The Huguenot Trooper
Marie’s uncle, Georges, was a shoemaker and lived with his family above his shop in a three storey terrace house in Spitalfields, near the centre of London, in a street of nearly identical houses. The ground floor was the workshop, with a small display of his craft in the window on the street, and a lean-to at the back for storage space. The first floor was living space with two rooms, one with a small kitchen against one wall and the other the parlour. There were two bedroom upstairs, one for Georges and his wife, Annette, and the second for his three young children. It was a comfortable home, but crowded with little space for privacy. There was a privy in the backyard with a gate into a laneway, allowing access for the night-soil cart. Water came from a hand-pump at the corner of the street, when it was working; otherwise a longer walk or a purchase from a water cart.
Georges was delighted to see Marie. He had been very anxious at leaving her in Paris and would have been devastated if she had come to harm. He was effusively grateful to Archie for helping her make the journey, and almost made him one of the family. Marie would stay with them, albeit sleeping on a divan in the parlour, while a room in a lodging house in the next street was found for Archie, although he shared meals with the family.
Marie confided to her aunt that Archie had proposed marriage and that she was agreeable. Georges took his responsibility for Marie very seriously, and broached the subject with Archie when they were alone together in the workshop,
‘I understand that you and Marie wish to marry.’
Archie sat down on a stool and nodded, feeling shy. George continued,
‘I am very happy for you both, but I am concerned that you do not have the means to support a wife. I understand that you were apprenticed as a bookkeeper in Paris. Did you complete your apprenticeship?’
Archie did not mention the remittance that he was getting from his father, partly from a desire to be independent and partly because he was not sure that it would be continued now that he was back in London.
‘No, I was in the final year when Marie needed to come to London.’
‘I have only a small business with the shoes and boots, and do not have enough to need a bookkeeper, but I will ask amongst our community to see if there is a possibility. On another matter, I understand that you were baptised as a Catholic in Paris. I would not be happy with my niece marrying a Catholic. Our community has been persecuted by the Church of Rome and driven from our homes, so a Catholic husband would not be acceptable.’
Archie had already considered this, and had made his decision before proposing to Marie,
‘I no longer consider myself to be a Catholic. The burning of the professor’s books was an insult to a decent man who was very kind to me, and turned me against the Church. I would be happy to be Protestant.’
‘Then come with us to chapel on Sunday, and we will meet some of our friends and see if they can offer employment. And we will talk to the elders about accepting you into our congregation.’
And so for the next three weeks, Archie went to the chapel with the family and was warmly welcomed by the community, as the story of his escorting of Marie out of Paris became well known. However there was no work available for a bookkeeper, even one fluent in both English and French, and unskilled weavers were only paid a starvation wage. The elders of the chapel arranged an appointment with a priest, who was impressed by Archie’s knowledge of Calvinist doctrine, and officially welcomed him as a member of the congregation.
On the fourth Sunday, Georges announced that they would go to the big church, l’Eglise Protestante Française de Londres, a little over a mile away, and see if a more prosperous member of the Huguenot community could find employment for Archie. George did not know many in this congregation but did his best to introduce Archie during the social gathering after the service. One man, overhearing Georges’ story of Archie, went to talk to Colonel John Ligonier of the Black Horse regiment, who was visiting London,
‘Good morning, John. I heard you complaining at dinner last night about the burden of paperwork from the English Establishment, and perhaps I have a solution for you. That young man over there,’ gesturing towards Archie, who was trying not to look too much out of place, ‘is a bookkeeper recently from Paris who is fluent in French and English, and is looking for employment.’
Ligonier looked over at Archie, and saw a young man in his twenties, standing straight, very self-contained, but watchful of all going on around him,
‘He does not look like a bookkeeper, does he. Though he looks like he might make a soldier. Thank you for pointing him out. There is hardly anyone in the Regiment who speaks French, I will go and talk to him.’
He came up alongside Archie,
‘Excusez-moi, m’sieu.’
