private apartments were located upstairs with garden views and better heating with lower ceilings and exposure to the sun.