Researching the lives of female ancestors can be especially difficult given the boundaries of their roles and identities in European societies. All too often the identities of women are subsumed by those of their fathers or husbands. For the lower classes where even men are largely anonymous to history, tracking female ancestors can be a considerable challenge. Those of us with French ancestry are somewhat better off because, as Natalie Zemon Davis noted, most “French women in the sixteenth century kept their maiden names all their lives: when necessary, the phrase ‘wife of’ or ‘widow of’ so-and-so was tacked on.”
The preservation of the maiden name in Early Modern France indicates a desire to maintain lineage and property rights. In his study of 17th Century Bordeaux Robert Wheaton explores the enduring influence of the Roman Law paterna paternis maternal maternis which means that paternal property belongs to the paternal line and the maternal property remains with the maternal line. Property acquired during the marriage, communauté d’acquêts, was shared equally among the husband and wife. How much this was the case in 17th Century Normandy would require specific research into the prevailing law of the day as there was not yet a single unified national code. Suzanne Desan suggests that Norman Customary law differed in that “Communal marital property was not even legally possible.” The documented use of marriage contracts both within France and in 17th Century Canada whose population consisted of a significant proportion of Normans, reflects a similar interest in distinguishing the personal property each individual brought to the marriage.
This is the context in which we have come to know Susanne De La Haye as the wife of Guillaume Regnault of Saint-Jouin-sur-Mer and the mother of Guillaume Regnault who established himself in Canada. Though we remember Susanne primarily by her marriage into the family Regnault, the surname De La Haye has a distinguished and distinctive origin. Purportedly derived from villages in the Cotentin Peninsula called La Haye (e.g. La Haye du Puits, La Haye-Pesnel, etc.) the surname originates from the Old French term “haye” meaning “hedge.” Besides Normandy the surname has a long history in Britain as a result of the Norman invasion and conquest of 1066. The De La Haye family appears in Cambridgeshire in the 13th century where the family held a seat as Lords of the Manor.
Unfortunately, we cannot link Susanne De La Haye directly to this illustrious past. While patronymic surnames have been around since at least the 13th or 14th Century, they did not necessarily reflect a biological connection but rather a “juridical reality.” As Jean-Louis Flandrin has described, the ties of kinship and the meaning of “’family’ was not identical with the father-mother-children triad…” but also included broader notions of kin such as “lignage” which Flandrin defines as “an assemblage of individuals who descended or claimed to descend from a common ancestor, either in the male or the female line.”
Despite the difficulty in tracing the direct ancestry of Susanne’s family, there are some things we can know. In researching Susanne’s origins, a review of many online family trees uncovers a prevalence of the assumption that since she and Guillaume Regnault lived in Saint-Jouin, she must also have been born and baptized there. Such an assumption indicates a misconception about life in 17th Century rural France as being far more static than it was. While remote by comparison, Saint-Jouin-sur-Mer was by no means isolated. As Lechevalier notes, Saint-Jouin was one of the larger parishes in its local area and was bounded by smaller neighboring villages and parishes that were connected by roads, local commercial markets and fairs, as wells as extended family ties. These links between parishes and villages could be quite strong and might even have created rivalries between them. For example, Nathalie Zemon Davis notes that a “youth abbey” from one parish would meet “the youth of other parishes at Mardi Gras for soules, a violent football game…”.
When I began my research, I also assumed Susanne had to have come from Saint-Jouin. This assumption is not completely baseless as Pierre Goubert has noted that women moved away from their birth village less frequently than men. There were also barriers to overcome in order to marry outside of one’s parish. Given the relatively small populations contained within these communities there was no guarantee that there would be suitable marriage partners available when one reached the age of consent. Flandrin notes that though it was “customary, among the peasants, to take a wife from the same parish” the church’s concerns with consanguinity made this harder in smaller villages with smaller populations consisting largely of people considered to be kin. In some communities, endogamous marriages could be frequent (70-80%) or relatively infrequent (30-35%) as a result.
The need to reach outside the village or parish for a suitable spouse might meet with resistance by other communities whose population of unmarried males would view a potential outside suitor as a poacher. We see similar resistance to second marriages as well even within communities especially when an older man married a younger woman. At this time, the desires of the individual to freely marry were constrained by the concerns of both the family, the village and the parish. Communities regularly exercised their rights to intervene and regulate who could be married and under what terms. No doubt, some of these dynamics played a role in the marriage of Susanne De La Haye and Guillaume Regnault.
We are fortunate that we can move beyond general descriptions of community life and practice to particular circumstances as the baptismal record of Susanne De La Haye exists and indicates she was christened on March 30, 1613 in the parish of Gonneville-La-Mallet which is almost directly due east of Saint-Jouin. Curiously, this documentation of Susanne’s baptism raises more questions than it answers in addition to indicating that her marriage to Guillaume was not endogamous and would likely have needed the consent of the larger community.
