Once upon a time there was Venables ...
The discovery made by two inhabitants of Venables, of two Campigniennes axes from the hamlets of Bank and Lormais, attests convincingly to the earliest Neolithic origins of the village in the form of the temporary occupation of these locations by wandering tribes. But by around 7000 years ago the descendants of these first occupants of Campignien had become farmers and stockbreeders. From hunters, they became settled farmers growing crops, clearing meadows and cultivating the soil. Neolithic tools point to construction and cut-and-burn clearance. These ancestors cultivated corn. Barley, millet and rye make their appearance. They were interested, too, in the fibre plants: flax and hemp. They bred sheep, pig, cattle and goats. They domesticated the dog. Agriculture required new instruments; and hoes, cutters, sickles and grinding-stones all make their appearance. In time, another innovation would be that of pottery. In addition to these technical accomplishments, society was becoming more sophisticated. People gathered together to share their resources and to better protect themselves from the possible invaders. Extensive traces of dwellings surrounded by ditches and with circular ramparts have been found in the Department. Life for the majority had become sedentary. One sees the birth of the first villages
In about 1800 BC the arrival of bronze metallurgy, some time previously discovered in the Far East or Central Asia, introduced new tools and related developments to the area. Trade, for commodities such as copper-ore and amber, became extensive over long distances. In addition to the ore, the amber-trade points to the manufacture of, and a market in, jewellery. The role of the horse, hitherto primarily a draft animal, in time became an animal for riding. In about 1000 BC the advent of the Iron Age presaged another great socio-technological advance. Trade of both the ore and manufactured goods developed further and stimulated yet further social evolution. Between c.800 and c.400 BC, the time of the Hallstatt culture, a great migration of whole peoples took place throughout Europe. These tribes, of Indo-European extraction, had a linguistic root, religious beliefs and social structures in common. At first in small groups, to be followed by larger groupings, they sought out and settled on grounds which appeared the most fertile to them. It is said that this process was not so much one of conquest, as a slow, continuous and generally peaceful infiltration. These people were called Celtes, Galates, or Galli. Their civilization was already extremely brilliant.
Trade with the Greeks and the Etruscans established in the south brought its techniques in architecture, its currency, its writing. After a centuries-long period of migration and expansion, the Celtic World had reached its apogée in the early fourth century BC: with a culture which dominated Europe west of the River Rhine, the British Isles, northern Italy, much of Spain, much of the former Yugoslavia and even western Turkey. It was a culture which would leave a deep and lasting footprint on the subsequent evolution of Gauloise and Frank society. Nowadays, in the lands of the so-called 'Celtic Fringe' [Brittany/Armorica, Wales, Western Scotland, Cornwall, Spanish Galicia, Ireland] Celtic culture and language are being kept alive consciously. It was a culture kept alive historically by oral tradition and by the druidic priesthood, faithful guardians of the privilege.
The La Téne Period beginning in the fifth century BC corresponds with an indigenous and independent Gallic civilization. The territory of the Gauls at that time was peopled by as many as 80 different tribes. The Venables area, insofar as it coincides with today’s Département, was occupied in the south by the EBUROVICES, with their tribal centre at MEDIOLANUM AULERCORUM [Evreux], and in the north by the VELIOCASSES with their tribal centre at ROTOMAGUS [Rouen], who gave their name to today’s Norman Vexin to the north of the Seine. Already in this period the site of Venables was frontier-country.
In this Gallic society, as in the majority of ancient societies, there were both free men and slaves. The basic Gallic unit was the family, over which the father exercised absolute authority. These families were grouped into tribes were grouped into federations or as loosely defined nations, each with its own political and religious institutions, most of them having adopted a regal system whose power was often disputed, and controlled in reality by a warrior aristocracy. The latter had the real power, the wealth and vast landed estates. Under them came both slave and free. The Gauls were a people devoted to religious practice, their beliefs consisting of a complex ensemble of ideas difficult to distinguish. Celtic religion was marked by the cults of Nature: mysterious forces, stones, trees and forests were, for them, all objects of devotion.
