Napoleon’s Legacy to his Colonies

Introduction

chateau_lieu_salleSacre

Museum and National Estate of Versailles and Trianon. Jacques-Louis David, The Coronation of Napoleon, 1807. Dimensions: 10 metres wide by over 6 metres tall. In 1808 David was commissioned by American entrepreneurs to paint a full size replica, immediately after the release of the original. David painted it from memory and finished the work in 1822. In 1947 the replica was returned to France.

Napoleon is widely seen as a military genius and perhaps the most illustrious leader in world history. Of the 60 battles, Napoleon only lost seven (even these were lost in the final phase). The leading British historian Andrew Roberts, in his 926 pages biography Napoleon: A Life (2015), mentions the battles of Acre (1799), Aspern-Essling (1809), Leipzig (1813), La Rothière (1814), Laon (1814), Arcis-sur-Aube (1814), and Waterloo (1815). Often forgotten is the battle that Napoleon lost in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). On 18 November 1803, the French army under the command of general Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau, and the rebel forces under Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a self-educated slave with no formal military training, collided at the battle of Vertières. The outcome was that Napoleon was driven out of Saint-Domingue and Dessalines led his country to independence. It is interesting to see what Napoleon’s legacy was.

Saint-Domingue’s sugar

Saint-Domingue was a French colony on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola from 1659 to 1804. The French had established themselves on the western portion of the islands of Hispaniola and Tortuga by 1659. The Treaty of Rijswijk (1697) formally ceded the western third of Hispaniola from Spain to France. The French then renamed it to Saint-Domingue. During the 18th century, the colony became France’s most lucrative New World possession. It exported sugar, coffee, cacao, indigo, and cotton, generated by an enslaved labor force. Around 1780 the majority of France’s investments were made in Saint-Domingue. In the 18th century, Saint-Domingue grew to be the richest sugar colony in the Caribbean.

Revolution in France

A plantation in the Caribbean was very labor intensive. It required about two or three slaves per hectare. Due to the importation of Africans the slave population soon outnumbered the free population. The slave population stood at 460,000 people, which was not only the largest of any island but represented close to half of the one million slaves then being held in all the Caribbean colonies (Klein: 33).

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The French colony of Saint Domingue had a substantial agricultural economy featuring sugar, coffee, indigo and tobacco. The island was a huge importer of African slaves, at one point comprising a third of the entire trade in the Western hemisphere, with approximately 685,000 men, women and children arriving brought into the colony during the 18th century. Duke University Haiti Lab https://sites.duke.edu/marronnagevoyages)

Conditions on sugar plantations were harsh. During the eight-month sugar harvest, slaves often worked continuously around the clock. Accidents caused by long hours and primitive machinery were horrible. In the big plantations, the slaves lived in barracks. Planters primarily wanted males for plantation work. There were few women as these were only needed for propagation. Families did not exist. The result was a kind of rebelliousness among the slaves which manifested itself in various ways. Planters reported revolts, poisonings, suicides, and other obstructive behavior. These men, women and children did not have a life or history of their own.

Slavery was ultimately abolished in all French colonies in 1848 by Victor Schœlcher, the famous French journalist and politician who was France’s greatest advocate of ending slavery. On 10 May 2001, the French Parliament adopted Law 2001-434, of which the first article reads: “The French Republic acknowledges that the Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trade on the one hand and slavery on the other, perpetrated from the fifteenth century in the Americas, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and in Europe against African, Amerindian, Malagasy and Indian peoples constitute a crime against humanity.”

The start of the French Revolution in 1789 was the initiator of the Haitian Revolution of 1791. When the slaves first rebelled in August of 1791 they were not asking for emancipation, but only an additional day each week to cultivate their garden plots.

The French Revolution began in 1789 as a popular movement to reform the rule of Louis XVI. However, the movement became out of control and between 5 September 1793 and 27 July 1794 France was in the grip of a Reign of Terror. This period ended with the death of Robespierre. In the aftermath of the coup, the Committee of Public Safety lost its authority, the prisons were emptied, and the French Revolution became decidedly less radical. In October 1795, the National Convention (the third government of the French Revolution) used Napoleon Bonaparte and the army to crush riots. During the night of 4 October, over 300 royalist rebels were shot dead in front of the Church of Saint Roch. The rest had scattered and fled. Under the Directory that followed between 1795 and 1799 bourgeois values, corruption, and military failure returned. In 1799, the Directory was overthrown in a military coup led by Napoleon, who ruled France as First Consul and after 1804 as Emperor of the French.

