One of the most intriguing and puzzling trails in the Rennes-le-Château leads to London, and concerns leading figures from the world of British business with links with the shadowy world of intelligence and espionage. This aspect of the affair is currently the subject of a Mystery TV investigation.
In June 1966, Marius Fatin, then the owner of the Château Hautpoul in Rennes-le-Château, received a letter, apparently a follow-up to a visit by a group of Englishmen from the League of Antiquarian Booksellers in London:
|After our visit of last week to your chateau of RENNES,
and after having left France, we have the great pleasure to be able to
inform you that your château is historically the most important in France,
as this residence was the refuge in 681 of Prince SIGIBERT IV, son of King
DAGOBERT II, later Saint DAGOBERT, as well as that of their descendants,
the Counts of Rhedae and Dukes of the Razès.
Facts attested to by two parchments bearing the seal of Queen BLANCHE of CASTILLE (not that she had ever been in the Razès) with the testament of FRANÇOIS PIERRE d'HAUTPOUL registered on 23 November 1644 by CAPTIER, notary of ESPERAZA (Aude), documents bought in 1948 by our League with part of the library of Mr. the Abbé E.M. HOFFET, 7, Rue de Blanche in PARIS, which held the documents of Mr. the Abbé SAUNIERE, former priest of RENNES-LE-CHATEAU.
The tombstone of SIGIBERT IV, featured in the book of STUBLEIN, edition in Limoux in 1884, was found in St Magdalene's Church in RENNES-LE-CHATEAU, and is today in a lapidary museum in CARCASSONE.
Your château is therefore doubly historic!
The letter received by M. Fatin.
The details in the letter accord with the version of the Saunière story being promoted at that time in the Dossiers Secrets.
The letter caused quite a stir in the local press, who interviewed Fatin about it and photographed him with the letter. Presumably - as Fatin never said anything to the contrary then he really had been visited by Englishmen claiming to be from the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.
The letter bore two signatures, both of them unreadable. However, French researchers established that the letterhead was an old one, used by the League in 1948, and long out of use by 1966, and enquiries to the League's offices in London established that the letter was a fake.
But the claim that the genealogical parchments discovered by Saunière had been taken to London was to resurface, in one of the most mystifying episodes in Rennes-le-Château research.
Various material relating to the Priory of Sion - in particular that written by Philippe de Chérisey - stated that the genealogical documents had come into the possession of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers and had been placed in a bank vault in London. And in 1983, Pierre Plantard gave Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln copies of two notarised documents from the 1950s requesting permission from the French Consulate in London to export documents from France, and to retain them for 25 years (i.e. until 1981), after which they would revert to Plantard.
These documents, from 1955 and 1956, described the parchments as consisting of a genealogy of 1244, bearing the seal of Blanche of Castille, that showed the survival of the Merovingians until that time, another of 1644 drawn up for François-Pierre d'Hautpoul and a testament of Henri d'Hautpoul dated 1695. The parchments were said to have been obtained by the League from Saunière's niece, Madame James (actually Bertha Jammes) of Montazels. The 1956 document said that they were to be placed in a safety deposit box in Lloyds Bank Europe in London. (According to later material, they were returned to Paris in 1979.)
The notarised documents bore the signatures, and copies of the birth certificates, of the Earl of Selborne, Viscount Leathers, Captain Ronald Stansmore Nutting and Major Hugh Murchison Clowes, as well as officials in the French Consulate.
Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln established that these were all prominent figures in the City of London, especially in banking, insurance and shipping circles. In particular, all were directors of Guardian Insurance (later Guardian Royal Exchange). But they had also all been involved in intelligence work during the Second World War. Nutting, for example, was an MI5 officer, and the Earl of Selborne, as Minister of Economic Warfare, was in overall charge of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Britain's covert operations agency. All would have been involved with the Free French forces based in Britain and with the French Resistance. And, as is the case with most intelligence officers, it is likely that they maintained their connection with the security services after the war.
However, after much painstaking research, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln were able to establish that at least the 1956 document was a forgery. Although the signatures were genuine - as confirmed by the notary involved - the forger had made one tell-tale slip: Lloyds Bank Europe did not exist until 1964, before that date being known as Lloyds Bank Foreign. It appears that genuine documents signed by the four men had been tampered with. Who had done this - and how did the original documents end up in their hands?
What was this strange episode all about? Unlike much of the material relating to the Priory of Sion, these forgeries were almost perfect, and were painstakingly executed. Whoever created them had access to genuine documents signed by the businessmen, and copies of their birth certificates, which appear to have been taken from official French files. And is it a coincidence that they were all involved with British intelligence?
Mystery TV is currently investigating the London connection for a planned television documentary exploring the links between the Rennes-le-Château affair and the world of intelligence and espionage, and are seeking any relevant information about Selborne, Leathers, Nutting and Clowes, as well as other British businessmen whose names have been connected with this affair. They are:
· Baron Blackford (Glyn Mason, Conservative MP and Speaker of the House of Lords)
· Sir Alexander Aikman
· Sir John Montague Brocklebank