Brigide Michaut, a French colonel or a mere farmer?
Pierre Le Clercq
vice-chairman of the Société généalogique de l'Yonne
In the 4th quarter of 2004, an article written by John-Paul Boisvert was published in the 102nd issue of American-Canadian Genealogist, under the title of Colonel Briside Michaud of the Bourgogne Regiment. The author tried to prove that his ancestor Briside Michaud, whose daughter Françoise claimed to be a colonel in the French regiment of Burgundy, was in fact a nobleman named Philippe Emmanuel Royer de Saint-Michault, who married a noble woman called Aimée de Tenance. According to his theory, Françoise Michaud’s mother, a mere commoner, was only the colonel’s concubine.
Unfortunately, there are no original documents in France or in North America that could corroborate John-Paul Boisvert’s allegation. It is my duty therefore, as a French genealogist who studied the families in France of various 17th century Canadian colonists from northern Burgundy, to insist on the fact that all the current Canadian and American descendants of Briside Michaud should not adopt too hastily Philippe Emmanuel Royer de Saint-Michault as their real mutual ancestor. The French father of both Louise and Françoise Michaud, the two orphaned sisters who were sent to Canada in 1670 by King Louis XIV, had nothing to do with the officer from the south of Burgundy discovered in some peerage-books.
In France, I found seven baptism entries and two death entries in which Briside Michaud is mentioned. These nine original documents, which can easily be checked by any Canadian or American genealogist at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, on the microfilm of Sennevoy parish registers, are kept in the French city of Auxerre, at a local repository called Archives départementales de l’Yonne. They read as follows :
1) " Ce 2 septembre 1637 a este baptise Edme Michault fils de Brigide Michault de La Loge et Margueritte Matret qui a eu pour parin et marine Pierre Rougeot et Marie Margily ".
[On the 2nd of September 1637, Edme Michault was baptized, the son of Brigide Michault, from La Loge, and Margueritte Matret, the child’s godparents being Pierre Rougeot and Marie Margily].
2) " Ce jourdhuy vingtroesiesme daost 1638 a este baptisee Pierrette Michau fille de Briddes Michau et de Marguerite Materat portee par le parrain Francoes Joly habetant de Noyers la marraine Pierrette Michau de Perrigny ".
[Today, the 23rd of August 1638, Pierrette Michau was baptized, the daughter of Briddes Michau and Marguerite Materat ; she was born to the font by her godfather Francoes Joly, living in Noyers, and her godmother Pierrette Michau, from Perrigny].
3) " Le 8me octobre 1643 par moy soubsigne pbre cure de Senevoy aud. Senevoy a este baptise Nicolas Michaut filz de Briside Michaut et de Marguerite Mestrot lequel a eu pour parein Nicolas Legerot et pour mareine Chrestienne Calmeau et ont dict ne scavoir signer ".
[On the 8th of October 1643, I the undersigned, priest and parish rector of Senevoy, baptized Nicolas Michaut in the aforesaid Senevoy, the son of Briside Michaut and Marguerite Mestrot, his godparents being Nicolas Legerot and Chrestienne Calmeau, who both said they could not sign].
4) " Le mesme jour que dessus a este baptise Edme Michaut filz de Brigide Michaut et de Margueritte Mestrot lequel a eu pour parein Michel Drouot et pour mareine Jeanne Egole et ne scavet signer ".
[On the same day as above, Edme Michaut was baptized, the son of Brigide Michaut and Margueritte Mestrot, his godparents being Michel Drouot and Jeanne Egole, who both could not sign].
5) " Edme Michaut filz de Briside Michaut et Margueritte Matret est decede le 27me octobre 1643 age denviron 15 jours de La Loge ".
[Edme Michaut, the son of Briside Michaut and Margueritte Matret from La Loge, died on the 27th of October 1643, at the age of about 15 days].
6) " Nicolas Michaut filz de Briside Michaut et de Margueritte Matret est decede le 29me octobre 1643 de La Loge ".
[Nicolas Michaut, the son of Briside Michaut and Margueritte Matret from La Loge, died on the 29th of October 1643].
7) " Le 5me avril 1645 par moy soubsigne pbre cure de Senevoüoy aud. Senevoy a este baptisee Louise Michault fille Briside Michault et Marguerite Matret laquelle a eu pour parein Jean Callemeaut et pour mareine Louise Lenief aagee de sept ans appuiye de Francoise Guinot sa mere en foy de quoy je me suis soubsigne ".
