A family affair


Madame Isaac Pereire (top left), with Lady Emma Hamilton (top right) and Evelyn.

I’ve touched upon this before – the history of women who gave their name to some of the finest classic old roses – for example Madam Isaac Pereire, Madam d’Arblay, Madame Pierre Oger, Madame Alfred Carriere. There are hundreds of roses with the prefix ‘Madame’ but the details of many of their lives are often unknown –  or if documented, their histories deserve to be better remembered.

In many cases, especially with roses bred in the 19th century, they include the wives of eminent men – statesmen, soldiers or businessmen – while some were eminent in their own right. In many cases they were members of the rose breeder’s own family.

There is an article by Peter Scott in The Royal National Rose Society Historic Rose Journal No. 32 Autumn 2006 which gives a biography of some of these lost names… (I bought this journal from the Historic Roses Group stand at Hampton Court Flower Show). The remarkable lives of just a few of these women are brought quite vividly to life – this is an excerpt relating to Madame Isaac Pereire.

There is no availability problem with this rose  – almost all suppliers stock it! Produced in 1880 by Armond Garçon, a Normandy rose breeder, it was originally named ‘La Bien-heureux de la Salle’, but having found its way to Paris in 1881 it was renamed ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ in honour of Fanny Pereire, wife of a prominent banker. It would be interesting to discover the exact circumstances under which this name change took place.

Isaac Pereire (born 1806) and his brother Emile (born 1800) were successful Jewish bankers, who originally made their money financing the building of railways in north-east France. In 1852 they founded the investment bank Crédit Mobilier, which provided funds (said to be about 2,500m francs) to the Seine Prefecture for the building of the wide Parisien boulevards.

Isaac’s first wife died in 1837 and in 1840, at the age of 34, Isaac became enamoured of Fanny Pereire, his brother Emile’s eldest daughter, who was then just 16 years old. Isaac and Fanny wished to marry and in due course Emile reluctantly agreed. Because of the close blood relationship, the marriage also required special consent from the State. After this was obtained however, Emile had a change of heart. Once again he eventually gave in to pleas from Isaac and Fanny but their affair created a rift between Emile and Isaac that was slow to heal. This was made all the more difficult by proximity, since not only did they occupy adjoining offices at the bank but they also shared the same large residence in Paris. Nevertheless, both saw the wisdom of ensuring that the rift was not allowed to jeopardise the banking business.

Fanny’s mother Rachel Rodriguez, Emile’s distant cousin, was of Iberian extraction, which may account for the dark good looks possessed by Fanny.  She bore Isaac three children. Evidence suggests she was a very effective manager of Isaac’s social affairs especially during the ill health he suffered in the last years of his life. With Emile’s death in 1875 and Isaac’s in 1880 – the year before the naming of this rose – Fanny assumed with no little skill the role of dowager of the two families. She became something of a matriarch and lived on to the age of 85, dying in 1910.

More surprising histories to follow…

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