QR Vic-le-Comte – Bourg 7
Place du Vieux Marché
At the heart of the count’s town
The trading Place
Ancient texts refer to it as « la Place », « Grande Place » or « Place de Vic ». Right in the heart of the city, at the gates of the count’s palace, La Place was a square where trading would take place. In the Middle Ages, the market was held here every Thursday, as were the Saint-Georges fair on 23 April and the Saint-Michel fair on 29 September. Before 1914, it was still a food market known as the « butter market ». The square, paved with round pebbles from Allier, was a hive of activity, with people jostling to buy food such as butter, eggs, poultry and fromage blanc wrapped up in cabbage leaves. The Christmas Eve fair was particularly special. Clerks, who didn’t work on Christmas Eve, would receive a pair of clogs from their employer! The market was central to the local economy, where goods and products would be exchanged with other towns.
- Old postcard of the square on market day
The Fontaine du Vieux Marché
In the Middle Ages, as towns became bigger, water was collected from wells and rivers. People mostly got their water from outside of their town, while the more affluent would pay water carriers to bring it for them. As sewers didn’t exist, various household waste and animal excrement that littered the streets would seep into the water and contaminate it. So disease was rife. Under the Ancien Régime, more water was distributed through public fountains so it was accessible to everyone.
This fountain was built in 1722 under the authority of Dominique Montaigue, Governor of Water and Forests. It was supplied by the Bourboulou spring, located at the entrance to the county forest, three kilometres from the village. It is still doing so today.
To keep the Duke of Bouillon happy, then Count of Auvergne, Dominique Montaigue decided to make the fountain look more monument-like. He gave very careful specifications to Michel and Benoît Charpinet, architects in Volvic. He had a Latin inscription engraved on the coping, which we will translate as follows:
« No wine and you writhe,
Too much makes you cry
So, to feel fine,
Let’s water down wine! »
The fountain was an important social spot in a town, a place where trade, conversation and even conflict would take place. The residents would gather there to draw water, give their animals a drink and to wash clothes and dishes. The surplus water flowed into a washhouse, as we can see in old postcards.
The enclosure and the fortified castle
Vic-le-Comte had an enclosure and fortified castle, of which only rare remains are left. The town was protected by thick walls. A wide, deep moat filled with rainwater ran around the perimeter wall. The city was accessed via six or seven gates. The Porte du Marchadial (15th century), the only surviving gate, gave access to the count’s palace.
A fortified castle was first built by the Dukes of Aquitaine. It was restored by the Duke of Berry in the 14th century. In the 16th century, Jean Stuart, the new Count of Auvergne and descendant of the kings of Scotland, transformed the austere residence into a palace that historians believe contained a thousand rooms and ten thousand corridors! Tournaments and magnificent feasts were held there. When Jean Stuart dies in 1536, the county passed to his niece, Catherine de Medici. She lost interest in Vic-le-Comte. The palace was abandoned. A document from 1674 makes mention of its dilapidated state. The stones of the palace and the surrounding walls were used to build houses for the inhabitants of Vic-le-Comte.
- Genealogy of Anne de la Tour d’Auvergne, 1518
- Extract from Revenus du Comté d’Auergne, France (Vic-le-Comte Château), 16th century, Arsenal, manuscript 3264, folio 2
The franchise charter of 1367
In 1367, Jean I, Count of Auvergne, granted the people of Vic-le-Comte a franchise charter. It enabled a municipal magistrature to be established. This is how the town freed itself from submission to feudal power and became slightly more independent.
Day-to-day administration was carried out by four consuls elected by the residents. Elected consuls had to swear an oath of loyalty to the count. They received a robe and a special headdress from the residents, called a chaperon. The charter stipulated that the consuls would have a seal, a safe and a communal house. They also kept the keys to the town and the fortress.
The charter also contained some rules regarding safety: if one inhabitant struck another, he would be brought before the count’s justice. If one drew a sword against the another in anger, he would be fined sixty sols!
The charter also tried to encourage more people to settle in the town to help grow the economy. The count reduced his seigniorial levies. The taille, the seigneurial land tax, was set at thirty pounds a year. A modest sum. The count also exempted the inhabitants from the leyde. This feudal duty would only be paid by foreigners who sold goods in the markets of Vic-le-Comte.
- Vic-le-Comte, anonymous, date unknown