The House of La Trémoïlle (Maison de La Trémoille in French) was a French noble family from Poitou whose name comes from the village La Trimouille in the départment of Vienne. This family has been known since the middle of the 11th century, and since the 14th century its members have been conspicuous in French history as nobles, military leaders and crusaders, and influential as political leaders, diplomats, Huguenots and courtiers. The male line of the family died out in 1933, while female line heirs of the last duke have kept the La Trémoïlle surname alive in Belgium.
Pierre, the first known seigneur (or sire) of La Trémoïlle, was settled in Poitou, and died after 1040. His descendant, Guy, accompanied Godefroy de Bouillon to the Holy Land as a crusader in 1096. Upon his return, he had the abbey of Reims rebuilt, and died after 1145. His son, Guillaume, joined the expedition of Louis VII of France to the Holy Land as a crusader. Guillaume's great-grandson, Thibaut, crusaded alongside St. Louis, and was killed, along with three of his sons, on 8 February 1250 in battle at Mansoura in Egypt.
In 1269 another Guy de La Trémoïlle, who is numbered "I" in the family lineage, paid homage to his liege, Alphonse, Count of Poitou, and died sometime after 1301. Guy IV (d. 1350), predeceased his father, Guy III, having been designated Grand Panetier of France. His son, Guy V (1346-1398), was called "The Valiant" according to Père Anselme, being a renowned warrior, the confidante of Philip the Hardy of Burgundy, and later counselor in the service of Charles VI of France, whose Oriflamme he carried into battle against the English in 1382. He journeyed with Louis II, Duke of Bourbon on crusade to Africa, and died in Rhodes en route to France, having been ransomed in 1396 following imprisonment at Nicopolis. His son George (1382-1444), became Grand Chamberlain of France in 1406 and husband in 1416 of Joan II, Countess of Auvergne, thereby also acquiring the counties of Boulogne and Guînes. His rivalry with Arthur de Richemont, rather than hostility to Joan of Arc, is believed to have slowed her crusade's momentum against the English, allowing them to capture and burn her at the stake in 1431. His family's rise to wealth and power made him a target, and he was ransomed after capture thrice; after the Battle of Agincourt, once again by the English, and at Chinon, whence he was taken from the king's side and held prisoner at Montrésor.
His grandson Louis II (1460-1525), commanded French troops in the conquest of Lombardy for Louis XII. Defeated and wounded fighting the Swiss at Novarra in 1513, he redeemed his reputation by raising the siege of Marseilles against the Constable de Bourbon's Imperial troops in 1523 before being killed at the Battle of Pavia in 1524. In 1485 he had wed the princesse du sang Gabrielle de Bourbon, daughter of Louis I, comte de Montpensier, subsequently marrying the daughter of Cesare Borgia. He inherited from his mother Marguerite d'Amboise, vicomtesse de Thouars, the title, "prince de Talmond", which Du Cange noted, in his Glossarium mediæ et infimæ latinitatis, had become attached to an allodial seigneurie in the Vendée. It was his grandson, François de La Trémoïlle (1505-1541), who succeeded Louis II in his titles, his father Charles, prince de Talmond (1486-1515), having been killed at the Battle of Marignano. He was taken prisoner at the battle of Pavia at which his grandfather was killed, but was subsequently ransomed. François wed the heiress Anne de Laval in 1521, who eventually brought to their descendants the pretendership to a royal throne. Their two younger sons, George (died 1584) and Claude (died 1566) founded, respectively, the branches of the marquis d'Royan (extinct 1698) and of the ducs de Noirmoutier (extinct 1733).
The eldest son of François de La Trémoïlle, Louis III (1521-1577), was the first of his family to obtain ducal status when Charles IX conferred that honor upon him in 1563. His son with Jeanne de Montmorency, Claude (1566-1604), had the dukedom elevated into a peerage in 1595, although it was not registered as hereditary in the Parlement until 1599. He had converted to Protestantism and fought for the Huguenots during the French Wars of Religion at the battles of Coutras in 1587, Ivry in 1590 and Fontaine-Française in 1595, and at the sieges of Paris and Rouen. In 1598 he married Charlotte Brabantine of Orange-Nassau (1580-1631), daughter of the Protestant Dutch leader William the Silent. Claude's sister, Charlotte Catherine de La Trémoille (d. 1619), married Henri I de Bourbon, prince de Condé (1552-1588) in 1586, but when he died suddenly six months before the birth of their only son in September 1588, she was imprisoned on suspicion of having poisoned her husband to prevent the child's rejection as a bastard, although the king recognized the child as premier prince du sang and heir presumptive to the crown until the birth of his own son, the future Louis XIII, in 1601.