During the free Gallo-Celtic period people settled here because of its geographical advantages. The first huts which will constitute the village, are established on the 124 metres-high vantage-point, which dominates the area with views of wide horizons and the meanders of the River Seine once called the SEQUANA. To the west, the village is protected by the slopes down to the river. To the south and east protection is afforded by dense forests.
In 154 BC it was perhaps inevitable that the vast Gallic territory, so well endowed with great potential, attracted the covetousness of its powerful neighbour, the Romans. The latter were helped in their conquest by dissentions between the Gallic tribes and tribal-centres. In 52 BC, Gaul would lose its freedom for several centuries. Under the Roman Occupation, the site of Venables acquired a strategic importance on the great road that linked Neubourg with Andelys, and protected by an OPPIDUM [defended stronghold] located according to oral tradition in the wood of Fontaine la Verte, and a VILLA AGRARIA [centre of a landed estate] built on the site of the manor in today’s hamlet of Val d’Ailly. Under the Gallo-Roman occupation, the Venables area formed a part of the province of GALLIA LUGDUNENSIS II. The existence and location of this large geographical region will influence future geopolitical developments. It is reasonable to assume that Caesar’s army would have passed through the vicinity of the known site of the village when en-route for the Seine-crossing and the conquest of the island of Britain. This is the period in which the village will develop further.
During the second century, Gaul will experience the beginning of the invasions of the Germanic peoples: Allemans, Goths and Vandals. Our area will also see the emergence of the Franks. They will put our village to the fire and sword. But this century will also see the spread of a new religion, Christianity. This will spread more quickly in an urban environment and the worship of the old Roman gods will continue in the countryside. The first martyrs of our area are Saints Maxime and Vénérand, who are put to death at Acquigny in AD 366. Saint Taurin, the first bishop of Evreux, speeds up the Christianisation of the area by ordering the destruction of pagan temples.
In AD 448 the Franks, moving from Belgium, under their chief, Merowig, who will give his name to the Merovingian dynasty, are installed in our land. Alongside the Romans, they will fight Attila the Hun at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains , thus drawing to a close the era of the great invasions.
His grandson, Clovis the First, recognized as King of the Franks in 448, will deal a blow to Roman imperial power, now marked by the decay of its administration and army, in 486. Thus the Kingdom of the Franks is born. The Salian Franks occupy the land between the Somme, the Loire and the Rhine [the future Neustria]; and the Riparian Franks occupy the lands between the Rhine and Thuringian territory.
Based on Roman example, the Merovingians establish the Salic and Riparian Law, laws that will cause them loss and will create many family quarrels. Over three centuries they will weaken the Frankish kingdom.
Counts and bishops will take it in turn to administer our province. The great political centres are Evreux, Louviers and Les Andelys. Clovis the First unifies that part of Roman Gaul which corresponds almost to modern-day France. When Clovis dies and his son, Caribert, who succeeds him, dies in 567, the kingdom is divided between his three sons, Gontran, Sigebert and Chilperic, and thus are created three royal entities under the provisions of the Salic Law which enables the sons and brothers of the late king to partition the kingdom among themselves. As each one of them wanted to have a share in the kingdom of the others, the CIVITAS CARNOTUM is dismembered. Chiperic the First acquires Dreux and its region and also the archdeaconry of Pincerais [territory comprising the PAGI MADRIACENSIS with the lands of Venables and the PAGI of Poissy]. Gontran, who rules at Orleans, enlarges his domains in the Chartres and Blois regions. Finally, Sigebert acquires with Touraine the castles of Vendome and Chateaudun in addition to the possessions he enjoyed to the north of the Seine. Certainly, with this partition, the districts of Chartres, Blois and Chateaudun were born. Nor should one forget also the religious authority represented by the bishops who exercised power, through a group of dioceses, over a territory forming an archdiocese that consisted of several districts. During the Merovingian epoc, Venables, with all its lands in the PAGUS MADRIACENSIS, formed parts of Neustria. The history of the Merovingian sovereigns is one long sequence of family quarrels due to the introduction of the Salic Law. The PAGUS MADRIACENSIS is mentioned for the first time, in the middle of the eighth century, in a deed between a certain Vandemir and his wife Ercamberthe.
