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Rambouillet (Municipality, Yvelines, France)

Last modified: 2019-01-07 by ivan sache
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Flag of Rambouillet, two versions - Images by Arnaud Leroy, 10 April 2004, and Ivan Sache, 13 March 2006, respectively

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Presentation of Rambouillet

The municipality of Rambouillet (26,065 inhabitants - Rambolitains - in 2009, 3,519 ha; municipal website) developed around a castle built on the limit between the Rambouillet Forest and the Beauce grain-producing plain of Beauce. The castle of Rambouillet has been an official residence of the President of the Republic since the end of the 19th century.

Rambouillet is first mentioned, as Rumbelitum, on a chart dated 768. Another act, dated 1153, describes the village of Ranbolitum built near a castle. A church was mentioned in 1052-1053. In June 1230, clearings were organized in the old forest of Yveline, which extended all over the south of Paris. Most of the inhabitants of the early parish of Rambouillet lived from the forest, as woodcutters, firewood gatherers or clog-makers. The name of Rambouillet might come from a brook named Rambe, located in the neighbouring village of Groussay. The Rambe was fed by the Rambeuil fountain, and Rambouillet might have meant "the place located near brook Rambe".

In 1368, Jehan Bernier bought a small manor from Girard Tournebou, Provost of Paris. Bernier, appointed souverain informateur des forêts et eaux du royaume by King Charles V, built the first modern castle of Rambouillet in 1375. In 1384, Regnault d'Angennes swapped his domain for Rambouillet with Bernier. The Angennes family used to invite members of the Royal court to stay in the castle. On 31 March 1547, King Francis I passed away in the big tower of the castle, nicknamed since then "Francis I's tower". Aged 52, the king, feeling death coming, moved from castle to castle near Paris. On his way back to Saint-Germain, he decided to stay in the castle owned by the captain of his guard, Jacques d'Angennes. Another famous member of the family was Nicolas d'Angennes, appointed Vice Roy of Poland and responsible of Henri III's crowning in Cracow.

The Marquisate of Rambouillet was granted in 1612 to Julie d'Angennes, daughter of Charles d'Angennes and Catherine de Vivonne (1588-1665), and the main attraction of her mother's salon, held in the Hôtel de Rambouillet in Paris. The Rambouillet salon exerted a great influence on French language and literature. The most important writers of the time, for instance Malherbe, Racan, Scudéry, Bussy-Rabutin, Madame de Lafayette, Madame de Sévigné, Vaugelas and Tallemant des Réaux, were regular members of the salon. Corneille read there his play Polyeucte for the first time. The born organizer of the salon was the poet Voiture, who, aged 50, fought a duel because of Julie's eyes. Molière mocked at the précieuses and their weird way of speaking and behaving in his play Les précieuses ridicules. For instance, Catherine's "salon name" was Arthenice, an anagram of her first name. However, the Rambouillet salon was the only one where women had such an important role. After Voiture's death and Julie's marriage, the Rambouillet salon was suppressed and replaced by salons ruled by Madame de Sablé and Mademoiselle de Scudéry, where the précieuses were really ridicules.
On 13 July 1645, Julie d'Angennes married Charles de Sainte-Maure, Duke de Montausier. Between 1650 and 1660, the castle of Rambouillet was completely revamped by the architect François Le Vau. At the same time, the town walls, which had been probably built during the Wars of Religion, were demolished. Montausier asked the river clearers Jean Roger and Jacques Chavanne to build a canal and to transform the marshes into ornemental ponds, following the principles of Jacques Boyceau de la Barauderie. Jean-Baptiste de la Quintinie, Louis XIV's gardener, worked also for Montausier.
Montausier died in 1690; running out of money, his heirs sold the domain to Jean-Baptiste Fleuriau, appointed directeur des finances by the king in 1701. Fleuriau refurnished the castle and restructured the park. In 1705, Fleuriau sold - or was forced to do so - his domain to Louis XIV, who reallocated it to the Count de Toulouse, the legitimized sun he had had with Madame de Montespan. The Marquisate was transformed into a Duchy-Peerage in 1711. The castle was once again refurbished by the architects Lassurance in 1706-1709 and Legoux in 1730-1736. Wood trim marked with the monogram of Marie-Victoire-Sophie de Noailles, Countess de Toulouse, have remained famous. On 14 March 1731, the Countess founded in Rambouillet a poor's hospital, ruled by the brotherhood of the Daughters of Charity, set up by St. Vincent de Paul in 1634.

In 1737, the Duke de Penthièvre inherited the castle from his mother. The new chapel of the castle was consecrated on 6 September 1770. In 1779-1780, the English park was decorated with follies, such as the Hermitage and the Shells' Pavilion, for the pleasure of Penthièvre's daughter-in-law, the Princess de Lamballe. King Louis XVI bought the castle on 29 December 1783, in spite of Penthièvre's opposition. In 1785, he asked the painter and architect Hubert Robert to increase the picturesque character of the park; a dairy was built for Marie-Antoinette. The village of Rambouillet was restructured, with the building of a new church, a government hotel and a new bailiwick, also used to keep grain, erected in the centre of the village by the architect Jacques-Jean Thévenin. The work ordered by Louis XVI required 900 men; some of them settled definitively in Rambouillet.

