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Jeanne Hachette's alleged banner (France)

Last modified: 2021-06-27 by ivan sache
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Jeanne Hachette's alleged banner, two renditions by Willemin (left) and Paris (right), respectively - Images by Ivan Sache, 22 January 2018

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Historical background

The municipality of Beauvais (54,881 inhabitants in 2015, 3,331 ha) is located 70 km north of Paris, 50 km south of Amiens and 70 km east of Rouen.
During his struggle against King of France Louis XI (1423-1483; reigned 1461-1483), Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1433-1477; reigned 1467-1477), assaulted Beauvais on 27 June 1472. In the second assault, a young woman known as Jeanne Laisné repelled a Burgundian assaulter and captured his banner; she was subsequently nicknamed Jeanne Hachette, for hachette, "a small axe", the weapon she had used to hit the assaulter.
Warned by the bishop of Beauvais who could have escaped before the assault, Louis XI sent troops from Paris and Rouen, forcing the Burgundians to lift the siege on 22 July 1472.

Whether Jeanne Hachette was a genuine historical character or a personification of the heroic behavior of the women of Beauvais during the siege is still a matter of discussion among historians.

Ivan Sache, 22 January 2018

The modern Jeanne Hachette festival

In June 1473, Louis XI prescribed the organization of a procession on the day of St. Angadrême, stating that women shall march first, before men and religious orders. The procession, now a people's festival, has been organized every year since then in Beauvais.
In the modern festival, the Assault's Cortege is led by a young woman portraying Jeanne Hachette, holding a big banner said to be a duplicate of the Burgundian banner captured by Jeanne and deposited in the Jacobines' church (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo). Once organized by the church, the municipality or the tourism bureau of the town, the festival is now managed by the Amis des Fêtes Jeanne Hachette"association (website), established in 1978.

Ivan Sache, 22 January 2018

Jeanne Hachette's alleged flag

Willemin's rendition

Jeanne Hachette's banner was illustrated in Monuments français inédits pour servir à l'histoire des arts : depuis le VIe siècle jusqu'au commencement du XVIIe : choix de costumes civils et militaires, d'armes, armures, instruments de musique, meubles de toute espèce et de décorations intérieures et extérieures des maisons / dessinés, gravés et coloriés d'après les originaux par N.-X. Willemin ; classés chronologiquement et accompagnés d'un texte historique et descriptif par André Pottier (1849). The work is a posthumous selection of plates made by Nicolas Xavier Willemin (1763-1833; biography); an engraver, designer and antiquarian, Willemin started his collection of plates in 1806. Mostly interested in showing images, he hardly cared of the descriptive notices that should have been appended to the plates. His friend André Pottier (1799-1867), curator of the library of Rouen, rearranged the plates according to the chronological order and added notices of his own.
Jeanne Hachette's banner, represented on plate No. 148 (image), as "drawn in 1812 after the original kept at the Beauvais Town Hall", is captioned "Banner or standard captured from the Burgundians in 1472 by Jeanne Laisné, aka Fourques, colloquially called Jeanne Hachette".

Ivan Sache, 22 January 2018

Paris' debunking

Paulin Paris (1800-1881), Professor of Medieval French Language and Literature at the College de France from 1853 to 1872, pointed out several inconsistencies in Willemin's rendition and provided evidence that the banner had been mistaken as the flag captured by Jeanne Hachette, proposing a more relevant interpretation (Explication du drapeau dit de Jeanne Hachette, conservé à l'Hôtel de Ville de Beauvais. Revue archéologique, 7, 92-95 [1850]). Paris based his analysis on three sources: a procès-verbal redacted in 1790 by Borel and du Coudray providing a detailed description of the banner, a reduced-size reproduction of the banner on tracing paper, and the original banner.
Probably fooled by the local tradition, Willemin misinterpreted the banner as a Burgundian military standard, more or less inadvertently "correcting" significant elements of the design to make them fit the assumed Burgundian origin of the flag.