In AD 751, Pepin the Short mounts the throne, the Carolingian dynasty starts, and together with his son Charlemagne they restore a true unity to the Franks. The structure of Carolingian rule is based on an hierarchical ordering of civil and ecclesiastical authority. The Carolingian royal house will number counts among the great lords at Court, to whom the king will entrust local government and, at the same time, acting as financial administrator, judge and warlord. Charlemagne’s entire kingdom will be arranged along the lines of the PAGUS [district] that corresponds quite closely to the extent of the Merovingian PAGUS. The whole kingdom of Charlemagne will be organized in districts grouping several PAGI together, the geographical and political limits of which one can discern with some confidence.
The Frankish Kingdom, which dates from the coronation of Charlemagne as emperor on 25th December 800, marks a turning-point in the history of the country. The king of the Carolingian dynasty reforms the administration and reorganizes his vast empire into nearly 200 districts. The administrative units, both civil and religious, are governed by the counts and bishops that he himself has appointed and who form part of his entourage among the great vassals. Charlemagne wanted to make sure that each one knew his place, and that each place was clearly defined. He could change them or revoke them at any time. He keeps them under surveillance by the MISSI DOMINICI [the Lord’s representatives], palace inspectors, who apply the laws in the districts. These laws are written down in short pronouncements [CAPITULAIRES]. In this context, authority is nonetheless limited, as it is to the vassals to whom his laws are dictated by him. These are all the more effective as the system of recommendation is strictly enforced. The weakest put themselves under the protection of the most powerful lords and are, in their turn, made their vassals. The administrative units of Charlemagne will increasingly be called PAGI [PAGI MADRIACENSIS in which one finds the lands of Venables]. The grouping of the PAGI has given rise to the Counties [Counties of Blois, Chartres, Vermandois, Champagne], and these Counties and the history of the village will be closely intertwined during the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries. The Count, as exclusive representative of the King, held the COMITATUS, in other words all the trappings of public power in the administrative, judicial and even financial domains. In exercising this, he was assisted by a VICE-COMES or Viscount and by subordinate agents. Thus regime carries within it the germ of the Feudal System which will make kings and the Frankish kingdom tremble.
With the death of Charlemagne in 814 the Salic Law remains in force. Of the three sons of Charlemagne only Louis survives, and becomes king as Louis the First, nicknamed ‘Debonnaire’ or ‘Pious’. He is not at ease with the greatness of the task or with the immense empire that falls to him. His reign is marked by the return to dynastic quarrels with his sons. Very devout, Louis will allow himself to be directed by the prelates of his entourage, who are only too glad to acquire again the supremacy that Charlemagne had not granted them. On the death of Louis the First, his sons cannot get on together, and partition the empire into three states that foreshadow today’s Europe: western France in the west [the kingdom of Charles the Bald], eastern France to the east [the kingdom of Louis the German], and in the centre a zone that will be fought over for centuries and which for the moment falls to Lothaire [Lotharingia].
The foundations of the Pagi Madriacensis
Jean du BOUCHET [French genealogist 1599-1684] fixes the limits of the PAGUS MADRIACENSIS between the rivers Seine, Eure, Iton, Avre, the Eure again, Nigelle, Villepreux, Maudre and Seine.
Other writers, such as the Bollandistes and Benedictines, conceive a more restricted PAGI MADRIACENSIS as an area comprising the lands situated on the right bank of the River Eure, the Seine and the Lordship of Vernon.
The Life of St Leufroy informs us that he founded a monastery in an area situated AD FINES MADRIACENSIS PAGI that, to the east, extended to the Pincerais, and to the west by the PAGI de Chartres.
