Last modified: 2021-06-25 by ivan sache
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Banner of Yvetot - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 14 February 2021
The municipality of Yvetot (11,627 inhabitants in 2018; 747 ha; municipal website) is located 40 km north-west of Rouen.
Yvetot remained a principality ruled by a king until 1789.
The origin of the tiny state is obscure. According to the tradition, Gauthier, lord of Yvetot, once offended the king of Soissons (511-558) Chlothar II (at the time, Yvetot could not have existed since the toponym is of Norse origin, but...). Ten years later, Gauthier came back from a (quite early...) crusade, with a certificate signed by Pope Agapetus (535-536); he implored pardon from the king on Easter Sunday in the church of Soissons. Still bearing grudges, Chlothar killed him immediately. As a repentance imposed by the pope, Chlothar released Yvetot from subordination of the royal power until hell freezes.
Another tradition claims that Gauthier d'Yvetot was appointed king of Yvetot in 1147, as a reward for his bravery during the Second Crusade. The royal title could also have been invented in 1381 by a lord named Martin to increase his social position. Whatever its origin, the kingdom, then principality of Yvetot, existed as a feudal domain that minted its proper coins; the kingdom was even once disputed by two lords, Chaunu and Baucher, who belonged to two related families.
The most famous and last princes of Yvetot were the Counts of Albon, with roots in Dauphiné. According to a memoir published in 1774 by Camille II d'Albon "to obtain royal warrant of the privileges of the principality of Yvetot", the privileges were previously confirmed by a dozen of charters signed by Louis XI, Francis I and Louis XV, to name a few.
Camille III d'Albon was offered Yvetot in 1772 as his marriage present. At the time, the kingdom had some 10,000 inhabitants, while the royal domain was composed of a castle, 15 ha of land, two houses and two mills. The Dictionnaire raisonné des domaines et droits domaniaux, issued in 1782, states, however, that Yvetot is not a foreign (sovereign) principality but only a domain exempted from feudal rights. Justice exerted by the prince had to be validated by the Parliament of Rouen, where the Bailiff of Yvetot was audited once a year.
A voyager, philosopher and writer, Camille III d'Albon was a friend of Voltaire and d'Alembert; he signed his numerous books as "The Count of Albon, from most European academies". Like his father and his grandfather, he did not care living in the small village of Yvetot but stayed in a much more comfortable castle built in Franconville-la-Garenne, near Montmorency, north of Paris. He wasted much of his wealth to design a landscaped garden decorated with monuments celebrating Rousseau and Mirabeau, an "Helvetian village" that included a hut inhabited by a genuine Swiss shepherd, a pond with Venetian gondolas, an hermitage, a mill, a "ruined castle", a temple and a fountain. The domain's landmark was, however, a library composed of 30,000 books and collection related to pharmacy, chemistry, physic and natural history. The count performed odd experiments and once attempted to cure a paralytic with electric discharges. On 16 January 1784, an aerostat took off from the count's garden, boarded by two guinea-pigs and a rabbit that were recovered a few days later, in good health, near Montmorency.
Close to bankruptcy, Camille III attempted to swap Yvetot against more profitable domains with the king of France, to no avail. From time to time interested in his principality, he obtained from Pope Pius VI a fragment of the Holy Cross and other relics to be kept in the parish church, and funded the paving of the road connecting Paris to Rouen through Yvetot. In 1786, he started to sell his personal property in Yvetot, then parts of the principality. The whole property was soon offered for sale, as published on 20 October 1787 in the Journal de Rouen. Camille III d'Albon died on 3 October 1789, aged 37, in the castle of Avauges, completely ruined and, some say, completely mad.
On 18 November 1789, the Municipal Council of Yvetot proclaimed the suppression of the principality of Yvetot and required the incorporation of the domain into the kingdom of France. The decision was confirmed on 1 December 1789.
Charles Amable Delalande was named mayor of Yvetot in 1797; a fervent and ambitious Bonapartist, he was confirmed in office in 1800 and 1808. Then France's oldest mayor, he rallied to the Bourbon Restoration and was created Baron of Yvetot by Royal Letters signed on 12 April 1828 by Charles X.
For decades, Camille II's daughter, Victorine d'Albon, struggled to prevent the municipality of Yvetot to "acquire" the goods of the former principality, especially the market right. Delalande, as the "administrative successor" of the princes of Yvetot, claimed their legacy for free, which resulted in a long series of court trial. Victorine eventually sold her least possessions, the Town Hall and the market rights included, on 8 May 1833, seven months after Delalande's death.
After Victorine's death, the lords of Albon still used the title of Prince of Yvetot but withdrew any territorial claim. The last member of the lineage, Marquess André d'Albon, died on 2015, aged 91.
Camille III d'Albon's madness, as well as the quarrel between Victorine d'Albon and Delalande, soon stirred the interest of humorists. In 1813, the famous songwriter Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857) published Le Roy d'Yvetot. The king is portrayed as "little known to history", "going early to bed and standing up late", "sleeping well without glory", and "crowned by a simple cotton's cap", which was soon interpreted as a parody targeting Napoleon; reportedly, the emperor enjoyed the spoof and used to hum it. After the Bourbon Restoration, the song was re-interpreted as targeting Louis XVIII, who much resembled Delalande by its stoutness.
