Claude Champion Crespigny (1620-1695) and his wife Marie née de Vierville (1628-1708), my eighth great grandparents, were Huguenots, French Calvinists. After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, the family fled France leaving virtually all their property behind.

Claudius Champion de Crespigny (1620–1695) in the collection of Kelmarsh Hall
Marie, Comtesse de Vierville (1628–1708), Wife of Claudius Champion de Crespigny in the collection of Kelmarsh Hall

In the 1670s Claude Champion Crespigny had income from two estates: Crépigny, 40 kilometres south of Bayeux near Saint-Jean-le-Blanc, the other at Vierville, 20 kilometers north-west of Bayeux, near what is now known as Omaha Beach, one site of the landings by American Allied forces on D-Day.

Claude and Marie had eight children:

  • Pierre 1652–1739
  • Margaret 1654–1741
  • Mary 1655–1736
  • Suzanne-Reně 1656–1727
  • Renee 1661–1744
  • Thomas 1664–1712
  • Gabriel 1666–1722
  • Jeanne 1668–1749

The oldest son, Pierre, a lawyer, became involved in a dispute on behalf of the congregation at Trévières, nine kilometers south of Viervillesur-Mer, and west of Bayeaux. As part of the harassment of Huguenots, it had been decided that one of the two churches at either Trévières or Bayeux was in excess of the provisions of the Edict of Nantes, which formally granted Huguenots a degree of religious tolerance. One was to be disestablished. The congregation at Trévières claimed to have been established before the one at Bayeux; Bayeux, however, was a much larger community. The case was initiated in 1673 and resolved only in 1681, in favour of the congregation at Trévières. The legal battle would have been costly; perhaps it was an incidental part of the royal policy in fostering such disputes to make it inconvenient and expensive to be a Huguenot.

From 1681 the persecution of the Huguenots entered a new phase. Louis XIV instituted a policy of “Dragonnades” meant to intimidate Huguenot families into either leaving France or returning to Catholicism. The policy, in part, instructed officers in charge of travelling troops to select Huguenot households to billet them and to order the soldiers to behave as badly as they could. Soldiers damaged the houses, ruined furniture and personal possessions, attacked the men and abused the women. One could escape this persecution only by conversion or by fleeing France.

When Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 he claimed to be entitled to do so because there were no more Huguenots in his kingdom and their special privileges were no longer needed.

It is estimated that 40-50,000 Huguenots fled France to England. Others fled to the Netherlands, Switzerland, Brandenburg-Prussia, Ireland and America. It was illegal for Protestants to leave France, and disguise and smuggling were necessary to get across the borders, which were guarded.

There is no record of the de Crespigny family’s emigration or flight apart from a tale of two children being concealed in baskets, but that story seems to have no basis.

Témoignages were documents from a previous congregation endorsing a holder as a member of the Reformed Religion so that they could be received into a new congregation.The document gives an indication of when the family arrived and from where.The de Crespigny family presented their témoignages credentials at various times. Claude, his wife and four children: Pierre, Suzanne, Renee and Jeanne, registered their témoignages on 30 June 1687 at the Savoy Church in the West End of London. The two elder daughters Marguerite/ Margaret and Marie/Mary were already married and travelled separately.

Thomas and Gabriel had travelled to England earlier aged 12; Thomas arrived in London in 1676 and  Gabriel arrived in London in 1678. The two boys were probably sent to England for their education: although Protestant schools were guaranteed under the Edict of Nantes there were moves to forbid certain subjects from being taught in those schools.

Marie had a sister Judith who married Antoine de Pierrepont. It seems likely that the Pierrepont family who migrated successfully to London helped the de Crespigny family.

Claude and Marie died in London and are buried at Marylebone. Their gravestone indicates that they were refugees from France.

Claude died on 10 April 1695. His eldest son Pierre, then 42, held a position of respect among the French Protestant community in London; he never married. Thomas and Gabriel were both army officers in the English army on service in the Netherlands. Thomas was a Captain-Lieutenant in Colonel Cunningham’s Regiment of Scots Dragoons and Gabriel was a Lieutenant in the First Foot Guards.

In the first years of the eighteenth century Marie and her daughter Renee were listed as gentlefolk in receipt of pensions from the Queen’s Bounty for French Protestants. In 1708, the year Marie died, they were living at 37 Wardour Street, and the amount of the pension was £18.

Further reading