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Maisons-Laffitte (Municipality, Yvelines, France)

Last modified: 2003-05-17 by
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[Flag of Maisons-Laffitte]by Arnaud Leroy

Source: Fabien Chébaut

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Presentation of the city

Maisons-Laffitte is a city of c. 25,000 inhabitants (called Mansonnais) located 25 km west of Paris. The city was built on the right bank of the river Seine. The neighbouring city across the river is Sartrouville.
Maisons-Laffitte is famous for its castle and its racetrack, which strongly influenced the development of the city.

The castle of Maisons was built under the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1643) for René de Longueil by the architect François Mansart.
René de Longueil (1596-1677) belonged to a powerful family of the noblesse de robe (i.e. bourgeois who were ennobled for services rendered to the State, as opposed to noblesse d'épée, the old aristocracy of maedieval origin). In 1642, Longueil was appointed President of the Parliament of Paris. In 1645, he was appointed Governor of the royal castles of Saint-Germain and Versailles, and in 1651 Surintendant général des Finances (i.e. Secretary of the Treasury of the Kingdom). In 1658, he was granted the title of Marquis by King Louis XIV.
François Mansart (1598-1666) was the founder of the architectural French Classical style, from which he suppressed the most visible influence of Italian and Antique styles. Among his main buildings are St. Mary's Temple and Hôtel Guénégaud-des-Brosses in Paris and parts of the castle of Blois. He gave his name to the mansarde (attic), a characteristic element of his style. F. Mansart should not be mistaken for his grand-nephew Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1646-1708), Louis XIV's first architect and builder of the Galerie des Glaces, the Royal Chapel and the Grand Trianon in Versailles.
The building of the castle of Maison lasted from 1634 to 1646. Mansart was a perfectionist, and he was later sacked by the King because the building of the chapel of Val-de-Grâce in Paris was much too slow. In 1651, Regent Ann of Austria (1643-1661) and child Louis XIV, then 13-year old, were invited to the inauguration festival of the castle. Maisons remained the property of the Longueil family and its descendants until 1777.

In 1777, the castle of Maisons was bought by Count of Artois (1757-1836), Louis XVI's brother, later King of France as Charles X (1824-1830). Count of Artois introduced equestrianism, whose history in Maisons is described below.

After the Revolution and the exile of Count of Artois, the castle of Maisons was bought in 1804 by Marshall Lannes (1769-1809), Duke of Montebello. Lannes died during the battle of Essling (1809) and his widow sold the castle in 1818 to the banker Jacques Laffitte (1764-1844).
In 1809, Laffitte was appointed Governor of the Banque de France. He was Deputee from 1816 to 1827, and Minister and President of the Council [of Ministers] in 1830-1831 under the reign of Louis-Philippe (1830-1848). In 1833, Laffitte bankrupted himself and sold the park of the castle by lots to soak up his debt. He created a colonie paysagère ('landscaped colony') based on English models. Through advertising campaigns, he attracted in Maisons several rich members of the Parisian jet-set. In 1834, he set up terms and conditions for the colonie and founded the Association Syndicale du Parc to prevent any further modification of the park. The Association is still active and implements Laffite's terms and conditions. The parc has an area of 420 hectares (60% of the municipal territory) and its inhabitants represent 40% of the population of Maisons-Laffitte.

In 1844, Laffitte sold the castle, which was eventually bought by the French State and preserved from demolition in 1905. Soon after the set up of Laffite's colonie, Maisons was nicknamed Maisons-Laffitte. This name was officially adopted by the municipal authorities in 1882.

In 1777, Count of Artois introduced in Maisons English pure-bred horses. In 1833, the first horse race was organized in Maisons by Prince of Moskva, Marshall Ney's son and Laffitte's son-in law, and Charles Laffitte, Jacques' nephew. Both founded the Société pour l'amélioration de la race chevaline, based on the model of Newmarket, a city in Suffolk, England, now twinned with Maisons-Laffitte.
In 1850, Joseph Ollier bought meadows neighbouring the river Seine and built the first racetrack. Ollier was the founder of parimutuel (now PMU, Pari Mutuel Urbain), a regulated national network of horse-racing betting counters. The racetrack was inaugurated on 6 June 1878 and officially visited on 9 September by President of the Republic Mac-Mahon (1873-1879).
In 1910 the training center Jacques-Laffitte was created and the first race with women jockeys took place in 1932.

Maisons-Laffitte racetrack can now accomodate 3,500 spectators, and the training center permanently houses 1,600 horses. The 2,200-m long flat track is the longest in Europe.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 8 March 2002

Description of the flag

The flag of Maisons-Laffitte has two equal horizontal blue and yellow stripes, these colours being counterchanged with the shield field and chief colours.

The shield of the municipal flag has retained Longueil's coat of arms, which is blazoned as follows:

D'azur à trois roses d'argent, au chef d'or chargé de trois roses de gueules

(Azure, three roses silver, chief or, three roses gules)

The greater arms of Longueil are supported by two eagles with a 'long eye' (long oeil) to recall the family name.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 8 March 2002