Cambrai: Wikis


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Coordinates: 50°10′36″N 3°14′08″E / 50.1766666667°N 3.23555555556°E / 50.1766666667; 3.23555555556

Commune of Cambrai

Blason cambrai.svg
Cambrai is located in France
Country France
Region Nord-Pas de Calais
Department Nord
Arrondissement Cambrai
Canton Cambrai-Est and Cambrai-Ouest
Intercommunality Cambrai
Mayor François-Xavier Villain (DLR)
Elevation 41–101 m (130–330 ft)
(avg. 60 m/200 ft)
Land area1 18.12 km2 (7.00 sq mi)
Population2 33,716  (1999)
 - Density 1,861 /km2 (4,820 /sq mi)
INSEE/Postal code 59122/ 59400
1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km² (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.
2 Population sans doubles comptes: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.

Cambrai (Dutch: Kamerijk; old spelling Cambray) is a commune in the Nord department in northern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.

Cambrai is the seat of an archdiocese whose jurisdiction was immense during the Middle Ages. The territory of the Bishopric of Cambrai, roughly coinciding with the shire of Brabant, included the central part of the Low Countries. The bishopric had some limited secular power.

Cambrai was the Duke of Wellington's headquarters, for the British Army of Occupation, from 1815 to 1818.

The Battle of Cambrai (20 November 1917 – 3 December 1917), a campaign of World War I took place there. It was noted for the first successful use of tanks. A second Battle of Cambrai took place between 8 October 1918 – 10 October 1918 as part of the Hundred Days Offensive.




Roman times

An extract from the Peutinger table showing Camaraco (Cambrai) northeast of Sammarobriva (present-day Amiens)

Little is known with certainty of the beginnings of Cambrai. Camaracum or Camaraco, as it was known to the Romans, is mentioned for the first time on the Peutinger table in the middle of the 4th century. It was a town of the Nervii, whose "capital" was at Bagacum, present-day Bavay.

In the middle of the 4th century Frankish raids from the north led the Romans to build forts along the Cologne to Bavay to Cambrai road, and thence to Boulogne. Cambrai thus occupied an important strategic position. In the early 5th century the town had become the administrative centre of the Nervii in replacement of Bavay which was probably too exposed to the Franks' raids and perhaps too damaged.

Christianity arrived in the region at about the same time. A bishop of the Nervii by the name of Superior is mentioned in the middle of the 4th century, but nothing else is known about him.

In 430 the Salian Franks under the command of Clodio the Long-Haired took the town. In the early 6th century Clovis undertook to unify the Frankish kingdoms by getting rid of his relatives. One of them was Ragnachar, who ruled over a small kingdom from Cambrai.

In 870 the town was destroyed by the Normans.[1]

Early Middle Ages

Cambrai began to grow from a rural market into a real city during the Merovingian times, a long period of peace when the bishoprics of Arras and Cambrai were first unified (probably owing to the small number of clerics left at the time) and were later transferred to Cambrai, an administrative centre for the region. Successive bishops, including Gaugericus (in French Géry), founded abbeys and churches to host relics, which contributed powerfully to giving Cambrai both the appearance and functions of a city.

When the treaty of Verdun (843) split Charlemagne's empire into three parts the county of Cambrai fell into Lothaire's kingdom. However on the death of Lothair II, who had no heir, king Charles the Bald tried to gain control of his kingdom by having himself sacred at Metz. Cambrai thus reverted, but only briefly, to the Western Frankish Realm. By 925 Henry the Fowler had regained control of Lothair's former domains. Cambrai henceforth belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, in an uncomfortable position on the border with France, until it was annexed by France eight centuries later after being captured by Louis XIV in 1677.

In the Middle-Ages the region around Cambrai, called Cambrésis, was a county. Rivalries between the count, who ruled the city and county, and the bishop, ceased when in 948 Otto I granted the bishop with temporal powers over the city. In 1007 emperor Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, extended the bishop's temporal power to the territory surrounding Cambrai. The bishops then had both spiritual and temporal powers. This made Cambrai and Cambrésis a church principality, much like Liège, an independent state which was part of the Holy Roman Empire.

In 958 one of the first communes in Europe was established in Cambrai. The inhabitants rebelled against the bishop's power and abuses. They were severely repressed, but the discontent flared up again in the 10th and 11th centuries. In 1226, following another period of unrest, the burghers of Cambrai finally had to give up their charters and accept the bishop's authority, while retaining some freedom in the running of the town.

Prosperity in the Middle Ages

Economic activity

In the Middle-Ages the city grew richer and larger thanks to its weaving industry which produced woollen cloth, linen and cambric. Cambrai then belonged to a commercial hansa of seventeen low country cities whose aim was to develop trade with the fairs in Champagne and Paris. By the 11th century the city walls had reached the circumference they would keep until the 19th century.

