In some legends and stories of the Gillettes, there is mention of "Piedmont". One record flat out states that the Gillettes originally "came from" Piedmonte. We have neither proven nor disproven that claim. We deal with it here, only because the assertion has been made, and so must be one of our considerations.
But citing Piedmonte can be perplexing at first, when you take a quick glance at the modern day map, and find Piedmonte apparently in Italy! Some have thought that there must have also been a Piedmonte FRANCE, for the Gillettes were French. In fact, one historical record we have even refers to it as "Piedmonte, France." Others have concluded that this one on the Italian side of the Alps must be intended.
An understanding of the history of the area can help us understand how it all made sense to researchers before our day.
Spectacularly beautiful Piedmonte is situated in the Alps, and shares its mountainous western and northwestern border with modern day FRANCE, SWITZERLAND at the extreme North, the province of LOMBARDY to the East, with Italy proper lying to the South. A careless glance at a modern map will give the appearance that Piedmont is simply part of Italy. But the student of European history will appreciate that the history of this region has never been that "cut and dried".
For century after century the fortunes and history of Piedmont were far different than for the ancient "Kingdom of Italy" that existed to the South. The FRENCH language is a very strong influence in the dialect of the region of Piedmont. Not only so, but the traveller in Piedmonte will readily observe that the people of the region are ethnically different than "Italians" in the southern part of the country. Piedmonte is obviously different.
In the 6th century, the Catholic Church and Southern Italy were at war with the Germanic Lombards who came from the upper Danube ( named "Lombards" for their long battle axes ). By 568 AD the Lombards had conquered and occupied these regions in the North of Italy, and established THE LOMBARD KINGDOM there. Their monarchy lasted two full centuries, until their power was broken by Charlemagne the FRANK. Still, under the rule of the FRANKS, matters were little changed for northern Italy. The Encyclopedia Brittanica speaks to this: "Frankish Italy had become a province of the new empire...but the center of the empire lay NORTH of the Alps... The partitions of the Carolingian empire during the 9th century changed the status of the Italian kingdom several times".
But even before the Lombard centuries, these areas had been occupied variously by the Ostrogoths, Goths, Visigoths Gauls, and Franks and etc. These centuries shaped Piedmonte and Lombardy in the North into a culturally, ethnically, and religiously different area than Italy to the South.
Sharing the region with the Germanic peoples of Switzerland and the Frankish and Gaulish peoples of France and with Lombardy to the east shaped Piedmont through the centuries.
When these regions were in The Lombard Kingdom, profoundly SIGNIFIGANT ROUTES OF TRAVEL were opened from these areas into the northern regions of present day FRANCE. The Lombards were at war with the Byzantines to the East of them. Let us here consult various sources. We will refer to The Catholic Encyclopedia as "The C.E.": It says, "For their north-south communications, the Lombards abandoned the central Bologna-Pistoia-Florence route as being too exposed to the incursions of the Byzantines who still held control of the eastern part of Italy; and made use of a route further to the west that crossed the Cisa pass and reached Pavia and Milan via the Sarzana-Piacenza route. In the Middle Ages this road, later to be known as THE VIA FRANCIGENA ( THE ROAD TO FRANCE) became the MAIN CONTINENTAL ARTERY between Italy and the countries north of the Alps. It was for centuries used by merchants, prelates, soldiers and pilgrims traveling back and forth FROM THE NORTH OF EUROPE, carrying ideas as well as money and produce."
Something should here be said about the WALDENSIANS, as they figure strongly in the history of Piedmonte, as well as the southeastern regions of France. The Waldenses are a religious movement that has called these regions home through the centuries. The C.E. tells that the movement was popularly named after Waldo (or Waldes) one of the leaders of the movement, but that the Waldensians claim that their founding was much earlier than Waldes. It says, "some Waldenses claimed for their churches an Apostolic origin. The first Waldensian congregations, it was maintained, were established by St. Paul who, on his journey to Spain, visited the valleys of PIEDMONT." The C.E. goes on to tell that the Waldensian movement claimed that numerous other leaders of the movement appeared long before the birth of Waldes. They said the movement harked back to the time of Constantine, the 3rd century, and that among their leaders was Claudius of Turin (who died 840), and Berengarius of Tours (who died 1088), or other such men who had preceded Waldes. In any event, Waldes himself was from Lyon in FRANCE, and arose in the movement in 1176. The southern provinces Languedoc and Provence in France, had religious differences with the Catholic Church, and were branded "heretics". These "heretics" were the Cathari and Albigensian movements there. The Catholic Encyclopedia goes on to tell of the affinity these regions held for the Waldenses in Piedmonte: "The Albigensian wars, however, also reacted on the (Catholic) policy towards the Waldenses, and in 1214 seven of these suffered the death penalty at Maurillac. But it was only toward the middle of the thirteenth century that the heresy lost ground in Provence and Languedoc. It did not disappear in these provinces until it was MERGED in the PROTESTANT Reformation movement". The C. E. also states, "Italy became a more permanent home of Waldensianism" and that "prospered in the valleys of western PIEDMONT". Protestantism was still more readily accepted. Not only were its teachings universally adopted, but numerous Waldensian communities were merged in the Protestant churches, the Italian congregations alone retaining an independent existence and the original name. Those in the Piedmont valleys enjoyed religious peace from 1536-1559, owing to THE POLITICAL DEPENDENCE OF THE DISTRICTS UPON FRANCE. A contrary policy was pursued by the Dukes of Savoy; but the Waldenses at the very outset successfully resisted, and in 1561 were granted in certain districts the free exercise of their religion. In 1655 violence was again fruitlessly resorted to. ... In Piedmont, civil equality was granted them in 1799 when the FRENCH occupied the country. They enjoyed this peace until the downfall of Napoleon I, but again lost it at the return of the house of Savoy. From 1816 onward, however, gradual concessions were made to the Waldenses, and in 1848 Charles Albert granted them complete and permanent liberty." From there The C. E. goes on to speak of the expansion and growth of the Waldensian movement, into the United States and other countries.
