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Clisson (Municipality, Loire-Atlantique, France)

Last modified: 2012-08-04 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Clisson]

Flag of Clisson - Image by Ivan Sache, 26 May 2012

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Presentation of Clisson

The municipality of Clisson (6,778 inhabitants in 2009; 1,130 ha) is located on the confluence of the Moine and of the Sèvre nantaise, half way (30 km) of Nantes and Cholet.

Clisson's etymology is disputed. Paul de Berthou (Clisson et ses monuments, 1910, full text), listing the old written forms "Clicium", "Cliceium", "Clizo", "Clizonium", "Clizun", "Cliczon" and "Clichon", refers to the old French word clisse, "a trellis of wooden branches"; accordingly, Clisson would have originally been "a place surrounded by interlaced hedges". Priest Taverson (Clisson d'hier et d'aujourd'hui) proposes a far-fetched etymology linked to an hypothetic Indo-European word meaning "lock, fortress, gate", cognate to Greek kleis, which would highlight the strategic location of Clisson and indicate a pre-Roman origin. A third hypothesis is proposed by E. Coarer-Kalondan, Druid of the Bardic College of Brittany: Clisson would have been derived from the Celtic word klesiodunon, "the swords' fortress". The three proposed etymologies all highlight the strategic significance of Clisson, located on the border of the Duchy of Brittany with the Counties of Anjou and Poitou, subsequently incorporated into the Kingdom of France. Clisson watched the disputed, buffer area, established by the Dukes of Brittany as the Marches of Brittany.

There is no evidence of any permanent settlement in Clisson before the Middle Ages. An early wooden tower built on the spur dominating the rivers' confluence was probably replaced in the 11th century by a stone donjon; the settlement that emerged under the protection of the fortress became the town of Clisson.
The oldest known lords of Clisson are Gaudin and Gui of "Clichon" (c. 1040) and Bernard of Clisson (1043). Baldri of "Clizun" was listed among the main barons of Duke of Brittany Hoêl (1066-1084) on charts signed between 1074 and 1080. Gualdin of "Clizun" signed charts in 1091 and 1105. From their names, these early lords seem to have been of Frankish rather than Breton origin. The subsequent lords of Clisson were involved in the long struggle between France and England for the control of Brittany. William of Clisson, together with his son William, supported King of France Philip II Augustus against John Fearless and fought in the Battle of Bouvines (1214). Oliver I revolted against Duke of Brittany John I the Redhead, who seized in 1260 the domain and castle of Clisson; Oliver asked the protection of the King of France, the nominal suzerain of the Duke of Brittany, who "recommended' the Duke to give back Clisson to Oliver's son, Oliver II.
During the War of Succession of Brittany, the Clisson lineage, represented by Oliver IV, lord of Clisson, and his brothers Garnier and Amaury, first took the party of Charles of Blois, supported by the King of France, against the party of John of Montfort, supported by the King of England. Garnier of Clisson died in 1311 when defending Brest against John of Montfort. The same year, Amaury of Clisson, defending Jugon for Charles of Blois, was "captured" by John of Montfort without too much resistance, and eventually supported him. After the capture of John of Montfort in Nantes in 1341, Amaury of Clisson was appointed Regent of Brittany and Tutor of young Duke John IV. In 1342, he commanded an English fleet that lift the siege of Hennebont and destroyed Charles of Blois' fleet near Quimperlé. Disappointed by the fading support by King of England Edward III to the Montfort party, Amaury of Clisson pleaded allegiance to Charles of Blois in 1344. Oliver IV expelled from Vannes in 1342 the English troops commanded by Robert of Artois. The same year, the English besieged Nantes and Oliver IV was accused to have attempted to hand over the town to the assaulters. Following the truce signed in Malestroit in January 1343, Oliver IV went to Paris - some say that he was invited to a tournament -, where he was captured and immediately beheaded; his head was nailed on one of the gates of Nantes. His widow, Joan of Belleville, set up an army and equipped boats to take revenge for her husband. Together with her three young sons, including Oliver V, the "Breton tigress" seized a castle and several boats owned by the French party, slaughtering garrisons and crews, and eventually retired in England.

