The Swiss origins of the British branch of the Pasteurs

The eight Swiss (*) who form the fifth generation are as mixed a bag in origin as their eight English and Scottish companions. From the family historian’s point of view, however, there is one great difference. In continental countries title and nobility descended to all the male offspring of a family, whereas in England rank and property were only inherited by the eldest sons. Moreover, the multiplicity of reigning princes and their courts throughout Europe set a premium upon birth and family; and indeed it was almost impossible, at some times, to get a job at or connected with a court, without a patent of nobility. The title “noble” which can be seen against many of the names in the pedigree had, therefore, a practical value, and it is for this reason that it is shown against those who were entitled to it. This consciousness of birth extended to families who were not noble, with the result that family records generally were concerned with all the descendants, and not, as in England and Scotland, mainly with the eldest sons.

Moreover, for the Genevese families, there exists the monumental work of Galiffe whose Notices Généalogiques, published from 1829, gives the complete and detailed pedigrees of all Genevese families of any note or distinction. It is also of obvious authenticity, and early traditional origins are either stated to be untested or, unlike Burke’s earlier romances, their degree of credibility is assessed. For many centuries, therefore, it is possible to fill every generation; for in Galiffe, all the children of all the branches are recorded. The descents of most of the families in Galiffe begin with a short account of their country of origin and the position which they held there; and if anyone should want to know more of the background of any Swiss family mentioned in this volume, a reference to the appropriate article in the Notices Généalogiques may provide the information.

To understand the background of many of the Swiss families who will be met in this book, it is necessary to know something of the history of Geneva. The early history of the region is very involved, and prior to the sixteenth century comprised a nearly continuous series of wars, treaties, quarrels between cantons, and religious altercations. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, while most other European countries were involved in long and disastrous wars the Swiss cantons had almost continuous peace, and this brought with it much prosperity. Although this is also largely true of Geneva, it would be quite wrong to think of that city as a Swiss canton: it was never really part of Switzerland (if, indeed, such an entity can be said to have existed), until after the Napoleonic wars, although there had been treaties of alliance with Berne since 1526, and with Zurich since 1584. Even as late as the eighteenth century, Geneva was looked on as Calvin’s city, and the Roman Catholic cantons of Switzerland were very averse to a close relationship with a city of such intense Protestant connections. Geneva was traditionally a small Protestant state, surrounded by powerful Catholic neighbours and often owing her independence to a network of shifty alliances, carrying in themselves a continual threat to her freedom. The periodical persecutions of Protestants in the surrounding Catholic countries, for example after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacres, caused an influx of refugees into Protestant Switzerland and Geneva. As can be imagined, it was not always easy, and on occasion Geneva was under severe pressure from her neighbours to refuse asylum to the oppressed; but generally she received them with enthusiasm and with lasting benefit to her trade. The French and Italian Bourses, for example, were almost entirely due to the money and industry of the refugees.

The seventeenth century was one of peace and great prosperity. Industry flourished; silk, velvet and works in gold and silver were exported to France and Germany. Among other trades, clock-making was already established; by 1685, with a total population of 16,000, Geneva counted a hundred master clock-makers, employing three hundred workmen, who turned out five thousand watches in that year. All these industries were controlled by the strictest regulations and much power was in the hands of patrician families who had grown very rich — by their industry certainly, but also through the privileged positions which they had acquired in the control of the country and its trade. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the influence of France with its luxurious standards of living spread to the ruling classes of Geneva, and the countryside began to be covered with those charming country houses and villas owned and lived in by the people who will be met in this book, and by their friends and relations.

But luxury also brought with it caste; and this often reached absurd dimensions. For example, there were rules which laid down three distinguishing ranks — persons of the first, second, and third order. The wives of the first quality, alone, were entitled to call themselves “demoiselles” and they alone were allowed to wear velvet skirts. Similarly, there were privileges of tithe and dress allowed to the second quality, which were not permitted to the third order, or “mécaniques”. The rich and the magistrates lived, moreover, in the upper part of the city, the markets were to be found in the lower streets, while the industrial area was at Saint-Gervais. Thus the three classes, increasingly separated by privilege and wealth, became almost separate communities; there was much envy and ill-feeling, and at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the stage was set for the struggle which continued up to the Napoleonic era, and which led to frequent uprisings, intrigue, and some bloodshed.

