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Provence (Traditional province, France)

Last modified: 2006-05-06 by ivan sache
Keywords: provence | fleur-de-lis (yellow) | label (red) | anjou | aragon |
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[Flag of Provence 1]      [Flag of Provence 2]

Flags of Provence; left, "Aragonese" flag - image by Chris Pinette; right, "Anjou" flag - image by Pierre Gay

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Geography of Provence

Provence is considered today as made of the departments of Var, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse, Alpes-Maritimes, and the southern part of the department of Drôme (Drôme provençale). This broad definition encompasses the County of Nice (east of Alpes-Maritimes) and the Comtat Venaissin (most of Vaucluse), which are, historically, not parts of Provence.

Provence is limited by the Italian border (east), the traditional province of Dauphiné (north, the limit being more or less the limit between the Southern and the Northern Alps), the river Rhôone (west) and the Mediterranean Sea (south).

Ivan Sache, 6 December 2003

History of Provence

Early ages

Before the Roman conquest, Provence was inhabited by several tribes such as the Deceates, the Ligaunians, the Oxibians, the Sueltres, the Salyans, the Desuviates and the Vulgientes. In the VIIth century BP, Greek emigrants from Phocia (Asia Minor) founded Massilia (now Marseilles) in the area then inhabited by the Segobriges, where they brought olive-trees and vines. Several daughter colonies were founded by the Phoceans, who developed industry and agriculture all over Provence.

The Roman conquest

Around 170 BP, the Phoceans called their Roman allies for help against the Ligurian tribes. The Roman legions crossed the Alps and conquered the territory inhabited by the Ligurians, up to the river Var. In 124 BP, the Romans crossed the Var and conquered a vast area they called Provincia, the short form of Provincia Romana. Under Emperor August, Provence was part of the Provincia Narbonensis, which included also Languedoc, Vivarais, Dauphiné and Savoy. Around 368, Provence was detached from the Provincia Narbonensis to make the Secunda Provincia Narbonensis.

The dark ages

The Burgunds invaded Provence from the north in 406. In 474, they settled in the west of Provence, up to the left bank of the river Durance. In 474, the Wisigoths, who had been expelled from Spain, seized Arles and invaded the part of Provence not already occupied by the Burgunds. Later, Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths, incorporated Provence into his Italian kingdom.
In 536, Vitiges, Theodoric's successor, ceded Provence to the Frank kings, Clovis' descendants. Clotaire I bequeathed it to his son Gontran, King of Burgundy and Orléans. In 843, Provence was allocated to Lothaire by the treaty of Verdun. In 855, Charles, Lothaire's son, founded the Kingdom of Provence, which was reincorporated to France by Charles le Chauve (the Bald). Charles appointed his brother-in-law Boson Governor of Provence. In 879, an assembly of archbishops, bishops and feudal lords proclaimed Boson King of Provence in the small city of Mantaille.
Boson was succeeded in 887 by his son Louis l'Aveugle (the Blind), solemnely elected by a bishops' assembly in 890. The real power was exerted by Hugues, a relative of Louis, who succeeded him in 923. Hugues was crowned King of Lombardy in 929 and ceded Provence to Rudolf II, King of Transjurane Burgundy and Germany. Rudolf appointed elected Counts to govern Provence. Those counts became hereditary, as it happened in other parts of France, and set up a feodal state, placed under the direct, although remote and theoretical, protection of the German Emperor in 1032, and therefore completely independent of France until 1481.

Boson's house (948-1102)

Boson (948-971) pacified Provence with the help of the Genoese and expelled the Sarracens from their last fortress, Fraxinet (now La Garde-Freinet).
Guillaume I le Grand (the Great; 971-992), Boson's elder son, definitively got rid of the Sarracens in 980 and married Adelaïde Blanche, daughter of Geoffroy, Count of Anjou.
Guillaume II (992-1020) succeeded his father Guillaume I. He was succeeded by his son Guillaume III (1020-1054). Geoffroy (1054-1063) succeeded his brother Guillaume II, who had survived his three sons. He was succeeded by his son Bertrand (1063-1090), During Bertrand's reign, the Council of Clermont (1095) called for the First Crusade, to which several Provencal lords took part. Bertrand had no children and was succeeded by Gilbert (1090-1102), son of count Otto de Lorraine and Blanche, Guillaume III's daughter. Gilbert had no sons but two daughters, one of them, Douce, being married to Raymond-Béranger, Count of Barcelona.

