Daphne du Maurier Daphne du Maurier

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Daphne du Maurierís French Ancestry and her novel The Glass Blowers

Daphne du Maurier  (Copyright - United Press Photo/AFP)

Yesterday (Sunday 3rd July 2022), the BBC Radio 4 programme, Broadcasting House, included a fascinating five-minute piece about Daphne du Maurier's French ancestry.  On the same day, the BBC News website published an article on the subject.

Until Daphne du Maurier began researching her French ancestry, the family had believed they were descended from the French aristocracy and that their ancestor Mathurin Robert (1759-1811) had fled France and the threat of the guillotine during the French Revolution.  The truth was known by his sister Sophie and partly documented in her letters held by the family and now lodged with many other du Maurier papers in the Special Collections archive at the University of Exeter.  Daphne's grandfather, George, is said to have had some idea that these family stories were false, and this is credible because he was a child when his Great Aunt Sophie was still alive and is said to have met her, so she could have told him the truth of the case.  However, he continued to perpetuate the story of the aristocratic ancestors when he told his children family stories.  George's son Gerald, Daphne's father, absolutely believed that his ancestors were aristocratic owners of glassblowing businesses, not workers in them, and told his daughters the family story.

Daphne's research and the letters that her three times great aunt Sophie had written confirm that far from being an aristocrat, Mathurin Robert Busson was a failed glassmaker who had escaped to England to avoid a French debtors' prison.  He added the name du Maurier to his own to give him status, becoming Mathurin Robert Busson du Maurier.  The du Maurier part came from the name of the farmhouse where his family had lived and worked Ė Le Maurier.  Mathurin Robert was a thorough rogue, and this is just one of many things he did that do him no credit at all!

Le Maurier, a small farmhouse where Maturan Robert Busson was born.  The property still exhists today.  (Copyright - James O'Mara)

Hugh Schofield presented Sunday's broadcast and also wrote the article.  He travelled to the Perche region of France, where he followed in the footsteps that Daphne had journeyed when she carried out her research during several visits to the area between 1955 and 1961.  Hugh was accompanied on his visit to the various locations by Anne Hall, an American academic living in the Perche region and an expert on Daphne du Maurier's French ancestry.

The ruins of the old glass foundry at Chteau de La Pierre


Both the broadcast and the article are fascinating and bring lots of lesser-known information to light.

Broadcasting House is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 9am each Sunday morning.  This particular piece can be found, about twenty minutes into the programme, at this link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0018wwc

To read the article, please click here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-61985416      

Daphne du Maurier wrote two books set in France in which she references the knowledge she gained while carrying out her family history research.  The first was The Scapegoat, a novel with a plot that takes place against the background of a family glassblowing foundry, published in the UK in 1957.  The second was The Glass Blowers, based on her research into her glassblowing ancestors, published in the UK in 1963.

Anne Hall has written two books on the history of the du Maurier family. 

Sur Les Pas De Daphne du Maurier: Au pays des souffleurs de verre, published by Editions du Cherche-Lune, France, in 2010.

The du Mauriers: Just as They Were, published by Unicorn Publishing Group, London, in 2018 and reviewed on our website at the time of its publication. 

To read our review, please click here.

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