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10 April 2021

The Huguenots

Tag(s): History, Languages & Culture
 I was recently elected as a fellow of The Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland. My eight times great grandfather Baron d’Esdaile fled France to avoid persecution by Louis XIV when the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685. Baron d’Esdaile was a French Protestant who fled from his native land along with many others of his faith after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 made Protestantism illegal there. It is said that his property was confiscated, and he was forced to live and die in obscurity.

The Edict aimed primarily to end the long-running destructive French Wars of Religion. Henry IV also had personal reasons for supporting the Edict. Prior to assuming the throne in 1589 he had espoused Protestantism and remained sympathetic to the Protestant cause: he had converted to Catholicism in 1589 only in order to secure his position as king, supposedly saying “Paris is well worth a Mass”. The Edict largely succeeded in restoring peace and internal unity to France, though it pleased neither party: Catholics rejected the apparent recognition of Protestantism as a permanent element in French society and still hoped to enforce religious uniformity, while Protestants aspired to parity with Catholics. The Edict of Nantes was a complicated document including 56 articles dealing with Protestant rights and obligations. For example, the French state guaranteed protection of French Protestants travelling abroad from the Inquisition. “This crucifies me”, protested Pope Clement VIII, upon hearing of the Edict. Further supplements to the Edict granted the Protestants safe havens (places de sûreté), which were strongholds such as La Rochelle, which the king supported financially, although a further 140 emergency forts (places de refuge) were maintained at the Huguenots’ own expense. Such an act of toleration was unusual in Western Europe, where standard practice forced subjects to follow the religion of their ruler - the application of the principle of cuius regio, eius religio.

While it granted certain privileges to Huguenots, the Edict reaffirmed Catholicism as the established religion of France. The authorities limited Protestant freedom of worship to specified geographic areas. Henry IV was assassinated in 1610 by a Catholic fanatic and succeeded by his nine-year old son Louis XIII who later in 1629 withdrew some of the privileges following the Siege of La Rochelle, in which Cardinal Richelieu blockaded the city for fourteen months.

In October 1685, Louis XIV, the grandson of Henry IV, renounced the Edict to declare Protestantism illegal with the Edict of Fontainebleau. This act, commonly called ‘the revocation of the Edict of Nantes’, had very damaging results for France. While the Wars of Religion did not reignite, intense persecution of Protestants took place. All Protestant ministers were given two weeks to leave the country unless they converted to Catholicism and all other Protestants were prohibited from leaving the country. In spite of the prohibition, the persecution, including many examples of torture, caused as many as 400,000 to flee France at risk of their lives. Most moved to England, Ireland, Prussia, the Dutch Republic, Switzerland, South Africa and the new French colonies in North America. This exodus deprived France of many of its most skilled and industrious individuals, some of whom thenceforward aided France’s rivals in the Netherlands and in England. Revocation of the Edict also further damaged the perception of Louis XIV abroad, making the Protestant nations bordering France even more hostile to his regime. Upon the revocation of the Edict, Frederick Wilhelm issued the Edict of Potsdam, which encouraged Protestants to come to Brandenburg.

Not much is known about what Baron D’Esdaile did upon arriving in England though I do have a copy of a family tree with the Baron at the head and my generation of the family at the foot. But we do know that the Baron’s son Peter, known as Peter Esdaile without the d’, became a successful businessman.

He lived at the heart of a Huguenot community in Norton Folgate, near Spitalfields and he developed his growing girdler’s business in his workshop and manufactory where he and his employees made various leather girdles and accoutrements for the Marines. He had a lucrative contract with the Admiralty which made him a wealthy man by the time of his death in 1758. His son James, probably born in 1714, was apprenticed in 1730 with indentures that meant that he could not “contract matrimony” within his seven-year term. In 1738, 12 months after receiving his Freedom, he married Elizabeth Pate, the 22-year-old eldest daughter of William Pate of St Margaret’s, Westminster. He was described as a girdler, not a cooper, the trade in which he had just qualified, so it is likely that he was already in business with his father. The couple had three healthy offspring while two died in infancy but sadly Elizabeth died in 1747 aged just 31.  James Esdaile was now left without a mother to his three young children but after 18 months he married Mary Mayor who was just 17, half his age. Mary was an heiress, bringing with her a substantial dowry, including the right to inherit the 65 acre New Place estate in Upminster, Essex.  Mary was the daughter of John Mayor, Citizen and Loriner of London. After losing an infant daughter Mary gave birth to eight healthy children in the next sixteen years and their marriage was to last until her death in 1792, aged 60.

