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Vitré (Municipality, Ille-et-Vilaine, France)

Gwitreg, Vitræ

Last modified: 2022-03-11 by ivan sache
Keywords: vitré |
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Flag of Vitré - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 3 September 2021

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Presentation of Vitré

The municipality of Vitré (18,487 inhabitants in 2019; 3,719 ha) is located 40 km west of Rennes.

Vitré was allegedly (see below) established in year 1000 when Duke of Brittany Geoffrey I bestowed feudal powers upon Riwallon the Vicar, who was commisionned to keep this strategic area as a buffer zone, the Marches of Brittany. A stone castle was built in 1070 by Robert the 1st on a rocky outcrop dominating the Vilaine's river valley. In the 13th century, the castle was enlarged and equipped with robust towers and curtain walls. In 1295, the town passed to Guy IX de Laval, on his marriage with the heiress, and afterwards successively belonged to the families of Rieux, Coligny and La Trémoîlle. During this period, the old town including the church of Notre-Dame developed on the eastern side of Vitré. The town was encircled by fortified ramparts and ditches.
In the 15th century, the castle was modified to keep up with developments in artillery design. It was decommissioned from a military post to become a comfortable residence for Jeanne of Laval-Châtillon and her son, Anne de Montmorency. In 1488, during the French invasion of Brittany, Vitré was seized by Charles VIII. Vitré's economy flourished in the 16th century when the Confrérie des Marchands d'Outre-Mer - merchant venturers - sold locally-produced hemp throughout Europe.

During the French Wars of Religion, at the end of the 16th century, the Protestant town was besieged for five months by the troops of the Holy League under the command of the Duke of Merřur, governor of Brittany, to no avail; Vitré remained one of the few strongholds to resist the League in western France.
In 1999, Vitré was granted the label "Town of Art and History" because of its rich cultural inheritance.

Olivier Touzeau, 3 September 2021

Flag of Vitré

The flag of Vitré (photo, photo) is white with the municipal arms, "Gules a lion argent crowned or armed sable", and the name of the municiopality below.

The arms of Vitré, featured in the Armorial Général (image), are derived from the arms of the Barons of Vitré.
Pol Potier de Courcy (Nobiliaire et armorial de Bretagne, 1862) describes the arms of the Barons of Vitré with the lion contourned (looking toward sinister) and crowned argent.

The local historian Arthur Le Moyne de la Borderie (1821-1907), considered as the father of Brittany's historiography, has been for long the only reference on the history of Vitré and its lords. During a workshop organized in Vitré in October 2008 for the commemoration of the millennium of the town, historians offered a renewed history of the town. Le Moyne claims that the town of Vitré was founded in 1008 by Riwallon the Vicar, first Baron of Vitré, around the castle he had built to protect the borders of Brittany.
Archeological remains provide evidence that Vitré was already an established settlement in the 11th century: a collegiate church, three churches and scattered farms are documented. The castle was first mentioned in the Redon Chartulary, released in 1047; Robert of Vitré is listed as its warden, not lord. Not located in a significantly strategic place, this early castle probably watched a toll on the road connecting Rennes to Laval and Le Mans. Robert, probably supported by the duke of Brittany, quickly got rid of the Goranton-Hervé lineage that controlled the old castle, and became the first Baron of Vitré. Around 1070, the old castle was disbanded and replaced by a priory depending of the powerful abbey of Marmoutiers, which had been founded by St. Martin of Tours. The new castle was erected on a rocky spur, a true strategic site, where it still stands. The building of the castle fostered the reorganization of the pre-existing town, not the establishment of a new town from scratch.
Riwallon the Vicar, Robert's grand-father, was indeed lord of Marcillé-Robert; but he could not have been Baron of Vitré since the domain did not exist at the time.
[Ouest France, 11 October 2008]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 5 September 2021