1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Laval

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LAVAL, a town of north-western France, capital of the department of Mayenne, on the Mayenne river, 188 m. W.S.W. of Paris by rail. Pop. (1906) 24,874. On the right bank of the river stands the old feudal city, with its ancient castle and its irregularly built houses whose slate roofs and pointed gables peep from the groves of trees which clothe the hill. On the left bank the regularly built new town extends far into the plain. The river, here 80 yds. broad, is crossed by the handsome railway viaduct, a beautiful stone bridge called Pont Neuf, and the Pont Vieux with three pointed arches, built in the 16th century. There is communication by steamer as far as Angers. Laval may justly claim to be one of the loveliest of French towns. Its most curious and interesting monument is the sombre old castle of the counts (now a prison) with a donjon of the 12th century, the roof of which presents a fine example of the timberwork superseded afterwards by stone machicolation. The “new castle,” dating partly from the Renaissance, serves as court-house. Laval possesses several churches of different periods: in that of the Trinity, which serves as the cathedral, the transept and nave are of the 12th century while the choir is of the 16th; St Vénérand (15th century) has good stained glass; Notre-Dame des Cordeliers, which dates from the end of the 14th century or the beginning of the 15th, has some fine marble altars. Half-a-mile below the Pont Vieux is the beautiful 12th-century church of Avenières, with an ornamental spire of 1534. The finest remaining relic of the ancient fortifications is the Beucheresse gate near the cathedral. The narrow streets around the castle are bordered by many old houses of the 15th and 16th century, chief among which is that known as the “Maison du Grand Veneur.” There are an art-museum, a museum of natural history and archaeology and a library. The town is embellished by fine promenades, at the entrance of one of which, facing the mairie, stands the statue of the celebrated surgeon Ambroise Paré (1517–1590). Laval is the seat of a prefect, a bishopric created in 1855, and a court of assizes, and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a chamber of commerce, a board of trade-arbitrators, training colleges, an ecclesiastical seminary and a lycée for boys. The principal industry of the town is the cloth manufacture, introduced from Flanders in the 14th century. The production of fabrics of linen, of cotton or of mixtures of both, occupies some 10,000 hands in the town and suburbs. Among the numerous other industries are metal-founding, flour-milling, tanning, dyeing, the making of boots and shoes, and the sawing of the marble quarried in the vicinity. There is trade in grain.

Laval is not known to have existed before the 9th century. It was taken by John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, in 1428, changed hands several times during the wars of the League, and played an important part at the end of the 18th century in the war of La Vendée.

Seigneurs and Counts of Laval. The castle of Laval was founded at the beginning of the 11th century by a lord of the name of Guy, and remained in the possession of his male descendants until the 13th century. In 1218 the lordship passed to the house of Montmorency by the marriage of Emma, daughter of Guy VI. of Laval, to Mathieu de Montmorency, the hero of the battle of Bouvines. Of this union was born Guy VII. seigneur of Laval, the ancestor of the second house of Laval. Anne of Laval (d. 1466), the heiress of the second family, married John de Montfort, who took the name of Guy (XIII.) of Laval. At Charles VII.’s coronation (1429) Guy XIV., who was afterwards son-in-law of John V., duke of Brittany, and father-in-law of King René of Anjou, was created count of Laval, and the countship remained in the possession of Guy’s male descendants until 1547. After the Montforts, the countship of Laval passed by inheritance to the families of Rieux and Sainte Maure, to the Colignys, and finally to the La Trémoilles, who held it until the Revolution.

See Bertrand de Broussillon, La Maison de Laval (3 vols., 1895–1900).