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Introduction to the Cabinet des titres

John P. DuLong

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The single most important manuscript collection for French nobility research is the Cabinet des titres, the office or collection of noble titles, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) in Paris.  This collection is so valuable because it contains the records generated by royal officials who were responsible for investigating and verifying claims of nobility. It includes the papers of tax court judges, the Judges of Arms, and the Genealogists of the King's Orders.  While not all French noble families will be found in this collection, many will be and going through the dossiers in the Cabinet des titres is a necessary step in the research process if you are investigating nobles.

The Cabinet des titres is part of the Département des manuscrits, Français and documents in it are assigned a manuscript number (Ms. Fr.). Associated with a Ms. Fr. number is a volume number. When you drill down further you will come to either a dossier or folio numbers. So for example from research I have done there is a large collection of documents relating to the Le Neuf family that can be found in the Carrés de d'Hozier collection of the Cabinet des titres, Ms. Fr. 306923, vol. 464, ff. 51-302.

Example Page

Copy of a 1447 document regarding the Le Neuf family submitted to the Judge of Arms with marginal comments expressing concern about the validity of the information. Ms. Fr. 30693, Carrés de d'Hozier, vol. 464, f. 54.

In particular, you will notice that the surname d'Hozier is associated with this collection because several members of this family held the position of Judge of Arms from 1641 to 1790. This official judged matters relating to the use of arms and titles of nobility. The most famous d'Hozier would be Charles-René. His nephew Louis-Pierre d' Hozier was also an active genealogist and succeeded his uncle as Judge of Arms. You will also find in the Cabinet des titres the collection of Bernard Chérin who was a Genealogists of the King's Orders. An appendix at the end of this web page lists all the men who held the office of Judge of Arms or Genealogists of the King's Orders. Another name you might see associated with the Cabinet des titres is François Roger de Gaignières (1642-1715), an antiquarian and genealogist. The works of Gaignières and many other genealogists will be found in the Cabinet des titres because they were collected by the royal genealogists. The French Revolution of course ended these offices, but fortunately, most of their records escaped the turmoil of the revolution and can now be found in the Cabinet des titres.

Charles René d'Hozier

Charles-René d'Hozier, Judge of Arms, 1691,
painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud.

To prove their noble status or to gain entry into prestigious social institutions, individuals were asked to submit proofs of their noble ancestry, including, marriage contracts, family histories, notarial contracts, abstracts of parish registers, etc. As you can see it is well worth searching through this collection because it brings together so many sources that would otherwise be difficult to track down.  However, it is also important to be very cautious using these materials. 

Families often pretended to be nobles to enhance their social status and to avoid certain taxes.  As a result, some documents have been forged or otherwise tampered with to indicate noble ancestry.  Usually, the transcription of an original act will be modified to add a noble title to a person’s name.  In the margins of some of the documents you might even see one of the d’Hoziers write that some portion of a document is false or unbelievable.  In general, people are more likely to exaggerate and fabricate titles and positions rather than genealogical facts. So you can more likely count on the existence of a couple than the titles associated with them. For example, in the document shown on this web page you will find that Noble homme Richard Le Neuf was married to Jeannette de Mannoury, but on further examination you find that while this couple did indeed exist, he was not a noble, but just a lawyer. Anything you find in the Cabinet des titres should be examined carefully and compared to other sources to insure that the family was not exaggerating the status of their ancestry or fabricating genealogical facts.

The Cabinet des titres is divided into the following subgroups or series:

