II) Landrecies, a German land ? (843 - 1482)


Weird as it may be, Landrecies was under the domination of Germany (from 843 to 1482, that is 639 years) for a longer time than under the French rule (from 1655 till today, that is only 347 years !!)

In 843 the middle kingdom took control of Landrecies. Following a series of bitter conflicts between the three former parts of the Empire, the situation came to be simplified : soon there were only a French kingdom in the west and a German kingdom in the east. Landrecies was located in this newborn German kingdom, which was named the "Holy Roman Empire" in 962.

France in the west, and Holy Roman Empire in the east. Unfortunately, Landrecies (green spot) lay within the borders of the Holy Roman Empire...

Landrecies remained under the yoke of this Empire for more than 600 years. However this doesn't mean that the local masters of the town never changed. Indeed one of the main peculiarities of the Holy Roman Empire was to be made of a multitude of little and virtually independent states (it depended on the periods, but there could be up to 350 of them). Actually it's a little like the European community today : France, for example, can change its president without questioning its membership to the E.U. Landrecies, likewise, experienced different rulers without leaving the Holy Roman Empire.

Thus, several different phases of rule can be identified as far as medieval Landrecies is concerned : a short virtual independence (9th century - 1096), then the domination of Avesnian lords (1096 - 1330), of the Hainaut earldom (1330 - 1428), and finally of the duke of Burgundy (1428 - 1482). From 1482 to 1655, Landrecies theoretically remained under the authority of the Holy Roman Empire, but actually after Charles V's retirement in 1556, the Holy Roman Empire had to step aside in favor of the Spanish Habsburgs... (cf part III)

The short independence of the Landrecian "alleu" (9th century - 1096)

It has been said in the first part that a little village appeared on the left bank on the Sambre river around the early 7th century, at the same place as the former Gallo-Roman community, and maybe thanks to Landri's initiative.

The emergence of the Holy Roman Empire didn't really trouble the peaceful and rural life of Landrecian people. It should be borne in mind that Landrecies was nearly nothing at that time : there were only some scattered farms in the countryside, and a very small center on the left bank of the river. In other words it was a very poor area, and this didn't incite the surrounding lords to try to take control of it.

No wonder, then, that the village managed to preserve its independence for so long. Landrecies was then what is called an "alleu" in French. An alleu, during the feudal era, was a land which didn't belong to any landlord and which hadn't to pay any tax. The opposite notion was "fief".

The domination of Avesnian lords (1096 - 1330)

1096 is only an approximate date. Actually, the way Landrecies came to be subjugated by the lord of Avesnes (i.e a medium-sized town, 10 miles east, and today of course the center of the "Avesnois" region) remains unknown. This particular year is generally chosen because this is when the then lord of Avesnes, Gossuin, built a powerful dungeon near the village, on the left bank of the Sambre river. Though nothing remains of it today, it is thought that it was built in what is now the Etoquies hamlet, right between the river and the Mormal forest, and that it was designed to control and tax the river traffic.

The Avesnian blazon is actually the blazon of Jack of Avesnes, a lord from the 12th century. It refers to the participation of Gerard (Jack's ancestor) to the first crusade.

Therefore the building of this dungeon marked the beginning of the Avesnian domination over Landrecies. Actually this domination was very fruitful for the village, since it accelerated its economic development. Two Avesnian lords in particular turned out to be great benefactors of Landrecies : Nicolas of Avesnes, and then his son Jack.

In 1140 or thereabouts, Nicolas of Avesnes achieved what can be said to have been the founding element of Landrecies as such : the building of a strongly fortified castle on the right bank of the Sambre river, right in front of the village of the left bank (today there's only a little tower left). Landrecian people, who had lived only on the left bank for the moment, started settling around the stronghold, and the village gradually spread on both sides of the river. Ramparts were built very soon, as well as a little market where local peasants got into the habit of selling goods.

Such a prosperity made some neighbors quite envious, especially the earl of Hainaut, Baudouin VIII. In 1185, he launched a successful attack on the little town and nearly razed it to the ground ! This was the first destruction of Landrecies, and this was far from being the last one...

