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Saint-Malo (Municipality, Ille-et-Vilaine, France)

Last modified: 2022-03-11 by ivan sache
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Four variants of the flag of Saint-Malo - Images by Arnaud Leroy, 16 January 2005

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Presentation of Saint-Malo

The municipality of Saint-Malo (in Breton Sant Malo; 45,980 inhabitants - Malouins - in 2014, 3,658 ha; municipal website) is is located on a peninsula (formerly a rocky island, linked to the mainland by a chaussée built in 1509) on the right bank of the wide estuary of the river Rance. The sea resort of Dinard is located across the Rance. The Bay of Saint-Malo spreads from the eastern part of the city to the Pointe de la Varde. In 1967, Saint-Malo absorbed the neighbouring municipalities of Saint-Servan and Paramé.

History of Saint-Malo

In the 6 century, a Welsh monk named Mac Law landed on the beach of Cézembre. He settled in Aleth, where he founded a bishopric. After his death, Mac Law was buried on a desert rock located east of Aleth. Other traditions say he died in Saintes, his relics being brought back to Brittany in the 8 century.
In the 12 century, Bishop Jean de Châtillon transfered the see of the bishopric to the rock and founded the city of Saint-Malo-de-l'Isle. Aleth was later renamed Saint-Servan. Châtillon extended the right of sanctuary attached to Mac Law's sanctuary to the whole city. Due to this right and the neighbouring port, Saint-Malo rapidly attracted merchants, craftmen, shipowners and seamen.

All along the history, the Malouins fought for their independence. In 1308, they revolted and were granted for a short time the status of commune jurée (sworn municipality). The city was ruled locally by the Bishop and the Canons of the cathedral, and was a constant matter of dispute among higher powers. In 1394, Pope Clement VII transfered his suzereignty to King of France Charles VI, who ceded the city to Duke of Brittany in 1425, as a reward for his alliance against the English.

Saint-Malo was then located on the border between France and Brittany. In 1493, the city was incorporated to the Kingdom of France. Duchess Ann of Brittany, crowned Queen of France in 1491, ordered the building of a big tower on the eastern flank of the castle. The Malouins protested and were answered: Qui qu'en groigne, ainsi sera, car tel est mon bon plaisir (Whoever may grunt, it will be so, because I desire so), and the tower was (and is still) named Tour Quic-en-Groigne.
At the end of the 16th century, the Malouins refused to be involved in the French civil war between King Henri IV and the ultra-Catholic Holy League. They seized the castle in 1590 and proclaimed their independence, which lasted four years. The motto of the city Ni Français ni Breton, Malouin suis (Neither French nor Breton, Malouin I am) dates back to this period.

In the 17th-18th centuries, the port of Saint-Malo reached its peak. The merchants of the city traded with India, China, Africa and America. Those merchants and shipowners were skilfull businessmen, who were familiar with the most advanced trade technics. They were nicknamed ces Messieurs de Saint-Malo (Those gentlemen from Saint-Malo).
In 1688, William of Orange was crowned King of England and war broke out between France and England. Saint-Malo was a dedicated target for the English fleet. Following plans designed by Vauban, engineer Siméon de Garangeau (1647-1741) increased the city, revamped its fortifications and built sea forts on the small islands off the city (Petit Bé, Grand Bé and Fort Royal, later renamed Fort National). During his long career, Garangeau supervized the arsenals of Brest and Marseilles, drafted the plans of the city and the castle of Saint-Malo, of Fort Solidor (in Saint-Servan) and Fort La Latte (near Cap Frehel). He also built in Saint-Malo the Benedictines' church (1705) and the Rosais hospital (1712) and drew an updated map of Saint-Malo in 1737. Garangeau's system proved to be efficient during the Seven Years' War: in 1758, an English fleet was prevented from landing in Saint-Malo.

This was the golden age of the corsairs, who were not pirates, but were officially appointed by the King of France for the course au large, that is the capture of enemy ships. The catch was shared between the state and the corsair. The two most famous corsairs from Saint-Malo are Duguay-Trouin and Surcouf.

René Duguay-Trouin (1673-1736) was the son of a rich shipowner. He started his brilliant career aged 18, when he commanded his first ship; aged 23, he captured a Dutch Admiral. Duguay-Trouain was Captain in the Marine Royale in 1697. He resigned for a while and joined back the Royale for the War of Spanish Succession. Between 1705 and 1710, Duguay-Trouin put a big Portuguese fleet (200 vessels) to flight and captured another 64 ships escorted by six war vessels. Rio de Janeiro was at that time reputed to be impregnable; however, Duguay-Trouin besieged the city and seized it after 11 days. The corsair ended his career in 1728 as lieutenant-général des armées navales.
Robert Surcouf (1773-1827) is the main symbol of Saint-Malo. He was 20 when he commanded his first ship, trading slaves in the Reunion island. In 1795, he started his corsair's career and captured several English ships in the Indian Ocean. In 1809, he 'retired' and came back to Saint-Malo, where he became a successful corsair shipowner. However, he did a last expedition in the Indian Ocean in 1807-1808. In 1815, Surcouf was considered as the richest man in Saint-Malo. Surcouf has remained famous for his duel against 12 successive opponents: he killed 11 of them but spared the last one as a witness of his own courage.

