Alençon owes much of its renown to influential women. Thanks in good part to its own dukes and to their wealthy wives, grand buildings went up in Alençon, from the stern castle to elaborate churches.
Through marriage to dukes of Alençon, two powerful Marguerites born in the second half of the 15th century, Marguerite de Lorraine, followed by her daughter-in-law Marguerite d’Angoulême, became closely associated with the place. Marguerite de Lorraine held her court here. Marguerite d’Angoulême was the learned sister of larger-than-life King François I, France’s rival to King Henry VIII of England.
Alençon has long been celebrated for its lace-making traditions, dating back to the 17th century. A large percentage of women in the area became involved, creating unique, elaborate lace for the French court. Point d’Alençon became known as ‘queen of laces and the lace of queens’. The great skill needed to make Alençon needlepoint lace has led to it receiving the rare honour of being listed by UNESCO as part of the world’s cultural heritage.