Napoleon’s attitude towards slavery

In 1794, during the Terror period of the French Revolution, slavery in France’s colonies was abolished. However, this policy was not fully implemented. When unrest broke out in Saint-Domingue, Napoleon wanted to renew France’ commitment to emancipation, mainly because of political reasons. Napoleon stated that slavery had not been formally abolished, since the abolition had not been realized. His politics aimed at the return of the former French colonists. Napoleon believed they were better able to defend French interests against the British that the revolutionaries. Thus as First Consul, by a decree of May 20, 1802, Napoleon restored slavery and the slave trade in Martinique and other West Indian colonies. The law did not apply to Guadeloupe, Guyane or Saint-Domingue:

Le décret du 30 floréal An X [May 20, 1802]

AU NOM DU PEUPLE FRANÇAIS, BONAPARTE, premier Consul, PROCLAME loi de la République le décret suivant, rendu par le Corps législatif le 30 floréal an X, conformément à la proposition faite par le Gouvernement le 27 dudit mois, communiquée au Tribunat le même jour.

DÉCRET.

ART. I.er – Dans les colonies restituées à la France en exécution du traité d’Amiens, du 6 germinal an X [March 27, 1802], l’esclavage sera maintenu conformément aux lois et réglemens antérieurs à 1789.
ART. II. – Il en sera de même dans les autres colonies françaises au-delà du Cap de Bonne-Espérance.
ART. III. – La traite des noirs et leur importation dans lesdites colonies, auront lieu, conformément aux lois et réglemens existans avant ladite époque de 1789.
ART. IV. – Nonobstant toutes lois antérieures, le régime des colonies est soumis, pendant dix ans, aux réglemens qui seront faits par le Gouvernement.

Although Napoleon did not believe in the idea of racial equality, later in his life, his attitude towards the African slaves became more ethical. His change of attitude is reveled during his exile on St. Helena. During that time, Napoleon developed a friendship with an old slave called Toby. When Napoleon heard how Toby had been captured and enslaved, he reportedly expressed a wish to purchase him and send him back to his home country. His loyal friend, the French atlas maker and author Emmanuel-Augustin-Dieudonné-Joseph, comte de Las Cases (1766 – 1842) notes in his well-known memoirs (Las Cases 1823: 217):

Napoleon’s kindness of heart was also shown by his attitude toward the Malay slave, named Toby, who had care of the beautiful garden at The Briars. When no one was in it the garden was kept locked and the key was left in Toby’s hands. Toby and Napoleon speedily became friends, and the black man always spoke of the Emperor as “that good man, Bony.” He always placed the key of the garden where Napoleon could reach it under the wicket. The black man was original and entertaining, and so autocratic that no one at The Briars ever disputed his authority. His story was rather pathetic.

and (Las Cases 1823: 383):

What, after all, is this poor human machine? There is not one whose exterior form is like another, or whose internal organization resembles the rest. And it is by disregarding this truth that we are led to the commission of so many errors. Had Toby been a Brutus, he would have put himself to death; if an Aesop he would now, perhaps, have been the Governor’s adviser, if an ardent and zealous Christian, he would have borne his chains in the sight of God and blessed them. As for poor Toby, he endures his misfortunes very quietly: he stoops to his work and spends his days in innocent tranquility…. Certainly there is a wide step from poor Toby to a King Richard. And yet, the crime is not the less atrocious, for this man, after all, had his family, his happiness, and his liberty; and it was a horrible act of cruelty to bring him here to languish in the fetters of slavery.

