Why Projet GORDES ?
What justifies the considerable investment of effort and resources in the integral transcription of this letter-collection, essentially concerned with the political and military affairs of Dauphiin the second half of the sixteenth century? Without necessarily over-exaggerating the importance of this archive, it remains distinctive for its regional, national and sometimes international importance. It is:
- exceptional in terms of its scale. Series K of the archives of the Musée Condé at Chantilly consists of 31 volumes, i.e. well over 7,000 documents, mostly letters to and from Bertrand de Gordes, lieutenant-général du roi in Dauphiné. The majority of the collection consists of his incoming correspondence but there are more letters from Gordes than initially meet the eye in the collecction because he often drafted his replies directly in the margins and spare folios of incoming letters. Their chronological spread is very uneven. The number of suurviving letters from the years 1569 and 1571 is limited (less than 200 for each of those two years) whilst the years 1570 (880 documents) and 1574 (1,918) are particularly rich in information of all kinds, especially political and military.
- original by virtue of its contents. It includes hundreds of letters from members of Gordes’ extended family – his mother, brothers, sisters, children, cousins, more distant relatives, and kin. The collection also illumintes the daily life of a family that was the epitome of what is commonly known as the ‘noblesse seconde’ (leading provincial governing families) in the sixteenth century.
- important because of the intrinsic interest of the subjects it illuminates and the individuals who are represented among Gordes’ correspondents. They include the leading figures at the French court – the kings Charles IX and Henri III, their mother Catherine de Médicis, and the members of the leading aristocratic clans – the Châtillon, Montmorency, and Guise…). International issues feature regularly in Gordes’ correspondence, such as the naval war against the Sultan in the Mediterranean, the major events at the French court, the latest rumours and news from the Swiss cantons and the Italian peninsula, and the evolution of the French civil wars in their local, regional and national manifestations as well as the attempts to secure a lasting peace, all reported in great detail and sometimes on a day-to-day basis.
- unavoidable for the history of Dauphiné during the wars of religion. Bertrand de Gordes’ role as lieutenant-général put him at the heart of everything that went on in the province. His archive enables us to reconstruct his information networks, his close servants in what they called ‘his seigneury’ (sa seigneurie), the way in which he sought to control the province with which he was entrusted, the troop movements and garrisons, and his relationships and conflicts with the region’s protestants.
- essential for the biography of Bertrand de Gordes, which is yet to be written. The eldest of the 18 children of Bertrand-Raimbaud IV de Simiane and Pierre de Pontevès, dame de Caseneuve, legend has it that Bertrand was entrusted to the tutorship of the chevalier Bayard at the age of seven. However that might be, it is certain that he saw his first military service in Italy, and then in Champagne and Piedmont under the auspices of Charles de Cossé, comte de Brissac. He then joined the company of heavy cavalry (gens d’armes) of the Constable Anne de Montmorency as its lieutenant. In 1552 he married Guigonne Alleman, the great-niece of Bayard, who bore him six children. The crayon drawing of him by François Clouet (or his School) dates from around the time of his marriage, and it depicts a gentleman of the court, politically astute and prudently on his guard towards the world at large. Appointed gentleman of the chamber to King Henri II (1548) and knight in the royal order of St Michel, he was appointed lieutenant-général in Dauphiné in complicated circumstances in September 1564. It was thanks to his vigilance that royal authority was maintained in Dauphiné during the second and third wars of religion (1567-1570). At the end of August 1572, he was credited with avoiding a bloodbath in Dauphiné similar to that which had occurred at the massacre of St Bartholomew in Paris, even though the letters in this collection demonstrate that he was not resident in Grenoble when the news from Paris arrived in the Dauphiné capital. In Juily 1575 he defeated the Huguenot forces of Charles du Puy de Montbrun, who was decapitated in Grenoble despite the last-minute intervention of Gordes to save his life. He died in Montélimar on 21 February 1578.