The Clermont-Tonnerre family can lay claim to one of the most interesting and illustrious genealogies in the whole of modern France.
Over the course of 900 years, members of the family have held important roles in the arts, politics and religion. They have helped to shape some of the most dramatic periods in French history.
The first known Clermont-Tonnerre – Sibaud I – is mentioned in historical records dating to 1070. His date of birth is not known, but it is known that he lived in the small hill-side hamlet of Clermont, in what is now the modern provincial department of Isère, in south-western France. The ruins of his feudal castle are still visible.
Sibaud rose to prominence as a solider. He took part in the first crusade (1096) at the behest of Pope Urban II. His coat of arms – the earliest emblem of the Clermont-Tonnerre family – showed a hillside under a blazing sun. And it is thought that the name Clermont derives from the French for ‘bright mountain,’ clair mont.
At some point in the late eleventh century, Sibaud I was wedded to Adélais d’Albon, a grand-daughter of Henri III, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire between 1046 and 1056.
The marriage produced at least one child, also named Sibaud. Sibaud II became chevalier to Pope Calixtus II. He fought for the pope in his bitter struggle for supremacy with the Antipope, Gregory VIII, who had been recognised by Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor.
For the next three generations, the de Clermont family remained independent – recognising no other sovereign than the Holy Roman Emperor. But in 1340, Ainard, Vicomte de Clermont, agreed to submit to the suzerainty of the King of France (Philip VI). In return he was given the hereditary title of first baron of Dauphiné.
It remained some time before the county of Tonnerre, a commune in what is now the Yonne department of Burgundy, became part of the family heritage.
The territory first entered the Clermont inheritance in 1496, following a marriage between Bernardin de Clermont and Anne de Husson, countess of Tonnerre.
Nevertheless, early generations of the family neglected to adopt the name Tonnerre, tending instead to go by Clermont-Tallard, or Clermont-Thoury.
Then in 1684, Francois-Joseph de Clermont sold Tonnerre (along with a grand chateau, d’Arcy le Franc) to the Marqius de Louvois, the French minister of War and a trusted confidant to King Louis XIV.
The Tonnerre lands were no longer part of the family estate. Nonetheless, in a curious historical twist, from the late 18th century subsequent generations of the Clermont family began to refer to themselves as the Clermont-Tonnerres regardless. It was a self-conscious celebration of an already illustrious history.
Notable family members
The Clermont-Tonnerres remained an important part of the French nobility for many years to come.
Gaspard de Clermont-Tonnerre, a six-times descendent of Bernard de Clermont, fought bravely during the War of the Austrian Succession and become a constable (‘Connétable’) – an honorific privilege – at the coronation of Louis XVI (1774).
Charles Henri Jules, son of Gaspard and governor of Dauphiné, was too close to the monarchy during the French revolution. He went to the guillotine in July 1794.
Anne-Antoine-Jules de Clermont-Tonnerre (1749-1830) was Archbishop of Toulouse. Aimé Marie Gaspard (1770-1865) served as war minister under Charles X. And, more recently, Francois de Clermont-Tonnerre (1906-1979) was mayor of Bertangles, in the department of Somme.
The surviving Clermont-Tonnerre estate has made every effort to ensure the history of the family is kept alive through proper scholarly research and critical enquiry of the available archives.
Click below for brief introductions to some of the most interesting holders of the Clermont-Tonnerre name.
The first known coat of arms of the Clermont-Tonnerre family.
The family’s modern coat of arms
- Histoire Généalogique et Héraldique des Paris de France, Courcelles, 1826
- La Famille des Clermont-Tonnerre, de Gramont, E., 1950
- La France et les juifs de 1789 à nos jours, Winock, M.,2014.
- Historical dictionary of the French Revolution. Hanson, P., 2015.