Napoleon’s war in Saint-Domingue

Napoleon had an obvious personal relation with the colonies. In January 1796, Napoléon Bonaparte proposed to Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie and they married on 9 March 1796. She adopted the name “Josephine” that Napoleon had chosen for her. Josephine was born in Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique. She was a member of a wealthy white planters family that owned a sugarcane plantation, called Trois-Îlets. Josephine was the eldest daughter of Joseph-Gaspard Tascher (1735–1790), knight, Seigneur de la Pagerie, lieutenant of Troupes de Marine, and his wife, Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sannois (1736–1807). The latter’s maternal grandfather, Anthony Brown, may have been Irish. It cannot have been a coincidence that slavery was specifically re-established in Martinique.

toussaint

The Morgan Library and Museum. Joseph Ducreux (1735-1802), Portrait of a Gentleman (Toussaint Louverture?) ca. 1802, Black, brown and white chalks on gray-blue laid paper. 20 1/2 x 16 1/4 inches (521 x 413 mm). Estate of Mrs. Vincent Astor. http://www.themorgan.org

In 1791, the slaves and some free people of color in Saint-Domingue started a rebellion against French authority. In May 1791 the French revolutionary government granted citizenship to the wealthier mostly light-skinned free persons of color, the offspring of white French men and African women. Saint-Domingue’s European population however disregarded the law. One of the slaves’ main leaders was François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, also known as Toussaint L’Ouverture or Toussaint Bréda. At first Toussaint allied with the Spaniards in Santo Domingo (the other half of the island of Hispaniola). The rebels became reconciled to French rule following the abolition of slavery in the colony in 1793, prompting Toussaint to switch sides to France. For some time, the island was quiet under Napoleonic rule. On 1 July 1801 Toussaint promulgated a Constitution, officially establishing his authority as governor general “for life” over the entire island of Hispaniola. Article 3 of his constitution states: “There cannot exist slaves [in Saint-Domingue], servitude is therein forever abolished. All men are born, live and die free and French.”. During this time, Napoleon met with refugee planters. They urged the restoration of slavery in Saint-Domingue, claiming it was essential to their profits.

Jefferson supplied Toussaint with arms, munitions and food. He was seen as the first line of defense against the French. He had already foreseen that Toussaint would put up considerable resistance, and anticipated on Napoleon’s failure in the West-Indies. It would prove to be one of the most important strategic choices in the development of the current United States.

On 25 March 1802 Napoleon signed the Treaty of Amiens. It turned out not be be more than a truce. The Treaty gave both sides a pause to reorganize. In 18 May 1803 the war was formally resumed. During this peace Napoleon made reestablishing France’s control over its colonial possessions a priority. In December 1801 he sent Charles-Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc (1772-1802) to the colony.

Meanwhile Toussaint enforced a hard regime on plantation laborers. By crushing a rebellion of the workers, he isolated himself and weakened his position. Leclerc landed at Cap-Français in February 1802 with warships and 40,000 soldiers. The French won several victories and after three months of heavy fighting regained control over the island. The revolutionary generals led a fanatic guerrilla war against the French troops and in a number of occasions were very successful. However, Toussaint faced a major setback when some of his generals joined Leclerc. Toussaint’s mixed strategies of total war and negotiation confused his generals who one after the other capitulated to Leclerc, beginning with Christophe. Finally Toussaint and later Dessalines surrendered.

Toussaint was forced to negotiate a peace. In May 1802 he was invited by the French general Jean Baptiste Brunet for a negotiation. His safety was guaranteed. On Napoleon’s secret orders Toussaint was immediately arrested and put on ship to France. He died in a prison cell in the French Alps of cold and hunger. It should be mentioned that Dessalines played a significant role in the arrest of Toussaint (Girard). Dessalines obtained 4000 francs and gifts in wine and liquor for him, his spouse and the officers involved (Girard). When in October 1802 it became apparent that the French intended to re-establish slavery, because they had done so on Guadeloupe, Toussaint’s former military allies, including Jean Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Pétion and Henri Christophe, switched sides again and fought against the French. In the meanwhile disease took its toll on the French soldiers. The revolution was revitalized when Leclerc died of yellow fever in november 1802. The Haitian Revolution continued under the leadership of Dessalines, Pétion and Christophe.

After the death of Leclerc, Napoleon appointed the vicomte de Rochambeau (who fought with his father under George Washington in the American Revolutionary War) as Leclerc’s successor. His brutal racial warfare drove even more revolutionary leaders back to the rebel armies.

The revolutionary ideas spread

The situation in the Caribbean was chaotic. The situation in Europe was the direct cause, but the Haitian revolution contributed to uncertainty as well as illustrated by events that took place on the neighboring island of Curaçao.