Archie turned. He had already noticed the colonel and identified his rank, but not his regiment, perceiving that he had a relaxed air of natural command.
‘Oui, mon colonel.’
Ligonier then spoke in English,
‘I hear that you are a bookkeeper seeking employment.’
‘Yes sir, that is correct. I trained as a bookkeeper in Paris, but have now moved to London.’
‘Would you perhaps be interested in being a bookkeeping soldier? If so could you come and see me at ten o’clock tomorrow morning?’ Holding out his calling card.
Archie bowed in acknowledgement and accepted the card, ‘Yes sir, I will be there.’
Archie had previously considered being a soldier, but could not in France, not being a citizen, and had similar difficulties in England, having been raised in France. He asked around about Colonel Ligonier, learning that he was a Huguenot who was now established in the English Cavalry Establishment, and that his regiment, commonly called Ligonier’s, was stationed in Ireland, essentially as a peace-keeping force. He learned that the regiment had been in Ireland for over ten years, and was now filled, more and more, with the younger sons of Protestant Irish Gentry. Cavalry regiments were traditionally manned by young gentlemen, gallant horsemen, being a step above the riffraff of the infantry.
He discussed the possibility of living in Ireland with Marie. She was not against the idea, at least in part because London was not to her liking.
Ligonier had long learned to trust his judgement of men, and felt no need to find out about Archie. The friend who had pointed out Archie at the church recounted the story of Archie escorting Marie from Paris after the death of her grandmother.
Archie presented himself at the house in Westminster, in his best clothes and ten minutes early. He was shown into the study at precisely ten o’clock and greeted with a smile as to his punctuality.
Ligonier spoke in French, ‘I have been thinking about how to make the best use of your knowledge, and it seems to me that I am more in need of soldier acting as a personal secretary. The quartermaster and paymaster each have their staff of civilian clerks, but I am burdened with the need to understand their accounts and report to my superiors. We have an official audit every year, and, in this time of relative peace, the bureaucrats seem to have more time to be fussy about details.’
Still talking in French, he then set out to test Archie’s abilities, asking him to read aloud a financial directive from Whitehall, and explain in French the meaning of some of the more obscure terminology. Then Archie was asked to put pen to paper and copy a report from the quartermaster, to check that his writing was adequate for reporting purposes. Ligonier was satisfied that he had a potential soldier who was fluent and literate in both languages, an unusual combination.
Ligonier continued, ‘The commander of our Irish Establishment has been persuaded that we should consider embracing the double-entry bookkeeping system. Is this something that you would support?”
Archie sat and marshalled his thoughts, it being clear that Ligonier was not delighted with the prospect of more paperwork.
‘I have some experience with double-entry and also with simpler ledger methods. The double-entry system is excellent for a corporation keeping control of multiple accounts, and while I understand the attraction of treating a regiment as a business, it may be that a simpler system would be adequate. I have not yet seen the accounts of the quartermaster and paymaster, but I expect that they use a simpler three column ledger, and this would seem to be adequate for both, with the quartermaster and armourer having also the more difficult task of keeping stock of assets.’
Ligonier was delighted, ‘Magnifique! “A regiment is not the same as a business.” I will use that as an argument when next I meet with the commander.’
Then, now in English, ‘I accept you into my regiment. I will arrange for some training here in London, and then you will come to Ireland. It would be helpful if your family could purchase a low level commission for you, perhaps as a second lieutenant, as I can then nominate you as acting adjutant.’
Archie was hesitant, ‘Excuse me sir, but would it be possible to have a written acceptance? I wish to get married, and I need to demonstrate to her guardian that I have a position.’
Ligonier looked at him, ‘I have heard the story about you escorting Marie de Beaufort from Paris. Your gallantry has already made you famous, perhaps?. I will dictate, you write, and then I will sign for you.’
He reached into his desk for a regimental letterhead and passed it to Archie, ‘To whom it may concern, this is to confirm that this day Archibald Fraser has been inducted as Trooper in the 8th Regiment of Horse. Signed Colonel Ligonier, Commanding Officer.’
