Fascinating royal discovery found in school archives
April 2, 2021

​A major discovery with royal connections was recently found in the Rydal Penrhos archives.

Recently, a discovery has been made in the Rydal Penrhos School Archives: a number of official letters addressed to Miss Isabelle Hutchinson Clarke, from – amongst others ­– the President of the French Republic, General Charles de Gaulle, and Queen Elizabeth II.

On the 19th November, 1954, Miss Clarke received the title of ‘Officier d’Academie’ for “the dedication [she] had shown throughout [her] career in teaching French.”

The Officier d’Academie is the second grade of the Ordre de Palmes Academiques (The Order of Academic Palms), an order of knighthood exclusively awarded to teachers, professors and educational figures.

In 1955, Miss Clarke received the Queen’s royal permission to wear this decoration at public ceremonies.

Miss Clarke also received a signed ‘Diplôme de remerciements’ (Diploma of thanks) from General de Gaulle in January 1946, shortly after the end of the Second World War.

Isabelle was awarded this diploma for “the generous help she has given to the volunteers of the free French forces”.

Information about the life of Isabelle Clarke is scarce, so that we are left with many questions.

For instance:

  • What kind of help did she give in the War?
  • Did she ever live in France?
  • And why, exactly, was she awarded one of the most venerable Civil Honours that the French Government has to bestow?

We cannot answer these questions with any certainty.

We know that Miss Clarke was living in Hertfordshire when she received the Ordre de Palmes Academiques.

It is also likely that, at some point in the 1930s, she taught at the Bridlington High School for Girls in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

But these facts alone would not explain why Isabelle received her knighthood.

However, there is some evidence that our Miss Clarke was a known figure in the literary circles of Paris, both before and after the Second World War:

An “Isabelle H. Clarke” edited an anthology of poems (French Poems of To-Day) in the 1920’s and two books of children’s stories in the 1930s.

Furthermore, the famous French surrealist Andre Breton, and five-time Nobel Prize nominee Pierre Jean Jouve, both corresponded with an “Isabelle Hutchison Clarke” in the mid-1940s.

It is likely that this Isabelle Clarke lived in Paris during the interwar years.

The minimum age of conferment for the Ordre is 35, though many of its recipients have been much older.

If our Isabelle Clarke was in her sixties – or even in her fifties! – in 1954, then that might well mean that she is the same Isabelle Clarke that edited the anthology and corresponded with Breton.

So at Rydal Penrhos, we now have a double image of Isabelle Clarke: she is a French teacher, who lived in Yorkshire and then in Hoddesdon, a dormitory town within the London commuter belt – a woman whose enthusiasm for teaching French was enough to win international recognition.

And she is also an editor, who lived in Paris for time, and was in contact with some of the most famous French writers of the 20th Century.

A remarkable life, in either case.

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