Last modified: 2011-11-11 by ivan sache
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Flag of Polignac - Image by Ivan Sache, 18 October 2005
The village of Polignac (2,683 inhabitants in 1999; 3,305 ha) is
located in Velay, a few kilometers north-west of Le Puy. Polignac is
today a small village but it was in the past the domain of one of the
most powerful French noble families.
Polignac is situated on a plateau protected by 100-m high cliffs, therefore a natural fortress. The Romans already settled the site, with a temple dedicated to god Apollo. The family of Polignac, known since the 11th century, built small fortifications along the cliff edges in the 13th century. At the end of the 14th century, they built a 32-m high square donjon, later abandoned for more comfortable houses. After the French Revolution, the Polignac eventually abandoned the fortress and settled into a manor built in the 13th century and revamped in the 17th century, located a few kilometers from the fortress.
The first House of Polignac stems from the Viscounts of Velay. It bore
the title of Kings of the Mountains (Rois des Montagnes) and ruled
Velay de facto independently until dying out in 1385.
The second House of Polignac stems from the senior branch of the House of Chalençon, which took the name and the arms of the ancient House of Polignac in 1421. Several members of the Houses of Polignac and Chalençon were Bishop of Le Puy. Here is a short biography of the most famous members of the Polignac family.
Melchior de Polignac (1661-1741) was a clergyman, politician,
philologist and poet. He represented Cardinal de Bouillon in the
conclave during which Pope Alexander VIII was elected. He was then
appointed Ambassador of the King of France in Poland but failed and was
exiled for four years in his abbey of Bon-Port. Cardinal in 1713, he
was appointed Archbishop of Auch in 1726 and Ambassador in Rome
(1724-1732). He was again exiled during the Regency.
Polignac was an orator and poet; his most famous work is Anti-Lucrèce, a Latin poem with more than 10,000 verses. On 2 August 1704, he sat down in chair #37 in the French Academy, succeeding the famous orator Bossuet. Nasty Voltaire said about hims that he was "as a good poet as it was possible when using a dead language" (aussi bon poète qu'on peut l'être dans une langue morte). The famous quote Errare humanum est (To err is human) is often attributed to Melchior de Polignac.
Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron, Countess then Duchess de Polignac (1749-1793) is a main character of the pre-Revolution years. She married Count Jules de Polignac in 1767 and met in 1775 Queen Marie-Antoinette in Versailles. She superseded the Princess of Lamballe as the Queen's best friend. Then she used her position to provide her family with a lot of benefits. In 1779, King Louis XVI provided her daughter with a 800,000 pound dowry, whereas usual dowry awarded by the kings were always less than 8,000 pounds. Abbot de Polignac was appointed Bishop of Meaux and Diane de Polignac, in spite of her nefarious reputation, was appointed Superintendant of the house of Madame Elisabeth, the King's sister. Count of Vaudreuil, the Princess' lover, was appointed Great Falconer of France, with a yearly pension of 30,000 pounds. The excessive benefits granted to the Polignac family contributed to the increased unpopularity of the Queen, especially since France experienced hard economical times. The rumor said that the Princess was the Queen's mistress. Moreover, the Polignac and other members of the Queen's small circle, intrigued and were called "the Queen's Party". The Princess de Polignac exiled when the French Revolution broke out.
Jules Auguste Armand Marie, Prince de Polignac (1780-1847) was a
politician. He grew up in exile and took part to the failed plot set up
by Cadoudal in 1803 against Bonaparte. After the Bourbonic
Restauration, he was appointed Peer of France (1814) and ambassador of
France in London (1823-1829). Member of the Ultra(Royalist) group, he
was made President of the Council (Prime Minister) by King Charles X in
1829. In 1830, he set up the expedition that started the conquest of
The same year, following elections unfavourable to the Ultras, Polignac prepared the four Decrees that caused the July Revolution and the fall of the Bourbons. The first Decree suppressed the liberty of the press, the second dissolved the chamber before it could have met, the third modified the electoral system and the fourth fixed the date of new elections. The Decrees were signed by Charles X, who believed he would save his throne, on 25 July. The editor of the official gazette was scared by these texts but was forced to publish them. On 26 in the morning, Thiers published a manifesto saying that the legal regime had been suppressed and replaced by the regime of force. The uprising broke out in Paris on 27, 28 and 29 July, known as the Trois Glorieuses. On 29 July, the infamous Talleyrand looked at his watch and said: "At 12:05, the senior branch of the Bourbons ceased to reign."
