French Renaissance Paleography


Ussel,[1] 2 May 1523
Expédition du contrat de mariage de Jean de Jardon et Françoise de Rochefort
Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT Case MS 5027


Marriage, in medieval and Ancien Régime France, was serious business. Before a man and woman married, they would have a notary draw up a marriage contract, not only to set the details of the dowry, but also to protect the rights of the bride and determine her share of her family’s patrimony. As such, the marriage contract was an act of succession.

The marriage contract was usually drawn up at the bride’s residence, in the presence of members of both families, who would sign the official legal document, or minute. In the following days or weeks, the signatories would receive a copy of the marriage contract, signed only by the notary, called expédition. While the minute was the official document, kept by the notary, the expédition was usually preserved by families with other important papers, and could be used in litigations. As the expédition represented the essence of the marriage contract, it was generally a solemn document, often written on a large piece of parchment, a noble and expensive material, in a beautiful and ornate handwriting.

This expédition is unusual in the sense that it was not drawn up shortly after the minute was signed, but rather, about thirity years later, when a confession was completed. The confession was a solemn declaration by the husband confirming that he had received the dowry in full, and in certain cases, sums of money or real property supplementing the dowry.

This document forms part of a large archive of personal documents of allied noble families established in Auvergne, the Lauzanne Family Papers. It was likely added to the collection as a testimony of the ownership of the seigneurie of Saint-Martial by the Rochefort family, who would later marry into the Langeac family, and bring the seigneurie to them. Gilbert de Rochefort, seigneur of Saint-Martial, had a son, Gaspard, and a daughter, Françoise, who married Jean de Jardon. Gaspard inherited the seigneurie of Saint-Martial from his father, and passed it down to his daughter Anne, who married Gilbert-Allyre de Langeac in 1525. The Langeac then became seigneurs de Saint-Martial. For an overview of the collection, see the Lauzanne Family Papers.