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Uzès (Municipality, Gard, France)

Last modified: 2010-12-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: gard | uzes |
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[Flag of Uzes]

Municipal flag of Uzès - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 1 September 2005

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Presentation of Uzès

The municipality of Uzès (7,935 inhabitants in 2006; 2,541 ha) is located in Languedoc, 25 km north of Nîmes and 25 km west of Avignon.

The first settlements in Uzès were located near the river Alzon, especially around the source of Eure. The Romans built on the top of the hill dominating the Alzon a fortified camp (oppidum) known in the 5th century as Ucetia. In year 50, the Romans decided to harness the water from the source of Eure to provide the big town of Nemausus (today Nîmes) with water. This required the building of a 50 km-long aqueduct, whose main component is the famous Pont du Gard stretching across the river Gardon. Less spectacular remains of the aqueduct can also be seen in Uzès near the source of Eure.

The lords of Uzès were mentioned for the first time in a chart dated 1088 (Elzéart of Uzès). In 1229, Languedoc was incorporated to the Kingdom of France; the lords of Uzès became Viscounts (Robert I of Uzès, 1318), and eventually Dukes (1565) and Pairs of France (1572). In 1632, Duke of Montmorency, then First Duke of France (Premier Duc de France), was beheaded after having revolted against the king. By seniority, the title of First Duke of France was transfered to the Duke of Uzès. The First Duke of France has precedence over all the nobles but the royal princes, was the First Knight of the Queen Mother, bore the "honours" (scepter and crown) during the coronation ceremonies and was the only prince entitled to say the ritual motto Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi (The King is dead, long live the king), which was the expression of the durability of the royal power. The First Duke of France also had to assist the king at war: twenty-one Dukes of Uzès were killed or injured on battle fields.

The senior branch of Uzès ended on 24 June 1486 with the marriage of Simone ofUzès, the last descendant of the Viscounts of Uzès, with Jacques, Baron of Crussol. He was the son Louis of Crussol, Grand Pannetier de France (the noble who served bread to the king) and Louis XI's confidant and Knight of St. Michael's Order. Crussol is a village located in Vivarais, on the right bank of the river Rhône. Jacques of Crussol and his son Charles were close friends of Knight Bayard (1476-1524), and took part to the Italian wars with him.
Antoine, first Duke of Uzès in 1565, attempted to reestablish the peace between the Catholic and Protestant parties, which both recognized him as their leader. His wife Louise of Clermont was the confidant of Queen Mary of Médicis and the housekeeper of King Charles IX, who called her ma vieille lanterne (my old lantern). Antoine was succeeded by his brother Jacques, a Protestant leader known as Baron of Assier; Jacques converted to Catholicism and was made one of the first Knights of the Order of Holy Spirit in 1578.

From the 17th century onwards, the duties of the Dukes of Uzès as First Dukes of France forced them to stay in the royal court rather than in Uzès. Under Louis XV, Charles-Emmanuel of Crussol, 8th Duke of Uzès, offered to Count Ratzau, Queen Maria Leszczynska's cousin, a pepper drop during a night at the opera. The Count spitted the drop into the Duke's face, and a duel, although officially forbidden, was inescapable. The Duke killed the Count and was exiled to Uzès, where he embelished his domain and exchanged several letters with Voltaire.
After the French Revolution, the Duke of Uzès emigrated and all his goods were confiscated; back to his home town, he died in Uzès in 1802.
Under the Restauration, good (but not too smart) King Louis XVIII asked the Duke of Uzès why there was no Marshal of France in the family. The Duke answered: Sire, nous mourrons avant (Majesty, we die beforehand.)

In the 19th century, the Duchesse of Uzès, née Marie Adrienne Anne de Rochechouart de Mortemart, was quite a character. She was found of hunting with hounds; a sincere Monarchist, she was also a friend of the anarchist and Communard Louise Michel. She sponsored the ultra-nationalist General Boulanger and campaigned for the rights of women. A widow in 1878, aged 31, after the death of her husband during a hunting party, she then appeared in public always dressed in black. The Duchesse of Uzès was in 1896 the first woman to be granted a driving licence; the same year, she was arrested by the police (on foot) in the Bois de Boulogne for exceeding the speed limit, then 15 km/h and sentenced by the police court to a fee of 1 franc. She was also the single heir of Mrs. Cliquot, better known as Veuve (Widow) Cliquot for her champagne.
The present owner of the title is Jacques de Crussol d'Uzès (b. 1957), 17th Duke of Uzès, married with Alessandra Passerin d'Entrèves e Courmayeur. Their son Charles de Crussol d'Uzès (b. 1997) bears the title of Duke of Crussol.

