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From the origins to the 10th Century
The date of the foundation of Auvillar is not known. However, the name of the village originates from the Latin ‘Alta Villa’, so it seems reasonable to guess at Gallo-Roman origins, especially as various excavations have brought to light Gallo-Roman objects – a bronze statuette of Venus (now kept with the museum at Agen), bronze and silver coins bearing the effigies of Roman emperors and fragments of mosaic. Add to that the Roman road, linking Agen and Toulouse, which passed through Auvillar along the left bank of the Garonne, and the word villa, which in the Roman sense of the term was a country house of a rich official, then the origins become a distinct possibility of being Gallo-Roman.
Roman bridge near the Garonne
The local history is distinctly patchy, does not mention any origins of the village and hardly mentions the period of invasions that took place after the fall of the Roman Empire. The general history of France informs us that Roman Gaul fell prey to invading Barbarbians during 2 periods. From the 2nd to the 5th century, firstly the Alamans (A.D 176), then the Vandals (A.D. 407) followed by the Visigoths (A.D. 412) invaded Gaul. Then from the 8th to the 10th century, the Saracens (A.D. 721 –736), the Normans (A.D. 845 – 911), followed by the Maygars (A.D. 924) swept over the south of France in their turn. It is the names of several places, as well as archaeological finds, that testify to their memory.
A dig carried out the mound of Moutasse (in the parish of Le Pin), just 5 kms away from Auvillar, produced a great quantity of iron weapons, notably embellished with small spurs with sharp quadrangular points, plus a morse ivory chess pawn representing a warrior, dated from the 11th century. These have the characteristic of the Normans who had stayed in these parts.
The great invasions are mentioned in but a few written documents of the period. Among them, the letters, which Prosper of Aquitaine and Orientus wrote to the Barbarbians of the first period, give some insight into those, troubled times. Still more revealing, fragments of the Chronicle of Moissac, an anonymous compilation of the end of the 10th century, have come down to us. It gives a detailed account of the sacking of Moissac and its famous Abbey, which had been destroyed originally by the Saracens around 737 and again by the Normans, then the Maygars between 899 and 911.
The testimony of the poet Bishop Prentius who wrote around A.D. 430 is telling: “Our unhappy motherland, town and country alike, is fraught with grief, destruction, massacres, fires, bereavements… all of Gaul is ablaze on the same pyre”.
It is undeniable that in the 10th century, Auvillar already was an important town and that fishermen had settled the foot of the hill on the left bank of the river. When the Normans sailed up the Garonne towards Toulouse, the panic-stricken inhabitants of the port sought shelter in Auvillar at the top of the hill, eventually taking the first steps towards its fortification.
AUVILLAR: FIEFDOM OF THE VISCOUNT OF AUVILLAR
It is undeniable that, in the tenth century, Auvillar was already an important town and that fishermen had settled at the foot of the hill on the left bank of the river. Thus when the Normans sailed up the Garonne towards Toulouse, the panic-stricken inhabitants of the port sought shelter in Auvillar at the top of the hill, eventually taking the first steps towards its fortification.
In the eleventh century Auvillar was considered large and important enough to be given as the centre of a new independent fiefdom under the jurisdiction of the newly named Viscount of Auvillar, even though it was previously located on the Viscount of Lomagne’s territory. Here is a list of the parishes marking the geographic boundaries of the territory of Auvillar: Saint Pierre d’Auvillar; Saint Pierre des Pouts (Candes); Saint Michel de la Corneille; Espalais; Saint Jean de Casterus; Saint Jean de Castel; Saint Loup; Saint Martin de Cristinag; Saint Martial; Saint Cirice; Grezas; Merles and a part of the parishes of Bardigues, Montbrison, Bayne, les Arenes and Saint Nicolas de la Grave. At first, this territory belonged to the viscounts of Gascony. Odon, Arnaud’s first son and the last lord to bear the title Viscount of Gascony, became the first Viscount of Lomagne and Auvillar in 1070.
Little is known of the history of the first viscounts of Auvillar until the thirteenth century. Only a few facts may be held for certain: a Viscount named Saxet gave Auvillar its customs around 1120. Very few fragments of those customs, which were recorded in an X of the Abbey of Moissac, have been preserved. They are kept at the Departmental Archives Library of the Tarn-et-Garonne. Saxet’s customs gave the viscounts of Auvillar the right to levy taxes on goods entering the town or on those merely shipped through the port of Auvillar. A Viscount called Vesian not only raised the tariffs but also ambushed, with his son and several armed men, the boats which sailed by, exacting a heavy ransom from for passage; they stole their goods and even ill-used the boatmen when they tried to resist.