The scarcity of documents of the Carolingian period renders the history of the Counts of Madrie difficult to discern. On the accession of Charlemagne to the throne of the kingdom of the Franks, the reorganization of the administration of the kingdom will mean the breaking up of Neustria into PAGI. After the death of Count Romuald in 757 the PAGI MADRIACENSIS was held by Nibelong the First, son of Childebrand the First. It was he who, in 788, gave the freehold of Cailly to the Abbey of Le Croix St Leufroy. He had two children. The first, Tietbert or Theodoric, COMES MADRIACENSIS, had a daughter, Ingeltrude, who will be married in 823 to Pepin the son of Louis the First, king of France and nicknamed ‘Debonnaire’, whose reign is marked by the return to dynastic quarrels which will lead in 843 to the Treaty of Verdun and the division of the empire into three states. The second son, Childebrand the Second, was the father of Nivelon the Second, who appears to have continued the line of the Counts of Madrie and to be of the same stock as those of Vexin.
The Vikings Period
In 820, the first appearance of Vikings in the Seine Estuary is attested, but it was repulsed. In 841 a second fleet sails up the Seine with, at its head, a chief called Oscherus [ASGEIRR in Norse] who sacks Rouen and its surrounding area. In the Spring of 845, a third fleet of 120 ships appears in the Seine Estuary, nearly 5000 men strong commanded by a certain Ragneri [RAGNARR LOOBROK], which devastates the banks of the Seine and launches the first attack on Paris. On payment of a tribute of 7000 pounds of silver by Charles the Bald, the Norsemen decide to withdraw, an event that undoubtedly encouraged other Scandinavian chiefs to go up the Seine.
In 918, stricken by a lack of heirs, the County of Madrie, in a charter signed by King Charles the Simple, grants the monks of Saint Germain-des-Prés the estates of the Abbey of La Croix Saint-Ouen, today’s Croix Saint Leufroy, in particular the lands sitiated on the right bank of the Eure, including those of Venables. Those on the left bank, decreed the king formally, having been granted to the Seine Normans, to Rollo and his companions, in return for defending the kingdom. This agreement rendered the Normans non-independent subjects of the French monarchy.
The year 1055 will mark an important date for the village. Indeed, the Fief of Venables belonged to the bishop of Beauvais, landowner on the Madrie Plain, the Fief becoming vacant on the death of Mauger de Venables, the lord of the place. The bishop will offer the lands of Venables to his nephew, Gilbert who, it is said, was a son of the Count of Blois and Chartres. This young lord, born between 1030 and 1035, will spend very little time on his estates. With the call of William, Duke of Normandy, he will enrol in 1066 in the Norman army, in company with William and Hugh de La Mare, lesser lords of today’s hamlet. For their good and faithful services, and in accordance with the promises of the Duke, they will be given land in the County of Cheshire allotted to Hugh d’Avranches. Gilbert will be established there and will become the first Baron of Kinderton, and Hugh, whose brother William dies at the Battle of Hastings, will be named Hugh of Delamere. The parish grouping together the four Fiefs of Venables, La Mare, Fontaine la Verte and La Rive dates from this period.
From the twelfth to and thirteenth centuries until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Fief of Venables will often be disputed in the course of the long struggle between the kings of England and the kings of France due to the strategic location of the site. Times will be hard for the people of Venables during these centuries. On 9th November 1469 the ducal claim is solemnly broken. Normandy and Venables will be French for always.
In the sixteenth century France and Normandy experience an internal peace conducive to economic and cultural evolution. At Venables, the square tower with the diagonal buttresses [more or less restored later on] supporting the bell-tower, dates from this period.
The eighteenth century sees the development of the wine industry, with 42 vine-growers listed on the territory of the commune. From the same time comes the cultivation of fruit trees on the southern slopes of the Seine.
In the nineteenth century the appearance of the village has been altered by the construction of the Paris – Le Havre railway by an English company. In 1851 the construction of the dike between the hamlets of Lormais and La Rive will facilitate the development of arable land beside the Seine.