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Doullens (Municipality, Somme, France)

Last modified: 2021-06-27 by ivan sache
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Flag of Doullens - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 19 July 2020

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Presentation of Doullens

The municipality of Doullens (5,998 inhabitants in 2018; 3,340 ha; municipal website) is located 30 km north of Amiens.

Doullens is of disputed etymology. Latin etymologies ("dominicus lacus", "the lake in the valley"; "dulce alendium", "sweet food"; "villa delans","suffering town") are fanciful. Jules Herbillon proposed a Germanic origin, Dolha, composed of "Tal", "a valley", and "Helm", an estate, therefore "the estate in the valley". Maurice Gysseling claimed a different Germanic origin, Durlandja, from "dura", "rye grass", and "landa", "land", which would explain the older names of Doullens: Durlenz (early 12th century), Durlez (1137), Durlendo (1150), Dullendio (1190), and Dollens (1225). Yet another Germanic origin was proposed by Louis-François Flutre, as Dorlincu, "Dorellus' estate". A Celtic root was proposed by Labourt, who argued that Doullens was founded near a lake subsequently dried up; in different Celtic dialects, a lake is "lan", "lin" or "len"; "dol" meaning a "valley", the place name would have meant the lake in the valley. Albert Dauzat, in his famous Dictionnnaire étymologique des noms de lieux, quotes Donincum (931) and Dourleng (1147) as the oldest names of the town, built on Donnus, a Celtic anthroponym, and the suffix "-ocum".
Canon François Falc'un proposed an other Celtic origin, "dol / dolen", "a meander", recalling that the towns of Douilly, Dolon, Dollendorg, Dol-de-Bretagne and Doulaize are all located on rivers' confluences.

In 1521, troops of the Imperial Estates attacking Doullens were repelled by the inhabitants of the town, especially a company of 50 bowmen, subsequently known as the Knights of the Bow. Two years later, another attack was stopped by the artillery set up on an earth fortification established a few years earlier by Antoine of Créquy. A few years later, Robert of Mailly initiated the building of a stone fortress with four bastions. Located near the confluence of rivers Grouches and Authion, the citadel grew to one of France's biggest fortifications. The building site was inspected by Francis I in 1527 and Henry II in 1547. Henry IV commissioned in 1599 Errard of Bar-le-Duc to modernise the citadel, in the aftermath of the Spanish invasion. The tradition claims that the citadel was designed by Vauban, which is not true; the famous engineer could only have designed the late additions to the citadel, and there is no evidence he never visited Doullens. The building of the citadel was nearly completed in 1655; at the time, it could accomodate a garrison of 5,000 soldiers and was commanded by a governor, assisted by a king's lieutenant, a major, a director of engineering, an artillery guard and a provincial commissioner.
Governor Jussac of Ambleville, Baron of Saint-Preuil, mistakenly attacked the Spanish garrison of Bapaume, which withdrew after having surrendered. Sentenced to death on 9 November 1641, he was succeeded by Boisguérin des Houlières, whose wife Antoinette, known as the Tenth Muse, composed poems, famous at the time and quite old-fashioned today. The tradition says she was inspired by the view on the valley of Authie seen from the higehst bastion of the fortress.

In 1659, he Treaty of Pyrenees incorporated Artois to France and moved the border northward; accordingly, the citadel lost its strategic role and was transformed into a state jail.
The Duke of Maine, legitmized son of Louis XIV and of the Marchioness of Montespan, was "jailed" in 1718-1719 in the citadel for having set up a plot against the Regent. The governor of the citadel was ordered to release hares in the ditches so that the duke could practice hunting; the duke lived in a wealthy appartment decorated with Gobelins tapestries, where he maintained a kind of private court; he ran a theater, where the town's notables were invited by "the kindest plotter ever" and an orchestra to play during the mass.
General Dupont, who signed the shameful capitulation of Bailén, was jailed in Doullens in 1809; after the fall of Napoleon, he was released in 1814 and appointed Minister of War. A Royal Ordinance signed on 22 July 1835 established Doullens as the sole place of jailing for political prisoners; most of them were pardoned on 8 May 1837. Transformed in a women's jail in 1855, the citadel was decommissioned in 1887.

In the next decades, the municipality of Doullens asked for the establishment of a garrison in the citadel, to no avail. In January 1892, the jail was re-established, housing 152 young women in January 1899. In 1920, it was transformed into the House of Preservation, a public institute aimed ar "rehabilitating" women under age who had gone bad. The women's jail was eventually closed in 1958.
Completely abandoned in 1963, the citadel was saved from complete destruction by the assocaition "Les Amis de la Citadelle", established in 1974, and acquired by the General Council of Somme in 1978.

Marshal Hindenburg and his deputy, General Ludendorff, wanted to suppress the fronts held by the French and English troops before June 1918 and the influx of American troops in Europe. Nearly 200 German infantry divisions, supported by 500 heavy batteries were concentrated on the western front to launch a major offensive in the region of Saint-Quentin, at the junction of French and British armies. After 48 hours of fighting, the breakthrough was achieved, widening the gap between the two armies.
The commander of the French forces, General Pétain, primarily wanted to defend access to Paris, while Douglas Haig, commander of the British troops, was primarily concerned to preserve the ability to retreat to the ports of the English Channel and the North Sea. Held on 26 March 1918, the Doullens Conference resulted in the appointment of General Foch "as coordinator of the Allied armies", eventually fixing the principle of the unique command.

Ivan Sache, 29 April 2021

Flag of Doullens

The flag of Doullens (photo) is white with the municipal logo, which features the belfry of Doullens.

A first belfry was mentioned in Doullens in 1275, located not far from the feudal tower erected by the Counts of Ponthieu. Probably to emphasize their dominance, the counts added a storey to the tower in 1328. Quite ironically, the municipality purchased in 1363 the tower from the counts, who needed money to build a new castle, and the tower became the town's belfry. The same year, the king of France allowed the town to have a jail and municipal bells.
The belfry was completedly destroyed during the sack of the town by the Spaniards in 1595 and a big blaze in 1613. The belfry was soon rebuild from scratch, with its top equipped for watchers who stood there until the 18th century. The belfry was equipped in 1635 with the Jeanne bell, stolen by the Spaniards in Auxi-le-Château, retrieved by Jean of Rambures, governor of the citadel, and eventually acquired from the municipality of Auxi. The belfry was visited by Cardinal of Richelieu during the siege of Arras (1640) and by Louis XIV and the Dauphin (1 April 1678).
The clock was installed in 1860-1851 during a restoration campaign.