Case Study: Curaçao

In September 1799, two French agents from Saint-Domingue, together with a Curaçao-resident French merchant, Jean Baptiste Tierce Cadet, were arrested for conspiring to overthrow Curaçao’s government and to liberate the slaves. They were deported without trial. Tierce Cadet was accused of being the local ringleader. He was accused of being part of a plan originating in Saint-Domingue: the liberation of the slaves in all the colonies in the Caribbean. Eight months after being deported from Curaçao, Tierce, en route to France, arrived in the Batavian Republic. He was travelling with an officer of the Batavian navy, Jan Hendrik Quast. Both men were arrested and questioned. The Batavian authorities intended to put Tierce on trial for trying for overthrowing the Curaçao government and plotting to liberate the slaves. However, it appeared very difficult to produce the necessary evidence against him (Klooster, 148-149).

Saint-Domingue becomes independent

The Battle of Vertières on 18 November 1803 was the final event that stood between slavery liberty in Saint-Domingue. It involved forces made up of former enslaved people on the one hand, and Napoleon’s French expeditionary forces on the other hand. Vertières is situated in the north-east, near the sea. By the end of October 1803, the revolutionary forces fighting the expeditionary troops were already in control over most of the island.

Haitian_Revolution

Haitians led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines and François Capois attacked a strong French-held fort of Vertières, near Cap François (in the north of Haiti) and won a decisive victory over French colonial army under General Comte de Rochambeau and forced him to capitulate the same night. http://thelouvertureproject.org/

The revolutionary troops attacked the remaining French soldiers at Vertières. After heavy fighting the battle ended when heavy rain with thunder and lightning drenched the battlefield. Under cover of the storm, Rochambeau pulled back from Vertières. At the Surrender of Cap Français, Rochambeau was forced to surrender to the English. He was to taken England as a prisoner on parole, where he remained interned for almost nine years.

Although the fighting in Saint-Domingue during the time of the revolution had horrible moments and both parties committed gruesome war crimes, one particular event in the battle of could be seen as a sign of respect by Rochambeau towards the revolutionaries.

“At 4 a.m. on Nov. 18, 1803, part of the forces began an attack on Breda, one of the outlying forts. Rochambeau surprised, left Cap and took a position with his honor guard on the entrenchments at the fort of Vertieres, between Breda and Cap. To take the objective specifically assigned to him, François Capois and his troops had to cross a bridge that was dominated by the fort at Vertières.
Capois, on horseback, and his men met a hail of fire as they advanced. Despite a bullet passing through his cap, Capois urged his men forward. Even a bullet which leveled his horse and another which again passed through his cap did not stop Capois from flourishing his saber and leading his men onward with his continuing cry of Forward! Observing this, Rochambeau’s guards applauded. Rochambeau caused the firing to be stopped and sent a hussar forward with compliments for Capois! Then the battle recommenced.” (Burton Sellers)

Shortly after the battle, the first declaration of independence was read in Fort-Dauphin on 29 November 1803. It was signed by Dessalines, Christophe and Clerveaux. They all had been generals under Leclerc little more than a year earlier. The declaration did not mention the current name “Haiti”, but still spoke of “Saint-Domingue”. The second Act of Independence was read by Dessalines on the Place d’Armes of Gonaïves on 1 January 1804. The act marked the beginning of independence what from that moment on would be known as the republic of Haiti. It marked the beginning of the end of slavery in the colonies.

Napoleon’s Legacy

Because Napoleon had failed to re-enslave Saint-Domingue he was missing the plantation revenues. As war with England was inevitable and he could not raise enough assets, Napoleon abandoned his colonial policy. France’ immense territory of Louisiana was sold to the United States on 30 April 1803 by means of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. It was the birth of what now is considered the most powerful nation in the world, as Livingston made clear in his famous statement: “We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives…From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank.”