Another, prolific but completely forgotten songwriter and novelist, L.T. Gilbert (1780-1827), published in 1831 a fanciful history of Yvetot as Le Roy d'Yvetot, la ferme et la cour (four volumes!), the title containing a pun on "cour", which can be read "royal court" or "farmyard".
The musician Adolphe Adam (1803-1856), mostly famous for the ballet Giselle (1841), composed in 1842 the opéra-comique Le Roy d'Yvetot. The choreographer Joseph-Lucien Petipa (1815-1898), who created Giselle, also offered a ballet based on Le Roy d'Yvetot (1865. Less-known renditions of the principality of Yvetot are the comedy Le Tyran d'Yvetot (Lelion-Damiens, 1848), the vaudeville La Reine d'Yvetot (Davesne and Alzay, 1848), the comedy Le Curé d'Yvetot (Marc Monnier, 1861), the opéra-bouffe Le Roy d'Yvetot (Chabrillat and Hémery, 1875), and the opera Le Roy d'Yvetot (Jacques Ibert, 1903).
Jean Renoir's last completed work (1970), the TV film Le petit théâtre de Jean Renoir, portrays "Le Roi d'Yvestot"in its fourth part (A tribute to tolerance).
The king of Yvetot, usually represented as a fat merry man riding a donkey, wearing a night cap and holding a cider bowl, became a popular character widely used in humorous engravings and postcards. The "Roy d'Yvetot" brand was used to sell calvados, camembert, coffee... and all kind of derived merchandise.
Upset by the mockery, the municipality ordered in 1886 to exhibit in the Town Hall an autograph letter signed by king Jean Bauchez on 21 August 1490, which, unfortunately, prompted even more mockery from the newspaper Paris.
The weekly Le Roy d'Yvetot was first published on 2 September 1873 in Le Havre by Auguste Morisse, a noted anti-clerical and anti-monarchist activist, and soon censored. Another, single-issued pamphlet of the same name, subtitled the official gazette of Pays de Caux, was published on 16 October 1873 in Paris; it proclaimed the re-establishment of Elzéar Joseph Marie de Chenu, a descendant of the last king of Yvetot, as king Elzéar XIX, and the issuing of several ordinances.
[Le Canard de Duclair]
The St. Peter church in Yvetot, totally suppressed in 1940, was rebuilt from scratch by three successive architects, Pierre Chirol (1881-1953), Robert Flavigny (1904-1959) and Yves Marchand. While the church was consecrated in 1956, the erection of its tall, parallelepipedic tower required another couple of years.
The church is striking by its unusual circular design, and mostly by its window covering 1,046 m2, deemed Europe's largest stained glass window. Designed by Max Ingrand (1908-1969), the window features Jesus and St. Peter, the parish's patron saint, as well as the main saints credited the evangelization of the area in the 7th century: St. Valery (Apostle of Pays de Caux and Vimeux), St. Saëns / Sidonius, St. Philibert (founder of the Jumièges abbey) and St. Wandrille / Wandregisel (founder of the Saint-Wandrille abbey). Bishops of Rouen are also featured: St. Romain / Romanus (d. c. 640) strangling the Gargouille dragon, St. Ouen / Owen / Audoin / Dado (d. 684), St. Hugues / Hugh (d. 730), and St. Rémi / Remigius (d. 772).
Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 21 February 2021
The banner of Yvetot (photo, photo), in swallow-tailed, vertically divided red-yellow. The colors are those of the muncipal arms, "Gules two garbs and two shuttles crossed in saltire all or".
In 1856, the towns of Rouen (préfecture) and Le Havre, Dieppe, Neufchâtel-en-Bray and Yvetot (sous-préfectures) were asked by the préfet of Seine-Inférieure (today, Seine-Maritime) to forward their respective coats of arms, required to decorate the new building of the Departmental Archives. Since Yvetot never used proper arms, a design combining vertically the arms of two of the feudal lords, the Bellay and Albon lineages, was assigned.
In 1861, the municipality adopted brand new arms, "Azure three garbs or 1 and 2 in canton a 'N' [for Napoleon III] or ensigned by a star argent. The shield surmounted by a five-crenel mural crown". Different proposals subsequently emerged, such as "Gules two wheat garbs or in base two shuttles of the same in saltire", which prefigures the present-day's arms.
The arms of Yvetot were eventually adopted in 1874 by the Municipal Council, as "Gules two wheat garbs or in base two shuttles of the same in saltire".
The garbs and the shuttles recall agriculture and textile industry, Yvetot's traditional sources of income. The shield is surmounted by a four-crenel mural crown, symbolizing the former kingdom and principality of Yvetot.
Granted to the town on 11 November 1948, the War Cross was subsequently appended to the shield.
Weavers were granted their first statutes on 2& July 1599 by the prince of Yvetot. The tradition was maintained until 2014, when the Laporte company was closed.
Constant Mawet inaugurated in 1912 a hosiery manufacture; Jean Mawet specialized it in 1950 into baby clothes, branded Ozona. In 1960, Brigitte Bardot and Jacques Charrier offered Ozona layette to their son, Nicolas, and to all French babies born the same day. The Ozona factory was eventually closed in 1997.
[Le Courrier cauchois, 30 September 2016]
Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 21 February 2021