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Josselin (Municipality, Morbihan, France)


Last modified: 2005-12-24 by ivan sache
Keywords: morbihan | josselin | josilin | lion (white) | ermines (black) | castle (yellow) | rohan-chabot | rohan | chabot | fishes: 6 (red) | mascles: 18 (yellow) | lozenges: 18 (yellow) |
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[Flag of Josselin]

Municipal flag of Josselin - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 6 November 2004

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Presentation of Josselin

Josselin (in Breton, Josilin) is a small city (2,458 inhabitants) located on the Oust river, in the past a part of the canal Nantes-Brest (canal de Nantes à Brest). With the neighbouring city of Ploërmel, Josselin is among the main cities of the area called Porhoët, lit., the country in the woods. Josselin is separated from the Gulf of Morbihan by the moors of Lanvaux.

In the old cartulaire (map collection) of Redon, Josselin is called Castello Tho. It was a small castrum (fortified camp) built by Guethenoc, Viscount of Porhoët, in 1008. His son Josselin transformed the camp into a small city, to which he gave his name.
Josselin developed quickly and was in 1050 the capital city of a Viscounty including 140 parishes. The viscounts appointed monks from the neighbouring abbeys to set up religious foundations and appeal people: the priories of Saint-Martin, Saint-Nicolas and Sainte-Croix were later transformed in boroughs around 1200.
Josselin flourished thanks to the production of linen cloth. A new city wall, protected by three fortified gates, was built in the Xth century. In 1168, Henry II Plantagenet seized the feudal castle and destroyed it. The castle was rebuilt by Viscount Eudes II in 1173.

In the middle of the XIVth century, Brittany was trashed by the War of Succession of Brittany. There were two pretenders: Charles de Blois, supported by the King of France, and Jean de Montfort, supported by the King of England. The Blois party hold the castle of Josselin, commanded by Jean de Beaumanoir, whereas the Montfort party hold the neighbouring city of Ploërmel, located 12 km east of Josselin, commanded by Bemborough, aka Bembro. The two commanders decided to set up a fight involving 30 knights from each camp. The authorized arms were sword, dagger, axe and spear. The fight, later known as Combat des Trentes (Fight of the Thirty), took place on 27 March 1351, on the Moor of Mi-Voie (lit., Midway), between Josselin and Ploërmel. The place is called today La Pyramide and the fight is recalled by a granit column (Obélisque des Trentes). The fight lasted all the day long. The Montfort troop included 20 English, six Germans and four Bretons. Blois eventually won: Captain Bembro was killed with eight of his companions and the other knights were caught and brought back to Josselin. Beaumanoir was injured during the fight and asked for water, to which his lieutnant Geoffrey de Blois answered: Bois ton sang, Beaumanoir, la soif te passera ! (Drink your blood, Beaumanoir, your thurst will pass!)
The War of Succession of Brittany ended in 1364, when Charles de Blois was defeated and killed in Auray.

Marguerite de Rohan, daughter of Viscount Alain VII (d. 1347) married Jean de Beaumanoir and later (c. 1370) another important character of the medieval Breton history, Constable (connétable) Olivier de Clisson (1336-1407). In 1343, Olivier's father was beheaded for an alleged betrayal of the French party during the War of Succession and his head was exposed on the city walls of Nantes. His wife Jeanne de Belleville woved there she and her children would got their revenge. She set up and commanded an 400-soldier army, which seized and trashed six castles supporting the French party. She also equipped a war vessel and sunk several ships of the enemy party. Olivier initially served King of England and later rallied King of France Charles V (1338-1380, King in 1364). Clisson was a brother-in-arms of famous Constable Bertrand Du Guesclin (c. 1320-1380) and succeded him as the Constable of France. Clisson was one of the most powerful men in France under the reign of Charles VI (1368-1422, King in 1380), but he was banned and exiled to Josselin when the King became mad in 1392. Clisson's main military victory was the battle of Rozebeke (27 November 1382), during which the French army defeated Filips van Artevelde's troops, which challenged the power of the Count of Flanders.
Olivier de Clisson completely revamped the castle of Josselin and transformed it into a huge stone fortress, protected by a high donjon.

