Born on 12th March 1803 in Otterberg to Bernard Frederich Fortune de Felice, 3rd Count of Panzutti, and his second wife Catherine Charlotte Marie Cordier. His father was a pastor in Otterberg briefly, and his mother came from a notable local family. He was one of 10 children, 4 siblings and 5 half-siblings from his father’s first marriage to Elisabeth Friederica Amalia Giessen. His father remarried in 1798 after the death of his first wife and relocated to Lille.
At the age of 18, in 1821, he attended the Academy of Strasbourg, to study Theology, in keeping with the family tradition. When he was 24, he became the third pastor at the Reformed Church in Bolbec, France, and two years later was called to the chair of Theology at Montauban. It was here that he made a huge influence; publishing widely and was renowned as an excellent preacher.
He inherited his father’s title when he was 28 after his father died in Lille. However, little changed for him as he was already a major figure of his family. At 34, he became engaged to Francoise Josephine Pernete Theodore-Rivier, who was 20. She was the daughter of an aristocrat from Guillaume’s family home town in Switzerland. They married two years later on 9th August 1839 in Montauban.
A year later they had their first child, Theodore Guillaume de Felice (1840-1891), and went on to have 3 more children:
Sophie Louise Susanne 1844-1929
Charles Louis Paul 1847-1911
During the later period of his life de Felice became heavily involved in the Abolitionist Movement. This was partly sparked due to the proximity of the church at Bolbec with the slave-port of Le Havre. De Felice pioneered the movement against the slave camps in Guadeloupe, and in 1846 famously drafted the French petition in favour of abolition. Through his close relationships with the English abolitionists, especially William Wilberforce, he was able to enact change using their success in 1833 for his own when slavery was abolished in France in 1848.
Following the success of the Abolitionist campaign, de Felice continued his pastoral and academic roles. In 1853, at the age of 50, de Felice published his most famous work, the History of the Protestants, and in 1865, he was made dean of the Protestant faculty of Montauban. However, after his beloved wife died in 1869, he retired from public life. He did not remarry and due to his failing health he settled in the family estate near Yverdon in Switzerland. He died two years later on 23rd October 1871 when he was 68. He is buried at Montoie where his tomb remains.
In a controversial move, he prioritised the inheritance of the family title to his daughter, Sophie, rather his first son and eldest child Theodore. The title can be held suo jure by a woman, however this caused a huge division in the family for many years. In Guillaume’s thinking, he believed that since Theodore followed his footsteps in going into the church the title and organisation of the family would be better to go to his daughter Sophie, to whom he was very close.
Lady Sophie de Felice married Henri Guisan, a Swiss nobleman, and cousin of General Henri Guisan, Commander in Chief of the Swiss Army during WWII. This branch of the family became cousins also to the baronial family of Stael-Holstein, including the French writer Madame de Stael, and the ducal family of de Broglie.