After the declaration of independence, Dessalines proclaimed himself Governor-General-for-life of Haiti. Between February and April 1804 he orchestrated the massacre of the white Haitian minority; between 3,000 and 5,000 people. On 2 September 1804, Dessaline proclaimed himself emperor under the name Jacques I of Haiti. He was crowned on 8 October 1804 (two months before Napoleon) with his wife Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité at the Church of Champ-de-Mars, Le Cap by Pere Corneille Brelle, later His Grace Monseigneur the Archbishop of Haiti, Duke de l’Anse, and Grand Almoner to King Henry I. Jaques I Promulgated the Constitution of Haiti on 20 May 1805 (Buyers: 2017).

soulouque-coronation

Gustave d’Alaux describes the coronation of Faustin I in his book, Soulouque and his Empire: “His Imperial Majesty had the principal merchant of Port-au-Prince called one morning and commanded him to order immediately from Paris a costume, in every particular like that he admired in representing the ceremonies of Napoleon’s coronation. Faustin I besides ordered for himself a crown, one for the Empress, a sceptre, globe, hand-of-justice, throne, and all other accessories, all to be like those used in the coronation of Napoleon.”.

Former revolutionary Henry Christophe succeeded Emperor Jacques I I as provisional Head of State after his death on 17 October 1806. He was installed as Lord President and Generalissimo of the Land and Sea Forces of the State of Haiti with the style of His Serene Highness on 17 February 1807. Christophe was proclaimed as King of Haiti and assumed the style of His Majesty on 26 March 1811. He was Crowned by His Grace Monseigneur Corneille Brelle, Duke de l’Anse, Grand Almoner to the King and Archbishop of Haiti, at the Church of Champ-de-Mars, Le Cap-Henry, on 2 June 1811. Christophe was Grand Master and Founder of the Royal and Military Order of Saint Henry on 20 April 1811. He married at Cap Français on 15 July 1793, H.M. Queen Marie-Louise (b. at Bredou, Ouanaminthe on 8 May 1778; d. at Pisa, Italy, on 14 March 1851, bur. there at the Convent of the Capuchins). Christophe committed suicide at the Palace of Sans-Souci, Milot, on 8 October 1820, having had issue, three sons and two daughters. He was succeeded by another revolutionary general, Alexandre Sabès Pétion, who had as well been one of Haiti’s founding fathers (Buyers: 2017).

In 1825, France demanded Haiti compensate France for its loss of slaves and its slave colony. It threatened with a new invasion. In 1838, France agreed to a reduced amount of 90 million francs to be paid over a period of 30 years. In 1893 the final part of the principal was paid. By 1947 Haiti paid the modern equivalent of USD 21 billion (including interest) to France and American banks as “compensation” for being enslaved for centuries.

In 1849 the Napoleonic style was copied by Emperor Faustin I of Haiti who adopted the style of His Imperial Majesty. Faustin I was proclaimed emperor at the National Palace, Port-au-Prince, on 26 August 1849 and crowned at the renamed Imperial Palace on the same day. He was consecrated at the old Cathedral of Notre Dame de l’Assomption, Port-au-Prince, on 2 September 1849. The emperor promulgated a new Constitution on 20 September 1849 and was crowned at the Champ de Mars, Port-au-Prince, in the presence of the Vicar-General Monsignor Cessens according to Episcopalian (Franc-Catholique) rites, on 18 April 1852. Faustin was styled Chief Sovereign, Grand Master and Founder of the Imperial and Military Order of St Faustin and the Imperial Civil Order of the Legion of Honour 21 September 1849, and of the united Orders of Saint Mary Magdalen and Saint Anne 31 March 1856, all in three classes. Grand Protector of the Franc-Masonic Order 1850-1859. Patron Collège Faustin 1848-1859. He was founder of the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1856 (Buyers: 2017).

Literature

Alaux, Gustave D., Maxime Raybaud, and John H. Parkhill. Soulouque and his empire. From the French of Gustave dAlaux. Richmond: J.W. Randolph, 1861.

Burnard, Trevor G., and John D. Garrigus. The plantation machine: Atlantic capitalism in French Saint-Domingue and British Jamaica. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

Burton Sellers, W.F. “Heroes of Haiti.” Windows on Haiti: Heroes of Haiti. Accessed July 08, 2017. http://windowsonhaiti.com/windowsonhaiti/heroes.shtml.

Buyers, C. “HAITI – Royal Ark.” Accessed July 8, 2017. http://www.royalark.net/Haiti/haiti6.htm.  Website by Christopher Buyers on the genealogies of the Royal and ruling houses of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

Cases, Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonné Las. Memorial de Sainte Hélène. Journal of the private life and conversations of the Emperor Napoleon at Saint Helena. Boston: Wells & Lilly, 1823.