Music history

Dufay (left) in conversation with Gilles Binchois

Cambrai has a distinguished musical history, particularly in the 15th century. The cathedral there, a musical center until the 17th century, had one of the most active musical establishments in the Low Countries; many composers of the Burgundian School either grew up and learned their craft there, or returned to teach. In 1428 Philippe de Luxembourg claimed that the cathedral was the finest in all of Christianity, for the fineness of its singing, its light, and the sweetness of its bells. Guillaume Dufay, the most famous European musician of the 15th century, studied at the cathedral from 1409 to 1412, and returned in 1439 after spending many years in Italy. Cambrai cathedral had other famous composers in the later 15th century: Johannes Tinctoris and Ockeghem went to Cambrai to study with Dufay. Other composers included Nicolas Grenon, Alexander Agricola, and Jacob Obrecht. In the 16th century, Philippe de Monte, Johannes Lupi, and Jacobus de Kerle all worked there.

Hundred Years' War

Even though the bishop tried to preserve the independence of his small state of Cambrésis, the task was not easy, wedged as the county was between its more powerful neighbours the counts of Flanders, of Hainaut and the kings of France, especially during the Hundred Years' War. In 1339, in the early stages of the war, the English king Edward III laid siege to the city but eventually had to withdraw. By the 14th century the county was surrounded on all parts by Burgundy's possessions and John of Burgundy, an illegitimate son of John the Fearless, was made bishop. However what looked like an impending annexation of Cambrésis to the states of Burgundy was made impossible by the sudden death of Charles the Bold in 1477. Louis XI immediately seized the opportunity to take control of Cambrai, but left the city a year later.

The legend of Martin and Martine

Martin and Martine strike the hours in the bell tower of Cambrai's town hall

Martin and Martine are two legendary characters who have come to represent the city which they are said to have saved. There are different versions of the story. The most commonly accepted version runs as follows: around the year 1370, at the time of Bishop Robert, Count of Geneva, Martin, a blacksmith of Moorish descent established in Cambrai, was among the burghers who left the city to fight the lord of Thun-Lévêque, who was then reputed to ransom the population around the city and generally to afflict the region. Martin, armed only with his heavy iron hammer, soon came face to face with the enemy. He dealt such a heavy blow on his opponent's head that, although the helmet of the lord did not break, because it was made of good steel, it was driven down to his eyes. Dazed and blinded, the lord of Thun quickly surrendered. Today the automatons of Martin and Martine, standing at the top of the town hall, strike the hours with a hammer as a reminder of that mighty blow.

The Renaissance and classical age

As the economic centre of northern Europe moved away from Bruges, the area became poorer, with an associated period of cultural decline. However the city's neutrality and its position between the possessions of the Habsburg Empire and France made it the venue of several international negotiations, including the League of Cambrai, an alliance engineered in 1508 by Pope Julius II against the Republic of Venice. The alliance collapsed in 1510 when the Pope allied with Venice against his former ally France. The conflict is also referred to as the War of the League of Cambrai and lasted from 1508 to 1516. Cambrai was also the site of negotiations in 1529 that led to France's withdrawal from the War of the League of Cognac.

The "gunners' house" in Cambrai is an example of 17th century Flemish architecture

In 1543 Cambrai was conquered by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and annexed to his already vast possessions. He had the medieval monastery of Saint-Sépulchre demolished and a citadel built in its place.

In 1623, the community of nuns of the English Benedictine Congregation was founded at Cambrai, which was expelled during the French Revolution and its successor community has since 1838 been established at Stanbrook Abbey, near Malvern.

In 1677, Louis XIV, in an effort to "safeguard the tranquility of his borders for ever" ("assurer à jamais le repos de ses frontières"), decided to take Cambrai and supervised the siege in person. The city was taken on April 19 1677. By the Treaty of Nijmegen of 1678 Spain relinquished Cambrai, which has remained to this day a part of France.

The first archbishop appointed by the king of France was François Fénelon. He came to be known as the "swan of Cambrai" ("le cygne de Cambrai"), in opposition to his rival Bossuet, the "eagle of Meaux" ("l'aigle de Meaux"), and he wrote his Maxims of the Saints while residing in the city.

The French Revolution

The city suffered from the Revolution: Joseph Le Bon, sent by the Comité de salut public, arrived in Cambrai in 1794. He was to set up an era of "terror", sending many to the guillotine, until he was tried and executed in 1795. Most of the religious buildings of the city were demolished in that period: in 1797, the old cathedral, which had been dubbed the "wonder of the low countries", was sold to a merchant who exploited it as a stone quarry. Only the main tower was left standing by 1809, when it collapsed in a storm. However the cathedral's archives have been preserved (they are now at the Archives Départmentales du Nord in Lille) and a new cathedral was later provided.


