History of Picardy
As one of the oldest provinces in France, Picardy has seen its fair share of influence and intrigue from both natives and conquering peoples over the ages. Whether as disputed territory among the feudal lords of France or as the scene of modern warfare, Picardy has played a significant role in the history of the nation and Europe as a whole.
It’s during the era of the early Frankish kingdom that the region or Picardy (then Picardie) first rose to prominence. King Clovis I established Soissons as the first capital of the Frankish empire in 486, and during the era of feudal rule, the region encompassed six distinct counties: Boulogne, Montreuil, Ponthieu, Amienois, Vermandois, and Laonnis.
While the region – and its loose borders – were present for centuries, it wasn’t until the 12th century that the area was afforded the name Picardie. Thought to derive from the Picard tribe and the long, thrusting spear known as the pique that was a characteristic weapon of theirs, the name would apply to all areas in which the Picard language was spoken – an area covering territories from Paris to the Netherlands.
Often referred to as the cradle of Gothic architecture, Picardy was to embrace the movement during the 12th century, with magnificent cathedrals – such as at Amiens – appearing throughout the period. Two centuries later, the region was ceded to the dukes of Burgundy and didn’t reclaim its status as a province until 1477 and the reign of Louis XI.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the new administrative region of Picardy was established, expanded from its old territory to incorporate the Somme. Ravaged by a disease known the Picardy sweat, the region only began to flourish with the introduction of sugar beet by Napoleon as a means to challenge British dominance of the sugar industry. As such, the sugar trade would go from strength to strength, and continues to play an integral role here.
Picardy would, of course, go down in history for all the wrong reasons. As the Great War swept across Europe, the Somme was the location of a number of monumental battles, with the eponymous Battle of the Somme devastating the troops of France, Britain, Germany and more, and leaving the landscape scarred.
The lasting effect of the war can still be felt to this day, with thousands of travellers every year paying tribute to the fallen troops at memorial sites scattered across the region.