L’ESPÉRANCE, CHARLES-LÉOPOLD-ÉBÉRARD DE, Baron of the Holy Roman Empire, lieutenant in the Swiss Régiment de Karrer; b. c. 1700 at Montbéliard, illegitimate son of Leopold Eberhard, Prince of Montbéliard; d. 1738 at Louisbourg.
The Régiment de Karrer, created in 1719 for colonial service, could, like other Swiss regiments, recruit troops from among the people of central and northern Europe, and especially those of the small states on the Rhine frontier. L’Espérance enlisted as a second lieutenant on 28 July 1722, and in 1724 he went with a detachment of 50 men to Île Royale (Cape Breton Island); this brought up to 100 the number of Swiss employed on fortification work in the new colony. He was promoted lieutenant on 19 Feb. 1726, and continued to serve at Louisbourg, under the orders of Captains Merveilleux and François-Joseph Cailly*, until his death.
There, on 26 Feb. 1725, he married Marguerite, daughter of Gabriel Dangeac, captain of a company of colonial regular troops. In 1731 he solemnly renounced his Lutheran faith; this action, as he wrote in a petition for a pension, may have caused him to be disinherited. One may well doubt this, in view of the special circumstances of his birth.
The French-speaking principality of Montbéliard, which had gone over to the Reformation in the 16th century and was under the domination of the German house of Württemberg, maintained until 1748 a purely theoretical independence. Leopold Eberhard, Prince of Montbéliard, of the younger branch of the house of Württemberg, who reigned from 1698 to 1723, chose as concubines four sisters, the daughters of a former tailor and soldier named Richard Curie, and they bore him some 23 children. The prince elevated the Curie sisters to the rank of baronesses of the Holy Roman Empire with the name of L’Espérance, a name borne by all the children, although the mothers had been provided with husbands to gloss over the scandal. Sébastienne, the eldest, Charles-Léopold-Ébérard’s mother, died around 1715. She had married a certain Sifert, and the name Sandersleben which her son attributed to him was that of the husband of Henriette-Edwige, another of the Curie daughters. The Jean Fleury of whom Charles-Léopold-Ébérard claimed to be the son does not seem to have existed. As all the certificates of baptism were forgeries to start with and were later falsified for inheritance purposes, one cannot be more precise, but the abundance of evidence leaves no doubt as to the illegitimate origin of the L’Espérance children.
On the prince’s death in 1723, the children of an earlier morganatic wife, together with those born of a late marriage to Henriette-Edwige de L’Espérance, claimed the estate. The emperor dismissed their claims, and the principality passed to the principal branch of the house of Württemberg. They continued to conduct endless lawsuits, both in Vienna and in Paris, to obtain their share of the workable domain of the seigneuries. Léopold-Ébérard did not recognize the children born of Sébastienne, and the name of the Louisbourg officer does not appear among the claimants. His son, Charles-Gabriel-Sébastien*, who was to become governor of the Islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and brigadier-general in 1788, does not seem to have had any share in the inheritance either.
After an obscure career and several years of illness, the Baron de L’Espérance died on 10 Nov. 1738 at Louisbourg, leaving his family in dire straits.
AN, Kxi, carton 1785; Col., C11B, 1–26; E, 281 (dossier de L’Espérance); Section Outre-Mer, G1, 406–7, 466; G3, carton 2058 (copies in PAC). SHA, corps de troupes, Sous-série Xi, cartons 31, 33. Louis de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon, Mémoires (7v., Paris, 1958), VI, 586–88; VII, 303–5. L.-G. Michaud, Biographic universelle ancienne et moderne . . . (85v., Paris, 1811–62), XXIX, 466–68; LI, 278–79. McLennan, Louisbourg. John Viénot, La vie fantastique de Léopold-Ebérard, prince de Montbéliard, 17 février 1698–25 mars 1723 (Montbéliard, 1934).