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Josselin (Municipality, Morbihan, France)


Last modified: 2014-01-11 by ivan sache
Keywords: morbihan | josselin | josilin | lion (white) | ermines (black) | castle (yellow) | rohan-chabot | rohan | chabot | fishes: 6 (red) | fish: bullhead | mascles: 18 (yellow) | lozenges: 18 (yellow) |
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[Flag of Josselin]

Flag of Josselin - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 6 November 2004

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Presentation of Josselin

The municipality of Josselin (in Breton, Josilin; 2,501 inhabitants in 2010; 448 ha) is located on the Oust river, in the past a part of the canal Nantes-Brest (canal de Nantes à Brest). With the neighbouring town of Ploërmel, Josselin is among the main towns of the area called Porhoët, lit., the country in the woods. Josselin is separated from the Gulf of Morbihan by the moors of Lanvaux.

Josselin is mentioned, as Castello Tho, in the book of charters of the abbey of Redon. Josselin was then a small castrum (fortified camp) built by Guethenoc, Viscount of Porhoët, in 1008. His son Josselin transformed the camp into a small town, to which he gave his name.
Josselin quickly developed, being in 1050 the capital of a Viscounty including 140 parishes. The viscounts appointed monks from the neighbouring abbeys to set up religious foundations and appeal people: the priories of Saint-Martin, Saint-Nicolas and Sainte-Croix were transformed in boroughs around 1200.
Josselin flourished thanks to the production of linen cloth. A new town wall, protected by three fortified gates, was built in the 10th century. In 1168, Henry II Plantagenet seized and destroyed the feudal castle, which was rebuilt in 1173 by Viscount Odo II.

In the middle of the 14th century, the War of Succession of Brittany opposed Charles de Blois, supported by the King of France, to Jean de Montfort, supported by the King of England. The Blois party hold the castle of Josselin, commanded by Jean de Beaumanoir, while the Montfort party hold the town of Ploërmel, located 12 km east of Josselin, commanded by Bemborough, aka Bembro. The two commanders decided to set up a fight involving 30 knights from each camp, authorized to fight with a sword, a dagger, an axe and a spear. The fight, later famous as the Combat des Trentes (Combat of the Thirty), took place on 27 March 1351, on the Moor of Mi-Voie (lit., Midway), between Josselin and Ploërmel. The place is called today La Pyramide and the fight is recalled by a granit column (Obélisque des Trentes). The fight lasted all the day long. The Montfort troop included 20 English, six Germans and four Bretons. Blois eventually won: Captain Bembro was killed with eight of his companions and the other knights were caught and brought back to Josselin. Beaumanoir was injured during the fight and asked for water, to which his lieutnant Geoffrey de Blois answered: Bois ton sang, Beaumanoir, la soif te passera ! (Drink your blood, Beaumanoir, your thurst will pass!)
The War of Succession of Brittany ended in 1364, when Charles de Blois was defeated and killed in Auray.

Marguerite de Rohan, daughter of Viscount Alain VII (d. 1347), married Jean de Beaumanoir and, later (c. 1370), Constable (connétable) Olivier de Clisson (1336-1407), another hero of the medieval Breton history. Clisson, one of the most powerful lords in France under the reign of Charles VI (1368-1422, King in 1380), was banned and exiled to Josselin when the King became mad in 1392. Olivier de Clisson completely revamped the castle of Josselin and transformed it into a huge stone fortress, protected by a high donjon.
In 1488, Duke of Brittany François II demolished the castle of Josselin, which then belonged to Viscount Jean II de Rohan, who had supported the French party. François' daughter, Duchess Anne de Bretagne, became Queen of France in 1491. She forgave Rohan and allowed him to rebuild the castle. Rohan's wonderful facade in Renaissance style is still there. He lowered the towers and linked them with a "stone lace" fairly unique in Brittany.
Henri II (1579-1638), first Duke de Rohan (1603), was the leader of the Huguenot party in the beginning of the 17th century. Cardinal de Richelieu seized Josselin and demolished the donjon and five out of its nine towers. When the two enemies met in the King's antechamber, Richelieu said: Je viens, Monsieur le Duc, de jeter une bonne boule dans votre jeu de quilles (Your Grace, I just threw a nice ball into your skittles).

In the 15th-17th centuries, Josselin was a wealthy town, thanks its cloth and rope workshops and to its famous fairs and markets.
Josselin's re-emerged in the 19th century whan river Oust was incorporated to the canal Nantes-Brest and when the church of the Roncier was consecrated as the basilica Notre-Dame-du-Roncier. Around 800, a peasant is said to have found a statue of the Blessed Virgin hidden under evergreen brambles (ronces). He brought the statue at home, but the next day he found the statue againts under the brambles. After a few unsuccesful attempts, he understood that the Blessed Virgin wanted him to build a chapel instead of the brambles. A similar story explains the origin of several churches and chapels in Brittany and elsewhere. Another story of a miraculous statue of the Blessed Virgin found in a bush is told in the Breton city of Rostrenen. In 1789, the miraculous statue was burned when the church was transformed into the Temple of the Reason. Small pieces of the statue were preserved; a modern statue is now placed in the church, where Constable Olivier de Clisson and his wife Marguerite de Rohan have their mausoleum.

