14 November 2015

Family fortunes and misfortunes and
French links with the world of Islam

Château d’Anglure ... it gave Joseph Comerford an estate and a title

Patrick Comerford

The attacks throughout Paris last night [14 November 2015] must leave us all feeling vulnerable throughout Europe. This evening we are all Parisians, we are all French.

Perhaps the most vulnerable people in the immediate aftermath are the migrants and refugees fleeing ISIS and its violence in the Middle East, and who are now likely to become the victims yet again because of xenophobic and Islamophobic responses to these ghastly events.

Of course there are many close Irish cultural associations with France: James Joyce lived in exile in Paris for some years, and Ulysses wax first published in Paris; both Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett are buried in France; and WB Yeats died in France and was first buried there.

Any list would be incomplete and could perhaps even be endless.

Of course, many Comerfords moved to France in the 17th century and throughout the 18th century as Wild Geese, enlisting as soldiers or finding commissions in Irish regiments in French armies. But I was reminded late this afternoon that two of the Comerford family connections with France are also stories of interesting encounters with Islam.

Patrick Comerford (1586-1652) was the first post-Reformation Roman Catholic Bishop appointed to the Dioceses of Waterford and Lismore (1629-1652). When he was 17 when he left for France to study theology first in Bordeaux. There he was one of the first Irish students at the Irish College in Bordeaux, which had been founded in 1603, and his fellow students included the historian Geoffrey Keating.

While he was a student, Patrick’s brother was captured by Algerian pirates and was held for ransom at Mogador (Essaouira) on the Barbary Coast, now the western coast of Morocco. In the 17th century, Moorish corsairs frequently raided the Irish coasts and more than one Waterford-bound ship was captured and their crews and passengers sold into slavery or held for ransom.

Patrick set out at to secure his brother’s release, with funds provided by his friends in Waterford and by the Trinitarian Order for the redemption of captives. Alas, the happiness of these brothers was short-lived. Some accounts say the ransomed brother died as a result of the hardships endured in captivity, while others say he died of the plague immediately on landing in Spain. In any event, he survived his release only a very short time, and was buried in Spain. Patrick then used the ransom he had raised to procure the release of 100 slaves held by the Moors.

Patrick Comerford died in Nantes on 10 March 1652, aged 66. He was buried in the episcopal vault by the high altar in Nantes Cathedral with full episcopal honours.

The plaque erected by Joseph Comerford in the Comberford Chapel in the North Transept of Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Later, Joseph Comerford the Comerford family become associated with the village of Anglure in France and another story of Islam, captivity, ransom and release when Joseph Comerford bought the village and château of Anglure, and with them he acquired the title of Marquis d’Anglure.

Anglure is a village about 130 km east of Parisand about 30 km north of Troyes. It is in the Champagne-Ardenne area, and today has a population of about 800 people. The village and château stand at a small islet on a bend on the River Aube, and are in the Départment of Marne in the province of Champagne.

Before Joseph Comerford acquired the château and title of Anglure in the early 18th century, three families were associated with the manor: d’Anglure, de Braux d’Anglure, and Franc d’Anglure. Joseph’s French title was not one of nobility but was acquired by purchase. He tried to bolster his use of the title and his claims to descent from the Comberford family of Comberford, Staffordshire, by erecting a memorial in Saint Catherine’s Chapel or the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, shortly before his death in 1725.

The Anglure coat-of-arms retells the legend of Saladin’s compassion

The Château d’Anglure brought with it a connection with Muslims in the Middle East that dates back to the early Middle Ages and the Crusades, illustrated by the Anglure coat of arms which shows a gold shield decorated with silver hawks’ bells, each hanging over a red crescent.

The arms are unusual in heraldry for the use of silver on gold and the combination of hawks’ bells and red crescents do not occur elsewhere in French heraldry. Symbolically, the hawk’s bell is said to be an emblem of pilgrims, while the red crescents represent a legend associated with the family and dating from the Crusades.

During the Crusades, a seigneur d’Anglure, Ogier de Saint-Chéron, also known as Jean d’Anglure, was among captured by Saladin’s troops and held to ransom. “If I may but visit my château on the Aube,” he said to the sultan, “I will return with the money.”

