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Montmorency (Municipality, Val-d'Oise, France)

Last modified: 2011-11-11 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Montmorency]

Flag of Montmorency - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 23 September 2006


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Presentation of Montmorency

The municipality of Montmorency (21,438 inhabitants in 2008; 537 ha) is located 15 km north of Paris. This very uneven town is made of an old village surrounded by wealthy estates and the Montmorency Forest (2,000 ha).

Prehistoric artifacts found in the Montmorency Forest have been dated from the Mesolithic, the transition period between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic. The corresponding local facies, characterized by big tools made of polished and lustred sandstone, is called Montmorencien.
The name of Montmorency appeared in the Carolingian period as "Mons Maurentiacus". "Maurentiacus", that is, "Maurentius' estate", was Germanized into Morency. "Mons" (the mounts) refers to the rocky spur on which a primitive wooden fort (castrum) was built in the 9th century. The fort was a simple square tower built on the levelled top of the spur and protected by two stockades. It was part of the defense system set up by Robert IV the Strong (820-866), Margrave of Neustria and the root of the Capetian dynasty, order to watch the road to Paris threatened by the Northmen invasions. In the beginning of the 9th century, the ruined fort was granted by King of France Robert the Pious (972-1031, King in 996) to Bouchard the Bearded, provided he would revamp it.

Bouchard, who took the title of Bouchard I de Montmorency, was one of the "barons", those lords of lower rank who lived mostly of plunder. He was expelled from the town of Sens, in spite of being the grand-nephew of the powerful local bishop, Gautier I. Bouchard married the widow of a knight who owned of a fortress on the St. Denis island. This small island, located in the middle of the Seine, north of Paris, was a strategic place allowing the control of the navigation on the river. Bouchard caused a lot of trouble to its powerful neighbour, the Abbot of St. Denis. The abbey was the organizer of the fair of Lendit (named after the Latin word indictus, "a fixed meeting place"), then the most important fair in the region of Paris. Bouchard held to ransom the merchants shipping their goods to the fair, stealing the "tax" that should have been perceived by the abbey. To solve the problem, Robert the Pious "relocalized" Bouchard to Montmorency and asked him to abandon the "tax" on the river and his actions against the abbey. Bouchard, however, remained the owner of the island; he and his followers progressively increased their territory by "incorporating" lands belonging to the abbey. A series of lawsuits and raids lasted until 1295, when the two parts exchanged their respective enclaves and signed a definitive peace.
Anyway, the rascal Bouchard is the root of a lineage that contributed to the fame of the Kingdom of France with six Constables, twelve Marshals and four Admirals. The Montmorency owned a big domain made of 31 adjacent parishes, ran from the chastel (castle) of Montmorency. In the 12th+13th centuries, a village developed around the revamped fort and the castrum was renamed in 1205 castellum, which means "a fortified village". In spite of being far from the main roads and tortuous, Montmorency became famous for its Wednesday's market, where all kind of stuff could be purchased. The fortified village quickly morphed into a rich town with several guilds. An hospital was founded in 1207 while the Knight Templars settled in Montmorency in 1257, where they grew grapevines. The town was severely damaged during the Hundred Years' War, by the Jacques (revolted farmers) in 1356 and by the English in 1358 and 1381. The troops of Duke d'Orléans also sacked the town in 1411, so that walls were eventually built to protect the inhabitants. This did not prevent the troops of the Holy League to loot the town once again in 1589.

