The Black Knee ChroniclesVolume 4
A CRITIQUE OF THE MARQUISE'S LETTER (1720)
by Ian Frazer
See the letter of the Marquise de la Frézelière cited in BK3
With reference to Monsieur Bernierd, a revised translation of the end of the letter (or extract) seems called for. Otherwise we are in danger of assuming that Simon's blond child is being educated at the Oratory by one sieur Bernard(sic). "J'avoue que je ne l'attendais pas pour fruit de votre sagesse. Mais l'homme est faible, malgré le directeur de l'oratoire" cannot mean "I must admit that I had not expected it from what you had told me. But the man is unreliable, despite being the Director of the Oratory". I would submit that the correct literal translation would be: "I must admit that I was not expecting him (or it) as the fruit of your wisdom. But man is weak, despite the director of the Oratory". By which the good Marquise would have meant something like:"really Simon, producing this bastard was not exactly what I was expecting from you as the fruit of your mature years, when a Christian is meant to produce fruits of Wisdom! But I suppose that Man is a weak thing, as the Bible says, despite the best efforts of the Directeur of the Oratory to strengthen your backbone a bit".
The style is of course allusive, but both the Marquise and Simon would have understood exactly what was being said and the implied reproach. It seems to me a likely hypothesis that Simon had had the director of the Oratory in Paris as his confessor, spiritual director, and probable original instructor in the Catholic faith. (ARCHIVES?) And the Marquise is succinctly and dryly telling him that he has failed both the Directeur and her, let alone his faith, by his continued lubricity.
In following is in support of my translation: "L'homme est faible" is a typically Christian, indeed Catholic sentiment. Man is imbued with original sin, and needs God's Grace to overcome his inherent frailty. Had she wished to say "The man" referring back to Bernierd, she would at very least have had to say "Mais, cet homme-là est faible", for whereas English "the" is specific, referring back to someone previously mentioned, and having the sense of "that man we have already spoken of", the French definite article is used in a general sense, for cases where no article is used in English. "Man" generally, then. As for "malgré le directeur" this cannot mean "despite being" which in French would be something like, "est faible, tout en étant D de l'O" or "faible, bien qu'il soit Directeur...". Note too that in this case the definite article would be omitted, as is the rule with jobs and titles. "Il est facteur" = he's a postman. "Il est Roi"; He is King.
Clearly Bernierd had been instructed (paid?) by Simon to keep an eye on the child and perhaps provide him (and his mother?) with money. Presumably this was because Simon had not dared tell his respectable religious cousin, the Marquise, of the results of his philandering, and she has only just learnt it from him, again presumably because Bernierd had failed (his "grave fautes a votre égard") to keep in touch with Simon. So the latter would have forced to spill the beans finally to the Marquise, and get her to chase up Bernierd. Unfortunately we cannot even be sure that the child is still alive, as the Marquise relies purely on what Bernierd tells her, and has not, from her letter, seen the child for herself. He merely says that he has helped the child out in the past and will do so in the future, and that the child is fair, and a bit like Simon. Pretty vague stuff, and, knowing the character of many Frenchmen, they would have been glad to pocket any money coming in, giving vague assurances when forced, even though the child was dead or completely neglected. This was indeed very much the case even with the legitimate children of Parisians in the 1860's, put out to wetnurse in villages where they died like flies in the hands of villagers who were in it purely for the money. It was virtually the equivalent of the abortion trade nowadays, perhaps rather more horrible as the kids were aware of the horrors. Parents in France connived in the trade as a sort of system of birth control.
The move in Wilson's notes from Bernierd to Bernard is most disturbing and suggests a (very Victorian) ignorance of the importance of the purity of French vowels. An Englishman could succeed in pronouncing the two names as if they were similar, the Marquise never! Admittedly we may not have the exact spelling of the name here, for in French the final letter is seldom pronounced, but we can be sure of the pronunciation as being -nye and not -na. It is likely that the last letter the Marquise heard pronounced was the -r, so probably we should be looking for someone with a name rhyming with Bernières or Bernière, though it is just possible that it rhymed with Bernier/Bernié. So what will a brief check of the modern Paris telephone directory reveal?: 18 columns of Bernard (we'd get nowhere with so many, thank God Wilson is wrong); 5 Bernie or Bernié in all; 1.8 columns of Bernier [one tenth the Bernard] some 180 names roughly, 7 Bernière names, and only one single Bernières, a sort of aristocrat perhaps, Mouillesaux de Bernières (but so many of these "de" names are assumed and fake, and even bourgeois after the First War were allowed to call themselves after some land they owned, if they'd lost family members in the war, according to historian Zeldin). This list strengthens my feeling that we are looking for a Berni·é, Bernier, Bernière or Bernières and not a Bernard!
