Last modified: 2018-06-23 by ivan sache
Keywords: ferte-sous-jouarre (la) |
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Flag of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 6 November 2005
The municipality of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre (8,586 inhabitants, 1,006 ha; municipal website) is
located on the border of Brie and Champagne, 17 km east of Meaux, on the confluency of Petit Morin with Marne.
According to Le Grand Robert de la Langue Française, the word ferté appeared in the 12th century to designate a fortress or a fortified place. It was a popular derivation from fermeté, itself derived from Latin words firmitas and firmus, "firm". No longer used in modern French, ferté has survived in toponyms, often associated to the name of the founder of the fortress (La Ferté-Alais, La Ferté-Beauharnais, La Ferté-Bernard, La Ferté-Chevresis, La Ferté-Frênel, La Ferté-Gaucher, La Ferté-Hauterive, La Ferté-Imbault, La Ferté-Loupière, La Ferté-Macé, La Ferté-Milon, La Ferté-Saint-Aubin, La Ferté-Saint-Cyr, La Ferté-Saint-Samson, La Ferté-Vidame, La Ferté-Villeneuil).
La Ferté-sous-Jouarre was originally known as Firmitas Anculfi, after the Frankish warlord Anculf, who built a fortress on an island in river Marne. The name of the place evolved to Ferté-Ausculphe, La Ferté-Ancoul and Ferté-Aucol. During the French Revolution, the name of the founder was dropped and the town was known either as La Ferté-sur-Marne or La Ferté-sur-Morin. In 1797, the Municipal Council presided by Mayor Régnard de l'Isle renamed the town to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, lit. "beneath[the town of] Jouarre".
La Ferté was an important domain in the Middle Ages, which successively
belonged to the famous feudal lineages of Orcy, Coucy, Guînes and
Béthune. In the 15th century, Marie de Luxembourg, Dame of La Ferté, married François de Bourbon, Count of Vendôme; their son Charles of Bourbon (1489-1537), Duke of Vendôme, inherited the domain of La Ferté. He married Françoise of Alençon and they got 13 children, including:
- Antoine of Bourbon (1518-1569), who married Jeanne of Albret and was father of King of France Henri IV, grand father of Louis XIII and grand grand father of Louis XIV;
- Charles of Bourbon (1523-1590), born in La Ferté, appointed Bishop of Nevers (1540), then of Saintes (1544) and eventually Cardinal (1548) and Archbishop of Rouen (1550). The ultra-catholic family of Guise signed with Philip II of Spain the Treaty of Joinville (1584), by which Charles was recognized as the Crown Prince of France. The Holy League crowned him as Charles X in 1589. King Henry III ordered his arrest after the assassination of Duke Henry of Guise in Blois and jailed him in Fontenay-le-Comte, where he died.
- Louis of Bourbon, first Prince of Condé (1530-1569) and lord of La Ferté after the death of his father Charles, the root of the princely house of Condé. Louis converted to Calvinism and organized the conspiracy of Amboise in 1560 in order to liberate young King Francis II from the influence of the Guise party. The conspiracy was severely repressed but King Charles IX, succeeding Francis II, pardoned Louis. During the Religious Wars, La Ferté was an important center of the Reformation; a provincial synode took place there in 1563. The allied Royalists and Holy League took, sacked and burned the town.
In the beginning of the 17th century, the governor of La Ferté, Marshal de La Force, was a Protestant; Protestantism, tolerated by the Edict of Nantes, flourished in the town. After the suppression of the Edict, most Protestant families left La Ferté. In the meantime, La Ferté was often visited by Louis XIII and Richelieu when they stayed in the neighboring castle of Montceaux.
In the 18th century, Saint-Simon (1675-1755) partially wrote his famous Mémoires in the castle of La Ferté. The castle was transfered to the Dukes of La Rochefoucauld, who kept it until the French Revolution.
On 24 June 1791, Mayor Régnard de l'Isle welcomed Louis XVI and the Royal family, back from Varennes where they had been arrested during their failed attempt to escape to Germany.
La Ferté has been famous at least since the 15th century for its
millstones. The local gritstone, a very resistant silicious limestone, is
called meulière or pierre meulière, lit. "stone used to make
millstones". A quarry where that stone is extracted is also called a
meulière. A millstone is a meule, from Latin mola, which gave
also moulin, "a mill", and meunier, "a miller". The pierre meulière is common all over Île-de-France and widely used to build houses. It can be easily recognized by its yellowish colour, its rough surface and
its marine fossiles (scraps of shells, urchins...)
The millstones from La Ferté were considered in the 19th century as the best in the world and the town exerted a quasi-monopole on the mill production in France. Unfortunately, the remains of that industry in the modern town are very sparse.