The house of Barcelona (1102-1245)

Raymond-Béranger I (1102-1131) became short before his death Knight of the Temple Order, which had been founded in Jerusalem in 1118 by the Provencal knights Hughes de Bagarris and Geoffroy Adhémar. He was succeeded by his son Raymond-Béranger II (1131-1145), who defeated the powerful lords of Les Baux with the help of his brother Raymond-Béranger, Count of Bercelona and King of Aragon. The beginning of the reign of Raymond-Béranger III (1145-1166), still minor when his father died, was marked by the revolt of the Count of Les Baux and Boniface de Castellane, who were once again defeated by the king of Aragon. Raymond-Béranger III married Richilde, daughter of Ladislas, King of Poland. When the city of Nice rose up, the count of Provence came from Aragon to besiege the city, and was killed by a crossbow bolt.
Raymond-Béranger III's cousin, Alphonse I (1166-1196, a.k.a. Ildefonse or Idelfonse), King of Aragon, inherited Provence. He seized Nice and definitively got rid of the lords of Les Baux. He married Sancha of Castilie. His son Pedro succeeded him as King of Aragon and his other son Alphonse as Count of Provence. Alphonse II (1196-1209) married Garsende, daughter of the last Count of Forcalquier, whose states had been independent of Provence since one century. Alphonse was captured by his father-in-law and delivered by his brother, Pedro of Aragon. When the Count of Forcalquier died, his domain was reincorporated to Provence.
Alphonse was succeeded by his son Raymond-Béranger IV (1209-1245), who organized his state and subjugated the cities of Marseilles, Arles, Avignon and Nice, which had been granted a republican status by the German emperor. The cities, e.g. Aix-en-Provence, which had supported him were allowed to bear the arms of Aragon. Raymond-Béranger IV had four daughters, including Marguerite, who married King of France St. Louis (Louis IX), Eléonore, who married King Henry III of England, and Béatrix, who married King of Naples Charles d'Anjou. During that period, Provence had very close relationships with Languedoc, being in the same cultural Occitan area. This golden age stopped after the invasion of Languedoc during the Albigensian Crusade and the incorporation of the County of Toulouse to France, which established the border between France and the German Empire on the river Rhône.

The first house of Anjou (1245-1382)

Charles I d"Anjou (1245-1285), King of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem, was the son of King of France Louis VIII and Blanche de Castilie. He became Count of Provence by marrying Béatrix. Pedro III, king of Aragon, seized the kingdom of Sicily and set the Sicilians against the French, who were slaughtered in 1282 during the 'Sicilian Vespers", on Easter Day.
Charles II (1285-1309) succeeded his father and had to leave three of his sons as hostages to the King of Aragon, and later became reconciled with him. Charles II was involved in the destruction of the Order of the Temple. The great western schism took place during his reign and Pope Clement V settled in Avignon in 1308. Charles II was succeeded by Robert (1309-1343), father of "Queen Jeanne.
The reign of Jeanne (1343-1382) was long and difficult. She married four times but had only one son, who died early. She adopted as her heir Louis d'Anjou, son of King of France Jean. In lack of money, she sold in 1338 the city of Avignon to Pope Clement VI for only 8,000 guilders. Charles of Durazzo, Charles II's grandson, challenged her and captured her in 1382. Her murder in Naples was the beginning of the Provencal civil war.

The second house of Anjou (1382-1481)

Louis I (1382-1384) came to Provence and defeated Charles of Durazzo. His son Louis II (1384-1417) started his reign under the regency of his mother Marie de Blois. Later, he destroyed the Durazzo party, confirmed the municipal rights of Aix, sponsored the university and created a sovereign court presided by a juge-mage.
Louis III (1417-1434) expelled the Aragonese from the Kingdom of Naples. During Louis' Italian campaign, King of Aragon Alphonse seized and trashed Marseilles. When about to die, Louis appointed his brother René as his successor.
René d'Anjou (1434-1480, a.k.a. le Bon Roi René) ceded his rights on Lorraine to Charles de Vaudémont, and attempted to subjugate the rebels in Sicily and Naples, to no avail. He spent the rest of his reign surrounded by a brilliant court and protected the arts and agriculture. Since none of his sons survived him, Rene bequeathed his states to his nephew Charles III.
Charles III (1480-1481) was the 23rd and last Count of Provence. Since the king of Aragon and other princes became a threat to Provence, Charles decided, probably advised long before by René, to cede the County of Provence to his cousin, King of France Louis XI.