The wealthy corsairs and shipowners expressed their social position by building beautiful 'vacation' houses in the hinterland of Saint-Malo. These houses were isolated, of a rather discrete architecture, hidden behind high walls and surrounded with gardens. A hundred of these malouinières have been preserved until today, and a few of them can be visited, for example Château de la Ville-Bague in Saint-Coulomb, La Picaudais in Saint-Père, La Malouinière du Bos in Quelmer, La Chipaudière in Paramé, Le Puits Sauvage in Saint-Etienne and Montmarin in Pleurtuit.

At the end of the 19th century, Saint-Malo was still involved in the grande pêche to Newfoundland; the port was revamped and the sea resort was created.
Saint-Malo was a main element of the Atlantic Wall built by the German occupants to prevent invasion of France from the sea. The liberation of the city in August 1944 required a huge American bombing, that destroyed 80% of the city, except the city wall; the bombing yielded 750,000 tons of rubble. 500,000 cubic meters were cleared from the historical center, which was rebuilt exactly as it was, with the help of several American sponsors. The rebuilding of the city was completed in 1962.

Celebrities from Saint-Malo

Saint-Malo is also the birth city of the discoverers Cartier, Gouin de Beauchesne and Mahé de La Bourdonnais.
Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) was recommended to King François I by the shipowner Jean La Veneur. François I asked him to find a crossing to China and India through the unknown lands located beyond Newfoundland and Labrador. Cartier travelled several times to America and took possession of Canada on the King's behalf in 1534. Exploring further the country, he found 'rocks and stones with bright reflections' and believed there were golden nuggets or diamonds. Unfortunately, the stones were worthless and Cartier, disillusioned, stopped his expeditions. He retired in his malouinière of Limoëlou, in Rothéneuf, today the Jacques Cartier Museum.

Jacques Gouin de Beauchesne (1652-1730) was appointed in 1698 commander-in-chief for an expedition of the Royale in the southern seas. In 1699, he entered the Magellan strait (separating Tierra del Fuego from the South American mainland) and took possession of the Saint-Louis-le-Grand island and the Dauphine bay. In 1701, Gouin was the first French seaman to round Cape Horn westwards and opened the maritime route to Chile and Peru. During the same travel, he partially reconnoitred the Malouines Islands (named after Saint-Malo, today the Falkland Islands, a British dependency, claimed as the Islas Malvinas by Argentina). Gouin was later appointed sénéchal of Saint-Malo, Lieutenant of the Admiralty, and Captain of the cost guards.

Count François Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1699-1753) was appointed in 1718 lieutenant de vaisseau in the fleet of the Compagnie des Indes. In 1725, he contributed to the seizure of the main island of the Seychelles, later called Mahé. In 1735, he was appointed Governor of Mauritius and Reunion and promoted the economical development of the two islands. He sailed once again to Mahé in 1740, where he defeated the Marathes who besieged the island. Dupleix, Colonial Governor of India, asked the assistance of La Bourdonnais against the English; La Bourdonnais seized Madras in 1746 but retroceded it to the English against a ransom. Upon Dupleix request, La Bourdonnais was ordered to come back to France and was jailed in the Bastille in Paris for three years. He was tried and acquitted in 1751, and died two years later.

The 20th century explorer Jean Charcot (1867-1936) was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris. His two ships, Le Français and the famous Pourquoi Pas were built in Saint-Malo.

The travel and maritime tradition is honoured each year in Saint-Malo during the cultural festival Etonnants Voyageurs (Amazing travellers), directed by the writer Hervé Le Bris. The Swiss writer Nicolas Bouvier, probably the precursor of all modern traveller-writers, was a kind of permanent guest of the festival until his death.

