"A Tale Of The Huguenots Or Memoirs Of A French Refugee Family (De La Fontaine)", 1838 (Complete),  Jared Smith's Maternal Ancestry (Complete)

Chapter 7

Appeal to Parliament — Copy of factum — President’s observation upon it — Sentence reverse — Register refuses copy of the decree — Apply for redress — Return home

The Parliament of Bourdeaux, or rather of Guienne, then held its sittings at La Reolle; and by its order we were removed to the prison of that town, which was so full that the gaoler, contented with his entrance fee, allowed us to go and come on “parole” as we pleased. This was very advantageous to me, giving me the opportunity of making personal application to Parliament, proving my own innocence, and exposing the injustice of the Presidency of Saintes, which I hoped to exhibit in its true colours.

I had my factum printed, of which the following is a true and faithful copy. “FACTUM.”

“James Fontaine is accused of two things. The one of being found in the assemblies held in the wood of Chatelars near Royan, and the other of having been heard praying to God, in the prison of Saintes. With regard to the first accusation, it is based upon the testimony of only one witness, named Agoust, who made affidavit to having seen him at the distance of one hundred paces from his own house, and two hundred paces from the place where the assemblies were said to have been held. At the confrontation this witness admitted that he only thought he had seen him from a window, and that too, in the dusk of the evening, at a distance of three or four hundred paces; and upon the strength of such testimony as this, the said Fontaine has been confined four months in the prisons of Saintes, which are extremely rude in their accommodations. The charge of praying to God rested upon the evidence of four witnesses, who contradicted themselves upon cross-examination, and it appeared that the said Fontaine merely knelt down in a corner of the prison, and spoke in so low a tone that the gaoler’s wife, after acknowledging that she passed within one pace of him when he was kneeling down, was not able to repeat a single word of what he had said. After the breviate of the case was completed, the Seneschal in the most extraordinary manner refused to judge, and the said Fontaine was obliged to take legal steps in consequence; and after four months delay, the Attorney general’s deputy, recognising the injustice of the proceeding, called for further enquiry and the sentence resulting therefrom is the subject of the present appeal. The said Fontaine has been declared guilty of contravening the King’s Edict, and has been condemned to pay a fine of a hundred livres, and declared for ever incapable of exercising the functions of candidate or of Minister. The said Fontaine appealed. He tendered the sum of one hundred livres (the fine imposed upon him) to be set at liberty, this was refused — but he has since obtained permission to go in and out upon condition of returning to the prison.

“This is a brief statement of facts, and the said Fontaine now proceeds to justify his appeal. In the first place the testimony of a single witness is not sufficient under any circumstances, and the witness in question merely testified to seeing him on the highway, and not at the place of meeting, and confessed afterwards that he only thought he had seen him. A witness to be depended upon should speak with certainly, and not by credit vel non credit any more than hearsay. And it can be proved that the said Fontaine was at Coses, distant three leagues, on the day and at the hour named by the witness. As to the second accusation; who would condemn a man for praying in prison? The very situation would lead a Christian to pray more frequently and fervently. In order to convict him he should be proved to have used words admitting of evil construction; so far from it, all that appears is that he was on his knees, in a remote corner of the prison, and one witness heard him say, “Our father who art in heaven.” The said Fontaine concludes that having made this just appeal, the former decision will be declared null and void.”

“Monsieur de Labourin, Reporter.” “Signed. Dumas. Attorney.” Presented 6th. August 1684.

When I presented this factum to the President of the Parliament, I said to him, “ My Lord, I here present you with a true statement of facts, and if you find the least discrepancy or exaggeration when you compare it with the evidence which will be brought before you, I am willing not only to have the sentence of the Seneschal confirmed, but you may increase the penalties as much as you please.”

He read it with attention, and said he could scarcely imagine it was correct, for what inducement could the Seneschal have had for acting thus.

“My Lord,” said I, “his is the spirit of avarice, which he hides under a specious display of false zeal; for he only joined me in the sentence with the poor people to make sure of the fine and costs; I can assure you that the fees, which are his perquisite, have been levied with an unsparing hand.”

The form of proceeding before Parliament is the same as before the Presidency. When I entered the Hall, the stool was offered to me as before; I looked towards the President, and he kindly exempted me from the opprobium. I was treated most respectfully, no unnecessary questions were asked, and I received full justice. I obtained a final decision, reversing the sentence of the Presidency of Saintes, and acquitting me entirely. My poor neighhours for form’s sake, were banished from the province for six months. The Seneschal of Saintes was ordered to restore me the hundred livres that I had deposited, and he was prohibited from receiving fees on this, or any future occasion, where the King was the prosecutor. Two grievous blows for the Seneschal.

In order to obtain my liberty, and recover the fine, I must produce a copy of the decree. The Register said that twenty- one copies would be necessary, one for each of us, which would have been very expensive. He knew well that on exhibiting one to the gaoler, he would let us all out of prison and therefore, (loving money) he refused to let me have my copy unless I paid him for the twenty-one.

I complained of this delay to the Lord President, and he told me to command the Register from him to furnish me with a copy, paying only for that single one.

