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France: Municipalities

Last modified: 2024-04-27 by olivier touzeau
Keywords: municipality |
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Flag hoisting on Town Halls

In France, it is mandatory for a municipality to hoist the French national flag at Town Halls (mairie or hôtel de ville). The flag is sometimes embroided with the name of the municipality like in Saint-Lambert.
The municipalities are also allowed to use a specific flag representing the town in addition to the national flag.

Dominique Cureau, 4 February 2006

Municipal heraldry


French municipalities can adopt their own arms. The deliberation of the Municipal Council that adopts the design has the force of law; accordingly, the blazon given in the deliberation is the official description of the arms.
The specific design of the municipal arms is submitted to the rules of intellectual property, while the generic blazon is a common property, provided, of course, it has not been usurped from a third party.
The source for these prescriptions is often given, in official documents included, as the Law "On Municipal Organization", promulgated on 5 April 1884 by the President of the Republic and published on 6 April in the French official gazette, No. 96, pp.1,857-1,868. There is, however, not the least mention of municipal arms in the text of the law!

Ivan Sache, 14 August 2001

Commission nationale d'héraldique

The Commission nationale d'héraldique (CNH - National Commission of Heraldry), originally established in 1960, had it Statutes fixed by an Order issued on 14 December 1999 by the Ministry of Culture and Communication. Its task is to issue recommendations on arms proposed by territorial collectivities.
Presided by the Chief of the Interdepartmental Service of the French Archives, the CNH is composed of four permanent members:
- the Curator in charge of the Department of Middle Ages and Ancient Regime at the National Archives;
- The Director of the Department of Manuscripts at the French National Library;
- The Curator of the Mint Museum in Paris;
- The President of the Association of the French Mayors, or its representative;
and of another five qualified members, named by a Decision issued on 4 February 2015 by the Ministry of Culture and Communication and published in the Official Bulletin of the Ministry, No. 243, p. 23 (text):
- Jean-Baptiste Auzel, Director of the Departmental Archives of Manche;
- Clément Blanc, Curator of the Sigillographic (seals) collections at the National Archives;
- Martin de Framond, Director of the Departmental Archives of Haute-Loire;
- Marie-Adélaîde Nielen, from the Department of Middle Ages and Ancient Regime at the National Archives;
- Magali Lacousse, Curator-in-Chief of Heritage, Department of Private Archives ar the National Archives.
A Decision issued the same day increased the competence of the CNH to the personal arms. Yet another Decision, issued on 20 October 2020 by the Ministry of Culture and published in the Official Bulletin of the Ministry No. 309 (November 2020), p. 40 (text), re-established the CNH's original competence restricted to the arms of territorial collectivities.
[FranceArchives, 2 November 2021]

In 2014, the CNH released the Vademecum pour un blason communal (Handbook for Municipal Coats of Arms), written by Jean-Baptiste Auzel. The handbook explains the principles of heraldry, stating that the only inviolable rule is the rule of tincture (metal should not be placed upon metal, nor color upon color). Directions are given for the choice of charges and supporters.
The CNH recommends to base the proposed design on a comprehensive historical documentation and to consult the Departmental Archives to complete the files. The Director of the Departmental Archives has often been taught heraldry and could provide first recommendations or even sketch preliminary proposals; in some cases, he heads a Departmental Commission of Heraldry. The CNH also suggests to have the proposed arms designed by specialist in heraldry, before submitting it to the Departmental or National Commission of Heraldry. Recommendation and evaluation of proposals are free of charge.
The document provides a list of modern references, in French (Crayencour, Pastoureau, Veyrin-Forrer) or translated from foreign languages (Galbreath, Neubecker).

Ivan Sache, 14 August 2021

Good towns

The chief "of the good towns", "Azure three fleurs-de-lis or", aka "chief of France", is commonly used in French municipal heraldry, and, therefore, on several municipal flags charged with the municipal coat of arms. Here is an historical account of the good towns. Heraldic implication is that the chief of the "good towns" is sometimes used by towns that were never granted the title of "good town". Moreover, the list of the good towns was not firmly established until 1802, and subsequently submitted to modifications. The status of "good town", of course, disappeared when the monarchy was suppressed.

The expression "bonnes villes" (good towns) is first found in official use in a Order issued in July 1245 by King Louis IX (St. Louis): upon request of the inhabitants of Beaucaire, the king ordered that the seneschal [the king's representative] should not decide himself to forbid the export grain or wine but had to gather an assembly composed of prelates, barons and representatives of the good towns to decide it. In another two Orders, undated but probably issued in 1256, Louis IX prescribed how the communes and good towns of Normandy should be granted a Mayor and should report their financial management. In the Enseignements (Teachings) he transferred to his son, Philip, the king recommended him to preserve the good towns and the customs of the kingdom. In the Coutumes de Beauvaisis (late 13th century), Philippe de Beaumanoir recalls that a commune is not necessarily a good town and that a good town can be ruled by another lord than the king.