Arms of Cambrai

The arms of Cambrai are blazoned :
Or, a double-headed eagle sable, (haloed) beaked and membered gules, overall an inescutcheon Or, 3 lions azure.


Evolution of the population of Cambrai from 1794 to 2005
(2005 : estimate[2]) (Sources : INSEE - CassiniEHESS)


Cambrai was the birthplace of:

Twin towns

Cambrai (Drawing)

Cambrai is twinned with:

See also


  • David Fallows, Barbara H. Haggh: "Cambrai", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed December 18, 2005), (subscription access) (source for the music history section)
  • "Cambrai." Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed. New York, Encyclopedia Britannica Co., 1910.
  • "Histoire de Cambrai", sous la direction de Louis Trénard, Presses Universitaires de Lille, 1982.


  1. ^ 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, "Cambrai"
  2. ^ INSEE: Census results since 2004

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CAMBRAI, a town of northern France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of Nord, 37 m. S.S.E. of Lille on the main line of the Northern railway. Pop. (1906) 21,791. Cambrai is situated on the right and eastern bank of the Scheldt (arms of which traverse the west of the town) and at one extremity of the canal of St Quentin. The fortifications with which it was formerly surrounded have been for the most part demolished. The fosses have been filled up and the ramparts in part levelled to make way, as the suburbs extended, for avenues stretching out on all sides. The chief survivals from the demolition are the huge square citadel, which rises to the east of the town, the château de Selles, a good specimen of the military architecture of the 13th century, and, among other gates, the Porte Notre-Dame, a stone and brick structure of the early 17th century. Handsome boulevards now skirt the town, the streets of which are clean and well-ordered, and a large public garden extends at the foot of the citadel, with a statue of Enguerrand de Monstrelet the chronicler. The former cathedral of Cambrai was destroyed after the Revolution. The present cathedral of Notre-Dame is a church of the 9th century built on the site of the old abbey church of St Sepulchre. Among other monuments it contains that of Fenelon, archbishop from 1695 to 1715, by David d'Angers. The church of St Gery (18th century) contains, among other works of art, a marble rood-screen of Renaissance workmanship. The Place d'Armes, a large square in the centre of the town, is bordered on the north by a handsome hotel de ville built in 1634 and rebuilt in the 19th century. The Tour St Martin is an old church-tower of the 15th and 18th centuries transformed into a belfry. The triple stone portal, which gave entrance to the former archiepiscopal palace, is a work of the Renaissance period. The present archbishop's palace, adjoining the cathedral, occupies the site of an old Benedictine convent.

Cambrai is the seat of an archbishop and a sub-prefect, and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a board of tradearbitrators, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France. Its educational institutions include communal colleges, ecclesiastical seminaries, and schools of drawing and music. The library has over 40,000 volumes and there is a museum of antiquities and objects of art. The chief industry of Cambrai is the weaving of muslin (batiste) and other fine fabrics (see Cambric); wool-spinning and weaving, bleaching and dyeing, are carried on, as well as the manufacture of chicory, oil, soap, sausages and metal boxes. There are also large beetsugar works and breweries and distilleries. Trade is in cattle, grain, coal, hops, seed, &c.

Cambrai is the ancient Nervian town of Camaracum, which is mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary. In the 5th century it was the capital of the Frankish king Raguacharius. Fortified by Charlemagne, it was captured and pillaged by the Normans in 870, and unsuccessfully besieged by the Hungarians in 953. During the loth, 11th and 12th centuries it was the scene of frequent hostilities between the bishop and his supporters on the one hand and the citizens on the other; but the latter ultimately effected their independence. In 1478 Louis XI., who had obtained possession of the town on the death of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, handed it over to the emperor, and in the 16th century Charles V. caused it to be fortified with a strong citadel, for the erection of which the castles of Cavillers, Escaudoeuvres and many others were demolished. From that date to the peace of Nijmwegen, 1678, which assigned it to France, it frequently passed from hand to hand by capture or treaty. In 1 793 it was besieged in vain by the Austrians. The League of Cambrai is the name given to the alliance of Pope Julius II., Louis XII., Maximilian I., and Ferdinand the Catholic against the Venetians in 1508; and the peace of Cambrai, or as it is also called, the Ladies' Peace, was concluded in the town in 1529 by Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I., and Margaret of Austria, aunt of Charles V., in the name of these monarchs. The bishopric of Cambrai dates from the 5th century, and was raised in 1559 to the rank of an archbishopric, which continued till the Revolution, and has since been restored. The bishops received the title of count from the emperor Henry I. (919-936), and in 1510 were raised to the dignity of dukes, their territory including the town itself and its territory, called Cambresis.

See E. Bouly, Histoire de Cambrai et du Cambresis (Cambria, 1843).

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