Saladin granted his request. He arrived back in Anglure, bearded, dishevelled and unrecognisable by the trials of battle, captivity and the journey home. Alas, he found little money left in the family coffers. Sad and empty-handed but honour bound, he returned to the sultan, admitting: “I have no money. I have only my word. Me voici!”

Pleased with such integrity and impressed by his bravery, Saladin then gave Ogier d’Anglure his freedom, but on three conditions: that the heirs and descendants of the seigneurs d’Anglure would always bear the name of Saladin; that he coat of arms of Anglure would always bear the crescent of Islam; and that the baron would build two mosques in his home country.

Although genealogists tend to dismiss this romantic story, the name Saladin was handed on throughout the centuries in the Anglure family, and the story is said to have inspired Voltaire’s play Zaire.

The name Saladin continued to borne by generations of male members of the Anglure family. The heraldic arms of the family are: D’or semé de grelots d’argt soutenus chacun par un croissant de gue, “a field of gold sown with silver hawks’ bells, each supported by a red crescent.”

It is said two mosques were also built in France. One is said to be represented by a tower, topped with an Eastern cupola as its roof, and attached to the church in the neighbouring village of Clesles, and known as La Tour aux Fromages because at one time the cupola was used as a drying loft for the newly-made Camembert and other soft cheeses of the district. The other mosque is said to have been built at Bourlemont in the Ardennes.

However, archaeologists and historians question whether either of these buildings was ever intended as a mosque, and like the story of Ogier d’Anglure, these are no more than romantic legends.

Château d’Anglure in 1863... the French home of Joseph Comerford

Joseph Comerford was buried in the chapel at Château d’Anglure under the title of Baron d’Anglure et Dangermore (sic). He was anxious to hand on the Anglure connections to the male members of the Comerford family. He designated his brother Luc (Luke) Comerford as his heir, and after that the descendants of his cousin John Comerford of Waterford and Barcelona. On 28 November 1725, Joseph gave “the grounds and seigniories of Mesnil and Granges-sur-Aube” to his nephew, Louis-Luc de Comerford.

Joseph Comerford’s use of the Anglure title might have been inherited by any of his designated heirs male sharing his line of descent, with the younger sons of any Marquis d’Anglure entitled to call themselves count.

Luke Comerford died in 1728, a year before his brother Joseph, and Luke’s eldest son, Captain Louis-Luc Comerford of Sézanne, north of Anglure, became Seigneur d’Anglure as heir to his uncle Joseph. He appears to have sold the Anglure title and estate in the mid-18th century.

According to an advertisement dated 12 June 1752, a quarter of a century after Joseph Comerford’s death, Anglure was associated with the title of a barony from “time out of memory” and with the title of Marquis d’Anglure which was created in 1657. A ruined and impoverished Louis-Luc de Comerford sold his estates, including Anglure, Mesnil and Granges-sur-Aube, and Belle-Assise, to Jean de Cabanel and retired to Sézanne, north of Anglure, where he lived in extreme poverty.

After the death of Louis-Luc Comerford, his next brother, Captain Pierre-Edouard Comerford, used the title of Baron Dangermore, but he made no pretensions to the Anglure titles. He had an only daughter who married the Count d’Armanville.

In addition, Pierre-Edouard Comerford and Marie-Bernadine Devienne had two illegitimate sons, Jean-Pierre-Edouard Comerford, who was baptised in Saint-Etienne de Lille in 1728, and Edouard-Bernard Comerford, who was baptised in Saint-Etienne de Lille in 1730. However, when he died in 1782, the elder Pierre-Edouard Comerford was without a legitimate male son and heir, and the use of the “Dangermore” title passed to his nephew, Captain Alexandre-Bonaventure Comerford (1729-post 1789).

Alexandre-Bonaventure Comerford was baptised at Saint-Saveur de Lille in 1729. In 1752, he married Antoinette Lorgnier in Dunkerque (Dunkirk) and they had two sons, Alexandre-Dominique-Joseph Comerford (1754-1755) and Joseph-Alexandre-Antoine Comerford, who was born in 1757.

