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The Huguenot Cross

Huguenot Cross

Among the family papers of my parents is a record and photo of a pendant called the Huguenot Cross.

According to my mother, this belonged to her aunt, Angela Whitcombe, who described it as a family heirloom. Apparently it had been given her by her mother (Florence Barclay), who in turn had got it from hers (Maria Amelia Charlesworth, ne Beddome), "going back a long way". Anegla Whitcombe asked my parents to investigate the possible origins of the cross, since they were interested in genealogy.

A photo of the cross is on the left. On the back, my mother has written "Gold Huguenot Cross - reverse side identical". The coin gives the size. In case future money gets miniaturised, the coin is 26mm across.

My parents' research showed that it was indeed a Huguenot cross, and might be quite rare, especially in England as part of a family collection. (See below for their research). This spooked my great aunt, who had been wearing it to church on Sundays in memory of her mother, who she had seen wearing it. She was afraid of being burgled, so offered the cross to my mother. My mother thought that a museum might be a better place for it, and suggested various possibilities to my great aunt, who fixed on The Huguenot Society as a suitable destination. So that is now where it is.

The Huguenots were French Protestants, with origins in the 16th or 17th centuries. The Edict of Fontainebleau (1685) abolished all legal recognition of Protestantism in France, and forced the Huguenots to convert. Many fled to avoid this to various countries, including Britain, and there was a large group in Spitalfields, London, engaged in the silk weaving trade.

My parents originally made the assumption (made also by others of the Beddome family) that the name "Beddome", with a slight emphasis on the second syllable, was a Huguenot name, mostly as far as I can see because it sounded French! But Beddome (Bedom) and its variants are quite common in Britain since before the Huguenots came. John Beddome was born (either in Stratford or London) around 1675, before the Edict of Fontainebleau. So that theory doesn't work.

Next, they investigated the 'mother of mother of mother' chain. These are well known until you get back to the wife of Richard Boswell Beddome. She was Mary Brown, and she married Richard Boswell Beddome in Clapham, London. The Beddomes had moved out of central London to the more fashionable area of Clapham just before Richard Boswell Beddome was born. So my parents wondered if Maria Brown was in fact Maria Le Brun, and came from a Huguenot family. She was born in Bow Parish, London in 1792, and if this theory is true, her family might have been in London for a few generations. (Or of course her father might have married a Huguenot...)

I will give the reasons why my mother thought there might be French ancestory among the Beddomes. I don't agree, and my rebuttals are given in square breackets.

My mother does write "It is going to be very difficult to find out anything about a family called Brown who was living in Cheapside during the second half of the 18th century. One could speculate on the remote possibility that this was a Huguenot family who had anglicised their name from BRUN to Brown. But how and where could one find evidence of this?" Exactly. It's a charming story, and there is no evidence to disprove it, but apart from the cross itself, the evidence is tenuous, to say the least. I must admit, once I hear about family traditions of being Huguenots, I become suspicious. It's too romantic.

Information about Huguenot crosses

This is among the papers about this research. It seems to have been a translation from French.

As far as we know, the Huguenot cross, together with the Holy Spirit as pendant, seems to have been invented by the Nimes goldsmith Maystre, who lived at 4, Rue du Marche about 1688 (three years after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes)... One could render homage equally to the Holy Spirit and to Universal Priesthood by wearing an insignia which the persecutors found irreproachable, because it derived from a very official and very catholic decoration.

However, Wikipedia says "Bertrand Van Ruymbeke asserts instead that the Huguenot cross stands out as "the most revealing" of symbolic signs of latter-day Huguenot solidarity: "Although a Huguenot cross was indeed designed in Nmes in the 1680s, never was it in France the symbole de reconnaissance it later became for the descendants of the Huguenot refugees in the last third of the nineteenth century." Also "Long after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the Huguenot Cross came into general use amongst 19th-century Huguenot descendants in countries where Huguenot refugees settled, as identification with the French Huguenot ancestry, as much as confirmation of the wearer's faith."

Considering our family cross, if it is a very early Huguenot cross, shortly after 1688, then why does it end up with London Huguenots who presumably fled from France around 1685, and anyway, didn't need to wear a cross to hide their religious beliefs? The later date of 19C sounds a lot more plausible to me, and "identification with the French Huguenot ancestry" is a little suspicious. I can imagine people doing that who are NOT descended from French Huguenots! Anyway, this is not a long chain of inheritance back to the expulsion of the Huguenots, but a later identification with them. There seems to be no hall mark, despite it being described as gold, and if you look at it, the quality of workmanship is not high. It looks stamped out, then simply engraved. I'm afraid that I don't think it was rare or valuable, and my only feeling is that it was Florence Barclay who started the rumours. I'm not suggesting that she lied. She may have said "I think we're descended from Huguenots" (and that may well be true, if you were descended from London cloth-merchants who probably intermarried with the silkweavers). Here is my Huguenot cross. I give it to you, my daughter, as an heirloom".

A booklet says "The history of the origins of the Huguenot cross is complex. There is no single prototype and numerous designs are to be found scattered throughout the different districts." Here are some pictures of other Huguenot crosses:

Huguenot Cross Huguenot Cross Huguenot Cross Huguenot Cross