Le Fanu Arms

A website to mark (almost) 500 years of Le Fanu family history.


  1. The Le Fanus – A Brief History
  2. The Le Fanu family in France: Those Who Left, Those Who Stayed
  3. Le Fanus in the Landscape of Normandy

le fanu normandie arms

The Le Fanus – A Brief History
Richard Le Fanu O.B.E (1919-2004)

(with information drawn from the Le Fanu Family Memoir
compiled by T.P. and W.H.J Le Fanu, privately printed 1923)

The Le Fanus in France & Ireland 1536 – 1900

The Le Fanus’ origins were in Normandy, in the city of Caen and its neighbourhood. They were Huguenots and, as such, in 16th century catholic France, members of a persecuted sect. The first Le Fanu of whom we have a firm record is Michel Le Fanu who graduated in Arts at the University of Caen in 1536. Though drawn to poetry, which he composed fluently in French and Latin, he took to the Law, one of the few callings open to Huguenots. His only son, Etienne Le Fanu de Montbénard, another poet, also became a lawyer. Appointed Avocat de la Ville, he was ennobled by King Henry IV in 1595 whose Edict of Nantes three years later promised toleration – freedom of conscience and of worship – to all his Huguenot subjects.

For a time, the Le Fanus prospered but there was recrudescence of anti-Huguenot feeling under Louis XIV and they were again subjected to various forms of harassment. In 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and the Le Fanus, like many other Huguenot families, were forced into exile.

One of Etienne’s great-grandsons, Charles Le Fanu de Cresserons, went to Holland where he joined the army of William of Orange and subsequently fought at the Battle of the Boyne, a service rewarded by a pension of two shillings and sixpence a day, on condition that he settled in Ireland. When eventually he retired from a life of professional soldiering in 1710, he set up house in Dublin and lived there until his death in 1738. By that time, he had been joined by a much younger cousin, Philippe Le Fanu, who had come over to London from Normandy as a young man and would become the founder of the Irish Le Fanus.

Philippe’s son Guillaume (William) prospered as a banker and merchant, acting as Dublin agent for many of the Huguenot settlers scattered over Ireland. Significantly for the future of the family, he was appointed trustee for the actor and playwright Tom Sheridan when, in 1764, debts incurred in various theatrical ventures in Dublin and London drove him for a time to live in France. This exile did not last, and Tom Sheridan was soon back in London assisting his famous younger son Richard Brinsley Sheridan in the management of the Drury Lane Theatre. Tom Sheridan also revisited Dublin where his two daughters, Alicia and Elizabeth (Betsy), both of whom had literary talent, were leading members of a social circle devoted to the theatre to which the Le Fanus also belonged.

William bequeathed his financial interest in the Theatre Royal, Crow Street, to his son Joseph and the family as a whole were much involved in the private theatricals so fashionable at the time. So it came about that Joseph, after the death of his first wife Anne, married Alicia Sheridan in 1781. Eight years later, Alicia’s younger sister Betsy married Joseph’s brother Henry forging a further link with the Sheridan family. Indeed, all living Le Fanus are of Sheridan descent as Peter, William’s youngest son (and the only one beside Joseph to have left descendants) married Frances Knowles, granddaughter of the Revd Dr Thomas Sheridan of Quilea House, Co Cavan to found the ‘cadet’ branch of the family. The Revd Peter Le Fanu, to give him his full title, was Rector of St Brides’, Dublin from 1810 until his death in 1825. His son, William Joseph Henry, was Rector of St Paul’s, Dublin from 1834 to 1879 and his son, also WJH but known as Henry became a high-ranking Indian Civil Servant (see below).

To return to Joseph Le Fanu and Alicia Sheridan: the only one of their three children to have a family was Thomas Philip, father of William Richard and the famed writer, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, author of Uncle Silas, Carmilla and the collection of gothic short stories In a Glass Darkly. William Richard married Henrietta Barrington and had a family of ten children, including eight boys who all made their mark in life. Tom (Thomas Philip), the eldest son, had a most distinguished career. Clerk to the Irish Privy Council and Official Secretary to the Chief Secretary, then following his father as Commissioner of Public Works in Ireland. Vice-president of the Royal Irish Academy and President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, he also found time to write the memoir of the Le Fanu family and numerous articles on Irish and antiquarian subjects. Brinsley was a civil engineer, like his father, building railways and harbours in Ireland. Fletcher was the popular Rector of St John, Sandymount and a fine preacher. Harry (Henry Frewen) also entered the Church and became Archbishop of Perth and Anglican Primate of Australia. Willie (William Richard), barrister and Secretary-Treasurer of Queen Anne’s Bounty, was a great sportsman and all-rounder. Victor, another highly cultivated man, won seven Rugby caps for Ireland and was Agent for Lord Pembroke’s great Dublin estates. Lastly, Hugh, Captain in the Royal Navy, and father of Michael (Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord).

Following the death of Tom Brinsley in 1945 and of Brinsley’s son, also Brinsley, in Killiney in 1964, there were now no Le Fanus left in Ireland though Thomas Phillip’s two children Lucie and William (see below), and Brinsley’s younger son Lewen were all brought up in Bray, Co Wicklow and Dublin.

