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(Brief But Complicated) History of Aveyron up to The French Revolution

From Rutheni to Gallo-Romans

Aveyron within France

Before the Roman conquest, the Rouergue—a tiny bit larger than the actual Aveyron département—was populated by the Rutheni and called their idol Ruth, a sort of Celtic Venus whose cult still existed during the 5th century of our era. It was a powerful nation and the Ruthenians had three major cities: Segodun—meaning "rye mountain" in Celtic—Condatemag—meaning "city of confluence" in Celtic—near Millau and Carentomag—meaning "city of the parents" in Celtic. On these locations were discovered bones, coins, medals, pottery, and other art and craft artifacts confirming the location of these three Gallic cities.

The Arvernes are their neighbours and allies, thus Ruthenians followed them in their expeditions beyond the Alps, as well fought in their ranks for a national independence. Beltultich—or Bituitus—the Arvernes chief had an army of twenty two thousand Ruthenian archers when, allied to the Allobroges—from Savoy—he walked against the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus and battled at the confluence of the Rhône and the Isère rivers in the year 121 BC. We know this confederate army was defeated and part of the Ruthenian "country", became the province of Ruthenians going up to the actual département of Tarn, but another part of the larger Provincia Romana as well. 

Roman inscription found in Rodez, now at the Musée Fenaille (Rodez)

Roman inscription found in Rodez, now at the Musée Fenaille (Rodez)

Independent Ruthenians were the ones living on the left bank of the river Aveyron, however they soon suffered the same fate as their brothers. As they allied to Vercingétorix against Caesar, they got defeated into submission. Therefore as the rest of Gaul, the whole Ruthenian country went under Roman rule. In the division Augustus made of Gaul, Aquitaine got included. Rome established colonies, built temples, circuses, aqueducts, and public roads scoured the country in all directions, and in the 5th century, Ruthenians spoke Latin.

It is said to be Saint Martial who came first to preach the Gospel to the Ruthenians in the year 250. During the 4th century, Christians were already quite numerous in Rouergue. However, Ruth the Celtic deity was still adored during the 5th century. Thus Saint Amans undertook to convert the people to Christianity. Even though the Emperor Honorius gave back the Gauls their political rights, they were imposed exorbitant contributions. Amans managed to lift this tribute, this solicitude helped him winning the Gauls' heart.


From Visigoth Domination to the Kingdom of Aquitaine

During the Empire's wars, Rouergue changed quite often of "master". It belonged successively to the Visigoths in 472, the Francs in 507, yet again the Visigoths in 512, the Kings of Austrasia in 533, the Dukes of Aquitaine in 588 which were stripped of their rights by Pépin le Bref—the King of Francs—in 768. Then Charlemagne incorporated Rouergue into the Kingdom of Aquitaine in 778, furthermore establishing counts with a lifetime title first, then hereditary lords in each county. Towards the middle of the 9th century, the King of France Charles le Chauve confirmed the Counts of Rouergue as well as their possessions, and added the County of Toulouse to the Kingdom of Aquitaine.


Through the Middle Ages

In 1053, Hugues, the Count of Rouergue and 11th Earl, died. Berthe, his daughter got into a dispute with Guillaume, Count of Toulouse, and his brother Raymond de Saint-Gilles regarding Hugues's legacy and estate. Everybody took up arms. However Berthe died in 1065. The brothers turned up against each other then.

Raymond IV

After fifteen years of battles, they came to an agreement. Guillaume would have the County of Toulouse, and Raymond the County of Rouergue as he took over the title when Berthe died. Then Raymond succeeded his brother in the County of Toulouse as well. He later on died in Palestine when on a Christian crusade, leaving an infant son named Alphonse Jourdain. This is when claims broke in, Bérenger d'Aragon, Count of Barcelona, Viscount of Millau, and Guillaume, Count of Poitiers, took advantage of Alphonse's young age and entered, heavily armed, on Alphonse's lands and dominions. Too weak to resist this coup, Alphonse retired in Provence where he stayed until he regained the two counties in the year 1120. When Alphonse's wife Jeanne died, after Alphonse, but without having descendants, Rouergue returned to the Crown in 1271.

