ALENÇON (1) Medieval County (later Duchy) in northern France; and (2) a généralité during the Ancien Régime, named after a Norman town (on the borders with Maine), which stands on the River Sarthe, a tributary of the Loire.
From the early 11th century the lordship of Alençon was held by the lords of Bellême, which lay in the county of Maine to the east of Alençon. In 1070 Alençon and Bellême passed through an heiress to the great Norman family of Montgomery. Already Earls in England and Counts in Ponthieu, the Montgomeries began to use the comital title in Alençon as well. The power of the family, then headed by Robert of Bellême, was broken by Henry I early in the 12th century, though he later restored Alençon to the heirs of the imprisoned Robert. Their male line died out in 1219, by which time Normandy had been conquered by Philip Augustus, so that Alençon passed to the French royal domain.
It twice became an appanage in medieval France: (1) 1268-83, for Pierre, son of Louis IX; (2) 1293-1525, for Charles, Count of Valois, brother of Philip IV, and, after his death in 1325, for Charles’s second son and his descendants. Count Jean I became a Duke in 1414 but was killed at Agincourt the following year. The town and district of Alençon was in English hands, 1417-49.
After the extinction of the Dukes in 1525, the Duchy was given to various royal princes, as an appanage, for the purposes of income rather than administration; the last nominal gift as appanage was in 1785, to the elder brother of the King, the future Louis XVIII. For only one of these princes was Alençon his principal title. This was Francis Hector, youngest son of Henry II, 1566-84, and even in his case he held the higher title of Duke of Anjou for the last eight years of his life.
In 1636, a new généralité was created in the southern part of Lower Normandy together with the County of Perche, which lay in neighbouring Maine and had long been associated with Alençon. The Intendant resided in the town of Alençon. In 1790 the généralité was divided among four departments. That of the Orne, of which Alençon is the capital, was formed entirely from the southwest and south of the généralité.