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General history of the town


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The town of Argentan, built on the banks of the Orne in the middle of a limestone plain and surrounded by the Ecouves and Gouffern forests, has always elicited strong feelings.

From the Middle Ages to the 17th century

Tour marguerite
Tour marguerite

Perched on a limestone spur, protected to the north, west and south by marshes, from the Middle Ages it was one of the most important fortresses in Normandy.
Argentan was built by Henry 1st of England, who was also Duke of Normandy, in the early 12th century.
From 1134 to 1618, the town was protected by two sets of battlements: the town battlements with their sixteen towers; and the castle battlements with four towers which enclosed the castle, the St Nicolas Chapel and the keep which are still in existence.
Within its ramparts, Argentan received famous people. Matilda, daughter of Henry 1st of England and married to Geoffrey Plantagenet, took refuge here in 1135. In 1172 Henry II of England, gathered all the counts and barons of the Duchy of Normandy to prepare the conquest of Ireland. In 1189, Eleanor of Aquitaine took up residence in the château of Argentan and received her two sons, Richard the Lion-heart and John Lackland.
A l'abri de ses remparts, Argentan a accueilli des personnages illustres. Mathilde, fille de Henri Ier, roi d'Angleterre et mariée à Geoffroy Plantagenêt, y trouve refuge en 1135. Henri II, roi d'Angleterre, réunit en 1172 tous les comtes et barons du duché de Normandie pour préparer la conquête de l'Irlande. En 1189, Aliénor d'Aquitaine fixe sa résidence au château d'Argentan et y reçoit ses deux fils, Richard Cœur de Lion et Jean sans Terre.

From the 17th to the 18th century

It is clear that Argentan had industry and trade. The quality of the water of the Orne encouraged the many tanneries to be set up and even the production of parchment.

In 1665, a Royal Lace Workshop was set up. The Point de France was invented around 1671 which was to be in competition with the famous Venice lace.

In the 18th century, Argentan had four Royal Lace Workshops and half-a-dozen ordinary workshops. But Argentan was mainly a town for the aristocracy and administrators. Fifty noble families and a hundred king’s officials (bailiwick, salt storehouse, controlling water and forests) lived here permanently. The richest owned private mansions most of which still exist.

Since the 19th century

Hôtel particulier
Hôtel particulier

Because of its favoured geographical position, Argentan became a very important centre for the railways with its depot containing up to 120 locomotives.
In the second half of the 20th century, many factories were set up on the left bank of the Orne, mainly for the metal and food industries. Argentan’s population tripled from 6,000 to 18,000.
Today, with the start of work on the A88 motorway and the "Au Fil de l'Orne" operation to develop the riverside, the town is showing a strong willingness to grow.
The town has a media library, a swimming pool, has reopened the Maison des Dentelles and has started work on a cultural centre, which is due to open in 2008.

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