Wednesday, March 7, 2018

I distrust the miller

‘I was at the mill and had 2 measures of wheat ground in my presence to see the result, because I distrust the miller.’ This is from the rich and colourful diary of Gilles de Gouberville, a squire in 16th century northern France who died 430 years ago today. He would have been long forgotten but for his diary which lay undiscovered for more than three centuries. Since its first publication in the 1870s, de Gouberville’s journal has been much studied by historians of old (pre-revolutionary) France. There have been no translations into English, but Katherine Fedden, an American novelist and translator, used it as the basis for her Manor Life in Old France.

Gilles Picot was born in 1521, the eldest son in a large family. His father was squire of Gouberville and Le Mesnil-au-Val, estates in the Cotentin (or Cherbourg) Peninsula of Normandy. Gilles took over administration of the estates in 1542, and, when his father died two years later, he became the squire. He never married, but he headed a household of more than a dozen, including servants, which was run domestically by his sister Guillemette, one of his father’s five illegitimate children. He died on 7 March 1578.

There is little further general information about Gilles de Gouberville - see Wikipedia or the website established by Le Comité Gilles de Gouberville - but there is a wealth of detail about his daily life for 13 years (1549-1562) thanks to surviving diary manuscripts. Journals for 1553-1562 were found by Abbé Tollemer in 1867, and published in the early 1870s as Journal Manuscrit d’un Sire de Gouberville et du Mesnil-au-Var, and then more simply as Le Journal du Sire de Gouberville - these editions (in French) can be read freely online at Gallica or at Internet Archive (bizarrely in two parts separated mid-sentence - see part one, two). A few years later, further journals were found and published as Journal de Gilles de Gouberville pour les années 1549, 1550, 1551, 1552. This is also available to read at Internet Archive. The journal has its own Wikimanche file (in French) with an excellent bibliography.

Although there has never been any English translation of de Gouberville’s journals, much about them, along with some quotes, can be found at the excellent World of Gilles de Gouberville website put together by Le Comité Gilles de Gouberville (which is also preparing a revised edition of the journal to publish online). It says: ‘The interest of his daily recordings lies in the meticulous description of his day-to-day life. His Journal allows us to study various aspects of the old regime (pre-revolutionary France) such as working in the fields, village sociability or the rural mentality in the Cotentin of the 16th century. Ever since it was first published at the end of the 19th century, Gille de Gouberville’s Journal has constantly been studied by historians who consider this “book of reason” as the most complete of its kind.’

An abundant selection of extracts from the journal translated into English can be found in Katherine Fedden’s Manor Life in Old France (Columbia University Press, 1933 - available at Internet Archive). Indeed, Fedden, an American novelist who went to live in France, has sub-titled her book From the Journal of the Sire de Gouberville for the Years 1549-1562. In her introduction she gives a brief description of the journal: ‘It belongs in the category of what are known in France as livres de raison; daybook best expresses it in English. It is something more than a journal, more than a book of accounts, a combination of the two; a family register in which the head of the house carefully noted the investment of his substance, the dates and details of all bargains and contracts, the facts of births, marriages and deaths, as well as the trivial events of the daily round. Such a family register is a complete evocation of a past day. Here are reflected the joys and sorrows of a household; here, too, is a faithful record of the material side of life.’

Fedden divides up her social history into topics - such as friend and neighbours, money and food, sport and recreation, wine and cider, hunting, sowing and reaping, etc. - and liberally sprinkles her text with translations of journal extracts, most of them usefully dated. However, the extracts are all snipped to suit the purpose of her chapter, and so it is not possible - at least without reference to the French original - to get a feel for the flow of content in the diary or the diarist’s daily routines across a week or month for example. Here, though, are several extracts as found in Fedden’s book (re-arranged into chronological order).

14 January 1552
‘Tonight, about eleven o’clock, I sent Francois Doisnard to my cousin de Brillevast and to Captain du Téil, with letters asking them to come to our aid for the choule [ball game] at Saint-Mor, tomorrow. I asked them to send me an answer before mass in the morning.’

15 January 1552
‘Saint Mor’s Day - Before I was up, Quinéville Groult and Ozouville, soldiers from the fort at Omonville, arrived here coming from Valognes. We breakfasted all together, then went to Saint-Mor, they, Cantepye, Symonnet, Moisson, Lajoye, Gaultier Birette and several others. We arrived there while they were saying mass, which said, Maitre Robert Potet threw the ball and the game went on till an hour before sunset and led us as far as Bretteville, where Gratian Cabart got it and won. In my party were my cousin de Raffoville, my cousin de Brillevast, Maître Guillaume Vasrel, de Reville, Captain Téil, Nicolas Gohel, Bouffart d’Orglandes and several others; and among our adversaries, Leparc, Arteney, Guillaume Cabart and their band as well as a few from Cherbourg. On our way back Cantepye stopped to supper with Jacques Cabart, because he had been into the sea after the ball and was very wet and changed his clothes at Rouxel’s at Bretteville. Passing by Cosmes du Bosc’s - Symonnet, Le Leurron, Moisson, Lajoye who led my horse, Nicolas Drouet, Jehan Groult, Lorimier and others - we stopped and had 4 pots of very good cider, 4 sols. It was dark when we got here.’

25 January 1553
‘Before I got up, Thomas Drouet came to invite me to his wife’s relevallies. I did not go, as I was expecting several people to dinner. After supper, Cantepye, Symonnet and Jehan Drouet, went there to porter le momon and stayed till midnight and Maître François was so drunk that he was covered with mud when he returned. Francois Drouet and Jehan Drouet put him to bed. Gaultier Birette had supper there and came back very gay. Jehan Groult remained, as he had drunk so much that he could neither speak nor walk. I went the next day to Drouet’s, as Jehan Groult was still there.’

14 April 1553
‘Symonnet and Morisseau went shooting and got a hare. It was dark when they returned and they said that they had heard Helquin the Huntsman in the old wood.’

19 July 1553
‘After holding court, I went to the Cordeliers, Cantepye with me, to get some pinks to make the Eau de Damas. Maistre Jehan Poulain gave me some calamus aromaticus (yellow iris) and Florentine iris (white iris) to add to the water.’

16 January 1554
‘Sent Lajoye to Tocqueville to fetch Martin Birette to choose millstones for my mill at Mesnil.’

24 September 1554
‘As some of my people were returning from La Boussaye, they found a young deer dead in the bushes. They had lost their way and were off the road. It had been killed yesterday by a crossbow. It was a four-year-old.’

16 November 1554
‘I was at the mill and had 2 measures of wheat ground in my presence to see the result, because I distrust the miller.’

9 December 1554
‘The boys here going in the evening to the Vallee du Grand Jardin had a greyhound with them, which took a young boar. When it was brought in and dried, I weighed it - a little more than 30 pounds.’

1 July 1555
‘Today, began to make the rose water and the pommade.’

4 October 1555
‘Symonnet took to the tax receiver a quarter of venison of a boar, which the boys took with the greyhounds in the big garden where it came to eat the apples.’

11 February 1556
’Symonnet went to the house of my godson de Raffoville and brought me the news that he is back from sea, where he has been for a month, and that he has taken prizes valued at 200,000 ducats and that he will be here to see me tomorrow.’

22 August 1558
‘As I was with my mowers, Chandeleur’s wife passed, coming here. She told me of the sorrow and trouble she had had over the body of her husband; she spent the night beside him where he fell, because the neighbors did not dare help her through fear of Le Parmentier and his son.’

11 December 1559
‘Sent 5 measures of barley and 2 of wheat to the mill and was at the mill until all the grain was ground.’

28 December 1560
‘Arnould went to Valognes to fetch the skins to make the boots for Symonnet and me. He brought back with him a young man named Nicollas from Lagarde, the shoemaker, to cut out the boots from the skins.

29 December 1560
‘Pinchon to Valognes to take the boots, the mules and the slippers that Lagarde’s man cut out yesterday.’

30 December 1560
‘[Pinchon] to take the Indian leather to make the soles of my boots, mules and slippers. . . . Sunday, jour des Rois, before I went to mass, servants arrived from Lagarde at Valognes, bringing me my boots, mules and slippers made from the leather I had given them. For red leather for the tops of my boots and for cork for the mules and slippers and for the making: 28 sols and 5 sols that I gave them for wine.’

10 July 1561
‘I bought from Grandin, lace for my shirts, and soap. . . .

10 August 1561
‘After lunch at Coutances, I counted what I had spent. I bought a comb, 2 sols; a pair of gloves, 12 sols. . .’

The Diary Junction

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