In the past, the great pardon (Breton religious ceremony) taking place on 8 September was called the pardon des aboyeuses (barkers' pardon). A beggar once asked water to women doing washing in a fountain; the women slipped the dogs after her. The beggar was indeed the Blessed Virgin, and she sentenced the women to bark like dogs every year on Whit. The basilica became later a place of pilgrimage for people suffering from barking epilepsy, with several alleged miraculous recoveries.

Sources: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 6 November 2004

Flag of Josselin

The flag of Josselin is white with the municipal coat of arms, "Per pale gules a lion rampant [argent] crowned armed and langued or gules a castle triple or a canton ermine".
These arms are found on an escutcheon in the arms ascribed to Josselin in the Armorial Général. The escutcheon is blazoned as De gueules mi-parti au lion d'argent couronné armé et lampassé d'or, et, en la seconde partie, aussi de gueules au château d'or et franc quartier d'argent parsemé d'hermines de sable sans nombre.
The arms of Josselin in the Armorial Général show a shield of the arms of the Rohan-Chabot family.

Arnaud Leroy & Ivan Sache, 6 November 2004

The Rohan-Chabot family in Josselin

Josselin is associated with the Rohan family, one of the oldest and most powerful noble families under the Ancient Regime. The first historically known member of the family is Viscount Guethenoc, who built the first fortress in Josselin. The title of Viscount de Rohan appeared with Alain I (d. 1128). The family of Rohan became united by marriage with the Ducal house of Brittany several times, for the last time in 1407, when Viscount Alain IX (d. 1461) married Marguerite (d. 1428), daughter of Duke Jean IV. The Viscount of Rohan was then the second most important lord in Brittany, second to the Duke.

Viscount Henri II (1579-1638) was made Duke of Rohan and Peer of France in 1603. He married in 1605 Marguerite (1595-1660), daughter of Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully (1559-1641), King Henri IV's wise Minister.
The next Duchess of Rohan was Henri II's elder surviving daughter, Marguerite (1616-1684); in 1645, she married Henri Chabot (1616-1655), lord of Sainte-Aulaye in Poitou, and they founded the family of Rohan-Chabot, which still owns the castle of Josselin and the Duchy-Peerage of Rohan (1648). The current head of the house of Rohan-Chabot is Josselin de Rohan (b. 1938), Mayor of Josselin (1965-2001), President of the Regional Council of Bretagne (1998-2004) and Senator (1983-2011).
The younger branch of the family of Rohan, already Dukes of Montbazon and Peers of France, became the elder branch. The head of the family was also Prince of Guéméné, whereas the younger members were Princes of Soubise. Louis XIV (1694) and Louis XV (1757) recognized the head of the family as the Prince of Rohan, "a foreign Prince living in France".
Short before the French Revolution, the elder branch of Montbazon-Guéméné was involved in a bankrupt that ruined several people (1782), while the infamous Cardinal de Rohan, Cardinal-Bishop of Strasbourg, was involved in the affair of the Queen's Necklace (1787). Emmanuel de Rohan, from the smaller branch of Poulduc, was Grand Master of the Order of Malta from 1773 to 1797. The Montbazon-Guéméné branch emigrated to Austria and settled in Bohemia, where it extincted in 1846. The younger branch of Rochefort succeeded them; the family lost all its possessions in Bohemia but has kept the Austrian citizenship. The nobility titles of the head of the house is Prince de Rohan (France), Prince de Rohan, Guéméné et Rochefort (Austria until 1919), Duke de Montbazon and Pair de France, Prince de Guéméné (France), and Duke de Bouillon.


[Banner of arms of Josselin]

Flag hoisted over the castle of Josselin - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 6 November 2004

The arms of Josselin in the Armorial Général show a shield of the arms of the Rohan-Chabot family, "Quarterly, 1. and 4. Gules nine mascles or, 2. and 3. Or three bullheads gules".
According to Hervé Prat, a banner of these arms is hoisted over the castle of Josselin, where the current head of the house of Rohan-Chabot lives.

"Gules nine mascles or" are the arms of the family of Rohan.
In cristallography, a macle (cognate to German Masch, "a mesh") is a complex crystal made by the reunion (by interpenetration of juxtaposition) of several crystals of the same kind but with different geometrical orientations; in heraldry, a mascle is a lozenge voided by a smaller lozenge in the middle. Philippe Rault writes in Les drapeaux bretons [rau98] that macled crystals are common in the Breton forest of Quenecan, which belonged to the family of Rohan until the Revolution, and might have been the origin of the coat of arms of the family.
The mascles of Rohan are found in several Breton coat of arms, for instance the municipal arms of Landivisiau, Crozon and Loudéac.

"Or three bullheads gules" are the canting arms of the family of Chabot.
A chabot (bullhead) is a fish (Cottus gobio L.) from family Cottidae, Order Scopaneiformes and Class Osteychyanes. The bullhead is a small (10-15 cm) fish living in freshwater (rivers and lakes rich in oxygen), often in association with truits. It is common all over Europe, except in the northernmost and southernmost areas. The name of chabot remotly comes from Latin caput, "a head", alluding to the big head of the fish, as does its English name.

Ivan Sache, 6 November 2004