One of my eighth great grandfathers, born on 10 February 1636 at La Rochelle, was a Huguenot linen merchant named Zacharie Fonnereau (also known as ‘Zacharia or ‘Zachary’ Fonnereau).

In 1674 he married Marguerite Chateigner, and in 1677 they had a son, Claude.

British (English) School; Possibly Zacharie Fonnereau (b.1636)

Possibly Zacharie Fonnereau (b.1636) Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service: Ipswich Borough Council Collection Retrieved from

Denner, Balthasar, 1685-1749; Possibly Marguerite Fonnereau as an Elderly Lady

Possibly Marguerite Fonnereau as an Elderly Lady by Balthasar Denner (1685–1749) (circle of) Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service: Ipswich Borough Council Collection retrieved from

La Rochelle is a seaport on the French Atlantic coast. From 1568, La Rochelle became a centre for the Huguenots, and the city declared itself an independent Reformed Republic on the model of Geneva. La Rochelle suffered religious wars and rebellions including the Siege of La Rochelle in 1627-8 (which resulted in a victory for King Louis XIII and the Catholics), the expulsion of 300 Protestant families in November 1661, and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 by Louis XIV who claimed to be entitled to do so because there were no more Huguenots in his kingdom and their special privileges were no longer needed.


Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle, by Henri Motte, 1881


In 1689 Claude, 12 years old, was sent to England. In 1693 he received his certificate of denization (granting permanent resident status and the right to own land) and was naturalised in 1698.

In 1698 Claude Fonnereau married Elizabeth Bureau (1670-1735), who was also from La Rochelle. Claude and Elizabeth had eight children, among them Anne Fonnereau (1704-1782), who married Phillip Champion de Crespigny (1704-1765). Anne Fonnereau was my sixth great grandmother.

British (English) School; Claude Fonnereau (1677-1740)

Claude Fonnereau (1677-1740) Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service: Ipswich Borough Council Collection retrieved from


Claude’s mother Marguerite Fonnereau née Chateigner died in England on 1 October 1720 and is buried in St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London.

I do not know when Zacharie died. There is no record of the death of Zacharie in England. It may be that the record has not survived or that he never emigrated there. There is also no record of his denization nor can I find a record of him in an English Huguenot church. It would be useful to have témoignages credentials, for example, which were certificates of sound doctrine and good behaviour from his previous congregation presented by a person moving to a new church.

While I have been able to find records which refer to Claude Fonnereau as the son of Zacharie, I have not been able to find records of Zacharie’s parents. I have found family trees which suggest that Zacharie was the son of a Zacharie. The earlier Zacharie may have been a notable watchmaker but at present I feel unable on the evidence to claim Zacharie Fonnereau watchmaker of La Rochelle as my direct forebear.


Fonnereau watch

A pre-balance spring gilt-metal and rock crystal crucifix watch signed by Fonnereau a la Rochelle in 1650 and sold by Sothebys at auction on 11 May 2008 for CHF133,000 ($Au177,688).


Sotheby’s gives a biography of Zaccharie Fonnereau the watchmaker: “Originally from Geneva, he was apprenticed in Lyon in 1618 and then became Compagnon in 1622. As a master watchmaker in 1641, he settled in La Rochelle.”

The watch auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2008 was displayed in an exhibition of watchmaking in Geneva in 2011-2012.

a watch made by the watchmaker Zacharie Fonnereau will also be displayed. Circumventing the ban on crosses decreed by the goldsmiths’ guild in 1566, he created, like other Genevan masterwatchmakers, this cross-shaped timepiece. Dating from 1620 and worn around the neck at the time, the watch is more a piece of jewellery than a precision instrument. The valuable case is carved from rock crystal.


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