The Le Fanus in England and Australia 1900–1998

Lucie Catherine (1901-94) married John Christie, Headmaster of Westminster School and for 17 years Principal of Jesus College, Oxford. She was a charming woman of independent spirit and wide cultural interests. There were two daughters (Catherine and Jane) and a host of grandchildren and great grandchildren.

William Richard (1904-95) had an extremely distinguished career as an author and as Librarian of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. A Scholar of King’s College, Cambridge, he took a First in Classics and joined the RCS in 1929. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, he produced throughout his life a steady stream of publications. In 1938, the British Periodicals of Medicine 1684-1938; in 1951, the biobibliography of Edward Jenner, pioneer of vaccination; in 1990, his study of Nehemiah Grew, the 17th century botanist – not to mention his edition of the Lives of the Fellows of the RCS in four volumes and his catalogue of portraits and sculptures held by the RCS.

In 1930 William married Elizabeth Maconchy, later to become a famous composer, then at the beginning of her musical career. She had been a pupil of Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music. In 1930, her first major work, the Concertino for Piano and Orchestra, was performed in Prague and her orchestral suite, The Lane, was introduced by Sir Henry Wood at the London Proms. Her largest output was to be in chamber music – all the thirteen string quartets are available on records – along with numerous compositions for orchestra, vocal, choral and solo works. Her work was performed at three Festivals of Contemporary Music (Prague 1935, Paris 1939, Copenhagen 1947). She was Chairman of the Composers Guild in 1960 and served as President of the Society for the Promotion of New Music. Appointed CBE in 1977, she was advanced to DBE ten years later as Dame Elizabeth Maconchy.

William and Elizabeth are survived by their two daughters, Anna (b 1939), teacher of mathematics and married to the philosopher Francis Dunlop, and Nicola (b 1947), like her mother, a highly regarded composer. Nicola spent some time as Director of Music at St Paul’s Girls’ School before being appointed, aged thirty, Senior Lecturer in Music at King’s College London, where she gained her Doctorate and was later promoted to the Chair of Musical Composition. In 1994 she moved again on her appointment as Professor of Music at the renowned Department of Music at York University. In the meantime, she produced numerous compositions for orchestra, chamber ensemble, vocal, choral and solo works and two operas, Blood Wedding (1992) and The Wildman (1997). In 1979, she married the Australian composer, David Lumsdaine.

Michael Le Fanu (grandson of William Richard and subsequently Admiral of the Fleet) was born in 1913 and joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman in 1931. He opted to specialise in gunnery and in 1939 was appointed gunnery Officer of the light cruiser Aurora which, in the next two years, was heavily involved in the operations off the coast of Norway and on Arctic patrols. In 1941 Aurora joined Force K in Malta to carry out a highly successful series of attacks on Italian convoys on their way to North Africa. In his first engagement, Michael’s performance earned him the DSC.

In 1943, Michael was appointed Gunnery Officer of HMS Howe, the Navy’s latest and most advanced battleship. In the same year, he married Prudence Morgan, severely disabled by polio contracted as a schoolgirl. In 1945, with his promotion to Commander, Michael joined the American flagship, the cruiser Indianapolis, as Liaison Officer for the British Pacific Fleet with the American 3rd and 5th Fleets. He remained with the American Fleet through the assaults on Iwojima and Okinawa and the kamikaze attacks until the end of hostilities.

In 1965, he took up the appointment as Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, based in Aden from where, after two years in a dangerous and deteriorating situation, he successfully organised the orderly withdrawal of the British Forces.

In 1968, Michael was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath and took up his appointment as First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff. He could well have reached the highest rung of all, as Chief of Defence Staff, when he learned that he was suffering from leukaemia. Submitting his resignation, he was able to enjoy some active months of retirement before his death on 28th November 1970. At his memorial service in Westminster Abbey, Admiral Sir Peter Hill-Norton, Michael’s successor as First Sea Lord, gave the address.

‘Many of us will remember him as a young man – but nobody could ever think of him as an old man; he was a man of our time, for whom rank, or age, or class raised no barriers. His charm, sincerity and love of his fellow men gave him that rare quality of the common touch.’

Michael’s eldest son, Mark (b 1946), followed his father into the Royal Navy and served in the frigates Galatea and Achilles. Resigning from the Navy in 1973, he qualified as a solicitor and in 1979 joined the Society of Authors, becoming its General Secretary in 1982.

Moving over to the ‘cadet’ branch of the family, we encounter my grandfather, W.J.H. Le Fanu (Henry) (1843-1923) who had a distinguished career in the Indian Civil Service, mainly in the Madras Presidency. He was, by all accounts, a very difficult man. His children, six sons and one daughter, were all born in India. His wife, Katharine Moore, wanted to take them to her home in Ireland but Henry decreed that his family should live in Germany and installed them in Melsungen, a small town to the south of Kassel.