Archie carefully copied the words, then presented it for inspection and signature, with effusive thanks.
Archie joyfully hurried back to Spitalfields with the letter safely in his coat pocket. Marie’s uncle was satisfied and agreed that the wedding should take place as soon as possible. Archie wrote to his father, Simon, explaining that he was presently in London and about to be married, and that he was then joining the 8th Regiment of Horse in Ireland, and that the Colonel had asked him to apply for a commission, and would it be possible for Simon to arrange for a commission as a second lieutenant.
The newlyweds moved into lodgings while Archie started his training in Chelsea. He had to spend some time in barracks, but was mostly given leave. He encouraged Marie to work at learning English, thinking ahead about the move to Ireland, but she found it difficult, particularly when surrounded by her French speaking family and neighbours.
Simon was disturbed that Archie was back in London, and was married. He lived in constant anxiety that people were plotting against him, partly from his own nature, but made worse by his many years of imprisonment. Such an anxiety gives motivation for a good chief to be an even better chief, and Simon had set out to be the very best of chiefs. However, in his mind, at least, there were still those that would wish to use his marriage to the Dowager against him, and the situation would become very difficult if they had contact with Archie, or even knowledge of his whereabouts, and would be made even worse if Archie were to father a son as a potential heir.
On the other hand, he saw that a trooper in Ireland would be a safer proposition, being a long way from his real or imagined enemies. He also saw that buying a commission would remove the need to continue secretly sending a living allowance, as Archie would then receive an officer’s wage. On his next trip to London, he made an appointment with the appropriate offical at the Military Secretariat in Whitehall and broached the subject of a commission. The assistant was supportive, particularly as Ligonier had put in a request, and very happy to take the money, but pointed out that the process also required that the applicant be of gentlemanly status, so that Simon would have to acknowledge that Archie was his son, even if a natural son, and also identify his mother. After some discussion, the mothership requirement was waived, but the paternal remained essential. Simon could not bring himself to risk the exposure to his enemies from a public acknowledgement, so the meeting came to an end without a conclusion.
Simon wrote to Archie that his attempt to buy a commission had not been successful, but that he would continue to provide a living allowance for as long as Archie was in Ireland. From Archie’s point of view this meant that he could live out of barracks and have a family life, so he was content.
When Archie had completed his training he was given his orders to join the regiment in Ireland. Marie was now pregnant and having a difficult time with severe morning sickness and general weakness, so it was decided that she should remain in London with her family, as the additional stress of moving to a strange country could not be considered. Marie assured Archie that she would come to Ireland once the child was born, and would continue to practice her English.
The itinerary was to Dover by coach, then coastal ship to Falmouth in Cornwall, another ship to Cork on the south coast of Ireland, and finally the Dublin coach, to be dropped off near to Donagmore, Queen’s County. As before, he found the coach trips uncomfortable and tedious, but enjoyed the sea voyages.
He had no difficulty fitting in with the barracks life, and made himself useful to his colonel by putting the accounts into order, which he did with a summary ledger of the quartermasters and paymaster accounts. This required him to ride to the other barracks of the regiment and view their records. Ligonier was appreciative of the clarity that this provided him and also enjoyed speaking French, this being his mother tongue, and only Archie being fluent in the Donaghmore camp.
He enquired for lodgings, finding that the married officers of the regiment lived in Rathdowney, being the nearest town, and only a mile or so away from the barracks.
Being a serving trooper, Archie was able to use the military mail service to correspond with Marie, but only infrequently. Then one day he received a letter with another’s handwriting on the envelope. With a feeling of foreboding, he tore it open, to find that it was from Marie’s uncle, in French, dated two weeks previous,
“It is with very great sadness that I must tell you that your wife, Marie, died in childbirth yesterday. The baby, a boy, was born dead, and then Marie haemorrhaged and we could not save her. As you know, she was very much part of our family, and we will bury them in the graveyard next to our chapel. I understand that it is not possible for you to get here in time for the burial, but please come when you can and we will mourn together. With all our best wishes, Uncle Georges.”