The third duc de Thouars, Henri (1599-1674), was present at the Siege of La Rochelle in October 1628, after which he was obliged to abjure Protestantism for Catholicism while face-to-face with the victorious Cardinal Richelieu. He fought for France thereafter, at Pas-de-Suze in 1629, at the siege of Corbie in 1636, and was wounded at Carignano in 1629. Of his marriage with his cousin in 1619, Marie de La Tour d'Auvergne (1601-1665), daughter of Henri, Duke of Bouillon, was born Henri-Charles de La Trémoïlle (1620-1672), fourth duc de Thouars and prince de Tarente. He lived much of his life outside of France, serving as a cavalry general in the service of the Estates of Holland and holding the post of governor of Bois-le-Duc. He married a German princess, Emilie of Hesse-Cassel (1626-1693), in 1648, and only returned to France and converted to Catholicism two years before his death, in September 1670. His great-grandson, Charles Armand René de La Trémoïlle (1683-1719) became the seventh duc de Thouars in father-to-son succession. He received the position of Premier Gentilhomme de la Chambre du Roi, which had become a family sinecure. In 1725 he married his cousin, Marie Hortense de La Tour d'Auvergne (1704-1788), daughter of Emmanuel-Théodose, Duke of Bouillon.
In the 17th century the La Trémoïlle family put forth a claim to the throne of the Kingdom of Naples. Henry de La Trémoïlle, in representation of his great-grandmother Anne de Laval (1505–1554), wife of François de la Trémoïlle, was the sole heir to King Frederick of Naples. Ferdinand I (1423-1494), an illegitimate son of King Alfonso V of Aragon, managed to become king of Naples in 1458, although upon his death his son Alfonso II (1452-1504) was driven out by France. Alfonso II's only legitimate child, Charlotte (1480-1506), was married in 1500 to Nicolas de Montmorency, comte de Laval. Her younger daughter Anne married in 1521 Louis I de La Trémoïlle, vicomte de Thouars. By this connection the La Trémoïlle claimed the title "Prince of Tarento", along with the inheritance of Montmorency-Laval (it had passed to the Rieux family on the death of Guy XVI in 1531, then through Claude de Rieux, comtesse de Laval et Montfort, to François de Coligny in 1547, and on the death in 1605 of his grandson Guy XX, to the La Trémoïlle). Henri-Charles (1599-1674), duc de Thouars, received royal confirmation of the rank of foreign prince in 1651; he bore as arms Quarterly Or a chevron gules between three eagles azure (La Trémoïlle), France, Bourbon-Montpensier and Montmorency-Laval. His eldest son Charles-Belgique-Hollande (1655-1709) bore Quarterly France and Two-Sicilies, over all La Trémoïlle, the younger son Frédéric-Guillaume (d. 1739) was titled prince de Talmond; he acquired the lordship of Châtellerault and had it raised to a dukedom for his son in 1730, but the latter died without issue in 1759 and the title of Talmond returned to the eldest branch. The 13th and last duke of Thouars, 13th prince de Tarente and 17th prince de Talmond died in 1933.
In 1643 he asserted his rights to that crown jure uxoris, and his descendants would continue to do so at various diplomatic conferences, in vain. Louis XIII, however, recognized the duc de La Trémoïlle's assumption of "Prince of Taranto" as a title of pretence and, by patent issued in 1629, granted him and his family the rank and prerogatives of princes étrangers at the French court.
In 1648, Louis XIV allowed him to send a representative in presented their claims before the Congress of Munster, where the Treaty of Westphalia was concluded. The princes de Tarente also sought to their dynastic rights recognized at the congresses of Munster, Nijmegen and Ryswyk, but without success. On November 6, 1748 the La Trémoïlle family made a final protest concerning their rights to the kingdom of Naples which had been yielded by the Treaty of Vienna of 1738 to the King of Sicily.
Louis Jean Marie de La Trémoille (8 February 1910 – 9 December 1933), prince and 12th duc de La Trémoille, 13th duc de Thouars, 13th prince de Tarente and 17th prince de Talmond, was the only son and heir of Louis Charles de La Trémoïlle, 12th duc de Thouars and 12th Prince of Taranto, and was the last male of the historic La Trémoille family. He died, unmarried and childless, at the age of 23 at the estate of Leander J. McCormick (son of L. Hamilton McCormick) in Whitchurch, Hampshire. It was noted in the New York Times at the time that his mysterious death by fire in England evoked the martyrdom at English hands of Joan of Arc five centuries earlier, who had been betrayed by the young duke's ancestor, Georges de La Trémoïlle, founder of the family's fortune in France.
Although the 1944 Almanach de Gotha states that his successor, as 14th duchesse de Thouars, was the eldest of his four sisters, Charlotte (1892-1971), the Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels of 1991 refrains from doing so, a 1959 ruling of the French courts having found that hereditary titles may only be transmitted "male-to-male" in "modern law". The original grant of the dukedom, in July 1563 by Charles IX, stipulated that it was heritable by both male and female successors, although when erected into a pairie by Henry IV in 1599, the letters patent restricted succession to the peerage—but not the dukedom—to male heirs, restrictions inapplicable to the title of pretence, Prince of Taranto, traditionally borne by the representative heir to the historical throne of Naples, which was heritable in the female line.
The only son of the 1910 marriage of Charlotte de La Trémoïlle with Prince Henri Florent de Ligne (1881-1967), head of the Antoing cadet branch of that princely family, had de La Trémoïlle appended to his own surname in the Kingdom of Belgium as "Jean Charles, Prince de Ligne de La Trémoille" (1911-2005) on 20 December 1934, and his only son, Prince Charles-Antoine (born 1946), bears the same title and name.
The family was divided into several branches including, among others: