It’s time to talk about the Huguenots… Part One

Just as we can’t discuss Alec’s (Atkins) family history without involving the fascinating Chinese-Australian line, we can’t really go very far back on June’s (Baker) side before we run into descendants of the Huguenots. In fact, if my deductions are accurate – and that’s a very big ‘if’ at this stage, and may always remain so – June’s 5xgreat-grandfather was one Mathieu Mocquard, born in about 1695 at Lille, Nord Pas-Du-Calais, France. This man was married to a certain Ester Michelle, also of French descent, and they were the parents of at least three children – one of whom was ‘Jean Enry Mocard’, later known as John – or Jonathan – Macord, who was baptised at the French Church in London on 11 December 1721.

Before we go into the implications of the marriage between Mathieu and Ester and the children, grandchildren, etc. who emerged from that union, it’s probably a good idea to take a look at who these people were in the first place, and how they ended up in London at all.

Huguenots were French Protestants, usually members of the Reformed Church of France which in turn owed its origins to adherents of the theologian John Calvin. The origins of the term ‘Huguenot’ itself are disputed, but that isn’t especially relevant to this particular story. What is relevant, however, is that Huguenots in general were despised and persecuted by the Catholic majority in France – perhaps most destructively on the occasion of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 23-24 August 1572, as a result of which up to 5,000 people are believed to have been killed.

As in England and elsewhere at this particular period of history, different rulers had different religious leanings – even when they were members of the same family, like the half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth Tudor – and sought to impose these upon their subjects. Thus a new king could reverse the policy of his predecessor, and this is what appears to have happened with the Edict of Nantes in April 1598, which granted freedom of worship to French Protestants (Huguenots and Lutherans alike). If the French Protestant community relaxed at this news, however, they were to be disillusioned less than a century later when the Edict of Fontainbleau (22 October 1685) was enacted, which revoked the Edict of Nantes and removed their legal protection. The practical outcome of this was that those whose consciences would not allow them to return to the Catholic faith felt obliged to leave France by any means they could – and, because the Huguenots were on the whole hard-working, ingenious and creative people, this exodus has been described as a kind of early brain drain.

Naturally – especially for those who lived near the coast – England, with its restored Protestant monarchy and its thriving links to the New World (itself supposedly a haven of religious freedom), must have seemed like the best place to go. At the very least, being only twenty-one miles away across the Channel, it was probably one of the cheapest to reach. French Protestant Refugees therefore flooded into London, and Mathieu Mocquard was no doubt among them.

Unfortunately it is not possible to make much more than an educated guess about the family’s origins earlier than the birth of Mathieu, and if there is a record of his baptism and his parents’ names anywhere it is no doubt buried in some French archive. (Many of these have vanished over the intervening centuries, though.) However the surname ‘Mocquard’ apparently suggests the trade of moquette-cutting, which would place the family among the ranks of the distinguished artisan silk-workers who were such a major component of the Huguenot refugee community at this time. Many of them gravitated to the Spitalfields area of London, where a house has been converted into a ‘time capsule’ museum portraying how some of the more successful Huguenot refugees lived.

Whether or not Mathieu was a silk weaver – or indeed a moquette cutter – is still unknown. His sons, as far as we are aware, were not – and this perhaps indicates that he was able to get them apprenticeships in other, less overcrowded, lines of business. What London needed then, and what it has always needed and will always need regardless of the era, were builders and coffin-makers. This was how young Jean Enry Mocquard – or John Macord, as he at some stage took to calling himself – chose to earn what turned out to be a very successful living.

But that, as they say, is a story for another time…