Among the considerations, the baptismal record indicates a presence in the community but does not reflect the depth of that presence. Were the De La Hayes longstanding residents of Gonneville-La-Mallet or was the entry in the parish register documentation of a brief tenure? To answer this question a detailed review of the parish registers is needed. Susanne’s record may also hold important clues.
The baptismal record suggests that Susanne was named after her godmother “damoiselle susanne lescolier.” The use of the term “damoiselle” suggests an individual of higher social class. Why a peasant girl would have such a prominent godmother raises some interesting possibilities. For example, they could be related. As Robert Wheaton states, “Godparenthood served to reinforce kinship ties: there is indirect evidence that more than one-half of godparents were kin, and godchildren were sometimes favored with testamentary bequests.” Since the higher social classes had a greater likelihood of being documented, we might be able to learn something of the De La Haye family following the trail of the “lescoliers” (also Lescollier).
The Lescollier family appears to have played a prominent role in Gonneville-La-Mallet and central to the prosperity of the town in the 17th Century. As Lechevalier recounts in his coverage of Gonneville-La-Malet, “In 1633, Nicolas Lescollier, squire, sieur d'Aubiéville, having yielded 60 acres of land for the construction of the citadel of Le Havre, obtained from Louis XIII the authorization to establish in Gonneville a market ‘Wednesdays of each week and two fairs by each year, one to the mercredy after Easter, the other the day after St. Luke.’ This right was transmissible to his successors, lords of Gonneville.”
The market was a huge success though not without controversy. According to Lechevalier, the Protestant Lescollier refused the demands of the Catholics to place the market in front of the church. Lescollier’s religious persuasion raises the question as to why an assumed relative of Nicolas Lescollier, “damosielle susanne lescolier” would serve as Catholic godparent some 20 years earlier for a peasant child. However, there is no telling when Nicolas came to the Protestant faith and the spread of Protestantism cut across family lines. That the Catholic King Louis would grant a right to hold a market and that a Protestant would cede 60 acres for the construction of a fort to defend the primarily Catholic realm speaks to the effectiveness of the Edict of Nantes that Louis’ father Henri IV put in place to quell the religious strife of the previous century by granting religious freedoms. It also begs the question of the relationship between “damoiselle lescolier” and the De La Haye family.
While extant documentation detailing the nature of these ties probably does not exist, we should remember that these communities were small and while there were distinctions of social class and certainly boundaries, the social classes were interdependent and interactive. That is to say, it may not have been unusual for the wife of the local seigneur to take an interest in the children of the local peasantry. Additionally, as previously mentioned, the notions of kin were much broader than our current definitions and may have been defined as simply anyone living in the same village. Within this framework, a close association between the prominent Lescolliers and the likely peasant De La Hayes would not be farfetched or even uncommon.
Once Lescollier’s market was established, the fight over the location apparently subsided and the market was used by both Protestant and Catholic to the benefit of all. It is certainly a possibility that this market played a role in the lives of Guillaume Regnault and Susanne De La Haye. Perhaps the young Guillaume Regnault, having traveled the 3 miles from his home in Saint-Jouin, spotted Susanne while strolling through the market. Or perhaps and not unlikely, there was some existing family connection that facilitated the marriage.
The resulting De La Haye-Regnault partnership later drew on the De La Haye-Lescollier kinship connection with the birth of Susanne’s son Guillaume (b. 1645) when the happy parents looked to Marie Lescollier to serve as godmother. Further research would be needed to determine the relationship between Susanne De La Haye’s godmother "damoiselle susanne lescolier” and Guillaume’s godmother Marie Lescollier some 30 years later though a link is certainly plausible if not probable.
Given the prominence of the Lescollier family in Gonneville-La-Mallet and the evidence of an enduring relationship with the De la Hayes, one might be tempted to conclude that the De La Haye’s would have extensive roots in Gonneville-La-Mallet. However, a review of the surviving parish records for Gonneville-La-Mallet and the nearby hameau (hamlet) of Écultot does not support this. The first clear reference to a De La Haye is the 1612 baptism of “Judit, fille de Pierre De La Haye” followed by Susanne’s baptism in 1613. There are only a mere nine additional references to De La Haye over the next 40 years. Two of the nine refer to “Guillaume De La Haye” in the role of father. However, the wives of Guillaume do not match which makes it difficult to determine if this is the same person. The registers are not conclusive either way in determining if the De La Haye’s presence in Gonneville-La-Mallet was more than fleeting.
The De La Haye presence in the neighboring Écultot is even more sparse as there is only one instance of a De La Haye, the 1635 marriage between Jehan Longuemare and Maria De La Haye. This poverty of proof could be due to the relative small size of the parish but it also seems to suggest that it may not have been the central location of the family.
