"Laux Name Origins and Historical Context"
Fellow Laux, Loux, Laucks, Lauck, Loucks and Louks family members, other family and friends, it is a pleasure to be here on this historic occasion, the 300th anniversary reunion of the Laux family in America. In addressing our family roots, we are painfully cognizant that with the passage of time, valuable information escapes us and becomes lost. Very early in a name’s history, spelling variations may intrude, reflecting nuanced versions of the name’s origin. Pieces of the name may be altered or dropped entirely. Phonetic representations, while preserving pronunciation, may alter spellings in a manner that represent a complete departure from the name origin. Over time, pronunciation itself may change, to the extent that we are sometimes left with only a vestige of the name that once identified us.
What I will attempt to address is not our blood heritage, so much as the origin of the name itself. Without a doubt, our near provenance is Germany, where we lived among the Reformed protestant peoples of the Palatine and, from there came to the United States with the Pennsylvania Deutsche migrations of the early 18th Century. Our German cultural heritage would have been significant and remains important to us today.
But the name itself persists in its own right, as a relic that suggests another time and place. Few would disagree that the name was linked with a movement that was both religious and political, and which played a key role in defining modern-day Protestantism. But the name is far older than the sixteenth century, which gave us the French theologian and pastor, John Calvin. It has played a role in history that is intensely interesting, more than a little tragic, ultimately triumphant against great odds, and, it must be added, triumphant at considerable cost. If our name is indeed a true and accurate reflection of our legacy, then it represents more than historical footnotes of passing interest. It speaks with a voice that demands to be preserved.
At the outset, I must beg your indulgence in that some of the material will be a bit academic, due to the particular objective of the piece, the source materials and the time spans involved. Word pronunciation will also be a challenge, in that the word Laux has been in existence for nearly a thousand years, across multiple languages, including English, French and Occitan. In some cases the word will have different spellings that are pronounced the same way. In other cases, the same spelling of the word will have different pronunciations, depending on the language and the time period involved. For consistency and ease of identifying the word, I will pronounce it as \laouks\, regardless of the language or time period. As we shall see later, this is in fact one of the correct pronunciations in the historical context. However, it must be pointed out that in the French of current day France and Italy, the name would be pronounced \lo\.
Provenance of the Name Laux
In an address delivered at the Laux Family 200 Year Reunion in 1910, James B. Laux boldly stated that our family derived from one of the most ancient in France, the du Laux family of Béarn.(1) A logical place to start investigating such an assertion is the research associated with French armorial rankings. While armorial bearings appear to be ancient in origin, their application in terms of a modern sense of heraldry and its associated hereditary coats-of-arms appears to have been established across Europe by the middle of the 12th century.(2) Armorial research establishes the genealogical proofs associated with a family name and its coats-of-arms.
With this in mind, we find the name Laux appearing in Henri Jougla de Morenas’ Grand Armorial de France, as “DU Lau et DU LAU D’ALLEMANS OLIM DU LAUX”.(3) The word olim is significant. According to a researcher at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, “Olim is the Latin word for ‘formerly’. This means that this family name was first spelled Du Laux and then Du Lau. In fact, the spelling du Lau seems to be rather recent, [as] the form Du Laux is still used in the 17th Century”.(4)
The armorial research in Jougla de Morenas indicates du Laux to be a name that was known since the 11th Century and whose filial association was established in 1115 in the environs of Béarn and Périgord. A member of the modern-day du Lau family in southern France has confirmed the former x spelling of the name, indicating usage as early as 1000.(5) Written records of the name appear at later dates in François Bluche’s Les Pages de la Grand Écurie, in the vicinity of Périgord, starting with François du Laux in 1542 and ending with Jean Armand du Laux in 1698.(6) In other sources, the name du Laux appears as a name of registered nobility as late as 1666-1668 in the town of Angoulême,(7) and in 1711 we find one of the counts d’Allamans referred to as Jean Armand du Laux.(8)
One of the functions served by coats-of-arms was to differentiate groups of combatants on a battlefield. Banners displaying coats-of-arms served as rallying points for individuals fighting for certain family groups, and as such, sometimes even differentiated one family leader from another. Thus, a family might have had more than one, if not several, coats-of-arms over time.
