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Cognac (Municipality, Charente, France)

Last modified: 2024-03-23 by olivier touzeau
Keywords: charente | cognac | horse rider |
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Flag of Cognac - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 11 February 2022

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Presentation of Cognac

Cognac (18,606 inhabitants; 1,550 ha) is a commune and subprefecture of the Charente department. It is the seat of Grand Cognac agglomeration community.

The territory of the commune has been inhabited since the Paleolithic. There are numerous Gallo-Roman sites.
Traces attest to the existence of a small Merovingian then Carolingian village around a votive fountain which was transformed into a chapel in the 4th century, probably by the bishop Saint Martin of Tours. The necropolis near the Saint-Martin church was used from the 7th to the 18th century and was for a long time the largest necropolis in the region. Around the year 1000, Itier and Arnaud de Villebois settled on the future site of Cognac to found their dynasty and built a small wooden castrum there. In 1016, the Benedictines settled on the heights to build their priory and the church of Saint-Léger. A small town then formed around the castrum and this priory.
Around 1200, the seigniory of Cognac came under the domination of the House of England. Philip Fitzroy or of Falconbridge (1180-1211), bastard of King of England Richard the Lionheart, married Amélie, heiress of Cognac. It was also during this period that the castle was rebuilt in stone and a first fortification surrounded the town in the making.
In the 14th century, Philip IV the Fair attached the seigniory of Cognac to the crown of France. During the Hundred Years War, according to the battles and the treaties, it will often change suzerain. It was not until 1448 that the city was finally taken back from the English, by Duke François I of Brittany.

The future King of France François I was born in Cognac in 1494. His mother Louise of Savoy then stayed at the Château des Valois. Later, the sovereign will grant the city the privilege of salt trade by the river, ensuring Cognac a first development. The revolt of the pitauds reached Cognac in 1548. A few years earlier, in 1541, the gabelle (salt tax) had been imposed on Saintonge and Angoumois. These two provinces were previously exempt from this tax. The revolt broke out near Angoulême, and Cognac ended up being taken by the rebels during the summer.
During the first of the wars of religion, the city took up arms: it was reconquered in 1563 by Montpensier. In 1570, the Peace of Saint-Germain, signed between King Charles IX and Admiral Gaspard II de Coligny, granted Protestants four strongholds: La Rochelle, Cognac, Montauban and La Charité-sur-Loire.
In 1610, a certain Jacques Roux traded in an eau-de-vie which seems to be the origin of today's cognac.
In 1651, the siege of Cognac took place during the Fronde led by Condé, the city was saved late by the arrival of the royal troops. As a reward, Cognac received privileges from King Louis XIV. The city again experienced revolts in 1718 when the Marquis d'Argenson chose the election of Cognac to experiment with the royal tithe, a tax intended to be paid by all, including those enjoying privileges. At the time, a few English families settled in Cognac and its region, to develop the spirits trade: Jean Martell (1720), Rémy-Martin (1724), Thomas Hine (1763) in Jarnac, Richard Hennessy (1765) next to local families like Augier and Delamain in Jarnac.
In 1800, Cognac became the capital of one of the four districts of Charente; then sub-prefecture of the department in 1818. In 1847, the local communes were reorganized: Cognac grew by absorbing part of the commune of Saint-Martin and the suburbs of Saint-Lazare, Saint-Antoine as well as the village of Cagouillet. In 1867, Cognac absorbed the communes of Crouin and the rest of that of Saint-Martin. In 1870, the Cognac countryside was hit hard by phylloxera, which destroyed a large part of the vineyard. Surprisingly, this is what will allow traders in the city to develop. Little by little, thanks to their financial base, they will incorporate distillation and blending to become producers by now buying the wine harvests and no longer the eau-de-vie. It was in 1891 that the name cognac appeared as an appellation for local brandies. The cognac trade resumed and allowed the growth of the city. In 1878, Claude Boucher moved to Cognac to found a glass factory there and in 1898 invented a glass blowing machine. The Claude Boucher glass factory was absorbed in 1962 by the Saint-Gobain company. The family groups of Cognac are transformed little by little, by joining forces with other companies or with international spirits groups, it is the beginning of the economic separation between the city and its product. In 1971 JAs Hennessy joined forces with Moët & Chandon, then in 1987 founded the LVMH group.