When they had completed their education at the local Gymnasium my father, Cecil (C.V.) (1877-1936) and his elder brother Hugh (1874-1965) were enrolled in the Medical School of Aberdeen University. Having passed their final examinations, they both opted for the West African Medical Service. My father arrived in the Gold Coast (now Ghana, then ‘the white man’s grave’) in 1903. He spent the early years of his service ‘in the bush’, as Medical Officer and ex officio District Commissioner. This life is recorded in an album of faded sepia photographs. Hugh, who had temporarily abandoned medicine for music joined him in the Gold Coast in 1907. They both took the Diploma in Tropical Medicine in Liverpool and for the next twenty years, the careers of the two brothers ran in parallel, both of them achieving the highest rank in the Service – that of Medical Specialist. My father was responsible for the planning of the great hospital of Korle Bu in Accra. Hugh carried out important field research and served in the Togoland campaign.

Roland ‘Tiger’ Le Fanu (1887-1957), younger brother of Cecil and Hugh, was sent to Glasgow as an engineering apprentice. He ran away and spent some years as a seaman in the Royal Navy. When his father ‘bought him out’, he joined the Army in the ranks. In 1908 he was commissioned into the Leicestershire Regiment in which he served throughout the First World War, in France and in the Balkans. He was decorated with the MC and the Croix de Guerre.

After some years in India, he was seconded to Iraq as Commandant of the Staff College. An appointment at the War Office followed, then, with his promotion to Colonel, back to India as GSO I of the 1st Indian Division, then operating on the North West frontier and in Waziristan. Here he was awarded the DSO and was three times mentioned in Dispatches. In 1939, he was gazetted as Major-General and raised and commanded the 15th Scottish Division in the South of England.

‘Tiger’ Le Fanu was not an easy man and was used to speaking his mind. In 1940, it seems that he had occasion to cross his superiors and was forced into early retirement. He spent the rest of his life in Scotland, dying an embittered man in his 70th year.

His son, Victor (b 1925) was commissioned into the Coldstream Guards and served with them in Italy from 1943 and later in Palestine. After some years spent in regimental and staff appointments, he took early retirement with the rank of Major and joined the Office of the Sergeant at Arms in the House of Commons. He was knighted in 1987.

The Le Fanu family in France: Those Who Left, Those Who Stayed
Mark Etienne Le Fanu

The Memoir of the Le Fanu Family, put together by T.P Le Fanu from materials mostly gathered by my great grandfather W.J.H. Le Fanu in the early years of the 20th century, and privately published in 1924, is a sober and well-written book. Almost uniquely in the annals of the Huguenots, it provides a complete and uninterrupted family tree from the first Le Fanu of whom we have any substantial knowledge (Michel Le Fanu, advocate of Caen, born in 1536) down to those Le Fanus who were living and scattered over the globe at the time of the book’s publication. Without going into any great detail (yet with several interesting flourishes and anecdotes) it tells the story of the family’s shift from its base in and around Caen, first to London and then, from the late 1720s, to Ireland and to a wider diaspora.

The story, as I say, is competently told and of course engaging to surviving descendants. On the other hand, a closer reading of the narrative leaves many mysteries unsolved. Most of these are destined, perhaps, to remain mere matters of speculation, but at least we can identify what the puzzles are, even if – at this distance of time – their answers may never be completely revealed to us.

The first anomaly concerns the cut-off date of 1685, the year in which the Edict of Nantes, signed into law by Henri IV in 1598, and which for the best part of ninety years had guaranteed Protestant toleration, was finally revoked by Louis XIV. That was the moment, one might have thought, at which everything came to a head: convert to Catholicism, or get out of the country! And yet neither in the Le Fanu memoir, nor in any of the books I have read in support of my research (for example, in Geoffrey Treasure’s excellent synoptic history of the cult, published in 2013)1, is the year itself treated as crucial or game-changing. What we get instead is a gradual building up of pressure, starting in the 1660s, whereby privileges were slowly withdrawn, both in the civic sphere and in the sphere of worship, so that it became harder and harder to go about one’s daily business without harassment or official vexation. (With due allowance made for the different sets of forces surrounding such episodes of bullying, the situation might be compared to the position of the Jews in Weimar Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s while Hitler was manoeuvring for power. Nothing, as yet, was outright banned or forbidden, but for those who could see, the writing was on the wall.)

1666 seems to have been a crucial year in this respect – still the best part of twenty years off the final Revocation date. That was the year in which Louis published his 60 “ordonnances”, which while promising to maintain freedom of worship for the Huguenots, demolished the “offices of the Edict” in Paris and Rouen (physical buildings, with funded office holders), destroying at a stroke the last bastion of official protection for the cult in those parts of northern France. 1666, if my reading is right, is also the year that our ancestor Etienne Le Fanu (born 1625, died sometime after 1696: all living Le Fanus are descended from him and his second wife Anne Le Sueur) first began to experience the official harassments that landed him in prison for three years during the 1670s. We shall come back to him: he is central to our current exploration.2

The relative unimportance of 1685 has another consequence. If it was not the watershed that one might logically take it to be, it means that decisions, among individual Protestants, about staying or leaving, were probably more diffused than we have hitherto understood. As far as I can see, there was not one great rush for exile, either voluntary or imposed. Indeed this is one of the most intriguing aspects of the Memoir as it stands. The scrupulous ancestral authors, T.P and W.J.F Le Fanu, turn away from telling us, at crucial times, which of our forbears did stay and leave! A number did depart, of course, for English-speaking destinations: that, after all, is the “Le Fanu story”, distinguished for the most part. But others stayed. Which? In the short essay that follows I shall try to briefly look at the evidence again, and to sort out (as un-controversially as possible) what we know for certain from what remains vague and merely speculative.

