A Historical Presentation given in 2012 by Rodney Gilbert

HISTORY CAPTURED IN 150 year old 1862 PHOTO - The Boursot Family

Claude Boursot

Part 1 : The Past - From Country Lad to Agent and Confidant of the most powerful man in France

Claude Boursot was born on the 27th May, 1769, at Premeaux [Cote-d'Or] at a very troubled time in French History.

At the time of his birth the unpopular Louis XV was absolute monarch of France and Louis XV involved France in the Seven Years War [1756 -1763] as a result of which France lost its Canadian territories, large territories of what later became the U.S.A [Florida, Louisiana, etc.], also most of its Indian and Caribbean Colonies and Senegal. France also ran up a substantial national debt as a result of the war and was in deep economic depression. Almost all the senior jobs in France were reserved for the aristocracy. Both the aristocracy [the so-called First Estate] and the clergy [the so-called Second Estate], who at that time numbered about 150,000, enjoyed exceptional privileges and a very luxurious life style. The rest of the population [the so-called Third Estate] lived a very poor, difficult, and harsh life. They numbered about 27 million.

Just a few days before Claude Boursot's fifth birthday in 1774, Louis XV died. He was succeeded as absolute monarch of France by Louis XVI. The same year Britain sent troops to its American colonies in an attempt to put down the seeds of a possible revolution. By late 1775 it was clear that the American Colonies were going to fight for independence from the British Empire.

In a move motivated purely by a hatred of the English, Louis XVI took the decision to provide a very substantial amount of military equipment to the American Revolutionaries at great financial cost to France which was already in dire financial straights. In early 1776 France spent one million "livres tournois" to buy artillery and munitions for use by the American Revolutionaries. Louis XVI used the advice of Pierre Beaumarchais in this endeavour and this was unfortunate for France. A significant part of this aid consisted in providing the American Revolutionary Forces with large quantities of 'Canon de 12 Gribeauval', a 12-pounder artillery cannon recently developed by the French. The École d'artillerie in Auxonne [Cote-d'Or] was chosen to provide training in this weapon for the Americans with the result that the artillery instructors had to learn English.

During 1787, shortly before his 18th birthday, Claude Boursot entered the officer training program at the École d'artillerie in Auxonne. Normally officers were the preserve of the aristocracy but an artillery officer had to have good knowledge of mathematics and it was a noisy, smelly, dirty, hard job so most of the First Estate gave it a miss. In his second year [1788] one of his junior instructors was 2nd Lt Napoleon Bonaparte [born 15 Aug 1769], a few months younger than Boursot but who had been commissioned two years earlier in Paris. 1788 was a terrible year for France with the country in financial crisis and Louis XVI not been able to raise money largely because the First Estate and the Second Estate were exempt from paying any taxes but they were the people who had all the wealth.

Early 1789, Claude Boursot graduated as a 2nd Lt. and was posted to the nearby La Fère artillery regiment. Unfortunately, he like most of the military, received no salary since the state was bankrupt. Things came to a head on 14th July the next year [1789] with the Storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution. For the next four years until 1793, Claude Boursot spent his time practising and perfecting his skill with his cannon, mostly the 12-pounder Gribeauval, and developing his English by giving instructions to visiting newly independent American artillery officers. This provided him with some income. Over the period of four years he achieved great proficiency in the use of the 12-pounder.

The French Revolution was complicated and convoluted but for our purposes the next point of interest comes when Napoleon Bonaparte was given the job of removing the British from the port of Toulon late in 1793. Napoleon called on his old regiment at Auxonne to do the job.

Two squadrons of this regiment [including Lt Boursot] were sent to Toulon at the request of Col. Napoleon Bonaparte who was Commander of the French forces besieging Toulon which had risen in revolt against the Reign of Terror and were occupied by British troops. He placed the two La Fère squadrons at Point l'Eguillete in order to threaten the British ships in the harbour. When they opened fire both Bonaparte and the British Navy were impressed with their accuracy and the British immediately began to evacuate. A successful assault, during which Bonaparte was wounded in the thigh, led to the recapture of the city and the promotion of Bonaparte to brigadier-general. Bonaparte made the effort to personally talk to and get to know all the artillery officers in action that day. One of the officers was Lt. Claude Boursot and this was the start of a friendship and trusting relationship between Napoleon Bonaparte and Claude Boursot. Napoleon expressed his admiration for the accuracy of the battery commanded by Lt. Boursot.