Christophe, Henri, Thomas Clarkson, Earl Leslie Griggs, and Clifford H. Prator. Henry Christophe, a correspondence. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.

Dwyer, Philip. Napoleon: the path to power, 1769 – 1799. London: Bloomsbury, 2008.

Dwyer, Philip G. Citizen emperor: Napoleon in power. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

Girard, Philippe R. Slaves who defeated napoleon: toussaint louverture and the haitian war of independence, 1801-1804. Tuscaloosa: Univ Of Alabama Press, 2014.

Klooster, Wim, and Gert Oostindie. Curaçao in the age of revolutions, 1795-1800. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

Klein, Herbert S. The Atlantic Slave Trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

“The Louverture Project.” Accessed July 08, 2017. http://thelouvertureproject.org. The Louverture Project (TLP) collects and promotes knowledge, analysis, and understanding of the Haitian revolution of 1791–1804.

Mentor, Gaétan. Dessalines: le̕sclave devenu empereur. Pétionville, Haïti: Impr. Le Natal, 2003.

Roberts, Andrew. Napoleon: a life. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Sloane, W. M. “Napoleons Plans for a Colonial System.” The American Historical Review 4, no. 3 (1899): 439.

Sortais, Georges. Important tableau par Louis David: “Le sacre de Napoléon”. S.l.: S.n., 1898.

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The relation between genealogical and judicial truth

At the Rootstech 2016 conference, American genealogist James Ison made an interesting remark regarding direct and indirect genealogical evidence. Ison is currently Manager of Strategy and Planning at the Family History Library, an important genealogical research facility in Salt Lake City. The library is operated by FamilySearch, the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ison earned a Master’s Degree from George Washington University. He is recognized as an authority in the field of genealogy. Ison stated:

Direct evidence is awesome. A birth certificate will list the name of parents. It’s direct evidence. It answers a question. A marriage license will say what the bride’s maiden name is. A baptismal record will say the dates and the places of birth—just exactly what we want.

(…)

Indirect evidence is like a puzzle piece. You can’t answer any particular question just based upon this piece of evidence. You have to fit it together.

In cases where only indirect evidence is available, the Genealogical Proof Standard is helpful in establishing credible research. The Standard is based on a book written by mrs Christine Rose; Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case. It includes five essential steps for accurate research:

  1. Reasonably exhaustive research has been completed.
  2. Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation.
  3. The evidence is reliable and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
  4. Any contradictory evidence has been resolved.
  5. The conclusion has been soundly reasoned and coherently written.
Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne, original taken by Thomas Helsby in Santiago, January - February 1854

Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne, original taken by Thomas Helsby in Santiago, January – February 1854

Applying the Genealogical Proof Standard does not guarantee that the truth will prevail, but it serves accountability and transparency. In my opinion genealogical proof resembles Lakatos views on the concept of truth. Lakatos’ suggested that in science, a scientific theory should be seen as a succession of slightly different theories and experimental techniques. These theories all share a common hard core, called a research programme. The question of whether a theory is true of false is replaced by the question of whether a research programme is progressive or degenerating. A progressive research programme is characterized by growth and prediction of novel facts and more precise predictions. In contrast, a degenerative program is marked by a lack of growth and does not lead to novel predictions that are later verified (Imre Lakatos, Philosophical papers. Vol I: The methodology of scientific research programmes. I. Science – Philosophy 2. Mathematics – Philosophy. I. Title 11.). Genealogical research can also contain some of these characteristics. After establishing the basic facts (often in the form of a family tree), theories regarding missing facts can be based on indirect evidence. To a certain extend, they can be characterized as a prediction for finding direct evidence (e.g. a marriage certificate). If, for example, someone has lived and worked in England for all his life, it can be predicted that he has married in England and research regarding his marriage should not start in South America. A genealogical progressive research programme elaborates on certain basic findings and develops theories (in the form of predictions) about the missing information.

In some cases, genealogical evidence is used in legal matters. Legal evidence has a totally different character, in particular when court rulings are given. In such cases a progressive research programme can hardly be determined. The case ends in a decision in a relatively short period of time.

