As the Center for Renaissance Studies’ new postdoctoral scholar in French paleography, I have spent the last few months reviewing and assessing the entire collection of French manuscripts for the period from 1250 to 1700 held at the Newberry Library. I have carefully examined hundreds of items, and selected documents to be digitized and used for transcription exercises in our online French paleography platform.
One of the most fascinating discoveries I have made is certainly the Lauzanne Family Papers (Case MS 5027), an impressive collection pertaining to a noble family established in Auvergne in Central France, and numbering close to a thousand items spanning five centuries.
The large majority of the documents, dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, relates to the day-to-day life and business of landowners, the Lauzanne family, as well as the associated families of Soubrany de Bénistant, Fretat, Genestet de Saint-Didier, d’Anglard de Rochegude, Collard, and Pélissier. Registers of landholdings, known as terriers, appear in the collection. These documents record rules and regulations of a particular estate, responsibilities of owners and their tenant-farmers, as well as the annual rent and other payments due. One such terrier was prepared by the notary Mioche in 1575 for the land of Epoux, owned by Jacques de Langeac (figure 1). Similarly, eighteenth-century livres de comptes et récoltes record livestock and harvest data of tenant-farmers.
Account books, deeds, land leases and sales, tax disputes and inheritance files, patents of nobility, and the landholdings associated with them, also form a significant part of the collection. Yet receipts are by far the most frequent type of document in the Lauzanne Family Papers. Some of these brief notes, written on small pieces of paper, are promissory notes for money owed; others are receipts for money lent or paid. Figure 2 acknowledges payment by the baron of Fretat de Chirac to the sieur de Champflour for the acquisition of the lands of Marcillat and Matha in 1786.
While a large quantity of the items in the collection pertains to financial matters, some documents offer insight into the personal lives of the members of the family. In the correspondence exchanged between the Countess of Lauzanne in Riom and her daughter living in Paris during the eighteenth-century, topics discussed include news from relatives, the recent illness of the Countess, and the latest fashion trends (see figure 3), while the correspondence between the Count and his son focuses on politics and land ownership matters. The material aspect of this correspondence is striking. Drafts of letters sent have been methodically collected; some letters received bear original seals, while others have been preserved in the very envelope they arrived in.
An unusual piece of correspondence from the collection is a letter addressed to the Countess of Lauzanne by a nearly illiterate woman from nearby Clermont-Ferrand (figure 4). At issue is a request made by the Countess to hire someone to perform duties at her residence of La Charbonnière. The letter offers an example of the use of the French Republican Calendar (in use between 1793 and 1805) in the general population. Indeed, the letter is dated 11 Brumaire, which is approximately November 1.
Very little is known about how and when the collection that is now the Lauzanne Family Papers was formed, but it appears to be in part the result of genealogical research conducted during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A certain number of files about different family branches have been created. They include original documents, as well as various genealogical tables (going as far in the past as 1409!), exchanges of letters with notaries and museum keepers, copies of birth certificates, marriage contracts, and wills, printed genealogies, and reports about significant ancestors, such as Philibert de Lauzanne, Colin Collart, and d’Anglard de Rochegude.
The Lauzanne Family Papers open a window into the life of French noble families from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. The large number of documents related to financial matters attests to the preoccupations of wealthy landowners, and recent genealogical research and safekeeping of original documents evidences an interest in family history. Seemingly unrelated items—an indulgence received by Edgar de Lauzanne and a letter sent by him to a Parisian tailor to order a redingote, an undated and unsigned catalog of a personal library, a bill from the maître tapissier Connard to the countess of Saint-Didier for the purchase of upholstery, marriage invitations, and postcards from a journey to England, among others—contribute to making this an eclectic and all the more fascinating collection for scholars of private history.
Posted by Caroline Prud’Homme, Postdoctoral Scholar in French Paleography, Center for Renaissance Studies.