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Sancerre (Municipality, Cher, France)

Last modified: 2012-04-21 by ivan sache
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[Flag of SaAncerre]

Flag of Sancerre - Image by Ivan Sache, 20 November 2011


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Presentation of Sancerre

The municipality of Sancerre (1,727 inhabitants in 2007; 1,627 ha) is located in Berry, 45 km north-east of Bourges. The town is built on an isolated hill (312 m), locally known as piton (spur), dominating the left bank of river Loire and famous vineyards.

Sancerre, whose name might be a bastardization of Saint Cère, emerged as a significant settlement in the 12th century, when a powerful feudal family fortified the place. The Sancerre lineage, descending from the Counts of Champagne, then the most powerful vassals of the King of France, was involved in several war episodes in the Holy Land during the Crusades and in France, as well.

Stephen (c. 1132-1191), the junior son of Count of Champagne Theobald IV (d. 1152), inherited the domain of Sancerre and was made the first Count of Sancerre. Stephen built a stone fortress defended by eight towers and increased the fortifications of the town. He opposed to King of France Philip I Augustus, who eventually defeated him and looted the County. Stephen died in the siege of Acre during the Third Crusade. He was succeeded by his son William I (v. 1176-1217), who fought in 1214 in the Battle of Bouvines on Philip Augustus' side. Member of the expedition organized by his brother-in-law Peter of Courtenay to obtain the throne of Constantinople, William was captured by Theodoros Laskaris and died in jail in Epirus. Count Stephen II (1252-1306, Count in 1280/1284) fought in the Battle of the Golden Spurs near Courtrai, and subsequently defended Lille. Count Louis II (c. 1305-1346, Count in 1326) was killed during the Battle of Crécy. The Sancerre lineage got extinct in 1419 with Countess Margaret (c. 1355-1418, Countess in 1403).
The most famous member of the Sancerre lineage was Louis of Sancerre (1341/1342-1402), Louis II's second son. Louis of Sancerre, together with Constable Bertrand du Guesclin, was a main contributor to the reconquest of the territories lost to the English during the Hundred Years' War. Sancerre organized the funeral of du Guesclin in Châteauneuf-de-Randon in 1380, obtaining from the governor, who had promised to surrender to du Guesclin only, that he would put the keys of the town on du Guesclin's grave. Charles V appointed Louis of Sancerre Marshal of France in 1368, while Charles VI appointed him Constable of France in 1397. Louis of Sancerre was buried in the Royal necropolis of Saint-Denis.

In the 15th century, Sancerre became a Protestant "safety place". From 13 January to 19 August 1573, the town was besieged by the Royal army, eventually surrendering; the last fortifications of the town were demolished in 1621, keeping only a part of the ruined donjon. On 2 April 1796, the artillery officer Phélyppeaux attempted to raise the "Sancerre small Vendée" against the Republic; the white flag was hoisted on the belfry but the insurrection was suppressed within eight days.

Today a small town, Sancerre is the capital of two emblematic products, the Sancerre wine and the Chavignol cheese (website).
Grapevine seems to have been grown in the Sancerre region for ages; Gregory of Tours mentioned the local wines in 582. In the 12th century, the vineyards were increased by the Augustinian monks of Saint-Satur and the Counts of Sancerre; the red wine of Sancerre, highly estimated by royal and princely courts, was considered by Duke John of Berry as the best French wine. Destroyed by the phylloxera at the end of the 19th century, the Sancerre vineyards were totally replanted. The white wine was granted an AOC (Appellation d'origine contrôlée) in 1936, which was extended in 1959 to the red and rosé wines. The Sancerre vineyard covers now more than 2,800 ha scattered over 14 municipalities surrounding Sancerre.
Chavignol is a village part of the municipality of Sancerre. Goat breeding in the region was mentioned for the first time in Jean de Léry's L'histoire mémorable de Sancerre, published in 1573. When the local goat cheese started to be named crottin de Chavignol is not known; the "crottin de Chavignolles" was listed, as a very good product, in the Statistiques du Cher, published in 1829. The production of cheese increased when the phylloxera destroyed the vineyard; the railway line Nevers-Paris allowed the cheese makers to supply the Paris markets. The word crottin means in usual French "manure", but the origin of "crottin" as a cheese is hypothetical. Locally, a crot is a hole near the river where the women washed the washing; clay extracted from these holes was used to make the cheese moulds. The Crottin de Chavignol was granted in AOC in 1976. In 2007, the milk from 26,000 goats was used to produce 18 millions pieces of cheese.

Source: Sancerre tourist's website

Ivan Sache, 20 November 2011


Flag of Sancerre

The flag of Sancerre, hoisted in the town, is white with the greater arms of the town and, below, "VILLE DE SANCERRE" written in black letters.

The arms of Sancerre, known since the 14th century, are "Azure a harrow or banded gules". The shield is placed on a cartouche argent, surmounted by a mural crown or and surrounded by two branches of grapevine vert tied per saltire by a ribbon argent.
Gaspard Thaumas de la Thaumassière (1631-1702), in his Histoire du Berry, gives the background of the shield as gules. Indeed, the arms ascribed to Sancerre in 1698 in the Armorial Général are "Gules a harrow or surrounded by two branches of laurel tied per saltire". The French blazon uses the word herse, which can be translated either as "portcullis" or "harrow". The Armorial Général shows a portcullis, probably referring to the fortress of Sancerre, while subsequent versions of the arms preferred a harrow.

Pascal Vagnat, 20 November 2011