I first became interested in the glassmakers of the Aude area after i read about the discovery of the remains of their ovens around Bugarach and other locations in the surrounding forests1. Like many others I had studied the history and mystery surrounding Rennes-le-Château. This village was once the alleged famous capital city of the fifth century Visigoths and over the following centuries this fascinating part of France garnered an air of mystery and intrigue that still draws researchers back today. Much of this is due to the hope that they will solve that other enigmatic mystery surrounding Rennes-le-Château- the wealth of Berenger Saunière - a former priest of the village.
This beautiful Aude valley is rich in history and legend which involves the Romans, Visigoths, Cathars, Templar’s, Huguenots2 and perhaps most resonant of all, the Catholic church. All these groups have left a legacy which we can explore. It's these aspects that are most familiar to the majority of researchers that study this subject.
The legends of the area's buried treasure, hidden underground temples and mysterious mountains have been written about extensively over the decades but little attention is given to the glassmakers who worked on those mountains. They mined minerals in and around the area and laid those mountains bare of wood. The glassmakers had access to all areas of the land and forests, and they would have known how to explore and mine every crevice in their search for products. These mines, crevices and caves had the potential to have been hidden for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
Most of the glass families were Huguenots3 who followed the teachings of John Calvin. They were subjected to religious persecution and they suffered the same fate for their beliefs as
the Cathars had, centuries before them - and for that matter any other religion that didn’t embrace the Catholic faith. Some Huguenots became legendary in their own right because of their stance against that persecution and some like the Tyzack, Henzells and many other glass-making families emigrated to other countries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries where they were free to embrace the Protestant faith. Some remained, practicing their faith in secret.
The Département of the Aude, part of the Massif central, is bounded on the East by the Mediterranean, on the North by the Départements of Herault and Tarn, on the West by Ariege
and in the South by the Pyrenees. On its western boundary it is traversed by a mountain range that unites the Pyrenees with the Southern Cévennes and its northern frontier is occupied by the black mountains.
Ada Polak in her fascinating book “Glass - Its tradition and its makers” tells the story of glass making from medieval times to the industrial age. She describes the development of town and forest glasshouses and how the glassmaker's products were determined by the local cultural, geographical and economical conditions. It's an excellent book for anyone interested in this subject.
Glassmaking and glassblowing was a highly exclusive craft that was based on certain important technical secrets concerning the construction of furnaces, the handling of tools and the ingredients of the batch as well as many other things, which were carefully preserved among members of certain families. If the glassmaker chose his location carefully he could find everything he needed for his craft in a forest: sand for the main body of the glass, plants to burn for ash, lime to give the glass stability, clay for pots, sandstone for furnaces and wood or peat for fuel. Communities grew up around town and forest glasshouses and some glassmaking families became highly privileged across Europe. Family exclusiveness, with its obvious advantages to those within their circle was a general feature to be found in all crafts from the Middle Ages and far into our modern times. In glassmaking it was, however, of particular importance. Close and easy co-operation between the members of the working team was vital to successful glassmaking and this was most easily achieved within a family framework. Glassmaking was an esoteric art, practiced only by the few families privy to its ancient secrets and it was a unique
craft of which the artisans formed a highly skilled closed trade and were the elite of French working men. In the nineteenth century, Glassworkers earned more than most other workers in France.
Forest Glass and Glass Houses.
Sand was the biggest part of a glassmakers batch. It can be collected from river beds where it is clean and more uniform in size. Ash is the second most important raw material, its chief purpose is to make the sand fusible at a reasonable temperature. The old glassmakers called it “the salt” and they produced it by burning certain trees or plants. The best plant or herb for glassmaking is called Salicornia herbacea or Glasswort for short. It has a particularly high salt content and grows abundantly in marshlands.
Above - The best plant or herb for glassmaking is called Salicornia herbacea or Glasswort for short
Other certain ingredients when added in small quantities to the two main components give particular results: for instance lime gives stability, magnesia produces a pink tinge which neutralises the greenness found in glass made from impure sand, lead gives brilliance and high refraction, while certain metal oxides produce particular colours. The mixing of the batch was very much a matter of experience and instinct.
All the ingredients were dry and powdery and when mixed they were put into clay pots in the furnace. When the pots were placed in a furnace that was already alight they had to be heated gently and gradually to the right temperature beforehand. Before the founding began the pots were topped up with broken glass or cullet, this eased the fusing process and if the cullet was of
good quality it improved the final product. Inside the furnace, the pots stood on benches above the fire, whether of square or circular form the furnace had a gable or dome shaped top from which the heat , rising from below was deflected down on to the pots so that they were surrounded by heat on all sides. The dome was of light construction and had a small smoke hole in the top which could be closed when the heat was to be increased to a maximum.
