Charles de Gaulle's birth house
Visiting the birthplace
In the 19th century, babies were often born at home. Such was the case of Charles de Gaulle, whose mother returned to her family home in Lille to give birth in the house of her parents, Monsieur and Madame Jules Maillot. As the son of Jeanne Maillot and Henri de Gaulle, the young Charles had strong links to the north of France through both his mother, whose family had lived in Valenciennes since the early 19th century, and also his father, whose family had also lived there between 1834 and 1841. In 1886 the father of the future General married his cousin in the church of Saint-André where the infant Charles was later to be baptised on the day of his birth, 22 November 1890.
The house, purchased by the General's grandfather, Jules Maillot, in 1872, has 25 rooms. It is a U-shaped building with the base of the U on the street, and falls into two distinct sections: the right-hand section, known as the "petite partie" or smaller section (the former workshops) and the left-hand side, the "grande partie" or larger section. A room above the carriage-entrance provides indoor communication between the two parts of the house. In the same year, a workshop owned by Mr. Maillot was set up in the right-hand section, producing tulle and guipure. The family business also produced hangings, bed-covers and black lace shawls. Mr. Maillot sold the business in 1878 and the former workshops were converted into rooms for the family's use, including a laundry-room and a play-room for the children.
While the bourgeoisie at the end of the 19th century was engaged in building and decorating sumptuous mansions, the Maillot house fell far short of such luxury. Madame Maillot, widowed in 1891, was left in fairly easy circumstances but was not given to ostentation. She placed more importance on her family and on God than on material things. The house in the rue Princesse was therefore the house of an elderly and pious woman. Madame Maillot's days were built around routine. The day began with 7 o'clock mass at Saint-André's church: menus remained unchanged from one week to the next, and meals were always served at set times. As her son, Jules Maillot, recalled, Madame Maillot knew "only the serious side of life". The regular hours she kept were disturbed only by the visits of her children and grandchildren.
Although the de Gaulle family never actually lived in the house, Charles visited his grandmother on numerous occasions, in the Easter and Christmas holidays and in September for the Lille fair. So fond were his memories of those visits that, even to the end of his life, he admitted that his happiest moments had no doubt been those spent in the family house in the rue Princesse.
The ground floor
Access to the house was via the vestibule, but regular visitors also entered through the small salon giving directly onto the courtyard. This cosy, intimate room served as a reception room where Madame Maillot would often sit to receive and converse with her visitors, and also to read. This small salon leads into the main salon.
The main salon is much lighter thanks to two large windows, and its walls are hung with family portraits. These include the portrait of the two Mac Cartan grandmothers, a small locket showing Madame Maillot-Kolb, the General's great grandmother, a drawing of Andronic Mac Cartan, his wife Françoise Flemming and their children, and two copies of portraits of Marie-Anne Creuze, ancestor to both Henri and Jeanne de Gaulle, and of her husband Charles Sagniez.
The main salon served as a reception room, but was also a place for relaxation and entertainment. It contains a piano. Certainly the General's grandmother would not have played, leaving that task to her children. Madame Maillot claimed to love the arts and the "productions of the mind" as long as "they could lead to God". Thus, whenever she heard the piano being played, she would hurry into the salon to see what was going on. She was equally suspicious of the theatre, which she thought of as "the house of the devil", and of dancing, which she forbade her children to take part in. The children were only rarely allowed into the main salon: to recite a prepared speech to their parents and grandparents, for example.
In the dining-room, the Maillot, de Corbie and de Gaulle families would gather for family dinner-parties around the same mahogany table now on display. The sideboard also existed at the time of Charles de Gaulle's birth. In summer, meals were sometimes served in the veranda.
The veranda was much appreciated for its light. It offered an opportunity to enjoy the garden without leaving the house. It was sometimes used as a dining-room, but mainly as a place to read and chat. This is where the children were received when they paid a visit to their grandmother.
The first floor
The first room on the right was set aside for sewing and ironing and thus served as a linen-cupboard, used mainly by the chambermaid.
Madame Maillot's bedroom gave directly onto a bathroom. This vast room, which included an alcove, was hung with religious paintings and crucifixes which, as in all the other rooms, gave the house an atmosphere of great piety. As a strict and somewhat prudish woman, Madame Maillot would certainly not have given up her room to her daughter for the birth. It was in the next bedroom that Charles de Gaulle came into the world.
The bedroom where he was born is no different from the others. A mahogany double boat-bed, a wash-stand, a work-table, statues of saints, a crucifix and religious paintings as decoration. Charles de Gaulle's cradle is now on display here.
Alongside the bedroom in which Charles de Gaulle was born is a communicating room in which his christening robe is now displayed.
All accounts given by members of the family who knew the house at the beginning of the century give very detailed descriptions of the garden. The younger inhabitants of the rue Princesse remember it as a place of games, happiness and gaiety where the austerity of the house could be forgotten. The garden has undergone many changes since the birth of Charles de Gaulle. At that time there were two lawns, a large oval lawn in the centre, surrounded by a path, and a small lawn dotted with occasional flowers and small shrubs facing the veranda. There were nine trees. The wall at the far end of the garden was concealed by holly bushes. The high surrounding walls were lined with shrubs and various plants, including a vine which climbed beneath the glass awning.
A small summer-house stood in the left-hand corner of the garden. It was used for storing garden tools and bigger toys, but was also used as a den by the children.
The former workshops
The next room was a laundry-room divided into two sections where the laundry was washed and sometimes dried when bad weather prevented its being hung out at the bottom of the garden.
The last room of all was the play-room given over to the children. Though well-lit by a number of windows, the room always looked rather shabby as a result of its uneven wooden flooring. The far wall was completely covered by shelves lined with books of a pious and austere nature. There was also a "pitch a penny" game. This room was also the setting for many a battle of tin soldiers, and the stage for plays written and presented by the children of the house.