Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Ancestral properties, real and virtual

[This post was inspired by an article in the website of Le Figaro,
29 July 2008, by Marie-Christine Tabet.]

We're accustomed to thinking of 82-year-old Valéry Giscard d'Estaing as an aristocratic gentleman from the province of Auvergne, with profound attachments to this mountainous region of central France. So, it was surprising to hear that he was trying to sell the family possessions. Don't get me wrong; I'm not talking about African diamonds. VGE [as he's often called] had merely decided to put the family castle up for sale.

More surprising still: few potential purchasers seem to be interested in this 43-room dwelling and its 32-acre park, acquired by the former president's grandfather in 1933. There's even a rumor going around the region that Giscard might not really be trying to get rid of his property, but that could well be mere wishful thinking of a nostalgic kind, for it's nice that a celebrity should be attached to a local village... and it's often good for business, too.

But why would somebody like Valéry Giscard d'Estaing even think of selling the home of his ancestors? Well, the answer to that question is simple: It all depends on what you mean by ancestors. And that leads us into the domain of genealogy. The chart on the left indicates that the name of the ex-president's great-great-grandfather was Barthélémy Giscard. So, normally, the ex-president should have the same basic name as his paternal grandfather: Valéry Giscard. If this is not the case, it's because Valéry's father Edmond Giscard asked the highest state authorities in 1922 to grant him the privilege of adding d'Estaing to his family name. And they allowed him to do so.

Now, where did the Giscard family of Auvergne find this d'Estaing appendix? Well, the above-mentioned Barthélémy married a woman named Elisabeth de Cousin de La Tour Fondue, and d'Estaing happened to be the surname of his mother-in-law, as indicated here:

And where did this Lucie woman get her surname from? Well, from her father, one would imagine... but the truth of the matter is that we don't know a lot about her. All we know is that there used to be an ancient and celebrated d'Estaing family in a village of the same name down in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. The terminal member of this family was a certain admiral Charles d'Estaing, who fought against the English in the American War of Independence before returning to France, where he was guillotined in 1794.

It would appear that the above-mentioned Lucie was a godchild of this admiral. Was she in fact a genetic relative? I don't know. Be that as it may, since the d'Estaing name and title had become extinct, the ex-president's father was able to acquire the name. Incidentally, this event gave rise to a witticism attributed to the Général de Gaulle. It needs a bit of explaining. In French, an acquired name such as d'Estaing is often referred to as a nom d'emprunt (borrowed name). Well, when Giscard was the treasurer of France, he decided to launch an emprunt national (state loan), which was referred to (as is often the case in France) by the name of its initiator. De Gaulle remarked: "Estaing is a fine name for a loan."

Let's get back to our castles. The village of Estaing in the Aveyron department is still dominated by the ancestral castle of the noble family from whom Giscard's father picked up the d'Estaing name.

Not content to "borrow" merely the d'Estaing name, Valéry and his brother Olivier Giscard d'Estaing decided, in 2005, to purchase this castle! As you can imagine, owning and running a castle is no mean task. With two castles now in the family, it's easy to understand why the former president might be thinking of getting rid of one of them. And it's even easier to guess which of the two edifices is the more prestigious, and worth keeping: the genuine family home in Auvergne purchased by Giscard's father in 1933, or the "borrowed" ancestral castle acquired recently in the village of Estaing.

1 comment:

catherine todd said...

Wish I had the money; I've always wanted to live in a castle in France. Maybe someday I will... when there's a dream (and a will) there's a way? Hope so... Excellent story. Will give me lots to think about all night long. :) smile...