The late 16th and early 17th centuries were years of prosperity for the family. The reputation for competence and probity in legal affairs that had been built up by Michel Le Fanu (who died in 1576 in the midst of the wars of religion) was continued in the next generation by his son Etienne (grandfather of the imprisoned Etienne spoken of above) who was rewarded for his services to the then Protestant Henri of Navarre - the future king Henri IV - by becoming ennobled in 15953. His father Michel had begun buying properties in and around Caen in the 1550s, at the beginning of his legal career, and doubtless the process continued into the next generation. Etienne, at any event, signed himself in legal documents Sieur de Montbesnard, the oldest of four Le Fanu titles, going back in this case to at least 1415 where it is first mentioned in the ecclesiastical archives of Caen as attached to a certain “abbé Le Fanut”. (The name Montbesnard refers to a hill outside Vire, a township some 60 kilometres south west of Caen, and gives the best indication we have of where the family probably originated.) Meanwhile Etienne’s son Pierre (1580-1627) further cemented the family fortunes by purchasing the noble fief of Cresserons in 1618, to which were added further properties in Mondeville and Bréville, the fate of which we will come back to.

Pierre and his wife Anne Le Hulle in due course produced a large family consisting of seven boys and four girls. Not all of them grew up to adulthood, but those who did (along with their offspring) constitute the generation, or generations, which will have had to face the gradual loss of Protestant toleration that began with the death of Mazarin in 1661 and ended in outright proscription in 1685, with the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Theirs, in other words, was the generation that would have had to decide whether to stay in France – either converted, or simply “underground” – or whether to choose exile. As mentioned above, it is a complicated story: time to look at it in greater detail.

Let us start with the son of Pierre whom all living Le Fanus are descended from: Etienne (no. 27 in the family tree), who styled himself Sieur de Mondeville, baptised (Protestant of course) in 1625, and who died – in France – sometime after 1696. At the age of 31, this gentleman, as the family Memoir says, “had the misfortune to fall in love with a Catholic lady”, Catherine Le Blais de Longuemare, whom he married in 1656 and by whom he had five children: Jean Louis (47 in the family tree, baptised Protestant in 1660), Catherine (49, baptised Protestant at Bayeux sometime in the early 1660s, rather than at Caen, in order to avoid a fine of 500 livres set to be imposed on Etienne by the Catholic authorities), Etienne junior (51, baptised – presumably Protestant? – in 1664), Michel (52, baptised 1666) and finally an anonymous daughter (53) now thought to be called Anne, about whom we are told that as an infant she was “stolen by a priest and forcibly baptised Catholic” at some time in either 1669 or 1670 (once again: a long time before the Revocation).

Of all the eleven children of prosperous Pierre Le Fanu mentioned above, this direct ancestor of ours, Etienne, turns out to be the one who leaps most vividly alive from the page, for two separate reasons. Firstly because he was the author of an extant long poem in French comprising 350 verses addressed to a “Milord d’Angleterre” (probably the Duke of Ormonde), in which he outlines the woes he has suffered at the hands of his Catholic in-laws, while entrusting into this nobleman’s protection the care of his two eldest children, Jean-Louis and Catherine, whom he has recently sent off to England. Probably not many people nowadays will have the time or the energy to read the entire lament, preserved in the archive of the Huguenot Society in London, but the selection of twenty-five stanzas printed in an appendix to the most recent monograph devoted to the family (Ceux qui partirent: Les Le Fanu de Cresserons, sous la direction d’Élisabeth André, Éditions La Mandragore, 1998) gives a more than adequate picture of his sufferings.

The “Le Fanu affair”, evidently quite famous at the time (locally, at any event) was sympathetically reported on, in addition, by a contemporary Presbyterian clergyman of Scotch origin named Quick, and finds further anecdotal substantiation in the work of no fewer than three Protestant historians (Elie Benoist, in 1693, the Haag brothers (1846), and Sophronyme Beaujour (1877)), indignant extracts from whose commentaries are quoted in the appendix of the monograph cited above. The harassment Etienne suffered went back to the facts surrounding his original nuptials in 1656, which had been held in a Catholic church, and which had resulted in Etienne being expelled from the Protestant parish to which he belonged. A year later he had second thoughts and managed to get accepted back into his consistory, with the understanding that any children issuing from the union would be baptised Protestant. But the damage had already been done. When in due course five infants appeared over the next few years, it became a battle in each case with the Catholic Le Blais relatives as to which confession should claim them. The two eldest children, as we have seen, Jean-Louis and Catherine, managed to be accepted into the Protestant faith without, it appears, too much trouble initially (though Catherine had to be smuggled to Bayeux for the baptismal ceremony); but by the middle 1660s anti-Huguenot hostility in and around Caen had become much more militant. Two incidents reported by Quick demonstrate the flavour of the times. No date is given, but most likely at some time between 1664 and 1666, Etienne was physically attacked (“seized by the throat”) by the Catholic curé of the parish of Saint Jean as he attempted to smuggle either one or other of his next two young children, Etienne junior and Michel, into the city of Bayeux in order for them to be christened. As for the youngest of his children, Anne, born it is thought around 1668, we have already heard that she was “enlevée subrepticement par ledit curé” [secretly kidnapped by this same priest] and given over to a Catholic baptism.