After the Revolution, the castle, owned by the Bonaparte family, became one of Napoléon's personal residences. The architect Trepsat revamped the castle, which had been used as a grain warehouse during the French Revolution. Trepsat suppressed the eastern wing of the castle. A project of increase by Auguste Famin, requiring the suppression of Francis I's tower, was, fortunately, never completed. Famin rebuilt the government hotel in Florentine style. After the birth of Napoléon's son in 1809, the new hotel was renamed King of Rome's Pavilion. In 1814, Empress Marie-Louise met in Rambouillet his father Francis II of Austria and accepted to follow him in Vienna with the King of Rome. On 29 June 1815, Napolé, overthrown, spent the night in Rambouillet before leaving for St. Helena.

As related by Châteaubriand in the Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe, King Charles X arrived in Rambouillet 1830 after having fled Saint-Cloud in insurrection. The king abdicated in the castle on 2 August 1830 and fled to England. In 1832, the castle was removed from the civil list and successively rented to Baron Schikler, Count Duchâtel, and eventually Dufour, who transformed it into a restaurant.
The railway linking Rambouillet to Paris was inaugurated by President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1849. The castle was reincorporated to the State domains by an Imperial Decree signed in 1870.

The early presidents of the Third Republic Mac Mahon, Grévy, Casimir-Périer and Sadi Carnot enjoyed hunting in the Rambouillet forest but did not stay in the castle. In 1896, President Félix Faure established the castle of Rammbouillet as his summer residence. A presidential lounge was set up in the railway station and the Ministers often came to Rambouillet by train for the Council of Ministers. Among his successors, presidents Loubet, Fallières, Poincaré, Doumergue, Lebrun and Coty stayed in the castle. On 12 November 1955, the popular Mrs. Coty passed away in the castle.
On 23 August 1944, General de Gaulle met Leclerc in the castle of Rambouillet to prepare the final march against Paris. The castle was later used as a place for international meetings. De Gaulle welcomed there Krushtshev in 1960, Pompidou received Brezhnev in 1973. In 1975, Giscard d'Estaing invited Gerald Ford, Harold Wilson, Aldo Moro, Takeo Miki, Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Helmut Schmidt in Rambouillet for the first G7 summit. On 29 October 1990, Mitterrand and Gorbatschow signed a treaty of alliance and cooperation. In February 1999, the Rambouillet meeting failed to find a negociated solution to the Kosovo conflict.

Louis XVI was mostly interested in hunting but he was also an "agromaniac"; he set up an experimental farm (grande ferme) in 1785 in Rambouillet. In 1786, upon request by the naturalist Daubenton, Louis XVI purchased a herd of Spanish merinos sheep (318 ewes and 41 rams) from his cousin Charles III. Louis XVI also imported Swiss cows, African sheep, angora goats and mouflons. Bonaparte imported Italian buffalos and Belgian, Normand and Arab horses. The first Imperial sheepfarm (Bergerie impériale) was built in 1804. The farm became Royal (1815-1848) and again Imperial (1853-1870), and a second Imperial sheepfarm was built under the Second Empire. In 1840, the Île-de-France sheep breed was created by breeding Merinos and Dishley stocks. A vocational school for shepherds, open in 1794, was transformed into the National College for Sheep Breeding (website) in 1939. Another three colleges founded after the Second World War were merged into the Centre d'Enseignement Zootechnique in 1955.
Rambouillet was the main center of improvement of the merinos sheep. From 1850 to 1930, the Rambouillet Merinos was used as stock for sheep breeding in Australia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. The last pure-bred merinos herd in the world (120 ewes and 25 rams, about the 70th generation) is kept in Rambouillet.

Ivan Sache, 12 September 2004

Flag of Rambouillet

The flag of Rambouillet, as communicated by the Tourist's Bureau, is white with the municipal greater coat of arms, "Per pale, 1. Sable a demi-saltire argent, 2. Per fess, 1. Or a stag proper, 2. Gules a sheep proper, 3. Argent a tree vert, Inescutcheon Azure a bendlet sinister couped gules surrounded by three fleurs-de-lis or".

The first quarter of the shield recalls the arms of d'Angennes, lords of Rambouillet from 1384 to 1690, "Sable a saltire argent". The escutcheon is the coat of arms of the Count de Toulouse, the legitimized son of King Louis XIV, who was granted the castle of Rambouillet in 1705. The lamb recalls the Bergerie nationale and its famous Merinos herd. The tree and the deer recall the Rambouillet forest, a former royal hunting domain.
The shield is surrounded by two branches and surmounted by a mural crown and a scroll bearing the Latin motto of the town, "Semper erecta" ("Always high").

Arnaud Leroy & Ivan Sache, 12 September 2004

In sports events (for instance, the 20th Rambouillet semi-marathon ran on 12 March 2006), Rambouillet uses a vertically divided green-white flag, showing the colours of the town (probably, green for the forest and white for the castle).

Ivan Sache, 13 March 2006