Turgot at Chateau de Courtomer
“What’s Turgot doing here?” asked my husband, standing stock still in front of a portrait of a
cheerful-looking man in a thickly curled wig.
It was a sunny spring day, and we were visiting the Chateau de Courtomer. The edifice was
then on the market for the second time in its long history.
The portrait was of Anne Robert Turgot, illustrious economist and philosopher, minister of
the Navy, Finance Minister and Prime Minister of France – all in the last glory days of the
It was he who tried to free the French economy, strangled by special interests, special tariffs,
labor and wage regulation, guilds, monopolies and uncontrolled public spending. He was the
first and almost the last of the economic liberals in France, a contemporary of Adam Smith.
And he was the last person able and willing to try to put the Kingdom of France on a sound
economic and fiscal basis. Court intrigue pushed him out. He returned to private life as a
scholar and thinker, while Louis XVI and the Ancien Regime stumbled to its fate. Seven
years after Turgot’s death in 1781, the Bastille fell.
Along with the portrait of Turgot, were portraits of his grand-niece Apolline, her husband
Thierry Ruinart, and the couple with their ten children. There were other family portraits as
well, a library filled with venerable tomes, and assorted knickknacks and furniture
When we came back after the purchase, the portraits had gone. But we were glad to see the
books remained, and happily purchased them with remaining furnishings, too.
Still, what were Turgot and his niece and her family doing at Courtomer?
The family who had lived at Chateau de Courtomer since 1906 were called Pelet. Henriette
Ruinart de Brimont had married Albert de Pelet in 1904. In 1905, her half-brother inherited
her family home nearby, the Chateau of Aunay sous Bois. Courtomer was for sale. She
A bit of research offered hints. Turgot never had children, but his older brother Etienne –
himself an eminent naturalist and contributor to the Encyclopédie – had several.
Apoline was Etienne’s granddaughter and the great-niece of Turgot. She married Thierry
Ruinart de Brimont. Their great-granddaughter was Henriette.
So…Turgot, Apoline, Thierry and their children owed their presence at Courtomer to
Henriette de Pelet – redoubtable dowager, intrepid rider, fond dog-owner, and a woman
whose life spanned the end of the old European world in World War I, the fall of France in
World War II, and the decline of her family and its fortunes…culminating in the sale of
Courtomer in the 21 st century.
Turgot would have smiled in sympathy across the centuries.