Alexandre-Bonaventure Comerford was a Knight of Saint Louis, fought at the Battle of Lawfeld, and attended the assembly of nobles in Douai in 1789. This branch of the Comerford family survived into the early 19th century, but died out in 1813 with the death of Alexander-Bonaventure Comerford’s second son, Captain Joseph-Alexandre-Antoine Comerford (1757-1813). This Joseph Comerford was a French veteran of the American War of Independence, and was twice married but had no children.

Although the possibility exists, it is highly unlikely that any other male descendant of the Comerford family is going to come forward to claim the secondary title of “Baron d’Anglure” or the lesser but more accessible designation of “d’Anglure” after the family name.

Meanwhile, the Saladin name remains in the Anglure family. Bernard Saladin d’Anglure is a French-born Canadian anthropologist and ethnographer. His work is primarily concerned with the Inuit of Northern Canada, especially practices of shamanism and conceptions of gender.

But the story of Anglure beings another interesting and positive connection to the Comerford family with France and the Islamic world.

In search of Eric Gill’s stonework in
the colleges and streets of Cambridge

Eric Gill’s bold relief lettering carved in the Ham Hill stone above the front entrance to Westcott House in Jesus Lane, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Eric Gill (1882-1940) has been described as the colossus of inter-war drawing, printmaking, stone-carving and lettering design. He worked as a calligrapher, letter-cutter and monumental mason, and later he became a well-known sculptor and letter carver, and gives his name to the typeface Gill Sans.

Earlier this week [11 November 2015], I was writing about Gill and his War Memorial in Trumpington, a village on the edges of Cambridge. Now, each day over the past three days or so, I have passed under Gill’s bold relief lettering in the Ham Hill stone of the front entrance to Westcott House in Jesus Lane. I have been have been there this week at a residential meeting of the trustees of Us, the Anglican mission agency formerly known as USPG (the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel).

Cambridge has been described as a feast of the stone-cut lettering and carving from Gill’s chisel of Gill. During the week, I have heard about the location a number of his other works in Cambridge, and so I went in search of some of them.

Eric Gill’s plaque commemorating Henry Arthur Morgan in the Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Across the road from Westcott House on Jesus Lane, there are at least two works by Eric Gill in Jesus College.

One is a fine plaque in the north wall of the chancel in the chapel commemorating the Revd Dr Henry Arthur Morgan, a former student, fellow, tutor (1863-1885) and then Master of Jesus College (1885-1912), who died in 1912.

Morgan’s energy and enterprise were primarily responsible for the 19th century transformation of Jesus College. He was quick to recognise the growing demand for university education among the expanding Victorian professional and middle classes. Both Cambridge and Oxford were slow and reluctant in responding by widening their curriculum and allowing more teaching posts to be held by married lay academics rather than celibate Anglican priests.

Morgan made the best of the opportunities presented by the spacious grounds of Jesus College and its increasing wealth from railway developments and the way Cambridge was spreading into the surrounding that had been inherited by Jesus College.

By 1871, Morgan had quadrupled the number of students, and doubled the accommodation available for them. By 1881 there were seven times as many students as there had been 20 years earlier, many attracted by Jesus College’s sporting reputation and fame.

Eric Gill’s coat-of-arms of Bishop Leonard White-Thomson in Jesus College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Behind the chapel, Cloister Court leads into Chapel Court, where Gill carved over the Angel Archway the strikingly sensual coat-of-arms of Leonard White-Thomson (1863-1933), who as Bishop of Ely (1924-1933) was the Visitor of Jesus College.

This work, Deus Providebit, is named after the bishop’s motto carved with Gill’s unmistakable lettering, and dates from 1930, three years before Bishop White-Thomson died. Appropriately, the bishop’s arms are supported by two angels, but their naked posture now draws attention to the questions raised in recent years about Gill’s lifestyle.

Eric Gill’s coat-of-arms of Bishop John Fisher in Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

A short walk away, in Saint John’s College, the coat of arms of Bishop John Fisher forms the keystone of the archway that leads from Chapel Court into North Court. They were designed and carved by Eric Gill, and feature prominently in Sir Edward Maufe’s design of Chapel Court, North Court and the Forecourt.