The descriptions of the coats-of-arms for the du Laux family that appears in Jougla de Morenas’s Grand Armorial de France and Bluche’s Les Pages de la Grand Écurie, both previously mentioned, are similar in their essential charges of a red lion before a laurel tree of the armorial color sinople or green. But the family had other coats-of-arms as well, and in a marked departure from the lion motif, Jougla de Morenas indicates that another branch of the family bore a coat-of-arms depicting a crow.(9)
The coat-of-arms chiseled on the exterior château wall at Montardy, a du Lau château near Périgueux that was built in the 15th century, returns to the charge of a lion in front of the familiar laurel tree, though the aspect of this lion is guardant as opposed to the rampant aspect we see in Jougla de Morenas. Marquis Henri du Lau d’Allemans of Montardy has indicated that the color of the laurel tree is sinople, and that the lion, guarding the sinople laurel, indicates “force in the service of love,” a compelling chivalric theme.
The connection between the names Laux and Lau have been documented, and when I had the pleasure of discussing family origins with Marquis Henri du Lau d’Allemans in his library at Montardy, he asserted that the family descended from a man named Iñigo Lope(z) du Lau(x), from the area around the Bay of Biscay in Spain, south of the Pyrenees. Iñigo is a Basque name.(10) During Iñigo’s time in the eleventh century, Basque Country would have comprised a much broader area than the extreme southwestern France and northwestern Spain that we associate with it today. It would certainly have encompassed the area around the Bay of Biscay. While the name Iñigo is Basque, the name Lope(z) is Spanish,(11) suggesting that Iñigo was a man who may have been of mixed heritage.
Meaning of the Name Laux
According to the researcher at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, previously mentioned, the name du Lau was represented in Latin texts as “de Lauro,” from the root word “laurus,” which is Latin for laurel tree.(12) The laurel tree is depicted on the du Laux coat-of-arms in the sources previously mentioned, as well as on the château wall at Montardy, and is significant for its symbolic representation of praise or praiseworthiness, as well as resurrection and immortality through renewal.
Other sources, however, provide an interesting indication that the name Laux has multiple Latin roots. The Dictionnaire Provençal-Français, compiled between 1866 and 1886, indicates that the word Lau is a variant of the Roman words laus and lac, and derives from the Latin lacas, resulting in du Lau and Dulac as southern French family names.(13) In an additional entry, the same source gives the word Lòu as a variant of the word Lau and, in this instance, predicates the names on the Roman word laur, from the Latin labor, referring to land that has been cleared or ploughed. The Dictionnaire toponymique des Communes des Hautes-Pyrénées is in apparent agreement, indicating the most likely source of the word Lau as Laur, which it describes as an Occitan name.(14) The Toponymie Des Pays Occitans gives the derivation of the word laur as the Latin laborare, meaning “to work,” such as the work involved in clearing and cultivating land, and links Laur to place-names such as Lau, Laujuzan, Araujuzon and Lau-Balagnas, which it gives as the derivation of the family name Dulau.(15) These place-names represent towns in the extreme south of France, close to the Spanish border.
In fact, information provided by François du Lau d’Allemans(16) indicates that as early as the 13th and 14th centuries, a growing number of variations of the name Laux would have described the same person, including: Dos Lau, des Lau and Des Lauh, Des Lauz, Des Laus and de Lau. Additionally, spelling variations of the name du Lau that developed over time include: De Lau, De Laur, De Laude, De Laud, Du Laud, De Laus, Del Laus, Deux Laus, Del Laulx, Deu Laus, Deux Laux, and Du Laux.
Interestingly enough, we see no less a personage than Louis XI referring to Antoine de Chastelnau du Lau as Le Seigneur du Lac.(17) We also find the name Laux referenced in such localities as the town of Saint-Étienne-le-Laus and the spiritual sanctuary of Notre-Dame du Laus, both of which trace the original spelling of the word Laus to the word Laux,(18) and furthermore give the etymology of the name as derived from the Latin word lacas, or lake. Similarly, a representative of La Ferme du Laux (spelled both with and without the x), a bed and breakfast in the French Alps, has indicated that the origin of the name of the hotel is an area where “le lau” signifies lakes or water.(19)
Of additional interest, in an area of France called la Drôme, near Provence, there is a town named Laux-Montaux. In 1645 a man named Jean was the seigneur de Laux-Montaux and he had a brother named Pierre, who was also referred to as sieur de Laux,(20) both of which represent instances where Laux was used in a manner similar to a surname, and as such, in these instances, would appear to have represented a geographical place-name, in addition to whatever other etymological derivations it may have had. South of Albi was another town named Laux that was changed to Saint-Genest-de-Contest around 1829.(21) Just inside Italy’s border with France, in an area known as the Piedmont, there is a town named Laux where a Waldensian synod was held in 1526, and where an Occitan dialect is still spoken today.(22) The Waldensians were a Christian group who were nearly exterminated in France, and which managed to hold out in the Piedmont. Peter Waldo, the man largely credited with having a significant role in the creation of the Waldensian sect, is also credited with playing a role in the first translation of the Bible into a European vernacular other than Latin,(23) and John Calvin’s French Bible (translated by Pierre Robert Olivétan), published in 1535, is acknowledged to have been based in part on the Waldensian New Testament.
