CAMBRAI, a town of northern France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of Nord, 37 m. S.S.E. of Lille on the main line of the Northern railway. Pop. (1906) 21,791. Cambrai is situated on the right and eastern bank of the Scheldt (arms of which traverse the west of the town) and at one extremity of the canal of St Quentin. The fortifications with which it was formerly surrounded have been for the most part demolished. The fosses have been filled up and the ramparts in part levelled to make way, as the suburbs extended, for avenues stretching out on all sides. The chief survivals from the demolition are the huge square citadel, which rises to the east of the town, the château de Selles, a good specimen of the military architecture of the 13th century, and, among other gates, the Porte Notre-Dame, a stone and brick structure of the early 17th century. Handsome boulevards now skirt the town, the streets of which are clean and well-ordered, and a large public garden extends at the foot of the citadel, with a statue of Enguerrand de Monstrelet the chronicler. The former cathedral of Cambrai was destroyed after the Revolution. The present cathedral of Notre-Dame is a church of the 19th century built on the site of the old abbey church of St Sépulchre. Among other monuments it contains that of Fénelon, archbishop from 1695 to 1715, by David d’Angers. The church of St Géry (18th century) contains, among other works of art, a marble rood-screen of Renaissance workmanship. The Place d’Armes, a large square in the centre of the town, is bordered on the north by a handsome hôtel de ville built in 1634 and rebuilt in the 19th century. The Tour St Martin is an old church-tower of the 15th and 18th centuries transformed into a belfry. The triple stone portal, which gave entrance to the former archiepiscopal palace, is a work of the Renaissance period. The present archbishop’s palace, adjoining the cathedral, occupies the site of an old Benedictine convent.
Cambrai is the seat of an archbishop and a sub-prefect, and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a board of trade-arbitrators, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France. Its educational institutions include communal colleges, ecclesiastical seminaries, and schools of drawing and music. The library has over 40,000 volumes and there is a museum of antiquities and objects of art. The chief industry of Cambrai is the weaving of muslin (batiste) and other fine fabrics (see Cambric); wool-spinning and weaving, bleaching and dyeing, are carried on, as well as the manufacture of chicory, oil, soap, sausages and metal boxes. There are also large beet-sugar works and breweries and distilleries. Trade is in cattle, grain, coal, hops, seed, &c.
Cambrai is the ancient Nervian town of Camaracum, which is mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary. In the 5th century it was the capital of the Frankish king Raguacharius. Fortified by Charlemagne, it was captured and pillaged by the Normans in 870, and unsuccessfully besieged by the Hungarians in 953. During the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries it was the scene of frequent hostilities between the bishop and his supporters on the one hand and the citizens on the other; but the latter ultimately effected their independence. In 1478 Louis XI., who had obtained possession of the town on the death of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, handed it over to the emperor, and in the 16th century Charles V. caused it to be fortified with a strong citadel, for the erection of which the castles of Cavillers, Escaudoeuvres and many others were demolished. From that date to the peace of Nijmwegen, 1678, which assigned it to France, it frequently passed from hand to hand by capture or treaty. In 1793 it was besieged in vain by the Austrians. The League of Cambrai is the name given to the alliance of Pope Julius II., Louis XII., Maximilian I., and Ferdinand the Catholic against the Venetians in 1508; and the peace of Cambrai, or as it is also called, the Ladies’ Peace, was concluded in the town in 1529 by Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I., and Margaret of Austria, aunt of Charles V., in the name of these monarchs. The bishopric of Cambrai dates from the 5th century, and was raised in 1559 to the rank of an archbishopric, which continued till the Revolution, and has since been restored. The bishops received the title of count from the emperor Henry I. (919–936), and in 1510 were raised to the dignity of dukes, their territory including the town itself and its territory, called Cambrésis.
See E. Bouly, Histoire de Cambrai et du Cambrésis (Cambria, 1843).