Ten years later, the Albigensian heretics swarmed over the south of France. The Count of Toulouse, Raymond VI, who encouraged the intrigues of the heretics, was let down by the inhabitants of Auvillar who chose to back Simon of Montfort, the leader of the crusaders’ party. The first part of the crusade against the Albigenses lasted from 1209 to 1213 when the Battle of Muret finally confirmed the defeat of Raymond VI. The new Viscount of Auvillar (1246), Arnaud Othon, regained the favour of the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VII, who, in return, efficiently protected the Viscount of Auvillar from the claims of Geraud, Count of Armagnac. Alas, the peace was short-lived; a year later, Arnaud Othon sided with Simon of Montfort (the son of the famous leader of the crusade, who bore the titles of Count of Leycester, Governor of Gascony for the King of England), against Geraud of Armagnac who had paid allegiance to the Count of Toulouse. Geraud was then taken prisoner. The Count of Toulouse summoned Othon to Agen on 11 June 1249, then and there enjoining him to free the Count of Armagnac and to restore the Castle of Auvillar to him, as well as all the estates that the Viscount possessed in Agenais. As Arnaud Othon refused to comply, the militia of Agen seized the Castle of Auvillar in the name of the Count of Toulouse. Arnaud Othon officially apologised to Alphonse, who had succeeded Count Raymond VII, and who was magnanimous enough to return the territory and title of the Viscount of Auvillar to him. It was Arnaud Othon who asked Pierre of Cabiran, a lawyer at Lectoure, to put down in writing the “Customs of Auvillar” (29 December 1265). This text is precious as far as “the organisation of the City Council, the feudal rights and the administering of justice” are concerned.
The Arnaud Othon Gate was located where the Clock Tower now stands. It is so called either because he built it or repaired it, or because he first entered the town through it. Let us add in passing that there used to be three other gates: Saint Pierre’s Gate, which stood near the church and of which there is nothing left: Fountain Gate in the west, which communicated with the Roman way leading to the port, and the Lectoure Gate, at the southern boundary of the outlying district of Sauvetat: that gate has disappeared as well, but its location still bears the name of Lectoure Gate.
Vesian, who had succeeded his father Arnaud Othon, died in 1274, and his sister Philippe became Viscountess of Lomagne and Auvillar. In the meantime, Arnaud Othon’s widow had married Archambaud, Count of Perigord, a widower himself who already had a son, Helie Talleyrand. The latter married the young Viscountess of Auvillar who was still under age, and it is through Helie that the title of Viscount of Auvillar passed on under the Counts of Perigord’s domination.
However, it only remained so for twenty years: in November 1302, the two territories of the viscounts of Lomagne and Auvillar became part of Philippe le Bel’s son’s territory. When he eventually gave up the Crown, the title of Viscount ended up in Arnaud Garcie of Goth’s hands, elder brother of Pope Clement V, who in turn gave it to his son, Bertrand, on his deathbed.
When Bertrand of Goth died, his only daughter, Regine, donated the title and territories of the Viscount of Auvillar to her husband, Jean, Count of Armagnac. From 1319 onwards, the title of the Viscount was in the hands of the Counts of Armagnac. Saint Pierre’s church was begun in 1340, under the reign of Jean I of Armagnac, on the eve of the Hundred Years’ War, and for more than a century, peace was little known in Lomagne, just as in the rest of Gascony.
Auvillar underwent the same fate as that of the other neighbouring towns, which were alternatively French and English. The kings of France and England gave in to the numerous demands of Auvillar and bent their efforts towards securing its allegiance. Even though Auvillar never was a major battlefield, the war obviously had long-term effects in the territory too. As early as the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War – when a few Gascon lords, loyal vassals of Edward III, King of England, demanded the presence of his famous son, the Black Prince, to push back the Count of Armagnac whose encroachments they feared – Auvillar fought for the King of France, remaining faithful to the Count of Armagnac. It was shortly to rue for it. A part of the English army (the Black Prince had landed at Bordeaux and sailed up the Garonne), reinforced by discontented troops amounting – so it was said – to 14,000 men, stopped at the foot of the ramparts of Auvillar. The upper town resisted, protected by its fortifications, but the surrounding countryside was ruined.