The family of Uzès still owns its castle, called the Duché, located in the middle of the old center of Uzès. After the French Revolution and the emigration of the family, the castle was purchased by local families that protected him. The Uzès bought it back after the Restauration. In the beginning of the 20th century, the family was ruined and let out the castle, which was used as a school. In 1951, the Marchioness of Crussol, née Marie-Louise Béziers (1904-1991) and the daughter-in-law of the 14th Duke of Uzès, took back the castle and started its restauration. In 1964, the marchioness convinced her friend André Malraux, Minister of Culture, to register the old center of the town of Uzès as a protected area. The restoration is still in process under the guidance of the Marchioness' grand son, the 17th Duke of Uzès.

Uzès is also known as the Bishops' Town, since it was the seat of a bishopric from the 5th century to the French Revolution. Very powerful, the bishops were allowed to mint coins and to exercize justice. In the 13th century, they purchased a part of the feudal domain of Uzès. The struggle between the lords and the bishops of Uzès was the cause of several conflicts and trials. In the 18th century, the Bishopric of Uzès, one of the biggest in Languedoc, ruled 193 parishes.
The fourth bishop of Uzès, St. Firmin, is venerated against the black plague, especially his relics kept in the St. Théodorit cathedral. Guillaume de Grimoard du Roure, Pope as Urban V (1310-1370, Pope in 1362), was initially an assistant of the bishop of Uzès.

In the middle of the 16th century, Uzès was the fifth biggest Protestant town in France. During the Religious Wars, all the churches and temples in the town were destroyed. After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, several inhabitants left the town for Northern Europe. The "newly converted", who had abjured the Protestant religion, were not allowed to be be civil servants and became wealthy merchants.
In the 15th century, Uzès started to produce cloth, especially wool serge. Later, silk production employed up to 2,000 workers until the suppression of this industry because of a silkworm disease at the end of the 19th century. Industry then declined in the town in spite of the opening of pottery workhsops and confectionery factories. The main industrial production of Uzès was liquorice (réglisse) candies, sticks and rolls, especially those made by the famous Zan company, known today as Haribo Ricqlès Zan. The Zan Museum opened in 1996.

Two famous French writers spent a significant part of they life in Uzès, Jean Racine and André Gide.
After having studied with the severe Jansenists at Port-Royal and Harcourt, the tragedian Jean Racine (1639-1699) became emancipated and showed interest for theater. His family did not agree and sent him, aged 22, to Uzès, where his uncle was vicar-general. The uncle promised him an office in the church (bénéfice) as soon as he takes the coat. Racine spent one year in Uzès and sent to his friends very vivid letters (Lettres d'Uzès), in which he spoke of everything but theology. He lost the expected office after a tortuous lawsuit and came back to Paris. This lawsuit is said to be the main source of his comedy Les Plaideurs (The Litigants).
The jurist Paul Gide (1832-1880) and his brother Charles Gide (1847-1932), economist and theorician of the cooperative movement, belonged to an old Protestant family from Uzès. Paul's son, the writer André Gide (1869-1951), was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947. In his youth, he spent vacation with his grand-mother in Uzès, an experience related in his autobiography Si le grain ne meurt.


Ivan Sache, 1 September 2005

Municipal flag of Uzès

The municipal flag of Uzès is diagonally divided in seven red-yellow diagonal stripes.
It is hoisted over the castle of Uzèss and could be seen, for instance, during the TV report of the Miramas-Montpellier stage of the Tour de France on 15 July 2005. The number of stripes was confirmed by the municipal administration.

The flag is a banner of the oldest known coat of arms of the family d'Uzès, "Gules three bends or". With the successive marriages, the coat of arms of the family increased in complexity due to partitions, first with the coat arms of Crussol, "Barry six pieces or and vert". On the current coat of arms of the Uzès family, the original arms of the family are placed in four copies along the main diagonal and also used as the escutcheon.

Ivan Sache & Arnaud Leroy, 1 September 2005