I went gladly with this order, but the chief Register was so great a man that he interfered but little in the business of his office, and he sent me to his deputy, one Cardon, who said it was none of his business. I returned to the chief Register, for I did not begrudge my steps, and he told me that Cardon had better speak to the President. For several days I was kept on the move from one to the other without any prospect of redress, and I then began to see into the object of all this delay. This day was the last of the Court sitting before the Christmas holydays, and the Register and his deputy thought that the Lords of Parliament once dispersed, they would keep us in prison during the whole holydays, unless I would pay for the twenty-one copies.

I determined to make a desperate effort, and writing my grievance on a slip of paper, I managed to get in at the door during the absence of the Serjeant, and appeared before the Parliament, with the petition in my hand. Cardon, who was there, called the Serjeant, hoping to have me carried to prison for my intrusion.

Fortunately the President saw me, and called out, “Mr. Fontaine, have you not got your deed yet?”

“No indeed,” my Lord, “what does it benefit me to have found favour in your eyes, and that you have done me justice, when it is in Mr. Cardon’s power to prevent my obtaining the necessary record of it? Parliament once prorogued, he will leave me to rot in a dungeon; and foreseeing this, I have in my despair, made bold to enter, and throw myself at your feet as a supplicant for justice.”

The President, extremely indignant, called out, “Mr. Cardon, how dare you disobey my orders? What have you to say to prevent my punishing you as you deserve?”

He began a shuffling excuse about not having received instructions from the chief Register.

I was on the point of contradicting him, but one of the Judges, who was my friend, put his finger upon his lips to show me that I ought to remain silent; and I presently saw it was for the best, because the President’s anger was only increased by an apology setting at naught his authority.

“And so, Mr. Cardon, my order is a dead letter, unless confirmed by the Register! If you know your duty no better than that, it is time for me to have done with you.”

Cardon, in dismay, begged pardon with all humility, and assured the Parliament he would attend to the matter instantly.

The President, turning to me, said “Sir, if you cannot get your deed today, come and tell me; and when you have received it, let me know how much you have paid for it.”

I made a low bow and retired, very well pleased.

I waited patiently for the adjournment of Parliament, and asked Mr. Cardon as he came out to give me the deed. He said he was going home to dinner, but as soon as he had dined I should have it. I followed him to his mansion, and he perceiving it, recommended me to go and get my own dinner. I told him I was determined neither to eat nor drink till I was possessed of the deed; and I waited patiently outside of his door for two hours, and seeing neither him nor the deed, I knocked; a footman opened the door a very little way, so that I could not possibly get in, and told me his master was out; nevertheless I retained my position, and saw several persons admitted. At last, two well fed Franciscan Friars, coming to the door, I followed them in unobserved, and keeping close in the rear I managed to get into the office, and waiting until their business was finished, I rose to my full height as they disappeared, and stood like a ghost before Cardon.

“What devil has brought you here?” said he.

I replied that I came under the auspices of the good fathers who were just gone.

He handed me the deed, and I gave him in gold the one and twentieth part of the sum he had demanded for furnishing the full number. To my surprise, he returned me five or six crowns.

“How is that? Are you satisfied?” said I.

“No,” said he, with much asperity of manner, nor shall I be until I see you with a rope round your neck.”

“When people are hung,” said I for “praying to God, I shall have reason to be afraid, and you will be able to sleep in peace.”

I took the deed to the gaoler, and he thereupon released us all from our “parole” and we were at full liberty.

I should not have dwelt upon this subject at so much length, but for the purpose of showing you how many difficulties we had to contend with; every one seemed to think he had a right to impose upon a Protestant, even down to a Register’s clerk.

From this detail you should learn to stand up with firmness and use every energy you are possessed of to overcome obstacles, and not sit down quietly as some do to complain of fatigue and rebuffs, and make no effort. Remember, God has promised his blessing to the diligent hand as well as the upright heart.

In the course of the day I called to take leave of my Lord the President, and to thank him for all his kindness, and then quite victorious I turned my steps towards Saintes. I made the Seneschal refund the hundred livres already named, and once more I set foot within my own dwelling. The expences I had incurred during my imprisonment amounted to two thousand livres.

Most of the poor people returned quietly to their own homes, which was winked at, and they received presents from charitable disposed Protestants to an amount that made ample amends for the labor which had been lost to their families.

The history of our imprisonment spread far and wide, and I received letters of congratulation from many distinguished individuals, members of the reformed church, amongst others from the Marquis de Rouvigny, father of Lord Galaway.

Mr. Benoist gives an account of our trial and imprisonment in his “History of the Edict of Nantes.” You will find it in the third part of the third volume.

James Fontaine (1658) was the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of Jared Smith (Editor of the AHB). He wrote an autobiography, the material of which was compiled and published by some of his descendants. The first publication is called, ”A Tale Of The Huguenots Or Memoirs Of A French Refugee Family (De La Fontaine)” (1838). The second publication is called, “Memoirs Of A Huguenot Family” (1872).

"A Tale Of The Huguenots Or Memoirs Of A French Refugee Family (De La Fontaine)", 1838 (Complete)
Memoirs Of A Huguenot Family, 1872 (Complete)