Until the early seventeenth century all furnaces were fired with wood, for the whole of the glassmaking process the pressure for fuel was more urgent and unrelenting than any other material. Forests were used for many purposes, for hunting, food or pleasure, and for the growing of timber for houses and ships and domestic fuel. Glassmakers were not the only claimants to the forest, they were sometimes delegated to the hilly and remote areas where hunting was harder and the timber was of less quality. During the process of their work, glassmakers cleared the land of forests, and because of this they moved regularly to enable the forest to re-grow. Once the wood was exhausted the furnace was left and another erected elsewhere.
The founding furnace was not the only one in the glasshouse, there was also the annealing furnace or lehr in which the finished glass was exposed to a gently decreasing heat, sometimes for many days and nights. There was also one for drying the wooden fuel. In primitive times different sections of one furnace could satisfy all needs. Wherever the furnace was housed almost any construction would do, as long as it was spacious enough for the men to move freely around manipulating their irons in constant movement. In France, most glassmakers leased their land from the king who was represented by the Département des Eaux et Forets which was first established in 1319. The glassmaker would pay rent twice yearly, this was usually a small amount, and in return they would give the landowner stipulated quantities of glass to use or sell, for this the glassmaker would be granted permission to cut trees for fuel and plants for the burning of their salts. Most of the early contracts are favourable to the glassmakers, they can take what they need to make a living on the land and they were also granted freedom from taxes.
Wealthy land owners and religious orders predominantly established glassworks on their property. Glass windows in churches are mentioned as early as the sixth century, and during the Middle Ages the Church was the most important patron for glassmakers as well as most other craftsmen at the time4. Theophilus Presbyter, an eleventh century author, describes in his book Schedula diversarum artium ("List of various arts") the production of stained glass and techniques in glass painting5. It has been theorised that flat glass making which is a prominent feature of the history of French glass is rooted in the production of medieval stained glass windows. The glassmakers of Lorraine and Normandy earned their earliest fame in this field.
Glassmakers didn’t make the windows, they provided the glass for the glaziers. The makers of window glass, or the grand verre as the French called it, were in many ways the aristocrats among glassmakers. They could produce flat glass either by blowing a large cylinder which was split and flattened out or by blowing a bubble which was cut at the end and spun around its own axis to make the bubble open up into a flat circular disc or crown. Benedictine monks were very active in employing and encouraging glassmakers.
Saint Denis Cathedral in Paris has beautiful stained glass windows6, which were installed in around 1130, coloured with cobalt, which, combined with the light from the red glass, filled the Cathedral with a bluish violet light. The Cathedral became the marvel of the Christian world, and the colour became known as the "bleu de Saint-Denis". In the years that followed even more elegant blue stained glass windows were installed in other churches, including at Chartres Cathedral7 and Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.
Above - Chartres Cathedral with a stained glass using the blue stain technique.
The medieval Knights Templar and Hospitillars were also involved in the construction of some Cathedrals and would have known about coloured glass and its properties from their excursions in the East. In his article “ The Ancient Glass Industry of Roussillon” Bernard Alart explains in detail how the glassmaking industry once thrived in the area, and he documents how the village of Palau and its inhabitants could manufacture and sell glass products in all places depending on the kingdom of Aragon, without subject to vassalage, tolls and tariffs which usually hampered trade relations. This was because they were vassals of the commander of Mas Deu8 and subject to all franchises granted to the Knights Templar and the Hospitaller order of Saint John of Jerusalem who had succeeded in Roussillon.
The nobility of the Gentilshommes Verriers is a complicated affair. Under the old regime in France, the Nobility had no right to engage in manual labour. However, the noble art of glassmaking was open to gentlemen, and there is no doubt that some glassmakers were of noble rank.9
Nobility is usually applied to the highest social class and in the feudal system the nobility were generally those who held a fief under vassalage, in exchange for allegiance in military service to a monarch. Nobility was a hereditary caste associated with the right to bear a hereditary title as well as other privileges such as the exemption from paying taxes. Most nobles' wealth derived from their estates that might include fields, pasture, orchards, woods, streams and infrastructure such as mills and wells which local peasants were allowed to access for a price. Nobles were expected to live nobly from the proceeds of these possessions. Work involving manual labour (except military) was forbidden or frowned upon socially.
In the political system of pre-Revolutionary France, the nobility made up the Second Estate of the Estates General (with the Catholic clergy comprising the First Estate and the bourgeoisie and peasants in the Third Estate). Although membership in the noble class was mainly passed down though hereditary rights, it was not a closed order. New individuals were appointed to the nobility by the king, or they could purchase rights and titles or join by marriage. The king could grant titles of nobility to individuals by lettres patentes and convert their lands into noble fiefs or, for non-nobles possessing noble fiefs, to grant them possession of the noble titles. From the reign of Philip the Fair ennoblement appeared by royal letters which created a new nobility, different from the feudal nobility. With the end of feudalism in the sixteenth century nobility declined, most of the nobles were reduced to poverty, and they had to find alternative ways to make a living.