We need to examine a bit of Napoleon / French Revolution history in order to understand what happens next :

In 1795, Brig-Gen. Bonaparte was serving in Paris when royalists and counter-revolutionaries organized an armed protest against the National Convention on 3 October. Bonaparte was given command of the improvised forces defending the Convention in the Tuileries Palace. He seized artillery pieces with the aid of a young cavalry officer, Joachim Murat, who later became his brother-in-law. He utilized the artillery the following day to repel the attackers. This triumph earned him sudden fame, wealth, and the patronage of the new Directory, particularly that of its leader, Barras. Within weeks he was romantically attached to Barras's former mistress, Josephine de Beauharnais, whom he married on 9 March 1796. As a result of this action Napoleon was put in command of French "Army of Italy".

Napoleon decided at this stage that he only wanted artillery officers on his immediate staff and only those he considered both competent and trustworthy.

It should be born in mind that the said "Army of Italy" was in terrible shape due to lack of funds and wages from a now bankrupt France. The motivation for said "Army of Italy" was plunder, looting and other means of extracting wealth from a relatively rich enemy.

Claude Boursot, now a Capt., was chosen by Napoleon to join his staff. He remained on Napoleon's staff throughout the Italian Campaign.

The Italian Campaign took place during 1796 and 1797. Napoleon drove the Austrians out of Lombardy and defeated the army of the Papal States. Because Pope Pius VI had protested the execution of Louis XVI, France retaliated by annexing two small papal territories. Bonaparte ignored the Directory's order to march on Rome and dethrone the Pope. It was not until the next year that General Berthier captured Rome and took Pius VI prisoner on 20 February. The pope died of illness while in captivity. In early 1797, Bonaparte led his army into Austria and forced that power to sue for peace. The resulting Treaty of Campo Formio gave France control of most of northern Italy, along with the Low Countries and Rhineland, but a secret clause promised Venice to Austria. Bonaparte then marched on Venice and forced its surrender, ending over 1,000 years of independence. Later in 1797, Bonaparte organized many of the French dominated territories in Italy into the Cisalpine Republic.

Napoleon acquired much booty, loot and plunder during the Italian campaign and this was sent back to his secret holding depot in France in booty caravans.

In 1797 after the surrender of Venice one such caravan was making its way back to France under the joint command of Commandant Claude Boursot and another officer. The escort consisted of a detail of a small company of dragoons and some artillery pieces. They were ambushed close to the French border by armed bandits but Commandant Boursot managed to open fire with an artillery piece loaded with grapeshot and this decimated the attacking bandits who then withdrew. However all the other officers and most of the men were killed in the battle. Boursot was badly wounded/injured but nevertheless managed to get the caravan back to Napoleon's depot in France without the loss of any of its contents.

The nature of Boursot's injuries was that he was never again able to mount a horse unaided. Napoleon trusted him too much to have him retired from his army so he was given the job as one of Napoleon's intelligence chiefs.

We move forward two years to 9 Nov 1799 when a coup d'état occurred by which General Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the French Directory, replacing it with the French Consulate. An army contractor named Collot advanced two million francs to finance the coup. Loyal staff of Napoleon including Boursot arranged the negotiations with Collot. There were troops conveniently deployed around Paris according to a master plan devised by Napoleon's staff. The plan was, first, to persuade the Directors to resign, then, second, to get the Council of Ancients and the Council of Five Hundred (the upper and lower houses of the legislature) to appoint a pliant commission that would draw up a new constitution to the plotters' specifications. Grenadiers under the command of General Murat marched into the Orangerie and dispersed the Council. This was, effectively the end of the Directory.

Late in 1801, Napoleon [now First Consul of France] decided to reward those who had been loyal to him with High Office to those were still able, and sinecures to those who had been disabled. Boursot was somewhat disabled so he was promised a permanent sinecure as Archivist of Calais after a spell as secretary and, separately intelligence officer. In consideration of his loyalty to Bonaparte, Boursot's share of the booty from Italy was generous. In 1802 he was also given a temporary job as chief intelligence officer reporting to the commander of the 16th Military Division as well as secretary to the Archivist. His remuneration for his two posts in Calais was very good.

Part 2 : The Past - Oh No Not Calais - Yes France needs you !!