Catherine, Etienne’s wife, died in 1670, but this was far from the end of his troubles; in some ways it was only the beginning. The Le Blais family instituted legal proceedings to have the children put into the guardianship of a Catholic relative. Etienne took the case all the way to the Parliament of Rouen, but the verdict went against him and he was fined 800 livres. At this point, he petitioned for and received a royal seal addressed to the Intendant (civil governor) of Caen, M. Chamillart, ordering that lofty official to dismiss the case. When, however, Etienne attempted to enforce this judgement legally, he was arrested, brutally beaten up (his sword broken into pieces,) and cast into prison where he languished for the following three years (the likely dates here being 1674-77).4 What he did in prison is not recorded, although it might well have included composing that 350 verse De Profundis already alluded to, addressed to the Duke of Ormonde, and requesting him to take Etienne’s eldest children, Jean-Louis and Catherine, under his care. As for the two younger boys, Michel and Etienne junior, nothing further is known of them, although Beaujour reports that while in prison their father was inébranlable [unwavering] in his defence of their Protestant heritage, for whatever good it did them. The youngest child, Anne, as we know, was out of his reach, having been kidnapped by the Catholics and delivered to a convent for safe-keeping.

This, of course, is not the end of Etienne’s story, for shortly after his release from prison he married again, this time making sure that his new wife, Anne Le Sueur (no. 28 in the family tree), was firmly of the Protestant faith. Five further children issued from this union, including our direct ancestor Philippe (baptised in 1681 in the Protestant church of Bourg l’Abbé in Caen – we are still four years from the outlawing of all Protestant churches, in 1685. He appears no. 55 in the family tree); a brother Jacques (no. 57, date of birth unknown, died in Dublin without heirs 1740); along with three sisters: Eleanor (born 1677, no. 60), Marie (1678, no. 61) and Elisabeth (no. 59, born 1685 – that fateful, or not so fateful, year). I will come back to all of these children in turn when discussing below the question of who stayed and who left, but in the meantime let me take the opportunity to single out the descent of Philippe over a single generation, since, as I say above, all living Le Fanus derive from this branch of the family and from the decision eventually made by Philippe’s children, and by other family members, (over a period of thirty five years!) to abandon their ancestral lands in Normandy.

Philippe, then, was the father of two children, a boy and a girl: Guillaume Philippe (no. 68 in the family tree), and Anne (no. 70), by his wife Marie Bacon (no. 56), whom he married in 1703. Note that this branch of the family was still living in Normandy at this date, nearly twenty years after the Revocation: where exactly we don’t know – perhaps on the ancestral lands in Mondeville.5 Ten years after his marriage, however, the family did move to London, eventually (in the late 1720s) transferring to Dublin, where Guillaume, now known as William, and married to another Protestant exile, Henriette Raboteau de Puygibaud (no. 69), prospered as banker and linen merchant. Yet living as a Protestant in France during those early years after the Revocation cannot have been easy for the family, nor for Philippe’s father, Etienne, still alive in 1696. Some concessions had to be made to Catholicism simply in order to maintain civic visibility. We note for example that Philippe’s children, Guillaume and Anne, were baptised Catholic in the Church of St.Pierre in Caen. One can only guess what was going on in the minds of the staunchly Protestant parents during such formally-necessary ceremonies.

Let me now attempt to summarise the fate of all ten of Etienne’s children from his two marriages in so far as their destinies are known about. First the five children of the marriage to his Catholic wife Catherine Le Blais. Jean-Louis, born in 1660, had been sent over to England with his sister Catherine (born early 1660s), under the care of the Duke of Ormonde. Their fates took very different turns. Jean-Louis returned to France at some date before 1684, abjured his Protestantism, joined the French Navy and served King Louis for over thirty years, first in Brittany, subsequently in Toulon, where he married a Catholic wife of some rank (she was the daughter of a certain Louis de Ratouin, Conseiller du Roi.) Three children came out of this union, but this is where that branch of the family stops: all three seemed to have died of the plague in 1721 – as their father did the same year – too young to have married and borne issue.

