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Veigy-Foncenex (Municipality, Haute-Savoie, France)

Last modified: 2005-02-26 by
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[Flag of Veigy-Foncenex]by Pascal Vagnat

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Presentation of Veigy-Foncenex

The municipality of Veigy-Foncenex (2,530 inhabitants, 1,299 ha) is located in the department of Haute-Savoie, close to the border with the canton of Geneva (Switzerland). Veigy-Foncenex is located in the middle of a triangle delimited by Geneva (11 km), Annemasse (18 km) and Thonon-les-Bains (17 km). The municipality is made of the villages of Veigy, Foncenex, Crevy and Les Verrières.

There is a detailed historical record on the municipal website of Veigy-Foncenex. Due to its location close to Geneva, Veigy was involved in all the struggles that involved the Duchy of Savoy, France, Geneva and the other Swiss cantons, and the particular history of the village is a good image of the more general history of the area.

The name of Veigy dates back (at least) to 1287 (Veigyer). The name of the village might come from Latin Velgiacus, Velgius' villa. The name of Fansonay, fixed to Fonceneix in 1663, appeared in acts dated 1220. Its origin is probably Fontcionacus, Fontcius' villa. Crevy was part of a feudal cession dated 1426 (Cubrier).
In the XIIIth century, Veigyer and Fonsonay were two distincts settlements. The hamlets of Les Merma, Les Verrières and Curvier were still isolated and belonged to different lords. They were progressively incorporated to Veigy in 1402 (Les Mermes), 1525 (Les Verrières) and 1552 (Crevy). Veigy and Foncenex were merged in 1793. A great part of the municipal territory was allocated to Geneva in 1816.

In 1533, the Prince-Bishop of Geneva abandoned the city. The Genevans established a self-government and adopted the Reformed religion (therefore it is wrong to say that the Prince-Bishop was expelled by the Reformists, since he was indeed expelled by the Genevans, who first did not welcome the Reformists too warmly). Pope Clement VII advised the Duke of Savoy to attack Geneva, but Bern sent an army of 6,000 to help Geneva. The Genevans defeated the Savoyards near Chêne and trashed the neighbouring area. Foncenex was tributary of the St. Victor's convent in Geneva and of the castle of Jussy, already owned by Geneva, and was therefore not trashed. Veigy, however, was attacked by the small Genevan garrison set up in the castle of Jussy. They looted the church and set up fire to the land of the priest. François de Langin, Lord of Veigy, fled, and the inhabitants asked to be incorporated into Geneva to avoid to be administrated by Bern, to no avail.

In May 1536, three months after the invasion, the inhabitants of Veigy adopted the Reformed religion. Veigy was the first parish in the conquered territories to have a Protestant pastor. The Catholics were upset by such a swift conversion. On 4 May 1536, the Reformist Farel was interrupted during his sermon in Thonon and told to go "back to Veigy".
The très redoutés seigneurs de Berne (highly feared lords of Bern) set up a very rigid but strongly unbiased administration. They established a more equal system of justice and tax, imposing also the nobles and the pastors. The administrative language was French and no longer Latin in order to limit abuse by notaries. However, the system was so rigid that the expression raide comme la justice de Berne (rigid as the justice of Bern) is still in use locally.

On 30 October 1564, most of the occupied territories were retroceded to Savoy. Bern kept Vaud and Geneva kept the villages of Jussy and Gy. The official retrocession took place only on 26 August 1567. The bailliwick of Gaillard-Ternier, set up by Bern, was placed under the authority of the Governor of Thonon, so that both Veigy and Foncenex were placed in the same administrative division.

In 1589, war broke out again between Savoy and Geneva. An army of 6,000, commanded by the French Sancy and including Swiss mercenaries appointed by France invaded Chablais on 23 April 1589. The main fortresses of Ballaison, Yvoire and Ripaille (in Thonon) were seized and trashed. Progressively, the Genevans destroyed all the other smaller castles of the region.
The castle of Veigy was protected by a garrison of 40, commanded by Captain Battaglini. The Genevan War Council decided to send a nightly expedition to seize the castle on 29 September 1589. The carpenter Vallud placed a charge under the draw-bridge but could only succeed in hurting himself during the explosion. The Genevan artillery shot a few bullets and the garrison was enjoined to surrender. Captain Battaglini capitulated and was later hang upon the Duke's order because he had capitulated too early. The castle was eventually trashed and burned, and the Genevans also stole the bells of the church.

A few years later, King of France Henri IV invaded Savoy and occupied it from 1596 to 1598. Geneva took advantage of the troubles to invade the bailliwick of Gex and the mandement of Gaillard. Accordingly, Foncenex was under the Genevan rule and Veigy under the French rule. The limit between the two villages was therefore the border between the Kingdom of France and the Republic of Geneva. On 3 November 1598, Savoy negociated the reincorporation of Gaillard, which was cancelled in 1602 following the fiasco of the expedition set up against by the Duke of Savoy against Geneva, known as L'Escalade.
Savoy was later invaded another four times by France, and by the Spaniards from 1743 to 1749. The Spanish occupation was extremely harsh and caused several local revolts. Peasants of Veigy led by a named Duret are said to have slaughtered a Spanish garrison. The password of the plot was Faut empâter ([We] Must knead).

