London boy Sir Derek Jacobi is looking for the French Connection in this week's a Episode. Born in the front room of a Walthamstow semi detached, he has lost every trace of that East End accent through his Shakespearean training and his stint at Cambridge with fellow Thespian Sir Ian McKellen, Derek is intrigued by his family history and regrets not asking his parents more questions.
His search begins with the superbly monikered Salome Lapland, thought to have been of French Descent. He meets Historian Sarah in a Pie and Mash shop on Walthamstow High street which had been a Saturday Night Haunt as a youth, he was not a fan of eels, but mash and gravy was his favourite. According to Sarah, it seems Salome was indeed French, Daughter to Armand Laplain, who at aged 15 had been a Brazier, working in metals, with numerous Siblings.
Within six years he was applying for Poor Relief from the Parish and his occupation was listed as woodcutter, a much less skilled pursuit. It seems that Digby Walk the road on which he lived at the time was cited in a policy document rather colourfully entitled:
"Sanitary Ramblings" by Dr Hector Gavin
His Sister Hannah was ultimately met a similarly poor resolution in life as a resident at the French Hospital in Hackney, a chateau like building where she was granted access because she is descended from Joseph De Laplaigne, a Huguenot Refugee to England in 1702
In 1685, the Catholic Monarch King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, a law that had given French Protestants freedom of Worship. The Revocation essentially labelled all non Catholics as Heretics and pretty much sanctioned their Persecution. The Huguenots as they were called were forced into exile. As a result thousands set sail for England, a country that had been famously Protestant ever since Henry VIII split with Rome in order to Divorce. Skilled Silk weavers many settled in Spital fields in the East End. By settling just outside the confines of the City where they would not have been bound by, or forced to be part of the City Guilds of the Home Grown textile manufacturers, they would have been able to sell their sumptuous silks unfettered.
Therefore, small rooms became both home and cottage industry in this area, with family after family cramming into what were essentially tenements. It is estimated that 15,000 looms would have been working with 50,000 people living in the area in the period of the exile. Derek is told with the De prefix, it was likely that his ancestor was not a silk weaver though, that he may well have been something grander.
Off Derek trots to Paris to find out , taking his very first Trip on the Eurostar with great excitement. In fact the whole journey seems to be an truly wonderful experience as he enjoys every twit and turn in the narrative of his family.
Derek visits the Protestant Historical Society of Paris and finds out that Joseph held high rank, being a financier for the King in the Province of Guyenne, advancing the monarch funds in return for collecting taxes and it was a very important role. His status would have meant he would have been present at the Court of Louis XIV, being nicknamed the " Sun King" his glittering masterpiece, the Palace of Versailles is still a tourist destination today.
However his secret Protestantism would have meant he constantly lived at risk of discovery by the Devout Catholic establishment at Court, perhaps falsely believing that Protestantism was synonymous with Republicanism and so the established monarchies of Europe distrusted them a great deal, despite their work ethic. They were burnt, hung, drowned and shot as one rather graphic engraving reveals.
Joseph therefore must have nominally converted to divert suspicion, perhaps attending Mass once or twice for appearance sake. He has had no wife nor children on record at this time and then in 1700 he is arrested and imprisoned at the Chateau of Loche by personal Order of the King. He has been exposed as a Protestant.
The once Medieval Fort at Loche became a State Prison for religious prisoners there "Special treatments" accorded he Huguenot prisoners included dead animals being thrown into cells, chained day and night or having food and water placed tantalisingly close, but just out of reach. Many were given the chance to convert, but given Joseph was known to have already given false conversion promises it was probable he would not have been offered in his case so he could have expected to have lived his entire life within the walls of the prison Fort.
The surprising thing is Joseph manages to escape, most likely through bribery via outside contacts he had cultivated whilst at court, paying for his channel crossing too in a similar manner. The Penalty for capture would have been being sent to the galleys, where men were manacled to their oar seat 24 hours a day. Their feet whipped in a punishment called the Bastastinardo. Many Huguenots had died of their injuries on these Galleys.
Derek returns to London to one of our most salubrious centres of Law, Lincoln's Inns of Court. He wants to know if Joseph remained a lawyer once on the British Isles. In fact he didn't maintain a legal career, although he was named as complainant in a courts of Chancery case. I know that The chancery courts were made famous in later years in the Dickens Novel "Bleak House" where the case raged on laboriously for years, so I was intrigued to see how Joseph's case would be resolved.
The case papers for his case against a Jane De Beynack, whom he had trusted with large sums in readiness for any exile attempt in 1690, not realising he would not get away from France for ten years. In total thirteen thousand five hundred livres were placed in trust via a number of Joseph's financier contacts with Jane which in modern terms is about £80,000.00 which is a substantial sum. Jane then reneges on whatever agreement was made, claiming said money was her own or given in the form of gifts.
Joseph manages to have her arrested and placed in a debtors prison pending a Queen's Bench decision for which written proof was a requirement so she was imprisoned for four months.
It seems however he was unable to get the evidence he needed which was why it came to the Chancery Court, but sadly the case never came to a satisfactory conclusion and was dropped or settled and so Derek now goes to Soho to visit a church where the riddle of how a childless man could be his ancestor.
It seems at the age of Seventy he intends to marry 25 year old Salome de Bastide with whom he fathered a son, William. Also named on the baptism record as Godfather was one William Kendish, the Duke of Devonshire. Joseph to see his son survived another eight months and passed away.
His son William becomes a reverend, like Derek, he attended Cambridge University and was still connected to the Aristocracy as he is Chaplain to the Duke of Devonshire . He is Derek's Grandfather six times removed.
It seems the Devonshire Connection dates from 1691 when the De Bastide family fought with William III of Orange, a Protestant Monarch supported by lords in England to secure freedoms for Protestants. His taking the Throne from James II the first Catholic monarch was called "The Glorious Revolution " and was a bid to avoid what had happened to the Huguenots in France.
Ten percent of the Orange army was comprised of French Protestants so when James II launches a counter attack from Ireland with Catholic French support, Armand De Bastide is among those that fights with William and Mary's armies.
This ends in the Battle of the Boyne River, which was one of the most important battles for the realm between Catholic and Protestant forces ever. it was a resounding success for the Protestants
Following this victory, Armand , Joseph's Brother in Law is one of a chosen few who are made English Citizens for services rendered and is standard bearer for the Regiment which will become the Queens Household Regiment in the modern day. Joseph had married into an exceptionally influential family.
From a lowly East End back ground Derek has connections to the higher echelons of royal society and he is proud of those from whence he came.