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Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire (Municipality, Charente, France)

Last modified: 2024-03-23 by olivier touzeau
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Flag of Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 14 February 2022

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Presentation of Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire

Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire (4,751 inhabitants; 2,655 ha) is a commune in the Charente department.
The commune of Barbezieux, with the neighbouring village of St Hilaire, forms the most important town in Southern Charente.

Barbezieux lies in the Petite Champagne area of cognac wine growing, and is in the heart of the vineyards producing cognac and the local drink Pineau de Charente.

The lordship of Barbezieux was one of the most important in Saintonge and its lords claimed the title of princes. The first known lord is Alduin I, who lived in the early 11th century. His descendants followed one another until the middle of the 14th century, in the person of Henry de Barbezieux. The barony of Barbezieux passed to the La Rochefoucaulds in the 14th century, in the person of Geoffroy de La Rochefoucauld, grandson of Itier II.
Geoffroy's grandson, Guy de La Rochefoucauld, had to fight in his old age against brigands called “Cottereaux” because of their long cutlass. In 1440 traitors opened a door of Barbezieux to the attackers, hence the name of this door, door of the Tridoux (traitors). In the struggle, Guy died knocked out. His son Jean de La Roche created communal militias, the Francs-Taupins, in order to restore order in the country. Jean was also a great captain who helped Charles VII drive the English out of France, and he had two children, George and Marguerite. Shortly before 1457, date of the death of George who had no descendants, Marguerite married his cousin Jean de La Rochefoucauld, thus bringing together in the same domain all their possessions. Jean de La Rochefoucauld helped King Louis XI to reconquer Guyenne from the English. After the ravages of the Hundred Years War and a new famine, Marguerite had wheat distributed to the unfortunate and built the current castle to provide work for the workers. Jean died in 1472 having his son as successor, François de La Rochefoucauld, godfather of the future king François Ier.
In 1518, the property was divided and Antoine de La Rochefoucauld inherited the barony of Barbezieux. The latter died in 1537 and his eldest son Charles inherited Barbezieux. Charles de La Rochefoucauld was one of the most remarkable lords of Barbezieux. In 1548, he fought with diplomacy against the rebels of the salt tax. Charles de La Rochefoucauld died in 1583, leaving three daughters, and Charles d'Espinay then had the land of Barbezieux by marriage. After the death of Charles d'Espinay in 1598, Barbezieux passed into the hands of Marshal of Schomberg through the latter's marriage to Françoise d'Espinay, Charles's sister, before passing in 1632 into the hands of Cardinal Richelieu himself. Richelieu improved the road from Paris to Bordeaux, crossing Barbezieux. Barbezieux was located, before the 18th century, on the old road of the Postal services between Paris and Bordeaux, before it was diverted by Turgot to serve Angoulême. In 1678, King Louis XIV erected by letters patent the barony of Barbezieux into a marquisate, because Barbezieux had returned by adjudication to one of his ministers, Michel Le Tellier. Then Barbezieux passed into the hands of Camille Le Tellier, known as the Abbé de Louvois. On his death in 1718, Barbezieux returned to the hands of the La Rochefoucaulds, by marriage of Camille's sister, Madeleine Charlotte Le Tellier, to François VIII, Duke of La Rochefoucauld. The marquisate of Barbezieux then comprised 25 parishes, producing 15,000 pounds of revenue. The last of the lords of Barbezieux was Louis Alexandre de La Rochefoucauld, son of the Duke of Anville, appointed deputy of the nobility in 1789. Resigning and fleeing Paris, he was massacred in Gisors in 1792.

Barbezieux was designated during the Consulate in 1800 to be sub-prefecture, a function it exercised until 1926. Since that date, the city has occupied the simple role of chief town of a canton, being part of the district of Cognac. In 1829, in order to avoid the total destruction of the castle, the town of Barbezieux began talks with the Levraud family, then owner of the castle, and bought it from them in 1845. The main building was abandoned but the north gate and its two towers were restored. A theater was built on the old outbuildings. A hospice and a school for young girls were also set up there.