The political set-up in Geneva at this time was peculiar. The government of the country was carried on by an executive body known as the Petit Conseil or the Conseil des Vingt-Cinq. It was composed of twenty-five members from whom were chosen the four Syndics, or heads of State, and the Lieutenant who was the magistrate in charge of the police. The Vingt-Cinq in its turn nominated the Conseil des Deux Cents which was a legislative body of two hundred members, called together by the Vingt-Cinq to deliberate on proposed legislation, taxes, and other matters.

There was also a third body known as the Conseil Général which had originally held the real power when the republic of Geneva was first formed. It was composed of all married bourgeois of over thirty years of age (1) and was assembled by the other two councils to elect the members of the Vingt-Cinq and to choose the Syndics and the Lieutenant. In theory, also, all laws and taxes, and matters concerning peace and war, had to be submitted to the Conseil Général, but only after the other bodies had deliberated on them. The Conseil Général could accept or refuse, but could not discuss them.

But over the years, the powers of the Conseil Général had been gradually whittled away, and towards the end of the seventeenth century the point had been reached when the Vingt-Cinq and Deux Cents only called the Conseil Général together once or twice in the year to elect the Syndics and the Lieutenant; and even then the matter was almost a formality because they were only asked to choose these officers from a very small list presented to them by the other councils. Moreover, nothing could be even considered by the Conseil Général unless it had previously been before the Deux Cents.

It can be seen, of course, that the original organization, though perhaps suitable for a mediaeval society just freed from the control of the old Archbishopric, became increasingly cumbersome and inefficient, as the state grew more complex. Nevertheless, all this resulted in the government of the country being concentrated in the hands of certain families; and, in fact, the letters “C.C.” will be seen after the names of nearly every Swiss person mentioned in this volume, frequently accompanied by the highest positions such as “Syndic” or “Lieutenant”. It must be said that the government was generally good, and that the patrician rulers were very competent. So long as the country was prosperous, the under-privileged might have been content; but passions were smouldering just below the surface, and it only needed bad harvests or a sudden change in prices to set them alight.

This then was the political background to the events in which many of the family and their connections were involved.

Some of the families who came to Geneva were Catholic who had recently been converted to Protestantism, some had been Protestant for longer; but nearly all had been left at the mercy of their oppressors by invasion or other hazards, and came to Geneva as refugees. Many had been of considerable wealth and position, and it is interesting to see how quickly, although sometimes nearly destitute when they arrived, they flourished in Geneva and again became rich and important people. It must be realised that Geneva was a city of trade, and that practically everyone, including the members of the most patrician families, were engaged in business. To be admitted “Habitant” or “Bourgeois” of Geneva or of some other Swiss Community was essential, and the lists were carefully kept; time and again, one will find in the early years, the statement “admitted to the Bourgeois” and the sum of money paid for the privilege — varying from “pour bonnes considérations” (i.e. gratis) to considerable amounts.

Although, therefore, a large proportion of the distinguished families in Geneva were originally immigrants, the Pasteurs were somewhat of an exception, because they were indigenous Swiss. Nevertheless, they did suffer some mild persecution for their religion and did, in fact, seek sanctuary in Geneva on that account.

Jean Pastoris, or Pasteur as the family was to be known later on, was originally from Collonges sur Bellerive, and in 1425 was living on his property at St. Maurice which had been brought in by his wife, Perronette de Francaville or Frou-la-ville. The Pasteurs seem to have been Protestant from the early days of the Reformation, Antoine Pasteur (M 1025), for example, taking the oath of allegiance at Geneva in 1536, at the beginning of the war between the Bernois and the Duke of Savoy — no doubt having repaired to Geneva for reasons of safety. This war ended with the Treaty of Nyon in 1564, which preserved the freedom of worship to the reformed Church, and the Pasteurs returned to St. Maurice under an act of indemnity. However, the Duke of Savoy, after observing the clause for some years, increasingly used pressure to compel the people to return to the Catholic Church, whereon many families, including that of Pasteur of St. Maurice, again fled to Geneva.

Antoine’s great-grandson, another Antoine Pasteur (J 129), returned to St. Maurice, when freedom of worship was confirmed by the Treaty of St. Julien, but was subjected to much hardship, and at one time, imprisoned.

