Year of publication 1995, issue 5 - Bergerac Special



In our last Boissevain-Bulletin that you must have received in December I announced a description of a Bergerac tour you could make on your own. I also asked for a financial donation so we should be able to organise some more things. Both things delivered many positive reactions that we will respond with an extra Boissevain-Bulletin and with a concrete proposal for a reunion in the Town of Bergerac on July 27. Further on you will read more about this all. I like to thank Gustaaf for his historical review in this Bulletin and father Ernst en daughter Anneke for their efforts in preparing and describing the trip. Please let us know as soon as possible if you are interested in participating in this reunion so we can sent you more detailed information. We already got positive reactions, so please join them!

Although it has nothing to do with the Bergerac trip I like to announce a small exhibition in the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam from April 21 - June 18 on "mammie" Mies Boissevain - van Lennep and her National Party dress, who played such a heroic role in the resistance during the second world war.

On behalf of the members of the board of our foundation Jan Willem, Gustaaf, Annemie, Anneke and Jeroen and our adviser Bob I wish you much pleasure with this Bulletin and hope that you will be able to attend "Bergerac '95".

Charles F.C.G. Boissevain,

chairman Boissevain - Foundation


Bergerac, Huguenotes and Boissevain

The huguenot rebels in Bergerac, Franc

This story is about the city of Bergerac and the trouble the authorities in Paris, Bordeaux and Perigueux had to "clean the shores of the river Dordogne from the heresy of Calvin" (a protestant reformer). Even after the "dragonnades" and the repeal of the Edict of Nantes, Protestantism is still very much alive in Bergerac. And the past still appears to be very present.

In search for the protestant identity

In 1561, during a general meeting at the town hall, the city's authorities profess openly their support to the Reformation. Why exactly in Bergerac as this influence passes by other cities in the Perigord as Perigueux, Sarlat and Bordeaux ?

Bergerac is a little city on the shore of a river in the south of France. Trough its trade in salt and goods (wine to Holland, etc.) over the river the city is very much open to fo­eign influences. Already in 1541, Sainte-Foy (a city 22 km downstream) converts to the Reformation. Bergerac will follow some years later. During the religious wars much benefit comes from mighty allies such as the lords of Caumont-la-Force (powerfull in the region between the river Garonne and the river Dordogne up to Castelnaut), the Turennes family (nobles from the North that came down the river Vezére) and Armand de Clermont, lord of Piles (a village near Ber­gerac) who was an excellent swordsman. In La Force, 10 km from Bergerac remains of the castle of Caumont-la-Force are still to be seen.

After the 100-year war the episcopal cities of Perigeux and Sarlat remained on the side of the French king. Bordeaux on the other hand chose to side with the English king. Bergerac became squeezed between two world powers. To survive the relations with the royal and Episcopal authorities had to be very careful and wary. Nevertheless strong anticlerical feelings predo­mina­ted in the city since the 14th up to the 16th century. People were believers but had a very strong contempt for those that purported to be "speaking in the name of God".

The religious wars

From 1562 on the first skirmishes started. Bergerac found itself in the rapids of the religious wars. Until 1570 the city hesitated between the two camps. Than it declared its alliance to the Huguenots, than it acclaimed the Catholics.

During the visit of Monluc and Burie, lieutenants of the king and even later during the visit of king Charles IX himself in august 1565, the city acclaimed them vividly and pledged its fidelity. But as soon as they had gone, the city changed sides. It provided soldiers to nearly all the Huguenot battles (like the battle of Orleans and the battle of Targon against Monluc). In 1562 the catholic garrison was whipped-out with the help of the indomitable lord Clermont de Piles. An answer was soon bound to come. A few days later Monluc ordered tro­ops and canons to be moved to Bergerac for the siege of Musidan, about 25 km North of Bergerac. The city bowed as it also did when, after the peace of Amboise, the French king passed on his inspection tour.

Two years later, in 1567, during a revolt (the so called "Michelade") Huguenots concentrated their troops in Bergerac. The bridge was partly burnt to cut off the road for the reinforcements of Monluc. Monluc came, repaired the bridge and entered the city. It then had to bleed financially for an respectful and vast reception. A year later, in 1568, the city gave refuge to the queen of Navarra fleeing the men of Monluc on her way to the Calvinist armies. The patience of Monluc reached its limits. Disappointed about the lack of loyalty of the city, he had the bridge demolished and the city dismantled. Another year later, in 1569, lord Clermont de Piles reconquered the city with the help of the ever rebellious inhabitants. Finally in 1570, at the peace of St. Germain the city became one of the free cities where the protestant religion was officially permitted. Dismantled, plundered, robbed of her bridge and reduced to the size of an unimportant village, the little city had paid a high price for the acknowledgement by the king of her right to a special treatment.