bullet.gif (974 bytes) Pièces originales (Original Pieces) from the tax court of Paris (Chambre des comptes de Paris) and notarial documents, 68,460 dossiers in 3,061 volumes, mss. nos. 26485-29545. This collection was assembled in the nineteenth century by Ulysse Robert.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Dossiers bleus (D'Hozier Blue Dossiers), 18,273 dossiers in 684 volumes, mss. nos. 29546-30229. This is a collection of genealogical dossiers and notes compiled by François Roger de Gaignières and Charles-René d'Hozier, usually recorded on blue sheets of paper.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Carrés de d'Hozier (D'Hozier Squares), 652 volumes, mss. nos., 30230-30881. In this collection you will find acts of baptism, marriage contracts, wills, and other notarial documents supposedly recorded on square sheets of paper compiled in the eighteenth century (examples I have seen are not on square sheets).
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Cabinet de d'Hozier (D'Hozier Collection), 9,739 dossiers in 344 volumes, mss. nos. 30882-31225. These documents are genealogical memoirs and records compiled by Pierre and Charles-René d'Hozier and François Roger de Gaignières.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Nouveau d'Hozier (New d'Hozier Collection), 7,918 dossiers in 337 volumes, mss. nos. 31226-31562. These are documents collected by one of the d'Hoziers in the eighteenth century from various sources including: Maison du Roi, Petites et grandes écuries, military schools, maisons de saint Louis et de l'Enfant-Jésus, diverse colleges, and regiments.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Chérin Collection, 4240 dossiers in 214 volumes, mss. nos. 31563-31776. These genealogies were compiled by Bernard Chérin and his successor genealogists of the king's orders and consists of proofs of nobility presented to gain entry into the honors of the court, the king's orders, several religious houses, and to become an officer in the army or navy.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Collections diverses (Miscellaneous Collection), also known as the supplement or seventh series, 1488 volumes, mss. nos. 31777-33264. Among the documents found in this subgroup are applications demonstrating noble ancestry for the royal schools and pages:
tab.gif (828 bytes) bullet.gif (974 bytes) École royale militaire (Royal Military School), mss. no. 32060-32099.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Pages de la Grande écurie du Roi (Grand Stable Pages), mss. no. 32100-32109.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Pages de la Petite écurie du Roi (Small Stable Pages), mss. no. 32111-32117.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Demoiselles de St-Cyr (Ladies of St-Cyr, a school for young noble girls), mss. no. 32118-32136.
bullet.gif (974 bytes) Lastly, the blazons and drawings of the "Armorial général de France," mss. nos. 32146-32262, are also included in this subgroup.

Regarding the last series, the Collections diverses, this is a real treasure trove of miscellaneous records. Besides the items already mentioned, this series is filled with genealogies, armories, investigations into noble status, transcripts from Paris parish registers, lists of officials, lists of knights in orders, etc. The BNF has digitized some of these records.  You can find a specific manuscript by searching for it at the Gallica web site.  To see if a particular manuscript has been digitized enter the following into the search box enter “Département des manuscrits, Français ######” where ##### is replaced with the Ms. Fr. number you are interested in viewing. As an example of what can be found In the Collections diverses there are several manuscripts dealing with families involved in the Parlement de Paris and other prominent Parisian families that the BNF has made available online at the Gallica web site.

Please see my web page regarding the "Armorial général de France" for more information about this important source for French heraldry.

I hope the BNF continues to digitize the Cabinet des titres documents and make them available to researchers online. The online digital images the BNF has provided so far are a great boon to researchers unable to spend months in Paris researching.

Index to the Cabinet des titres

The first six series of this collection are indexed in the following work :

Ulysse Robert. "Répertoire alphabétique des séries généalogiques de l'ancien cabinet des titres de la Bibliothèque nationale" (ms., 10 vols., in-fol.1898). 

This index, organized alphabetically by surname, can be found at Gallica. You can view and download this index using the following links:

A B-Blu Bluk-Byr C D E F G H I J K L M
N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z  

This index indicates the collection of the Cabinet des titres and the volume number that holds the dossier for a surname. Some of the volume numbers have double lines under them, this indicates the end of a volume and can be ignored. This index does not list the Ms. Fr. number.

Marle Example

Example of an index page from the "Répertoire alphabétique des séries généalogiques de l'ancien cabinet des titres de la Bibliothèque nationale."

In the example page showing the entries for Marle you will note several entries indicating the series and volume numbers. For example, the Pièces originales vols. 1858-1860 hold information on the Marles. If you were to consult all these volumes in the Cabinet des titres you would see that they refer to at least three distinct de Marles families.

Another useful tool for clarifying citations to the Cabinet des titres in books and articles is to use the Catalogue général des manuscrits français. 

Bibliothèque nationale de France.  Département des Manuscrits. Catalogue général des manuscrits français: anciens petits fonds français (Nos 20065-33264). Compiled by Charles de La Roncière and Camille Couderc [attributed to Henri Omont on the title page]. 3 vols. Paris: E. Leroux, 1898-1902, 24 cm. 

