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Champagne (Traditional province, France)

Last modified: 2004-07-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: champagne |
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[Champagne]by Arnaud Leroy

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History of Champagne

The Latin name of Champagne was Campania, and reflected the extremely flat relief of the central part of the province, suitable for setting up big camps. Champagne was then inhabited by the Belgians, who established there several tribes, whose names were later used to name cities: Senones (with capital city Sens), Tricasses (Troyes), Meldi (Meaux), Remes (Reims), Catalauni (Châlons) and Lingones (Langres).

In 451, the Roman general Aetius defeated Attila in the Champs Catalauniques (Catalauni fields), a place whose exact location is still unkown. In 498, St. Rémi, bishop of Reims, christened king of the Franks Clovis in Reims. This event was considered as the foundation of the Christian kingdom of France. From 1223 (Louis VIII) to Charles X (1825), 25 kings of France were crowned in Reims. Joan of Arc is said to have attended the coronation of Charles VII (17 July 1429), holding her standard and saying: "It [the standard] has been in trouble, now it deserves honours."

The feudal state of Champagne was formed in the beginning of the Xth century. Herbert II, count of Vermandois (d. 943), constituted his personal state around the bishopric of Reims. After his death, his sons shared his state in "agreement" with the weak Carolingian kings of France. Around 980, a second sharing out occured between Herbert le Jeune and Eudes I de Blois. Both lords supported the Capetians against the Carolingians. Herbert died in 995, Eudes the next year. His widow Berthe remarried with Capetian king Robert le Pieux. Helped by Robert, Eudes I's son, Eudes II, inherited the states of his father and his cousin Etienne, Herbert's son, who had died without a heir. Eudes II attempted to be crowned emperor and invaded Lotharingia (now Lorraine) and Burgundy, before being killed in Bar-le-Duc in 1037.

In spite of the ambitions of king Henri I, Eudes II's son, Thibaud I could keep most of Champagne. His son Etienne-Henri succceded him and went on Crusade in Palestine, where he died in 1102. During his leave, the state was administrated by countess Adèle, who created the countal chancellery. Hughes (d. 1125), an other son of Thibaud I, succeded Etienne-Henri and was the first lord to bear the title of count of Champagne. He disinherited his son Eudes and selected his nephew Thibaud II as his successor. Thibaud II (d. 1152), was the son of Etienne-Henri and Adéle de Normandie. He initially kept only the title of count of Blois and claimed the throne of England in 1120. However, his brother Etienne was crowned in 1135. Thibaud struggled against king of France Louis VII in 1142 and eventually returned to Champagne, where he attracted Italian moneychangers and developed an economy based on commercial fairs.

During the golden age of the county of Champagne, the most famous commercial fairs of western Europe took place each year in the cities of Lagny (December-January), Bar-sur-Aube (Jent), Provins (May-June, September), and Troyes (July-August-November). The Lombard and Tuscan moneychangers introduced modern techniques of finance and accounting in Champagne, and the currency minted in Provins was for a while the reference international currency.

Henri I le Libéral (d. 1181) succeded his father Thibaud II and concentrated his power in Champagne, abandoning several satellite states to his brothers and his vassals. He bore the title of count of Troyes. The county was made of 26 seigniories (châtellenies) and could be defended by more than 2,000 knights. Henri reconciliated with the king by marrying Marie de France, the daughter of Louis VII and Aliénor d'Aquitaine. One of Henri's brothers was the famous Guillaume aux Blanches Mains (William White-Handed, d. 1202), archbishop of Reims, who ruled the kingdom of France during the leave of his nephew Philippe Auguste on Crusade. Henri I was succeded by his son Henri II (d. 1197), who left in 1190 for Palestine, where he married queen Isabel of Jerusalem.

The second son of Henri I, Thibaud III (d. 1201) had a very short reign. His widow placed herself under the protection of Philippe Auguste in order to face the claims of Henri II's daughters to the throne. Thibaud III's posthumous son was count Thibaud IV (d. 1253). He bore the title of palatine count of Champagne and Brie. Thibaud unified the county by proclaiming a single currency (denier provinois) and creating a justice court in Troyes (jours). He joined the crusade against the Albigeois but abandoned Louis VIII in Avignon, and was suspected to have poisoned the king. When the king died (1226), he led the feudal rebellion against Blanche de Castille and eventually rallied her. In 1234, he inherited the kingdom of Navarre and abandoned the counties of Blois, Chartres, Sancerre and Châteaudun to Louis XI. Thibaud has remained mostly famous as a trouvere, and wrote some of the best inspired poems of courtly love. The tradition reports his beloved was indeed Blanche de Castille. During Thibaud's reign, the court of Champagne was the most brilliant in France.

Thibaud V succeded his father and increased the county, but he was more and more influenced by his father-in-law, king Louis IX (Saint-Louis). He went on crusade with him and died when returning from Tunis in 1270. Henri III succeded his brother but died four years later. His widow remarried with the duke of Lancaster and placed her daughter Jeanne under the protection of the king. Philippe le Bel married her in 1284, therefore incorporating Champagne to the royal domain.

The Regiment of Champagne, founded by Henri II in 1558, was one of the four oldest regiments under the Ancient Regime.

The battles of Champagne were among the most terrible of the First World War:

  • the first battle (December 1914 - March 1915) was part of the "great offensive" of 1915. Its goal was to prevail the transfer of German troops to the Russian front. Its territorial outcome was unsignificant;
  • the second battle (25 September to 16 November 1915) was not more successful;
  • the third battle (15 to 18 July 1918) stopped the last German offensive, known as the Friedensturm (the assault for peace);
  • the fourth battle (26 September to 15 October) allowed the French, American and Italian troops to reach the river Aisne and the forests of Argonne.

Ivan Sache, 11 January 2003

Description of the flag of Champagne

The banner of arms of Champagne is (GASO):

D'azur à la bande d'argent côtoyée de deux doubles cotices potencées et contre-potencées d'or

The potences (from Latin potentia, power, and in fact gallows) symbolize the châtellenies which constituted the county of Champagne.

In English, the blazon is (Brian Timms):

Azure a bend argent double cotised potent counter potent or

Ivan Sache, 11 January 2003

The city of Troyes, the capital city of Champagne, takes its name from the ancient Greek city of Troy, whose inhabitants fled after it was sacked in the war over Helen of Troy (long believed to have been the stuff of legend, but now known to have been a historical event). It is believed that the Trojans founded settlements in various places across Europe, where they maintained traditions carried with them from Troy, including the building of mazes. The potenty-counter-potenty pattern in the cottises appears to be an evocation of those mazes.

Mike Oettle, 13 July 2003