Is Archibald the "love-child"
Now for a major revision. Can we really accept that this bastard of 1720 is the same as our Archibald, born 1703/4 probably of a legitimate French wife? For that is what Wilson is suggesting. The Marquise understands that the child is a bastard, an "enfant d'amour", a love-child. And she clearly has only just learnt of the existence of the child and is somewhat shocked. If this is Archibald, and a bastard, then why all the fuss in the family and Ruth Cheadle's talk of a tragedy that would make her children unhappy? Bastards in aristocratic families were two a penny, and not being particularly more tragic than being a younger son in a system based on primogeniture. Were it so, better to drop all research henceforward. But there are good reasons to dismiss this 1720 reference as one to Archibald.
The de Frézelière are the French branch of the Frazers, the original branch from which the Frazers sprang before going to Scotland. This at least is what Simon and the Marquis agreed in a document of which I saw a copy some 15-20 years ago in France. Whatever the truth of the matter, they seem to have believed it, and so the two families became extremely close, referring to each other as cousins, and clearly the French branch acted as general protectors to Simon. They were influential at Court and in the French military machine, the Marquis being the head of Louis XIV's artillery, a captain - or lieutenant-general, if I remember rightly. It is likely that Simon was a frequent guest in their Versailles lodgings, as well as in their provincial château. So, had Simon had a legitimate French wife and son or sons, then the first people likely to have known of it were the Frézelière. What more likely witnesses at the wedding than they, and furnishers of wedding presents? And when Simon was imprisoned at Saumer, the natural rules of aristocratic and family hospitality would have inclined the Fréz. to look after his wife and children, if still alive, probably giving them rooms in an estate cottage or their provincial castle. (I have its details). That the Fréz. would only be discovering the existence of this child when it was virtually 17 years old, and be under the impression that it was illegitimate, I find very hard to swallow. After all; it was only later in life, not in his early years in Paris, that Simon would have found dynastic reasons to regret and hide his marriage. Earlier, as a virtually penniless exile, he would have been glad of a confidante and helper in his wealthy cousins. After all, Simon was the only foreigner who ever had an interview alone with Louis XIV , to plan the invasion and rising of Scotland. Surely, that Louis was prepared to take such a risk would have required the previous intervention of the trusted head of his Artillery, to vouch for the complete trustworthiness (and Catholicism) of his cousin. And make no mistake about the need for Catholicism in France. Without being sure that Simon was a sincere convert, there could have been no question of the Fréz. taking him to their bosom. There was of course the problem of the previous Rape in Scotland, but a truly penitent Catholic convert might be expected to shake off a "pêché de jeunesse" and eventually produce "fruits de sagasse", of maturity. The Fréz. would have made sure that he received the best Catholic guidance and instruction, so why not the Directeur de l'Oratoire? After all, the object of the exercise from the point of view of Louis' Court, was to re-establish a Catholic Stuart dynasty in England and Scotland, and convert the two countries. And Louis in old age, having already suppressed the Edict of Nantes that had granted toleration to Protestants in France, and forcibly converted those Huguenots who did not flee, would not have tolerated Protestant adventurers in the Scots affair. Catholicism is a universal religion, in no way disturbed by differences in nationality, but horrified by heresy as something Satanic. And the France of the last years of Louis' reign is no longer the France of his amours, but of a stifling Catholic respectability under the aegis of Mme de Maintenon. The Fréz. would have been helping less a family cause, but the cause of Catholicism across the Channel. They would not have raised a finger to help Simon had he not converted. Hence the restrained and lady-like tone of disappointment in the Marquise's letter. The old Adam of the pêché de jeunesse had raised his ugly head again in her prize convert, when he was at least 50. Had Simon had this son hanging around him as a personal servant for years, I really don't see how the Marquise could have adopted the reproachful surprised tone of her 1720 letter.
