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Champagne (Traditional province, France)

Last modified: 2013-11-30 by ivan sache
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Flag of Champagne - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 11 June 2003

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History of Champagne

The Latin name of Champagne, Campania, reflects the extremely flat relief of the central part of the province, suitable for setting up big camps. Champagne was then inhabited by the Belgians, who established there several tribes, whose names were later used to name their capitals: Senones (Sens), Tricasses (Troyes), Meldi (Meaux), Remes (Reims), Catalauni (Châlons) and Lingones (Langres).

In 451, the Roman general Aetius defeated Attila in the Catalauni Fields, a place whose exact location is still unkown. In 498, St. Remigius, Bishop of Reims, baptized King of the Franks Clovis in Reims. This event was considered as the foundation of the Christian Kingdom of France. From 1223 (Louis VIII) to Charles X (1825), 25 kings of France were crowned in Reims. Joan of Arc is said to have attended the coronation of Charles VII (17 July 1429), holding her standard and saying: "It [the standard] has been in trouble, now it deserves honours."

The feudal state of Champagne was formed in the beginning of the 10th century. Herbert II, Count of Vermandois (d. 943), constituted his personal state around the Bishopric of Reims. After his death, his sons shared the state with the "permission" of the weak Carolingian kings of France. Around 980, a second sharing out occurred between Herbert the Young and Odo I of Blois, two lords supporting the Capetians against the Carolingians. Herbert died in 995, Odo the next year. His widow Bertha of Burgundy remarried with the Capetian king Robert the Pious. With Robert's support, Odo I's son, Odo II, inherited the states of his father and of his cousin Stephen, Herbert's son, who had died without a heir. Odo II attempted to be crowned Emperor and invaded Lotharingia (now Lorraine) and Burgundy, being eventually killed in Bar-le-Duc in 1037.

In spite of the ambitions of King Henry I, Odo II's son, Theobald I could keep most of Champagne. His son Stephen III Henry succeeded him and went on the Crusade in Palestine, where he died in 1102. During his leave, the state was administrated by Countess Adela, who created the Countal Chancellery. Hugh (d. 1125), an other son of Theobald I, succeeded Stephen Henry, inaugurating the title of Count of Champagne, as Hugh I. He disinherited his son Odo and appointed his nephew Theobald II, a son of Stephen Henry and Adela, as his successor. Theobald II (d. 1152) initially bore only the title of Count of Blois and claimed the throne of England in 1120. However, his brother Stephen was crowned in 1135. Theobald struggled against King of France Louis VII in 1142 and eventually returned to Champagne, where he attracted Italian moneychangers and developed a brilliant economy based on commercial fairs.

During the Golden Age of the County of Champagne, the most famous commercial fairs in Western Europe took place every year in the towns of Lagny (December-January), Bar-sur-Aube (Jent), Provins (May-June, September), and Troyes (July-August-November). The Lombard and Tuscan moneychangers introduced modern techniques of finance and accounting in Champagne, so that the coins minted in Provins were for a while the reference international currency.

Henry I the Liberal (d. 1181) succeeded his father Theobald II and concentrated his power in Champagne, abandoning several satellite states to his brothers and his vassals. He bore the title of Count of Troyes. The County was then made of 26 seigniories (châtellenies) and could be defended by more than 2,000 knights. Henry reconciliated with the King of France by marrying Mary, the daughter of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine. One of Henry's brothers was the famous William Whitehands (d. 1202), Archbishop of Reims, who ruled the Kingdom of France during the leave of his nephew Philip II Augustus on the Crusade. Henry I was succeeded by his son Henry II (d. 1197), who left in 1190 for Palestine, where he married queen Isabel of Jerusalem.

The second son of Henry II, Theobald III (d. 1201) had a very short reign. His widow placed herself under the protection of Philip II Augustus to face the claims of Henry II's daughters to the throne. Theobald III's posthumous son was Count Theobald IV (d. 1253), who bore the title of Palatine Count of Champagne and Brie. Theobald unified the county by proclaiming a single currency (denier provinois) and creating a Court of Justice in Troyes (jours). He joined the Albigensian Crusade in 1226 but abandoned Louis VIII in Avignon, being subsequently suspected to have poisoned the king. After the king's death, he led the feudal rebellion against Blanche of Castile but eventually rallied her. In 1234, Theobald inherited the Kingdom of Navarre and abandoned the Counties of Blois, Chartres, Sancerre and Châteaudun to Louis XI.
Theobald has remained mostly famous as a trouvère, being the author some of the best inspired poems of courtly love. The tradition reports his beloved was indeed Blanche of Castile. During Theobald's reign, the court of Champagne was considered as the most brilliant in France.

Theobald V succeeded his father and increased the county, but he was under the strong influence of his father-in-law, King Louis IX (St. Louis). He went on the Crusade with him and died when returning from Tunis in 1270. Henry III succeeded his brother but died four years later. His widow remarried with the Duke of Lancaster and placed her daughter Joan under the protection of the king. Philip the Handsome married her in 1284, therefore incorporating Champagne to the royal domain.

The Regiment of Champagne, founded by Henry II in 1558, was one of the four oldest regiments under the Ancient Regime.

The four Battles of Champagne were among the most disputed of the First World War:
- the first battle (December 1914 - March 1915) was part of the "great offensive" of 1915. Its goal was to prevent the transfer of German troops to the Russian front. Its territorial outcome was unsignificant;
- the second battle (25 September-16 November 1915) was not more successful;
- the third battle (15-18 July 1918) stopped the last German offensive, known as the Friedensturm (the assault for peace);
- the fourth battle (26 September-15 October 1918) allowed the French, American and Italian troops to reach the river Aisne and the forests of Argonne.

Ivan Sache, 11 January 2003

Flag of Champagne

The flag of Champagne is a banner of the arms D'azur à la bande d'argent côtoyée de deux doubles cotices potencées et contre-potencées d'or (Azure a bend argent double cotised potent counter potent or), assigned to the province by Jacques Meurgey in his Notice historique sur les blasons des anciennes provinces de France (Historical note on the coats of arms of the ancient French provinces, 1941).

The potences (from Latin potentia, "power", and in fact gallows) symbolize the 13 châtellenies which constituted the County of Champagne.

Ivan Sache, 14 June 2009

The town of Troyes, the capital of Champagne, takes its name from the ancient Greek town of Troy, whose inhabitants fled after it was sacked in the war over Helen of Troy (long believed to have been the stuff of legend, but now known to have been a historical event). It is believed that the Trojans founded settlements in various places across Europe, where they maintained traditions carried with them from Troy, including the building of mazes. The potenty-counter-potenty pattern in the cottises appears to be an evocation of those mazes.

Mike Oettle, 13 July 2003