THE MOLLOT - BENOIT MARRIAGE
FORTUNE LOUIS JOSEPH MOLLOT (8) and MARIE ANAIS LÉOPOLDINE BENOIT (10), later to immigrate to Canada, were wed in Die, France. The civil marriage took place on October 4, 1872, with the church service on the following day, October 5, 1872. Having two ceremonies is still a common practice today as an expression of the separation between the rules of church and state. Prior to the French Revolution, the Church had great influence over the State and the people and, as a result, laws were enacted to separate the two.
The marriage took place in the Notre Dame Cathedral of Die, followed by a grand banquet at “Le Martouret”. As for a dowry, which was customary with well-to-do families, Dr. Benoit gave thirty thousand francs to his daughter and two hundred thousand francs to his new son-in-law, Fortuné.
Stated in the Memoires of Fortuné, one of the distinguished guests at the wedding was Léopoldine’s great uncle, Général Baron Adolphe Henry Gaston d’Azémar, (born 10/03/1837-died 1921) (19) of La Voulte. He was the 3rd of three consecutive generations of military generals in Léopoldine’s family tree. He also carried the title of Baron which had been granted to the family a century or so earlier. In the annals of the Azémar family, it says that Général Baron Gaston d’Azémar was “equally a distinguished musician”. He was the author of many musical compositions.
Later on, the newlyweds enjoyed a honeymoon in Paris and Châlons en Champagne to see relatives. Then eventually they visited Vienna, Naples, Venice, Rome, Florence, and various other splendors in Austria and Italy! With the recent huge inheritance from his father and a new bride, one could not have imagined a better scenario for a great life and future ahead!
Fortuné Louis Mollot (approx. age 40) and Léopoldine Mollot, née Benoit (approx. age 33) circa 1885
But the grandiose lifestyle (a new summer mansion in the countryside, a winter villa in Lyon and extensive traveling) for this couple who seemed to have everything could not last forever! As stated numerous times in his memoires and letters, Fortuné was neither a financier nor a businessman. The next twenty years would prove to be financially disastrous! In the years 1872-77 the cost of construction and furnishings for Château Blandin were much more than expected. The economics of the times did not help matters either. Just after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 in which France was defeated and humiliated, the country dipped into a recession in 1873 that ended up lasting some 22 years until 1895. Furthermore, in the early 1870’s, Fortuné invested heavily in the French stock market but in 1877, the government of the day brought in ‘radical practices’ to quote from Fortuné, which badly affected the market. Consequently, the market crashed thus greatly diminishing the family’s wealth. Then the famous French Panama Canal fiasco occurred. Between 1881 and 1888, the French undertook construction of a canal between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. This massive French engineering project, headed by chairman Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps, ended up as a total financial disaster by the year 1889! The French construction company went bankrupt and collapsed, involving several members of the French government in a corruption scandal. According to newspaper articles, the abandonment of this project caused financial ruin for many investors. Fortuné had also invested heavily in the Panama Canal project…and lost his entire investment. This would eventually prove to be a fatal blow!
After these events, the family had to sell the villa in Lyon and make Château Blandin their full time residence. Prior to this, the family had been privileged to live in the city during the winter and in the country during in the summer. Blandin became their permanent home, but family’s misfortunes were not over yet! Fortuné was desperately trying to find a quick and comfortable source of income. He decided to expand extensively the vineyards earlier begun by his father in the year 1869, but disaster was to strike again! The vineyard was devastated and destroyed by the disease called phylloxera. Phylloxera ruined virtually most of the wine industry of that era in France and southern Europe.
According to local Blandin documents, the vineyards employed some fifteen to eighteen local workers from Blandin. From Blandin the white wine in barrels was transported by horse-drawn wagons to the nearby rail station in Virieu. The vineyards of Blandin supplied white wine to numerous churches for mass in the region. .
Fortuné Mollot family crest and his logo as a wine producer
Fortuné was also quite involved in the community of Blandin. He served as councilor for the village (Commune) and was elected mayor of Blandin for the years 1886 to 1888. Besides Château Blandin, Fortuné left another footprint of interest. On his own property, just on the edge of the village property, he installed a statue of the Virgin Mary and had a bylaw passed by town council that it remain there in perpetuity! In our family archives, we have a copy of this bylaw. Not surprisingly, the statue is still there today!
