Eléonore's letters
Las cartas de Eléonore

But what is this bundle of handwritten letters, filled with spelling mistakes and all adorned with wax seals and their colored silk ribbons? What treasure do we have here? Imagine, ladies and gentlemen, a collection of 43 handwritten letters, just like that! And not just any letters, as these are the correspondences addressed to her father by a figure of the high French nobility from the North of France, the Maréchale d'Hocquincourt herself!

Who exactly was this Maréchale d'Hocquincourt? Well, my friends, let me introduce Éléonore d'Estampes de Valençay, a woman with a destiny as fascinating as it is tumultuous. The daughter of Jacques d'Estampes, lord of Valençay and Happlaincourt, governor of Calais, she married in 1628 Charles de Monchy, Marquis d'Hocquincourt, Marshal of France, and governor general of Péronne, Montdidier, and Roye. Here is a characteristic marriage of the grand unions of that time, traditionally linking two great aristocratic families with converging interests.

These letters addressed to her father by Éléonore, before and after her marriage, invite us to experience her world for nearly twenty years. We discover a young girl full of innocence and childlike obedience, residing in Boran-sur-Oise. Then, over the letters, we see Éléonore grow and tackle more serious subjects, especially when she resides in Plainville or Paris. She talks about political rumors she hears, troop movements she observes, visits she receives, conflicts with her husband who abuses her dowry (what a horror!)... Ah, the joys of marriage!

But Éléonore doesn't just spread political rumors to her father or talk about her marital difficulties, no! She also conveys to the patriarch news about her family, especially the women who composed it. Her mother Louise Blondel de Joigny, her "life mother" (an appellation that probably refers to her nurse), her sister Charlotte, nun then abbess, her aunt, or family friends, etc. And she also reports information that could be useful to him in managing his affairs. One feels the importance of the role she plays in her family. And, married or not, it is invariably under her maiden name ("E. d'Estampes") that she signs her letters to her father, who annotates them as he receives them, indicating after her marriage her married name: "My daughter d'Hocquincourt." Just to make sure not to mess things up.

We can say it: Éléonore's life was not a long, quiet river. She was the mother of eight children, among whom... seven boys! Several of whom followed in the footsteps of their father and grandfather in the military career. And imagine that one day her husband decided (to please other women, they say) to betray the court of the King of France and join the Spanish in 1655... Nothing less! He ended up being killed in 1658 during the defense of Dunkirk for the Spanish, who held the city at that time. Widowed, Éléonore also had the misfortune of seeing two of her sons die in military operations, in 1665 and 1675. But she did not lose courage and launched a legal action in 1667 against the houses of Nesle and Montcavrel, to claim a sum owed to her. The Parliament almost immediately ruled in her favor, but the procedure seems to have been relaunched after her death in 1679... A true saga!

But back to our letters. They not only constitute a precious testimony to family life and the social role of women in the high French nobility but are also beautiful to read and... to look at! The wax seals, the colored silk ribbons, the handling of the French language, the formality with which they are imbued, and the charm of the formulas that Éléonore uses to express her feelings... everything is there to immerse us in the atmosphere of the time. And the spelling of these missives, practically nonexistent, does not reflect any negligence on the part of Léonore but rather her lack of academic training. This was still the case in her time for many women, regardless of their rank and condition. It only makes more moving these lines written to her father in the greatest ignorance of "aurtaugrafic" rules (which does not fail to attract her father's wrath).

In conclusion, dear readers, this collection of letters from the Maréchale d'Hocquincourt is a true historical treasure. They allow us to delve into the intimacy of a family of French warlords in the 17th century and unveil some realities of the lives of women within the sword nobility of that time. If you enjoy diving headfirst into documents that transport you several centuries back, at the risk of having a hard time coming back, Éléonore d'Estampes de Valençay is waiting for you... Feel free to write to her, we will forward the message !
posted by  Cecilie at  11:50 | comments [0]


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