Olivier Touzeau, 14 February 2022

The Barbezieux hen is presented in "Monographie de la race de Barbezieux", a section of "Toutes les poules" (1924), as 'one of the most estimated of our old breeds" and "the biggest and strongest of all French breeds and even of the Western ones. Everything in the Barbezieux hen is of great magnitude; the crest, the barbels, the feet. It looks even like an intermediate between a hen and a turkey; it is the giant among the hens." The livery of the Barbezieux hen is plain black; "any trace of red or yellow, or even white, would be disqualifying". A few white fathers can be tolerated in two-years old hens, "but it is preferable not to have any". The Barbezieux-Club, founded and presided by Viscountess de Boislandry, with Count de Villeneuve-Esclapon as secretary, established in 1905 the standard for the Barbezieux hen [source: Barbezieux Club website].
The Barbezieux hen was close to extinction in the 1960ies. Breeding with Asian hens progressively "diluted" the original breed. Barbezieux' white eggs were abandoned by consumers for colored ones. Finally, the long time required to rear the chickens (at least, 110 days) was no longer compatible with intensive production. The Barbezieux hen was eventually saved from extinction by ASPOULBA (Association pour la Sauvegarde de la Poule de Barbezieux), an association created in 1997. On 12 December 2021, the French Commission of Standards validated the request of amendment of the description of the crest in the Barbezieux standard.

Barbezieux is the birth town of the writer Jacques Chardonne (1884-1968). One of the best French novelists of the first half of the 20th century for his classical style, Chardonne published "L’Épithalame" (1921), where he celebrates long-lasting marital love, and his masterpiece "Les Destinées sentimentales" (1937), the story of a couple involved in industrialization of the region through cognac and porcelain industry in the early decades of the 20th century. "L'amour, c'est beaucoup plus que l'amour" (1937) is a collection of aphorisms extracted from his earlier essays.
Chardonne dishonored himself during the Second World War by his unabated support to Marshal Pétain and collaboration with the Nazi regime. In October 1941, he was among the eight French writers "invited" to Germany by Joseph Goebbels, th next year, he presided the second delegation invited by Goebbels. His admiration for the Nazis culminated in the essay "Le Ciel de Nieflheim", which was published in 1943 but never printed. He also contributed to a number of antisemitic pamphlets. After the liberation, Chardonne was banned from publishing; his friend Jean Paulhan, a noted member of the anti-German resistance opposed "by principle" to any firmed of cleansing, saved him from trial and probable execution. Retired from public life, Chardonne published in 1966 "Femmes" (Women), a collection of short stories. He maintained a long correspondence with another famous collaborationist writer, Paul Morand.
In spite of his dishonor, Chardonne became the mentor of a group of conservative writers opposed to de Gaulle (but without the least sympathy for Pétain), self-styles Hussards, including Roger Nimier, Antoine Blondin, Jacques Laurent, Michel Déon and François Nourrissier.
Chardonne portrayed his birth town in one of his less-known novels, "Le bonheur de Barbezieux" (1938). François Mitterrand, born in the neighboring town of Jarnac, considered Chardonne, which he nicknamed the "stylist country squire" as his preferred writer [source: Trois raisons de relire (malgré tout) Jacques Chardonne, in Télérama].

Ivan Sache, 16 March 2022

Flag of Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire

The flag is white with the coat of arms, on which the monochrome conventional hatching of each tincture is shown besides the real colour: with dots on the Or field, and horizontal lines on the Azure field (photo, 2018).
The coat of arms is blazoned Or, an inescutcheon Azure. These are the arms of the lords of Barbezieux.

Olivier Touzeau, 14 February 2022

The arms are featured, with a larger escutcheon, on a seal used on 10 February 1376 by Henri II, 12th lord of Barbezieux. After the i,corporation of the area to England by the Treaty of Brétigny (1360), Henri de Barbezieux was commissioned to defend the ton and the castle, along with nine squires. He could not prevent the town to be seized by Constable Du Guesclin. His son, Audoin de Barbezieux was the last lord of the original lineage. In 1379, he had to cede all his goods to Geoffroy de la Rochefoucauld, after he had failed to pay the dowry of Agnès de la Rochefoucauld and other debts. [source: Les Blasons de la Charente website by J.-M. Ouvrard].

Ivan Sache, 16 March 2022