Academic journal article Journal of Social History

Female Sociability, Physicality, and Authority in an Early Modern Haunting

Academic journal article Journal of Social History

Female Sociability, Physicality, and Authority in an Early Modern Haunting

Article excerpt

In April 1628 Huguette Roy lay bedridden and near death. Her husband, Antoine Roger, so feared for her life and the life of their unborn child that he had masses sung and hired doctors and midwives, all of which they could ill afford. One morning, after Antoine had gone to work patrolling their city's walls, a beautiful and radiant young woman, dressed in white, visited Huguette. This vision gently moved Huguette to the hearth, straightened the large room that was Huguette and Antoine's home, changed Huguette's linens, swept the floors, and even removed the spiders from the corners. She then disappeared. The next day Huguette spoke to her closest friend, Jeanne Massey, and asked Jeanne to thank her benefactrice. Much to their horror, they discovered that there was no such woman. Even more frightening was that this vision continued to appear, to do domestic chores, and to talk to Huguette, although no one else could see it. Soon the spiritual and secular authorities became involved. The local Franciscans and J esuits were brought in to test the spirit; the town council sent a delegation to observe the proceedings and to try to quiet the rumors spreading throughout the city where Huguette lived, Dole, and neighboring villages. [1] Despite having such a prestigious audience and facing repeated cross-examination, the ghost refused to name itself or state its purpose, although it performed every task that was set before it and did nothing harmful. Finally, on the thirtieth day of its appearance, the spirit revealed that it had once been called Leonarde Colin. Based on this information, Huguette immediately assumed the apparition was her mother and, in a heart-rending speech, promised to do everything in her power to aid it. Later Huguette reconsidered her decision when a woman from the countryside told her that Leonarde Colin had been the name of Huguette's aunt, information that Leonarde would soon confirm. From this point on, Huguette and the spirit, the niece and the aunt, would generally cooperate. As a result, Leo narde ascended into Heaven as a bride of Christ while Huguette apparently resumed her quiet life. [2]

Although ghosts such as Leonarde were unusual apparitions, seventeenth-century Dole and the region of which it was the capital, the Franche-Comte, were sites for many supernatural and preternatural occurrences, at least according to their residents. Werewolves were seen to be lurking in neighboring woods, mysterious ladies held nocturnal hunts, and demons guarded treasure troves buried in local caves. [3] Of such figures, witches were perceived to be the most common, and both the Parlement, based in Dole, and the Inquisition regularly heard cases involving suspected sorcerers, wise women, and malefactors. The year of Huguette's haunting, 1628, also marked the beginning of four years of famine and plague as well as on-going prosecutions of witches, werewolves, and visionaries such as Huguette. In addition, the leading ecclesiastical official of the region, the archbishop of Basancon, had only recently begun the promulgation and enforcement of the Tridentine decrees, and Leonarde's appearance can be read as a response to such activities and the development of a distinct confessional identity in the Franche-Comte, where Huguette lived. Regional politics contributed to the tensions; the secular and spiritual authorities were well aware of the dangers they faced given the proximity of the border with France and the aggressive foreign policies of the French kings. Such fears contributed to their insistence on common recognition of their social and political status and their wary approach to Huguette and her vision. These concerns would prove to be valid only eight years later, in 1636, when Louis XIII's armies invaded the county.

Despite these circumstances and fears, Huguette's haunting apparently had a particular and positive appeal for many of Dole's residents. Not only do secular and ecclesiastical archives from that era repeatedly note the attention people paid to the event, but the production of a 179-page Histoire only two months after the visitation ended confirms its local significance. …

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