In 1488, Duke of Brittany François II demolished the castle of Josselin, which then belonged to Viscount Jean II de Rohan, who had supported the French party. François' daughter, Duchess Anne de Bretagne, became Queen of France in 1491. She forgave Rohan and allowed him to rebuild the castle. Rohan's wonderful facade in Renaissance style is still there. He lowered the towers and linked them with a "stone lace" fairly unique in Brittany.

Henri II (1579-1638), first Duke de Rohan in 1603, was the leader of the Huguenot party in the beginning of the XVIIth century. Cardinal de Richelieu seized Josselin and demolished the donjon and five out of its nine towers. The two enemies met in the King's antechamber, and Richelieu said: Je viens, Monsieur le Duc, de jeter une bonne boule dans votre jeu de quilles (Your Grace, I just threw a nice ball into your skittles).

From the XVth to the XVIIth century, Josselin was a wealthy city because of its cloth and rope workshops and its famous fairs and markets.
Josselin's life started again in the XIXth century whan the river Oust was incorporated to the canal Nantes-Brest and when the church of the Roncier was consecrated as the basilica Notre-Dame-du-Roncier. Around 800, a peasant is said to have found a statue of the Blessed Virgin hidden under evergreen brambles (ronces). He brought the statue at home, but the next day he found the statue againts under the brambles. After a few unsuccesful attempts, he understood that the Blessed Virgin wanted him to build a chapel instead of the brambles. Note that a similar story explains the origin of several churches and chapels in Brittany and elsewhere. In 1789, the miraculous statue was burned and the church transformed into the Temple of the Reason. Small pieces of the statue were preserved and a modern statue is now placed in the church. Constable Olivier de Clisson and his wife Marguerite de Rohan have their mausoleum in the church.
Another story of a miraculous statue of the Blessed Virgin found in a bush is told in the Breton city of Rostrenen.

In the past, the great pardon (Breton religious ceremony) taking place on 8 September was called the pardon des aboyeuses (barkers' pardon). A beggar once asked water to women doing washing in a fountain; the women slipped the dogs after her. The beggar was indeed the Blessed Virgin, and she sentenced the women to bark like dogs every year on Whit. The basilica became later a place of pilgrimage for people suffering from barking epilepsy, with several miraculous recoveries reported.


Ivan Sache, 6 November 2004

Municipal flag of Josselin

The municipal flag of Josselin, as reported by Arnaud Leroy, is white with the municipal coat of arms.

The municipal coat of arms of Josselin is (Brian Timms):

Per pale gules a lion rampant [argent] crowned armed and langued or gules a castle triple or a canton ermine.

These arms are found on an escutcheon in the arms ascribed to Josselin in the Armorial Général. The escutcheon is blazoned as:

De gueules mi-parti au lion d'argent couronné armé et lampassé d'or, et, en la seconde partie, aussi de gueules au château d'or et franc quartier d'argent parsemé d'hermines de sable sans nombre.

The arms of Josselin in the Armorial Général show a shield of the arms of the Rohan-Chabot family.

Ivan Sache, 6 November 2004

The Rohan-Chabot family in Josselin

Josselin is associated with the Rohan family, one of the oldest and most powerful noble families under the Ancient Regime in France. The first historically known member of the family is Viscount Guethenoc, who built the first fortress in Josselin. The title of Viscount de Rohan appeared with Alain I (d. 1128). The family of Rohan became united by marriage with the Ducal house of Brittany several times, for the last time in 1407, when Viscount Alain IX (d. 1461) married Marguerite (d. 1428), daughter of Duke Jean IV. The Viscount of Rohan was then the second most important lord in Brittany after the Duke.