The takeover by France (1481)

Louis XI "accepted" Provence, which was formally incorporated to the Kingdom of France in 1487, under Charles VIII. The political independence of Provence was assured: the king of France promised to mantain les franchises, statuts, prérogatives, us et coutumes of Provence, which was united to the kingdom not as un accessoire à un principal, but as un principal à un autre principal (peer to peer).
Until the reign of Louis XV, this very theoretical independence was expressed by the Parliament of Aix, created in 1501 as a sovereign justice court, and whose edicts started with De par le roi, comte de Provence et de Forcalquier. The Parliament often behaved as an opposition force and challenged the Royal power, until its suppression in 1771. When sending edcits to Provence, the kings of France used the same title. This use stopped when Louis XVI's brother, later King Louis XVIII, was granted the title of Count of Provence.
Just before the 1789 Revolution, Provence was divided into the Upper-Provence, made of the six diocèses (religious divisions) of Sisteron, Apt, Digne, Senez, Riez and Glandèves, and of the four senéchaussées (administrative divisions) of Castellane, Digne, Sisteron and Forcalquier; and Lower-Provence, made of the seven diocèses of Arles, Aix, Marseille, Toulon, Fréjus, Grasse and Vence, and the eight senéchaussees of Aix, Draguignan, Arles, Marseille, Toulon, Hyères, Brignoles and Grasse.
When incorporated to France, Provence was divided into 26 administrative (tax) units, known as vigueries (from Latin vicariae), bailliages (bajuliae) and vaux or vallées (valleys). In 1541, François I suppressed the bailliages and replaced them by vigueries, which were suppressed in 1749. The vallées were also suppressed, except the vallée of Barrême, which existed until the Revolution. In 1789, theres were 23 vigueries, including 680 municipalities. Marseilles, Arles and Salon had the specific status of adjacent lands (terres adjacentes), which were not included into the vigueries.

Source: Louis de Bresc. Armorial des Communes de Provence [bjs94]

Ivan Sache, 6 December 2003

The two flags of Provence

Two flags are used today to represent Provence, based on the two "traditional" arms of Provence. There is no evidence they were ever used either as the flag of the County of Provence or as the flag of the province of Provence within the Kingdom of France.

From the early XIIth century to the middle of the XIIIth century, Provence is said to have used the arms of Aragon (D'or à quatre pals de gueules - Or four pales gules). Louis de Bresc quotes Abbott Brianville (Jeu d'Armoiries, Lyon, c. 1660) as the source of this theory.

The second arms of Provence are :

D'azur à une fleur de lys d'or surmontée d'un lambel de trois pendants de gueules.

In English (Brian Timms):

Azure a fleur-de-lis or and a label of three points gules.

These arms are a simplification of the arms of Count of Provence Charles d'Anjou. According to Louis de Bresc, they were ascribed in the Armorial Général (I, 437 ; bl. II, 1093 ; enr. 300). In his Histoire de Provence, Nostradamus writes that the label has five points, but it seems that the label always had three points. In his Histoire de Provence, Honoré Bouché claims that the fleur-de-lis was already present on the arms of Count Gilbert, last count from the house of Boson. Gilbert's family could have received those arms from the King of France or a Royal prince before the foundation of the Kingdom of Arles, when Provence was still under direct Royal suzereignty. According to Nostradamus, Counts Alphonse I and Alphonse II, from the house of Barcelona, used a fleur-de-lis on their seal. Unfortunately, these seals have been lost, as well as letters from Count Robert, bearing the seal, seen by Bouché.

Today, the banners of those two arms are widely used in Provence, sometimes together. The Occitanists probably prefer the Aragonese banner, which refers to the golden age of the Occitan, independent Provence. In the department of Vaucluse, several municipalities have added their name in Provencal on the road shields, which bear the Aragonese arms.

The flag with vertical red and yellow stripes appears in the Flags of Aspirant Peoples chart [eba94], #66, with the following caption:

South-East France

Ivan Sache, 6 December 2003