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Title: Normandy
Author: Mitton, G. E. (Geraldine Edith)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Normandy" ***

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[Illustration: A NORMAN PEASANT]



  _Published_      _September 1905_


Pen and brush are both necessary in the attempt to give an impression
of a country; word-painting for the brain, colour for the eye. Yet
even then there must be gaps and a sad lack of completeness, which
is felt by no one more than by the coadjutors who have produced this
book. There are so many aspects under which a country may be seen.
In the case of Normandy, for instance, one man looks for magnificent
architecture alone, another for country scenes, another for peasant
life, and each and all will cavil at a book which does not cater
for their particular taste. Cavil they must; the artist and author
here have tried--knowing well how far short of the ideal they have
fallen--to show Normandy as it appeared to them, and the matter must
be coloured by their personalities. Thus they plead for leniency, on
the ground that no one person’s view can ever exactly be that which
satisfies another.

            G. E. MITTON.


  IN GENERAL                                            1


  THE NORMAN DUKES                                     18


  THE MIGHTY WILLIAM                                   34


  A MEDIÆVAL CITY                                      56


  CAEN                                                 79


  FALAISE                                              93


  BAYEUX AND THE SMALLER TOWNS                        112


  THE FAMOUS TAPESTRY                                 129


  AN ABBEY ON A ROCK                                  140


  THE STORMY CÔTENTIN                                 155


  DIEPPE AND THE COAST                                163


  UP THE SEINE                                        182


   1. A Norman Peasant                           _Frontispiece_

                                                   FACING PAGE
   2. Cherry Blossom                                    6
   3. The Harbour at Low Tide, Granville                8
   4. A Festival Cap                                   10
   5. A Seaside Resort                                 12
   6. Grandmother                                      14
   7. An Approach to the Abbey, Mont St Michel         22
   8. Entrance to Mont St Michel                       28
   9. A Street, Mont St Michel                         32
  10. Harbour of Fécamp                                36
  11. A Road near Rouen                                44
  12. Near Pont-Audemer                                46
  13. Old Houses, Rouen                                58
  14. A Street in Rouen                                62
  15. The Towers of St Ouen                            64
  16. An Hotel Courtyard, Rouen                        72
  17. The Milk Carrier                                 84
  18. A Street Vendor, Falaise                         94
  19. A Little Norman Girl                             96
  20. Rural Scene                                     102
  21. Starting for the Washing-Shed                   104
  22. Lace Making                                     110
  23. An Ancient Inn Yard                             114
  24. Timber-frame House, Lisieux                     120
  25. Valley of the Rille                             122
  26. St Lo                                           124
  27. A Street in Granville                           126
  28. The Spinning Wheel                              134
  29. Mont St Michel--Sunset                          142
  30. La Porte du Roi                                 144
  31. The Street, Mont St Michel                      146
  32. A View from the Top of Mont St Michel           148
  33. A Holiday Head-dress                            156
  34. Cherbourg                                       160
  35. The Gateway, Dieppe                             164
  36. The Quay, Dieppe                                168
  37. Fishermen at Fécamp                             174
  38. Havre                                           176
  39. Quai Sainte Catherine, Honfleur                 182
  40. Caudebec-en-Caux                                186

_The Illustrations in this volume have been engraved and printed at the
Menpes Press._



It is a task of extreme difficulty to set down on paper what may be
called the character of a country; it includes so much--the historical
past, the solemn and magnificent buildings, the antiquity of the towns,
the nature of the landscape, the individuality of the people; and
besides all these large and important facts, there must be more than a
reference to distinctive customs, quaint street scenes, peculiarities
in costume, manners, and style of living. Only when all these topics
have been mingled and interwoven to form a comprehensive whole, can
we feel that justice is done to a country. Yet when the scope of the
book has been thus outlined, the manner of it remains to be considered,
and on the manner depends all or nearly all the charm. It will not
answer the purpose we have in view to follow the methods of guide-book
writing; that careful pencil-drawing, where each small object receives
the same detailed recognition in accordance with its size as does each
large fact, is not for us; for it is essential that the whole must
consist of wide areas of light and shade, to make definite impressions.
Many people have passed through the country, guide-book in hand, have
studied the style of every cathedral, have seen the spot where Joan of
Arc was murdered, and where William the Conqueror was born, but have
come back again without having once felt that shadowy and intangible
thing, the character of Normandy, wherein lies its fascination.