The war between the British and the French came to an end with the Treaty of Amiens 25 March 1802. Neither party expected the treaty to hold but, for the moment, hostilities ended. Bonaparte was very worried about a possible British attack via Calais and wanted an exceptional agent permanently stationed there. He chose Commandant Claude Boursot, partly because he had a good grasp of English, had experienced the English mentality [from his days instructing Americans], was completely trustworthy and could be relied upon to do the job. Also partly as a reward for previous good service. His front was as sectetary to the Archivist and it was agreed that when his intelligence services were no longer required he would become the Archivist.

It is nearly impossible to compare remunerations from centuries ago with today - all that can be said is that his payment as intellegence officer from the military exceeded that of a top physician [doctor] in Paris.

Calais itself must have been quite a shock for Boursot but he settled down and married his betrothed and in 1804 had his first child Adolphe Pierre Claude Boursot. Things went very badly wrong for Calais when Bonaparte introduced the Continental System on 21 Nov. 1806 and all shipboard trade ceased.

The Continental System destroyed Calais commercially and economically. From late 1806 onwards life became progressively more miserable for the people of Calais and by 1811 people were literally starving to death. It must have been very unpleasant for Boursot; however he was financially very secure.

On the 10th August 1811, Boursot resigned as intelligence officer for Napoleon Bonaparte and accordingly became the Archivist for Calais. He had a growing family with several more children.

In 1814 Bonaparte was ousted and The Continental System ended but not much trade or shipping returned to Calais. Bonaparte had a second coming in 1815 but was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. One of the more curious tasks that fell to Claude Boursot was to assist Napoleon Bonaparte in making sure supplies of Champagne drink got to Napoleon where-ever it was he was in Europe. It's a big and long story, but, in summary, Claude chose the Perrier family in Epernay as the supplier of the champagne which he then had sent on to Napoleon. Champagne, in those times, was shipped in casks. With the demise of Napoleon in 1815, this all came to an end.

Part 3 : The Past - Calais - Happy Days are Here Again !

In 1816 Clark, Webster and Bonnington [originally from Nottingham] arrived in Calais from England and set up illegal [from British point of view] lace making workshops. They are welcomed by the very impoverished Calais population who set to work in the workshops. By 1819 English financiers, agents and factors arrived to substantially boost the lace industry in Calais which was starting to produce a substantial proportion of world consumption. The most senior financiers remained anonymous because of concern about possible problems back in England. Now things were looking very good for Calais and Claude [now 50] took his eldest son Adolphe [now 15] to visit the Perrier family in Epernay. The young Claude formed a close friendship with the young Charles Perrier. Claude brought back to Calais with him several casks of the drink which were very well received by the expatriate English community and before long wagons of Champagne are making their way from Epernay to Calais. This must have been a much simpler logistical challenge to Claude than his previous task of getting Champagne to Napoleon at the far-flung ends of Europe!!

By 1820 the expatriate British had built a road along the northern edge of St. Pierre just on the small bluff above Calais. They built luxurious houses along the road which ended with a beautiful 30-room Mansion House set in a 10 acre park. This house was owned a prominent financier.

In 1822 the English financier who built the Mansion House in St. Pierre sold it and returned to London. This quote is from a contemporary account : "…….The house has been bought by the popular and charismatic archivist of Calais, a M. Claude Boursot. M. Boursot is a retired artillery officer who has held the post of archivist of Calais since he was only 33 years old in 1802. He has lost no time in installing a number of statues in the ground in front of the house the most spectacular of which is 'Cupid'. He acquired these statues while serving in the Italian Campaign. ……"

Commandant Claude Boursot died at his chateau in St. Pierre, Calais [Chateau Boursot] in 1846 at the age of 77. He is buried in the Catholic Cemetery, Calais. His eldest son Adolphe Pierre Claude Boursot inherited the Chateau.

Part 4 : The Past - London and Calais - The new Champagne generation

Claude's son Adolphe [now 22] spent time in London in 1826 as the guest of families who were involved in financing the lace trade in Calais. By all accounts he was a popular young man who provided advice on investment in the Calais Lace Trade [which by now provided the majority of lace supplied to the world] and was always good for providing a few casks of Perrier-Jouet Champagne.

In 1836 he decided his future was definitely in Champagne and migrated to London permanently setting up a business as Champagne importer. He made a goodly fortune and in summer 1840 married Emma Le Mercier, the daughter of a London financier. She was 25 years old [born 18 Dec 1814 died approx 1869], he was 36 years old. By the time of his marriage he was the largest importer of Champagne from Epernay into England.

