Rich Man, Poor Man

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Home Rich Man, Poor Man; the book

Boileau de Castelnau de la Garde et de St. Croix de Boiriac.

My GG-grandmother, Ellen Leah Boileau, was a descendant of an old Huguenot family, who had come to Britain after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. A lot is known about the Boileau family, as a number of genealogists have devoted enormous amounts of effort into unravelling who they were, and when and how.Boileau coat-of-arms

The basic story is told by Chesnaye-Desbois [2] and Lart [1], although we don't always (usually!) trust either of them. The usual claim is that the family's founder is the Etienne Boileau, Provost of Paris, who appears in Joinville, but this is almost certainly nonsense. It's most likely that the Boileau were wealthy merchants (maybe drapers) who bought a certificate of nobility for themselves around the 1400s, and then invented a series of distinguished crusading ancestors, leading back to the only known eminent Boileau of the previous centuries. They wouldn't have been the first family to do this. Or the last. The first Boileau from whom descent is reasonably certain is Guillaume (1420-1494), Royal Treasurer of Nimes and Beaucaire.

Anyway, there are a number of excellent sources for the Boileau family, listed below. I only discuss ones I have seen myself. A much more detailed list is given in BBB [3], who had reference to family papers and documents.

The most important source, and the most comprehensive, is the Big Book of Boileaus [3]. This has clearly been a labour of love over at least two generations of Boileaus, and is an unparalleled history of the family; clearly stated, sensibly argued, and careful with the evidence, I believe this to be a highly reliable source. Its major fault is its concentration on matters male and military, to the exclusion of most things to do with wives and daughters. Despite this, one cannot research the Boileau family without a copy of this book. Copies circulate within the family, but everybody is asked not to publish it on the web, as the original authors might have a desire to publish it officially at some time. The web cards on my web site contain extensive extracts from this book, which, I hope, does not break the spirit of this agreement.

Another hugely impressive Boileau document is the chart which I call BBC [4]. Compiled in 1867, and containing every descendant of Charles Boileau the compiler could get her hands on (but, inexplicably, missing the Hardy line, and possibly others), the chart is a million miles long, all beautifully presented in a fold-out book, the original of which is with Chris Read. Chris was kind enough to photograph the chart for me in 2008, and I have entered all the information from the chart into the web cards. I also combined all Chris' photographs into one enormous pdf file of the chart, which you can download for yourself, if you wish. Be warned; it's about 123 MB, so you'll need a fast connection. There are still a couple of pages missing, which got lost in the transfer from Chris to me; the sections on the Innes line, for instance, are only partially there. I'll fix that when I can. I've made a much smaller version of the chart, one that looks much less elegant, but is easier to download.

The most important source for me personally, although the least important for others, is the Red Book of Boileaus [5]. My grandmother (the grand-daughter of Ellen Leah Boileau, and called Old Granny) wrote down a family history in a little red book, which I photocopied when I was quite young. Maybe 15 or so. After Granny died the book went to my uncle Alfred, and he gave it to me in 2008. So I now have the original world-famous little red book. A bit tattered now, and very fragile. From this book I learned a little about the connection to the Boileau of Castelnau, and without it I may never have made the connection.

Interestingly, in 2004, another Boileau descendeant, Leigh Boileau, sent me a copy of a wall chart that one of his relatives (his grandfather, he thinks) picked up on a trip to the UK in 1929. This wall chart is quite clearly the place that Old Granny got her information, as it is word-for-word identical to what is written in RBB. Old Granny claims she got the information while on a visit to Edmond Castle, and one suspects that the original wall chart was hanging up there. Even more interestingly, the wall chart that Leigh Boileau has is clearly a copy of part of the much larger Innes chart, BBC, just leaving out the later generations. So, clearly, the Innes chart has been copied, or partially copied, many times, by different people, many of which just copied their own lines and left out the others. Understandable, of course, given the size of the chart.

I hope that, by putting the chart itself on the web, and including all its information in the web cards, the full chart will get a much wider circulation.

One particularly interesting piece of Boileau history is a letter written by Despreaux Boileau to his nephews and nieces. It's full of delightful pencil drawings, and is a real find. While clearing out the house during Pop's last few years, my parents found it being used as a drawer liner, and in pretty poor condition. It's not all there, but I've reproduced what survived.


[1] Lart, Charles E., Huguenot Pedigrees, Guimaraens, London, 1928.

[2] François Aubert de la Chesnaye-Desbois, Dictionnaire de la Noblesse, D'après la troisième édition en 19 volumes de 1863 A 1876. Republished (at really crappy image quality) on CD by Héraldique & Généalogie,

[3] BBB: The Chronicles of the Family of Boileau known as de Castelnau de la Garde de Sainte-Croix de Boiriac, Compiled by DIGBY WHICHER BOILEAU over many years and up to his death at the age of 82, in 1976. Subsequently the work was continued by his brother, THOMAS WHICHER BOILEAU, who produced the first version of the book before his own death at the age of 85. This later, and where possible, more complete version is now presented by PETER MUDIE BOILEAU, son of Digby and nephew of Tom. (With thanks to Vincent O’Grady for sending this to me.)

[4] BBC: The Big Boileau Chart. This is the chart of Boileau descendants that was finished and compiled in December 1867 by Jane Alicia Innes, and a copy of which is still in the possession of Chris Read. It has handwritten additions from the 1890s on. Thanks to Chris Read for sending me a copy of this chart. Grab the 123 MB pdf file of the original chart here. Grab the modern version, much smaller and much uglier, here.

[5] RBB: Old Granny’s “Red Book of Boileaus”, or so I call it. Handwritten notes, kept by old Granny, and obtained I don’t know when. However, just about all the details I can check independently are agree with other sources.