James Esdaile was certainly in partnership with his father by April 1748 when the business was described in a contract with the Admiralty as Peter Esdaile and Son. This required them to supply 1,000 sets of leather accoutrements for the Marines to specified quality standards in just 10 days; another Admiralty contract in 1755 was for slings and belts. On Sarah Mayor’s death in July 1757, Mary Esdaile inherited New Place and other estates, and a year later in June 1758 James’ father Peter Esdaile died, with his son the principal beneficiary of his substantial estate.

The Esdailes split their time between their London house where James Esdaile continued to run a profitable business, and their new country estate in Upminster, particularly after New Place was completely built in the early 1770s. Esdaile was now at the height of his business career and from 1766 onwards came to prominence in the City of London. He was elected as the Alderman of Cripplegate Ward in February 1766 and also became Master of the Coopers’ Company. Also, in 1766 he was knighted by the king. In 1767 he was elected Sheriff of London and in 1777 he achieved the highest civic honour, when he was elected as Lord Mayor of London.
One of his daughters Louisa married Benjamin Hammett, (later Sir Benjamin Hammet MP), a London merchant, who in 1781 joined his father-in-law James Esdaile and brother-in-law William Esdaile, James’s son, to found Esdaile, Hammett, Esdaile Bank in Birchin Lane, moving to Lombard Street the following year.

In 1792 the business amalgamated with Messrs. Smith, Wright & Gray of 21 Lombard St, and became styled Sir James Esdaile, Esdaile, Hammett, Esdaile and Hammett. In the following years there were a few changes among the junior partners who were apparently the sons of the senior partners. In 1833, the business was styled Sir James Esdaile, Esdaile, Grenfell, Thomas and Co. In 1837, the bank suspended payment but was able to pay all its creditors by means of a loan of £5000 advanced by all the principal bankers in the city. The loan was also later repaid in full.

As the bank ceased payment in 1837, it cannot be directly linked to the present-day business, but since the final cheque was drawn on behalf of Francis Cobb and Son of Margate, there is an indirect link to Lloyds Bank.

Sir James Esdaile died in 1793 and was buried in the Parish Church at Upminster.[i] His son, Peter, became the next Lord of the Manor, followed by another son, James. William became an eminent banker and collector of coins, prints, china and other ephemera. Joseph pursued a military career and became a friend of the Prince Regent. The estate which Sir James built up at one time to over 3000 acres was gradually broken up and sold off from 1819 onwards, the last remaining property being “The Bull” which was sold in 1866.

When I decided to join a ward club in 2014, I chose Cripplegate Ward because of my family connection[ii]. One of the members in his year as Master arranged an event at Coopers’ Hall where the Hall’s archivist showed us around and explained some of the history of the Hall. On the wall of the Court Room hung a copy of a portrait of Sir James Esdaile by Sir Joshua Reynolds. I explained to the archivist that he was an ancestor of mine and the archivist later corresponded with me about Sir James. Upstairs in the dining room at a quite randomly designed table plan I found myself sitting below a second portrait of Sir James. There seemed to be a touch of destiny. Later this same Master told me about his connections with Huguenots and more recently told me about his membership of the Huguenot Society which I am now pleased to have joined. The Society in normal times runs an active programme of events, has a library housed at the National Archives in Kew, has links with the Huguenot Museum and international links with other societies in several countries with a Huguenot tradition.  I look forward to finding out more about Huguenots in general and my own family in particular. While I have described what I know about events in the 18th and early 19th century I have no knowledge at all other than the family tree of the developments in the 19th and early 20th centuries. My mother’s name was Joan Esdaile Wyatt, her sister was Sheila Esdaile Wyatt, their father was John Esdaile Wyatt, and their grandfather was Charles Esdaile Wyatt.

[i] My wife and I have visited the church where there is a prominent memorial tablet to Sir James Esdaile and
his wife Mary.
[ii] I was elected Master of Cripplegate Ward Club last month.

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