It might interest some to know that les sept-Laux is the name of a mountain range that composes part of the Belledonne mountains in the Alps of southeast France,(24) as well as the name of a ski resort in the Belladonnes, and that numerous lakes in the French Alps and Italian Piedmont bear the Laux name.
The fact that the name Laux has Latin roots is very important, for while various spoken patois developed throughout France over time, Latin continued to be the official written language well into the sixteenth century.(25) As a recorded Latinate word, the name was preserved to some extent, much more so than if it had been a phonetic approximation of regional patois. Had the name not derived from a Latin root word and had the family not been of sufficient note that the name was recorded from time to time, it well might have been lost.
That said, while its Latin origin and written legacy have been key to the name’s preservation, pronunciation, as well, would have played an important role in the name’s
evolution. As late as the 19th Century, Parisian French was not a predominant language throughout the country, and 80% of the population spoke various patois in its everyday affairs.(26) The spoken languages of the southern part of the country would have included various patois associated with an Occitan language generally referred to as the langue d’oc. The Occitan expression for this language was lenga d’òc or lenga nòstra, which means “our language”. It was a romance language spoken in southern France, parts of western Italy, northern Spain and Monaco. Like Parisian French, and other romance languages, it was based on Latin, but it should not be confused with French as we know it today. It was much more influenced by the Spanish languages of the Iberian Peninsula.
The various patois would have included béarnais, languedocien, gascon, limousin, Provençal and other Occitan and related Catalan variations. Also spoken in the area would have been the Basque language referred to as Euskara, which deserves special mention as a language isolate, or a language that appears to have no etymological relationship to other languages. While surrounded by Indo-European languages, it is not, itself, one of them, and as such, is said to be the last survivor of the pre-Indo-European languages of Europe.(27)
It has been said that Pyrenean sentiments were often hostile to the idea of “Frenchness” and that locals maintained their local languages well into the second half of the 19th century.(28) A Laux seigneur from Périgord in the 17th century may have understood Parisian French. However, this cannot be taken for granted; and in the Pyrenean regions to the south, the various patois were more related to Spanish than French, as previously noted. Due to the idiosyncrasies of local pronunciation, the residents of one Pyrenean valley would have had a difficult time communicating with another,(29) and it is not at all certain that a Laux emigrant from France in the 17th century would have understood or spoken French as we know it.
Determining word pronunciation over multiple languages and extended periods of time poses a significant challenge, and I enlisted the aid of Argitxu Camus Etchecopar, a resident of Basque Country of southern France, who received a PhD from the University of Nevada at Reno. She in turn, utilized the assistance of Robèrt Labòrda and Natalia Menvièla, Occitan language specialists and co-founders of la Calendreta d’Auloran, which is located in a town with the Occitan spelling of Auloran-Senta-Maria, and otherwise known as the French town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie. A calendreta is a bilingual school where the Occitan language is taught alongside French. As a bit of historical pedigree, Auloran-Senta-Maria has the oldest known Romanesque church in the Béarn region, where the du Laux family is said to be from, and it is entirely possible that in times long past, a Laux has worshipped there. Increasing this likelihood exponentially is the nearness of Oloron-Sainte-Marie to Lescar, where Guillaume Sanche was said to be situated. Guillaume Sanche is thought to be the son of Iñigo Lope(z) du Lau(x) and is credited by the current-day Du Lau family as being the father of the family name. Oloron-Sainte-Marie is also situated near Pau, one of the largest cities in southwest France, and the birthplace of Jeanne d’Albret, mother of King Henri IV and the acknowledged political and spiritual leader of the French Huguenot movement.(30)
Based on this research, in the greater Occitan region encompassing Béarn, where both family lore and published sources have indicated that at least some of the Laux names have originated, the name would have been spoken with a diphthong pronounced as \aou\. Additionally, the final consonant of the word would have been pronounced. Normally, a Latin word ending with an x is pronounced as a \ks\, as in fact we see in the American pronunciation of Laux and its phonetic variants. According to the research of Labòrda and Menvièla, however, and perhaps taking into consideration the conflation of the words Laux and Laus, the final consonant of the word Laux would most likely have been pronounced as the s sound in the word “source.” The conclusion of Labòrda and Menvièla, therefore, was that in the Béarn region, subject to some possible local variation, the word Laux would have been pronounced as \laous\. In other words, in the langue d’oc spoken by our Laux ancestors, the pronunciation of the name would have been very close to how most Laux descendents in North America pronounce it today.
