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Montfort-sur-Meu (Municipality, Ille-et-Vilaine, France)

Last modified: 2022-03-11 by ivan sache
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Flag of Montfort-sur-Meu, current and former versions - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 9 October 2021

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Presentation of Montfort-sur-Meu

The municipality of Montfort-sur-Meu (6,726 inhabitants in 2019; 1,402 ha) is located 30 km west of Rennes.

The Chronicle of Brittany reports that Raoul de Gaël showed up in 1071 on the present-day's territory of Montfort. The lords of Gaël claimed to descend from the old kings of Brittany; King Judicaël indeed lived in a manor near Gaël. In the 10th century, the Poutrecouët domain was split into the barony of Gaël and the viscounty of Porhoët, granted to the Rohan, who also claimed a royal origin.
Raoul de Gaël was a talented warlord. According to English historians, he supported William the Conqueror in such a decisive way that "his name was worth an army". Very upset by his meager reward, the second-rank kingdom of East Anglia, he set up a plot against "tyrant" William with his brother-in-law, Roger de Breteuil. Subsequently scared, Roger reported the plot and was arrested; defeated near Cambridge by troops led by the bishops of Bayeux and Countaces, Raoul de Gaël withdrew to Norwich. After a three-month siege, he managed to flee to Denmark, and, subsequently, returned to Gaël. William proclaimed him a villain and confiscated all his possessions in England.
As a rebuttal, Raoul gathered new troops and set up an alliance with Alain Fergent, duke of Brittany. Not fortified, the domain of Gaël was not a safe place for him, would William search revenge; he selected the site of Montfort to build a new fortress, protected by rivers Meu and Garun, by the pond and by high walls and double ditches. Completed in 1092, the castle was named Montfort; having moved his main residence there, Raoul took the name of Baron de Montfort.
For the next years, Raoul de Montfort kept on a guerilla against William, to no avail. In 1096, he left Montfort for the Holy Land, where he died short after the seizure of Jerusalem. He was succeeded by his junior son, Raoul II, also a fierce warrior. Excommunicated by the bishop of Tours after having looted the St. John priory of the St. Méen abbey, Raoul II died in 1142 when returning from an expedition against the king of France. His son, the peaceful Guillaume I, increased the castle's fortifications, founded two parishes and retired in 1157 in the abbey he had founded a year before.

In 1198, Richard Lionheart invaded Brittany, burning to ashes all fortresses. The strategic location of Montfort, however, prompted him to keep the castle, defended by 200 men. To recover his domain, Guillaume II de Montfort set up an alliance with the lords of Rohan and Léon; at the same time, Alain de Dinan, marching against the town of Rennes, besieged Montfort. After a three-days siege, the assaulters seized the castle and burned it down. Guillaume II moved to Boutavent, where he restored the manor once inhabited by Judicaël; the lords of Montfort would stay there for the next two centuries.
Guillaume II died in Boutavent around 1230, without male heirs. The country of Montfort was subsequently transferred to the Rohan and Montauban families, the latter being a junior branch of the Gaël-Montfort lineage. In 1285, Raoul, a nephew of Guillaume II, sued his cousin Alain at the Ploërmel court; he recovered Montfort while Alain kept only Montauban. In 1341, Raoul VI de Montfort took the French party during the War of the Breton Succession, supporting pretender Charles de Blois against Jean de Montfort (from a non-related family of the same name). Jean de Montfort seized the castles of Gaël, Comper and Mauron from Raoul de Montfort. As a retaliation, Raoul, supported by French troops, invaded his own domain and destroy all his castles to prevent their use by the English party.
During the truce signed in 1375, Raoul initiated the rebuilding of the castle of Montfort and the re-establishment of a town. The refoundation of Montfort, an heavily fortified town, was achieved only in 1389. The town counted than 300 inhabitants, while another 300 lived in the outer boroughs.

After the death of Raoul VII de Montfort, the castle and the county were transferred to the Laval family. The marriage contract signed by Raoul's elder son, Jean, and Anne, the heiress of the barony of Laval, stipulated that Jean would drop the title and arms of Montfort for those of Laval; he died in 1415 as Guy XVI de Laval. The lords of Montfort left the town and appointed a governor to run it. In 1417, the widow of Jean de Laval-Montfort, despoliated by her brothers-in-law, commissioned his own brother, Thibault, to seize the town, which he did by surprise. Upset, Charles and Guillaume de Montfort besieged the town and forced Thibault to surrender. The Gaël-Montfort lineage got extincted in 1547, when Guy XVII de Laval died without heirs.

