Most of the adventures that happen in The Not So Beautiful Princess Trilogy and the other books that will hopefully follow in the fantasy world of Ettria take place in a country called Argentan. This fictional country Argentan acquired this name back when I was in college and wanted to use my fictional world as a setting for an assignment in one of my French classes. I needed to change the name of the country from the name I had originally given it, which was borrowed from another book so, thumbing through my French/English dictionary I came across the word Argentan, which the dictionary translated as ‘German silver.' I thought that would make a good name for a fictional country, so I used that, and Argentan has been the country name ever since.
Earlier this year, when reading one of the books from my book list – Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly, I discovered that in France during the twelfth century (and evidently pretty much ever since) there was a castle by the name of Argentan. In its day this seems to have been a strong and strategically placed castle for King Henry II of England, Eleanor’s second husband, who was also Duke of Normandy (among other things) and more concerned during his lifetime with his French holdings than his English ones.
Not much remains of the castle from Henry’s time, but it turns out that there was also a town of Argentan associated with the castle, and the town and some remains of the castle are still there.
The Old Castle
During the time of Henry II Argentan Castle was a strong fortification. However, after Henry’s death methods of warfare began to change, and as the Dukes of Normandy and the Kings of France continued to squabble over territory, much of the castle was destroyed in the fighting. Today almost the only remaining parts of the castle are the Tour Marguerite, built during Henry’s time, and a portion of the wall that once surrounded his keep or donjon.
The New Castle
Today there is a somewhat newer castle in the center of Argentan. Known as the Chateau des Ducs, it currently houses the provincial courts (Palais de la Justice). This chateau was apparently built sometime during the fourteenth century.
A new industry
Around 1700, somebody got the bright idea that the areas around the little towns of Argentan and Alencon needed some economic revitalization. They seem to have brought in instructors to teach people how to make lace. This has to have been a women’s industry. The people of the towns developed a new type of needlepoint lace which was called Point de France. By 1724 the styles of Argentan and Alencon were already discernably different from each other – thus point d’Argentan and point d’Alencon.
The Argentan lace was distinguished by having the threads of all the meshes wrapped in a buttonhole fashion. This made for a dense, heavy type of lace which was very popular for a while. Queen Charlotte of England had a lot of Argentan lace worked into her wedding attire. Later in the eighteenth century Alencon lace, which was considerably lighter, became more popular.
Today you can study the history of lace in Argentan at the Maison des Dentelles if you are so inclined. There are also a couple of lace museums in nearby Alencon.
Bigger, badder wars
If the people of twelfth century Argentan thought they had problems with the wars that kept rolling over them, they never really had a chance to know just how bad a war can get. From June through August of 1944 the little town of Argentan was right in the line of battle as the Allies landed in Normandy and pushed their way through toward Germany. Much of the town was destroyed by bombings and tank battles. It is a wonder that as many of the old buildings survived as did.
If you are interested, you can read more about the history and tourism resources of Argentan France in Wikipedia here:
Images in this post from Google images.
Did you like this post? Please share your ideas in the comments. Let me know what you think!