Polignac was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment and loss of his civic rights by the Chamber of Peers and was aministied in 1836.
(After Petit Larousse Illustré and Histoire de France Larousse)
Alphonse de Polignac (1817-1890) was a French mathematicien. He
proposed in 1849 (Nouv. Ann. Math. 8, 423-429; Comptes Rendus Paris
29, 400 and 738-739) the Twin Prime Conjecture, also known as De
"Every even number is the difference of two consecutive primes in infinitely many ways."
If true, taking the difference 2, this conjecture implies that there are infinitely many twin primes. The conjecture has never been proven true or refuted.
Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac (1832-1913), son of Jules de Polignac, was a Confederate officer during the American Civil War. After having resigned from the French army in 1859, he traveled to Central America and offered his services to the Confederacy. In March 1863, he became the commander of a Texas infantry brigade; in spring 1864, after the first major action of the Red River campaign in Mansfield, Polignac was promoted to Division Commander and soon to Major General. In Janaury 1865, he was sent, too late, to Napoléon III to request help from France. Back to France, Polignac served as a Brigadier General in the Franco-Prussian War.
The Princess de Polignac (1865-1943), née Winnaretta Singer, was the daugther of the sewing-machine manufacturer Isaac Meritt Singer, famous for his very turbulent life and his (at least) 24 children. Winnaretta was taught music and arts; she married Prince Scey Montbéliard in 1887 and the marriage was cancelled by the Holy See in 1892. She inherited a part of his father's huge wealth and purchased Palazzino San Gregorio in Venice, where she set up a brilliant salon. One of her fist guests was the French musician Gabriel Fauré. She let build a big house in the posh XVIth district of Paris; the house included her painter studio and became one of the most important places of the social life in Paris. In 1893, she married Prince Edmond de Polignac (1834-1901), who was 30 years older than her; it was an unconsummated marriage, since both husband and wife were homosexual, but a happy one. Winnaretta and Edmond had a common passion for artistic patronage and significantly contributed to artistic creation in the beginning of the XXth century. They bought in 1893 a second palace in Venice, quickly famous as the Contirini-Polignac Palace.
Marquis Melchior de Polignac (1880-1950) was a main producer of
Champagne wine. He planned to become a musician but his father's death
in 1900 changed his destiny. He entered business and took in 1907 the
direction of the Pommery Champagne company. However, he did not give up
with music and organized several concerts in Reims from 1910 to 1940.
Polignac was also fond of sport. He set up in 1909 in Betheny the first
Champagne Flying Week, a flying meeting. He was appointed member of the
International Olympic Committee in 1911 and became a close friend of
Baron de Coubertin. After the weak results of the French team in the
Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912, Polignac organized the Athletes'
College in Reims and hired the coach Georges Herbert, then famous for
his innovative methods of sport training. The College trained sportsmen
for the 1916 Olympic Games (which were cancelled because of the First
World War) and sport teachers sent all over France.
During the First World War, Polignac travelled to the USA with André Tardieu, the French High Commissioner in Washington, and contributed to the rallying of the USA to the European allied powers. He contributed to the expansion of Pommery on the international market; during the 1930s crisis, he launched smaller bottles called Quarts V.P., which allowed the company to survive. He retired from business in 1945 and was succeded by his brother Count Charles de Polignac.
Ivan Sache, 18 October 2005
The flag of Polignac is horizontally divided
white-red-white-red-white-red. It was seen hoisted over the old donjon
dominating the village during the 19th stage of Tour de France 2005
(Issoire-Le Puy, 22 July).
Unsurprisingly, the flag is a banner of the municipal arms of Polignac, which are the arms of the family of Polignac (GASO):
Fascé d'argent et de gueules de six pièces (Fessy argent and gules six pieces).
Ivan Sache, 18 October 2005