Last modified: 2004-07-17 by ivan sache
Keywords: calvados | honfleur | tower (white) | fleur-de-lys: 5 (yellow) | crown (yellow) | gonfanon | cross (yellow) | ship (yellow) |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors
by Arnaud Leroy
History of Honfleur
Honfleur is a city of 8,000 inhabitants. The city was built on the estuary of the river Seine (left, southern bank) between two hills.
The origin of the name of Honfleur is obscure. It was originally known by the Norse name of Honnefleu. Hon/Honn is often considered as a family name, whereas flow/fleu/fleur means an inlet. The suffix -fleur is also found in the names of Barfleur and Harfleur. The name of Honfleur is also interpreted as "the upstream port", as opposed to Harfleur, "the downstream port". Both places are indeed of Viking origin and were important commerce ports before the silting of Harfleur and the foundation of Le Havre (XVIth century).
The port of Honfleur was deliberately built as both a river (estuary) and sea port, with three aims: defending the estuary of the Seine, the royal river; being an important port of commerce; and being the base for maritime exploration.
Honfleur was mentioned for the first time in 1027 by Richard III, duke of Normandy. A document from the end of the XIIth century gives evidence that Honfleur was already an important port of commerce with England. The city was then divided in three parishes, which meant it was fairly wealthy city.
During the Hundred Years' War, Honfleur was fortified by king of France Charles V (1364-1380). Under Charles V and Charles VI (1380-1422), the fortresses of Honfleur and Harfleur protected the entrance of the Seine, and Honfleur was used as a basis for several raids to England. In 1392, Charles VI went mad and anarchy spread over the kingdom. Honfleur was seized in 1419 by the English, who annexed most of the French territory by the treaty of Troyes in 1420. Charles VII (1422-1461) progressively reconquered his kingdom. The English were expelled from Honfleur in 1450.
In the XV-XVIth centuries, the kings of France rebuilt Honfleur,
which was an important maritime city until the XIXth century. The
seamen from Honfleur were highly estimated all over France. Charles
VIII (1483-1498) wrote that "Honfleur has the largest and biggest
supply of ships in Normand"'. Binot Paulmier de Gonneville reached
the coasts of Brazil in 1503, whereas Jean
Denis visited Newfoundland and the estuary
of St. Laurent in 1506. The port of Honfleur was so famous that the
departure of the giant Pantagruel for the Kingdom of Utopia was
located there by Rabelais.
The Religion Wars caused damage to Honfleur, especially during the siege of the city by Henri IV in 1564, but did not stop maritime activity. The seamen of Honfleur went on cod fishing on the Newfoundland banks and established commercial relationships with the natives. Rich ship-owners such as Pierre de Chauvin and Dupont-Grave sent expeditions to Canada. The most famous of these ship-owners is Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635), who did several expeditions from Honfleur, including the 1608 travel during which he founded the city of Quebec.
In the XVIIth century, Colbert, Louis XIV's most influent councillor, ordered the suppression of the city walls. The port was increased by Duquesne and is now the most picturesque part of Honfleur, known as the Vieux Bassin (Old Basin). Three big Greniers à Sel (Salt barns) were built in order to keep the salt necessary for the transoceanic expeditions, two of them being still there. The ship-owners developed commerce with Canada, the Azores, the West Indies and Africa. The port was ruled by a Lieutenant appointed by the king, whose house (Lieutenance) was built at the entrance of the Old Basin.
In the XVIIIth century, the most famous seamen of Honfleur were Pierre Berthelot, appointed 'major pilot and cosmograph of the King of Portugal', later monk as Denis of Nativity, martyrized in Sumatra (Indonesia) and beatified in 1900; and Jean-Francois Doublet, officer of the Marine Royale and corsair, who sailed with Jean Bart, from Dunkirk.
When France lost Canada by the treaty of Paris (10 February 1763), the activity of Honfleur was reoriented towards the West Indies. Honfleur was then the fifth slave port in France. The Revolution and the Napoleonic wars completely ruined Honfleur, whose activity slowly resumed with the importation of tropical and nordic wood.
In the XIXth century, steamer lines were set up between Le Havre and Honfleur, and a small sea resort was built. However, it was concurrenced by Sainte-Adresse, Trouville and Deauville and did not develop.There were also fishers in Honfleur, which were much less wealthy than the seamen involved in commerce and expeditions. Honfleur was fairly isolated and fishers had to sell their products to four wholesale fish merchants who could impose very low prices. Today, the main production of Honfleur is shrimp, celebrated the first week-end of October during the Shrimp Festival.
