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Niort (Municipality, Deux-Sèvres, France)

Last modified: 2023-11-11 by olivier touzeau
Keywords: deux-sevres | niort | tower (white) | fleur-de-lis (yellow) |
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Flag of Niort - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 24 January 2022

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Presentation of Niort

Niort (58,966 inhabitants in 2020; 6,820 ha) is a commune and the préfecture of the Deux-Sèvres department.

Before the 1st century, Niort was probably only a village located in the loop of the river Sèvre. Archaeological excavations carried out during the years 1970-1980 show an important commercial activity for the time. These same works date a progressive abandonment of the habitat towards the end of the 1st century.
During the Carolingian period, it seems that for security reasons, human occupation tightened around a place of worship on the hills of Notre-Dame and Saint-André. These hills indeed offer the possibility of increased surveillance of the river Sèvre and its port. The river was a significant natural transport and trade route at that time. But it was also an open door to invasions, as evidenced by the conquering arrival of the Normans in 940...

In the Middle Ages, the city depended on the Count of Poitiers. She passed with the dowry of Eleanor of Aquitaine first under the authority of the King of France, then with her remarriage, in the domains of the Duke of Anjou, who was also King of England (Plantagenêt). In 1203, Eleanor granted to Niort a franchise charter. Her royal husband, Henry II and then his son Richard I, fortified the citadel with a castle and an enclosure that was 2,800 meters long. Only the imposing double keep and some traces of foundations remain today.
In 1224 the Constable Matthew II of Montmorency brought the town back into the French fold on behalf of Louis VIII. Niort resisted an attack by the Earl of Derby in September 1346. However, it returned to the English when the Treaty of Brétigny was signed in 1360. The city became a “free port” in 1285, allowing its economic and commercial development to continue. Bertrand du Guesclin retook Niort from the hands of the English on March 23, 1372. For this he used a stratagem, dressing two hundred of his bravest soldiers in English uniforms. At their sight, the enemy sentries lowered the drawbridge. The French entered the city and disarmed the English. Thus Niort returned to the kingdom of France. During the uprising against the reforms of Charles VII in 1440, the dauphin, future Louis XI, made Niort his headquarters and granted the city many privileges.
In the 14th century the drapers, the tanners made the reputation of Niort. The end of the Middle Ages sawthe digging of the port which would ensure the commercial development of the city by linking it to the Atlantic Ocean. Dug by order of Jean de Berry, Count of Poitou, the port sent salt, fish, wheat, wool, sheets and skins to Flanders and Spain. In November 1461, King Louis XI confirmed the privileges of the town of Niort. In 1557, the city became Protestant, but it was taken over by the Catholics in 1569. One of the bloody episodes of Niort during the Wars of Religion, took place on the night of December 27 to 28, 1588, during which clashes between Catholics and Protestants occurred with murders, looting and burning. In 1627, Niort became Catholic again but remained an active center of Protestantism. The dragonnades (persecutions directed against Protestant communities) affected the city from 1668. They lasted until 1685 and forced many Protestants to flee, particularly to Canada. However, the port of Niort continued to welcome the trade in skins and furs from Canada where many people from this region of France have settled. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) and then the loss of Canada lead to the fall of this industry, beause it had been globally in the hands of Protestants.

In 1807, Napoleon issued a decree for the development of the river Sèvre Niortaise in order to consolidate its role as a waterway. This decree is the first act that led to the total drying up of the Poitevin marsh. He will have ensured the prosperity of the city during his reign by making its chamois leather industries work, in particular by having the skin breeches used by the cavalry made there. This leather and glove-making industry continued to decline steadily until it died out at the end of the 20th century.

In the second half of the 20th century, the City became one of the strongholds of the French social economy, and in particular considered since the 1970s as “the capital of mutual insurance companies”. The city is home to the headquarters of many mutuals, or companies linked to this economic sector. From 1964 to 1972, four communes merged with Niort: Souché on June 21, 1964; Sainte-Pezenne on April 16, 1965; Saint-Florent on January 1, 1969; Saint-Liguaire, January 1, 1972.

Olivier Touzeau, 24 January 2022

Flag of Niort

The flag of Niort (photo, 2011; photo, 2018; photo, 2020) is white with the full coat of arms:

The coat of arms of Niort is blazoned: Azure Semé-de-lis Or, debruised by a tower Argent supporting another tower of the same, masonned and open Sable, on a river Argent issuant from the base.

About the origin of the Semé-de-lis historians give different opinions. It could come from the arms of John, duke of Berry, Count of Poitiers, brother of King Charles V, which were party per pale with this semé-de-lis. Later in 1372, the burghers of Niort who helped du Guesclin to chase the foreigner from its walls, would have received this royal concession and have had this coat of arms carved on the belfry of the town hall in 1393. The tower is reminiscent of the two square towers of the castle which Henry II of Plantagenet, King of England, had rebuilt in 1158. The verticality and the height of the tower distinguish the city from the surrounding countryside and are the object of pride of the inhabitants.
The waves evoke the river Sèvre Niortaise.
Above the shield, a helmet of knighthood reminds that the mayor of Niort and the aldermen received hereditary nobility. The two supporters, savages, would be in memory of the interest that the Duke of Berry took in them, and he frequently used this disguise in the masquerade balls, which were famous at the beginning of the Middle Ages. At the time of the discovery of Canada, these savages were replaced by Iroquois Indians, but the municipalities later gave up this evocation which they considered uncourteous for the Canadians and took back the two savages as supporters.

An orange flag can be seen near the municipal flag since about 2016 (photo). No clue yet about its details and signification.

Olivier Touzeau, 24 January 2022

Variant flags of Niort

[Flag]       [Flag]        [Flag]

Flags of Niort - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 24 January 2022

(1) Sometimes a white flag with the shield only can be spotted, especially near the dungeon: photo (1999), photo (2001), photo (2015).

(2) A white flag with logo could be seen in sport events in the years 2000, according to reports made by Thierry Gilabert (source: SVO website). NB: the city has modified the logo which now exists only in monochrome versions on a white disk.

(3) A banner of arms has also been seen in front of the regional seat of Crédit Agricole, according to Thierry Gilabert, and as reported on Pascal Vagnat's website, but this flag has no official use (source).

Olivier Touzeau, 24 January 2022

Flag on the dungeon of Niort


Flag on the dungeon of Niort - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 24 January 2022

On the dungeon, a flag with horizontal stripes can be seen: photo (from this page), 2012; photo, 2021; photo, undated; photo, undated.

This flag was described as a dovetail, but it seems to be a rectangular flag, some versions of which were sometimes a little too tattered. According to Pascal Vagnat (source), it is W-B-V-Y-V-B-W (7-7-1-7-1-7-7) and the colors would come from a version of the coat of arms where the argent river appears in vert.

Olivier Touzeau, 24 January 2022

Flag of Niort observed abroad


Flag of Niort - Image by Eduardo Panizo Gomez, 26 September 1999

This flag flies at the Gijón Beach. Gijón (Asturias, Spain) is a twin town of Niort.

Eduardo Panizo Gomez, 26 September 1999