The Laux Name in Historical Context
Living in a time of comparative religious tolerance, as we do, we may find it difficult to fully comprehend a time when there was no separation of church and state and a particular religion ruled every major aspect of a person’s life, when the seemingly simple act of not attending religious services could be viewed as a sign of heresy, and when the Church had the power to raise and direct the course of an army through its preaching. And yet so it was during the Middle Ages of Europe, a time when individuals lived not only at the pleasure of royalty and nobility in general, but at the perceived pleasure of God as well. The Church was the arbiter of God’s will in the eyes of the people, and the Church took a very dim view of any beliefs that diverged from the mainstream orthodoxy, considering such beliefs to be heretical. Inasmuch as it was thought to displease God, heresy was also thought to threaten the very well-being of the community, and was countered with intolerance and, at times, extreme prejudice.
The particular church we are talking about was the Roman Catholic Church, but let me be clear that my comments are placed in historical context only, and should not be construed to in any way reflect a religious preference. Where there is no separation of church and state, the Church’s interests become political as well as spiritual, and any religion so ensconced would have been in a position to protect its interests. It just so happens that the state-sanctioned religion of France during the Middle Ages was Catholicism.
The early du Laux were undoubtedly Catholic, as were most other members of Christendom. They were also seigneurs, which meant they owned manor houses, châteaux and other lands, and that they would have had juridical responsibility over the lives of the people who co-existed with these properties and lands. They would have had protective responsibilities as well, and would have had to maintain troops or had access to the protective forces of other nobility.(31) As seigneurs, they would have been noble, to greater or lesser degrees, but that does not mean they would have been wealthy. In the case of primogeniture, only the eldest sons inherited property. But even in cases where primogeniture did not hold, and where property was distributed among more than one child, wealth would have been significantly diluted over time. In both cases, family members in financial straits would have had to make a living in the military, in service to the church, through fortunate marriage, or by some other means.
As seigneurs, the du Laux would have enjoyed certain benefits unavailable to more common folk. However, such status would also have made them vulnerable to social upheaval, as well, and it would be hard to overestimate the influence on Laux family fortunes, for better and for worse, of the religious wars that mobilized French society from the 11th through the 17th Centuries.
One of the first wars of religion to have a lasting impact on the Laux name would have been the series of conflicts known as the Crusades. France was largely Catholic in 1096, when the First Crusade was preached, and the Crusade was mounted by the Church with the ostensible goal of liberating Jerusalem from Muslim control. While the Crusade drew participants from Western Germany, the Low Countries and Italy, the southern French participation was so significant that it has become common practice to refer to the First Crusaders as the Franks.(32) At the height of the Crusades, nearly half of the French nobility participated.(33)
We know from the besants on the du Laux coat of arms, that the du Laux, in fact, participated. The besant was a gold coin that early Crusaders found in Constantinople, the Byzantine capital of the Roman empire and the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Roman Catholic Church in the late eleventh century, when the First Crusade took place. The besants on the du Laux coat of arms are depicted as “besans d’argent”,(34) which is a besant of silver, one of the colors found for this coin in French heraldry. In general, a rondel or small circle of the color silver denotes a person worthy of praise or treasure. Additionally, as a heraldic device, the besant commemorated the bearer as having, at his own cost, ransomed Christians who had been captured during the Crusade to Jerusalem,(35) and as such, symbolized family participation in these campaigns. We don’t know the specific outcome of the First Crusade in terms of material benefit to the Laux family. We do know, however, that the du Laux name was established in 1115, as previously noted, which would have been in the immediate aftermath of the First Crusade. We also have hints of more significant, prolonged participation in the Crusades, as a du Lau was said to be a Knights Templar and to have been captured and ransomed with Louis IX during the Seventh Crusade at the battle of Mansurah in 1250.(36)
The second series of religious wars to have a lasting impact on the Laux name would have been the Albigensian Crusade, which occurred three hundred years after the First Crusade to Jerusalem. The Albigensian conflict was called a Crusade because it was preached by the Church, although, ironically, the target of this crusade was fellow Christians. As one of the by-products of the earlier conflicts in the Middle East, new ideas were introduced into Europe in general and southern France in particular. One of these ideas was Christian Gnosticism, which saw the material qualities of the world as inherently evil, and diverged from the Catholic Church in other significant areas, such as the perceived divinity of Christ. A Christian Gnosticism known as Catharism took a strong hold in the area of southern France known as the Languedoc, and the Catholic Church considered it a heresy. The Church mounted a Crusade to suppress it, and the conflict became known as the Albigensian Crusade due to the prominence of the town of Albi within the targeted area.