Catherine on the other hand stayed on in London, where in 1691 she married Pierre Lorin de Granmore, the son-in-law of a soldier named Solomon Foubert who under the aegis of the Marquis of Bath had set up a military academy in the 1680s that soon became famous. (John Evelyn talks about it in his Diary. There is still a Foubert’s Place off Regent Street.) The marriage was destined to be short-lived – on both sides: Pierre Lorin was killed fighting in Flanders in 1693 and in the very same year Catherine herself died in London, leaving a child, Catherine Frances, and an interesting will that is quoted in full in the Memoir. (The child died alas not long afterwards, in 1696.)

Of the fate of Catherine and Jean Louis’s younger brothers, Etienne junior (born 1664) and Michel (born 1666), whom their father, in prison, was so keen to protect from the Le Blais influence, nothing further is known, which must imply that that they never made it into adulthood. It is a great gap, but family histories are full of gaps like these. Meanwhile their little sister Anne, the last of the children of the Le Blais union, had been, as we know, “captured by the nuns” at an early age. An intriguing glimpse of her in adulthood is provided in family anecdote. On a visit to France from Ireland in 1728, on family business, her nephew Guillaume (William) is reported to have visited the convent in which she had spent her entire life, where he spoke to his aunt through the grill. Her rather unusual greeting has come down to us: “Ah, mon enfant! Quel dommage! Vous voilà dans un pays où le soleil ne luit jamais et où on crache, on crache noir comme de l’encre!” [“Poor you! What a pity to live in a country where the sun never shines, and where, when anyone spits, their phlegm is the colour of ink!”] This speech constitutes, it is said (perhaps a bit fancifully), “the last conversation to have taken place between the Le Fanu refugees from Normandy and the relatives who remained behind.”6

Continuing our investigation, and now concentrating on the second family of Etienne, it looks as if his three daughters by Anne Le Sueur, Elisabeth, Eleanor and Marie, all stayed on in France after 1685, though under what circumstances is unknown. (Did they abjure or remain Protestant? We know nothing at all about any of them, except that Marie at some stage married a M. de Bois Roussel de la Ferrantière.) We know more, of course, about the two boys, Philippe and Jacques, already spoken about above, though even here there are mysteries. Why did it take so long for them to decide to go into exile? What exactly were they doing in the years up to the 18th century (and indeed after), during which they remained in France? Did they live together, or separately? In the city, or in the country? Were they protected to some extent by their status as nobles? What legal rights did they manage to hang on to? And what legal rights if any, on the contrary, were confiscated from them? I think of the boys’ father Etienne, that staunch Huguenot who only a few decades earlier had suffered prison for his religious beliefs. He was still alive towards the end of the 1690s! What were his secret thoughts on these matters? How did he take the news that his returning son, Jean Louis, intended to abjure? Such mysteries constitute perhaps the single greatest lacuna of our story. We don’t, alas, possess any letters or diaries from the time which might allow us reconstruct the mind-set of our ancestors, faced with these profound existential challenges. A later generation of Le Fanus proved to be facile and talented with the pen. A pity, perhaps, that that didn’t happen earlier – or if it did happen, that their private thoughts haven’t come down to us.

There is more to come, and I will try to summarise the remainder of the story as lucidly as possible. The much put-upon Etienne was by no means the eldest of the large tribe of children born to Pierre Le Fanu and his wife Anne Le Hulle in those early days of family prosperity at the beginning of the 17th century. In fact Etienne was the ninth-born, or in other words the third youngest. Six of Pierre and Anne’s eleven children, that is to say Marie, Jean, Madelaine, Jeanne, Pierre and Philippe (respectively 17, 18, 19, 20, 29 and 30 in the family tree) seem not to have survived into adulthood. But that left four, in addition to Etienne, who did. All of these offspring married and produced children of their own who at a certain stage will have had to decide, just like their cousins, Etienne’s ten children, whether their destiny was to remain in France or to move abroad.

Let us now look at each of these four siblings in turn, starting with the eldest child Michel (born 1615, no. 13 in the family tree), who inherited from his father the principal family property of Cresserons, situated some fifteen kilometres north of Caen. He styled himself Seigneur de Cresserons et de Bréville, and it is interesting to note that notwithstanding all the difficulties that the Protestants in France had to put up with from the 1660s onwards (difficulties which in many cases amounted to outright persecution) that property of Cresserons was still in the possession of the family until after the French Revolution: finally sold by the widow of its last Le Fanu owner (strictly-speaking a Le Fanu in-law, a certain Guy Jean Henri Le Gouais, or Gouet) who had died on 31 October 1800.7

Michel was evidently a wealthy man, partly from his own inheritances, and partly from the prudent marriage he made in 1649 to Elizabeth, daughter of Jean de la Maugère and Marie de Berault which brought with it a dowry of 4000 livres, plus half that sum again in property and furnishings. The couple had six children of whom the one of most interest to us is the first-born, Charles Le Fanu de Cresserons (no. 31 in the family tree), staunch Protestant, who married a Marguerite de Graingorge in 1684, quitted France and pursued the career of a soldier in Holland under the Prince of Orange. Later when that prince became King William III of England, Charles followed him to Ireland where, alongside his cousins Michel de la Maugère and Jean Hellouin de Secqueville, the three young men tasted action against James II and the Catholic Irish forces at the Battle of the Boyne. That was in 1690. Charles’ career in the army continued into the 18th century; in 1707, for example, we find him involved in the War of the Spanish Succession, fighting at the Battle of Almanza in a regiment of dragoons commanded by a Colonel François de la Fabrègue, subsequently transferring, under the rank of major, to a regiment led by the apparently “notorious” Marquis de Guiscard. But he never lost his links with England and Ireland. Naturalised English himself in 1701, he helped his cousins Philippe and Jacques (see above: Etienne’s children by Anne Le Sueur) to become naturalised in 1710 when they – along with Philippe’s wife and family – finally moved into exile in London. He himself had made his main home in Dublin in the summer of 1705.