The next question arising from the baptismal record is the identity of Susanne’s mother who is routinely identified as Catherine Labarre but whose surname is missing from the baptismal record. My review of the registers of Gonneville-La-Mallet found no documentation to support the surname Labarre though there are multiple instances of the surname Labarbe. Of course, this does not rule out that Catherine was from another parish which as we have seen is certainly possible but the surname Labarre in Gonneville-La-Mallet cannot be confirmed based upon the evidence I reviewed.
The presence of De La Haye in Saint-Jouin is just as prevalent if not more so than in Gonneville-La-Mallet. The De La Hayes appear in the parish registers as early as 1621 and consistently between 1623-1657. The first documented link between the De La Hayes and Regnaults appears with the baptism of Francoyse, the daughter of Pierre Thessier and Jeanne De La Haye, when Guillaume Regnault is recorded as the godfather in 1639. However, it is likely the marriage of Guillaume and Susanne occurred at an earlier date given that their first child, Anne, was baptized on February 25, 1640. Though their marriage is not recorded in the extant registers of Saint-Jouin, barring any pre-marital conjugal visits, they would have married approximately in the Spring of 1639 or prior.
While it was likely that Susanne and Guillaume were of the peasant class, they may have been relatively well off. In fact, Susanne may have had some fairly successful relatives. We have already noted her connection to the important Lescollier family in Gonneville-La-Mallet but there is also evidence that the De La Hayes had their own success as exemplified by the presence of Damoiselle Anthoinette De La Haye, the wife of Jacques de Catillon Sieur de Grainville in Saint Jouin. Gonneville-La-Mallet derives its name in part from the Malet family the Seigneurs de Graville which has ties to William Malet who was a companion of William the Conqueror and held many properties in the Pays de Caux as well as England. The connection to the Malet family holdings may be by title rather than blood as fiefs were bought, sold and bestowed under a variety of conditions.
Though there is no direct evidence of a connection between Anthoinette and Susanne, they were contemporaries in Saint-Jouin and shared a surname. As we have seen through the work of Jean-Louis Flandrin it is a reasonable assumption that the two women shared a kinship bond or would have considered themselves to be kin. This connection is important not because it potentially shows inclusion in some exalted bloodline but rather it tells us something about the nature of social relations and parish life in Saint-Jouin. Life at the time was experienced through their community and through the lens of family and kin and less through the whims and desires of the individual. With this in mind, we can better understand the gravity of the day when my eight times great grandfather, Guillaume, left Saint-Jouin, his parents, siblings, and everything he had ever known to set sail for Canada.
Given the importance of family and the community in relation to the individual, one could imagine that the circumstances must have been dire for the family’s eldest son to leave his mother and family behind. As we have seen, families, not individuals, were at the root of society. According to Peter Moogk, “individual freedom of choice without regard for family obligations was an alien concept.” In the small body of known existing letters from expatriate colonists, it is evident that “those left behind in Europe looked upon resettlement abroad as unnatural, even as selfish and immoral. Family obligations, the writers believed, should bring the exiles home.” As far as we know, that never happened.
Nothing else particular is known but Susanne appears to have lived until 1675. Although not specifically named, there is a burial recorded in the parish registers for the widow of Guillaume Regnault. She would have been about 62 years of age or “environ de 60 ans” as noted in the register. As described, Susanne would have outlived her husband though by how much is unknown.
When Susanne De La Haye was laid to rest in December 1675, her son Guillaume and his wife Marie had been married for seven years and produced three grandchildren for Susanne. Did she know? Was Guillaume aware of the day that his mother died? Did he know what had happened to the brother and sisters he left behind? In the end we know very little of Susanne beyond a baptismal and burial record which allows us to put dimensions on her life, 1613 – 1675, a good run for her day and age.
The choice of wording in the burial record is worth considering. It was only the body, le corps, that was buried on that day, not the totality of her life or the extent of her influence. When Guillaume arrived in Québec, he brought with him all that he had known in Saint-Jouin. We must not forget that while Susanne is but a name in a register to us, she was a mother, wife and member of a community.
When my own parents died at ages 87 and 93, I was inundated by the immensity of their lives marked not just by their generous life spans but also by the reach of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who have spread out all over the globe. The resulting rich diversity of character, talents and life experience, are all traceable back to a common source. None of this rich immensity that characterizes La Ligne would have come to fruition without Susanne De La Haye. In the words of the poet César Vallejo, “everything occurs through finished arrangements, through covenants carried out.”
For more information on this post see the Resources section. Additional information on the family of Guillaume Regnault and Susanne De La Haye was provided in my previous post Personne: Guillaume Regnault: Part One.