In the second half of the XVIIIth century, the Sardinian authorities attempted to force the parishes to sell their communal goods, causing trouble in the villages, especially in Veigy, Corsier, Loisin and Massongy. The nobles and notables who bought or attempted to buy those goods were threatened and sometimes mauled by the peasants. The revolt was exarcebated by the neighborhood with Geneva, which was much more emancipated and strongly disputed by the popular and aristocratic parties. Political refugees brought back from Geneva and Carouge the last news from the French Revolution, as did travellers who stopped in the pubs of Douvaine on their way to Italy via the Simplon pass. What they told there was rapidly forwarded into the neighbouring villages. The peasants learned that tithe, gabelle and all feudal privileges had been abolished in France.
The French revolutionaries were welcomed as liberators in September 1792. On 14 October, each municipality elected a deputy for the Assemblée nationale des Allobroges. Veigy elected the lawyer François Chastel, whereas Foncenex elected his brother Michel, officer in the Légion Allobroge. Both were commissioned to vote for the incorporation of Savoy to France. On 21 October, the assembly gathered in Chambéry and abolished all the feudal privileges. Savoy was proclaimed Allobrogie, Nation Libre.
On 27 November 1792, the (French) National Convention acknowledged the request of the Chambéry assembly and incorporated Savoy to France as the department of Mont-Blanc. Veigy and Foncenex, parts of the former province of Carouge, were incorporated to the arrondissement (district) of Annemasse. On 27 January 1793, it was decided to merge the two villages into the municipality of Veigy-Foncenex.
In both villages, the inhabitants planted a liberty tree, a poplar. The Veigy tree was cut in 1877 in order to build a public weight. The Foncenex tree disappeared before 1848. The priests of the two villages refuse to take the Constitutional oath and fled on 24 February 1793. The church of Veigy was transformed into the Temple de la Raison and was also used for public meetings. The bells and liturgic bowls were melted down, most possessions of the church were sold, and the priests came back only in December 1796.

On 26 April 1798 (7 Floréal of the Year VI), the Republic of Geneva united with France. New administrative divisions were set up on 14 September 1798. The new department of Léman was created, in which Veigy-Foncenex was allocated to the arrondissement of Geneva. The artificial bareers separating Veigy-Foncenex and the neighbouring municipalities from Geneva were eventually suppressed, which favoured the development of the villages.
The situation was reverted after the fall of Napoléon, and the pre-Revolution divisions were reestablished in 1815. Veigy-Foncenex was again placed in the province of Carouge and the canton of Annemasse.

On 18 March 1816, Geneva obtained from the King of Sardinia the cession of the municipalities of Jussy, Gy, Collonges, Bellerive, Corsier and Hermance, as well as all the former possessions of the St. Victor's chapter. Accordingly, Veigy-Foncenex was once again located on a state border and lost 190 ha of arable land. Most inhabitants could keep land in Geneva, but the straight border cut several fields into two parts. The border was the river Hermance. A thin stripe of land located between the Hermance and the brook Bevire was disputed between Corsier, Hermance and Veigy and eventually allocated to Veigy. The customs line was moved in the hinterland, and Veigy was located in the free zone (zone franche). This was an interesting situation for trade, but communications with the rest of the province were not straightforward. To go to Annemasse, the inhabitants of Veigy had to cross the Genevan territory or use bad paths full of twists around Machilly. On 1 January 1838, the province of Carouge was suppressed and the canton of Annemasse was incorporated to Faucigny. Veigy was then located even further from the administrative center, which had been moved to Bonneville.

When Napoléon III and Cavour started to negociate the reincorporation of Savoy and County of Nice to France, a strong pro-Swiss movement broke out in northern Savoy. The pétitionnement for the incorporation to Switzerland got 214 signatures in Veigy, which had then less than 900 inhabitants. Following the proposal of a free zone, Chablais massively voted for the reincorporation to France, with the zone (14,688 against 69 for reincorporation without the zone and 28 against the reincorporation).
A decree from 20 December 1860 moved Veigy-Foncenex to the canton of Douvaine.

During the Second World War, Veigy-Foncenex was a main point of clandestine crossing to Switzerland. Several Jews, but also a few member of the Resistance and young réfractaires (the people who refused to work in Germany), fled from France via the chemins de traverse (shortcuts), often guided or help by the local population and the Swiss customers. One of these chemins de traverse was recently transformed into a place of remembrance, with the help of former members of the Resistance, artists and the children of the village.

General Amé Chastel is the most famous child of Veigy-Foncenex. He joined the Légion Allobroge on 16 October 1792, was appointed Captain in 1793 and took part to the siege of Toulon. He was severely hurt during the crossing of Tagliamento during the Italy campaign. He later joined the Egypt campaign, during which he found the famous Denderah zodiac and shipped it to France. He took part to the battle of Austerlitz, the campaigns of Prussia, Poland, Spain and Russia and eventually the battle of Waterloo. Chastel retired in Geneva, where he organised Bonapartist plots. He was accusated of a failed attempt of abduction of Duke of Angoulême in 1820. He died in 1826 and bequeathed a big art collection to the city of Geneva.

Ivan Sache, 5 September 2004

Municipal flag of Veigy-Foncenex

The municipal flag of Veigy-Foncenex can be seen on the municipal website.

The flag is white with the municipal coat of arms surmonted by the name of the municipality in black Capital letters.

The coat of arms of Veigy-Foncenex is (from the municipal website):

Gueules au chevron d'or accompagné en chef de deux croissants du second et en pointe d'une tête de Maure tortillée d'argent.

Pascal Vagant, 5 September 2004