Saint-Malo gave to France not only daring seamen, but also a bunch of writers and scientists, whose main representatives are Châteaubriand, Maupertuis, La Mettrie, Broussais, Briant and Angèle Vannier.
The writer and politician François-René de Châteaubriand (1768-1848) is one of the precursors of the French Romantic Movement. He spent his first 18 years in various places in Brittany, such as Saint-Malo, Plancoët, Combourg, Dinan and Dol. In 1791, he spent a few months in America. He used his notes taken there later in a series of books, for instance Voyages en Amérique (1826). Back to Saint-Malo in 1792, he emigrated to Germany and joined the Emigrés' Army. Injured and sick, he spent the next seven years in poverty in England. The publication in 1802 of Les Génies du Christianisme was a great success, and Châteaubriand started his political career. He served Napoléon but opposed him after the assassination of the Duke of Enghien.
Châteaubriand definitively abandoned the political life after the 1830 revolution. It took him some 30 years to write his masterwork Mémoires d'Outre-tombe (Memoirs beyond the grave). As he had requested it, Châteaubriand was buried on the rocky island of Grand Bé, in a vertical position and facing the sea. The island can be reached on foot at low tide and is a popular place of excursion in Saint-Malo.

The mathematician Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698-1759) was a cavalry officer who abandoned the army for science. In 1728, he understood the Newtonian revolution and spread it to France. Newton's theory predicts the flattening-out of the earth at the poles; Maupertuis organized a scientific expedition in Lapland, whose findings validated Newton's theory. Maupertuis suffered from undeserved attacks by Voltaire and moved to Berlin, invited there by King of Prussia Frederic II, where he reorganized and presided the Royal Academy.

The physcian and philosoph of the Age of Enlightenment Jules Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) published in 1745 L'Histoire Naturelle de l'Ame, which was condemned by the Holy See. He exiled to Holland and had to exile again in 1748 following the release of L'Homme-machine, in which he proposed a mechanistic theory of the development of the human body. Frederic II welcomed him in Berlin and appointed him as his personal physician and lecturer.

The physician Francois Joseph Victor Broussais (1772-1838) is one of the worst scientists France ever had. He served on the corsairs' ships and was appointed in 1831 Professor at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris. He believed that the only cause of disease was inflammation and used his authority to impose his erroneous ideas and ridicule his opponents, for instance Laënnec. Upon his advice, France imported millions of leeches in order to fight cancer in the 1830s. Broussais delayed the birth of modern medicine in France for years. Ironically, he died from cancer.

The poet, novelist and editor Theophile Briant (1891-1956) fought during the First World War, opened a modern art gallery in Paris and settled in Paramé in 1933. Two years later, he found the newspaper Le Goéland (The Gull), an important contribution to the Breton cultural life.
The poetess Angèle Vannier (1917-1980) stopped her studies in Rennes because of blindness, and came back in 1928 to her village of Bazouge, located in inner Brittany. During the Second World War, Théophile Briant exiled to Bazouge, read her songs and encouraged her to publish them. He took her to Paris and introduced her to the famous Paul Eluard, who wrote a preface for her collection of poems L'Arbre à Feu. In 1955, Angèle wrote for Edith Piaf the song Le Chevalier de Paris. The song was performed by 17 artists, including Yves Montand, Frank Sinatra and Catherine Sauvage. Angèle Vannier went back to Brittany in 1973. She gave several poetry performances for the radio (there was a time when poetry was allowed on the radio) and campaigned for the blind writers all her life.

Brittany has very ancient and deep religious traditions, and Saint-Malo contributed to them. Malo is one of the seven saints of Brittany, and his relics are one of the stopovers of the traditional pilgrimage called Tro Breizh.
The priest, philosoph and theologian Félicité Robert de Lamennais (1782-1854) is considered as the precursor of the Christian Democracy. In 1828, he rejected the decrees of the Ministry of State Education and Religion, which restricted the activity of the seminaries. Lamennais founded the free Saint-Pierre's Brotherhood (congrégation Saint-Pierre), whose main goal was to train priests who would understand the modern society, in strong opposition to Châteaubriand's Les Génies du Christianisme. In 1830, he founded the newspaper L'Avenir (The Future), in which he proned the separation of the Church from the State and freedom of education. Lamennais suspended the release of L'Avenir in 1831 and attempted to convince Pope Gregor XVI to accept his ideas, to no avail. After the 1848 revolution, Lamennais was elected at the Constituant Assembly and founded the newspaper Le Peuple Constituant.

Jeanne Jugan (1792-1879) was the daughter of a poor fisher from Cancale. In 1839, she invited Anne Chauvin, a poor, blind and disabled woman, in her home and gave her her own bed. She welcomed other old people begging in the streets. In 1840, she founded a charity named four years later Les Petites Soeurs des Pauvres (The Little Sisters of the Poor), whose only means of funding is home collect.

Amélie Fristel (1798-1866) was the daughter of a good family of Saint-Malo. After the death of her father, she moved to Rennes with her mother, and came back to Saint-Malo in 1818. When her mother died in 1836, Amélie started to help the poor. She inherited all the goods from Henri Lemarie in 1846 and decided to use them for the assistance to the old poor. In 1852, she founded the brotherhood of the Saints Coeurs de Jésus et Marie (Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary). The brotherhood was officially recognized in 1853 by Emperor Napoléon III as the Congrégation enseignante et hospitalière des Soeurs de Saints-Noms de Jésus et Marie.

