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Vincennes (Municipality, Val-de-Marne, France)

Last modified: 2021-06-27 by ivan sache
Keywords: vincennes |
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Flag of Vincennes - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 7 March 2007

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Presentation of Vincennes

The municipality of Vincennes (48,649 inhabitants in 2011; 191 ha; municipal website), bordering Paris eastwards, is one of the most densely populated municipalities in France. Vincennes is mostly known for its castle, built in 14th century, one of the biggest and best preserved medieval castles in Europe, and Bois de Vincennes, a wood owned by the Municipality of Paris since 1929. One of the prefered recreation area of the inhabitants of Paris, Bois de Vincennes includes a zoo, a racetrack, a floral park, and INSEP (National Institute for Sport and Physical Training).

The creation and development of Vincennes is closely linked to the history of the castle. It all began in the 12th century when King Louis VII r. 1137-1180) chose the Vincennes forest as a hunting ground. Royal residence from Philip II Augustus (r. 1180-1243) to Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715), the castle gradually acquired its current elements. The medieval buildings, in particular the keep and the large enclosure, constitute the only conserved medieval Royal residence in France. During the 13th century, Philip II Augustus and Louis IX (St. Louis; r. 1226-1270), who frequently stayed in Vincennes, built a manor. From St. Louis' death in 1270 in Tunis to the middle of the 17th century, Vincennes became the sovereigns' principal residence. From 1270 to 1350, Philip III (r. 1270-1285), then Philip V (r. 1316-1322) got married there, and Louis X (r. 1314-1316), Philip V, and Charles IV (r. 1322-1328) died there.

The existence of the hamlet of La Pissotte dates back to the first half of the 11th century: houses situated along an ancient Roman road formed a hamlet on the territory of the domain of Montreuil.
At the end of the Hundred Years' War, Vincennes re-established itself as an important place of rest for the kings of France. Louis XI (r. 1461-1483), Francis I (r. 1515-1547) and Henry II (r. 1547-1559), among others, stayed at the castle. In 1373, Charles V (r. 1364-1380) created the castle's yard to house the Royal servants: it consisted of a square-shaped arrangement of houses in the castle extension. At the end of the 17th century, the castle yard and La Pissotte (a parish since 1667 only) were united into a single parish.
In the middle of the 18th century the King and Queen's pavilions were built, where Anne of Austria (1601-1666) stayed with young Louis XIV and Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661). With the death of Louis XIV in 1715, Vincennes was abandoned as a royal residence. Versailles, or even the Loire Valley residences, such as Chambord or Chenonceaux, were preferred. In the 18th century, Vincennes successively housed a porcelain manufactory, a state prison and an arms manufactory.

The municipality of Vincennes was created in 1787. The Register of Grievances contains complaints against the exiguity of the territory: the inhabitants were forced to rent arable land on the grounds of Montreuil and Fontenay, but their claims were rejected. During the Revolutionary period, Vincennes had a size of 238 hectares (including the castle and its gardens, Petit-Parc, and part of the forest), but was of little interest to the people of Vincennes. It was only in July 1829 that 58 hectares were taken, by Royal Order, at the expense of Montreuil, and 36 from Fontenay. Vincennes finally benefited from a soil that was its own, and could start its evolution from a village to a town.
With the building of Fort-Neuf in 1841, Vincennes became a garrison town, and the population of Vincennes grew by almost 3,800 between 1817 and 1856. In 1861, there were 2,000 more inhabitants, and Vincennes showed a strong population growth rate right up to the middle of the 20th century, with 50,434 inhabitants in 1954. The construction of the railroad connecting Bastille to Verneuil-l'Étang, the industrialization of Paris, and the extension of the mztro to the castle in 1934 all contributed to this important dynamism.

The ditches of the castle of Vincennes were the place of one of the most shameful event of the Napoleonic era, the execution of the Duke of Enghien on 21 March 1804.
On 25 March 1802, France and Britain signed a peace treaty in Amiens. In spring 1803, however, Britain denounced the treaty and Prime Minister Pitt decided to get rid of First Consul Bonaparte (later Emperor Napoléon I). Pitt supported fanatic Royalists gathered in London and led by Georges Cadoudal. On 9 March 1804, Cadoudal and the 47 members of his plot were arrested in Paris. Cadoudal admitted that he was waiting for the arrival in Paris of a Prince of the Royal family before attempting a coup against the First Consul. Bonaparte believed (or pretended to do so) that this Prince was the Duke of Enghien.
Louis-Antoine Henri de Bourbon-Condé, Duke of Enghien (1772-1804), son of Louis Joseph, Prince of Cond&ea&cute;, was the last heir of the Condé family. He fled in 1789 and served in the Royalist troops until the disbanding of the Royal regiments in 1801. He then settled in Ettenheim (Baden) close to the Rhine river and the French border, where he drew a pension from England.
Spies reported to Bonaparte that General Dumouriez, a former Revolutionary General who had joined the Austrian camp in 1793, was in Ettenheim with the Duke. In fact, they confused Dumouriez with a certain M. de Thumery, who was actually in Ettenheim. The First Consul ordered the abduction of the Prince from Baden to France in order to definitively suppress the Royalist plot. Generals Ordener and Caulaincourt sent a dragoon squadron which caught nightly the Duke in his house in Ettenheim. The Duke was immediatly brought to the castle of Vincennes via Strasbourg.

