Michael Feydy

Michael Feydy—the Sham Claude De Verre

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, a French gentleman, named Guy de Verré, lived with his wife and two sons at Saumur. Claude, the elder of these children, who had a peculiar scar on his brow (which had been left by a burn), at an early age expressed a strong desire to become a soldier, and his father accordingly procured an ensigncy for him in the regiment of Clanleu. In 1638 Claude de Verré left the paternal mansion to join his regiment; and from that date till 1651 nothing was heard of him. In the latter year, however, one of the officers of a regiment which had been ordered to Saumur presented himself at the chateau of Chauvigny, which was occupied by Madame de Verré, now a widow; and no sooner had he appeared than Jacques, the second son, observed his perfect resemblance to his missing brother. He communicated his suspicions to his mother, who was overwhelmed with delight, and without consulting more than her emotions, addressed the stranger as her son. At first the officer feebly protested that he did not enjoy that relationship, but, seeing the lady's anxiety, he at last admitted that he was Claude de Verré, and that he had hesitated to declare himself at first until he had assured himself that his reception would be cordial after his eighteen years of absence. He had no reason to doubt the maternal love and forgiveness. From the first moment of his discovery he was acknowledged as the heir, and the happy mother celebrated his return by great rejoicings, to which all her friends and relatives were invited. He was presented to the members of the family, and they recognised him readily; although they did not fail to notice certain distinctions of feature and manner between him and the Claude de Verré who had gone to join the regiment of Clanleu. Still, as he answered all the questions which were put to him promptly and correctly, and as he sustained the character of the lost son perfectly, it was easy to suppose that absence and increasing age had effected a slight change in him, and he was received everywhere with marked demonstrations of friendship. M. de Piedsélon, a brother of Madame de Verré, alone denounced him as an impostor; but his words were unheeded, and the new comer continued to possess the confidence of the other relatives, and of the widow and her second son, with whom he continued to reside for some time.

At last the day came when he must rejoin his regiment, and his brother Jacques accompanied him into Normandy, where it was stationed, and where they made the acquaintance of an M. de Dauplé, a gentleman who had a very pretty daughter. Claude de Verré soon fell over head and ears in love with this girl, who reciprocated his passion and married him. Before the ceremony a marriage-contract was signed, and this document, by a very peculiar clause, stipulated that, in the event of a separation, the bridegroom should pay a reasonable sum to Madlle. de Dauplé. Jacques de Verré signed this contract as the brother of the bridegroom, and it was duly registered by a notary. After their marriage the happy couple lived together until the drum and trumpet gave the signal for their separation, and Claude de Verré marched to the wars with his regiment.

But when released from service, instead of returning to pass the winter with his wife, he resorted once more to Chauvigny, to the house of Madame de Verré, and took his brother back. She was delighted to see him again, and on his part it was evident that he was resolved to make amends for his past neglect and his prolonged absence. Nevertheless, during his stay at the family mansion, he found time to indulge in a flirtation—if nothing worse—with a pretty girl named Anne Allard. Soon after his arrival intelligence reached Saumur of the death of the Madlle. de Dauplé whom Claude had married in Normandy—an occurrence which seemed to give him the utmost sorrow, but which did not prevent him from marrying Anne Allard within a very short time, his own feelings being ostensibly sacrificed to those of his mother, who was anxious that he should settle down at home. In this instance, also, a marriage-contract was entered into, and was signed by Madame de Verré and her son Jacques. Not content with this proof of affection, the mother of Claude, seeing her eldest son thus settled down beside her, executed a deed conveying to him all her property, reserving only an annuity for herself and the portion of the second son.

For some time Claude de Verré lived peacefully and happily with Anne Allard, rejoicing in the possession of an affectionate wife, managing his property carefully, and even adding to the attractiveness and value of the family estate of Chauvigny. Two children were born of the marriage, and nothing seemed wanting to his prosperity, when suddenly a soldier of the French Gardes presented himself at Chauvigny. This man also claimed to be the eldest son of Madame de Verré, and gave a circumstantial account of his history from the time of his disappearance in 1638 to the period of his return. Among other adventures, he said that he had been made a prisoner at the siege of Valenciennes, that he had been exchanged, and that, while he was quartered in a town near Chauvigny, the news had reached him that an impostor was occupying his position. This intelligence determined him to return home at once, and, by declaring himself, to dissipate the illusion and put an end to the comedy which was being played at his expense.