[On the 5th of April 1645, I the undersigned, priest and parish rector of Senevoüoy, baptized Louise Michault in the aforesaid Senevoy, the daughter of Briside Michault and Marguerite Matret, the child’s godparents being Jean Callemeaut and Louise Lenief, aged seven years and assisted by Francoise Guinot, her mother, in testimony of which I signed my name].
8) " Le 20me octobre 1647 par moy soubsigne pbre cure du lieu de Senevoy aud. lieu a este Jean Michault filz de Briside Michault et de Margueritte Matret lequel a eu pour parein Jean Goyart filz de Marceau Goyart Rafonnot aage de cinq ans appuye de sa mere et pour mareine Jeanne Coquinot en foy de quoy jay signe ".
[On the 20th of October 1647, I the undersigned, priest and parish rector of the village of Senevoy, (baptized) Jean Michault in the aforesaid location, the son of Briside Michault and Margueritte Matret, the child’s godparents being Jean Goyart, the son of Marceau Goyart Rafonnot, aged five years and assisted by his mother, and Jeanne Coquinot, in testimony of which I signed].
9) " Le 18me aoust 1649 par moy soubsigne pbre cure de Senevoy aud. lieu a este baptisee Francois Michau fille de Briside et de Margueritte Matret laquelle a eu pour parein Marceau Sardin aage denviron neuf ans appuye de son pere et pour mareine Francoise Comperot ".
[On the 18th of August 1649, I the undersigned, priest and parish rector of Senevoy, baptized Francois Michau in the aforesaid location, the daughter of Briside and Margueritte Matret, the child’s godparents being Marceau Sardin, aged about nine years and assisted by his father, and Francoise Comperot].
The first thing one can notice in the nine documents above is that the parents of the seven siblings baptized or buried in Sennevoy, in the north of Burgundy, bore unstable names. Their mother’s first name would be spelt Marguerite today, with only one “t”, but her family name, which appeared once as Materat, twice as Mestrot, and six times as Matret, is more difficult to deal with. However, if one takes into account the numerical weight of each designation, it is reasonable to believe that the mother’s full name should be standardized in modern writings as Marguerite Matret. The father’s full name, according to the very same numerical principle, should be written Briside Michaut. The choice of Michaut as the standardized family name of the seven siblings’ father seems to be relevant, since its spelling is by far the most prevalent one in northern Burgundy nowadays. Yet, it does not seem so obvious to admit as a first name such a strange denomination as Briside, in spite of its preponderance.
John-Paul Boisvert was so puzzled by Briside Michaut’s first name and its various forms in French and Canadian documents that he finally came to the conclusion that this confusing word cannot be a personal name at all, and that it should rather be read as “brisque”, a mere common noun meaning “old soldier”. Of course, it is true that phrases like une vieille brisque or un vieux briscard can be translated in English as an old veteran, but in the nine documents I found in the first parish register of Sennevoy, in the French city of Auxerre, the only words one can read just before the father’s family name are Briddes, Brigide or Briside. Even if one tries hard, it is impossible to mistake them with an old-fashioned word like brisque.
For many years I have been satisfied with such an uncommon name as Briside. In some parish registers, in northern Burgundy or elsewhere in France, one can find rare first names like Bacche and Bacchette in the village of Pourrain, Vorle and Vorlette in the small city of Châtillon-sur-Seine, and Vaubourg in several other locations. But the problem is that Briside is not a Christian name. It is not connected directly to any Christian saint, unlike Bacche and Bacchette linked to Saint Bacchus, Vorle and Vorlette to Saint Vorle, and Vaubourg to Saint Walburgis. The only patron saint that could correspond to Briside is Saint Brigide. This point is strengthened by the fact that Briside Michaut was called Brigide twice, in 1637 and 1643, and even Briddes in 1638, pronounced like Bride, the short name for Brigide.
Therefore it seems logical to think that Briside Michaut’s real first name was Brigide, a female Christian name that could be shortened to Bride. In the 17th century women could bear male names like Philippe or Maurice, and some men bore a typically female name like Anne. Nowadays both men and women can still be called Claude or Dominique in France and other French-speaking areas. This shows that a female name like Brigide could be given to a man in some cases, and that Louise and Françoise Michaud’s father was in fact Brigide Michaut. He was the only one in Sennevoy to bear this female Christian name. But I found another place in northern Burgundy where a few men were called Brigide or Bride.