Claude's son Adolphe [1804-1871] had his first son christened Adolphe Charles born in 1842 [he is standing behind his father in the photo], his second son Edward Claude Henry born in 1843 [he is not in the photo], his first daughter Emma Maria Louisa Charlotte "MARIE" born in 1845 [she is far left in the photo], his second daughter Louise Marie Henrietta born in 1849 [second left in photo] and his last son Charles Pierre Nicholas Marie born in 1851 [far right in the photo].

Adolphe I Boursot and his children

Part 5 : The Present - Sometime in 1862. We do not have an exact date when the photo was taken.

The photograph [close to the very first glass-plate photograph taken in France] shows a very happy late fifties year old Adolphe sitting in front of Chateau Boursot in the garden with the statue of Cupid which his father had acquired during the Napoleonic Italian Campaign. His London company A. Boursot and Co. is now the largest importer of champagne and other liquors into England and, in addition to the Chateau, he had a very luxurious house in London.

Part 6 : The Future - The rest of the 19th Century

On 2nd Jan 1868 at the age of 63, Adolphe [Claude's son] handed over the running of A. Boursot & Co. to his two sons Adolphe Charles [ age 25 ] and Edward Claude Henri [ age 24 ] . He himself, went into retirement at Chateau Boursot where he died less than four years later in 1871 and so ownership of the Chateau passed on to Adolphe Charles. His wife Emma had died a few years earlier. On 30th Nov 1867 Adolphe Charles had married 17 year old Rebecca Martha Preeston and a few weeks later he joined with his brother in running A. Boursot & Co. They made a phenomenal success of the company. Just prior to retirement, Adolphe [Claude's son] had had A. Boursot & Co appointed exclusive agent for Perrier-Jouet and Co. and shortly thereafter they were selling over a million bottles of champagne a year. Not to be outdone Rebecca went on to produce sixteen children, 12 daughters and 4 sons. The other brother Edward Claude Henri married Amy Eliza Critchett two years later in 1870, but he died of throat cancer in 1888 and they had no children.

Part 7 : The Future - The 20th Century

And so A. Boursot & Co. passed on to Adolphe and Rebecca's oldest son Raphael together with their youngest son Basil when Adolphe retired in 1910 at the age of 68. [Adolphe went on to live in retirement until 1935 when he died age 93, Rebecca died 1924 age 65]. A substantial number of Adolphe and Rebecca's daughters did not marry but their father Adolphe was a very wealthy man and he took care of them during his lifetime.

Raphael was 39 when he became joint owner and had married 12 years earlier. Basil was 33 in 1910 when he also became part owner. Basil married in 1914 age 37 and had one son before he was conscripted in The First World War. This was despite being at the time close to 40 and married. Raphael narrowly missed conscription being 47 in 1918 when the last wave of conscription took place and was able to keep A. Boursot & Co. going during the war. Basil survived the war and was able to return to A. Boursot & Co. in 1921. They became the sole agent for the Benedictine Liqueur for the UK in the same year and also diversified in miscellaneous wines in addition to Champagne.

Part 8 : The Future - The Sad Ending

Raphael and Basil did a very good job and eventually Raphael's son Ralph took over as M.D. but things came to an end during the Second World War. The business of A. Boursot & Co., which was opposite Christie's in King Street, St. James, took a direct hit from a German bomb and was obliterated. There was no compensation for War Damage so Ralph had no choice but to sell off the rump of the business to Brooks Bodle and Co.. The lovely family home at Vicarage Gate in Kensington was also totally destroyed by a German bomb. Fortunately, none of the five old spinster aunts were killed.

Part 9 : The Future - A 20th Century Resurrection

After a 17 year stint at London wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd, Guy, Ralph's son, restarted A. Boursot & Co. in the late 20th Century, primarily as agent, wholesaler and later as retailer. A. Boursot & Co was floated on the UK stock exchange (OFEX market) in 2000, becoming Boursot Wines plc. In 2001, Guy unhappy with the way Britain's wine market was moving, resigned and relocated to Ardres in France not far from where his great-great-great grandfather Claude had his chateau, the subject of the photo. The circle has been completed after 150 years!

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Boursot's Wine Collection
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