Priest Fouré (1839-1910) is one of the most original priests Brittany ever had. Priest in 1863, he served in various Breton parishes. Aged 55, he became deaf-and-dumb and hemiplegic, and retired on an isolated cliff near Rothéneuf, a village located a few kilometers east of Saint-Malo. For the last 16 years of his life, he worked daily on the granite cliff where he sculpted the legend of the Rothéneuf family, a tribe of corsairs suposed to have lived in the 16th century. Fouré's masterwork includes more than 100 statues scattered over a 600 square m area facing the sea. Some characters are captioned, such as Monsieur de Rothéneuf, in the center of the scene, surrounded by sea monsters; Jean des Caulnes aka the Egyptian; the Seducer; Le Guemereux aka the Fakir, the family astrologist; the Watcher, holding the smugglers' banner; Gargantua, the commander of the fleet, and the Devil just coming out of hell. Fouré also produced wooden sculptures, which he shown in his 'infernal gallery', surmounted by a dragon banner. The gallery and its content burned during the Second World War. It seems that Fouré's original idea was to make a catalogue of the vices for the edification of his visitors, but the project rapidly grew out of his control. The place, known as Les rochers du curé (The priest's rock) is now recognized as a main contribution to naive art, and is worth a visit, especially by windy weather.

Ivan Sache, 15 January 2005

Flag of Saint-Malo

The municipal flag of Saint-Malo is probably the most commonly seen of the French municipal flags. It is widely used in the city and sold as a car sticker. Basically, the flag is blue with a white cross and a red canton charged with a white ermine. The flag of Saint-Malo is therefore easy to identify and cannot be confused with any other flag.
Looking at the details of the flag reveals a more complicated situation and four possible flag designs.

The municipal flag of Saint-Malo is hoisted over the donjon of the fomer castle, today the city hall. It is directly derived from the corsairs' flag. In 1946, the ermine was added a scarf of ermine.
In the 1970s, a variant of the flag showed the ermine passant over a yellow portcullis, as can be seen on the municipal coat of arms. Philippe Rault (Les drapeaux bretons de 1188 à nos jours [rau98]) says that this particular design seems to have been dropped in the late 1970s. However, Hervé Prat recently photographied a flag with a very similar design.

The municipality of Saint-Malo seems to use now flag and arms with a scarf yellow instead of ermine. The municipal website and the tourism office website consistently show coats of arms and flags with the yellow scarf. On the latter website is shown a photography of the flag, where the scarf seems to be yellow and the wordy description of the flag says une hermine passante cravatée d'or, gold recalling that Saint-Malo belonged to the Duchy of Brittany. However, Huchehault's website reports the use of the two kinds of flags without being more specific ("the ermine is sometimes replaced by a unidentified animal wearing a yellow scarf").

In July 2006, the flag hoisted all over the town has the canton with no portcullis and the ermine with a yellow scarf. This version of the flag is close to the flag shown on the first row, second column of this page, with some minor differences (the ermine is fatter on the real flag). Of course, this does not mean that the other designs do or did not exist.

Ivan Sache, 9 July 2006

Flag used in the beginning of the 20 century

Philippe Rault reports another flag that can be seen on a poster advertising the Grandes Régates de Saint-Malo-Saint-Servan in the beginning of the XXth century. The four quarters of the flag are blue. The canton is charged with a red shield with the ermine passant over the portcullis, surmounted by a yellow mural crown.

Ivan Sache, 16 January 2005

Flag used in the 1960s by Bagad Quic-en-Groigne


Flag of Bagad Quic-en-Groigne - Image by Ivan Sache, 16 January 2005

Philippe Rault reports that the music band Bagad Quic-en-Groigne used in the 1960s another variant of the flag of Saint-Malo, with the first and fourth quarters red and a very stylized portcullis.

Ivan Sache, 16 January 2005

Société Nautique de la Baie de Saint-Malo

[Flag]         [Flag]

Flag and burgee of the SNBSM - Images by Ivan Sache, 28 December 2020

The SNBSM (website) was established in 1888. Its flag, obviously based on the municipal flag of Saint-Malo, is blue with a white cross and a red canton. The club's burgee is a triangular version of the flag.


Other flag of the SNBSM - Image by Ivan Sache, 28 December 2020

SNBSM also uses a white flag with the club's logo (photophoto), which features the burgee.


First burgee of the SNBSM - Image by Ivan Sache, 28 December 2020

The original burgee of the SNBSM, as featured in Lloyd's Register of Yachts 1908 (image), had blue quarters. The burgee was still used in 1978, as featured on cover of the club's Yearbook (photo).

Ivan Sache, 28 December 2020