Last modified: 2005-12-24 by ivan sache
Keywords: gard | uzes |
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Municipal flag of Uzès - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 1 September 2005
The city of Uzès (8,386 inhabitants) is located in Languedoc, 25 km north of Nîmes and 25 km west of Avignon.
The first settlements in Uzès were located near the river Alzon, especially around the source of Eure. The Romans built on the top of the hill dominating the Alzon a fortified camp (oppidum) known in the Vth century as Ucetia. In year 50, the Romans decided to harness the water from the source of Eure in order to provide the big city of Nemausus (today Nîmes) with water. This required the building of a 50 km-long aqueduct, whose main component is the famous Pont du Gard stretching across the river Gardon. Less spectacular remains of the aqueduct can also be seen in Uzès near the source of Eure.
The lords d'Uzès were mentioned for the first time in a chart dated 1088 (lord Elzéart d'Uzès). In 1229, Languedoc was incorporated to the Kingdom of France; the lords d'Uzès became Viscounts (Robert I d'Uzès, 1318), and eventually Dukes (1565) and Pairs de France (1572). In 1632, Duke de Montmorency, then First Duke of France (Premier Duc de France), was beheaded after having revolted against the king. By seniority, the title of First Duke of France was transfered to the Duke d'Uzès. The First Duke of France has precedence over all the nobles but the royal princes, was the First Knight of the Queen Mother, bore the "honours" (scepter and crown) during the coronation ceremonies and was the only prince entitled to say the ritual motto Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi (The King is dead, long live the king), which was the expression of the durability of the royal power. The First Duke of France also had to assist the king at war: twenty-one dukes d'Uzès were killed or injured on battle fields.
The senior branch of Uzès ended on 24 June 1486 with the marriage of
Simone d'Uzès, the last descendant of the Viscounts d'Uzès, with
Jacques, Baron de Crussol. He was the son Louis de Crussol, Grand
Pannetier de France (the noble who served bread to the king) and Louis
XI's confidant and Knight of St. Michael's Order. Crussol is a village
located in Vivarais, on the right bank of the river Rhône. Jacques de Crussol and his son Charles were close friends of Knight Bayard
(1476-1524), and took part to the Italian wars with him.
Antoine, first Duke d'Uzès in 1565, attempted to reestablish the peace between the Catholic and Protestant parties, which both recognized him as their leader. His wife Louise de Clermont was the confidant of Queen Marie de Médicis and the housekeeper of King Charles IX, who called her ma vieille lanterne (my old lantern). Antoine was succeeded by his brother Jacques, a Protestant leader known as Baron d'Assier; Jacques converted to Catholicism and was made one of the first Knights of the Order of Holy Spirit in 1578.
From the XVIIth century onwards, the duties of the Dukes d'Uzès as
First Dukes of France forced them to stay in the royal court rather
than in Uzès. Under Louis XV, Charles-Emmanuel de Crussol, 8th Duke
d'Uzès, offered to Count Ratzau, Queen Marie Leszczynska's cousin, a
pepper drop during a night at the opera. The Count spitted the drop
into the Duke's face, and a duel, although officially forbidden, was
inescapable. The Dukes killed the Count and was exiled to Uzès, where
he embelished his domain and exchanged several letters with Voltaire.
After the French Revolution, the Duke d'Uzès emigrated and all his goods were confiscated; he could come back to his home city, where he died in 1802.
Under the Restauration, good (but not too smart) King Louis XVIII asked the Duke d'Uzès whey they had no Marshal of France in the family. The Duke answered: Sire, nous mourrons avant (Majesty, we die beforehand.)
In the XIXth century, the Duchesse d'Uzès, née Marie Adrienne Anne de
Rochechouart de Mortemart, was quite a character. She was found of
hunting with hounds; she was sincerely Monarchist but was friend of the
anarchist and Communard Louise Michel. She sponsored the
ultra-nationalist General Boulanger and campaigned for the rights of
women. She became a widow in 1878, aged 31, after the death of her
husband during a hunting party and then appeared in public always
dressed in black. The Duchesse d'Uzès was in 1896 the first woman to be
granted a driving licence; the same year, she was arrested by the
police (on foot) in the Bois de Boulogne for exceeding the speed limit,
then 15 km/h and sentenced by the police court to a fee of 1 franc. She
was also the single heir of Mrs. Cliquot, better known as Veuve (Widow)
Cliquot for her champagne.