Archie collapsed to his knees, the letter falling from his hand. The troopers nearby gathered to see what had happened. One of them picked up the letter but could not read the French, so asked what it said. Archie took a long deep breath,
‘My wife is dead, my child is dead, my life is dead.’
One of the men ran to get the colonel, who came immediately, asking to see the letter. Reading it quickly, he bent down and helped Archie to his feet,
‘Come, my comrade, let us find somewhere for you to sit.’ He then called for brandy and sat with him, talking in French, and hearing the story about how she was to come to Ireland when the baby was born, and how much he now regretted that he had not stayed with her in London, regardless of anything. Now he would never forgive himself.
Ligonier was an exceptional military leader, and his regiment was his family and his life. It was always difficult to keep a war force in a state of readiness when there was no enemy in the offing, and while he worked hard at providing exercises, and training his officers in strategy, practicing the many classic cavalry moves, he knew that the most important aspect was esprit de corps; that feeling of brotherhood and loyalty to the group.
He returned to his quarters and penned a letter to the Military Secretariat, marked the envelope as confidential and sealed it twice. Then he discussed with his officers a plan for the next day.
Archie had had a very bad night, drifting in and out of a brandy fuelled sleep, and did not get up with the rest of the troopers. Ligonier’s batman roused him and said the colonel requested his presence as soon as possible. Ligonier showed Archie the letter saying that this was an urgent and confidential letter that had to be hand delivered to Whitehall, and that he was to take it to London, and make time to visit his wife’s grave. If he was quick he should be able to meet up with the weekly stagecoach to Dublin.
Archie hurried to pack the few things that he would need for the journey. The corporal of his section said that he would ride with him to bring the horse back. As they rode out of the stables and out of the barracks, Archie was astounded that there was a guard of honour waiting him. Cavalry in full uniform, lined up on each side, with Colonel Ligonier. They saluted as he passed by, with tears streaming down his face. Archie was not aware at the time that this acknowledgement of respect for those in the Regiment who had lost loved ones was one part of Ligonier’s way of reinforcing the ties that bound the group together, as well as demonstrating his respect for his troopers.
When they got to the main road, they could see by the wheel tracks that the coach had already passed. But men on horseback travel much quicker than a coach on a muddy road, so they quickly caught up and pulled the coach over so that Archie could board. There was room inside, but the coachman asked that Archie ride next to him as the sight of a military uniform made him feel more secure from highwaymen.
When the corporal returned to the barracks, one of the other corporals asked him,
‘Do you think that our Frenchman will come back?’ This was a subtle change as previously it would have been “the Frenchman”.
‘I think so. Once he was on the move, he looked like a trooper on a mission. He was mightily impressed by the guard of honour and would not be able to run away with without loss of self-respect.’
The next staging was at the coach inn in Portlaoise, with two more days to reach Dublin, all being well. Then ship to Liverpool, where he, in his misery, did not notice that the west wind gave him a quick journey. Followed by seven long days in a stagecoach.
His first task in London was to deliver the letter to Whitehall. He was asked to wait while it was taken to the appropriate official, coincidentally being the same one that had previously met with his father. Archie did not know that the letter was a formal request to consider Trooper Archibald Fraser for a commission, with an offer from Ligonier to pay for it himself, saying that he was a young man of promise and already fulfilling the role of adjutant. After a short time the official came out to the foyer and introduced himself as Undersecretary Bates, and asked Archie if he was Archibald Fraser, then asking if he knew of the contents of the letter. On being given a negative response, the official asked Archie to return in three days, at the same time, and ask for Undersecretary Bates.
He then went to visit Georges and Annette, who welcomed him warmly and insisted that he stay with them, making up a bed on the divan in the parlour. It was now late in the day so they made a plan to visit the churchyard first thing in the morning, and spent the evening talking about how much they missed Marie, and telling stories of her parents and her childhood. Archie was polite but lost in his own unhappiness.