This location is Perrigny-sur-Armançon, near Sennevoy, where the godmother of one of Brigide Michaut’s children was living. She was probably a close relative of the child and its father, since her full name was Pierrette Michaut. In the local parish registers, which are now kept in the French city of Auxerre, I found up to six baptism entries in which some men and boys of Perrigny, born in the beginning of the 17th century, were called Bride or Brigide :
- On 10 February 1633, in the Roman Catholic church of Perrigny-sur-Armançon, Marcelline Marcout was baptized, the daughter of Bride Marcout and Marguerite Pinagot.
- On 13 January 1634, in the same church, Brigide Millot was baptized, the son of François Millot and Edmée Mariotte, whose godfather was Brigide Chouillou, from Perrigny, who signed “Bride Choulou”.
- On 24 January 1635, in the same church, Sébastien Mortinet was baptized, the son of Edmé Mortinet and Claudine Charles, whose godmother was Brigide Faict’s wife, Jeanne Mariotte.
- On 24 January 1635, in the same church, Brigide Mortinet was baptized, the second son of Edmé Mortinet and Claudine Charles, whose godfather was Brigide Chouillou, from Perrigny, who signed “Bride Choulou”.
- On 6 April 1635, in the same church, François Marcou was baptized, the son of Brigide Marcou and Marguerite Pinagot.
- On 6 November 1635, in the same church, François Chouillou was baptized, the son of Brigide Chouillou and Jeanne Mariotte.
In these six documents, found in Perrigny parish registers, the female name of Brigide is born by two boys called Brigide Millot and Brigide Mortinet, and three men named Brigide Marcou, Brigide Chouillou and Brigide Faict, sometimes known under the shorter first name of Bride. Nobody was called Briside in Perrigny-sur-Armançon,.unlike Brigide Michaut in Sennevoy. In the latter parish, where no man had been called Brigide or Bride before, people did not really know how to pronounce this strange Christian name from Perrigny. Very soon, Brigide Michaut became Briside in Sennevoy, and his own daughters Louise and Françoise must have called him this way too, since a voiced “s” in Briside is much easier to pronounce by young children in French than a voiced fricative “g” in Brigide.
Another sign indicates that the two girls’ father, who settled in Sennevoy before 1637, probably came from Perrigny-sur-Armançon. Apart from Pierrette Michaut, whom Brigide Michaut and his wife chose as one of their children’s godmother, some other people bearing the family name of Michaut used to live in Perrigny in the first half of the 17th century. Five documents I found in the local repository in Auxerre can substantiate this point :
- On 3 July 1633, in the Roman Catholic church of Perrigny, Jacques Michaut, the son of the late François Michaut and Catherine Goyard, from the parish of Aisy-sur-Armançon, married Josephte Guérin, the daughter of Pierre Guérin and Julienne Huguethier, from Perrigny.
- On 5 November 1634, in the same church, their daughter Jeanne Michaut was baptized.
- On 28 November 1635, in the same church, their son Jacques Michaut was baptized, whose godmother was Falle Michaut’s daughter, Pierrette Michaut, from the parish of Perrigny.
- On 4 April 1637, in the same church, their second son Nicolas Michaut was baptized.
- On 23 August 1637, in the same Roman Catholic church, Anne Raffin was baptized, the daughter of Guillaume Raffin and the late Marcelline Michaut, the child’s godmother being Falle Michaut’s daughter, Pierrette Michaut.
Pierrette Michaut, the daughter of a hoop-maker bearing the uncommon Christian name of Falle (commemorating Saint Phal), was certainly a central figure in her family. She lived in the parish of Perrigny-sur-Armançon and was related somehow to three other people, Jacques Michaut from Aisy-sur-Armançon, Marcelline Michaut from Perrigny, and Brigide Michaut from Sennevoy. Each of them had a child to whom she stood as godmother. Thanks to her, I discovered that Brigide Michaut’s native place could be the parish of Perrigny, where a few men of his generation had been given the female Christian name of Brigide. I had a look also at the parish registers of Aisy-sur-Armançon, since Jacques Michaut had been living there just before his wedding, but I did not find any man called Brigide in this new location. Therefore Perrigny-sur-Armançon remains the only place near Sennevoy where Brigide Michaut might have received his most surprizing first name, just after his birth.
Probably born in Perrigny, Brigide Michaut married Marguerite Matret before 1637. The bride’s family name, which was not born by anybody else in Sennevoy, Perrigny or Aisy-sur-Armançon, indicates that the wedding might have taken place in another location. John-Paul Boisvert assumes in his article that the couple was not married. But this hypothesis is wrong, since none of Brigide Michaut’s seven children has been declared an illegitimate child in the seven baptism entries I found in Sennevoy parish registers. Such a declaration of illegitimacy was compulsory in France and its colonies before the French Revolution.
