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La Fère (Municipality, Aisne, France)

Last modified: 2021-02-13 by ivan sache
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Flag of La Fère - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 4 July 2020


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Presentation of La Fère

The municipality of La Fère (2,847 inhabitants in 2018; 673 ha) is located 10 km east of Tergnier.

La Fère was the winter camp and the death place of Odo I, Count of Paris and Marquess of Neustria, then king of the Franks from 888 to 898. Around the 11th century, La Fère became the stronghold of the lords of Coucy, powerful rivals of the young Capetian monarchy. They build fortifications that would challenge the kings of France for a long time.
The Picardy heritage (Soissons in part, La Fère, Marle ...) of the last heiress of the Coucy family, Marie (1366-1405), passed on to her son Robert de Bar, Count of Marle and Soissons, then to the latter's daughter, Jeanne, wife of Constable Louis of Luxembourg-Saint-Pol. The granddaughter of the latter, Marie de Luxembourg-Saint-Pol, by his second marriage to François de Bourbon, Count of Vendôme, transmitted these fiefdoms to the Bourbons-Vendôme; Antoine de Bourbon, born at the castle de La Fère in 1518, father of Henry IV, and Louis, Prince of Condé, were their grandsons.
During the Seventh War of Religion, La Fère was taken by surprise by the Prince of Condé, son of Louis I, on 29 November 1579. It was re-captured after a tenacious siege by the royal troops of Marshal Matignon from 7 July 1580 to early September 1580. This zpisode is called the Velvet Siege because the Duke of Épernon, thz Duke of Joyeuse and other young lords came there in brilliant crew and supplies abounded. The long siege, where celebrations and festivities alternated with artillery shells, caused the assailants to lose more than 4,000 men and 800 to the besieged. La Fère surrendered on 12 Septmber 1580 to the royal troops.

In 1589, the Huguenot Henry of Navarre / Bourbon-Vendôme (future Henry IV of France) commanded an army in the West of the kingdom. During his reign (1589-1610), Henry IV gradually seized towns fiercely defended by the Spaniards; he besieged La Fère in 1595, the siege lasting almost two years. The king eventually flooded the town by barring the Oise valley between Andelain and Beautor with a line of 1,500 meters, which led the town to capitulate on 16 May 1596. Henry IV then reincorporated La Fère to the royal domain and established a royal bailiwick that extended over the town, the suburbs and 16 neighboring villages.
In 1643, La Fère was given as a dower to Queen Anne of Austria, who sheltered there during the Fronde with her minister Cardinal Mazarin, her two sons and the court. The County of Marle and La Fère was offerred to her nephew by alliance, Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duke of La Meilleraye, husband of Hortense Mancini.

In March 1814, after the battle of Laon, 3,000 Prussians attacked La Fère. In June 1815, a few days after the battle of Waterloo, a new Prussian corps marching on Paris stopped in front of La Fère: the siege set up on 24 June soon reduced the population to starvation. The garrison, however, resisted and the Prussians withdrew.
On 26 November 1870, the town was subjected to bombardments which, for 30 hours, torched the barracks, part of the houses, the Town Hall and the Hôtel-Dieu; it is said that more than three thousand shells fell on the town. Captain Jacques Ferdinand Planche was forced to capitulate on 27 November 1870, La Fère being occupied until 28 October 1871.
During the First World War, La Fère was occupied from 1 September 1914 and served as a stronghold on the Hindenburg line (1916-1918). Many blockhouses were built. The town was liberated on 13 October 1918 by the 1st French army cimmabded by General Debeney. During the Second World War, La Fère was invaded on 19 May 1940 and the barracks served as a temporary camp for prisoners taken by the Germans (Front StaLag 191). On 3 September 1944, the 28th American Infantry Division, which suffered heavy casualties during the fighting, liberated La Fère.

La Fère is self-styled the Cradle of French Artillery.
The arsenal increased by Mazarin housed the artillery academy established on 5 February 1720 by Louis XIV. On 8 April 1736, Louis XV established a second academy, called cinquantaine, to train 50 (cinquante) cadets before their incorporation into the Royal Corps. Damaged by a violent thunderstorm in 1756, the cinquantaine was transferred ten years later to Bapaume.
Of international fame, the artillery academies of La Fère trained noted officers, such as Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (1741-1803), mostly known as the author of the epistolary novel Les liaisons dangereuses (1782); the English General George Augustus Eliott (1717-1790), appointed governor of Gibraltar in 1777 and hero of the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1783); and Abram Petrovich Gannibal (d. 1781, aka the Moor of Saint-Petersburg), an African slave who was adopted by Emperor Peter the Great and became a master military engineer.
The academies were succeeded by the 41st Regiment of Naval Artillery, which left in 1993.

Nothing in La Fère recalls its glorious past but the artilleryman's statue proudly standing on the village's main square since 9 June 1974. Designed by Auguste Arnaud, the statue originally decorates the Alma bridge in Paris, which was inaugurated in 1856 Emperor Napoleon III. Named for the place of a French victory during the Crimean War, the bridge was decorated by another three statues featuring an infantryman, also by Arnaud, a zouave and a grenadier, the two by Georges Diebolt. When the bridge was revamped and increased in 1970, the artilleryman was relocated to La Fère, the infantryman to Vincennes, and the grenadier to Dijon, its designer's birth town, leaving only the zouave. Part of the Paris cultural heritage, the Alma bridge zouave is used as a sentinel for floods of the Seine, which are considered severe when the zouave has "wet feet".
[Picardia, l'encyclopédie picarde]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 19 February 2020


Flag of La Fère

The flag of La Fère (photo) is vertically divided blue and yellow. These are the colors of the municipal arms, "Barry of six vair and or".
The arms are derived from those of the lords of Coucy,"Barry of six vair and gules", gules being substituted by or. The legend says that in 1098, Enguerrand I of Coucy, in a fight against the Moors during the 1st Crusade, cut strips from his blue coat with red lining and attached them to his spear as a banner.
[Syndicat d'initiative de la Fère et environs]

The arms are shown in the Armorial Général.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 19 February 2020