There is an interesting discussion in the Memoir about Charles’s wealth. In 1713 he had been invited, along with other veterans of the British Army, to make a declaration about his pensionable status. The deposition exists, and makes somewhat sorry reading if taken at face value. In it he complains that he has neither property nor trade (ny maisons ny négoce ); in addition to the burden of a wife to support, there are several French relatives recently become refugees who have been relying on him for help. (Without his aid, he says, these dependents would have suffered “nudity and hunger”.) In the circumstances, the pension he receives of two shillings and sixpence per day, fixed in 1692 (though subsequently updated to three shillings and sixpence), is plainly picayune, and ought to be supplemented.

There is reason to take all this with a pinch of salt; it is evidently not the whole picture – though what exactly the true picture was we will probably never know for sure. Yet from other sources it appears he was evidently a man of some means. Less than three years after the declaration spoken of above, Charles took out a lease of 114 years on a house situated on the west side of one of Dublin’s most elegant squares, St Stephen’s Green, joined by its back garden to another substantial property that he rented soon after, on land belonging to Lord Abercorn. The house on St Stephen’s Green passed into Charles’s ownership in 1721 on the death of its landlord (Colonel Salomon de Blosset de Loches, an old comrade in arms), and was in turn bequeathed to Philippe’s son Guillaume (or William) when the old soldier – last of the de Cresserons branch of the Le Fanu family – died without heirs in 1738.8

Charles, we have already heard, had a cousin, Jean Hellouin de Secqueville, who fought alongside him at the Battle of the Boyne. This was the son of another Anne (no. 15 in the family tree), Charles’s aunt, and eldest sister of his father Michel. Here, then, we have another branch of the family that remained Protestant, and at least one of whose offspring moved permanently out of France because of this allegiance. There remain two further brothers of Michel and Etienne whose families are to be accounted for in our short sketch of the consequences of the Revocation on the generation of Pierre Le Fanu’s offspring. These are Louis (1622-1685; no. 22 in the family tree) and Jacques (baptised 2 February 1624, date of death uncertain; no. 24 in the family tree). Let us look at each of them in turn, starting with the elder of the pair, Louis. As the second son of Pierre, he appears in the Family Tree as proud possessor of the remainder of the family’s titles - though not including Cresserons (which as we know had been inherited by his elder brother Michel). Thus “Seigneur de Mondeville et de Montbesnard, sieur de Bréville”; theoretically, then, a man of substance. But the truth is we know very little about him. He married twice, first to an Anne Roussel, and latterly (in 1665) to Louise de Bourget by whom he had six children, five boys and a girl. Only one of the boys – Charles (no. 42 in the family tree) – married, and none of them produced heirs. What happened to all of them? It seems that this branch of the family became particularly afflicted by the evangelising attentions of the long-reigning Catholic Bishop of Bayeux, François de Nesmond. Louis himself died in the year of Revocation 1685, having left his children in the care of a certain Jacques Le Sens, deacon of the local Protestant temple of Basly. (Did the mother, Louise de Bourget, have no say in the matter? We don’t know; nor do we know when she herself passed away.) But Jacques Le Sens himself appears to have abjured in the same year, so his protection can’t have counted for much. Three years later, in 1688, the bishop had his way: Louis’s children were parcelled out for education to the “Maisons de la Propagation de la Foi” in Caen – one establishment for girls in rue Guilbert, the other for boys in rue de l’Odon – and forcibly brought up as Catholics. It is a sad story however one looks at it and one wishes one knew more – particularly what sort of opposition, if any, formulated itself round these impositions.

Louis’s younger brother Jacques was made of sterner stuff, or so it is possible to believe. He is described as “un protestant convaincu et l’un des ‘Anciens’ [‘elders’ or office-holders] de la paroisse de Basly” (Basly is in the vicinity of Cresserons). Indeed in 1679 (perhaps fearing the presence of Bishop François de Nesmond breathing down his neck) he requested leave to transfer to another consistory – the Memoir doesn’t say which. By then he was a married man and father of a child, Cyrus Antoine, baptised in 1669, who was educated in the Protestant faith. When in turn Cyrus grew up and married Madelaine Le Sauvage the Memoir tells us starkly: “The pair remained faithful to the Reformed Church and suffered the consequences” – consequences that included having their daughters, Madelaine and Marie, in due course taken away from them (in 1707) and brought up as Nouvelles Catholiques within the grim confines of the Maison de la Propagation de la Foi. Whether or not these girls “took to” the new religion or secretly refused to countenance its authority, their parents remained obdurate, proof of which lies in the fact of neither of them being buried in a Catholic churchyard: Cyrus was interred (by permission) in the vegetable garden at Cresserons in 1738. Eighteen years later, his wife was similarly laid to rest in the garden of a Protestant neighbour in Caen, the sieur de Précourt.

