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Pays de Retz (Traditional district, Brittany, France)

Last modified: 2010-11-12 by ivan sache
Keywords: pays de retz | cross (black) | crosses: 2 (black) | ermines: 9 (black) | ermines: 18 (black) | ermines: 15 (black) |
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Presentation of Pays de Retz

Pays de Retz covers the area located between the southern (left) bank of the Loire river and the North of the Breton-Vendean marsh (West of France). Pays de Retz has no specific administrative status and is mostly included in the departement of Loire-Atlantique, Region Pays de la Loire. Its historical capitale is Machecoul (ca. 5,000 inhabitants).
The area is relatively flat and includes large marshy depressions, such as the lake of Grand Lieu (3,500 ha in summer, 9,000 ha in winter). The Atlantic coast of Pays de Retz is made of schistose cliffs and nicknamed Côte de Jade (Jade Coast).
Economy of Pays de Retz is based on fishing, sea resorts (Pornic, Sainte-Marie, Saint-Brévin), milk-cow rearing, market gardening in the polder areas, and wine-growing (Gros Plant vine, used to produce Muscadet wine).

The name of Retz is associated with Gilles de Retz (1404-1440), better known as Gilles de Rais (or Rays), brother-in-arms of Joan of Arc, Marshal of France at the age of 25, and later satanic and pedophilic serial killer, finally sentenced to death, hung and burned in Nantes. He is the original source of Charles Perrault's Barbe-Bleue (Bluebeard). The ruins of the castle in which he committed most of his crimes can still be seen in Tiffauges. He was lord of a territory larger than Pays de Retz but including most of it.

Ivan Sache, 27 February 2001

Before the Xth century, the Pays de Retz was included in the territory of the celtic tribe of the Pictes or Pictones, who gave the name of Poitou. The area was later incorporated into the County of Poitou. In the Xth century, Brittany was given a small area around Rez (Ratiatum), later called the Pays de Rez (pagus ratiatensis), later Pays de Retz.
Time afer time, the Bretons increased the territory of Pays de Retz. The Pays became a County, then a Duchy-Peery, with changing borders, as it was the case for most feudal states in the Middle Ages.

Hervé Rochard, 18 July 2003


The flag controversy

[Pays de Retz, flag #1]

Banner of arms of Pays de Retz - Image by Ivan Sache, 27 September 2002

The yellow flag with a black cross is a banner of arms, the so-called croix de Retz (Retz cross) being dated XIVth century according to the the Society of Historians of Pays de Retz.

[Pays de Retz, flag #2]         [Pays de Retz, flag #4]

Two flags of Pays de Retz with ermine spots - Images by Ivan Sache (left) and Raphaël Vinet (right), 22 April 2002

A white flag, in ratio 3:4, divided by a black cross fimbriated in white and black, with the Retz cross in the first quarter, the three other quarters white with four ermine spots (1+2+1), is shown by Philippe Rault [rau98]. The four ermine spots are said to have been taken from the flag of Pays de Nantes to highlight the belonging of Pays de Retz to the County of Nantes and (historical if not currently administrative) Brittany. The author of this flag is not mentioned, but the flag is said to have been sold since 1996 by Coop Breizh, in collaboration with the Breton Vexillological Society.
However, this flag has not been unanimuously accepted in Pays de Retz. In an interview to the most popular local newspaper Ouest-France, M. Lopez, President of the Society of Historians of Pays de Retz, claimed that "this flag of Pays de Retz cannot represent our territory since it hides its Poitou historical component". Lopez states that Pays de Retz was annexed by Brittany in the IXth century and that a better flag should include the towers of Poitou. He further explains why Pays de Retz has a composite Breton/Poitevin identity. To summarize, the Society of Historians of Pays de Retz did not approve the flag, as not representative of the complex identity of Pays de Retz.
The controversy about this flag, even if very local, highlights the difficulty to properly define "territorial identity" in France, especially in disputed areas that were successively included in different administrative divisions during the history.

Raphaël Vinet improved the flag, quartered by the Breton black cross. The canton is yellow, quartered with another black cross. The three other quarters are white, charged with five black ermine spots placed 3 + 2.

Ivan Sache, 27 September 2002