Chapter 8

Father’s mother was Emma, sister of Sir John Evans, and she was one of the most handsome, charming and gifted of all her brilliant generation. Her grandmother was Frances de Brissac who was born in 1760, and belonged to the Huguenot branch of the ancient French house of de Cossé-Brissac. There is a legend that our branch of the family is actually the senior, but that, being Protestants, they were obliged to leave the family château and estates on the Loire, and flee to England after the Revocation of the Edict Of Nantes in 1685.

For many years one of my greatest treasures was an engraving, dated 1595, of an ancestor who rejoiced in the gorgeous name of Jean-Paul Timoléon de Cossé, Conte de Brissac, with a string of titles to follow. He was a high nosed arrogant aristocrat of the old school, who never in his life needed to do a hand’s turn of work for himself. The story goes that at last his conscience smote him on this score, and he decided that, by way of self-immolation, he would dispense with the services of his valet to the extent at least of shaving. He would learn to shave himself. This was indeed a penance, and to encourage himself in his noble he was wont to address his reflection each morning thus:

“Timoléon, by the Grace of God thou art a man; by the care of thy parents thou art a gentleman; by the favour of thy King thou art a nobleman - therefore, Timoléon, shave thyself”.

His portrait was left to me, at my earnest request, by my grandmother’s cousin, Jane de Brissac Frederica Phelps, known to all the family as Aunt Janey, who was a magnificent old lady who I came to know intimately and love dearly, towards the end of her long life, and about whom I shall have much to say later on. The loss of that portrait was one of the saddest I had to endure by enemy action in 1944.

The exact connection between our family and the present French holders of the title is now impossible to trace, owing to the ill advised activities of a certain member of the family whose name is lost in merciful oblivion. One rainy afternoon this lady betook herself to the attics to indulge in that feminine pastime known as “having a good turn out”. Much was the rubbish and many were the old papers that she burnt, and eventually she rejoined the bosom of her family at the tea table, exhausted with her labours and redolent of conscious virtue. However a few searching questions revealed the enormity which she had unwittingly perpetrated, and the cry, “You’ve burnt the Family Tree”, has echoed down the generations ever since.

It is known however that the father of Frances de Brissac was named Peter Abraham de Brissac, and that his mother’s name was Judith. Judging by these names it is presumed that they may have introduced a Jewish strain Into the family, and certainly a strikingly handsome type of Semitic features, coupled with a quite remarkable gift for making money, has appeared again and again in various members of the family. The French branch of the family still live at the Château, and recently I quite unexpectedly heard news of them through a friend. Father’s brother, Uncle George, paid them a visit many years ago, and. met with a most friendly reception. He had an old print of the Chateau, and it is one of my still unfulfilled hopes that I may sometime pay a visit there myself, and renew the acquaintance in this generation.

Frances de Brissac married Captain John Dickinson R.N. and among the many family relics which devolved on me, were several pairs of white silk naval stockings, and a number of gold buttons which had belonged to him. I am thankful to say that I presented these, together with a box full of exquisite old de Brissac lace, to the museum to which I presented the old dolls which I have already mentioned, and they thus escaped the destruction of all our other treasures.