In the 15th century, the sons of Jean II of Montmorency (1402-1477) caused the split of the lineage. Jean de Nivelle and Louis de Fosseux, born from Jean's first marriage, took the Burgundian and English party against the King of France. Their father, despite his age, went on the battlefield and disinherited on 24 July 1463 his elder sons to the benefit of Guillaume de Montmorency, born from his second marriage. Baron Guillaume decided to rebuild the town church; the building started around 1520 and ended in the late 17th century, the today's facade being completed only in 1910. The church is famous for its set of 14 stained-glass windows from the Renaissance. In 1551, Constable Anne de Montmorency (1493-1567) was made Duke and Peer of France by King François I. The French Oratorians were granted in 1617 the collegiate church and built a big college. The Gilded Age of the Montmorency lineage ended in 1632, when Henri II de Montmorency, who had rebelled against King Louis XIII, was captured and beheaded in Toulouse on the order of Cardinal de Richelieu.
Montmorency's goods were mostly transferred to Henri de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, whose wife was Charlotte Marguerite de Montmorency, Henri de Montmorency's daughter. In 1689, Henri Jules de Bourbon, Prince de Condé and Duke de Montmorency, was allowed to rename the Duchy of Montmorency Anguien. This was the first of a long series of changes in the name of the Duchy and of the town: Anguien (1689-1790), Montmorency (1790-1793), Émile (1793-1813; after Jean-Jacques Rousseau's character), Montmorency (1813-1815), Enghien (1815-1832), and, eventually Montmorency (1832).
In 1629, Nicolas Desnots was allowed by the Prince de Condé to enclose a piece of land where he built a landscaped garden with fountains and waterfalls. The domain was purchased in 1670 by Charles Le Brun, the King's painter, who built there a "small castle". In 1702, the new owner, the banker Pierre Crozat, built a "big castle" and an orangery, which is today the only remain of the castle. Marshal de Luxembourg bought the estate in 1750. After his death, the domain was abandoned and used as a quarry until the end of the 19th century and the purchase of the domain by the Duke de Dino, Marquis de Talleyrand-Périgord.

In April 1756, the young philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau left Paris, "a muddy and smoky town", for Montmorency. He stayed in a small estate called L'Ermitage, and used to walk in the neighbouring chestnut grove (still there). Then he rented a small house called Montlouis, where he mostly stayed in a small, uncomfortable pavilion he nicknamed Donjon. There he wrote his most famous works, including La Lettre à d'Alembert, Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse, Les Lettres à Malesherbes, Du Contrat Social, and Émile ou de l'éducation. The neighbouring house belonged to two churchy men, who were accusated by Rousseau to spy him and to gossip about him in the town. He nicknamed them commères (gossips) and te house has remained known as maison des commères. Marshal de Luxembourg proposed to Rousseau to settle in Le Brun's "small castle", where the writer did not stay for long. Warned that the Parliament of Paris had issued a warrant for arrest against him because of the book Émile, Rousseau left Montmorency on 8 June 1762 to Switzerland. He never came back to Montmorency but a ceremony took place in the town on 19 Vendémiaire of the Year III (10 October 1794), on the eve of the transfer of his ashes from Ermenonville to the Panthéon in Paris.

The Belgian musician André Modeste Grétry (1741-1813) settled in L'Ermitage in 1795 and died in Montmorency. Born in Liège, Grétry had his first opéra-comique Isabelle et Gertrude (libretto by Favart after a short story by Voltaire) played in Geneva in 1766. Protected by the Count von Creutz, Ambassador of Sweden, Grétry became famous in Paris and was appointed her private musician by Queen Marie-Antoinette. His fame was not interrupted by the Revolution; he was appointed member of the Institute in 1795 and Napoléon awarded him the Legion of Honor. Grétry, considered as the inventor of the opéra-comique, composed 15 operas and 40 opéras comiques. His masterpiece is the vocal quatuor Où peut-on être mieux qu'au sein de sa famille ?, in Lucile (1769), which was reused by Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) in the adagio of his famous 5th violine concerto (nicknamed Grétry).

In 1766, Father Louis Cotte (1740-1815), teacher and later director of the Oratorian College, and considered as the father of modern meteorology, discovered by chance the sulphur-bearing thermal waters of Enghien, close to Montmorency. The spa of Enghien-les-Bains quickly developed, causing the decline of Montmorency. Posh housing estates were built in the ancient parks; a 3-km cog railway, then the steepest in France, linked Montmorency to Enghien from 1864 to 1954.
In the 19th century, members of the upper classes from Paris enjoyed the Montmorency Forest. Several rich people took their vacation there and eventually settled in estates located near the town. The Polish elit, exiled after the failed insurrection of 1830-1831 against the Russian rule, settled in Montmorency. The most famous members of this community were the poet and politician Julian Niemcewicz (1757-1841), General Karol Kniaziewicz (1762-1842) and the national poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855). The poet was buried in the cemetery of Montmorency until his ashes were repatriated to Poland in 1890.