Cognac is a unique spirit in that it is double-distilled. There are six vineyard areas around the Cognac area, all of which are within the Appellation Controlee for Cognac, but which are considered to vary in quality from the best growth area of "Grande Champagne" (nothing to do with the Champagne wine region), through "Petite Champagne" then "Borderies", "Fins Bois", "Bon Bois" and finally "Bois Ordinaire". The best Cognacs are generally only made using Grande and Petite Champagne grapes, but all Cognac is produced by blending a variety of eau de vie which can be made from grapes from different locations, and from different vintages.

Olivier Touzeau, 11 February 2022

Coat of arms of Cognac

The coat of arms of Cognac is blazoned:
Gules a horse rider Argent, wearing his helmet an holding a mace on a horse of the same contourned; the chief Azure, three fleurs-de-lis Or.
Some versions show, instead of the mace, a long stick Argent ending in the shape of leur-de-lise Or.

The motto is: Civum Fides Fortitudo Mea: my strength is the loyalty of my citizens

Olivier Touzeau, 11 February 2022

The original coat of arms of Cognac is featured on a brass seal dated from the late 13th century. On a field flory, a rider peacefully rides a to dexter a horse rather looking like a donkey, holding the reins with the left hand and raising a mace in the right one. The rider, equipped with spurs, is bare-headed. The caption around the seal reads "+ S (igillvm) maioris et communie ville de Compniaco" (Seal of the Mayor and the Municipality of the Town of Cognac).

Another representation of the arms is featured on the hallmark of the Brunet pint. The rider seems to wear a large-edged hat, in the 17th century style. He hols a small staff ending with a fleur-de-lis instead of a mace.
On a copy of Letters Patented signed in 1611 by King Louis XIII to confirm the town's privilege, the arms are featured on a red wax seal. Here again, the Mayor is represented with a short jacket and wearing a hood. He holds in the right hand a command baton looking like a mace and drives the horse from the other hand. A small sword appended to his left flank recalls that he was also the head of the town's militia.

The Ordinance signed in 1817 by Louis XVIII to re-establish the arms of Cognac blazons them as "Gules a rider wearing a helmet riding a horse contourned all argent the rider holding a staff argent ending with a fleur-de-lis or a chief azure three fleurs-delis or". The heraldist that designed the arms according to the Ordinance seemingly added details of his own, which are not prescribed in the description: the rider wears a cuirass and the holds the staff over the right shoulder, in horizontal position. The new design of the rider as a soldier blurred the original reference to the mayor; the local tradition claims that the arms portrays king Francis I, which is erroneous, the Cognac-born king is more discretely alluded to by the fleur-de-lis ending the staff, which, of course, did not appear on the earlier versions of the arms [source: Les Blasons de la Charente website by J.-M. Ouvrard].

Ivan Sache, 16 March 2022

Flag of Cognac


Flag of Cognac - Picture taken in Cognac in september 2021 on François I square by Olivier Touzeau

The logo of Cognac, inspired by the horse rider of the coat of arms, was adopted in 2003. It was modified recently (in 2021) and became monochrome.
The current flag is dark blue with the logo in white.

Olivier Touzeau, 11 February 2022

Former flag of Cognac


Former flag of Cognac - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 11 February 2022

The former city flag, as reported by French vexillologist Pascal Vagnat (source: website) was white with the coat of arms, including a mural crown and the motto, and with the name of the city in an arch above.

Olivier Touzeau, 11 February 2022