A Waldensian History published on the Web speaks of the Waldensians being originally French, but being squeezed by persecutions into migrating across the border. It says "Often confused with the Albigensian (or Catari) in the repression, they were over-run along with them in SOUTHERN FRANCE, THEIR NATIVE LAND. Tortured without mercy by the courts of the Inquisition, they went to the stake or were scattered into other regions. The only group of certain size that was able to survive, due to favorable geographic and political situation, was the group of the Alps. AT FIRST they were mainly located on the FRENCH side, in the lands of the Dauphin. Later on they were to be found on the Italian side, in the valleys of the Po and Chisone rivers." (found February 24, 2000 and quoted from http://giveshare.org/churchhistory/waldenses/notesonwaldensianchurch.html)
The reader need only understand that Piedmonte was never like the rest of Italy to its South. In fact there were many times of full scale WAR between them, times when PIEDMONT'S ALLEGIANCE AND BOND WAS WITH FRANCE, or the German states, against Catholic Rome in the South.
We have seen The Catholic Encyclopedia speak of the "merger' of the peoples of these areas into The Protestant Movement, even unto this day. Another source, about the Waldenses, Halley's Bible Handbook: "Forerunners of the Protestant Reformation: The Waldenses of Southern France and and Northern Italy. Similar to Albigenses but not identical. Waldo, a rich merchant of Lyons, South France (1176), gave is property to the poor and went about preaching; opposed clerical usurpation and profligacy; denied the exclusive right of the clergy to teach the Gospel; rejected masses, prayers for the dead and purgatory; taught the Bible as the sole rule of belief and life; their preaching kindled a great desire among the people to read the Bible. They were gradually repressed by the Inquisition except in the Alpine Valleys near Turin where they STILL are found, the only MEDIEVAL sect still surviving, a story of heroic endurance of persecutions. Now the leading Protestant body in Italy." The C. E. also says, "From the valleys of the Alps it carried on missionary work in all Southern FRANCE to the Atlantic seaboard. In 1403 a determined effort was made to win back the Waldenses (to Catholicism) but the labours were powerless. The Inquisition was equally unsuccessful. The policy of repression was abandoned under King Louis XI of FRANCE,who extended to the Waldenses of the above-mentioned valleys his royal PROTECTION. This period of peace was followed in 1488 by a crusade summoned by Pope Innocent VIII against the Waldenses. The war did not succeed in stamping them out. Soon after, the Protestant Reformation profoundly modified the sect's history and doctrinal development. The Waldenses substantially adopted the Doctrines of the Swiss Protestant Reformers in the 1530s. This open adoption of Protestantism soon led to renewed persecutions. The history of the Waldensian communities became henceforth IDENTIFIED WITH THAT OF PROTESTANTISM IN FRANCE." Needless to say, in the wars between the Catholics and the Protestants, the allegiance of these people was with the Protestants to the North and to the West.
In fact, the student of the history of this region of Europe will discover that the BORDER between France and Italy continued to change and fluctuate CLEAR UP UNTIL WORLD WAR II, AND THE TREATY OF 1947!
Thus it becomes understandable how historians could so easily have spoken of the Gillettes being both Huguenots and being from Piedmonte, and, even on occasion writing of "Piedmonte, France" as they did.
I hope that this brief sketch of Piedmonte will at least help the reader to understand that Piedmont is different than southern Italy, and help them to go beyond the surface appearance of Piedmonte on the modern map. Here we have only treated of Piedmonte, and that in brief. The student of the history of Italy will be aware that there were far more instances than these, of the presence of northerners in Italy, all the way to it's southernmost reaches, and many more factors to be considered than the few presented in this sketch. The Normans of northern France for example, held southern Italy. But those are studies for another place and time.
We still may never find any confirmation that Gillettes "came from" Piedmonte. Three other places of origin cited are Bergerac, Guyenne, France, and La Rochelle, France, and a feudal estate and village, called "Gillette Castle" in France, that we have never yet found any trace of. But if the Piedmonte claim turns out to be true, perhaps this sketch will help researchers put things together.