We must recall that a village named Laux was said to exist just south of Albi, and with this in mind, we must take a sober look at statistical evidence suggesting that from a quarter to a third of the population of the western Languedoc may have been Cathar sympathizers.(37) Raymond of Toulouse, a count who controlled much of the region, commented that nearly all of his vassals and their subjects were involved in Catharism.(38) While Basques, in general, tended to be staunchly Catholic and Béarn was located outside of the general Languedoc region, Béarn participated in the military defense of the Languedoc against the northern invasion(39) and was one of the areas targeted by the Crusade.(40)
The Albigensian Crusade was devastating to Provence and the Languedoc in general. The crusading armies sometimes put whole towns to the sword. What later became known as the Spanish Inquisition was formed with the intent of rooting out Cathar refugees(41) and many of the petty aristocracy of the Languedoc were dispossessed of both lands and titles,(42) impoverishing families that had once enjoyed seigneurial privileges. Given who they were and where they lived, it is hard to imagine that Laux fortunes were not affected by this series of events and that at least some Lauxes were not made destitute.
Of more immediate concern to us was a third series of conflicts known as the French Civil Wars of Religion in the 16th Century. These wars were not a Crusade, as they were not preached and driven by the Church. However, recalling again that this was a time when there was no separation of church and state, and that the state sponsored religion was Catholicism, one can begin to see the political implications of what later became known as the Protestant Reformation.
The Reformation was begun by Martin Luther during the early 16th Century, and during the period from 1560-98, nearly half of the nobility and a third of the bourgeoisie became Protestant.(43) An area that stretched from La Rochelle on the west coast of France to the French Alps in the east became known as the “Huguenot Crescent”.(44) As in the case of Catharism, the Catholic Church considered the Reformed religion to be a heresy. Entrenched political interests sought to suppress it, and the ensuing conflicts eventually drove the French Calvinists known as Huguenots into exile.
There were two kinds of Huguenots, including those of religious conviction, on one hand, and those with a particular political agenda, on the other.(45) The religious Huguenots included both Lutherans and Calvinists. The ideas of the German reformer Martin Luther reached Paris by 1519,(46) and “Lutheran” became a generic term used to describe most religious schismatics during the early period of the Reformation in France (the Waldensians, who dated to the 12th century, being the exception).(47) A rural portion of Normandy where Lutheranism saw particularly rapid expansion was even referred to as “Little Germany”.(48) But John Calvin was, himself, French and Calvinism spread quickly once it had emerged. The French Protestants achieved religious unity by about 1559.(49)
The political Huguenots, on the other hand, were responding to the crisis surrounding a royal succession issue. The Bourbons of Navarre were rightful heirs to the throne, and as such, integrally involved in the conflict. Eventually, the Bourbons were to win, with the installation of King Henry IV, but the conflict leading up to this accomplishment was long and bloody.
The du Laux, some of whom were connected with the King of Navarre and most of whom were ensconced in southern France, would have been strongly influenced by the Huguenot cause, both religiously and politically. They saw the wars fought in their towns and in their backyards. Extremism was rampant on both sides, as were the atrocities associated with the vindictiveness of civil wars.
The Huguenot Life
The wars of religion could have gone either way. Between the years of 1559 and 1576, there were Protestant victories as well as Catholic ones, and the scale could have tipped in either direction.
That said, Catholicism was the traditional, orthodox, religion of France and the French crown combated the rise of the Reformed religion in a number of ways. Restrictions tended to change with various edicts, but generally the Protestants were not allowed to have their own churches. That meant they had to meet in peoples’ homes, usually those of nobility of some sort. Or they had to meet outside of city walls, gathering in fields or clearings in wooded areas. Protestant pastors tended to be itinerant and were sometimes referred to as “shepherds”.(50) While much of the Huguenot exodus occurred after the death of Henri IV in 1610, Huguenot pastors were particularly hated by the Catholic establishment and populace alike, and were routinely expelled from the country, if not in fact killed, from the 16th century on up through the French Revolution in 1789, when France became a secular state.