Ivan Sache, 23 October 2003
The Honfleur painting school
In the early XIXth century, painters inspired by the English landscape painters gathered in Honfleur. A small artistic community was set up by Alexandre Dubourg and Eugène Boudin (1821-1898). Corot, Isabey and Huet were among the first ones to join the community, whose headquarters was an inn called St. Simeon's farm (ferme Saint Siméon).
Boudin started his career as a clark in a stationer's shop, where the painters were his customers. He was too shy to show them his work, until he met the great poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), who was on vacation in Honfleur with his mother and her stubborn second husband, general Aupick. Baudelaire was so enthusiastic that he encouraged Boudin to show his paintings and wrote laudatory articles on him in Parisian gazettes. Boudin later invited Courbet, Jongkind and Monet to Honfleur and is said to have been the first one to encourage Monet to paint outdoors, being therefore considered as the precursor of Impressionism.
Boudin spent most of his life in Le Havre and then in Paris. When about to die, he asked to be brought back to the Norman coast he had cherished so much and died in Deauville, facing the sea. His paintings were shared between the municipal museum (now Eugène Boudin Museum) of Honfleur and the Art Museum of Le Havre.
Boudin is one of the very probable models used by Proust in A la recherche du temps perdu for the painter Elstir, who is excellent in painting the Norman sea and sky, as Boudin was. Elstir's death, in front of a painting by Vermeer (Proust wrote Ver Meer), is a possible double transposition of a real event of Proust's life, who had a stroke when visiting the Vermeer exhibition in Paris, and Boudin's death in Deauville. In the novel, Elstir initiated the narrator and the "blossoming young girls" to aesthetics by showing them an old Norman church draped in ivy, whose model is evidently the village church of Criqueboeuf, located a few kilometers west of Honfleur.
Ivan Sache, 24 October 2003
Alphonse Allais (1855-1905) left his father's pharmacy in Honfleur for the fun of Paris. He joined several clubs such as the Hydropathes, founded in 1878 by the poet Goudaut [Goudaut can be read Goût d'Eau, taste of water, whearas an Hydropath has no taste at all for water], the Hirsutes, who succeded the Hydropathes in 1880-1882, and the Fumistes. Allais founded the cabaret Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) and directed its revue from 1885 to 1891, and then moved to another cabaret called Le Sourire (The Smile).
He published weekly several short stories compiled in annual
issues (such as Amours, Délices et Orgues, 1898, and
Le Capitaine Cap, 1902). Several other stories were added to
the complete edition of his works (1965-1970).
Allais was also a brilliant logician and linguist, and used these skills in his stories, in which he played againt logic and denounced egoism, patriotism, clericalism and conformism, which were the main moral values of the bourgeoisie of the end of the XIXth centuries. Some of his weird ideas found an application decades later; for instance, Allais proposed to solve social problems by moving the cities to the countryside and the countryside into the cities, which is now known as decentralization. He suggested the generals declare infectious disease to their enemies, which is now known as bacteriological war. He related an expedition sent to refresh the top of the Mont-Blanc with white paintings because the Mont-Blanc had turned grey after a long warm period. Geographers said recently that due to the extremely warm weather in August 2003, the Mont-Blanc had lost a few meters of its snow and ice coverage. Finally, Allais had very good ideas to establish good links with England. Not understanding that the English gave names of defeats (Waterloo, Trafalgar) to their streets and squares, Allais believed that so many coal had been dig out of the English soil that England was floating like an iceberg and could represent a hazard for navigation. He suggested to link England with a big rope and to draw it to the continent, so that the problem of transchannel traffic would be suppressed.
Ivan Sache, 24 October 2003
The musician Erik Satie (1866-1925), even more bizarre than Allais, was born "so young in so old a world" in Honfleur, "a city full of kind and polite people". Satie joined the Paris Conservatoire in 1879 but was upset by conservatism and academism, to which he prefered Bach, Chopin and Schumann. After a short tenure in the infantry, he moved to Parisand settled in 1887 in Montmartre in a flat he called "the cupboard".
Satie was extremely original, independent and intransigent. His short pieces for piano are immediatly recognizable because of their originality and their apparently simple harmony. Satie gave to his pieces weird names (Ogives, 1886; Gymnopédies, 1888; Gnossiennes, 1890), which might have been inspired by Alphonse Allais and his clubs, since Satie was a member of the Black Cat group. Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was so impressed by these pieces that he nicknamed Satie 'a medieval and sweet musician' and orchestrated two of his Gymnopédies as a token of admiration and friendship.