Oliver V of Clisson was taught at the English court; in 1358, Edward III appointed him commander-in-chief of the English troops in Brittany. On 29 September 1364, Oliver V contributed to the success of Duke John IV in the Battle of Auray, during which Charles of Blois was killed and Oliver lost an eye. On the evening of the battle, John IV refused to award Oliver with the castle of Gavre, which he had already awarded to the English captain John Chandos. This minor event was the original cause of the rebellion of Oliver against the Duke and its eventual rallying to France. On 24 October 1370, Oliver of Clisson set up in Pontorson an alliance with Constable Bertrand du Guesclin, helping him to defeat Thomas of Granson in Pontvallain. In 1371, Oliver was appointed Lieutenant of the King in Touraine, Maine, Anjou and Poitou, that is in the provinces neighbouring Brittany, and even, nominal Lieutenant of Brittany in the service of Charles of Blois' widow. In July 1380, Oliver of Clisson succeeded Duguesclin as the Constable of France, supporting the peace treaty signed by King of France Charles VI and John IV. During the Flanders campaign, Oliver commanded the French vanguard in the Battle of Roosebeek (1382) and contributed to the seizure of Cassel (1383). The struggle between Oliver V and John IV did not stop, in spite of the "mediation" of the King of France. In 1392, Pierre of Craon, Oliver's personal enemy, attempted to kill him. Charles VI set up an army and headed to Brittany to take revenge for his constable, but the campaign was stopped by the madness of the king. Having lost all his supports, Oliver of Clisson retired in the castle of Josselin, and the war against John IV resumed once again, ruining Brittany The peace was eventually established on 19 October 1395.

The 15th century was the Gilded Age of Clisson, which was the preferred residence of Duke of Brittany François II and an important place of trade, known as "The Crossroad of the Three Provinces" (Brittany, Anjou and Poitou). In contrast, the 18th century was a very bad period for the town: harsh frost suppressed parts of the vineyards, the Sèvre flooded the lower town; the town was nearly ruined and deserted at the end of the century. Being in turn a Republican and Royalist stronghold, the town was consistently destroyed by the two parties.
Clisson reemerged in the early 19th century thanks to the painter Pierre Cacault (1744-1810) and his brother François (1742-1805), a diplomat. Born in Nantes, the two brothers spent several years in Italy and had to go back to France in 1793, following the anti-French riots. They settled in 1798 in the abandoned town of Clisson, which they completely rebuilt in Tuscan style, including the old factories, tanneries and mills powered by the Sèvre. One of their friends, the sculptor François-Frédéric Lemot (1772-1827), purchased in 1805-1807 the ruined castle, which he preserved from complete demolition, and the former hunting domain (garenne) of the lords of Clisson, which he transformed into the Garenne-Lemot (presentation), a landscaped garden arranged around a Roman-styled villa, modelled on the Tivoli villa. They were imitated by the trader and arts collector Jacques-Charles Valentin, who transformed in 1807-1809, with Lemot's help, a former Benedictine convent burned down in 1794 into the Garenne-Valentin (presentation).

Ivan Sache, 26 May 2012

Flag of Clisson

The flag of Clisson, hoisted on a traffic circle at the entrance of the town, is white with the municipal coat of arms.
The arms of Clisson are "Gules a lion argent armed langued and crowned or". The shield is surmounted by a mural crown or. Below the shield, a scroll argent is charged with the motto "Pour ce qu'il me plaist" (For what I like) in letters sable.

The town's arms are the arms of the lords of Clisson. They are shown, together with the motto "Pour ce qu'il me plest", on the seal of Oliver V of Clisson, shown by Paul de Berthou. The greater and lesser seals of the seigniory of Clisson, dated 1412, also shown by Berthou, have the dexter part ermine and the lion of Clisson in the sinister part.

Ivan Sache, 26 May 2012

Pennant over the castle of Clisson

[Pennant of Clisson]         [Pennant of Clisson]

Pennant of the castle of Clisson, two versions - Images by Ivan Sache, 26 May 2012

A triangular flag is often hoisted over the main tower of the castle of Clisson. The placement of the colors on the flag does not seem to be consistent. The flag is sometimes horizontally divided yellow-red (photo), sometimes horizontally divided red-yellow.
The Agence du Château real estate agency uses on its logo the red-yellow version of the flag. On the poster of the 2011 edition of the Médiévales de Clisson festival, a lance pennant is represented horizontally divided yellow-red.

Ivan Sache, 26 May 2012