There is a family story that one of my de Crespigny forebears was in Paris during the Reign of Terror but I and other family historians been unable to find any evidence of this other than my fourth great grand uncle Philip de Crespigny (1765-1851) who was detained in France 1803-1811, but that was later.

However, I do have family who were caught in France during the Reign of Terror. In 1793, my 6th great grandfather Constantine Phipps (1746-1797), who had been living in France, returned to England leaving eight of his fourteen children in Caen. (Phipps was the grandfather of Eliza Julia Trent (1797-1855) who married Charles Fox de Crespigny (1785-1875).)

Constantine Phipps married Elizabeth Tierney on 13 May 1771. Early in 1788 the Phipps family, including ten surviving children of eleven born to date, moved to Caen, Normandy, where Mrs Phipps’s sister lived. According to his grandson Constantine Phipps was determined to live in France for the sake of his children’s education. He is said to have trusted that a permanent peace between France and England had been secured by the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American War of Independence. Three more children were born at Caen.

In 1792, the Phipps were visited by a nephew, John Trent (1770-1796), who became engaged to Elizabeth, the third and second oldest surviving daughter. It was thought that the marriage should take place in their own country. In November 1792 Constantine and his wife left for England with their two oldest surviving daughters, their second son and a little girl. They left behind Penelope and seven other children. Penelope was then 17 years old.

Three months later, in January 1793, war was declared between England and France. The Phipps in England were unable to return to France and the children were unable to leave. The Phipps children were not reunited with their mother until October 1798. Their father, Constantine Phipps, had died in June 1797.


Château Caen Panoramique
The castle at Caen from Wikimedia Commons, image by User Urban


  • Phipps, Pownoll William. The life of Colonel Pownoll Phipps K.C., H.E.I.C.S. with Family Records. London: Bentley, 1894. pp. 5, 12, 230–231. Viewable through