The quarries were small and exploitation changed very often. An exploitation was started, the good stones were removed and after that the site was abandoned for a better spot. During the peak period several hunderds of quarries were scattered over the hills surrounding La Ferté.
Water was a permanent sore and quarries closed down were soon flooded. Trees had ample time to grow since the shutdown of the business. Early mill stones from La Ferté were monolithes. It's only because of new developments in milling technology (the advent of cilinders), difficulties in finding stones big enough and higher requirements in meal quality that the companies were pressed to manufacture composite stones and change the ridge pattern. But the industry remained very conservative and they missed many chances to improve the health conditions, production methods and the profitability of their business. Only a couple of companies lived well into the XXth century. One of them was the Grande Société Meulière Dupéty Orsel et Cie, established years earlier, but working under this name only after 1911. A millstone with Dupéty's logo rests in the mill of Alquézar. Although a rapid decline set in after the Great War of 1914 two companies managed to survive into the 1950s.
Several companies ran excavations on places sometimes wide apart (for instance, in La Ferté and Épernon near Chartres), but always marked the stones La Ferté regardless of the true origin.
The number one attraction in La Ferté is le port aux meules. It is the quay from where the barges were loaded with mill stones. It is built from large monolithes. Later, when the train reached La Ferté, the quay became less important and businesses concentrated near the new railway station at the other side of the river. Nearby you'll find what remains of the old Dupéty buildings. Originally the arcades were open. The workers did their job in the open. There was only a break when the weather went Siberia, but then there was no pay.
[Mills in Alto Aragón]
Due to the bridge on Marne, La Ferté-sous-Jouarre was a strategic place
during the First World War. Located close to the south bank of the Marne, the Memorial to the Missing lists 3,888 men of the BEF who were missing in action during the retreat from Mons and subsequent actions up to the Aisne.
Many thousands of retreating German troops crossed the Marne at La Ferté between 7th and 9th September 1914, and they left a strongly defended bridgehead. The bridge was destroyed to stem the advance of the BEF. A new one was built on the same spot, after the war.
Next to the modern road bridge are two identical memorials, one on each bank of the river. They remind us of the feats of the Royal Engineers of 4th Division who constructed a floating bridge here on 9th September, whilst under fire.
On 14 August 1921, the town of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre was awarded the War Cross, with the following citation: "La Ferté was occupied from the very beginning of the war and its population was severely manhandled by the Germans. La Ferté was submitted in 1914 and 1918 to violent shellings that destroyed several houses. In spite of its bereavements, La Ferté gave a good example of sangfroid and endurance.
The town was less damaged during the Second World War and became a very active center of the anti-German Resistance. It was liberated on 27 August 1944 by the American troops supported by the local members of the Resistance.
La Ferté-sous-Jouarre is the "main character" of the theater play La Cagnotte, published by Eugène Labiche (1815-1888) in 1864. La Cagnotte" full text) is one of the 173 plays written by Labiche, one of the masters of vaudeville and, however, a very subtle and crual observer of the habits of the middle-class (his own social class) during the Second Empire. La Cagnotte (The Kitty) describes the adventures of a group of middle-class inhabitants from La Ferté-sous-Jouarre who decide to go to Paris and use the kitty accumulated during their bouillotte (a kind of poker) plays. The play is a burlesque description of the opposition between Paris and the countryside; the citizens from La Ferté-sous-Jouarre have the stereotypical naive and rustic behaviour of countrymen, whereas the people they meet in Paris have the stereotypical greedy and arrogant behaviour of urbanites. The funny aspect of the play is strengthened by the addition of silly songs with stupid rhymes (not that far from Monty Python's "Lumberjack's Song"), most often ending with à La Ferté-sous-Jouarre. This is of course very light theater, but there is a fairly serious background describing changing times: the countrymen hurry to take the train (qui n'est jamais en retard - that is never late - à La Ferté-sous-Jouarre) that allows them to go easily to Paris; the captain of the firebrigade sings a wonderful song to the glory of his brand new automatized fire engine; there is a funny mention of the then very innovative research done on crop fertilization at the Grignon School of Agriculture (here again close to Monty Python's spam skit: a big fat farmer from La Ferté unexpectedly meets his son in Paris when he is supposed to study at Grignon and asks him about what he has learnt there about a wide array of crops, and the son does not stop answering Faut de l'engrais! - "Ya need fertilizer!".
Ivan Sache, 6 November 2005
The flag of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre (photo, Le Drapeau Français flagmaker's catalogue, 1999) is light blue with the greater municipal arms in the middle, "azure semy de lis a lion passant or".
Pascal Vagnat , 6 November 2005