On the page Tilburg and beyond we give an overview of the professional development of the first generations of the Gimbrères in the Netherlands. Jean François was umbrella manufacturer; four of his five sons exercised the same profession. Many grandsons also earned their living with umbrella’s.

Of their direct ancestors, we know that Jean in Antwerp was a locksmith and his father Dominique a “cuisinier” (cook) in Bordeaux. The profession of several of the French ancestors is known: in the same way as the umbrella business was passed down from father to son in Tilburg, the profession of chirurgeon or surgeon (“maitre chirurgien”) was passed on for many generations of the Gimbreres in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Pieter Jansz QUAST (1606-1647), Hollandse school, musée des Beaux Arts in Dôle

The Roman Catholic Church forbade physicians in holy orders (mostly priests) from performing surgery. Surgery reverted to barbers; priests became physicians. The surgeons were considered by physicians to be simple labourers. These barbers/surgeons were specialized in all body-related work: surgery, but also shaving and hair cutting. In due course the professions of barber and surgeon separated. The first College de Chirurgie was already established in the 13th century. For many years a rivalry between the barbers and surgeons dragged on, but in the beginning of the 17th century, when we found the first Gimbreres who were surgeons, the two professions had obtained their own identity: the surgeon (“maitre chirurgien”) performed surgery such as amputations, cranial drilling, cataract surgery, removal of tumours, but also deliveries.

These professional developments arrived later in the countryside than in Paris and other big cities. Only in the second half of the 18th century the profession of surgeon was fully developed all over France. Fraternities of surgeons were established with a standardized form of administration: a lieutenant of the king’s surgeon, a registrar, a provost marshal, a “doyen” and a “médecin-juré”.

The médecin-juré represented the supremacy of the Faculty of Medicine of the university, where “docteurs en medicine” were educated. These docteurs tried to cure people with medicines but did not use invasive techniques. These activities were left to the surgeons. In contrast with the docteurs, the surgeons were not educated at the university but trained in a master-apprentice relationship.

We found an apprenticeship contract in a notary’s record from Ayguetinte in 1678: the apprentice followed a training period of 2.5 years and his parents paid 60 pounds and four rolls of linen to his maitre chirurgien.

Detail of the apprenticeship contract between Dominique Peyracave and Blaise Gimbrere, maitre chirurgien from 1678

The first direct Gimbrere ancestor who could be found in Ayguetinte was called Jean. He was a well-to-do innkeeper. Jean had five sons, three of whom became maitre chirurgien. One of them, Blaise (see contract above), also had five sons, who all became maitre chirurgien. Gimbreres also fulfilled this profession in other villages and cities, such as Auch, Gaillac and Laroque sur l’Osse. Several female Gimbreres married a maitre chirurgien. Altogether we count at least 17 Gimbrères who were maitre chirurgien between 1600 and 1800.

We know little about their work environment. What explains their presence in a small village like Ayguetinte? Were there any hospitals nearby? Some may also have carried out military tasks, Jean-Bernard Gimbrere had a leading role in the brotherhood of chirurgiens in Auch, where he was chirugien-major and even provost twice, in the second half of the 18th century. He also participated in the city council.


Napoleon’s Army

Fifty years later, we come across Bazile Gimbrere (born 1788 in Larroque s/l’Osse) as a surgeon in Napoleon’s army. Because of his merits, he was appointed “Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur”, Eighteen years later his half-brother Jean received the same award.

The list of battles and sieges in which Bazile participated is given in his Etat de Services (see picture) and it is very impressive. On the French side alone, more than 100,000 were killed and many more injured.

But in the Russian campaign a large part of the victims were not due to the battles, but to the harsh conditions of the Russian winter. The biggest defeat of Napoleon was the battle of Leipzig, which lasted three days. After Napoleon the army settled down a bit more. Bazile’s half-brother Jean only participated in an expedition in Spain (1823) to restore the absolute sovereign Ferdinand VII to power and in the siege of Antwerp. In that city his namesake participated at the same time in the Antwerp Militia. They will not have known of each other’s existence.

The period around 1800 is a real watershed in Europe. The French Revolution was 11 years old; Napoleon had just seized power, the society was considerably modernized. Military forces moved through Europe. For the Gimbrères also this was a time of far-reaching changes. For one whole generation Gimbrères stayed in Antwerp. After that time, they flourished in Tilburg.