As minor nobility, some du Laux would very likely have sponsored Huguenot church services in their homes. They would have fought alongside other families in defense of their religious cause and as identifiable nobility their homes would have been at risk for being ravaged and burned.
Not all du Laux would have been Protestant, and these other families would have struggled as well. It was a war of conscience for some, a political war for others, but all would have been involved in the conflict in one way or another. The wars raged down through Angoulême, where we know, as previously mentioned, that du Lauxes lived in 1666-1668. The wars raged in the environs of Périgord, where we know that Montardy, a present-day du Lau château is located. In the west, the war raged in the Languedoc, where both Calvinists and Waldensians were hunted with a vengeance.
When the Protestant sovereign of Navarre became King Henri IV of France, the Protestants might have thought they had found legitimacy at last. But the assassination of
Henri IV in 1610 saw the return of religious repression, and the mass exodus of Huguenots began. Many fled to Great Britain, Switzerland or Germany. The Counts of the German Palatinate, an area covering roughly the bottom third of Germany, had been ardent supporters of the Protestant cause during the conflicts in France, and some of the French Huguenots fled to the Palatinate, where we find some of our own ancestors living in the 17th century.
In conclusion, it must be said that we are genealogically challenged in that we have been unable to trace our direct lineage earlier than about 1686 in the region of Ohren referenced in a baptismal certificate in Kirberg, Germany. The ancestor mentioned as the parent in the baptism has been called a shepherd, but we do not know if that means he was an animal herder or a Protestant minister, who were also known as shepherds. The word Pasteur is one of the official French titles of the celebrant in the Protestant religion. It has been used since the 12th century to describe the head of ecclesiastical groups and since the 16th century in specific reference to Protestants.(51) With this in mind, we find information in the tax records of Béziers, dated 1709, that describes a certain man’s occupation as pasteur and, parenthetically, qualifies the word as describing one who is a “berger,” which is the French word for shepherd. Interestingly enough, the man so described was named Jean Laux.(52)
Without more research, we cannot know if the Jean Laux of Béziers is related to the Johannes Lauxes of Germany. But there were remarkable similarities when one considers that the German variant of the French name Jean is Johann, and that both Jean Laux from Béziers and at least one of the Johann Lauxes of Germany were said to be Shepherds. The Protestant pastors of France were of necessity itinerant over great distances and frequently traveled to places such as Switzerland and Germany, where their religion was tolerated and where Calvinist centers were located. In any case, the Laux of Béziers would have been contemporaneous with the Johannes Lauxes, and as a known Protestant pastor, it is inconceivable that he would have lingered in France for very long after the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685.
We know, from my own DNA record, that my own Laux ancestors left a genetic footprint in Lausanne, Switzerland, a known destination for Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and that the genetic sharing had a 97.55% probability of occurring within the last 12 generations. We cannot develop this information much further without additional DNA or genealogical evidence. That said, we know without a doubt that the Shepherd of Ohren was of the Reformed religion, which in France during his time would have been called Huguenot.
It has been asserted in the 1910 address of James Laux that we are of Huguenot stock from the region of Béarn, France. The National Huguenot Society, which requires genealogical proofs, has dropped the name Laux from the Huguenot roles because we have been unable to provide the direct genealogical proof they require. However, this is not an invalidation of the Huguenot assertion. The American Huguenot Society, which does not require genealogical proofs, still maintains the name Laux on its rolls, and assumes it to be a Huguenot name.(53)
What is certain is that Laux is a Latinate name. Some documentation traces it to the Latin word laurus, meaning laurel tree. Other documentation traces it to the Latin word lacas, meaning lake. Additional reference sources trace the name to the Latin word laborare, meaning a cultivated or cleared area. The laurus association is based on Latin textual references to the du Laux family name, and would describe a person who is praiseworthy or who praises God. The lacas association is more esoteric, resulting in an Occitan name and tying in with French mythology, not herein discussed. The laborare association, also Occitan, would describe a person from an agriculturally cultivated area. All three associations are of very ancient provenance, and are venerable, if only for that reason alone.