The revelations of the soldier did not produce the result which he had anticipated; for, whether she was still persuaded that the husband of Anne Allard was the only and real Claude de Verré, or whether, while recognising her mistake, she preferred to leave matters as they were rather than promote a great family scandal and disturbance, Madame de Verré persisted that the new comer was not her son, for she had only two, and they were both living with her. Of course, the husband of Anne Allard had no hesitation in declaring the soldier an impostor, and Jacques de Verré united his voice to the others, and repudiated all claims to brotherhood on the part of the guardsman.

However, affairs were not allowed to remain in this position. The new arrival, rejected by those with whom he claimed the most intimate relationship, appealed to a magistrate at Saumur, and lodged a complaint against his mother because of her refusal to acknowledge him, and against the so-called Claude de Verré for usurping his title and position, in order to gain possession of the family property. When the matter was brought before him the magistrate ordered the soldier to be placed under arrest, and sent for Madame de Verré to give her version of the affair. The lady declined to have anything to do with the claimant, although she admitted that there were some circumstances which told in his favour. Her brother M. Piedsélon, however, who had refused to recognise Anne Allard's husband in 1651, was still at Saumur, and he was confronted with the claimant. The recognition between the two men was mutual, and their answers to the same questions were identical. Moreover, the new comer had the scar on his brow, which was wanting on the person of the possessor of the estate. The other relatives followed the lead of M. Piedsélon; and ultimately it was proved that the husband of Anne Allard was an impostor, and that his real name was Michael Feydy. Consequently, on the 21st of May 1657, the Criminal-Lieutenant of Saumur delivered sentence, declaring that the soldier of the Gardes was the true Claude de Verré, permitting him to take possession of the property of the deceased Guy de Verré, and condemning Michael Feydy to death.

The first part of this sentence was carried out. The new Claude took forcible possession of the mansion and estate of Chauvigny. But it was found that Michael Feydy had disappeared, leaving his wife full power to act for him in his absence. Anne Allard at once instituted a suit—not against the possessor of the estates, whom she persistently refused to acknowledge—but against Madame de Verré and her son Jacques, and petitioned that they might be compelled to put an end to the criminal prosecution which the soldier of the Gardes had instituted against her husband, to restore her to the possession and enjoyment of the mansion of Chauvigny, and the other property which belonged to her; and that, in the event of their failure to do so, they should be ordered to repay her all the expenses which she had incurred since her marriage; to grant her an annuity of two hundred livres per annum, according to the terms of her marriage-settlement; and further, to pay her 20,000 livres as damages.

At this stage another person appeared on the scene—none other than Madlle. de Dauplé, whom the sham Claude had married in Normandy, and whom he had reported as dead. She also had recourse to the legal tribunals, and demanded that Madame de Verré and her second son should pay her an annuity of 500 livres, and the arrears which were due to her since her abandonment by her husband, and 1500 livres for expenses incurred by Jacques Verré during his residence with her father and mother in Normandy. The children of Anne Allard, moreover, brought a suit to establish their own legitimacy.

The Avocat-Général was of opinion that the marriage contract between Michael Feydy and Mademoiselle de Dauplé should be declared void, because there was culpable carelessness on the father's part and on the girl's part alike. He thought the marriage of Michael Feydy and Anne Allard binding, because it had been contracted in good faith. Jacques de Verré he absolved from all blame, and was of opinion that since Madame de Verré had signed the marriage-contract it was only just to make her pay something towards the support of Anne Allard and her children. The Supreme Court did not altogether adopt these conclusions. By a decree of the 31st of June 1656, it dismissed the appeals of Anne Allard and of Madeline de Dauplé. It declared the children of Michael Feydy and of Anne Allard legitimate, and adjudged to them and to their mother all the property acquired by their father, which had accrued to him by his division with Jacques de Verré, under the name of Claude de Verré, until the signature of the matrimonial agreement, and also the guarantee of the debts which Anne Allard had incurred conjointly with her husband. Madame de Verré was also condemned to pay 2000 livres to Anne Allard, under the contract which had been signed. Of Feydy himself nothing further is known.