The whole family went to the graveyard, where Archie said that he would like to have some time alone. It was a cold grey rainy day, as he stood in the mud next to the simple wooden cross that marked the grave; “Marie de Beaufort, 1705 - 1727, et enfant”. He found the inclusion of the infant to be devastating, remembering his dreams of having a family of his own in Ireland, and feeling that his chance of being part of a family had escaped him. The graveyard was a place for the poor people, with no granite or marble memorials, just wooden crosses and slabs rotting away into the damp ground. Archie stood in the rain for a long time, with the cold of the ground creeping up his legs, feeling the grey day mirroring the deep sadness within.
‘Je survivrai, malgré tout.’
The next morning he set out to his father’s London residence on the possibility that he might be there. Simon had just arrived from Inverness for one of the seemingly interminable meetings with lawyers and committees as he sought to have his peerage reinstated. He was amazed to see Archibald, who he thought was safely settled in Ireland, but sat with him and heard the sad tale of Marie’s death in childbirth, with the infant boy also not surviving. He found himself in two minds with the news; on one hand he was deeply saddened for Archie’s loss; while, on the other hand, he felt a sense of relief that Archie did not have an heir that might complicate matters and lead to advantage for his enemies.
He was moved by Archie’s description of the graveyard, and saw that Archie was distressed by its poverty, and remembered the relative splendour of the Mausoleum at Kirkhill where he intended to be interred in due course, and of the stone memorials to his ancestors at the Beauly Priory. He went to his desk and extracted a small purse, putting in some coins and giving it to Archie, saying,
‘This should be enough for a memorial in stone. It is the least that I can do.”
‘Merci, mon père.’ Then after a moment of silence, ‘I would ask your advice as to what to do next. I joined the Regiment so that I could marry Marie, and now there is no point to that.’
Simon found that he needed to have Archie far away from Scotland and London,
‘I think it best that you should rejoin your regiment. I will continue to provide you with an allowance so that you can live like a gentleman trooper, for as long as you stay away from Scotland or London.’
Archie saw that his father needed to distance himself, and, while feeling abandoned yet again, knew well how his father was driven by anxiety, and saw enemies in every shadow. He was being given the choice between being a gentleman trooper, but without possibility of marriage and family, or having to find a living by other means, and still not having the wherewithal to raise a family. He did not wish to bring more anxieties into his father’s life, and understood that the allowance included an undertaking not to encumber him with grandchildren of challengeable legitimacy. He remembered the guard of honour as he left the barracks, and felt that his loyalty should lie with his Regiment.
‘Oui, mon père, I shall do as you suggest, and return to Ireland.’
At the door they embraced and parted for the last time, never to see each other again.
As it happened, Simon’s beloved and legitimate wife, Margaret, died in childbirth two years later, with the child, his second son, Alexander, surviving, but somewhat brain damaged. In his darker moments, Simon felt that this was divine punishment for his rejoicing at the death of Archie’s son, who was, after all, his first grandson.
Archie gave the money to Georges, asking him to arrange for a memorial, then went to visit the grave again, this time to say goodbye, not knowing when he would be able to come back. Some twenty years later he was in London on regimental business and made the time to go back to Spitalfields. To his dismay the graveyard was gone and had been developed into an extension of the markets. He then went to Georges’ shop, to find that it was now a grocers. He asked inside about George and Annette and was told that they had died some five years previously. They could not tell him where to find the children.
Archie’s last task was to go back to the Military Secretariat in Whitehall. Undersecretary Bates greeted him with some kindness and handed him a sealed envelope addressed to Colonel Ligonier, with instructions that he was not to break the seal, as it was confidential. Archie was never to know the contents:
“Dear Colonel, I appreciate your desire to promote officers from within the ranks of your regiment, and in some cases this is possible. However, I regret that Archibald Fraser does not satisfy the criteria, even though he may be excellent officer material. It is a firm rule of the establishment that all officers be gentlemen, and preferably English gentlemen. In this case I have already had interview with the father, who declined to publicly acknowledge his son. While it is sometimes possible to commission a natural son, particularly of a noble, it is necessary that the relationship be acknowledged by the father. It is also apparent that his upbringing is not that of an English gentleman, and, indeed, that he has spent little of his life in Britain. Yours sincerely.”