There is much debate about the origins of the nobility of the glassmakers in France. Were they allowed to make glass because they were noble or were they ennobled because they made glass?
One of the oldest privileges granted to the glassmakers is in a document signed by Charles VI, this document dated January 24, 1399 is part of a collection in the Moreau National library, it says that “rights and privileges are given to all people working in glass furnaces, permission is granted to noble birth to exercise the trade of glass without violating their noble status”10.
In 1445, Charles VII granted privileges to the glassworkers of the Languedoc, and the charter creates a special court and its headquarters are in Sommieres, North East of Montpellier. This institute was to remain the headquarters of the glassworkers until the revolution11. In a charter granted by the Duke of Lorraine to the glassmakers of that area of 1448, they were described as “gens nobles extraits de noble line”11, and these charters were renewed with ceremony by his son John of Lorraine in 1469. Right up to the time of the revolution, letters of nobility were issued to individual glassmakers.
The Aude valley and the Corbierres have a long history with glassmaking, the vast area has all the ingredients required to maintain the craft among the various families that migrated across the mountains, families that married among each other and shared their trade secrets.12/13
Above - Gentilshommes Verriers
One of the first documented glassmaking families to settle in the area of Rennes-le-Château was that of the family of the Roberts. In the archives of the Archbishop of Narbonne from 1553 to 1585 three glassmakers called Stephen, Sebastian and William belonging to the family of Roberts settled in the parish of Fourtou14/15. From the middle of the seventeenth century, Francis de Montesquie, Lord of Coustaussa and Sougraigne had a glass house built in the woods of Bourasset that was for his own exclusive use. The noble Roberts family still resided in the area. The family can be found in records from the eighteenth century residing and working their glassworks in Camps-sur-Agly. This was probably because the lack of wood for fuel enforced a move, and it also gave the forest a chance to regenerate. Deforestation occurred often because of the continuous use of wood.
In 1698 John Belissen, Lord of Camps-sur-Agly gave the Roberts family rights to build a glassworks in a location called Albac de Goulefer for a period of eight years. The Roberts family were also established in Arques and Rennes-les-Bains16. There were of course other noble glassmaking families in the area, such as the Berbige, Riols and Vidal who along with their counterparts from the Montagne Noire all practiced endogamy. Like any noblemen of the time, these families provided armed service to the king and many descendants of these families became army officers. In 1664 Jean Robert, Sieur de Segala (near Castres) was a musketeer in
the battle of Bapaume, and he also became captain of the Royal Infantry. Jean Francois Robert from Saint Pons was a captain and adjutant to Montmedy in 1660 and he founded a military dynasty where one of his heirs will become captain of the regiment of Foix.
One of the most illustrious glassmaking families were those of the house of Grenier. According to French historian Rene Grousset the family descended from the Counts of Sidon and Cesarea, although various genealogists dispute that assumption. According to Grousset, Eustace, Gerard and Renaud Gernier were crusader knights. Balian Grenier was the stepson of Guy de Montfort, Lord of Castres who married Balian's mother Helvis d`Ibelin Queen of Tyre in 1205. And Julian Grenier, the son of Balian, married Euphemia the daughter of Hethum king of Armenia in 1252 which brought him an immense dowry, of which he donated a portion to the order of St John of Jerusalem (Hospitillars). In 1260 he sold the county of Sidon to the Knights Templars and eventually joined the order himself 17.
This glassmaking family of Grenier settled in the forests of Moussans, Tarn and the Montagne Noire in their infancy and formed alliances with various other noble families such as those of Robert, Riols and Columbus18. A Bourrasset document from 1741 mentions that Marie Grenier assisted Pierre Robert Sieur de Jonquiere, noble glassmaker. In the Catholic armies and others, like most of the glassmakers at the time, they converted to Protestantism and several members of the family excelled in military prowess. During the nineteenth century some branches of the family made a fortune in the glass industry, while others did likewise in the French colonies.
Another illustrious member of the Grenier family was Jean de Dieu Soult (1769-1851) Duke of Dalmatia, Marshall of the Empire and three times head of Government19. He was descended
from the Grenier family on his mothers side. Some of his awards and functions include Grand Cordon of the Order of Leopold of Belgium, Grand Cross of the Order of the Golden fleece, Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Hubert, Commander of the Order of St Louis, Commander of the Order of the Holy Spirit and Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. His name is engraved on the Arc de Triomphe. His younger brother Pierre Benoit Soult, Baron of the Empire was also awarded The Legion of Honor and Knight of the Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis. His name is also engraved on the Arc de Triomphe.