Judicial evidence

The judicial process can be seen as a a kind of black box, within which information from all kinds of sources is processed according to defined rules of evidence in order to produce a new form of truth: the ‘judicial truth’. This type of truth becomes, to a certain extent, simply one more competing version of truth. Like other versions, it can be accepted, refuted, celebrated or simply ignored. This is illustrated in two cases where genealogical evidence was essential for establishing judicial truth. In the first case, the evidence is in particular based on witness statements, with some degree of technical evidence. In the second case, conclusive evidence is given by a DNA-test.

The Tichborne case

The Tichborne case was a well-known legal dispute in Victorian England in the 1860s and 1870s. It concerned the claims by a man called Arthur Orton, later Thomas Castro, to be the missing heir to the Tichborne baronetcy. Orton failed to convince the courts, was convicted of perjury and served a long prison sentence.

Roger Charles Tichborne was born in Paris on 5 January 1829. He was raised mainly in France, although the Tichborne lands and fortune were based in Hampshire, England, where his uncle was the 8th baronet. As a result of his upbringing, Roger spoke English with a strong French accent.  At the age of 20, Roger joined the 6th Dragoon Guards in Dublin, but sold his commission three years later in 1852. In 1853, Roger’s father inherited the Tichborne baronetcy after the deaths of his two elder brothers. In the same year, Roger, now the heir to the Tichborne title and fortune, travelled to South America. In 1854, he boarded a ship, the Bella, bound for New York, but less than a week later, the Bella was lost at sea and Roger was declared dead in 1855. The Tichborne baronetcy was passed to Roger’s younger brother Alfred in 1862 when his father died. Alfred died only four years later, just months before the birth of his son, who inherited the title at birth in 1866.

Roger’s mother, Lady Henriette Tichborne, was devastated by the news of her son’s disappearance at sea. She remained hopeful that he had survived the shipwreck and sent out inquiries across the world as to his whereabouts. In November 1865, Australian solicitor William Gibbes sent Lady Tichborne a letter, informing her that a man, claiming to be her son, had contacted him. This man was a butcher from Wagga Wagga, calling himself Tom Castro. Although he was physically larger than Sir Roger, had lighter hair and spoke no French, these discrepancies did not bother Lady Tichborne, who had not seen her lost son for more than ten years.

After Lady Tichborne’s death in 1868, Orton was compelled to continue the pretence, as he needed the Tichborne inheritance to pay off his large debts. This led some of the Tichborne family to take him to court over his claim, beginning one of the most celebrated legal cases of the nineteenth century.

The first trial lasted almost a year, from 11 May 1871 to 5 March 1872. Tichborne v. Lushington was a civil trial to establish Orton’s claim to the Tichborne inheritance. Nearly one hundred people spoke in Orton’s defence, but the holes in his story soon became obvious, particularly his inability to speak French – Sir Roger’s childhood language.

Arthur Orton’s perjury trial, Regina v. Castro, began in 1873 and lasted over six months. This time a jury had to be convinced that Orton’s claim to be the lost Sir Roger Tichborne was false. Again, the evidence against Orton was damning, and in February 1874, he was convicted of two counts of perjury and sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour by Lord Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn (source: State Library New South Wales).

An important issue was the degree of facial resemblance of Orton to the Tichborne family, which fact never has been fully explained. It may suggest that there was some kind of biological relation between Orton and the Tichborne family. In the University College London Galton Papers a document can be found, stating:

2225. [stamped in left margin]University College London Galton Papers 158/2M[end stamp] [underscore]MEMORANDUM We have had submitted to us, for Examination,[end underscore] enlarged authentic [italics]Photographs;[end italics] First, of Mr. Roger Tichborne, (date, 1854): Secondly, of the person claiming to be Sir Roger Tichborne, (date, 1874). [underscore]These Portraits have Geometrically Bisected[end underscore]: and the several divided sections we have ourselves affixed, interchanged, and transferred from one Portrait to another. [underscore]We are of Opinion that the Perfect Combination[end underscore] and Minute Correspondence of the several sections are [italics]bona fide[end italics] and unimpeachable, and fully justify the conclusion that [italics]one and the same person sat for each portrait.[end italics] Fredk. Snary, Photographer, [established, 1856] 26, Castle Street, Bristol. Louis Lowenthall, Photographer, [established, 1858] 14, N. Wine Street, Bristol. John Hayward, Print-Seller, [established, 1840] 1, Corn Street, Bristol. Frederick Bowden, Print-Seller, [established, 1850] 27, U. Arcade, Bristol. H. Gardiner, Ornamental Carver, [30 years] 28, Victoria Place, Clifton. T. Sherwood, Smith, Practical Surveyor and Land Agent [40 years] 30, Corn St. Bristol. [end]

The case however was finally solved by applying classic legal rules of evidence. There was no room for developing a research programme.