Rather than endure the long coach trip to Liverpool, Archie chose to travel via Dover, taking the sea route to Cork, even though this might take a little longer, depending on weather conditions. As it was the winds were favourable  and he made good time. As much as possible he spent his time on the open deck, letting the sea and wind wash through his sadness.
Again taking the Dublin coach, also again mostly riding next to the coachman, he was dropped off at the nearest point to Donagmore, and walked to the barracks. He handed over the sealed envelope to Ligonier, who opened and read it, with a disappointed sigh,
‘Do you know the contents of this letter, Archie?’
‘No sir, I was instructed that it was strictly confidential.’
‘Perfectement. I do not think that you need to be troubled with it.’ As he turned and threw it on the fire.
Archie spent much of his small wage and more generous allowance on drowning his sorrows in drink over the next few months, always in the company of his comrades, who watched over him through this difficult time. But then he needed to build a new life, and became more solitary, finding the constant activity of the barracks unsettling. He moved into lodgings in Rathdowney, as did many of the troop, not only officers, and found solace in having his own space. He became resigned to his life as a trooper and could not see any other possibilities, becoming part of the community of Rathdowney. It was not such a bad life as many of the troopers were the younger sons of substantial families, educated and supported by their families, so he had companions with similar interests. He also used his bookkeeping knowledge to provide some support to local tradesmen and victualers to keep their books in order so that they could continue to do business with the military, and survive the periodic audits.
He could spend some money on books, although he never did manage a new copy of Euclid. He shared this interest with the vicar of Rathdowney, who was also interested in providing some education for the children of the district. At that time the Church of Ireland had taken over the medieval Catholic churchyard, which was in a state of some disrepair. Ligonier, as a Huguenot protestant was content to attend the Anglican services, and Archie, now also a Huguenot, would sit with him. Over time he became accustomed to the Anglican liturgy.
There were occasions when he travelled with Ligonier to meetings with the commanding officers of the other Irish Regiments of Horse, and had some time to socialise. He met other troopers who shared his name, although they spelled their name as Frazer not Fraser. They were generally Protestants from good families that had settled in Ireland some years previously, and they explained that the “z” spelling was the most common in Ireland. So Archie decided to change the spelling of his name, and become part of the Irish Frazer family; not that they were highlanders, nor clan, nor kin, but at least some connection.
He had fifteen years of relative tranquillity, with the occasional police action, but nothing serious. Ligonier worked hard at keeping the Regiment battle ready, because that was the best way of maintaining morale. Then the war between England and France became very active and the Regiment was hurriedly mobilised to England and then to the Netherlands, where they wintered in Ghent. The Regiment was active and fought victoriously at Dettingen, being honoured for its performance, then less successfully at Fontenoy. Archie did not immediately hear of the death of the Dowager Lady Lovat, his mother.
The Jacobite rebellion led to most of the regiment being recalled to England, where they fought at Clifton Moor. Archie was with the contingent that stayed in France, and did not have to fight his unacknowledged kin. After the rebellion was finally crushed at Culloden, the Regiment was relocated back to Ireland, and then re-organised to minimise costs. The war in Europe had been very expensive for the English, with then further expenses from the Jacobite Rebellion.
The news of the attainder of the Lovat title and estates with the subsequent capture of the Old Fox quickly reached Donaghmore, with it being obvious to Archie that his allowance would no longer be available. He had saved over the years towards some sort of retirement plan, so was not immediately penniless, but it was obvious that he could not enjoy previous relative prosperity into the future. So he vacated his lodgings in Rathdowney and moved into barracks.
Then the news of the impeachment, trial and execution of his father left him completely alone in the world, with no kin, with the possible exception of Simon’s later children; but he did not feel that he had any right to make that connection, and, besides which, they were in a worse place than he was.