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Jarnac (Municipality, Charente, France)

Last modified: 2024-01-06 by ivan sache
Keywords: charente | jarnac |
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Flag of Jarnac - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 23 September 2006

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Presentation of Jarnac

The municipality of Jarnac (4,817 inhabitants; 1,120 ha; municipal website) is located on river Charente, at mid-distance between Cognac and Angoulême. Several cognac distilleries are located in Jarnac, for instance Delamain (founded in 1759 by James Delamain and his father-in-law Jean Isaac Ranson), Thomas Hine (founded in 1821 by an English from Dorset jailed in Jarnac during the French Revolution), Louis Royer and Courvoisier (founded in the beginning of the 19th century by Emmanuel Courvoisier and Louis Gallois, and said to have been Napoléon I's preferred drink - a legend popularized by Woody Allen in Love and Death [1975], when Boris asks, about Napoléon's plans of invading Russia: "What, did he run out of Courvoisier?").

Jarnac was known in the Roman times as "Agernacus", an important river port on the Charente. Grapevine cultivation was introduced in the region by the Romans. The town developed between the St. Peter's priory, already known in the 8th century, and the castle built in the 15th century (and suppressed after the First Empire). In the 10th century, the lords of Jarnac were related to the Counts of Angoulême. The domain was later taken over by John Lackland and his wife Isabelle Taillefer, the last Countess of Angoulême. When the king died, Isabelle came back to Angoulême and married a member of the powerful family of Lusignan. After the death of Isabelle in 1245, the Lusignan took over Angoulême and Jarnac. The town was surrounded by city walls and became a strategic place during the Hundred Years' War.
In 1410, Marie of Craon, the heir of Jarnac, married Louis of Chabot, from a lineage from Vouvant, Lower Poitou. This was the root of the lineage of the Barons, then Count of Jarnac.

On 10 July 1547, an obscure duel yielded an unexpected conclusion, which became quickly famous as coup de Jarnac. The expression is still used, very often but erroneously, in French for an unexpected, unfair trick used to ruin someone's career, fame, wealth etc.
Short before the death of King of France Francis I and the crowning of Dauphin Henri II, Guy de Chabot (1514-1584, seventh Baron of Jarnac, had an affair of honour, "because" of women, with the Dauphin. Chabot's wife was the sister of the Duchess of Etampes, the former mistress of François I; Diane of Poitiers, mistress of Henri, hated the Duchess and probably engineered the whole affair. Having been insulted, Chabot followed the standard procedure of the time, challenging the Dauphin to a duel. However, challenging the Dauphin was like challenging the King. François I refused the challenge and forbid the duel. When crowned, Henri II decided to get rid of Jarnac and commissionned François Vivonne, lord of la Chastaignerie, to represent him. The duel was presumably very unbalanced, since Vivonne was known as one the best duellists in France. Chabot, in spite of knowing he would lose the duel and the life, hired Captain Caize, an Italian fencing master, as his coach.
The duel took place on the terrace of the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, in the presence of the Court and of a large audience. The rule of the duel was to fight à toute outrance, that is all-out fight until the death of one of the opponents (if not both, as it happened sometimes in such duels). Chabot used the secrete thrust he had prepared with Caize: he hit twice Vivonne on the back of his left knee, causing him to fall down and loosing his blood. Vivonne committed suicide two days later. The King was forced to recognize Chabot's victory and considered Vivonne as a traitor. He eventually forbid any kind of duel.
All attendants were surprized by Chabot's thrust but none of them claimed it was unfair. Until the end of the 18th century, coup de Jarnac meant the ingenious but loyal way of solving a problem. Furetière's dictionary (1727) said it was "an unexpected and lethal strike". In 1771, the Jesuits published their famous Dictionnaire de Trévoux and added to Furetière's definition ce prend toujours de mauvaise part, it always has a bad connotation. The addition was probably another coup de Jarnac since the descendants of Guy of Chabot had converted to the Protestant religion! At the end of the 19th century, Larousse and Littré attempted to revert to the historical meaning, stating that the use of coup de Jarnac for an unfair attack was totally erroneous. Indeed, Chabot's secrete thrust was then unknown in France but quite popular among duellists in Italy, where it was considered as totally fair.
At the end of the 16th century, the region of Jarnac was mostly Protestant. During the third religious war, the Catholic army, coming from Châteauneuf, met the Protestant army in Jarnac on 13 March 1569. The Protestant were defeated and their commander, the Prince of Condé was killed.

The most famous child of Jarnac is François Mitterrand (1916-1996), President of the French Republic from 1981 to 1995. His grandfather Henri Burgaud des Marêts (1806-1873) was a renowned philologist and precursor of regionalism (Fables et contes en patois saintongeois, 1859).

Ivan Sache, 23 September 2006

Flag of Jarnac

The flag of Jarnac, as seen there in August 2006, is yellow with three red fishes placed vertically. It is a banner of the municipal arms, "Or three bullheads gules per pale", which were the arms of the lords of Jarnac; the greater municipal arms are surmounted by a mural crown with three towers.
The European bullhead (Cottus gobio Linnaeus, 1758; Family Cottidae, Order Scopaneiformes, Class Osteychyanes) 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. Its French name, chabot, remotly comes from Latin caput, alluding to the big head of the fish, as does its English name.

The Chabot family originates from Lower Poitou. Some historians have related it, without firm evidence, to Pierre of Chabot, son of Guillaume IV, Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitou (d. 993), which would make of Chabot a Merovingian lineage.
The elder branch of the lineage became the house of Rohan-Chabot, following the marriage of Henri of Chabot with Marguerite of Rohan.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 23 July 2006