Furthermore the extremely brief and limited information transmitted from Bernierd through the Marquise seems hardly the sort that one transmits to a father of a boy of 17 who has lived with that father for years. He has Simon's name, has been baptized, is very blond, looks a bit like you, Simon! Perhaps he'll be a nice boy and intelligent! And that's all! Really, had this been the Archibald of 1703, Simon would hardly have been unaware of all these facts and potentialities. There would only be any point in conveying such info if Simon had never seen the little brat, or had seen it only as a very small baby and it was now aged about 5, the result of a liaison that was in full swing at Saumur at the time of his sudden escape in October 1714. And what can you say about boys of 5 except that they are very blond (their hair tends to darken later), look like their fathers a bit, and are charming. Very likely the Mother was pregnant when Simon bolted, and he had amused himself with her during the boredom of a probably not very restrained imprisonment. Probably he left money with a trusty to salve his conscience, and sent more from time to time, but needed news to know whether it was still worth sending money or if the child was dead. The assumption that the bastard bore the name Frazer is, I feel, totally unwarranted, and would only have been granted in the event of a legitimate marriage. "Baptisé sous votre illustre nom" could just as well have referred to his Christian name, Simon. After all, for the Marquise, Simon was the baptismal name from Simon-Peter, chief of the Apostles, founder of the Roman Church according to Catholic lore and its first Pope. St Peter's Rome and the Vatican was supposed to have been built on the site of his tomb. So what more glorious name, for a French Catholic? Again the reference would seem to be a Catholic one, a reminder to Simon of his Catholic mission. Is it too much to imagine the Marquise saying in the past to him such things as "A Simon founded the Roman Church, and a Simon will refound the Roman Church in England and Scotland"? Remember that one is not baptized "sous le nom de" Simon or Ian Frazer but only by Christian names. In the ceremony, and I listened to a Roman baptism here this Christmas day, only the Christian names are mentioned, when the priest performs the rite. My memory of Church registers here is that the parents are named as presenting a child, their son or daughter, whom the priest baptizes "sous le nom de ....." and here follow purely the Christian names, which, in the Catholic Church, are meant solely to be the names of saints of the Church, saints whose aid is specifically invoked by prayers to guide the child through the perils of life safe to Heaven at the last. Perhaps it is our family pride, and non-Catholicism, that induced Wilson to mistake the nature of the "illustrious name".
Finally on the question of the information given on the child, had the boy been virtually adult, Simon would have needed specific information on such matters as his education, knowledge of the Classics, arrangements for military training in some Academy, need for money for books, clothes etc. Where did Archibald get the money and training to be an army officer? Talk of blond locks and niceness would not have got him very far. Furthermore had the boy been acting as Simon's secretary and general factotum, he would most certainly have been capable of writing himself to give news, and like all teenagers demand money for books, clothes, travel, and so on. But no one would expect a 4-5 year-old to write. And the Marquise would surely otherwise have put forward some reference to the fact that the child had sent no news, and tackled Bernier on the subject. And even left a message, written, for him, or written beforehand to announce her impending arrival. No, everything suggests a mere baby.
As for the idea that Sieur Bernier must have lived not far from the address of the Frézelière Château, as the good Marquise delivered him the letter by hand, O.K. but ... Had they lived really close, surely she would have insisted on seeing the child, and had he been out, she would have returned later, or had a servant bring the boy to the château. But if we assume that Bernier lives with or close to the child somewhere near Saumur in the Loire valley, where Simon had been interned for years, then this would have been some 40 km from her country château. Doubtless, she called in by coach, but was told by Bernierd that the child was unavailable. In the event, she did not see him. Presumably she went home disappointed and wrote the letter to Simon we now have. Did she later manage to see or even help the child? In the letter she gives no clue as to any such intention. Where is the original letter?
Probably wiser to conclude that this poor little bastard of 5 may well have perished in France during the corruption of the Regency, thrown on the tender mercies of Monsieur Bernierd. Only the Marquise could probably have saved him, and would she have acted so generously for a bastard? As for servants, at the time they were picked up pretty easily in the markets, and discarded just as easily. Simon, as a foreigner could have used a bright French lad who knew the ropes and language as a native Frenchman, and even in London such a boy may have been of use to help him with his correspondence.