The "bonnes villes" indeed appear in earlier chansons de geste. In the Charroi de Nîmes, written in the first quarter of the 12th century, King William, entering the town of Nîmes, hold by the Saracens, says la vile est bone, j'y verrai demorer (The town is good, I will stay here). He further explains that the town is "good" because it is protected by strong fortifications and supplied with all kinds of goods that are sold at much cheaper price than anywhere else. Five decades later, Chrétien de Troyes, in Le Chevalier à la charrette, relates how Lancelot, defeated but eager to meet Guenièvre, accepted to take a cart driven by a dwarf and used by the neighboring town as a pillory. To highlight the misery of the town, the author writes that the good towns had 3,000 carts whilst the poor town had only one. The Prisée des sergents established under the reign of Philip II Augustus (1180-1223) indicates that the service due to the king by the towns was composed of men and carts. Accordingly, the good towns were of military significance. Moreover, the use of several carts as pillories indicates that the good towns had several courts. In the Middle Ages, "good" also conveyed a meaning of general significance: Easter, Lent, All Saints and Christmas were known as the "good feasts"; an Order issued on 15 February 1346 by Philip VI mentions the "good merchants", while Jews were allowed to live only in the "good towns". A defunct sovereign was called "the good king" as a mark of veneration. Accordingly, beside their military, economic and judiciary significance, the good towns had a specific connection with the king: the good towns were known to be loyal to the king and were worth his protection. The connection was particularly strong in difficult circumstances, which explains why there was no permanent list of the good towns of the kingdom.

The good towns of Auvergne, already mentioned at the end of the 13th century and listed in the 15th century (13 for Lower Auvergne and 6 for Upper Auvergne) sent representatives to the States General. On 8 April 1347, Philip VI asked the inhabitants of Reims to appoint representatives at the assembly he gathered in Amiens to prepare the defense of the kingdom, as the other good towns already did.
The good towns therefore established a loyal alliance between the king and the kingdom, especially in the 14th century, when States General became a permanent institution. The good towns soon expressed global solidarity, acting as the kingdom's conscience. Under the reign of Louis XII, the chancellery established protocol rules, the burghers from the good towns being addressed as très chers (highly estimated) while those from the ordinary towns were only chers (estimated); application of the rules, however, was made difficult by the lack of an official list of the good towns.

The alliance between the king and the good towns was also expressed in municipal heraldry. The "chief of the good towns" appeared in the 17th century, on the model of the augmentation of arms by the grant of a chief charged with three fleurs-de-lis, which emerged in the second half of the 14th century. There was, however, no official text to regulate the use of the chief of France: while all good towns bore the chief of France in their arms, several more towns did the same. The Armorial Général shows much more arms with the chief of France than there were good towns and does not mention the status of good towns as a category (towns were either the seat of a bishopric, an archbishopric or a sovereign court, or toyal towns).

The good towns were finally granted an official status under the First Empire. A Senatusconsultus issued on the 8 Fructidor of the Year X (26 August 1802) prescribed that the 24 "main towns" of the Republic, ranked under the decreasing order of their population, should delegate their Mayor to the ceremony of oath of the citizen to be named the successor of the First Consul. A Senatusconsultus issued on the 28 Floréal of the Year XII (18 May 1804) increased the number of towns to 36. The Imperial Decree issued on 1 March 1808 established the Imperial Nobility and the Seal Council, and prescribed the incorporation of the "towns and communes into the heraldic system adopted by His Majesty". The towns were split into three categories:
- the 36 good towns, whose Mayor shall attend the coronation of the Emperor;
- the towns whose Mayors shall be appointed by the Emperor;
- the towns whose Mayors shall be appointed by the Prefects.
Out of the 36 good towns, eight were located out of France. The arms of the good towns should bear a chief gules with three bees or, replacing the fleurs-de-lis surmounted by a mural crown; registration fee was 900 francs, as for a Duke, and their Mayor was granted the rank of Baron. The procedure was also used in the states formed after the suppression of the Holy Roman Empire; in 1811, King Fredrick of Württemberg established seven "Gute Städte".