Viscount Henri II (1579-1638) was made Duke of Rohan and Pair de France in 1603. He married in 1605 Marguerite (1595-1660), daughter of Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully (1559-1641), King Henri IV's wise Minister.
The next Duchess of Rohan was Henri II's elder surviving daughter Marguerite (1616-1684); in 1645, she married Henri Chabot (1616-1655), lord of Sainte-Aulaye in Poitou, and they founded the family of Rohan-Chabot, which still owns the castle of Josselin and the Duchy-Pairy of Rohan (1648). The current head of the house of Rohan-Chabot is Josselin de Rohan (b. 1938), former Mayor of Josselin and President of the Regional Council of Bretagne (until 2004) and member of the Senate (since 1983, currently President of the UMP group).
The younger branch of the family of Rohan, already Dukes of Montbazon and Pairs de France, became the elder branch. The head of the family was also Prince of Guéméné, whereas the younger members were Princes of Soubise. Louis XIV (1694) and Louis XV (1757) recognized the head of the family as the Prince of Rohan, "a foreign Prince living in France".
Short before the French Revolution, the elder branch of Montbazon-Guéméné was involved in a bankrupt that ruined several people (1782) and the famous Cardinal de Rohan, Cardinal-Bishop of Strasbourg, was involved in the affair of the Queen's Necklace (1787). Emmanuel de Rohan, from the smaller branch of Poulduc, was Grand Master of the Order of Malta from 1773 to 1797. The Montbazon-Guéméné branch emigrated to Austria and settled in Bohemia, where it extincted in 1846. The younger branch of Rochefort succeded them; the family lost all its possessions in Bohemia but has kept the Austrian citizenship. The nobility titles of the head of the house is Prince de Rohan (France), Prince de Rohan, Guéméné et Rochefort (Austria until 1919), Duke de Montbazon and Pair de France, Prince de Guéméné (France), and Duke de Bouillon.


[Banner of arms of Josselin]

Flag hoisted over the castle of Josselin - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 6 November 2004

The arms of Josselin in the Armorial Général show a shield of the arms of the Rohan-Chabot family:

Ecartelé au premier et quatrième de gueules avec neuf macles d'or, au second et troisième d'or à trois chabots de gueules en chaque.

GASO gives a similar blazon:

Ecartelé : au premier et au quatrieme de gueules aux neuf macles d'or ordonnées 3, 3 et 3, au deuxième et au troisième d'or aux trois chabots de gueules poses en pal.
Quartered firstly and fourthly gules nine mascles or, secondly and thirdly or three chabots gules in each.

According to Hervé Prat, a banner of these arms is hoisted over the castle of Josselin, where the current head of the house of Rohan-Chabot lives.

Gules nine mascles or are the arms of the family of Rohan.
In cristallography, a macle (cognate to German Masch, mesh) is a complex crystal made by the reunion (by interpenetration of juxtaposition) of several crystals of the same kind but with different geometrical orientations.
In heraldry, a mascle is a lozenge voided by a smaller lozenge in the middle.
Philippe Rault writes in Les drapeaux bretons [rau98] that macled crystals are common in the Breton forest of Quenecan, which belonged to the family of Rohan until the Revolution, and might have been the origin of the coat of arms of the family.
The mascles of Rohan are found in several Breton coat of arms, for instance the municipal arms of Landivisiau, Crozon and Loudéac.

Or three chabots gules are the canting arms of the family of Chabot.
A chabot is a fish (Cottus gobio) form the Family of Cottidae, Order of Scopaneiformes and Class of Osteychyanes. The chabot is a small (10-15 cm) fish living in freshwater (rivers and lakes rich in oxygen), often in association with truits. It is common all over Europe, except in the northernmost and southernmost areas. There is also a chabot living in the sea. The name of chabot remotly comes from Latin caput, alluding to the big head of the fish.

Ivan Sache, 6 November 2004