How did the Souvenir Normand begin? …. And where, why, when and at whose instigation? Three people figure as ‘fondateurs’ on the Association’s French letter heading: Stanislas, Marquis de le Rochethulonet Grente, the Vicomte Jehan Soudan de Pierrefitte, and Charles, Comte de la Tour d’Auvergne.
On his mother’s side the Marquis de la Rochethulon was descended in direct line from William the Conqueror and had territorial and family roots in Normandy. He was related to some of the crown heads of Europe, and to the Dutch Royal family in particular.
Soudan de Pierrefitte was a writer who had published, among other items, “La Revue de Paris et Saint Petersbourg” and “La Revue Franco-Russe”. It is said that, with the last Tsar of Russia, he prepared the Entente Franco-Russe and was instrumental in the conception, in 1899, of the Hague Conference, believed to be the first on-going machinery for the arbitration of international disputes.
De la Tour d’Auvergne came from an ancient and historic family, descended from the famous French Marechal killed on active service in 1675.
These three internationalists had a simple idea that the perpetuation of universal peace might be assisted through the association together of peoples from countries which had experienced the Norman influence.
No doubt this idea had been forming for some years among the founders and others whom they infected with their enthusiasm. It eventually took formal shape in a ‘Statut’, registered under French law, which embodied the Souvenir Normand as an Association for pursuing the work carried on since 1896 on the initiative of the founders to throw into relief the leading role played by Normans in Western civilisation and pursuing this aim by all extensions which offered themselves.
It may be assumed that the name ‘Le Souvenir Normand’ was chosen in imitation of the Souvenir d’Orange, of which de la Rochethulon was a member. This was directed to the continued association of people and countries connected with the royal house of Orange-Nassau. The sub-title of the Souvenir Normand is stated to have been: ‘Ligue Universelle de Paix, par l’union de tous pays’.
So, when the founders got together to realise their aim of the league of universal peace, they were able to fly high in the matter of supporters. These included all the reigning sovereigns of Europe who were descended from Willian the Conqueror or from Tancrède de Hauteville. William we all know about. Tancrède was a minor baron from the Coutances region of France, whose sons became more famous than he. They were among many Contentin Normans who decided to seek their fortunes further afield. Robert and Roger are described as the founders of Norman power in the Mediterranean. They established an important dynasty in Sicily, having before that sacked Rome. Robert Guiscard’s invasion of Sicily took place a mere six years after William sailed for England, that is in 1072.
The Entente Cordiale
It will be recalled that the Hague Convention of 1899 was partly the work of Soudan de Pierrefitte. We might regard that exercise as a sort of dummy run for the better known Convention of a few years later at which the celebrated Entente Cordiale was drawn up. The Convention document was signed on the 14th October 1903 by the Lord Landsdowne of the time for Great Britain, and by Paul Cambon for France, counter-signed by King Edward VII and ratified in April of the following year.
Edward VII is said to have chosen to sign it on the 14th October in commemoration of the Battle of Hastings “and in honour of the Monument of Hastings” (i.e. Battle Abbey) where the Souvenir Normand had set the seal on the Entente Cordiale by the installation of the Norman Stone.
On a later occasion, Lord Brassey, again in the name of the King, congratulated the founders of the Souvenir Normand “for having been the promoters of the Entente”. King Edward had been crowned on 19thAugust 1902, the ceremony having been delayed because of his earlier illness. The French leaders of the Souvenir Normand were given places of honour at the Coronation, and were later received at Buckingham Palace by Queen Alexandra, who thenceforth became Président d’Honneur of the Souvenir. It will be remembered that she was a Danish Princess.