In particular, the third volume covers the manuscript numbers containing the Cabinet des titres, that is, mss. nos. 26485-32262.  In order to find anything in the Cabinet des titres, it helps to have the Ms. Fr. number. Unfortunately, many writers refer to a volume number or dossier number and you need to locate the Ms. Fr. number. For example, a reference to the Le Neuf family might appear as Carrés de d'Hozier, 464. Using the Catalogue général des manuscrits français you will find that this is Ms. Fr. 30693, vol,. 464. Alternatively, if you find reference to a Le Neuf document in Ms. Fr. 30031 in a citation, further research will reveal this is in a file in the Dossier bleus, volume 486, dossier 12749.  Unfortunately, the Catalogue général des manuscrits français does not drill down to the level of dossier numbers, but you can still usually figure out what volume and Ms. Fr. number would contain a family of interest because it does show the surname range for each manuscript. For instance volume 486 of the Dossier bleus covers the surnames Nettancout to Neuforge.

You can also use this work to see if any published or manuscript indexes were prepared for a series you are interested in researching.  For example, at the end of the listing for the the Royal Military School, you will find that there was a Répertoire des procès-verbaux ds preuves de la noblesse des jeunes gentilshommes admis aux Écoles royales militaires (1751-1792) by Stéphane Goeffray published in 1894. Lastly, because the works of other genealogists were added to the Cabinet des titres, you can use this bibliographic guide to find other genealogical collections of interest. For instance, the genealogical collection of Domm Villevieille is found in Ms. Fr. 31884-31976 consisting of 93 volumes organized alphabetically by surname.

There are several indexes that have been published to help you locate records in the Collections diverses section of the Cabinet des titres. In order to enter military school, the school for young ladies at St-Cyr, or the petit or grande écurie du roi (to be a squire in the royal stables) you had to submit evidence that your ancestors were nobles. These indexes help locate the submitted evidence.

Bibliothèque nationale de France.  "Inventaire des instruments de recherche: manuscrits occidentaux."  About 2,700 microfiche.   Paris and London: Chadwyck-Healey, 1991. 

Imagine all the indexes, inventories, guides, and research tools for the western manuscripts of the Bibliothèque nationale on microfiche and that is what is in this collection. It includes tools for finding aids in the Cabinet des titres including many of the indexes mentioned in the Catalogue général des manuscrits français. I have only seen this set of microfiche at the University of Michigan.

Bluche, François.  Les Pages de la Grande-Écurie. 3 vols. in 4. Paris, 1966.

Geoffray, Stéphane. Répertoire des procès-verbaux des preuves de noblesse des jeunes gentilshommes admis aux écoles royales militaires, 1751-1792. Paris, 1894.

Ricour, David Du Boys, comte de. Liste des filles demoiselles reçues dans la Maison de Saint-Louis fondée à Saint-Cyr par le roi, 1686-1766. Paris, 1879.

__________. Liste des pages du roi de la Petite et de la Grande écurie, 1680-1765, suivie de la liste des pages des ducs d'Orléans, 1721-1729. Paris, 1880.

Willems, Joseph-Hubert, and Jean-Yves Conan. Liste alphabétique des pages de la Grande écurie du roi. Suresnes, 1966.

__________. Liste alphabétique des pages de la Petite écurie du roi. Suresnes, 1966.

Beyond these indexes, you can also use Arnaud's or Saffroy's bibliographic guides to identify manuscripts held in the Cabinet des titres and elsewhere in the BNF manuscript department relating to a family of interest.

Arnaud, Etienne.  Répertoire des généalogies françaises imprimées.  3 vols. Paris: Privately printed by the author, 1978-1981. 

Saffroy, Gaston. Bibliographie généalogique, héraldique et nobiliaire de la France des origines à nos jours. Imprimés et manuscrits. 5 vols. Paris: Librairie Gaston Saffroy, 1968-1988. 

For example, in Saffroy (vol. 3, p. 244, item 39354) you will see the code "[BN, ms. fr. 18616," which points to a 144 folio manuscript regarding the Coucy family that is in the Ancien St-Germain Français manuscripts outside of the Cabinet des titres. Saffroy can be very specific, but he might also just provide a volume number and not a Ms. Fr. number. In the case of Beavilliers de St-Aignan (vol. 2, p. 92, item 35988) you will find "[Mss. Doss. bleus, 78, Beauvilliers, fol. 101," which upon consulting the Catalogue général des manuscrits français you learn this is pointing to Ms. Fr. 29623 in the Cabinet des titres. Likewise, Arnaud can be used to find manuscripts in the BNF. For instance, in Arnaud (vol. 2, p. 383) under Le Neuf you can see a reference to "Fr. 32076-078," which leads to nobility proofs submitted to the royal college at La Flèche preserved in the Cabinet des titres.