Despite numerous setbacks, the lives of Fortuné and Léopoldine from the 1870’s to the 1890’s also were filled with many happy and memorable events. Four of their five children were born during this time and this brought them great joy:
Gabrielle Thérèse Mollot, (21) born Dec. 4, 1875, at #2, rue de la Bourse in Lyon
Louis Jean Baptiste Ernest Mollot, (22) born Aug. 29, 1879, in Die at the Martouret
Marcel Gabriel Mollot, (23) born Oct. 22, 1880, in Blandin
Marie Louise Mollot, (Lily) (24) born Feb. 27, 1891, in Blandin
Family picture on front entrance at Château Blandin, Sept.1885.Left to Right: Gabrielle Mollot, 9 yrs; Léopoldine Mollot, 33 yrs; Little girl, unknown; Dr. Benoit; in front of him, Mme. Benoit; Marcel Mollot, 5yrs. on toy horse; far right, Ernest Mollot, 6 yrs.
Even though the Mollot family saw their fortune diminish in those years, their lifestyle was very aristocratic in nature. All their children attended private boarding schools and were exposed to various musical and cultural activities. Interestingly, in our collection of family artifacts, we have numerous letters from the children written at school addressed to their parents. At six years of age, they had beautiful handwriting! Yes, handwriting! To this day, in France, children are taught first handwriting, then printing.
In the early years of their marriage, during the summer, Fortuné enjoyed Blandin and painting. In the winter, he painted at le Salon de Peinture in Lyon. On the other hand Léopoldine, who never enjoyed the countryside and Blandin, was in her glory in Lyon because she was part of the Lyonnaise cultural life - music, theatre, opera, and the related social activities. To quote Fortuné from his memoires, “My status as an artist allowed us free entry to the Grand Théatre de Lyon. We enjoyed ourselves greatly. The orchestras were excellent and the singers, for the most part, were first rate. In addition to the pleasure of listening to good music, there was also that of talking with the society of artists of Lyon, a charming society full of spirit whose conversations filled the intermissions.”
|Self portrait of Fortuné Mollot in his
studio in Blandin.
Painting of Léopoldine Mollot by
However, for Fortuné, financial problems were a constant concern and stress as were the political and social developments of the times in France.
During the years of 1886 –1891, as a last stand, Fortuné agreed to allow his brother-in-law, J. B. Algoud, and his adopted sister, Pauline (9), to take “the responsibility of treating and restoring the vineyards.” However, the results were less than satisfactory. Ultimately, the decision was to sell Blandin….but where to go? What to do in France?
To quote Fortuné, “Deciding to sell the property made me reflect on our future in France in general! I honestly saw no future ….the state of French society seemed somber and little reassuring of positive prospects for our children. Laws had been created to combat everything pertaining to religion and to the teaching of it! So much was wrong in France that I began to focus on foreign lands where there might be room for all the energy of youth!”
So why did the Mollot family immigrate? This question is quite complex but based on the memoires of Fortuné, various documents and letters, I believe that there were a great number of reasons: economic, political, social and religious in nature. He had lost most of the fortune that he had inherited from his father, Louis, and the political, social and religious developments in his native France were of grave concern to him. He felt strongly that his country was headed in the wrong direction! Thus, given the state of affairs in France at the time, he felt that his children would have greater opportunities and a better life elsewhere. In fact, one of his paintings “Reproches; le Bavard et le Moniteur” clearly depicts Fortuné´s feelings about his France at the time! It portrays a dominant lady (La France) reprimanding two naked children (French society) with hats made of newsprint, bearing the names “le Bavard” and le “Moniteur”….the gossiper and the monitor. It insinuates that the Press had been reduced to wearing dunce hats and society was listening to government rather than expressing its own opinions….the one child is standing at attention and saluting! On the painting, there is also a toy wooden soldier dumped upside down in a trash can, giving us the impression that the French military was in the tank. The painting expresses Fortuné´s deep negative feelings towards big government and the freedom of the press and free speech. The painting really summarizes the reasons as to why Fortuné immigrated. He was very disenchanted with the conditions in France and foresaw an even bleaker future. This painting makes a profound statement!
Painting – ‘Reproches: Le Bavard et Le Moniteur’ circa 1887