The French Romantic poet Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863) included in his Poèmes antiques et modernes (1826), section Poèmes modernes, a long poem called Les amants de Montmorency (with the subtitle Élévation), written in Montmorency on 27 April 1830. Vigny had a very pessimist conception of life, which he perfectly expressed in Les amants de Montmorency, based on a real event. The first two verses of the poem are a short summary of the drama:
Étaient-ils malheureux, Esprits qui le savez ! / Were they so unhappy, Spirits who know that!
Dans les trois derniers jours qu'ils s'étaient réservés / In the last three days they had spared for themselves.
Then there is a long description of the two happy lovers going to Montmorency and the first stanza ends with:
[...] et c'est ainsi / and so
Qu'ils allèrent à pied jusqu'à Montmorency / They walked up to Montmorency.
The second stanza describes how they loved each other in the beautiful nature. The third stanza gives the sad outcome of the story, starting with a blunt sentence:
Or c'était pour mourir qu'ils étaient venus là / Indeed they came there to die.
A more modern version of a similar story was popularized by Edith Piaf as Les amants d'un jour (words by C. Delécluse and M. Senlis; music by M. Monnot; 1956).

Montmorency is the cradle of the Montmorency sour cherry (in French, griotte), which represents 95% of the North American sour cherry market. The name of the cherry recalls the once famous Montmorency orchards; cultivation started in the 18th century, encouraged by King Louis XV, the fruit being locally known as gaudriole. In the 19th century, people from Paris going to Montmorency on Sunday could hire a tree on a hourly basis to pick up and eat cherries directly from the tree. Ironically, there is not a single Montmorency cherry tree left in today's Montmorency.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 23 September 2006


Flag of Montmorency

The flag of Montmorency is yellow with a red cross and four blue alerions in each quarter. The flag is flown in two copies over the town hall. Four years ago, the municipal administration told that Montmorency had no flag but would have one soon.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, which are, unsurprisingly, the arms of the Montmorency lineage, D'or à la croix de gueules, cantonnée de seize alérions d'azur ordonnés deux et deux, "Or a cross gules cantonned by sixteen alerions azure"(Blazons by Brian Timms).
The French heraldist Meurget de Tupigny defines the alerions as de petits aigles au vol abaissé et généralement représentés sans bec ni pattes, that is "small eagles with inverted wings and usually portrayed without beak and legs." According to Brian Timms, the word alérion was coined in the Urfé Armorial, dated 1380/1400. The alerion seems to be confined in French heraldry, mostly related with Montmorency and Lorraine.

The Montmorency municipal website reports the "origin" of the arms of Montmorency as follows. The arms bore originally only four alerions, recalling the victory of Bouchard I de Montmorency over the 60,000-men army sent by Emperor of Germany Otto II in 987. The twelve other alerions recall the Battle of Bouvines (27 July 1214), when King of France Phiip II Augustus defeated a coalition led by the German Emperor and the Count of Flanders; this battle is considered as the first significant military victory of a King of France and allowed Philip II Augustus to increase the royal power over his challenging vassals. Baron Mathieu II de Montmorency captured twelve standards from the German Emperor Otto IV, therefore the twelve alerions. The red cross is said to have been traced by the king with Mathieu's blood on the battlefield. This story is of course too good to be history: it is known that the cross on the arms of Montmorency predates Bouvines and the probability that Bouchard bore any coat of arms as early as 987 is very low.

