'Finders, keepers' ruling on French admiral’streasure buried in garden

17th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

POITIERS, France, Sept 17 (AFP) - A long-running legal battle over a treasure-trove of royalist gold has reached its climax in France with a judge ruling that descendants of the navy commander who buried the coins during the French Revolution have no right to claim them as their own.

POITIERS, France, Sept 17 (AFP) - A long-running legal battle over a treasure-trove of royalist gold has reached its climax in France with a judge ruling that descendants of the navy commander who buried the coins during the French Revolution have no right to claim them as their own.  

Seventy-seven men and women who trace their ancestry to the celebrated 18th century admiral Louis-Charles du Chaffault launched a joint action demanding that the 1,742 gold pieces found 11 years ago in the grounds of his former chateau be restored to the family.  

But on Wednesday the appeal court in the western city of Poitiers overturned an earlier ruling in their favour, and said the trove should be shared between the man who discovered the gold and the current owner of the property.  

For two centuries local legend in the Vendee region - scene of fierce repression of royalists and Catholics during the Terror that followed the 1789 revolution - had it that the 86 year-old Chaffault ordered his wealth to be buried in his estate at La Guyonniere when he realised he would soon be taken prisoner.   

The admiral, who had fought at the 1778 battle of Ushant against Britain in the American revolutionary war, was arrested by republican forces in 1793 and taken to prison in the nearby city of Nantes where he died of typhus the following year.  

Despite painstaking searches over the years nothing was discovered at La Guyonniere until February 1993 when a local man using a metal-detector turned up a first Louis d'Or coin buried beneath a garden path.  

"Just when he was about to give up, his machine began to crackle. After digging down 40 centimetres - immense joy! My client could not believe his eyes. With his bare hands he brought up 1,742 gold pieces struck between 1728 and 1789," said Bertrand Brecheteau, lawyer for the man who wishes to remain anonymous.  

A few months later 400 of the coins were sold at auction in Paris, netting some EUR 200,000 (USD 250,000) but drawing the attention of a descendant of the admiral who started proceedings to restore the find to the family.  

"There is historical evidence to prove that it was indeed the admiral who hid the coins. He buried them at the height of the Terror with the intention of retrieving them once calm had returned," said another descendant quoted in Ouest-France newspaper.  

"All this is enough to establish the principle of inheritance," he said.  

In 2000 a court in La-Roche-sur-Yon found for the admiral's family, ruling that the coins did not constitute "treasure" under French law.

This states that a finder can only keep his trove if its ownership cannot be established and if he came across it by chance.  

However the appeal court reversed the decision, ruling that "there is no absolute proof that the treasure belonged to the Chaffault family and that anyone could have put it there as the property has been bought and sold several times."  

The finder and property-owner thus retain ownership of the Chaffault gold - though descendants of the admiral could still take the case to the Cour de Cassation, the highest court of appeal in France.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

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