On 13 December 1617 my ninth great-grandfather Richard Champion, eldest son of Jean Champion and his wife Marthe nee du Bourget, was married according to the rites of the Reformed [Protestant] Church at Condé sur Noireau to Marguerite, daughter of Adrian Richard Esquire, Squire of Crespigny in the Parish of St Jean le Blanc near Aunay, Lower Normandy, the marriage contract having been drawn up the week before at the neighbouring town of Vassy.

Portrait of Richard Champion died 1669 from the collection of Kelmarsh Hall

Until then, the Champion family had been Catholic. It seems likely, however, that Adrian Richard, Esquire of Crespigny, was a Huguenot—a Calvinist Protestant—and it is probable that his permission for the marriage of his daughter to Richard Champion was given on condition that his future son-in-law should adopt the creed of his wife’s family.

King Henry IV of France (1553 – 1610) was a Huguenot, who converted to Catholicism to obtain dominance over his kingdom (reportedly saying, “Paris is well worth a mass”). A pragmatic politician, he promulgated the Edict of Nantes (1598), guaranteeing religious liberties to Protestants, thereby effectively ending the French Wars of Religion.

Over the next 87 years, until 1685, with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by the Edict of Fontainebleau, those religious liberties were steadily eroded.

By 1620 the royal government had embarked upon a deliberate program to break the independent power of the Protestants. Soon after the marriage and his evident conversion to Protestantism at that time, Richard Champion was required to swear an oath of allegiance to the king, with a declaration that he did not adhere to the Protestant rebels of La Rochelle; he did this on 3 July 1621.

Richard’s son Claude Champion (1620-1695) married Marie née de Vierville (1628-1708) at Bayeux on 9 June 1651. Claude and Marie also followed the Reformed Religion. Claude and Marie had eight children:

  • Pierre 1652–1739 
  • Margaret 1654–1741 
  • Mary 1655–1736 
  • Suzanne 1656–1727 
  • Thomas 1664–1712 
  • Gabriel 1666–1722 
  • Renee 1667–1744 
  • Jeanne 1668–1748

In the 1670s Daumont de Crespigny, believed to be the same man as Pierre Champion, was deputy of the congregation of Protestants at Trévières near Bayeux. Between 1678 and 1682 he wrote letters concerning a court case involving the church at Trévières was involved. (The family later took the name Champion de Crespigny after arriving in England.)

Although Protestant churches or “temples” were allowed under the Edict of Nantes in all places where such worship had taken place in the two years before 1598, this clause was interpreted with increasing stringency, so that a number of temples were ordered to be destroyed on the grounds that they had been built since 1598. A prosecution was raised in the Court at Paris against the Temple at Trévières. The proceedings lasted from 1678 to 1681.

The case concerned the dispute between the congregation and church at Trévières, west of Bayeux, and that which had been maintained at Vaucelles near Bayeux. It had been decided by the government that one of the two was in excess of the provisions of the Edict of Nantes, and one must be disestablished. The decision as to which it was to be was left to the Royal Council of State.

Trévières now lies a short distance south of the N13, some twenty kilometres from Bayeux and about ten kilometres south of Vierville-sur-Mer. It was on the direct road between the property at Vierville and the more distant region of Crespigny, and it was evidently the local parish for the family.

The congregation at Trévières claimed that its church had been established before the church at Bayeux, and indeed that the Bayeux church was a colony of the original foundation at Trévières. It appears that the Council was at first inclined to favour Bayeux, presumably, among other reasons, because it was a large and influential city, while Trévières was and is no more than a village.

On 27 January 1681 the Council, meeting at St Germain en Laye, a chateau maintained by Louis XIV north of Versailles, held in favour of the congregation of Trévières. In the statement of settlement, M. de Crespigny is referred to as “Deputy”, agent for the congregation at Trévières, and the Advocate was a M. Soulet, a practitioner of law at Paris.

The case was extremely long-drawn, and must have cost everyone a great deal of money. It seems remarkable that the Royal Council, headed by its president the Duke of Villeroy, and attended by ten other senior officers of state, should spend its time arguing about two heretic congregations. However, the two contesting communities had to find the money to pay for the expenses of their representatives in Paris and at Rouen, and also the legal costs. Some of the correspondence deals with the problems this caused, and there is a sorry collection of letters at the end concerning the delays in paying M. Soulet the advocate his fees. Soulet eventually got his money almost a year later, and in his letter of thanks he remarks to Pierre:

All my regret is for the great trouble and the many useless journeys you have taken on account of so inconsiderable an affair…

It appears an incidental part of the royal policy in fostering these disputes was to make it inconvenient and expensive to be a Huguenot.

Pierre commented when the case was won:

It is true that our joy must be very imperfect, since the same decree that preserves our Church, condemns that of Vaucelles [at Bayeux] to be abolished. 
But that one of the two must fall, was a fatal necessity, and an inevitable misfortune; and it is by far better, both for our private interest, as well as the public good, that the church of Trévières should be preserved, since by its situation it is well adapted for collecting the scattered flocks of the neighbouring Churches.

The triumph of the success in maintaining the right to worship at Trévières was short lived. In 1681 the government commenced a policy of ‘Dragonnades‘, meant to intimidate Huguenot families into returning to Catholicism. The policy, in part, instructed officers in charge of travelling troops to select Huguenot households for their billets and to order the soldiers to behave as badly as they could. Soldiers damaged
the houses, ruined furniture and personal possessions, and attacked the men and abused the women. Huguenots could escape this persecution only by conversion to Catholicism or by fleeing France.

Protestant engraving representing ‘les dragonnades’ in France under Louis XIV From: Musée internationale de la Réforme protestante, Geneva and retrieved through Wikimedia Commons.

When in 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes with the Edict of Fontainebleau, Huguenot churches were ordered to be destroyed and Protestant schools closed. On 17 January 1686, Louis XIV claimed that out of a Huguenot population of 800,000 to 900,000, only 1,000 to 1,500 had remained in France. It was cynically asserted that Huguenots were so few they no longer needed the protections offered by the Edict of Nantes.

It was illegal for Protestants to leave France. The borders were guarded, and disguise and other stratagems were employed to cross them. Despite the difficulties it is estimated that between 210,000 to 900,000 Protestants left France over the next twenty years; about 50,000 Huguenots fled France to England, others settled in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Brandenburg-Prussia, Ireland, South Africa, and America. The refugees left their land and most of their possessions behind.

Claude, Marie and their children escaped France for England at different times. The two younger sons Thomas and Gabriel travelled to relatives in England when they were about 12 in 1676 and 1678. Claude, Marie, Pierre and three daughters were in London by 1687. The other two daughters had travelled earlier.

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