Arnaud Bunel's Héraldique Européenne website shows the coat of arms of the Montmorency lineage as follows:
The old arms of Montmorency ("Or a cross gules") are shown not for Bouchard I but for Thibaut de Montmorency, Constable of France (1083-1086). The shield of a Constable is supported by two hands each holding a rising sword and emerging from a white cloud. Thibaut was the sixth Constable of France and the first whose arms are known.
The second arms of Montmorency, with the four alerions, are shown for Mathieu de Montmorency (d. 1160), Lord of Montmorency, Écouen, Marly, Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and Attichy, ninth Constable of France c. 1138.
The complete arms of Montmorency, with sixteen alerions, are shown for Mathieu II de Montmorency (d. 1230), Lord of Montmorency and Constable of France. The same shield, with different ornaments related to their bearer's title, were also used, among others, by:
- Guillaume de Montmorency (d. 1531), Baron de Montmorency, Lord de La Rochepot, écouen, Chantilly, Damville, Conflans-Saint-Honorine, Thoré, Chavercy, Offoix and Montespilloir. Guillaume was awarded the title of Premier Baron Chrétien (First Christian Baron);
- Anne de Montmorency (1492-1567), Duke de Montmorency and Damville, then Duke de Montmorency and Peer of France (1551), Count de Beaumont-sur-Oise and Dammartin, Viscount de Melun..., Marshal of France and Constable of France (1538). He was awarded the title of Grand Maître de France (Grand Master of France). Anne de Montmorency, who was given this weird (usually feminine) surname by his godmother Ann of Brittany, was one of the most powerful lords in France and the main military councillor of kings François I and Henri II. He was also fond of arts and commissionned the architect Jean Bullant to build the beautiful castles of Chantilly and Écouen (today the National Museum of Renaissance);
- François de Montmorency (1530-1579), Duke de Montmorency and Peer of France, Count de Dammartin, Baron de Châteaubriant and Lord de L'Isle-Adam, Marshal of France (1559) and Grand Master of France. Anne's son increased the rivalry of the Montmorency with the ultra-catholic Guise family. Governor of Paris, he was not able to secure the town and left it a few days before the Saint Bartholomeuw's Day Massacre; it is said he had been himself listed as a target for the massacre;
- Henri I de Montmorency (1534-1614), Lord de Damville then Duke de Montmorency and Peer of France, Count de Dammartin and Alais, Baron de Châteaubriand, Lord de Chantilly and Écouen, Marshal of France and Constable of France. François's brother, he was appointed Governor of Languedoc and took the party of Henri of Navarra, later King of France Henri IV;
- Henri II de Montmorency (1595-1632), Duke de Damville, Duke de Montmorency and Peer of France, Count de Dammartin and d'Offémont, Admiral of France and Marshal of France. Son of Henri I, he was influenced by Marie de Medici' and joined in 1630 the plot set up by Gaston d'Orléans against his brother, King Louis XIII, and Cardinal de Richelieu. On 22 July 1632, Languedoc seceded from the Kingdom of France. A few nobles followed Governor Henri II, but the capital, Toulouse, remained loyal to the king. The towns of Carcassonne and Narbonne refused to welcome the rebel army, whereas the king sent a big army commanded by Marshal de Schomberg. The two armies met in Castelnaudary on 1 September 1632, where the rebels were defeated in half an hour. Montmorency was severely injured and captured. He was sentenced to death for crime of lèse-majesté and beheaded in Toulouse, in spite of the call for royal pardon by the Pope and several European princes. The case was an opportunity both for Louis XIII to impose his absolute power to the nobles and for Richelieu to complete his personal revenge against Montmorency. Henri II de Montmorency was also Governor of Nouvelle-France from 1620 to 1625. Samuel de Champlain named in 1613 after him the Montmorency Waterfalls, located in Quebec City.

The elder branch of Montmorency kept the arms with the sixteen alerions, whereas the other branches usually placed a charge or an escutcheon over the cross:
- Montmorency-Harchicourt: "Montmorency, an escutcheon quarterly 1 and 4 Hornes 2 and 3 quarterly (contre-écartelé) Moers and Saarwerden";
- Montmorency-Fosseux and Montmorency-Loresse: "Montmorency, a mullet argent";
- Montmorency-Bours: "Montmorency, a crescent argent";
- Montmorency-Laval: "Montmorency, five scallops argent";
- Montmorency-Laval-Châtillon, then Montmorency-Laval-Loué: "Laval-Montmorency, a canton Beaumont-le-Vicomte";
- Montmorency-Laval-Loué: "Montmorency-Laval, a canton Bauçay";
- Montmorency-Luxembourg: "Montmorency, an escutcheon Luxembourg-Piney";
- Montmorency-Bouteville: "Montmorency-Luxembourg, a label argent";
The Canadian town of Laval and the University of Laval use arms derived from the Montmorency-Laval arms.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat, Dominique Cureau & Ivan Sache, 23 July 2006