Tuesday, July 14, 2009

French national holiday

Today is France's national holiday, popularly known as Bastille Day, when there are fireworks and other festivities in every town and village.

Unfortunately, some members of my distant French family choose not to celebrate, as they lost many ancestors during the revolutionary purges. Many of them were loyal officers of the French state at the time. Among them was Comte René-Annibal de Roffignac (note the different spelling) who in 1784, with the permission of King Louis XVI, entered the service of King Charles IV of Spain, as Martial at Arms.

During the Revolution, René-Annibal displayed exceptional courage and loyalty to the King of France, and in December 1792 wrote to the National Convention offering his own head, to spare the lives of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. His offer was however refused. The letter is preserved among the family's archives.

René-Annibal died in Madrid in 1807 and his portrait appears on bottles of Cognac produced at Chateau Chesnel by the present de Roffignac family.

The de Rouffignac family was established in England after the arrival in London a decade earlier of Pastor Jacob de Rouffignac, in 1685, following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes which had allowed freedom of worship for Protestants living in France. One of Jacob's sons, Guy de Rouffignac, studied medicine at Leyden in Holland, and became a well known doctor, magistrate and medical lecturer in London. He lived for a time with his family in a house in Gough Square, just off Fleet Street, that was later occuped by Dr Samuel Johnson, the well known lexicographer. Guy and his brother Peter were buried in the crypt of St Bride's, Fleet Street, being members of the parish.

Peter-Danton de Rouffignac is a direct descendant of Jacob de Rouffignac, whose coat of arms is reproduced above. Links between the two families are still being investigated by archivists but research has been hampered as a result of the destruction of many official records during the Revolution and subsequently during two World Wars and the Occupation.