1702 French Death Notice Connected to French Nobility and the Case of Marguerite Mercier

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On offer is a simple note concerning a death that has links with one of France’s most notorious trials and hints at past misdeeds in the local community.

The document is a note, sent to an unidentified recipient concerning the Archbishop of Bourges, Léon Potier de Gesvres. His older brother was François-Bernard Potier, Marquis de Gesvres. It is the Marquis de Gesvres’ wife, Marie Madeleine Louise de Segliere, who died. The note was sent by Messieurs Mercier and Jacquemet of Bourges.

The note states the following:

Nous venons d'apprendre la mort de Madame la Marquise de Gesvres Belle-Soeur fe Monsigneur notre Archeveque, et nous croyons devoir en meme temps vous en informer. Nous ne doutons pas que vous ne preniez part a cette triste nouvelle, et a la juste douleur qu'elle doit avoir cause a notre Illustre Prelate. La bonte vraiment paternelle qu'il a pour vous ne demande rien moins que toute votre sensibilite a ce qui le touche. Nous esperons que vous en donnerez en cette occasion des marques publiques, en saisant dans votre Eglise des Prieres pour le repos de l'ame d'une personne si chere et si regrete dans la Famille: Et afin que nous puissons rendre temoignage a M l'Archeveque de votre zele et de votre attachement, nous vous prions de nous faire certifier par M. l'Archeveque de ce que vous aurez fait dans cette conjoncture…

[Translation: We have just learned of the death of Madame la Marquise de Gesvres, sister-in-law of Monsignor our Archbishop, and we believe that we must inform you of it at the same time. We do not doubt that you will take part in this sad news, and in the just sorrow that it must have caused to our Illustrious Prelate. The truly paternal kindness he has for you requires nothing less than your full sensitivity to what affects him. We hope that you will give public proof of this on this occasion, by saying prayers in your church for the repose of the soul of a person so dear and so respected in the family. And so that we can bear witness to the Archbishop of your zeal and your attachment, we ask you to have the Archbishop certify to us what you have done in this situation].

The note is remarkable less for its subject than its connections to both past legal problems that involved the Archbishop and a future trial that entered into the records for its notoriety. The senders or some related to them, were involved in a legal dispute in the late 1690’s which ended with a judicial ruling dated June 4th, 1701. From court records, it seems that they had run afoul of church laws which could bring significant and harsh penalties. This was the case with Marguerite Mercier, presumably related to one of the two named on the note (the other, Monsieur Jacquemet, also had someone of the same name involved with the same legal case). According to the records, Marguerite Mercier was sentenced, to among other punishments:

là , étant à genouil , dire & déclarer à haute & intelligible voix , que méchamment & comme mal avisée , elle a fait les fausses déclarations mentionnées au Procès , dont elle se repent, & en demande pardon à Dieu , au Roi, & à Justice ; ce fait, battue et fustigée nue de verges par les Carrefours & lieux accoutumés de ladite Ville de Châtillon , & à l'un d'iceux , flétrie d'un fer chaud , marqué d'une Fleur- de - Lays sur l'épaule dextre, et abannie & bannit à perpétuité…

[Translation: and there, being on her knees, say & declare in a loud & intelligible voice, that wickedly & as ill-advised, she has made the false statements mentioned in the Trial, of which she is aware, & begs God's forgiveness, to the King, & to Justice; this being done, beaten & flogged naked with rods by the Crossroads & customary places of the said City of Châtillon, & at one of them branded with a hot iron, marked with a Fleur de Lys on the right shoulder, and banished in perpetuity…]

This extremely harsh punishment was successfully appealed and reference is made of the intercession of the Archbishop of Bourges. It is clear that Mercier and Jacquemet want the recipient to make absolutely certain that the Archbishop is well aware of expressions of sympathy.

The other connection relates to the son of the deceased sister-in-law. As noted above, her husband, the Marquis de Gesvres, was brother to the Archbishop. Upon his death, the title passed to their son Francois. He had married Marie-Madeleine Mascrany and this marriage was to lead to one of France’s most notorious and certainly one of the most salacious trials – which is going some distance for the times. In Catholic France, the only grounds for a divorce was impotence. Once the charges were laid, it ultimately ended up in court – an Impotence Trial -with everything the imagination can conjure up – the medical people, the witnesses, family, you name it – all gathered around to witness if the marital deed could be done. And that was the sorry plight in which de Gesvres found himself in. The descriptions of the ‘trial’ were explicit and ribald to say the least and his sorry experiences passed into legal and popular lore.

For a historian, this small manuscript provides links to both the harsh legal environment in which people lived as well as to a truly famous French trial. For a women’s studies program, this document offers an excellent window into the world in which most women had to live and their role within French society at the time.

This small document measures 7.75 inches by 6.0 inches. It is a printed, single-sided sheet. The page is in good condition with some faint darkening along the edges.

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