The Pasteurs, for many generations, were lawyers and seem to have taken a very balanced and sensible view of the changing hazards of politics and religion. For example, this Antoine Pasteur of St. Maurice was Notaire Ducale in 1615, his patent being granted by the Duke of Savoy, Charles Emanuel. Subsequently, when France occupied Savoy, he became Notaire Royal de France, taking the oath on 23 August 1630 on the Holy Bible from the hand of the Lieutenant of the Juge Mage de Thonon. Not long afterwards, however, the Senate of Chambéry passed an edict declaring all acts made by a “notaire hérétique” to be illegal, which effectively prevented him from practising his profession. He, therefore, retired to Geneva with his family, and on 8 May 1633 was granted the bourgeoisie of Geneva gratis “pour bonnes considérations”, at the same time as his articles as a notaire; and his three sons were admitted to the bourgeoisie with him.(2) His wife, Demoiselle Jacqueline Guigonnet, was a Catholic and changed her religion on her marriage, which “la brouilla avec son père”! (3) Such were the difficulties and troubles of those times.

It is interesting to note that the early members of the Pasteur family, although on numerous occasions repairing to Geneva for safety and freedom of worship, always returned to St. Maurice when the various treaties giving indemnity were made and, probably on that account, were treated with considerable leniency. Antoine Pasteur (J129) for example, although he had retired (4) to Geneva with his family for this purpose, was allowed to keep his property at St. Maurice and to bequeath it to his descendants. By 1677, the situation had changed again, and his son, Louis Pasteur, a notaire in Geneva which by now was the permanent home of the family, was confirmed in the property of St. Maurice by three judges appointed by the Senate of Chambéry, while the three brothers of the Catholic branch were dispossessed. The property at St. Maurice was considerable, and in fact remained in the family until March 1789 when it was sold by the daughters of Alexander Pasteur; it then comprised over 315 poles of land, and was sold for 45,000 livres de Piémont.

The Pasteurs, then, though they perhaps had little of the flamboyancy which was shown by some of the immigrant families, were of good birth and property. They married into much the same sort of families as their own, and many of them can be found in Galiffe. Compared to the French and Italian families, however, nothing much seems to have happened to them — no executions, no great fortunes made or lost, and no great leaders. They were mostly lawyers — solid, careful, reliable men who kept their property at St. Maurice through all the changes of fortune which shattered other families, and who continued to practise their profession equally at St. Maurice or in Geneva, under the Duke of Savoy or under the French King.


(1) Histoire Abrégée de la Confédération Suisse, by Mme A. de la Rive, Geneva, 1907; but in the Histoire de Genève, by J. Jullien, Geneva, 1889, the age is given as twenty-five. Much of the information given above has been taken from these two books. [back to text]

(2) Among the family documents in the possession of Col. F. M. Pasteur, M.C., Church Hall, Wormingford, Essex, is the original deed of grant of the bourgeoisie of Lausanne to Pierre Antoine Pasteur on 18 October 1647 for the sum of 340 florins and payment of 50 florins and 10 florins for additional privileges. [back to text]

(3) Most of these details of the Pasteurs in the background period have been taken from a MS. by François Edouard Pasteur, Généalogie de la Famille Pasteur, written (from internal evidence) in or shortly after 1841. This MS. agrees broadly with Galiffe, except that Jacqueline Guigonnet is shown as the wife of this Antoine’s father, another Antoine (K257). Since vol. II of Galiffe’s second edition was revised in 1892 and gives the date of the marriage contract and is generally very reliable, it may be assumed that the version in the Notices Généalogiques is correct. The MS. is (1964) in the possession of H. W. Pasteur, Fairseat House, Kent. [back to text]

(4) “retired” is a better word than “fled”. There is no evidence that the various withdrawals of members of the Pasteur family to Geneva were anything but quiet and prudent acts, done peacefully and without loss of property; very different from the French and Italians who were often destitute when they arrived at Geneva. [back to text]

Source: Family Notebook, Volume 2. MORSE-PASTEUR, by Brigadier J.R.T. Aldous. Printed privately for Brigadier J. R. T. Aldous by Jarrold & Sons Ltd, Norwich, 1964. Courtesy of J.G. Aldous

(*) The eight Swiss are André Jacques Pasteur, Marc Mousson, Alexandre Marcet, Jane Haldimand, Jacob de Beaumont, Antoinette Lullin.

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