AIMERI DE THOUARS
We have already heard of "Le Visquens cil de Thouars" (Aimeri, Aumari, or Haimon, as he is indifferently called), in the first chapter of this volume, as the enthusiastic admirer of the martial appearance of the Conqueror previous to the battle. "Never have I seen a man so fairly armed nor one who rode so gallantly, or bore his arms, or became his hauberk so well; neither any one who carried his lance so gracefully, or sat his horse and manoeuvred him so nobly. There is no other such knight under Heaven! A fair Count he is, and a fair King he will be. Let him fight and be shall overcome; shame be to him who shall fail him!"
And assuredly no shame could be cast on "li bon Visquenz de Toarz" on that occasion, who, appointed by William to lead with Alain of Brittany the left wing of the army, principally composed of Poitevins, Bretons, Manceaux, and of course his own following, which was a numerous one, proved himself "no coward that day."
As neither Monsieur le Prévost nor Mr. Taylor have given us any information respecting the family of this undoubted companion of the Conqueror, I shall endeavour to supply the deficiency, more particularly as this is one of the Norman families in which a remarkable custom existed to the great confusion of the genealogists.
Monsieur de Besly, in a letter to his brother antiquary, the learned André du Chesne, dated 23rd May, 1620, says: "Of all the great houses in this country, there are none in my opinion so difficult to give a clear account of as that of the Viscount of Thouars and of the other 'Gentilhommes' between the river Sèvre, which flows to Mortagne, and the Dive, which passes to Moncontour, the more because in these parts they have retained an ancient mode of succession exceedingly singular, and of which an example could scarcely be found elsewhere in the kingdom; for the eldest son in the direct line, if he had male issue only, took all the fiefs and 'biens nobles,' with the obligation of providing for his younger brothers, which was done by dividing the usufruct of the whole estate into nine portions, two of which they afterwards divided equally amongst themselves. But if the eldest son died before his younger brothers, his children succeeded only to his personalities, and all his estates went to the next brother charged with the provision as before to any younger brothers and the children of the elder deceased, by subdivision of the two-ninths of the usufruct equally amongst themselves, as I have already stated. The lands thus passed from brother to brother, and after the decease of the youngest reverted entirely and absolutely to his nephews, the sons of the eldest brother, who became heirs of each other in the regular order of succession. This custom, which was termed 'Retour,' was abolished by the Three Estates of the kingdom in 1514, in consequence of its severity and the troubles and litigation it engendered.
"Here, in fact, you have the true cause and origin of the deplorable confusion at present to be seen in the genealogies of our nobility in these quarters. For the fief passing from brother to brother, all the younger assumed the full title as though they were lords in actual possession of the territories, in lieu of simple annuitants. Sometimes also these uncles permitted their nephew, the eldest son of their eldest brother, to do homage for the lands and bear the title, saving the right as to the annuity, the reservation of which, nevertheless, was not thereafter expressed in their charters, so that frequently two Viscounts de Thouars are found named in and signing the same charter. Sometimes twelve viscounts are found succeeding each other in less than thirty years, arising from the circumstance that the elder of several brothers having lived to a very great age, the younger having all become old men, soon followed him to the grave, leaving us in these days uncertain and at a loss to guess which was the father, which the son, which the uncle, and which the nephew; so that the ordinary calculation could not be relied upon in such a case which allows ninety or a hundred years for three generations."
Guided by this curious exposition of manners and customs, as interesting to the jurist as to the genealogist, I find that our Aimeri IV, Vicomte de Thouars, was the eldest son of Geoffrey II, Viscount de Thouars, by a lady named Ainor or Aldearde, but in consequence of the strange perplexing rules alluded to does not appear to have directly succeeded to him, though bearing in accordance with them the title of Viscount. He was present when Agnes, Duchess of Guyenne, gave the town of St. Angely to the abbey of that name in 1048. At the time of the invasion he was probably between twenty and thirty, and the husband of Aserengarde, sister of Raoul de Mauleon, living in 1069, by whom he had two sons, Herbert and Geoffrey, and a daughter, lldegarde, who became the wife of Hugues VI, Sire de Lezingen.
Aimeri married, secondly, a lady named Ameline, for the health of whose soul, the souls of his father and mother, of his own soul, and those of his sons Herbert and Geoffrey, he gave, in December 1088, the Church of St. John the Evangelist, in the Castle of La Cheze, to the Abbey of St. Florent de Saumur. He also commenced the erection of another church in that castle, in honour of St. Nicholas, and confirmed to it all the gifts he had made to it, with the consent of his wife and children, Thursday, 15th of January, 1092.
He died the following year, and was buried in his new Church of St. Nicholas de la Cheze, leaving by his second wife, according to Père Anselm, four sons, — Savary, Raoul, Hugues, and another Geoffrey, whom he makes the successor to his grandfather Geoffrey; but as Savary and Raoul were both witnesses to charters in favour of St. Florent in 1054 and 1068, and as he makes Geoffrey out to be eighty years of ago in 1120, and consequently born in 1040, they could not be the sons of Ameline, married between 1069 and 1088.
I can recommend the whole pedigree as a pleasing puzzle to all whom it may concern. I have extracted as much as concerns me on this occasion, which, little as it is, sheds some light on "li bon Visquenz de Toarz," who was "ne mauvais ne coarz, qui ert apelé Eimeris," and who "mult recu le jor grand pris," and at the same time illustrates the singular custom recorded by Monsieur Besly.
Added to this site through the courtesy of Fred L. Curry, who provided a photocopy of the section.