In spite of this disaster, the Avesnian lord eventually managed to reconquer the town. Its inhabitants weren't dispirited, and they took on the reconstruction of their houses. In order to stimulate them Jack, Nicolas' son, granted them a charter in 1191, giving some rights and liberties to Landrecies.

What followed for Landrecies was a long period of peace and prosperity. The castle became the center of a great agricultural community : a vast number of swampy meadows were drained and fish-farming developed in the Folie hamlet. In 1314, William of Châtillon, the Avesnian lord, granted Landrecians a big annual fair on St-Luke's day, that is on October 18th. This popular event has survived till today, and it is still one of the most important day in the Landrecian year.

The domination of the Hainaut earldom (1330 - 1428)

Eventually, the Hainaut earldom managed to take control of the town, but with no violence. It was merely declared in 1330 that Landrecies, as well as its neighbor Le Favril, were now held by the earl of Hainaut, who delegated his powers to the Avesnian lord. Therefore, the lord of Avesnes wasn't the real ruler of Landrecies anymore : he was reduced to be only the local representative of the vast Hainaut earldom.

This blow from fate didn't affect Landrecian daily life very deeply. It was in those times that the town and the castle were equipped with a system of running drinking water, thanks to a wooden pipe going down from a source in the "Faubourg Soyères".

The domination of Burgundy (1428 - 1482)

On the other side of the border, France was in great turmoil : the Hundred Years War against England was raging. In 1424, Landrecies was briefly visited by British troops, which had taken refuge within the borders of the Holy Roman Empire (then an ally of England) in order to reorganize their forces.

At the same time, the duke of Burgundy, who was then an independent ruler and another ally of England, tried by all possible means to weaken his mortal enemy the French king. His great ambition was to create a strong state in the northeast, which would be able to counterbalance the French power. He reached his aim progressively through territorial purchases, carefully chosen weddings and inheritances. Thus, in 1428 the duke inherited of the Hainaut earldom. Therefore Landrecies experienced the rule of the Burgundian dukedom for a few decades, and today a "Burgundian Street" exists in the town.

In the map below, all the territories held by the Burgundian duke in 1460 are coloured :

Landrecies is in green, and the border of the Holy Roman Empire is in red...

Landrecian people tried to adapt to the harsh Burgundian rule as best as they could. Since the Burgundian duke owned a lot of territory and so couldn't be everywhere at the same time, he appointed a lord for Avesnes and Landrecies : his name was Oliver, and he was married to a noblewoman called Jane of Lallaing. The name of this lady (1433 - 1467) is still vivid in the Landrecian collective memory : she is remembered as a great benefactress of the town, probably because she managed to alleviate the pains of her people in those warring times. Today, a street of the Landrecian upper town bears her name.

In 1477, the French king was Louis XI. This pragmatic monarch knows that the very survival of France depends first and foremost on the destruction of the Burgundian state. That's why he launched an attack on the territories of the famous Charles the Bold, the duke of Burgundy.

Louis XI, French king from 1461 to 1483 Vs.Charles the Bold, the last independent Burgundian duke

Landrecies, since it had become a Burgundian stronghold, was treated as an enemy by the French king : in 1477 the French army besieged the little town, and finally took it over. Louis XI was eager to take his revenge on Charles the Bold for all the previous humiliations he had suffered from him. As a consequence, Landrecies was plundered and mostly destroyed.

Louis XI, then, was forced to withdraw and to leave Landrecies, but he had reached his goal anyway : the powerful Burgundian state was no more. In the Arras treaty of 1482, Louis XI annexed Burgundy and Picardy, but he left all the other former Burgundian territories (including Landrecies) to Maximilian, the Austrian archduke. Indeed, Maximilian had married Mary of Burgundy, the daughter of Charles the Bold, and this enabled him to claim these lands.

Thus, Landrecies became a possession of the Austrian Habsburgs, and was integrated into the Netherlands, which were then Austrian and gathered what is now Holland, Belgium and northern France.


Next : Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs (1482 - 1655)