Once again, however, they are supported by two naked angels, whose pubescent bodies should have raised further questions about Gill’s sexual obsessions.

Eric Gill’s carving of the symbol of Saint John on the keystone of the central arch of the Chapel Court cloister in Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Further works by Eric Gill can be seen around the courts of Saint John’s. They include his now slightly-blackened carving of the poison chalice with the serpent, the symbol of Saint John on the keystone of the central arch of the Chapel Court cloister, and the eagle and marguerite carved on the keystone of the central arch leading from the Forecourt.

The eagle represents Saint John the Divine, who gives his name to Saint John’s College, and the daisy or marguerite is an heraldic pun on the name of Lady Margaret Beaufort, the founder of both Saint John’s College and Christ’s College. Bishop John Fisher was her executor, and statues of these founding figure stand on each side of the entrance to the chapel.

Eric Gill’s ‘Crocodile’ on the Mond Building in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Perhaps Gill’s best known work in Cambridge is his Crocodile on the Mond Building, which I reached on Thursday afternoon through the Old Cavendish Arch on Free School Lane, behind Saint Bene’t’s Church and Corpus Christi College. The Crocodile is said to have been the nickname of the physicist Lord Rutherford (1871-1937), who was director of the original Cavendish Laboratory when it stood on this site. Rutherford received the Nobel Prize in 1908 for his work on radioactivity and later became known as the Father of Nuclear Physics.

The preening eye can pick out the initials EG in the jaws of Gill’s Crocodile on the Mond Building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The crocodile was commissioned by the Nobel physicist Pyotr Kapitsa (1894-1984), who worked for over 10 years with Rutherford in the Cavendish Laboratory and was the first director of the Mond Laboratory (1930–1934). Gill seldom signed his work, but looking carefully in the fading twilight at his crocodile on the Mond Laboratory I could see in the bricks as it opens its smiling jaws that it is swallowing a monogram of Gill’s delicately traced initials, EG.

A blackened stone under an oriel window in Downing Street has Gill’s first-ever stone-cut inscription (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Further on, Downing Street leads from Emmanuel College to Pembroke Street. On the facade of the Zoological Laboratory, under an oriel window facing down Tennis Court Road, a blackened stone is carved with Gill’s first-ever stone-cut inscription, dating from 1903.

It is so high and so blackened that it is difficult to read Louis Pasteur’s words: Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits prepares, “Where observation is concerned, chance favours only the prepared mind.”

Louis Pasteur’s words are so blackened that it is difficult to read Gill’s first-ever stone-cut inscription, dating from 1903 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

There are other works by Gill to see in Cambridge. In the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy at Fisher House, there is a fine stone in memory of Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald (1834-1925), the Irish critic, journalist and sculptor, whose work includes the statue of Samuel Johnson in The Strand, London, and the statue of James Boswell to the Market Square in Lichfield.

Fitzgerald was from Dundalk, Co Louth, and the biographer of Charles Dickens. He was buried in Glasnevin, Dublin, following a Funeral Mass in Westminster Cathedral. His bequests included £5,000 to the Cambridge University Catholic Association.

I did not get to see Gill’s memorial, unveiled a year after Fitzgerald’s death, but the inscription in Roman lettering on Hoptonwood reads: In plan; et per petuam memoriam PERCY FITZGERALD, A.D. VIII KAL. DEC. MCMXXV. Defuncti quo legante Reverendissimis autem dominis Archiepiscopo Cardinali IV es tni o nasteriensi Episcopo Northantoniensi Episcopo Pellensi cum Guidone Ellis aclministrantibus pecuniae Amplissimae hujus sodalitatis Catholicae Cantabrigiensium necessitatibus subvenerunt Pro cujus anima requiem qui legis precator.

A circular pond in Newnham College is said to commemorate the benefaction of Henry Sidgwick. And in the garden of a private house in Cambridge some years ago, Eric Marland, the Cambridge-based letter carver, claims to have discovered or rediscovered a supposedly lost Gill ashtray, weighing 60 kg or more – heavy enough to stop it being moved.

Perhaps there are even more works by Gill to find in Cambridge. But I may have to wait until next year before I return and find them.