So this was the story, though it doesn’t quite end there. While Cyrus Antoine styled himself Sieur de Montbesnard, it seems that this ancient title (over three hundred years old by the time of his death) had long since ceased to have any connection with land holdings. Instead, the family of Cyrus appears eventually to have taken over (and moved into?) the substantial fief of Cresserons that had been left vacant, or semi-vacant, by the self exile of Charles Le Fanu de Cresserons when he moved to Ireland at the end of his military career. We do not know what monetary arrangements, if any, passed between the two cousins to authorise this transfer, or whether it was merely an informal agreement (it appears, for example, that Charles’s unmarried sister Élizabeth was still living at Cresserons in 1733), but, as has also been mentioned above, the connection became very long-lasting. One or other of the daughters of Cyrus, released from the “Maison de la Propagation de la Foi” in Caen (it is not quite clear which, whether Madelaine (born 1696) or Marie (born in 1698) ), married a gentleman named Henri Le Gouet. It was his son, Guy Jean Henri Le Gouet who, wedded to Marie-Anne Joseph de Blais (no relation, we must suppose, to the vexatious family of Le Blais who, more than a century previously, had made life so difficult for poor Etienne!) died in 1800, and at whose passing the property finally moved out of Le Fanu ownership. This man too died a Protestant, since it is known that at his request he was buried in the private grounds of Cresserons, rather than in a Catholic graveyard.

February 2023

  1. The Huguenots, Yale University Press.
  2. 1666, by coincidence, was also the date of an inquest carried out by order of Louis XIV into the number of noble families living in the “generality” of Caen – with some perhaps surprising results. One might be tempted to think of Caen as a hotbed of Protestantism, but in fact of the 877 families who gave proof of their noble status, only 74 of these were Huguenot (including the Le Fanus of course). France had a population of about 20 million at the time, among whom it is calculated 800,000 to a million professed themselves Protestant. A quarter of these left after the Revocation.
  3. The specific service for which Etienne was rewarded was the raising of a large sum of money (une bonne somme de deniers) to support a detachment of Swiss mercenaries.
  4. The Memoir speaks of Etienne being saved from the wrath of the mob by a neighbour, the Vicomte de Caen, who placed him in the protection of his carriage. That may indeed have happened, but Élisabeth André (in Ceux qui partirent) thinks it more likely that the Vicomte was not in fact a friend, but instead the investigating officer charged with carrying out Etienne’s arrest.
  5. Mondeville is a district or suburb in the east of Caen. The property in question was rented from the Abbey of Sainte-Trinité at Fécamp, and consisted of about 46 acres, containing two houses, some gardens and diverse plots of land, for which the family apparently paid an annual “head rent” of 12 livres, 14 sols, 4 deniers, 2 chickens and 10 eggs.
  6. There are a number of “Annes” in the family tree, which might sometimes lead to confusion. As well as an aunt of that name (the nun in the anecdote above), William had a sister named Anne (no. 70 in the family tree). In 1722, some time after the family’s flight to London, this young woman married a Protestant who had recently arrived from the Dutch Embassy in Paris called Charles Barbe and settled with him in Soho. Several years later, in 1729, he was appointed pastor of the Église de la Patente in Spitalfields. Yet only a year on from that he abandoned both the post and his religion, returning to France with his eldest son to embrace Catholicism. Anne’s heart was broken. The apostasy caused a huge scandal. It was a further reason for the family (consisting of Philippe and his wife Marie Bacon, and their two grown-up children William and Anne) to break their connection with London, and finally settle in Dublin.
  7. Le Gouet’s widow, Marie Anne Joseph de Blais, sold the property to a Demoiselle La Mière d’Allemagne, through whom it descended to its 20th century owner, the Baron de Sainte-Marie. In 1909, while carrying out research on the family in Normandy, W.J.H. Le Fanu visited the estate. He reported that the ancestral chateau had been pulled down and replaced by a farm. All that remained of the original noble building was the old gate-house. It would be interesting to see if this is still standing.
  8. No consideration of Charles’s fortune would be complete without discussing the inheritance he received from his cousin Catherine Le Fanu (Etienne’s eldest daughter by his first wife) who had married the Military Academy proprietor Pierre Lorin de Granmore, slain in Flanders in 1693. To judge from her will, printed in full in the Memoir, she was evidently a fairly wealthy woman when she herself died the same year. After bequeathing precious personal items to various relatives (including a gold watch to Charles) she ordered that the remainder of her estate should be divided between Charles and her sister-in-law Madame Foubert. The will was legally contested in a case that went right up to the House of Lords, which apparently ruled in Charles’s favour, bequeathing him, among other inheritances, the 600 livres that Catherine had acquired according to the terms of her marriage contract.