The Pringle of Stichill case

The law is a living construct. It develops with society, bringing new challenges and new opportunities into the courtroom. Currently, the law is changing rapidly as a result of the ongoing evolution of digital technology. In one specific field, that of evidence gathering for genealogical purposes, the Pringle of Stichill-case should be seen as a milestone case.

On 5 January 1683 Charles II granted the Baronetcy of Stichill (“the Baronetcy”) to Robert Pringle of Stichill “and the male heirs of his body”. The eighth baronet was Sir Norman Robert Pringle, who lived from 1871 to 1919. He married Florence Vaughan, who gave birth to Norman Hamilton Pringle (“Norman Hamilton”) and subsequently to two more sons, the first of which was Ronald Steuart Pringle (“Ronald Steuart”), who died in 1968. Norman Hamilton was enrolled without opposition as the ninth baronet. When he died in 1961 his son Sir Steuart Robert Pringle (“Sir Steuart”) was enrolled without opposition as the tenth baronet. Sir Steuart died in April 2013.

The two claimants in this matter are Sir Steuart’s son, Simon Robert Pringle (“Simon”), and Norman Murray Pringle (“Murray”), son of Ronald Steuart. Following Sir Steuart’s death, both Simon and Murray registered claims to succeed to the Baronetcy. Simon’s claim is made on the basis that, as Sir Steuart’s male heir, he is entitled to be enrolled as the 11th baronet. Murray, however, claims that Norman Hamilton was not the legitimate son of the eighth baronet and that accordingly the true ninth baronet was his late father, Ronald Steuart. Murray thus claims to be the true tenth baronet.

Murray’s claim relies upon DNA evidence obtained as part of “the Pringle Surname Project”. This was founded by Murray to determine the chieftainship of the clan Pringle, and the late Sir Steuart provided his DNA for the project. Expert opinion on the totality of the DNA evidence was that it provided “very strong support” for the view that the eighth baronet is grandfather to Murray but not Sir Steuart. Simon does not dispute the DNA evidence, but he raises four arguments as to why it should not be admitted on public policy grounds. By this reference the Board is required to advise Her Majesty as to (i) who is entitled to be entered on the Official Roll of the Baronetage as the Baronet of Pringle of Stichill and (ii) whether the DNA evidence should be admitted in order to determine the first question.

The Board finds that there is no legal ground for excluding the DNA evidence, which demonstrates to a high degree of probability that Norman Hamilton was not the son of the eighth baronet. The Board therefore concludes that (i) Simon is not the great grandson of the eighth baronet and is not the heir male of the first baronet; and (ii) Murray is the grandson of the eighth baronet and is, as the heir male of the first baronet, entitled to succeed to the Baronetcy (source: The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Privy Council Reference No 0079 of 2015).

Conclusions

The term ‘evidence’ is widely used in many different ways and in many different contexts. Genealogical evidence is often used for claims regarding the use of titles of nobility. Even when based on so-called ‘direct’ evidence, it is not certain whether these claims are true or not true, as the Pringle case shows. The concept of truth is the core of many philosophical discussions and it is my advice to be careful when claims of nobility or genealogy are either accepted, refuted, celebrated or simply ignored. In numerous cases regarding such claims, truth is no more and no less than a personal choice, often based on the assumption that written statements in official registers correspond with biological facts (see e.g. C.W. Delforterie, Liegen tegen de dominee: drie voorbeelden van het laten dopen van buitenechtelijke kinderen als zijnde tijdens een huwelijk verkregen / door C.W. Delforterie In: Liber Amicorum Jhr. Mr. C.C. van Valkenburg / [met een ten geleide van A. Snethlage en bijdr. van W.J. Kolff … et al.]. – ‘s-Gravenhage: Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie, 1985. – P. 69-80: geneal. tab. Met lit. opg.). One thing is certain. Written statements cannot change biological/genealogical facts but such facts can change written statements.