Above - Jean de Dieu Soult (1769-1851) Duke of Dalmatia, Marshall of the Empire and three times head of Government
Other members of the Grenier family include, Baron Louis Tirlet and Guillaume Dode de la Brunerie, Marshall of France whose names are also engraved on the Arc de Trimophe20.
In the foothills of the Pyrenees, just north of Sarat lies the small town of Sainte-Croix-Volvestre. Several glassmaking families practiced their art in these hills and methodically deforested the area. The first two families to work the area are the family of Robert Grenier and Jean Verbigier (VERBIZIER) who manufactured oil and perfume bottles. A descendant of Jean Verbigier was Baron Saint Paul Verbigier, a later politician and hero of the Napoleonic wars. Baron de Saint Paul was the son of a Napoleonic General21.
Not all family members stayed in the industry, some left the trade and the family networks, for instance Jean Fajol who originated from a glassworking family who became Lord of Bouisse then Albieres.22
For thousands of years the glassmaker has been adding substances to the raw material or batch to produce coloured glass, this process was achieved by trial and error because certain compounds give various colours - it was a matter of experimenting with combinations as well as considering other aspects such as the temperature of the melt and the concentration of the colourant23.
Experimenting with colours would have been a very time consuming and dangerous part of the glassmakers product especially when the following substances were involved….
1) Iron - a powerful colouring agent, it can be combined with chromium which is the most powerful of all colouring agents used in the glassmaking industry to produce a deep green glass used in the production of wine bottles.
2) Manganese is one of the oldest compounds used in glass colouring, it is found in early Egyptian purple glass.
3) Copper is also a powerful colouring agent, the famous Egyptian Blue Glass that was popular during the roman empire was made using a copper compound. Copper was used mostly to produce green glass but can also produce ruby glass.
4) Nickel produces a smoky coloured glass and is used with cobalt in lead crystal.
5) Uranium produces a yellow coloured glass, when combined with a high lead content is will produce a deep red colour.
6) Gold can be used to produce a colour known as ruby gold or Cranberry. Gold ruby glass was invented by Andreas Cassius in 1685, it became known as “purple of Cassius”.
7) Silver is mainly used for decorative purposes although it will produce a variety of colours from brown to yellow.
8) Aragonite is a carbonate mineral, one of the two common, naturally occurring, crystal forms of calcium carbonate. Aragonite is used, along with sand and soda ash, in making glass.
9) Cobalt is the most powerful blue colorant producing rich blues when used in potash containing mixes, it is found in copper and nickel ores in many countries. Georg Brandt, a Swedish chemist is acclaimed as the discoverer in 1742 although the colouring properties of the ore has been known since ancient times. There is no real evidence for when cobalt was first used but evidence can be seen in stained glass windows going back to the twelfth century. Cobalt was also used in blue glazes for pottery. Chinese porcelain from both the Tang and Ming dynasty contain cobalt. Very small quantities of cobalt are used in the glass mix and it must be added into the batch with sand for even distribution.
Above - Right - Cobalt blue coloured glass.
In her excellent article “Quintessential Blues for the Eighteenth century” Sarah Lowengard explains the chemistry and techniques involved in the process of creating coloured materials and glass using indigo and Cobalt24. Cobalt was the subject of intensified scientific and technological investigations during the eighteenth century as researchers sought to understand both the colour and colouring agent. Study of the nature of cobalt was a part of the general attention paid to the separation and identification of minerals and to the transfer of that information from the mining regions across Europe and elsewhere. Eighteenth century investigations of cobalt as a colouring material engaged chemistry in its most up to date forms.
Cobalt is supposedly derived from the German word Kobold25, which means goblin or evil spirit. These spirits lived in the mines in the Hartz mountains and took pleasure in exposing ores that looked like copper ores, but on roasting gave an unpleasant smell and no copper. These false ores were called cobalt and it is now known that they contained cobalt arsenide (arsenic). Upon roasting a crude cobalt oxide called Zaffre was formed which upon fusion with sand and potassium carbonate gave smalt, a clear blue melt of potassium cobalt silicate. Since the Middle Ages smalt/zaffre has been used for colouring ceramics and glass and during the 18th century pale pink solutions of cobalt chloride, turning green upon heating was used as invisible ink. Cobalt minerals are always found in association with nickel, silver, lead, copper and iron ores. Geographically major deposits are found in Africa, Canada and Australia but many other cobalt deposits exist. Investigations undertaken during the eighteenth century located elemental cobalt in southern France, Cornwall, Scotland and as mentioned, Germany and Scandinavia. Cobalt was also located across the centuries in Montferrand, Rennes-les-Bains, Pech Cardou, Couiza and other areas of the Languedoc-Roussillon26/27.
Notes and References;
To follow; PART TWO "BLUE APPLES - Mines, Miners and Minerals"