On 20 March, around 5 PM, the Duke was questioned by a military commission headed by General Hulin and supervized by General Savary, Bonaparte's aide de camp. The Duke proudly admitted having fought the French Republic but rejected any idea of plot against the First Consul. He asked for an interview with Bonaparte, which was rejected by Savary. The trial started during the night. The Duke admitted he had accepted to serve in the British troops. He was not allowed a defense counsel and no witness was called. The Duke was sentenced to death and immediatly shot in the ditches of Vincennes lit by a lantern.
Counsellor Réal, who should have presided the trial, arrived in Vincennes only after the execution, and came back immediatly to the Castle of Malmaison to tell Bonaparte what had happened. It seems that Bonaparte was surprized by what he heard, but approved the execution for the reasons of state. He said to Mrs. Rémusat "The Duke plotted like any other conspirer, he was treated like any other conspirer".
In France, the reprobation after the execution of the Duke of Enghien remained tacit. Châteaubriand, who had just been appointed Minister of the Republic in Valais/Wallis (Switzerland) officially resigned because of his wife's poor health. In Europe, nobody dared condemn the execution, except Tsar Alexander I (who had himself been involved in the murder of his father Paul I). The Duke of Baden did not complain on the abduction which had taken place from his state.
However, the execution of the Duke of Enghien caused a definitive breakdown between Bonaparte and the aristocrats who had supported him (for instance Châteaubriand). Most historians have considered the execution of the Duke of Enghoien as a big mistake, if not a crime, but Napoléon I in his St. Helena exile never changed his mind, considering it was a case of legitimate defense.

The ditches of Vincennes are mentioned by Marcel Proust in Le Côté de Guermantes, one of the components of &Aagrave; la recherche du temps perdu. Around 1900, the main social activity of the (fictitious) Duchess of Guermantes, member of one of the oldest noble French families, was to wittily gossip on other (fictitious or not) noble families, especially those which were granted titles by Napoléon I. The Duchess reports than someone asked one of these "Empire nobles" if he had picked up his title into the ditches of Vincennes.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 7 March 2007

Flag of Vincennes

The castle of Vincennes has undergone an important restoration programme since 1988, especially the donjon, the highest remaining construction of that kind in Europe. After 12 years of renovation, the donjon reopened in 2007. The town of Vincennes has decided to celebrate this opening with many events called L'année du Château (The Castle's Year).
The castle being one of the main symbols of the town of Vincennes, it has been decided to use a flag which would express the attachment of Vincennes to its history and its castle, and the strength of its identity. The flag was unveiled on 9 March 2007 for the inauguration of L'année du Château. It is displayed on the Town Hall and at the entrances of the town.
The flag is based on the coat of arms of Vincennes: the hoist (1/3rd) shows the chief of the coat of arms (azure semy de lis or). The fly (2/3rd) shows a red field with the castle's donjon ans three round balls (Gules a castle triple towered argent in base three plates placed 1 and 2).
The flag was designed by Olivier Touzeau for the municipality. The drawing of the castle on the flag is the same as Robert Louis' drawing on the municipal coat of arms.

