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Pertuis (Municipality, Vaucluse, France)

Last modified: 2016-11-20 by ivan sache
Keywords: pertuis |
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Flag of Pertuis - Photo by Ivan Sache, 30 September 2016

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Presentation of Pertuis

The municipality of Pertuis (19,544 inhabitants in 2015; 6,623 ha) is located 25 km due north of Aix-en-Provence, 50 km south-west of Manosque and 80 km south-east of Avignon.

Pertuis is named for an old French word, pertuis, meaning here "a crossing", as a reference to the bridge erected south of the town on river Durance. Today regulated by barrages and used as a main water supply for crop irrigation, the Durance was once infamous for its harsh, unpredictable floods; the river was considered as one of the three scourges of Provence, together with the Parliament of Aix-en-Provence (which prescribed tax) and the mistral, a cold wind. Only a limited number of bridges, often damaged by the most violent floods, allowed the crossing of the river; accordingly, Pertuis was a strategic place connecting northern and southern Provence. The lower part of the town experienced several floods, which boosted the increase of the protection dikes protecting at the end of the 20th century.

The word pertuis, derived from the old verb pertucer, pertuser, "to pierce" (modern form, percer), itself derived from the lower Latin verb pertusiare, is first documented in 1150. In old and regional French, pertuis means "an opening", "a hole". The word is still used to designate the mobile opening that allows to keep water inside a lock or to release it, the opening made in a dam to allow crossing by boats, or the opening allowing access to a dry lock. In geography, a pertuis is either a neck in a watercourse (for instance, the pertuis of Bezons, on river Seine downstream Paris) or, on the French western coasts, the narrow strait separating two islands (pertuis of Antioche, between Ré and Oléron; pertuis Breton, between Ré and mainland; pertuis of Maumusson, between Oléron and mainland) or an island from the mainland).
The word pertuisane (English, "partisan", "partizan", a medieval polearm) was coined in 1564, as partisanna, formed by the crossing of the Italian word partigiana with pertuis.
The St. John's wort (Hypericum L.) is called in French millepertuis or mille-pertuis. The thousand (mille) holes that give the name of the plant are indeed translucent glands scattered all over the leaves, which look like pierced by tiny holes.
[Grand Robert de la langue française]

Pertuis is the birth town of Victor Riquetti (1715-1789), Marquis of Mirabeau. A physiocrat, he published in 1756 L'Ami des hommes (The Men's Friend) aka Traité sur la population (Treatise on Population), and Philosophie rurale ou économie générale et politique de l'agriculture (Rural Philosophy or General and Political Economy of Agriculture). However, he is mostly known as the father of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau (1749-1791), a main figure of the French Revolution. Rejected by the nobility, Mirabeau was elected Representative of the Third Estate at the Estates-General. On 23 June 1789, he rejected the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly ordered by King Louis XVI, in a famous speech summarized by the well-known sentence "we will leave only by the force of the bayonets".

Ivan Sache, 15 October 2016

Flag of Pertuis

The flag of Pertuis, widely used in the town (Town Hall, Tourism Office, St. James' Tower, Court of Justice) is a banner of the municipal arms, "Or a fess gules a fleur-de-lis azure crossing the fess and inserted in it".
The municipality uses a modern rendition of the historical arms granted to the town in 1493: the fess gules is very thin, skewed to the base of the shield, while the fleur-de-lis is more elongated than on usual heraldic representations. The flag follows the same pattern, with a less elongated fleur-de-lis.

The arms currently used by the municipality are a modern rendition of the historical arms, which can be accurately dated to 1493.
In the aftermath of the incorporation of Provence to the Kingdom of France, formally concluded in 1487 in spite of much local reluctancy, the Town Council of Pertuis commissioned on 13 February 1493 Elion Senoni to visit King of France Charles VIII. Senoni had three requests: first, a "to confirm the privileges", that is the grant of new liberties to the town against the lord of Pertuis, as a reward for having accepted incorporation to the Kingdom of France; second, to reassure the town's willingness to become French while remaining loyal to the traditional colours of Provence, red and yellow; and third, "to request from the king a grant of arms that the town could use as its proper seal". "Impressed" by Senoni's plea, the king granted arms with the Royal fleur-de-lis as the main charge, which is extremely unusual in municipal heraldry. For the sake of diplomacy, he mixed his own colour (azure) with the traditional colours of Provence (gules and or).
Informed of Senoni's negotiations, the Town Council met on 26 February 1493: during the session, the secretary drew the first known copy of the town's arms, which were officially confirmed by Letters Patented in October 1496. The grant highlighted "the fair and old loyalty that the inhabitants of the place have always maintained and kept to the Counts of Provence".

After the French Revolution, the arms of Pertuis fell into oblivion. Different, fanciful designs were used until the rehabilitation of the genuine, historical arms of the town. The study supporting the rehabilitation was presented by two scholars from Pertuis, Joseph-Marie Marsily (1911-1993) and Félix Arnaud, on 6 October 1955 at the Académie of Vaucluse in Avignon. The lecture was eventually published in 1973 in Pertuis (Les armoiries de Pertuis).
[Municipal website]

Born in Venzolasca (Corsica), Marsily studied medicine in Marseilles. He settled as a medical doctor in Pertuis in 1938, being subsequently appointed director of the town's hospital. Fond of local history, he co-authored with Félix Arnaud several articles, pamphlets and conference papers. After his retirement, he studied paleography at the Faculty of Aix-en-Provence, which allowed him to read and analyze old texts rather than relying on second-hand renditions.
On 16 June 2015, the Municipal Council of Pertuis named a new school for him, as a tribute for his contribution to health service and knowledge of local heritage and history.
[Le Pertuisien]

The unusual arrangement of the fess, "cutting" the fleur-de-lis, is not an erroneous reproduction of more heraldically correct arms, since the odd arrangement is described in the grant and shown on the earliest known representation of the arms.
The "heraldically correct" representation, however, has been propagated in several armorials, such as an armorial dated from the 16th century (French National Library) showing the arms of "Pertuis-en-Provence" (folio 116 v, image), the Armorial Général (image), and Louis de Bresc's Armorial des communes de Provence [bjs94]. In the latter source, the author reproduces the arms from the Armorial Général; the companion text first says that the arms were granted in 1298 by Charles II, King of Naples and Sicily and Count of Provence, and subsequently, that they were granted in 1493 by Charles VIII.
Even the Armorial des communes de Vaucluse, published in 1984 by the General Council of Vaucluse, perpetuates the erroneous rendition of the arms, to the greatest displeasure of the municipality of Pertuis.

Ivan Sache, 15 October 2016

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