The Sieur de Vieilleville’s Memoirs – A 16th Century Fake?

The French ambassadors, who in early 1547 observed the strange habits of the English when serving their monarch at table and spoke to a mysterious but very outspoken English nobleman, were led by François de Scépeaux, Sieur de Vieilleville, who later became also Marshal of France. François de Scépeaux’s grandfather served as chamberlain to Charles VIII, and he himself was raised in the household of Louise of Savoy, the mother of Francis I. With his king he served in the Battle of Pavia in 1525, and many other military feats followed.

Francois de Scepeaux, Sieur de Vieilleville, Marshal of France, by Francois Clouet, 1566

Early in Elizabeth I’s reign the Sieur de Vieilleville made another diplomatic trip to England, trying unsuccessfully to dissuade her from sending help to the French Protestants. He was greatly trusted by King Charles IX, who employed him with the enforcement of several pacification edicts between Protestants and Catholics, a task to which Vieilleville was well-suited because of his moderation and desire for peace. The King of France visited him at least three times at his feudal castle of Durtal, and it was during such a royal visit that he died there in November 1571 – it was claimed by poison.

As we have seen in the two previous articles on this blog, François de Scépeaux, Sieur de Vieilleville and Marshall of France, is supposed to have left memoirs; such memoirs were an extremely popular literary genre in France from the 16th right into the 19th century. Very often they were not actually written by the person whose life they purported to relate. In the case of the Sieur de Vieilleville’s memoirs they are believed to have been written by Vincent Carloix (1535–1571), secretary to the Sieur de Vieilleville.

The Jesuit Abbé Griffet prepared a printed edition in 1757, with a foreword and notes – however only 21 years later, in 1778, the Abbé Garnier (another Jesuit) expressed doubts about the veracity of some of Vieilleville’s adventures. In 1893 a third abbé, Father Ch. Marchand, published a book in which he demonstrated that many stories were simply fakes, taken directly out of other contemporary works about other war heroes. Whether such fakes also concerned Vieilleville’s diplomatic missions is hard to tell. Marchand accepted the facts “with caution”. The matter probably hinges on whether Carloix (Vieilleville’s secretary and an eye-witness) was actually the author at all.

Vieilleville’s colourful life as reported by the memoirs inspired a 19th century biography by Mme Goignet, which was published in English in 1887; the embassy to the court of Edward VI is missing from this account, though.

Anglophone historians have made use of Vieilleville’s “memoirs” in a few instances. The Lord Vartich of the memoires (the mysterious English courtier who gave a very long and detailed talk in French to the ambassadors) has been assumed to be the Earl of Warwick (John Dudley) by those authors who have made use of this episode. They are Hester Chapman (in 1958 and 1961) and Alison Weir (in 1996). Neither, though, has taken into account the whole story of the French embassy in England – not the weird report of Henry VIII’s love life, not the odd view of the English succession to the throne, not even the erroneous chronology.

Wikipedia: François de Scépeaux

Wikipedia: Vincent Carloix

Revue Historique Vol. 48, Janvier-Avril 1892, pp. 215-216

Some books making use of Carloix’s memoirs:
C. Coignet: A Gentleman of Olden Time (1887)
Hester Chapman: Edward VI: The Last Tudor King (1958)
Hester Chapman: Lady Jane Grey (1961)
W.K. Jordan: Edward VI: The Young King (1968)
Alison Weir: The Children of England (1996)
Jennifer Loach: Edward VI (1999)

continued from:
How Henry VIII Got Rid of His Wives

About Christine Hartweg

Hi, I'm the author of "Amy Robsart: A Life and Its End" and "John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey's Father-in-Law". I blog at
This entry was posted in John Dudley, sources & historians, strange facts from popular books and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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