A subsequent count of Montfort, François d'Andelot, was the brother of Admiral de Coligny, a leader of the Protestant party. The count toured his domain, trying to convert the inhabitants to the reformed religion, to no avail. In September 1589, the Duke de Mercřur, leader of the ultra-catholic Holy League in Brittany, seized the town; he was expelled on 11 October 1589 by François de Cahideuc, who revamped and increased the fortifications. The next year, the appointment of a new governor, de Sarouette, provided the opportunity to Mercřur to besiege the castle; the siege was lift by a royal army commanded by de Cussé. In 1595, Anne d'Allègre, the beautiful and wise widow of the count d'Andelot, convinced the old Marshal d'Aumont to siege Comper, one of her castles hold by the Holy League. In spite of the recommendations of his officers, d'Aumont obeyed Anne and was killed during the unsuccessful siege.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the feudal power of the count of Montfort was systematically challenged by the burghers of the town, which had been recognized as a "community" long time ago (in the 12th century, they claimed!); accordingly, they refused to obey anyone but the king of France. The Duke de la Trémoïlle, upset by the claims of the "seditious" burghers, ordered the destruction of the fortifications of the town. On 3 July 1659, Louis XIV recalled that the walls, the towers and the ditches were his property. Joseph de Cintré, who had acquired Montfort in 1716, was sued a few years later at the Parliament; the burghers argued that the lord could not have acquired the town, which belonged to the king. On 20 September 1760, the lord's nominal rights were confirmed but the town's privileges were confirmed, too.
[Édouard Vigoland. 1895. Montfort-sur-Meu, son histoire et ses souvenirs]

During the Second World War, Étienne Maurel, secretary of the Town Hall and head of the municipal music band, organized in June 1940 a group of resistance fighters, known under the name of "Maurel network", in conjunction with Rennes resistance fighters, in particular Victor Janton, professor (arrested on August 29, 1941), and students; they created an underground newspaper, La Bretagne enchaînée, which has 5,000 copies distributed. Alain de Kergorlay was parachuted from London in October 1941 and Pierre Moureaux (alias Pierre Cazin) in December 1941 to strengthen the Maurel group, with two transmitters. From 1942 onwards, they took part in combat groups, notably receiving the first parachuting of arms organized in Ille-et-Vilaine on the night of 1 to 2 February 1942. Arrested on 12 February 1942, Maurel died in the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp on 12 August 1945. Other members of the network, André Ménard, Louis and Pierre Normand, and Gabriel de Cyresme died in deportation or were killed by the Germans.

The legend of the duck has been transmitted from one generation to another since the 15th century. In the first version, the legend says that a young and beautiful girl prisoner of the lord of Montfort was moaning. She prayed St. Nicholas to escape from her abductor and to keep her virginity. She miraculously transformed into a female duck, flew through the window of her cell and settled on the castle's pond. Then, for many centuries, a wild female duck came every year in the church, around St. Nicholas Day, and left one of her ducklings as an offering to the miraculous saint.
In the second version, the story says that around 1386, during the completion of the town, the lord locked a beautiful girl up in his castle. She understood very fast what was going to happen to her and, catching sight of the St. Nicholas church, started praying the saint, promising to thank him if she could escape. Unfortunately, she felt in the hands of the lord's soldiers, who wanted to do what they thought their master had done. She looked around to find some help but saw only two female ducks on the water of the pond, which has since been dried up. She prayed St. Nicholas, begging him to allow the animals to be witnesses of her innocence and to make them accomplish every year her wish on her behalf if she had to lose her life. She managed to escape from the soldiers but died, apparently of fear, a bit later. She was buried in the St. Nicholas churchyard. The same year, during the translation of the relics of St. Nicholas, while the crowd was flocking to the relics, a female duck came in the church with her ducklings. She fluttered near the picture of the saint, flew to the altar and saluted the crucifix. Then, she came back near the picture of the saint and stayed there until the end of the service. At this moment, she flew with all of her ducklings, except one, who stayed in the church.
The story became so famous and reported in many documents dating from the following centuries, so that Montfort-sur-Meu became Montfort-la-Cane for more than 300 years. Every appearance of the female duck in the church was duly reportee. The last event is dated from 8 May 1739. However, as only the archives dating from later than the 15th century have been kept, many stories are missing even though, as an ecclesiastic said, "In the past, these events became so common that we were not taking time to report them anymore".

Montfort-sur-Meu (then Montfort-la-Cane) is the birth place of St. Louis de Montfort (Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort; 1673-1716, canonized in 1947 by Pope Pius XII), a priest and missionary who founded or inspired the congregations grouped in the Montfort family. Due to his particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin and his spiritual writings (Le secret admirable du très saint rosaire; Traité de la vraie dévotion à la Sainte Vierge), Montfort is considered as one of the founders of mariology. He also composed several hymns and canticles used for evangelization by his followers.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 9 October 2021

Flag of Montfort-sur-Meu

The flag of Montfort-sur-Meu (photo, photo), used at least since 2014, is white with the municipal logo.
The former flag of Montfort-sur-Meu (photo) was blue with the municipal arms "Argent a cross moline gules gringolée of eight snake's heads or", surmounted by a golden crown, and the name of the municipality below. The arms were those of the Gaël-Montfort family. According to Nicolas Viton de Saint-Alais (Dictionnaire encyclopédique de la noblesse de France, 1816), gringolé comes from gargouille, "a gargoyle", referring to the gargoyle's open mouth often decorated with snake's heads.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 9 October 2021