In November 1814, Louis XVIII asked the Prefects to list the good towns of the Ancient Regime that were not included in the Imperial list. The Ministry of the Interior, wrongly interpreting a report, concluded that only Paris was entitled to be a good town.
The Decree of 23 April 1821 re-established the 28 good towns located in France out of the 36 prescribed in the Year XII. Another 12 towns were elected, increasing the number of good towns to 40; the good towns were listed in the Royal Almanach, their Mayor should attend royal coronations, and they were awarded a chief of France in their arms. Short before the coronation of Charles X, another 15 towns (Auxerre, Beauvais, Douai, Limoges, Poitiers, Sedan …) applied for the status of good town, to no avail: on 13 March 1825, the Royal Council stated: "there are 40 good towns, no new ones". Celebrated on 29 May 1825, the coronation of Charles X was the last coronation of a king of France, and the only one to which representatives of the good towns were actually invited. The event was also the last public appearance of the good towns, ending the aborted attempt to restore an institution from the Ancient Regime.
[Michel François. 1975. Les bonnes villes. Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 119, 551-560]

Municipalities using the "chief of France" on their arms

Good towns (24), 1802
The chief "of the good town" is still featured on the arms of Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Rouen, Toulouse, Orléans, Versailles, Reims and Amiens.
It is not used on the arms of Marseilles, Nantes, Lille, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Rennes, Caen, Nancy, Dijon and Nice. It is, of course, not used by towns no longer located in France: Brussels, Mainz, Antwerp, Liège and Geneva.

Good towns (36), 1804
The chief "of the good town" is still featured on the arms of the added towns of Angers (two fleurs-de-lis only), Tours, Bourges and La Rochelle.
It is not used on the arms of the added towns of Metz, Clermont-Ferrand, Besançon and Grenoble. It is, of course, not used on the added towns no longer located in France: Turin, Ghent, Aachen and Alessandria.

Good towns (40), 1821
The chief "of the good town" is still featured on the arms of the added towns of Montauban, Troyes, Antibes (semy of fleurs-de-lis) and Abbeville.
It is not used on the arms of the added towns of Nîmes, Sète, Carcassonne, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Pau, Vesoul, Toulon, Colmar and Cambrai.

Other towns using the "chief of France"
Several towns use the chief "of the good towns" on their arms while they were never awarded the title of "good town". The non-exhaustive list given below includes a great diversity of towns and villages.

More than 100,000 inhabitants: Limoges, Le Mans
50,000-100,000 inhabitants: Béziers, Fréus, Moulins, Narbonne, Poitiers
20,000-50,000 inhabitants: Aurillac, Castres, Chartres, Chaumont, Millau, Privas, Vernon
10,000-20,000 inhabitants: Amboise, Auray, Castelnaudary, Crépy-en-Valois, La Flèche, Gisors, Lavaur, Marmande, Saint-Lô, Pont-Audemer, Villefranche-de-Rouergue
5,000-10,000 inhabitants: L'Aigle, Dol-de-Bretagne, Honfleur, Loudun, Milhaud, Montech, Pézenas, Roquemaure, Roye, Saint-Affrique, Sarlat, Trévoux, Uzès, Vias, Villemur-sur-Tarn
1,000 - 5,000 inhabitants: Breteuil-sur-Iton, Brionne, Buzet-sur-Tarn, Château-Renard, Châtillon-sur-Indre, Fabrezan, Ginestas, Jargeau, Levroux, Pont-de-l'Arche, Pont-l'Évêque, Ribemont, Rieux-Volvestre, Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, Villefranche-de-Lauragais
Less than 1,000 inhabitants: Castelnau-de-Brassac, Duravel, Najac.

Ivan Sache, 3 July 2022

Municipal seals and stamps

The official seals and stamps of the municipalities shall authentify the acts issued by the municipal authorities. There are neither Laws nor Regulations prescribing the design of the municipal seals. Some of them show the municipal coat of arms, the name of the municipality surrounded by a laurel or oak wreath, or, more traditionally, the effigy of the Republic [Marianne] surrounded by the name of the municipality.
The use of municipal seals is prescribed by the Law of 18 March 1918 regulating the manufacturing and selling of official seals and stamps. Manufacturing seals is not permitted without written permission of the Mayor. Moreover, forgery, manufacture or fraudulent use of municipal seals is punished by Articles 444-3 and 444-4 of the Penal Code.
[Official Gazette of the National Assembly, 1998].

Ivan Sache, 15 April 2001

Mayor's sash

According to Article R. 122-2 of the Municipal Code, "the Mayors shall wear the Tricolor sash with golden-fringed gloves in public ceremonies and every time the exercise of their functions may require that distinctive emblem of their authority".
This is the only regulation about that matter, which deals only with the circumstances in which the sash shall be worn. However, according to a well-established custom, the Municipal Councillors (the Mayor and the Deputies Mayors) wear the Mayoral sash from right shoulder to left side. The gloves are placed on the left, to the waist. Wearing the blue stripe upwards and the red one downwards is more natural, because it matches the unfurling of the national emblem from hoist, as prescribed by Article 2 of the Constitution of 4 October 1958: "The national emblem is the tricolor, blue, white, red, flag." Wearing the sash girding one's loins is also possible.
[Official Gazette of the National Assembly, 1998].

Ivan Sache, 13 April 2001

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