Things that will ruin your impression of mediæval France

Lots of folks know that under the ancien regime, the heir to the throne of France was known as le Dauphin. But do you know why? While doing some historical research I discovered a tiny nugget of information that has forced me to re-evaluate my impressions of France from 1349-1830.

Arms of Guiges IV, Count of Albon

The fourth Count of Albon, Guiges IV, had a dolphin on his coat of arms, and because of it he acquired the nickname le Dauphin (or “the Dolphin”).

From that nickname he also derived a whole new hereditary title—Dauphin of Viennois.  I suppose there are worse fates than to go to your deathbed having been called “the Dolphin” for most of your adult life.  Just ask these guys.

Now, this is where things get strange.

Arms of the Dauphin of France

The territories the Count and his successors ruled thus took on the name Dauphiné (we would call it “the Dolphiny” in English), and when Humbert II of Viennois sold them to France in 1349, he stipulated that the heir to the throne of France must be known—in perpetuity—as Dauphin (“Dolphin”), a state of affairs that French monarchs not only agreed to, but perpetuated right up to the end of the French monarchy almost five hundred years later in 1830.

I am forced to wonder why anybody ever took France seriously in that five hundred year span.

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