From 1574 on, everything changed for Bergerac. After the shock of the night of St. Bartholo­meus (when many Huguenots were murdered) the cities and noblemen, especially those in the south, united to found a true Huguenot republic. Bergerac was one of them. In March 1574 the city employed the Huguenot captains Guy de Montferrand and Geoffrey de Vivant from Piles. They repaired the ramparts with the help of neighboring peasants. Meanwhile Perigeux feared a second Huguenot stronghold like La Rochelle. Perigueux was afraid that the rebels from the Languedoc and the Provence could to easily join those from Poitou, Anjou and Bretagne. Despite several warnings and requests for reinforcements to the king, several hundred soldiers from Bergerac took the rival catholic city of Perigeux on the 6th of August 1575. An old bill was finally being settled.

Bergerac was now an important stronghold of the Huguenots. Proudly the white flag of the "good cause" is hung out. In the Huguenot republic, the city is governed autonomously by her citizens. The city sends representatives to the federal "Assemblee" and participates in the decisions regarding the future of the new Huguenot state. The (especially military) leadership is in the hands of a chosen "protector", at first lord Turenne, then since 1576 lord Henri de Navarre (later to become king of France). At the end of the religious wars Bergerac is a comfortable position with its strong ramparts and powerful allies such as lord Caumont-la-Force . The city may now independently choose its clergymen, it has an independent law court with a private executioner (since 1585), a printing shop (since 1598) and a large assembly of aldermen. The city regains its brightness and importance. Finally, on April 13, 1598, the "Edict of Nantes" is signed after many difficult negotiations between the protestants and the present king, their former leader. Bergerac celebrates elaborately as a sanctuary for Huguenots. But with the peace also return the orders from Perigueux and Bordeaux and the monarchy. The catholic church also reclaims, after more then a quarter century, the ruined churches and monasteries. Again and again the protestant citizens have to defend their territory against the increasing influence of the catholic religion. It will soon become clear that it is not only a reli­gious question but that it is also a struggle for self-government and the right for self-determination.

After the death of king Henri in 1610, the war between the crown and the Huguenots starts again. At the end of 1615, the ramparts of the city are repaired once again. In 1620 the protestant "Assemblee" in La Rochelle decides to stand against the king. Bergerac is seen as one of the most important strongholds in the province. But king Louis XIII leads himself a large and powerful army with numerous canons. The allied cities offer no or hardly any resistance. Against the persistent advice of Caumont-la-Force Bergerac decides to surrender. On July 16th, 1621 the king enters the city. He is received with the highest honors and clear evidence of loyalty. The city has again chosen for the king. Without any battle the dream of a protestant republic has vanished. Bergerac becomes a defenseless city, subjected to the whims of the monarchy. At first the king only demands the acceptance of his authority. The new city walls are dismantled and a citadel is built to control the city. Until the end of the war a strong garrison will occupy the city. With resignation the violation of her statute is accepted and the return, after 50 years, of the religious orders is tolerated. The city joins, though not who­le-heartedly, the celebrations of the royal victories on the protestants (who are still fighting). The city is made to pay all the recovery costs. All sorts of humiliations are suffered such as the domination of the city council by its worst enemies, the Jesuits from Perigueux. Nevertheless the "Edict of Nantes" is still in power so Bergerac doesn't have to renounce its religi­on.

After the amnesty of Arles in 1629, Bergerac is dismantled and placed under supervision. Regularly soldiers pass to remind the city of the power of the king. The city gets used to these regular "inundations" that can be felt deep into home life. The citizens bow submissively and act wisely. From Perigueux, its former rival, as from 1619 on the catholic recapture of Bergerac sets in. In the beginning with a lot of difficulties, but after 1621 they succeed in getting a foot ashore with the help of the authori­ties. How difficult this is can be understood from a report by a historian in 1648 that "in Bergerac nearly everybody is of the RPF religi­on" (RPF= "reli­gion prétendue protestante" = the official name for the "so called protestant" religion). In 1634, during the rebuilding of the (catholic) church, the (protestant) temple is to be demolished on the order of the authorities in Bordeaux because it stands to close to the church. A new temple is built elsewhere in 1636. This is seen as the most beautiful in the region. The octagonal building has a bell tower with a clock and is much larger than the church (44,8m x 29,2 against 33,77m x 19,49m). Above the door the provocative biblical inscription: "This is the door to eternity where only the just go in, Ps 118 V.20, 1643" is placed.