Brigide Michaut settled with his close family in a farm called La Loge-aux-Convers, in the parish of Sennevoy. This farm used to belong to the priory of Jully, which was situated in the neighbouring parish of Stigny. When Jully was detached from Stigny in 1792 to become an independant commune, the hamlet of La Loge-aux-Convers was separated from Sennevoy and joined to the new municipal division. Therefore, on modern maps of France or Burgundy, Brigide Michaut’s domicile appears now within the present commune of Jully.
From 1637 to 1643, and perhaps until 1649, Brigide Michaut lived with his spouse and children in the farm of La Loge-aux-Convers. His occupation is not specified at all in the nine documents I found in the first parish register of Sennevoy, but he was probably a mere farmer employed by the priory of Jully. It is certain, anyway, that he was not a prominent man in the village. If he really were a nobleman, as John-Paul Boisvert alleges in his article, the parish rector of Sennevoy would have been obliged to indicate it in the nine baptism or burial entries already mentioned. He would have written some sort of honorific prefix before the full name of Marguerite Matret’s husband, calling him in each entry “haut et puissant seigneur messire Brigide Michaut” [high and powerful lord Sir Brigide Michaut]. Even respectable commoners like village judges, notaries and merchants were distinguished from all the other villagers with some specific prefixes like “noble homme” or “honorable homme”. The fact that no honorific prefix was added before Brigide Michaut’s full name and before the respective names of his children’s godparents, in the nine baptism and burial entries, is a clear sign that Marguerite Matret’s husband was but an ordinary man related to ordinary people like Pierrette Michaut from Perrigny-sur-Armançon, a mere hoop-maker’s daughter.
Brigide Michaut and his wife Marguerite Matret did not die in Sennevoy. They left the parish after 1649 with their surviving children. Two of them, Louise and Françoise Michaut, eventually emigrated with other pensioned king’s daughters to Canada, where the younger sister became Gilles Dupont’s wife, after a marriage contract signed on 10 August 1670, and the elder sister Jean Daniau’s lawful spouse, after another contract established three weeks later, on August 31st. Françoise Michaut, the younger sister, married twice. In her first marriage contract, signed in 1670, she is called Françoise Michelle and described as the daughter of the late Bresitte and the late Marguerite Maistret, born in Sennevoy. Although her family name was altered to Michelle, this change was normal in the 17th century because Michaut was still considered then as just another way of saying Michel.
Françoise Michaut, according to her first marriage contract signed with Gilles Dupont, had already lost both her parents when she arrived in Canada with her elder sister Louise in 1670. This proves further more that John-Paul Boisvert is wrong when he claims in his article that the bride’s father, Brigide Michaut, whose name never was distinguished in Sennevoy by any honorific prefix, was in fact a bigamous nobleman called Philippe Emmanuel Royer de Saint-Michault, who died in 1673. Two men with different Christian names, family names, social positions and domiciles, who married different wives and died at different dates, cannot be merged into one single person. John-Paul Boisvert based his whole theory on a very loose similarity between Brigide Michaut’s family name and the nobleman’s patrimonial name of Saint-Michault. But this patrimonial name is erroneous too. Philippe Emmanuel Royer was not lord of Saint-Michault but of Saint-Micaud, without an “h”, a location situated far from Sennevoy, in a French area called Charolais in southern Burgundy.
Brigide Michaut’s younger daughter Françoise, one year before marrying Paul Hubert, her second husband, signed a short-lived marriage contract on 11 March 1684 with a man from the French bishopric of Rennes in Brittany, Jean Le Cart, the son of a medical doctor called Marc Le Cart and Madeleine Pierrot. I asked recently Denis Beauregard to send me a scanned copy of this important document, just to make sure that it really contains the puzzling word “colonel” that led John-Paul Boisvert to think that Brigide Michaud necessarily was a nobleman. In the copy I received from Canada the future bride is described as follows :
" Françoise Michelle, filhe de Sr Brisier Michel, colonel du regiment de Bourgoingne, & damlle Margtte Maistre, ses pere & mere, natifve de Joigny, esvesche de Cens, vefve de feu Gilles Dupon ".
[Françoise Michelle, born in Joigny in the bishopric of Sens, the daughter of Mister Brisier Michel, colonel in the Burgundy regiment, and Miss Marguerite Maistré, her father and mother, and the widow of the late Gilles Dupont].