In 1387, Jean III, Lieutenant General of the King's armies in Languedoc, was able to hunt down and stop the brigands in Rouergue called the routiers, who were of concern for the Kingdom's safety.

Left: Marguerite de Valois | Right: Charles d'Alençon, who became Charles de Valois

Left: Marguerite de Valois | Right: Charles d'Alençon, who became Charles de Valois

In 1484, Charles, the last Count of Armagnac succeeded to his brother Jean V. He died in 1497, leaving Charles d’Alençon, his great nephew, as his sole heir. Charles married Marguerite de Valois, sister of François II, then King of France. She had rights—through her King's sister status—on the properties of the House of ArmagnacCharles died in 1525 with no heirs. Henry III d'Albret, King of Navarre, had legal rights to pretend to the House of Armagnac. He did so and incidentally married Marguerite de Valois, widow of Charles, the Duc d’Alençon, in 1526.


The 16th Century, deadly trouble all over france and aveyron

On July 16, 1535, the Bishop Georges d'Armagnac crowned both of them at the Rodez cathedral.

Left: Jeanne d'Albret | Right: Antoine de Bourbon

Left: Jeanne d'Albret | Right: Antoine de Bourbon

Jeanne d'Albret, their only daugther, and wife of Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme became Queen of Navarre and Countess of Rodez in 1555.

Then, Henri de Bourbon succeeded to her in 1572. Henri de Bourbon became King of France under the name of Henri IV, bringing back to the Crown the County of Rodez and all properties of Armagnac at the same time. This marked the end of the Counts of Rodez.

The Counts of Rouergue were heavily involved in the Crusades. Following the example of their overlords, the Counts of Rodez—Hugues I, Henri I, and Hugues IV—became Knights of the Cross. The nobility of Rouergue as a whole followed their banner. To be noted, at the end of the 11th century several Rouergue lords had already abolished slavery on their lands.

Henri IV, King of France, born Henri de Bourbon

Henri IV, King of France, born Henri de Bourbon

Came the religious wars of the 16th century. Rouergue had already seen most of its cities ravaged, during the crusade against the Albigenses. MillauSaint-Antonin, Mur-de-BarrezLaguiole, and Sévérac-le-Château had already been seriously damaged by the armies of Simon de Montfort during the years 1208 to 1214. These same cities were the ones to adhere to the Reform first. Soon there were reformed churches in EspalionVillefranche-de-RouergueSaint-Affrique,  VilleneuvePeyrusseCompeyreSaint-Léons, and so on.
Persecution fired up and protestants took arms. From there on, a long and bloody rage occurred where 18,000 Protestants and Catholics alike died, churches got plundered, towns and villages ransacked or destroyed. Fortunately when Henri IV became King of France, the all country found peace.


Up to the French Revolution

Before 1789—when started the so-called French Revolution—Rouergue was divided in one county with its capital town being Rodez and two 'marches', the high and the low. The high with its head town Millau whereas the low 'marche' head town was Villefranche-de-Rouergue.
Ten years back earlier though (1779) Rouergue got united to the Quercy, which includes the actual Lot and Dordogne to form the new province of Haute-Guyenne.

Rouergue and Aveyron

This newly formed province got an administration composed of 52 members, including the Bishop of Rodez as president, and the Bishops of CahorsVabresMontauban, 6 members of the clergy, 16 gentlemen, 13 deputies for the cities, and 13 deputies for the country, 2 general attorneys and trustees, and 1 recording secretary. This assembly met every two years in Villefranche-de-Rouergue and was in charge of determining the taxes, putting in place collection systems, manage the charity actions, and so on such as local administration.