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Maine (French pronunciation: [mɛːn]) is one of the traditional provinces of France (not to be confused with La Maine, the river). It corresponds to the old county of Maine, whose capital was the city of Le Mans. The area, now divided into the departments of Sarthe and Mayenne, contains about 857,000 inhabitants.
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In the 8th and 9th centuries there existed a Duchy of Normandy (ducatus Cenomannicus), which several of the Carolingian kings used as an appanage. This duchy was a march that may have included several counties including Maine, and extended into Lower Normandy, all the way to the Seine. In 748, Pepin the Short, then Mayor of the Palace and thus the most powerful man in France after the king, gave this duchy to his half-brother Grifo. In 790 Charlemagne in turn gave it to his younger son, Charles the Younger. Charlemagne's grandson, the future Charles the Bald, and his son Louis the Stammerer inherited the title. At the height of the Scandinavian invasions Ragenold of Neustria held the title as well as the Neustrian march and the county of Maine, given to him on the death of Gauzfrid by Charles the Bald because Gauzfrid's children were too young to act in that capacity. Ragenold, who may have been the son of Renaud d'Herbauges, died in 885 fighting the Vikings who were pillaging Rouen.
The son-in-law of Charlemagne, Rorgon, was the count of Maine between 832 and 839. In the last half of the 9th century, Maine took on strategic importance because of invasions from Normandy and Brittany. Rorgon's son Gauzfrid in turn became Count of Maine. He fought against Salomon, King of Brittany and in 866 participated in the battle of Brissarthe alongside Robert the Strong, the Frankish Margave of Neustria.
Bordering the county of Anjou to the south and the Duchy of Normandy to the north, Maine became a bone of contention between the rulers of these more powerful principalities. Hugh III of Maine was forced to recognize Fulk III, Count of Anjou as his overlord.
Sometime between 1045 and 1047 Hugh IV married Bertha, daughter of Odo II, Count of Blois. The Angevins did not want Maine to come under the influence of Blois, and Count Geoffrey Martel invaded Maine. The Normans had just as little desire to see Maine return to the Angevin orbit, and they too were pulled into the conflict. The precise chronology is disputed, but it is clear that in 1051 Hugh IV died and the citizens of Le Mans opened their gate to the Angevins. Anjou wound up with effective control of most of the county, but the Normans did take several important strongholds on the Maine–Normandy border.
Hugh IV's son Herbert II fled to the Norman court (though some historians say he was under Angevin control for a few years first) and his death in 1062 precipitated a succession crisis. Herbert died childless in 1062 after declared William the Conqueror, then Duke of Normandy, his heir. His sister Marguerite was engaged to William's eldest son, Robert Curthose and Herbert had taken refuge at William's court in 1056 when Geoffrey Martel, Duke of Anjou, invaded Le Mans.
While the county was in Angevin hands, Anjou had its own succession problem. Duke William of Normandy claimed the county on their behalf of Herbert's young sister Margaret, betrothed to his son Robert Curthose. The other claimant was Herbert's aunt Biota, a sister of Hugh IV, and her husband Walter, Count of the Vexin.
William invaded Maine in force in 1063 and despite stiff opposition Fulk IV, Count of Anjou, and from local barons such as Geoffrey of Mayenne and Hubert de Sainte-Suzanne he controlled the county by the beginning of 1064. Biota and Walter were captured at the taking of Le Mans. They died sometime later in 1063, poisoned, it was rumoured, though there is no hard evidence for this. Norman control of Maine secured the southern border of Normandy against Anjou and is one factor which enabled William to launch his successful invasion of England in 1066.
In 1069 the citizens of Le Mans revolted against the Normans. Soon some of the Manceaux barons joined the revolt, the Normans were expelled in 1070, and young Hugh V was proclaimed Count of Maine. He was the son of Azzo d'Este and his wife Gersendis, the other sister of Count Hugh IV. Azzo returned to Italy, leaving Gersendis in charge. The real power, however, was one of the Manceaux barons, Geoffrey of Mayenne, who may also have been Gersendis' lover. After Norman attacks in 1073, 1088, 1098 and 1099, Elias I succeeded his cousin Hugh V, who sold Maine to him in 1092 for ten thousand shillings. His daughter married Fulk V, Count of Anjou, who took Maine over in 1110 after the death of Elias. Henri Beauclerc, agreed to recognize him as Count of Maine so long as he acknowledged the Duke of Normandy as his overlord.
Fulk's son Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou inherited Maine. When Geoffrey died in 1151, it passed to his son, King Henry II of England. Since Henry had been Duke of Normandy since 1150, Anjou, Maine, and Normandy all had the same ruler for the first time. Henry later founded the Plantagenet dynasty in England.
King Philip II of France attacked the Plantagenet holding, known as the Angevin Empire, being held by John, King of England. The Plantagenet loss of Normandy may have led to the increased sway of the House of Capet and thus to the Hundred Years' War, and the French seneschal William des Roches also took Touraine, Anjou and Maine on behalf of the king. In 1331 the Count of Maine became a peer of the realm.
After the Battle of Verneuil in 1424, the English occupied Maine, and John of Lancaster took the title of Duke. The English held Le Mans until 1448 and Fresnay until 1449. In 1481, Charles IV, Duke of Anjou bequeathed his lands to Louis IX of France, thus returning the county to the crown.
At the beginning, a part of the Maine population supported the French revolution that took place in Paris. The extension of it and the general opposition of the other European countries provoked a war, that forced the authorities of the new founded French Republic to engage soldiers to fight against its European enemies. The growing need of soldiers had bad consequences in the Maine, the south of Normandy and the eastern part of Brittany: Young men refused to join the army and preferred to disappear and hide themselves. They organized a sort of secret army and they got the name of Chouans, from the nickname of their chiefs, Jean Cottereau. With such chiefs, Maine became quickly the centre of Chouan counter-revolution. They found local support everywhere among the peasants, who were shocked by the way the administration and the army treated the priests and the Roman Catholic religion.
Des Erves dolmen 4000 BC
Lassay Castle 12th → 15th century
Laval Castle and Town
Panoramic view of Sainte-Suzanne, Mayenne
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