Briefly, I hope my paper supports the case that Sully was remembered all over France, with pride in some isolated villages, for the planting of trees and that he was behind the planting of memorial trees, particularly to celebrate the Edict of Nantes and religious tolerance. Academic historians deal with matters much weightier than trees. In his analytical biography of Sully, David Buisseret (University of West Indies) writes that Sully was “a key man in the king’s attempt to reconcile the two religious parties” and concentrates on Sully’s role in government; he doesn’t mention trees. That is left to traditions and folklore and so most of my references below are low-level and come from travel writers who talked to local people. Furthermore, they are generally from old books - many of the trees were elms which have, of course, disappeared. My argument is that this tradition is in danger of being forgotten except in a few isolated instances (though I can’t possibly have discovered all of them) and that it is a tradition worth celebrating and remembering.
Sully was responsible for ending the devastation of the forests of France and for the planting of millions of trees. There are dozens of sources for this and, for example, R Wade (Companion Guide to the Loire 1992) writes of Sully’s “passion” for planting trees. R Holmes (Fatal Avenue 1992) states that he “initiated the practice of planting poplar trees at the verges” of the roads he constructed. The trees that were planted were mostly elms (H Pearson - Henry of Navarre 1963) because elm wood was used for gun carriages. However, it is certain that these lines of trees became linked with Sully and were nicknamed Rosnys (Sully was Baron of Rosny before he became Duke). As late as after the French Revolution, men set to pollard the trees along roads made black humour about turning a “Rosny” into a ... and here they put in the name of an aristocrat guillotined in the Revolution. (Source lost at the moment) According to Bernard Barbiche (Sully 1978) he ordered every community to plant a dozen elms, an order unpopular with the peasants because the roots and shade spoiled vegetable-growing areas. He also ordered the planting of trees as memorials, particularly to celebrate the coming of religious tolerance after the publication of the Edict of Nantes. (Several sources for this - see below.) Most of these trees have, of course, disappeared. But I maintain that sufficient remains in old books and folklore to indicate that these references are the tip of what was once an iceberg. Sully was responsible for the planting of countless trees, particularly along roads but also in many villages all over France as memorials. Apart from some individual trees, scattered over France, and references in old books, this legacy has been largely forgotten. But it deserves to be remembered.
Trees planted as memorials and specifically linked to Sully Vernou-sur-Brenne (Indre-et-Loire):- “We found, on enquiry, that it was known as Sully’s elm, because of a tradition that it was one of those trees which he planted in various parts of France in 1598 on the occasion of the publication of the Edict of Nantes.” (F Lees A Summer in Touraine 1909) Tourtour (Var):- F Pagan (Provence 1991) claims that the two elms, now replaced by plane trees, were known as “Les Ormes de Sully”. Michelin Green Guide states simply that they were planted in 1638 while M Jacobs (A Guide to Provence 1988) says they commemorated the birth of Louis X1V. The last is likely, I think, and the link with Sully is tenuous to say the least, though it was within his lifetime. However, Pagan must have got his information from somewhere, and it does back the theory that there is a folklore link between Sully and individual trees in France.
FROM BOOKS AND OTHER RECORDS
Trees specifically linked to Sully for reasons not stated Ramatuelle (Var):- “A superb tree and one of the most remarkable survivors of the elms planted in Sully’s time stands in the Place de l’Ormeau.” (Michelin Green Guide French Riviera ND) Le Pecq (Ile-de-France):- “Where l’Orme de Sully, near the Seine, is the only tree remaining of many planted by the minister of Henri 1V.” (A J C Hare North-Eastern France ND but published during the 1890s) Masclat (Lot):- “A lime tree said to have been planted in the time of Henri 1V and Sully, and measuring 4.55 metres round its girth.” (Joy Law Dordogne 1981) Paris :- When the National Institute for Deaf Children moved to their present building in 1794 there was an elm tree in the courtyard known as “L’Arbre de Sully”. It had been planted during the 1600s. In 1903 it had to be cut down because it was diseased. By then it measured 45 metres high and needed six pupils holding hands to reach round the trunk. (Source: Madame Balle-Stinckwich, Archivist of the National Institute for Deaf Children).
We have visited more than 80 (as of 2017) of these sites and where possible have discussed the trees with local people because this is folk history, not the history of academics. Details we have discovered are included in the list of trees by Departements. In almost every case the tree has been planted by the church or, if not, in a place significant to the community. Because these trees are almost always on their own many have been struck by lightning and have often had to be pruned as a result.
Some sources claim that Sully ordered every community to plant a tree in their town or village. That may be so as the church had been the centre of the community but, following the Wars of Religion, this was no longer appropriate. But a tree under which people could shelter and meet could be an alternative centre. This is supported by the fact that many of these trees have ancient stone benches or replacements under them.
The following conclusions may be safely surmised.
1. These trees were planted as individual trees on their own.
2. They were planted in places of importance and significance to the community, usually by the church but also, for example, where an important market took place.
3. They were planted on the orders of the Duc de Sully.
4. They were planted for a specific reason, maybe more than one. We have come across the following different reasons for particular trees. Several of these may have just been part of local folklore. The prime purpose seems to be to celebrate the Promulgation of the Edict of Nantes and to provide a new focus for the community.
a To celebrate the Promulgation of the Edict of Nantes.
b To symbolise reconciliation and hope for the future.
c To remember the passing of Henri 1V through the village.
d To celebrate industrial success.
e To celebrate the birth of Henri's heir.
f To celebrate the annexation of Bugey into France.
g To celebrate the victory of Henri over Spain in 1595.
h For the Catholic community to affirm their allegiance to Henri 1V.
A small mystery is the siting of these trees. All the ones I have found, except the elm in the Deaf/Mute Institute in Paris, are in tiny villages or hamlets. Why is that? Is it just that only those in out-of-the-way places survived? Or did Sully pick out small communities for some reason ?
We now know of 237 Sully trees (this includes ones that are dead now but have been pictured on old postcards).
We have visited getting on for 100.