There is no doubt for me now that in 1684, fourteen years after she arrived in Canada, Françoise Michaut appeared in an original document as a colonel’s daughter. But, as far as I know, this is the only document in which her father is mentioned as the leading officer of a French regiment. Besides, it is obvious that this ephemeral marriage contract contains a false piece of information, which casts a negative shadow on the rest of the document. Françoise Michaut was not born in the French city of Joigny, in the diocese and archbishopric of Sens, but in the village of Sennevoy, in the diocese of Langres within the archbishopric of Lyons. Even if the distance between Joigny and Sennevoy may seem somewhat ridiculous nowadays, on a Canadian or American scale, it used to take a whole day to go from one place to the other in the 17th century. If the Canadian notary wanted to indicate the nearest city from Françoise Michaut’s birth-place, he would not have chosen Joigny but Tonnerre, a larger location which belonged then, until 1790, to the same diocese and archbishopric as Sennevoy. He could have chosen too the neighbouring smaller town of Cruzy-le-Châtel, the capital of a French barony including Sennevoy and several other villages.
The present descendants of Brigide Michaut and Marguerite Matret should not really trust an original document containing an obvious error. A thorough comparison between Françoise Michaut’s first marriage contract in 1670 and her second one in 1684 is necessary to confirm my opinion that the word “colonel”, appearing in only one document, should not be taken into account too seriously. In 1670, Françoise Michaut was still a young 21 year-old woman under the direct control of the French authorities in charge of providing each king’s daughter from France with a husband in Canada. She was not free to say what she wanted about her family, and so the information contained in her first marriage contract can be considered as reliable. She had to declare that she was born in Sennevoy, that both her parents were already dead, and nobody thought that her deceased father deserved any honorific prefix before his name, his occupation being certainly too ordinary to be specified by the Canadian notary.
In 1684, on the other hand, Françoise Michaut was now a respected 35 year-old widow, who had gained her independence and could magnify her family at will in order to marry a respectable man like Jean Le Cart, the son of a medical doctor. Nobody could contradict her now, fourteen years after her arrival in Canada. She felt free to declare that her father used to be a colonel, and the notary, who did not add any honorific prefix before her first husband’s full name, did not hesitate to add such a distinctive sign before her parents’ respective names. Her father became a “sieur” and her mother a “demoiselle”, which did not endow them with any noble status but distinguished them anyway from other commoners of lower conditions. It must be kept in mind too that the prefix “demoiselle” did not mean that Françoise Michaut’s mother was a spinster, which would lend some credit to John-Paul Boisvert’s assumption that she was but Brigide Michaut’s concubine. Before the French Revolution, that female prefix was granted to any middle-class woman in France, whether she was married or not.
There could be some sort of truth, though, in Françoise Michaut’s statement. The future bride might have lived some time in Joigny before she was sent to Canada in 1670, and her father might have served as a mere soldier in some colonel’s compagny, perhaps within the French regiment of Burgundy mentioned in the second marriage contract. But since no other original document has been found yet to support this new point of view, it is not necessary to discuss such a scanty theory any further.
In conclusion, genealogy must remain a social science based on a careful and meticulous study of original documents kept in various repositories. The microfilms of many French and European parish registers can be viewed now at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and other places in North America. Links between genealogists from coast to coast and across the seas have been developed to such an extent in the past few years that they now form some huge international network of mutual assistance. Nobody has an excuse, therefore, to ignore original documents and build up erroneous hypotheses derived from books only, dealing with rather distant subjects. The original documents I viewed in Auxerre show clearly that Brigide Michaut, unlike the officer found by John-Paul Boisvert in various books, bearing the name of Philippe Emmanuel Royer, lord of Saint-Micaud, was but a mere commoner probably born in Perrigny-sur-Armançon, whose Christian name was altered to Briside when he settled with his spouse in Sennevoy. They also indicate that he lived in a farm called La Loge-aux-Convers, belonging to the priory of Jully, and that he probably worked there as a mere farmer. There is no evidence at all that he ever became a colonel later on, a new occupation that his daughter Françoise Michaut only mentioned in 1684, when she was no longer under the control of the French authorities in charge of all the marriageable girls from France. Like many people who dreamt and still dream now of a higher position, this orphaned and widowed woman, living so far away from her native country, eventually imagined she was a French colonel’s daughter, with the consent of an accommodating Canadian notary.