The duché of Uzès: of dukes and duchesses... by Janice Lert

The duche of Uzes of dukes and duchessesThe family of the Dukes of Uzès, first peer of France (oldest peerage), can trace their title all the way back to Charlemagne! Dhuoda, Charlemagne’s daughter (a lycée in Nîmes was named after her), was the wife of the first duke, Bernard of Septimania. And the city of Uzès and its women played an important role from the very beginning... Dhuoda died in Uzès in 843.

 

Control of the city in the Middle Ages was exercised not simply by the duke but also by the king of France and the bishop. The Christians arrived very early in Uzès and it was a bishopric from the 5th century onwards.

 

Each bishop built his own tower and there was considerable competition as to which would be the highest... The king’s tower and the bishop’s tower are in the Medieval Garden; the Duke’s tower, the Tour Bermonde, is in his palace and is the oldest, dating back to the 11th century. These towers dominate the city today, but none is as lovely as the elegant Tour Fenestrelle, located beside the cathedral dedicated to St. Theodorit. It was the Romanesque bell tower of the original cathedral and dates back to the 12th century.

 

The dukedom disappeared after the Albigensian Crusade, but not for long: the kings of France soon realized that they had here an important ally, and the lords of Uzès continued to fight for the king. The motto of the family, visible in the palace today, is "ferro non auro", "by the sword not by gold". But when the line threatened to die out, it was once again a woman, Symone, who saved the title in 1486 by marrying the Count of Crussol. They are the ancestors of today’s dukes. When they took sides with the Protestants during the religious wars, some of the buildings of Uzès were destroyed. The rebuilding in the 17th century produced many of the fine town houses we can see today.

 

The dukes and duchesses of Uzès have continued to serve the Republic. Anne, duchess of Uzès, continued the family tradition of important roles for women by fighting for women’s rights at the end of the 19th century. She was the first woman to get a driver’s license in France, and even got caught speeding: 15 km/h in the Bois de Boulogne in 1889!

 

The ducal palace or duché is still occupied by the family de Crussol d’Uzès today, as it has been for centuries. Titles of nobility may be out of fashion, but the family of Uzès symbolizes a continuity that is still nice to have around.