The present owner of the title is Jacques de Crussol d'Uzès (b. 1957), 17th Duke d'Uzès, married with Alessandra Passerin d'Entrèves e Courmayeur. Their son Charles de Crussol d'Uzès (b. 1997) bears the title of Duke de Crussol.
The family d'Uzès still owns its castle, called the Duché, located in the middle of the old center of Uzès. After the French Revolution and the emigration of the family, the castle was purchased by local families which protected him. The Uzès bought it back after the Restauration. In the beginning of the XXth century, the family was ruined and let out the castle, which was used as a school. In 1951, the Marchioness de Crussol, née Marie-Louise Béziers (1904-1991) and the daughter-in-law of the 14th Duke d'Uzès, took back the castle and started its restauration. In 1964, she convinced her friend André Malraux, Minister of Culture, to register the old center of the city of Uzès as a protected area. The restoration is still in process under the guidance of the Marchioness' grand son, the 17th Duke d'Uzès.
Uzès is also known as the Bishops' City, since it was the seat of a
bishopric from the Vth century to the French Revolution. The bishops of
Uzès were very powerful: they were allowed to mint coins and to
exercize justice. In the XIIIth century, they purchased a part of the
feudal domain of Uzès. The struggle between the lords and the bishops
of Uzès was the cause of several conflicts and trials. In the XVIIIth
century, the bishopric of Uzès ruled 193 parishes and was one of the
biggest in Languedoc.
The fourth bishop of Uzès, St. Firmin, is venerated against the black plague; his relics are still shown in the St. Théodorit's cathedral. Guillaume de Grimoard du Roure, the Pope Urban V (1310-1370, Pope in 1362), was initially an assistant of the bishop of Uzès.
In the middle of the XVIth century, Uzès was the fifth biggest Protestant city in France. During the Religious Wars, all the churches and temples in the city were destroyed. After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, several inhabitants left the city for Northern Europe. The "newly converted", who had abjured the Protestant religion, were not allowed to be civil servants and became wealthy merchants.
Since the XVth century, Uzès produced cloth, especially wool serge. Later, silk production employed up to 2,000 workers until the suppression of this industry because of a disease of silkworm at the end of the XIXth century. Industry then declined in the city in spite of the opening of pottery workhsops and confectionery factories. The main industrial production of Uzès was liquorice (réglisse) candies, sticks and rolls, especially those made by the famous Zan company, known today as Haribo Ricqlès Zan. The Zan Museum opened in 1996.
Two famous French writers spent a significant part of they life in
Uzès, Jean Racine and André Gide.
The tragedian Jean Racine (1639-1699). After having studied with the severe Jansenists in Port-Royal and Harcourt, Racine became emancipated and showed interest for theater. His family did not agree and sent him, aged 22, to Uzès, where his uncle was vicar-general. The uncle promised him an office in the church (bénéfice) as soon as he takes the coat. Racine spent one year in Uzès and sent to his friends very vivid letters (Lettres d'Uzès), in which he spoke of everything but theology. He lost the expected office after a tortuous lawsuit and came back to Paris. This lawsuit is said to be the main source of his comedy Les Plaideurs (The Litigants).
The jurist Paul Gide (1832-1880) and his brother Charles Gide (1847-1932), economist and theorician of the cooperative movement, belonged to an old Protestant family from Uzès. Paul's son, the writer André Gide (1869-1951), was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947. In his youth, he spent vacation with his grand-mother in Uzès, an experience related in his autobiography Si le grain ne meurt.
Ivan Sache, 1 September 2005
The municipal flag of Uzès is diagonally divided in seven red-yellow
It is hoisted over the castle of Uzèss and could be seen for instance during the TV report of the Miramas-Montpellier stage of the Tour de France on 15 July 2005. The number of stripes was confirmed by the municipal administration.
The flag is a banner of the oldest known coat of arms of the family d'Uzès, gules three bends or. With the successive marriages, the coat of arms of the family increased in complexity due to partitions, first with the coat arms of Crussol, barry six pieces or and vert. On the current coat of arms of the Uzès family, the original arms of the family are placed in four copies along the main diagonal and also shown as the escutcheon.
Ivan Sache & Arnaud Leroy, 1 September 2005