Katesgrove at the end of the eighteenth century was home to the exiled French count Charles Jean d’Hector who had left France at the beginning of the French Revolution.
By 1794 he was in England and raised a volunteer regiment which participated in the unsuccessful Quiberon expedition of 1795 launched to support a campaign for the restoration of the French monarchy.
He was not alone in settling in Reading. Following reforms to the French church, many thousands of French émigré clergy fled to England [ref 1]. The first arrived in Reading in 1792 and at one time around 300 were living in the town, many at the King’s Arms Inn, now 154-160 Castle Hill. Most returned to France in 1802 when a new concordat was signed between French state and church.
Another French nobleman, Jean Baptiste Le Noir de la Brosse, married Elizabeth Anne Smart in 1795. She and her sister Marianne Cowslade owned the Reading Mercury. Elizabeth wrote novels and poems and may not have participated as actively as her sister in the management of the newspaper [ref 2].
On 8 July 1799, the Reading Mercury published a poem that could have been written by Count Hector while in exile in Katesgrove, probably at Katesgrove House [ref 3].
KATE’s GROVE near READING
The Residence of
LIEUTENANT- GENERAL COUNT-HECTOR,
Late GOVERNOR of BREST
While Britain’s ever hospitable skies
Give the retreat his native clime denies;
Here, may the venerable CHIEFTAIN rest,
In Honourable exile, not unblest:-
Cast on this friendly shore, with placid eye.
The distant ocean of the world descry;
Whence Envy’s blast nor Persecution’s rage,
No more shall harass his respected age.
If doom’d that his illustrious career,
Far from his native soil, should finish here;
If scenes endear’d by absence and distress,
And past delights, are never more to bless,
May ev’ry lenient, tenderness supplies,
And venerating friendship can devise,
Contend unceasingly to sooth his woes,
And counteract the malice of his foes:-
May the thick foliage emulative spread,
That adds to its lustre to his laurell’d head;
May Flora lavish all her gayest flow’rs,
To strew his paths and decorate his bow’rs;
Pomona too, her choicest gifts bestow,
And bid with fruit the loaded branches bow;
May the sweet emigrants that skim the air,
Chuse it their fav’rite haunt to warble there;
And gen’rous BRITONS, eager to protect,
Here find compassion aw’d into respect;
May the deep wounds of home-inflated pain,
Heal’d by resignment, never bleed again;
While of th’ungrateful land he can’t forget,
He thinks with pity rather than regret.
© The British Library Board, MFM.M41261 [1776-1781]
It has not been possible to establish whether the Count himself wrote the poem. Neither has it been possible to find evidence of a connection between the Count, Jean Baptiste Le Noir and the French priests living in Reading, however it is likely that they mixed in the same circles [ref 4].
The count died at the age of 86 on the 18 August 1808 [ref 5] at Southcote House [ref 6] and was buried in St Giles Churchyard. The Latin inscription on his crumbling headstone was proving difficult to read even by the 1920s when a transcription was made [ref 7]:
Hic Jacet Joannes Carolus Comte d’Hector
Requ…..et Sancti Ludo…..princeps
Fortitudine prudentia et…….
summa et activitate
(Here lies John Charles Count Hector…..)
and on the footstone was:
- John Mullaney and Lindsay Mullaney (2012), Reformation, Revolution and Rebirth. The Story of the Return of Catholicism to Reading and the Founding of St James’ Parish. Reading, Scallop Shell Press. John and Lindsay Mullaney’s book covers the residence of the French priests in Reading pp50-55. It also includes a poem by ‘F.R.’ published in the Reading Mercury on the murder of the priest François Longuet in 1817 (Reading Mercury 10 March 1817) p85. The identity of F.R. is unknown.
- ibid p29.
- Reading Mercury 8 July 1799
- I would like to thank John and Lindsay Mullaney, who were contacted for their assistance with information about the Count and the likely authorship of this poem.
- Charles Jean d’Hector (in French)
- Index to Death Duty Registers 1796-1903
- Lewis Henry Chambers, Monumental Inscriptions, Reading St Giles. Reading Borough Library Local Studies. I am grateful to Sidney Gold for helping me find this record.
Newspaper references from British Newspaper Archive, courtesy of the British Library, online at findmypast (subscription required), unless stated otherwise. Reading Central Library also has a full set of microfilm copies of the Reading Mercury.
Index to Death Duty Registers, courtesy of the National Archives, online at findmypast (subscription required).