The main coat of arms placed in canton was represented by Willemin as a shield "Argent an eagle sable an escutcheon quarterly azure three fleurs-de-lis or and gules three castles or" (the colors, probably added during the posthumous edition of Willemin's engravings, should not be taken at their face value). The shield is orled by the Collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece and surrounded by the Pillars of Hercules. Paris explains that the shield is indeed divided in 16 small quarters, which form four larger pieces; the first and fourth pieces are made of the arms of Spain: "Gules a tower or (Castile) quartered sable a lion or [sic] (León)". The second and third pieces are made of the arms of Austria and Burgundy. The black eagle in the first and fourth quarter belongs to Austria; the fleur-de-lis or orled in the second quarter belongs to Burgundy modern, and the stripes of the third quarter belong to Burgundy ancient.
Such arms, used by a prince bearing the titles of King of Spain, Archduke of Austria and Duke of Burgundy, could not have appeared before the unification of these titles by Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) and his son, Philip II (1527-1598).

The scroll placed beneath the shield contains another erroneous rendition by Willemin, who "guessed" the motto as "Je l'ai empris", conveniently, the motto of Charles the Bold [rather, "Je lay emprins" / "Je lai emprins"]. The procès-verbal established in 1790, however, states that "above the shield is a three-part scroll on which can be distinctively read only the letters: PLVS QVE - TRE". This is, clearly, Charles V's motto, which he used for the first time in 1536 whilst returning from the Algiers expedition. Paris explains, quite wisely, that the 1790 reading is slightly erroneous: the authors probably misread "OVL" as "QVE".
Paris further adds that the banner could not have been designed earlier than 1557, after the abdication of Charles V. Were it be used during the reign of Charles V rather than Philip II, the shield would have been surmounted by an Imperial, closed crown, and the eagle would have been placed in the first piece or on an escutcheon.

The Gothic letters inscribed near the missing tails of the banner were "read" by Willemin as "BURG [UNDIA]", yet another convenient element supporting the Burgundian origin of the flag. Paris debunks this reading, pointing out that an oval sign is placed above the assumed "U", that the fourth letter ("G"), separated from the other ones should be the initial of a second word, and that the writing is partially surrounded by a double stripe shaped like the Collar of the Order of the Garter. Paris' proposed reading of the writing is "Honi Q", therefore "Honi qui", the first part of "Honi [soit] q[ui mal y pense]", the motto of the Order of the Garter.
The smaller shield placed beneath the scroll, represented by Willemin as "Argent a lion gules crowned or", is interpreted by Paris as the arms of Flanders, then part of the Duchy of Burgundy.
In the middle of the flag, the two harquebushes crossed in saltire and tied by a Burgundian firesteel are a straightforward representation of the Cross of Burgundy.

The representation of St. Lawrence holding a griddle, the instrument of his death, allowed Paulin Paris to propose an interpretation of the banner that has nothing to do with the Beauvais assault.
On 10 August 1557, the feast day of St. Lawrence, an army composed of 50,000 Spanish, Flemish and Burgundian soldiers, and 8,000 to 10,000 English bowmen, as well, overwhelmed the French troops defending the town of Saint-Quentin, capturing Constable Anne de Montmorency. As a reward for the intercession of the saint, Philip II decided the building of the griddle-shaped monastery-palace of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, eventually completed in 1584. Paris believes that the banner, charged with Spanish, Flemish, Burgundian and English symbols and portraying St. Lawrence, was specifically designed for a procession or a religious ceremony celebrating the triumph of Saint-Quentin, nearly once century after Jeanne Hachette's heroic act.
How the banner made its way to the Town Hall of Beauvais stirred Paris' curiosity. In spite of claiming "Don't ask me how?", the scholar proposes a quite far-fetched, but plausible hypothesis, which he honestly called "conjectural and lacking any historical support". In 1558, the French troops seized the town of Calais from the Spaniards; a soldier from Beauvais could have found the commemorative banner hanging in a church or anywhere else and brought it back to its hometown as a trophy.

Ivan Sache, 22 January 2018