Since a couple of months I’m a "Greeters" member. This is an international organization, offering guiding on a voluntary basis. In Paris we are soon 200 guides. You can read more by clicking under “Parisien d’un jour” on my sidebar and also have a look on a previous post.
With a few other guides we were last week invited to visit the “Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris”, a public library specializing in the history of Paris. It all officially started in 1763 in the building we visited, “Hôtel de Lamoignon”. The Revolution stopped this activity here and a lot got lost. A new collection was commenced at the Paris City Hall, but was almost completely lost when the building was destroyed by fire in 1871 (the "Commune" events). One started to collect again and the material moved to different places until it in 1969 came back to a completely restored "Hôtel de Lamoignon". Today you can find some two million documents of all kinds, referring to the history of Paris and its immediate surroundings. It’s open to public during the weekdays.
The building dates from the 16th century and was originally built for Diane de France (1538-1619), an illegitimate daughter of Henri II. She had quite some influence on the “peace” between Catholics and Protestants, was much appreciated by Henri IV and took care of the education of the future Louis XIII. Her two kids died before her and the place was taken over by her nephew Charles d’Angoulème (1573-1650), also illegitimate, son of Charles IX – grandson of Catherine de’ Medici (a lot to say about him, but…).
Both Diane and Charles were buried in a small church, “Minimes” on the present Place des Vosges (see previous post), destroyed during the Revolution, but the statues decorating their graves were found – in pieces -, restored and are now to be seen in a small annex to the major building, decorated by a stained glass window where we can see the heraldic sign of the Royal family, with the “fleurs de lis”. However, as illegitimate, bastards, they had a special sign, a broken baton, which you can see in the red circle.
The building got its name from the Lamoignon family, heads of the Paris Parliament (High Court of Justice) for generations. One member was Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (1721-94), minister under Louis XVI, who tried to introduce reforms of the autocratic regime, later defended Louis XVI during his trial and was the one who had to announce the death sentence to the King.
Later the hotel was inhabited by Alphonse Daudet (1840-97) – “Lettres de mon Moulin” (Letters from my windmill ), including “L’Arlésienne” (put into music by Bizet), “Tatarin de Tarascon”…
Immediate neighbour to "Hôtel de Lamoignon" was another large private mansion, later transformed to a prison, “La Force”. It has been destroyed, but you can still see traces of the wall separating it to Hôtel Lamoignon. Many were imprisoned, killed or brought to the guillotine from here during the Revolution. The most famous prisoner was perhaps the Princess Lamballe, one of Marie-Antoinette’s best friends, who was killed on the steps of the prison. Her head was carried on a pike in front of the Temple (see previous posts) where Marie-Antoinette was imprisoned.
We had the privilege to be guided by a very qualified member of the staff, who showed us a few examples of what can be found in the library, including some illuminated and early printed books from the 15th century… and a “guest book” from the famous 19th century cabaret “Chat Noir”. Very popular until 1897 when the owner died, the cabaret moved a few times around the Montmartre – Pigalle area; the last place was on Boulevard de Clichy (building destroyed). Guests included most of those days’ artistic elite, with names like Verlaine, Debussy, Satie, Alphone Allais, Jane Avril, Yvette Guilbert, Strindberg … and Aristide Bruant, portrayed by Toulouse-Lautrec... I would have liked to spend hours with this guest book, but I guess I will have to wait until it has been digitalized.