How difficult the times are, is apparent from the abjuration of Jean Bouys­savy living in La Monzie, near Bergerac (he is a descendant of Leonard Bouyssavy from Coutures and a cousin of our progenitor Lucas). In his first testament, he whishes to be buried at the cemetery of the "reformed" in Cours. In his second testament of 1643, he whishes to be buried at the cemetery of the Roman (=catholic) church near his ancestors. In 1641 Pierre Bouyssavy, a cousin of Jean (also related to Lucas), is convicted to a fine by the court of Bordeaux due for "attending a religious service by a priest of the so called reformed religion where words are spoken and acts committed that are different than with the real catho­lic and Roman religion".

Social uprooting

Most Huguenots live in the city and the suburbs. They have various profes­sions and belong to all income categories. In 1681, an estimated 6000 people are Huguenots (nearly 60% of the population). Especially in the quarter of Terrier, near the river, about 85% is reformed-Huguenot. Due to the large and sound social base, the protestant church of Bergerac can afford a beautiful temple and three pastors. The valley of the Dordogne is dotted with small simple temples (near Limeuil, Bergerac, Ste-Foy, Castillon and Castelnaud). Protestant Perigord belongs to a chain of reformed church communities in the region of Poitou, Saintonge, Angou up to the Languedoc, including the Angenais and the Quercy. Ministers travel around and conduct services, very often in exchange for a meal and a roof. Especially during the yearly synod many protestants gather, as for the convention in Bergerac. During the synods important theological and practical affairs are settled. The protestant church is a non-hierarchical organization where all ministers are equal (in contrary to the catholic church). In the Huguenot republic the city is governed by its citizens.

After the subjection of Bergerac in 1621, a council nominated directly by the king is imposed on the city. In 1629 the king installs a city govern­ment consisting of a mayor, 3 catholic and 4 protestant aldermen. In 1630 the royal representative decides that Catholics have to be present on all levels of government (with this act the statute of the city dating from 1322 is set aside, but who will prevent him from doing so ?). The decision appears to be unworkable due to the small numbers of catholic citizens. This becomes the more indigestible since the king decides to successively diminish the influence of the Huguenots. In 1667 the crown reduces the city government to 4 aldermen (instead of 7) and the mayor. Furthermore the mayor and two aldermen have to be Catholics. The city council is reduced to 30 members (16 Catholics and 14 protestants) and taxes are to be collected yearly in turn by a catholic and a protestant alderman. The protestants object but the decision is confirmed by the parliament in 1668.

Meanwhile the catholic church sets in an offensive against the temple of Bergerac. In 1669 the inscribed stone in the façade is removed. Ten years later, in September 1679, the temple is deprived of her clock by a decision of parliament. A week later protestant religious services are forbidden in the village of La Madeleine, a suburb of Bergerac on the south bank of the river and the temple is ordered to be demolished.

The temple demolished

Around 1681-1682 the policy of restriction changes into a policy of eradi­cation. Philippe de Bernard, a priest in Bergerac acts very much according the spirit of his time when he denounces the consistory of Bergerac to the authorities because they have accepted new converts. He has the reverend Verne­jou (since 1677 minister in Bergerac) arrested. The emotions in the city grow, fanned by the extortions of two cavalry regiments. This is soon ended but the process against Vernejou is brought before the court in Bordeaux. On the authority of the State it is transferred to the court in Toulouse. The protestants from Bergerac threaten to rob and destroy the houses of the members of the court of Bordeaux and to boycott the purchase of their wines by the Dutch, co-religionists of the protestants.

On September 12, 1682 the court in Toulouse judges reverent Vernejou and forbids him to preach anywhere in the kingdom. At the same time, protestant religious services are prohibited in Bergerac and surroundings and the temple is ordered to be destroyed once again. With al lot of commotion the order is executed after, with a lot of difficulty, enough workmen have been found from far a field. With a lot of ceremony a cross is erected on the empty temple square. In a long procession the notables and the church authorities from the city and the surrounding region proceed along the square to return to the catholic church where a triumphant Te Deum is sung. Notwithstanding the help of soldiers the 'winning of souls' remains difficult. Most of them are peasants and citizens from the surrounding municipalities. However the core of the Huguenots in the cities persist in their resis­tance.