The name might be described as French, but only nominally so. It is a product of la France profonde, or deepest France, and its roots are in the langue d’oc. The fact that an Occitan word might have more than one Latin root is intriguing, but does not necessarily represent a conflict. Certainly, a person could be described by geographical as well as more elevated characteristics. As we have already seen from information provided by the current-day du Lau family, multiple layers of description could and indeed did apply to the same person as early as the 13th century.
The connection between Laux and Lau has been documented. Without genealogical proof, we cannot say with absolute certainty that we are descended from the Périgordien du Lau family. But as probable Huguenots, we fit hand and glove with the historical context of the du Laux families of Béarn, as indeed James Laux posited in 1910. Based on etymological evidence as well as place-names that linger to this day, it represented a family group that would have spread across southern France from Aquitaine to Provence, encompassing an area that would only be considered French by modern definition. For most of its history, it would have represented a region and culture borne of isolation and independence.
The Occitan pronunciation of Laux would most likely have been \laous\, and as such, very similar to the pronunciation of the various manifestations of the name in the United States today, including Laux, Loux, Loucks and others. The modern-day French pronunciation of the name Lau(x) that makes it a homophone to l’eau, the French word for water, is a recent development, historically speaking, and would not have fully impacted the Pyrenees until long after our particular ancestors had left the region.
The name Laux, as a historical relic, deserves to be remembered and revered. It is as saturated with history as the soil of the Pyrenees is saturated with the blood of martyrs. Much has been made, and rightly so, of the Laux dedication to military service in the United States, from the American Revolution through the war in Viet Nam and beyond. But it should not be forgotten that the name Laux is associated with matters of faith, as well, which go back nearly one thousand years. As the descendents of presumed Huguenots, we can certainly relate to the rigors and sacrifices of the Reformation. But it should not be forgotten that Laux blood has been shed for the Roman Catholic cause as well, and beyond that for matters of faith that go all the way back to the seedbed of Christianity.
Given that the Laux family was once described as very large, one of the perplexing questions that has arisen in the course of the research for this piece is why there appears to be so relatively few of the family left in France? Very early in the name’s history, family relationships would have become nuanced as what were referred to as “leading names” developed into various place-names and as surnames developed and diversified. We know that multiple name designations would have applied to the same person as early as the 13th Century. We also know, from who the Lauxes were and the part of France that they inhabited, that some of the points discussed in this paper would have had an impact on their survival, and our presence here in this room today speaks volumes. Our ancestors left France not due to a lack of affection for their Motherland. French records show a considerable number of Lauxes repatriating back to France over the years, but the fact remains there was a time we had to leave in order to stay alive.
Whatever else we have become over time, we are bearers of a name deeply rooted in the distant past. Over a span of nearly seven hundred years, generation upon generation of our Laux forbearers have gone to rest in French soil, and whether or not we recognize it for what it is, the terroir of southern France is in our blood and continues to play a fundamental role in shaping who we are. The name speaks for itself, whether as laurus, lacas or laborare. It is a venerable name that speaks to something bigger than all of us, and we are privileged to bear it.
Special thanks to the kindness, helpfulness, and at times, the patience of the following individuals:
Lady Hélène Ustinov
Marquis Henri du Lau d’Allamans
Monsieur François du Lau d’Allamans
Jean du Lau d’Allemans
Argitxu Camus Etchecopar
Merci encore à SINDBAD de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France
(1) Laux, James, “Our Huguenot Ancestry: The Ancient Home in France,” McBrier, Edwin, Genealogy of the Loucks Family, John S Swift, Co., 1940, p. 256
(2) Platts, Beryl, Origins of Heraldry, Proctor Press, London, 1980, p. 32
(3) Jougla de Morenas, Henri, Grand Armorial de France, Société du Grand Armorial de France, 1939
