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True Tree Hugger

Updated: Mar 11, 2022

I told you of an interesting stop along the Canal du Midi in the village of Poilhes, a remarkable elm planted in Sully’s time stands in the Place de l’Ormeau. A tree that is over 400 years old. It turns out that to be just one in a series of almost 300 that were planted (some no longer standing). Obviously, this peeked my curiosity.

Who was Sully? The Duc de Sully, Maximilien de Bethune had a long and illustrious career in service the the King. At the time that was Henry IV. The Duc served in many capacities as Protestant soldier during 40 years of civil war where the conflicts between Catholics and the Protestants called the Wars of Religion (1562–98). As a statesman, counselor, administrator, and minister of Agriculture and Public Works he did so as a Protestant throughout. When the wars ended, Henry's embrace of Roman Catholicism and the religious toleration of the Huguenots guaranteed by the Edict of Nantes. Sully tried to be the Peacemaker for both sides and was able to accomplish that working for a Catholic King.

As France’s first minister, he had trees planted as a symbol of reconciliation and hope for the future. History tells us Sully ordered millions of trees to be planted for at least four reasons. He wanted to halt deforestation after so many had been partly destroyed. He planted trees alongside roads for demarcation and shade. He wanted elms to be planted in order to ensure enough solid wood was available in the future for gun carriages, he was Grand Master of Artillery at the time. And he ordered communities to plant a tree in a place of importance, usually next to the church. 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.

Politics were as troublesome back then as now, and he was eventually forced out and retired to his magnificent Castle Sully-sur-Loire. A wise and prudent diplomat he remained. I think he truly deserves the title of the France’s original tree hugger.

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