The dragonnades

At the end of August 1685 booted missionaries enter the city. As in other cities has happened before, protestants in Bergerac are converted by force into "new converts". Being a bridge-city it is normal that many troops pass the city. But on August 11th, two cavalry regiments enter the city as the forefront of the infamous "dragonnades". The protestants know already what they can expect through stories from other "converted" cities. Many prefer to flee the city as soon as it is known that the troops are coming. The refugees are ordered to return and a curfew is imposed on the city. Final­ly, on August 22nd, the soldiers march into town. 32 companies of foot-soldiers from Poitou and Vivonne, enter with rolling drums and flying banners as if the city just had been conquered. The city is hermitically closed and quartered. A few days later the controller of the king calls all the protestants to the town hall and informs tem of the orders of the king. For the good of the state and the sake of peace only one religion is accepted (the catholic). Unfaithfuls are urged to return to the true belief. He clarifies that if they don't repent, they will be convinced by other means. After his speech, he withdraws to talk to his officers and to allow the protestants to make their decision in the fullest freedom. The protestants start to pray and unanimously decide they desire to live and die in the religion they believe in. They will beg the king to let them live and believe according the freedoms embodied in the treaties (i.e. the 'Edict of Nantes'). Their answer isn't gratefully accepted. The officers make some threats but don't do anything. Some days later the quartered soldiers become more and more a nuisance to their hosts. Some two days later the marquis of Bouf­flers arrives. He is the commander of the troops in Guienne. He talks again with the protestants and threatens to send in more troops. He only demands the Huguenots to renounce their religion as soon as possible. Next to the lodging of soldiers, opponents will have to pay a daily sum in grain, wine or other goods. In less than 8 days some ten thousand soldiers pass through the city. Some homes lodge 15 to 20 and even up to 30 soldiers. Boufflers has Bergerac strongly in his clutches.

There are many records on the cruelties to force the reformed to renounce. A soldier lodged in Naillac, near Hauteford in the vicinity of Perigeux, ate with his friends the whole chickenrun. He took care to paint every single chicken on the wall of the house. The owner complained about it to the commander of the garrison. The latter remarked laughing that the owner still could eat his poultry literally as it still was present painted on the wall. The punishment of the protestants through the orders of Boufflers became a hardly bearable burden. A merchant lost in a few days time an amount worth 20 sacs of grain or 5 barrels of export wine. This couldn't last for long. After about 8 days the abjurations mounted to more than 1000 with most around August 26, 27 and 28.

To restore the confidence in the State of the 'new converts', Bouf­flers immediately ends the "dragonnades" and orders his troops to lodge from now on with the 'old Catholics'. Half a year later a municipal order for victims of extortion to complain at the town hall is even issued. But the religious totalitarianism remains. Often soldiers are brought in to force 'new converts' to go to the mass. Many flee abroad while others wander in the countryside in order not to be forced to renounce. Sometimes the men are put in prison while the women are send to the convent. The houses of the fugitives are demolished. In 1686, 'new converts' are forced to bring their religious books to the monastery where they are burned. A year later, soldiers are still reminding them again and again of their duties. In the following years, the authorities succeed in many different ways to break the resis­tance. Next to religious and military ways, also administrati­ve measures are applied such as special taxes for 'new converts'.

In 1687, about 102 missionaries are set in to christianize more than 37.000 'new converts' along the shores of the Dordogne. When caught, attendants of illegal protestant meetings can face punishments varying from hanging to banishment to the galleys or a convent, or to the sewing rooms of the hospi­tal for the poor. Sometimes they are bound and lead trough the s­treets to be mocked.

Notwithstanding all this, the resistance grows in the cities and villages. Believers continue to gather in the woods, the vineyards and on isolated spots. Slowly a more political and less dangerous form of resistance starts to emerge. Between 1686 and 1700 several village communities refuse to join the yearly election, on a Sunday before mass, of their representatives for the collection of the royal taxes (especially for new converts). The 'new converts' reply that they are already converted.

Even so, the pressure increases and the eternal struggle for the winning of souls continues. A quotation indicates clearly how strong the relations were between the Huguenots (amongst whom many merchants and winegrowers) and the Dutch:

'... when they (the newly converted Huguenots) are compelled to do their duties in one direction they run to the other where the regular trade with the Dutch gives them the strength against everything that has been said to them...'


In the light of these developments and the dark future, I very well can imagine our progenitor Lucas Boissevain (II), born Bouyssavy, aged 25 year, to sell in tenure on the 22nd of July 1685 his ancestral patrimony (half of a house with land and a wood) in the village of Couze, jurisdiction of Sainte Capraise, to his brother Jean. By then, he lives already for 13 years in the suburb of St. Madeleine near Bergerac. Already on the 4th of December 1687, in fear of his life, he draws up a testament with the intention to leave the country where he is molested for some time. He then flees to Bordeaux and arrives about 1691 in Amsterdam where he dies in 1705.