In the 1890s, Satie was affected by a religious crisis and left Montmartre. He settled in Arcueil, a small city in the south of Paris, in a flat whose only furniture were thirteen tables and five pianos ("because the Bible says that you should not smoke twice consecutively the same pipe"). Nobody ever entered the flat before Satie's death. Satie wrote in 1895 a Mass for the Poors and deliberately decided to live in poverty and ascese. He funded the Leader-Jesus' Metropolitan Church of Art, a sect of Rosicrucian inspiration, but restricted membership of the sect to himself only to avoid corruption of its principles. Satie followed in 1905 counterpoint classes by Vincent d'Indy and Albert Roussel in the famous Schola Cantorum, and his style refined. His further pieces (Cold Pieces, Pear-shaped Pieces, Flaccid Preludes for a Dog, Parched Embryos ...) were completely independent of the schools and fads of the time.
In 1917, Satie met Maurice Ravel and supported the Society for Independent Music, which promoted young, non-academic musicians. Satie wrote the incidental music for Parade, a ballet written by Jean Cocteau and choreographed by Massine for Diaghileff's Russian Ballet, with costumes by Pablo Picasso. Parade was considered as absolutely outrageous and caused a riot in the theater. Satie was then considered as an avant-gardist, especially because he had added typewriter and firealamr noises to his music. Satie wrote two more incidental music pieces in collaboration with Picasso (1924) and Francis Picabia (Relâche, 1925).
Satie always refused to be a group leader but appreciated young musicians, whose company was required "to avoid ossification, petrification, fossilization". In 1921, the "school of Arcueil" was set up by Henri Sauguet, Maxime Jacob, Henri Cliquet-Pleyel and Roger Désormière. Satie also greatly influenced the Groupe des Six, set up by Arthur Honegger, Fancis Poulenc, Germaine Taillefère, Georges Auric, Darius Milhaud and L. Durey. Most influence by Satie was on perception and understanding of music rather than on aesthetics and technics. Great masters of contemporary musics such as Igor Stravinsky and John Cage have acknowledged Satie's influence.
Satie can be seen in the flash and bones in the experimental movie Entr'acte by René Clair, for which he wrote the music. In a famous scene, Satie, wearing a white beard, a derby and a monocle, tries to shoot a cannon with Francis Picabia, the movie scenarist.
The house where Satie was born in Honfleur was recently transformed into an "anti-museum". The musician is recalled by a succession of weird scenes, such as a winged pear symbolizing his soul ascending to heaven. In a small, white room under the roof, a white Yamaha piano plays the Gnossiennes, the Gymnopédies and Parade for the extreme pleasure of the visitors.
Ivan Sache, 24 October 2003
The flag of Honfleur is white with the municipal arms in the middle.
The flag is widely used in the city. It flies over the city hall, on the balcony of the city hall during important events such as the Shrimp Festival, on the main entrances of the city and on cruise barges moored in the port.
Ivan Sache, 24 October 2003
The arms of Honfleur are:
De gueules à la tour d'argent surmontée d'un tourbillon de même, accostée de deux fleurs de lys d'or, au chef de France
In English (Brian Timms):
Gules a tower argent between in chief two fleurs de lis or a chief azure three fleurs de lis or
Timms omits in his description the tourbillon (whirl, vortex), which I have not seen on the images, and gives the French blazon as:
De gueules à la tour d'argent, accostée de deux fleurs de lys d'or, et au chef d'azur, chargé de trois autres fleurs de lys, aussi d'or
According to Canel, quoted by Timms, the earliest description of these arms is on a document dated 1730, but the chief of France indicates that they are of earlier origin, perhaps from the time of Louis XI, in the middle of the XVth century,
Ivan Sache, 28 October 2003
by Ivan Sache & Arnaud Leroy
Honfleur has also a gonfanon, which is hung on masts around the Old Basin. The gonfanon is forked with the municipal arms and HONFLEUR written in gold letters below the arms.
Ivan Sache, 24 October 2003
by Ivan Sache
The burgee of the Club Nautique de Honfleur (CNH) can be seen on several sail boats moored in the Old Basin.
This burgee is red with a yellow cross, which are both the colours of the city and the colours of Normandy, a ship in canton and the yellow letters CNH in lower hoist.
The ship placed in canton is most probably the flag ship of William the Conqueror's expedition, as it is shown on the Bayeux Tapestry. The sign of the CNH club house, located in one of the narrow streets of theformer fortified city (l'Enclos) shows the ship in details, and especially the 'cross' allegely granted by the Pope and placed over the main mast.
Ivan Sache, 25 October 2003