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His ancestors

A very prestigious family
« At last I am in Tocqueville, in my family's dilapidated old house. One league from here lies the port where William embarked for his conquest of England. I am surrounded by Normans whose names figure in the list of conquerors. I must confess that all this tickles my heart in its vulnerable pride. »
(Letter to Gustave de Beaumont,
October 5, 1828)

The Clérel family was a ancient family of Norman descent, who had lived in the Cotentin since the 14th century, and whose nobility could be traced back to feudal times. Alexis de Tocqueville had even confided to Beaumont that he liked to recall that one of his ancestors, one Guillaime Clarel, had fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. He also seemed touched to find, in the family archives, the history of his ancestors mingled with that of the population of Tocqueville for nearly four centuries, to such a point that the seigneurs of Tocqueville often found themselves named as godfathers to children in the village. "There is a certain charm to be found in walking the ground where one's ancestors lived, in the midst of people whose varied origins thus mingled with our own," he wrote to his nephew, in an attempt to explain the ancestral affection he had for the Chateau de Tocqueville. Indeed, the Clérel family could pride itself on having maintained, at least up until the French Revolution, this very strong connection with the inhabitants of Tocqueville, like Alexis's grandmother, Catherine-Antoinette de Damas-Crux who, "widowed at an early age", had lived alone in Chateau de Tocqueville and who was remembered fondly in the village. Her marriage to a Clérel de Tocqueville had been the sign of the rapid social ascension that the family had experienced during the 18th century, thanks to the prestigious social alliances it had successfully managed.

« M. de Malesherbes was goodness and simplicity itself. . So he lived with nature, far from the passions that agitate the world. Only the tranquil occupation that this afforded him could distract him from the painful impression that the king's trial and tragic end had made on him. »
(Memoirs, Hervé de Tocqueville)

it was thus that Alexis's grandfather had wed a daughter of the Damas-Crux family, and that one of his great uncles had married into the Faudoas clan. And finally, it was his father Hervé de Tocqueville, who had led the Clérel family into the exclusive circle of one of the greatest French families, through his alliance with la grande robe. Alexis's mother was a Le Peletier, and the granddaughter of Lamoignon de Malesherbes. When Hervé de Tocqueville met his future in-laws at Malesherbes on January 30, 1793, a few weeks before his wedding, he was penetrating the inner world of some of the highest representatives of French nobility. The principal among them, Guillaume Lamoignon de Malesherbes his fiancée's grandfather and the defender of Louis XVI, welcomed the newcomer as if he were already "his son". In his Mémories, Hervé de Tocqueville did not hide the admiration he felt in the presence of this "venerable old man", whom Alexis also took as a role model. The entourage of the king's former minister included his son, Louis Le Peletier de Rosanbo, the former président à mortier to the Paris Parliament - whose soul, Hervé de Tocqueville thought, "had been profoundly affected by the crimes of the revolution" -, his daughter, Marguerite de Lamoignon, his three granddaughters and his grandson, who was only seventeen at the time. With the exception of Louis, the youngest, there was only Louise-Madeleine the future mother of Alexis, left to be married, since her elder sister had married Jean-Baptiste de Jean-Baptiste de Chateaubriand the elder brother of vicount François-René, and her younger sister had wed her first cousin, Monsieur Le Peletier d'Aunay, on November 6, 1792.

Attend the trial
of Louis XVI

Portrait of Chrétien-Guillaume Lamoignon de Malesherbes

Portrait of Chrétien-Guillaume Lamoignon de Malesherbes © BNF

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
© RMN/Bulloz

Defense speech by M. de Malesherbes

Defense speech by
M. de Malesherbes
© AD Manche/A. Poirier


Duty to the Bourbons

Duty to the Bourbons
© AD Manche/A. Poirier

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