Even nowadays this story still appears to be very topical. Still people live in comparable situations striving for self-determination and freedom of thought.

Translated and adapted by G.W.O. Boissevain

Based on:

  • The book "Le peuple rebelle des hughenots de Bergerac, entre despotisme et tolèrance" by Renè Costedoat;
  • Editions Gulliver, 1987;
  • The 'green Boissevain book' of 1937.

Trip to Bergerac

The trip starts in Coutures, west of Perigueux, about 50 kilometers from Bergerac.

Here Leonard Bouyssavy and both his brothers leasehold the property "Landrivie" as appears from a deed dating from 1483. The farm was located very lonesome at the end of a metalled road in a wood and is in a bad condition now, surrounded by electric fencing and cows. Both the brothers lived in the very small village of Lagarde (now Lageard or Lajard), that has just a couple of farms in its midst.

We drive through to Bergerac.

In Bergerac there are no traces of our family kept. The mill Bellegarde that cousin Isaac kept in leasehold will have had its place on the present Place Bellegarde. Ancestor Lucas lived on the Southside of the river, in the Faubourg de la Madeleine. The old part of Bergerac has been restored very nicely; one of the Hugenotes-temples is a protestant church again, the other has been replaced by an attractive supermarket. There are some nice little museums, that are worth visiting. Ernst found some fine restaurants for us: the brasserie Royal Perigord (good food, big capacity), Le Poivre et Sel (cosy, good, about 45 seats) and L'Imparfait where you can order for a couple of francs a huge plate with half a crawfish and langoustines, surrounded by shell-fishes and where you will be able to sit at the fire place with a good glass of wine after that the hostess tied a napkin around your neck! The restaurants in general have menu's of 60-100 francs, sometimes the wine is included. There are hotels in all price ranges, camping’s and rooms in private houses.

Now we drive in eastern direction, south of the Dordogne river.

Our family lived in Lalinde, where cousin Estienne was a host and shoemaker. that was till he settled in bergerac as a master-shoemaker. But we also lived in St-Capraise and Couze (for instance our Lucas), but Ernst could not find the closer indications out of the old deeds, like "Le Tracanard" and "Al Rechaussou". Close to the river at Bergerac you will find Cours-de-Pille with the Pille-castle. Since a short time it is in the hands of a strapper like type of person, that has never heard of a watermill, although you are easily able to see it. South of the village you will find cousin Jaques' block of farms called Cazal. A few kilometers further you find La Maroutie, where our uncles Abraham and Isaac used to live. It contains two recently restored farms, of which one is still in operation and some outhouses. You will meet a farmer and at least twenty dogs of which some are very unpleasant. It is all surrounded by wet lands. Over the hill you will find "Grand Champ" where Isaac and the son of Abraham had there lands.

We leave the surroundings of Cours-the-Pille and continue in south-western direction.

Finally uncle Isaac is going to live a bit closer to the wine area of Monbazillac, in La Baste Ruhe. This is also a hamlet consisting of a couple of farms. He is doing well, he has some or more acres, lands and vineyards and has a mill in leasehold. When Ernst drove through to turn his car he met a very kind mrs Lafon where he could buy some bottles of wine for 6 francs each.

The wine-district is in front of us.

We drive through the small village Labadie, where Guilhaume and Jean had there vine-yards. Confirming a deed they sold there harvest of ten years to a wine trader, who lived on the Dordogne river. May be it was cousin Phelippe who transported the barrels to Bordeaux, because he was the man that made those things. Further on we approach a wine castle with a couple of farms that is also named La Maroutie. Here our cousin Jean dict (= also called) Lafleur was active. Via La Cattie (cousin Bernard) we arrive at the Monbazillac castle in which you will find a special room with documentati­on on the Hugenotes. Some hundred meters further Chateau La Barradis is located, where Ernst bought some wine, because Estienne, the host and shoemaker, was involved with it. This deal took Ernst more than an hour because the estate-steward kept him busy with his years in the Far East, with this trading capacities of the Dutch people and with politics. Le Barradis has contacts with The Netherlands since 1530, as is mentioned on the labels of the bottles.

Along the vine-yards of Le Touron, in which Estienne and Jean also had their interests, we take the road back to Bergerac.

You will have to do this trip with your own car, because there is no public traffic, and you need your rubber boots and some light-heartedness. I propose to have the next antennary with members of the family that want to stay with us a couple of days in Bergerac.

Anneke M. Boissevain