(4) e-mail from Jacques Pétillat, Départment of Philosophie, Histoire, Sciences de L’homme, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, dated 5 June 2009
(5) email from François du Lau dated 30 July 2009
(6) Bluche, François, Tome II, Les Pages de la Grand Écurie, Les Cahiers Nobles, 1966
(7) Du Verdier, La Noblesse D’Ancien Régime en Limousin, Mémoire & Documents, Versailles, 1999, pp. 56, 68
(8) Bulletin de la Sociéte Archéologique & Historique du Limousin, Tome LI, Limoges, V. H. Ducourtieux, 1902), p. 209
(9) Jougla de Morenas, Henri, Grand Armorial de France, Société du Grand Armorial de France, 1939
(10) Conversations with Gotzone Garay, Spanish Basque student at the Basque Studies Center, UNR, Reno, Nevada
(11) Gotzone Garay
(12) e-mail from Jacques Pétillat, Départment of Philosophie, Histoire, Sciences de L’homme, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, dated 23 October 2009
(13) Mistral, Frédéric, Lou Trésor Dóu Filibridge, Ou Dictionnaire Provençal-Français Embrassant Les Divers Dialectes de la Langue D’oc Moderne, 2 vols, 1886
(14) Grosclaude, Michel and Le Nail, Jean-François, Dictionnaire toponymique des communes des Hautes-Pyrénées, 2000
(15) Fénié, Bénédicte, Fénié, Jean-Jacques, and Mérienne, Patrick, Toponymie des pays occitans, 2007
(16) email from François du Lau, dated 22 September 2009
(17) L’HULLIER, Eric, année 1998, 123e année, Bulletin de la Société de Borda
(18) Bulletin des lois de la Républic, 30 juillet 1823
(19) email from Hugues Pham Phu, La Ferme du Laux, dated 1 January 2007
(20) Lacroix, André, L’arrondissement de Nyons, Tome I, Valence, 1888, p. 376
(21) Jolibois, M.E., Rédig, Collection Des Inventaires-Sommaires Des Archives Départmentales Antérieures a 1790, Tarn, Tome Troisième, Archives Civiles, Supplément a la Séries E. - Communes, G.-M. Nouguiès, 1889
(22) Internet: http://www.borghitalia.it/html/borgo_acq_en.php?codice_borgo=231,Usseaux, The Alpine Villages of Usseaux, see info on the towns and image gallery
Laux Name Origins and Historical Context Page 13
(23) Jones, William, History of the Waldenses, London, 1816, volume 2, Page 10
(24) For more information, ref. Maurice Gidon, professeur de géologie à l’université scientifique et médicale de Grenoble
(25) Walter, Henriette, Le Français Dans Tous Les Sens, Robert Laffont, 1988, p. 94
(26) Walter, 124
(27) Trask, L., The History of Basque, Routledge, 1997, p. 34
(28) Harris, Ruth, Lourdes, Penguin Books, 1999, p. 30
(29) Harris 30
(30) Strage, Mark, Women of Power. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976, p. 148
(31) Irsigler, Franz, “On the Aristocratic Character of Early Frankish Society,” Reuter, Timothy (ed and trans) The Medieval Nobility; Vaughan, Richard (general ed), Europe in the Middle Ages, Selected Studies, v 4, North Holland Publishing Company, 1978), pp 109-112
(32) Asbridge 5
(33) Ardagh, John, Cultural Atlas of France (Facts on File Press, 1991), p. 36
(34) Jougla de Morenas, Henri, Grand Armorial de France, Société du Grand Armorial de France, 1939
(35) Newton, William, A Display of Heraldry, William Pickering, London, 1846, p. 199
(36) Laux, James, “Our Huguenot Ancestry: The Ancient Home in France, McBrier, Edwin, Genealogy of the Loucks Family, John S Swift, Co., 1940, p. 257
37Sumption, Jonathan, The Albigensian Crusade, 1978, Faber and Faber, pp. 57-58
(38) Sumption 23-24
(39) Sumption 137
(40) Sumption 157
(41) Sumption 230
(42) Sumption 172
(43) Ardagh, John, Cultural Atlas of France (Facts on File Press, 1991), p. 51
(44) Knecht, Robert, The French Religious Wars 1562-1598, Osprey Publishing, 2002, p. 16
(45) Thompson, James, The Wars of Religion in France 1559 to 1576: The Huguenots, Catherine De Medici and Philip II, University of Chicago Press, 1909, p. 16
(46) Knecht 15
(47) Thompson 10
Laux Name Origins and Historical Context Page 14
(48) Thompson 45 note
(50) This metaphor may have been useful in describing a person for whom more orthodox terminology would have been lacking or would otherwise not have applied. It appears to build upon the Biblical reference to Christ as “Good Shepherd,” (John 10:11). Numerous writers referred to Protestant pastors as shepherds who tended their flocks, a metaphor still in usage among some Protestant and charismatic circles today.
(51) Email from Christian Peckeu, SINDBAD, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Department Philosophie, histoire, science de l’homme, dated 8 April 2010
(52) du Guerny, Yannick, Registres des compoix (1398-1790), conserve aux communales de la ville de Béziers, 1709 CC 70 Folio 211
(53) Email from Mary Bertschmann, Executive Secretary, Huguenot Society of America, dated 21 January 2010