Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Excerpt: Of French bloodlnes

My grandmother Eglé de Villelume-Sombreuil Gatins, was a direct descendant of one of France’s best-known families, several of whose members, unreconstructed Royalists, were guillotined during the French Revolution. Another, René de Madec, became a minor French historical figure for his exploits as a French corsair in India during the late 1700s. A sailor from Quimper in Brittany, he’d gotten his start on the high seas in the slave trade to Santo Domingo, then translated that experience into what he hoped would be more lucrative efforts as a privateer in India, sanctioned by the French government.

Her father, Charles Jules, Comte de Villelume-Sombreuil, was born in Paris, August 26, 1861, the fifth child of a family of six, descendant of noble lineage dating to an early Crusader. At age 28, he was married for the first time to a widow twice his age, 57-year-old Eglé Ney de la Moskova. That wedding took place in China, where he was posted as a diplomat attached to the French government’s foreign desk. Eglé Ney, duchess of Persigny by her first marriage, died a year later. Less than a year after that, young Charles consummated a second marriage, with his niece from Brittany, Jeanne Marie de Madec, 23, herself the descendant of French nobility through that family line.

“She was a very pretty woman, very headstrong and very independent,” Eglé said of her mother, but not so strong-willed as to defy her own prideful mother. “My mother was really very much in love with a truly handsome man, charming and rich,” Eglé recalled in her 1988 oral history. “But he was just an accountant. And my grandmother, arrogant and proud, never permitted her to marry him.” Instead, she was foisted off on her uncle.

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