In 1889, a group of young people from Vincennes established a coat of arms to decorate the invitations to a ball they were holding. At that time, Vincennes, like numerous other districts in the Seine departement, did not have a coat of arms. They used the badge of the town of Paris, and replaced the ship symbolizing Paris with the image of the keep of the castle of Vincennes. They also put three round balls beneath the castle. The engraver placed the badge on a decorated cartridge and surmounted it with a crown. During the construction of the Town Hall of Vincennes, the architect Calinaud used this coat of arms and its cartridge as decoration. After being submitted to the Heraldic Commission of the Seine, the composition of the coat of arms was prescribed by a Prefectoral Decree on 20 June 1942, and on 31 March 1952, the Vincennes Municipal Council fixed its external ornaments definitively; the French heraldist Robert Louis, who lived in Vincennes, made the features and colours of these armorial bearings.
The main element of the coat of arms is, of course, the donjon (keep) of the castle. Built in the 14th century, under the reign of King of France Charles V the Wise, it is the highest remaining building of that kind in Europe. It rises 50 m above the ground of its courtyard.
The three round balls stand for the heroism of Pierre Daumesnil (1776-1832): having embraced a military career at the age of 15 and taken part to all of Napoléon's campaigns, he lost a leg at Wagram in 1809. Made Baron of the Empire in 1808, then Brigadier General in 1812 and appointed Governor of the castle of Vincennes the same year, he blocked the allied forces who tried to capture it in 1814, and again in 1815, where, when surrounded, he retorted to the Prussian General: "Give me back my leg and I'll give you Vincennes". The blockade ended on 15 November 1815; sacked under the Bourbon Restauration, Daumesnil returned to his former office as Governor of the castle from 1830 to his death in 1832. The round balls also recall the gunnery school which was situated in Bois de Vincennes.
The chief (of France) stands for the Royal past of Vincennes: the castle was a Royal residence from the 12th to the 18th century.

Olivier Touzeau, 19 May 2017

Former flags of Vincennes


Former flag of Vincennes (1930s/1960s?) - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 7 March 2007

Vincennes may have used in the past a vertically divided blue-red flag with the coat of arms in the centre. The Town Hall owns several flags of this kind, which have not been in use for decades; they should, however, be called vexilloids, since they have the rectangular shape of a classical flag, 2:3 proportions, but no device to hoist them on a mast. They probably have been used as table cloths; the sewn coat of arms is not shown as on the official drawing by the heraldist Robert Louis, and it looks hand-made. The exact date of use is unknown, but it was probably at some point between the 1930s and the 1960s.


Former flag of Vincennes (1970s/1980s) - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 12 April 2007

Vincennes has had an "official" flag between the flag shown above and its today's, official flag. That flag was vertically divided medium blue-red with the coat of arms, including the mural crown, in the center. I have seen it as table flags belonging to the Twin Towns' Office of the town of Vincennes. Several of these flags, which seem to date back to the 1970/80ies, do exist, but they have not been in use for years. Their use must have been limited to twin towns ceremonies. I do not know if any flag of this kind has ever flown over the Town Hall, but they obviously have been officially used - maybe only as table flags.

Olivier Touzeau, 12 April 2007

Erroneous report of the flag of Vincennes


Erroneous flag of Vincennes - Image by Ivan Sache, 7 March 2007

According to anonymous visual observations reported in Franciae Vexilla [frv], #26/72, June 2002, the town of Vincennes uses a vertically divided blue-red flag.
Vincennes does use forked blue and red pennants for decorative purposes in ceremonies as on the National Day (14 July) or on remembrance of the end of World Wars I and II. The choice of blue and red is, of course, because of the coat of arms, but these are decorations, and are not supposed to be "symbols" of the town.
In the early 2000s, Vincennes used no flag: Franciae Vexilla's report is wrong.

Ivan Sache & Olivier Touzeau, 7 March 2007

Emblems' Hall in the castle of Vincennes


Emblems' Hall - Photo by Olivier Touzeau, 2012

The castle of Vincennes hosts a museum (opened in 2007) and the History Services of the Ministry of Defense (created in 2005), which include the History Departments of the Land Forces (in Vincennes since 1946), of the Air Force (since 1974), and of the Navy (since 1974).
The military colors of the disbanded regiments of the French Army are displayed in the Emblems' Hall of the King's Pavilion. Some 190 standards are arranged on a circular frame hanging from the ceiling.
[France Info Grand-Est, 11 February 2018]

Ivan Sache, 22 February 2018

Yacht Club de Vincennes


Burgee of YCV - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 3 February 2013

Yacht club de Vincennes (YCV; website) was created by a group of enthusiasts in late 2007 under the name of Vincennes Nautique. It was renamed to Yacht Club de Vincennes in January 2011.
The aims of YCV are to develop the taste and practice of water sports (from initiation to competition), to develop and promote the discovery of the marine environment, to teach the basics of navigation (theory and practice), to train his members to the safety and prevention in the marine environment, and to develop a handisport section. YCV members sail at sea in Brittany, in the Atlantic, in the Mediterranean sea...

As reported by club's members, YCV adopted a burgee in March 2011, made of a blue field and a blue diamond-shape (separated by a white chevron) with the letters "YCV". At hoist is a golden fleur-de-lis representing the Royal town of Vincennes.

Olivier Touzeau, 3 February 2013

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