Lastly, for general information concerning the genealogical and heraldry resources available at the BNF, including in the Cabinet des titres, you can consult the following work:

Gérard, Jean-Philippe.  2003. Répertoire des ressources généalogiques et héraldiques du département des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque nationale de France. Versailles: Mémoire et documents.

Acquiring Copies of Documents

Since most of us are not going to be able to travel in person to France to use the BNF, it is possible to order digital reproductions of documents in the Cabinet des titres through the Reproduction Services. Just keep in mind that it can be expensive to order dossiers so make sure you do your preliminary research and narrow down what you request as much as possible. Also, this service usually takes weeks, not days, to complete requests, be patient. Also, make sure you check Gallica first to see if the document you seek has not already been digitized and made available online.

Appendix: The Judges of Arms and the Genealogists of the King's Orders

When working with the records of the Cabinet des titres you will often see the names of the royal officials who were responsible for collecting and maintaining these records, namely the Judges of Arms and the Genealogists of the King's orders. Here I list these office holders, showing the years they lived in parentheses, the years they held office, and their relationship to others holding the same office.

Juges d’armes de la noblesse de France (Judges of Arms):

  • Francois de Chevriers, seigneur de St-Mauris et de Salagny (?-1641), first judge of arms 1615-1641.
  • Pierre d’Hozier, seigneur de La Garde (1592-1660), judge of arms 1641-1660.
  • Louis-Roger d’Hozier (1634-1708), judge of arms 1660-1675, eldest son of Pierre d’Hozier.
  • Charles-Rene d’Hozier (1640-1732), co-judge of arms with his brother Louis-Roger d’Hozer, 1666-1675, judge of arms 1675-1696, Garde de l’Armorial général, 1696-1701, reinstated as judge of arms 1701-1710.
  • Louis-Pierre d’Hozier , seigneur de Sérigny (1685-1767), judge of arms 1710-1767, son of Louis-Roger d’Hozier and nephew of Charles-Rene d’Hozier.
  • Antoine-Marie d’Hozier, seigneur de Sérigny (1721-1801), appointed to succeed his father, Louis-Pierre d’Hozier in 1734, judge of arms 1734-1788. 
  • Ambroise-Louis-Marie d’Hozier (1764-1846), last official judge of arms 1788-1790, nephew of Antoine-Marie d’Hozier, son of Louis-Denis d’Hozier.  At the restoration in 1814 he was appointed Vérificateur des armoiries de France.

Généalogiste et historiographe des Ordres du Roi (Genealogists of the King’s Orders):

  • Bernard Girard, seigneur du Haillan (?-1610), first genealogists of the king’s orders 1595-1607.
  • Pierre Forget, seigneur de la Picardière (1578-1638), genealogists of the king’s orders 1607-1610.
  • Gabriel Cotignon, seigneur de Chauvry (?-after 1623), genealogists of the king’s orders 1610-1620.
  • Nicolas Cotignon, seigneur de Chauvry et du Breuil (ca. 1606-1692), genealogists of the king’s orders 1621-1621-1692, son of Gabriel Cotignon
  • Joseph-Antoine Cotignon, seigneur de Chauvry et du Breuil (1664-after 1698), genealogists of the king’s orders 1677-1698, son of Nicolas Cotignon
  • Pierre Clairambault (1651-1740), genealogists of the king’s orders 1698-1740.
  • Nicloas-Pascal Clairambault (1698-1762), genealogists of the king’s orders 1740-1758, nephew of Pierre Clairambault.
  • Jean-Nicolas Beaujon (1722-1799), genealogists of the king’s orders 1758-1772.
  • Bernard Chérin (1718-1785), genealogists of the king’s orders 1772-1785.
  • Edme-Joseph Berthier (1737-1796), acting interim genealogists of the king’s orders 1785-1787.
  • Louis Nicolas Hyacinthe Chérin (1762-1799), last official genealogists of the king’s orders 1787-1790, son of Bernard Cherin.  After the French Revolution he became a general in the army of the French republic.

The hereditary nobility abolished by decree 19 June 1790 essentially ending both of these offices.

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This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1998 by John P. DuLong, Berkley, MI. Created 26 December 1999.   Last modified 24 May 2016.