It seems, then, that the only possible way to aim at this high ideal
will be to exercise the principle of selection; to choose those things
which are typical and representative, whether of a particular town
or the whole country, to describe in detail some points which may be
found in many places, and to leave the rest. A town-to-town tour, with
everything minute, accurate, at the same level, would be wearisome and
unimpressive, however useful as a guide-book. Here we shall wander and
ramble, selecting one or two objects for special attention, perhaps by
reason of their singularity, perhaps for the opposite reason, because
they are typical of many of their kind, and by this method we shall
gain some general idea of the country, without becoming tedious by
reason of too much detail, or vague for lack of it.

It has often been said that Normandy is a beautiful country, or as it
is less happily expressed, “So pretty,” and this is not altogether
true; no doubt there are parts of Normandy which are beautiful, such
as the banks of the Seine, and the country about Mortain and Domfront,
but there are also parts as dully monotonous as the worst of Holland
or Picardy. To know the country, one must see all kinds, and perhaps
with knowledge we shall get to feel even for the plainer parts that
affection which comes with knowledge of a dear but plain face.

The present chapter, however, is merely preliminary and discursive,
with the object of giving some general idea of the country as a
background before filling in the groups destined for the foreground.
The place where the majority of English people first strike Normandy
is Dieppe. The coast-line running north and south of Dieppe is famous
for its bathing-places and pleasure resorts, and it will be dealt with
later on.

The district lying between Dieppe and the Seine is known as Caux. The
route from Dieppe to Paris is well known to many a traveller, and
the feeling of anyone who sees it for the first time will probably
be surprise at its likeness to England. If the journey be in the
spring-time, he will see cowslips and cuckoo flowers in the lush green
grass, amid which stand cows of English breed. The woods will be
spangled with starry-eyed primrose and anemones, while long bramble
creepers trail over the sprouting hedges. Even the cottages, red-tiled
or thatched, are quite familiar specimens; and it is only when some
rigid chateau, in the hideous style most affected by modern France,
built of glaring brick, and with an utter absence of all attempt at
architectural grace, is seen up a vista of formal trees, that he will
realise he is not in the Midlands.

Then we come to the banks of the Seine. Perhaps if one had to choose
out of all Normandy, one would select the country lying within and
around those great horseshoe loops of the river as admittedly the most
beautiful part. So full of interest and variety is the course of the
Seine, that we have reserved a special chapter for an account of it
between Havre and Vernon. However, beautiful as it is, this part is not
quite so characteristically Norman as some other districts. The Seine
itself, though it flows for so long through Normandy, does not belong
to it, but to France; the people who live on its banks are more French
than Norman, and we have to go farther westward to find more typical
scenery. The country lying about Gisors, and between that town and the
Seine, was called the Vexin, and formed a debatable ground on which
many a contest was fought, and which was held by France and Normandy in

To the west of the Seine the country varies. Some towns, like Lisieux,
lie surrounded by broken ground well clothed by trees, while much of
the district, notably that south of Evreux, is monotonous and almost
devoid of hills at all.

We find here some instances of those long, straight roads which it
seems to be the highest ideal of the Vicinal Committee to make. We
shall meet them again in plenty elsewhere, but may as well describe
them here. Take for instance that road running between Evreux and
Lisieux; it undulates slightly, and at each little crest the white
ribbon can be seen rising and falling, and growing at last so small in
the endless perspective, that it almost vanishes from sight. Six miles
from any town a man is found carefully brushing the dust from this
road, though what good he can possibly do by the clouds he raises with
his long, pliant sweep is a mystery. On each side of the road there is
a broad ribbon of green, and in this case it is overhung by a double
row of trees that really do give some shade. The peasants walk in this
green aisle, but even with the grass underfoot the patience needed to
traverse perpetually such monotonous roads must be great; it is the
quality often found in those whose lives know little variety. Sometimes
these high roads are planted with poplars, which mock the wayfarer, for
like so many other trees in France, these poplars are stripped of all
their boughs almost to the top, and the little tuft of light leaves
remaining gives no relief to sight or sense on a glaring road under
a summer sun; oaks, horse-chestnuts, beeches--almost any other tree,
and all seem to grow well--would have been far better for shade and
comfort; yet for one road planted with these umbrageous trees a dozen
are lined by the scanty and disappointing poplar. Along them pass the
market carts with hoods like those of a victoria; and even the drivers
of slow travelling carts supply themselves with miniature hoods,
exactly like those of perambulators, to cover their seats, for no one
could endure the hours passed in the sun without some protection.

A great deal of Normandy is flat and bare; the flint and trefoil style
is common. Wide fields of mustard of a crude raw yellow, not golden
like the Pomeranian lupin fields, are often to be seen. The flat
landscapes are broken by a few stiff or scraggy trees, tethered cows,
or cottages of lathe and clay; yet, we hear the song of the lark and
scent the breath of roses, and in the spring and early summer orchards
of cherry blossom make gleaming sheets of white on many a roadside.

The valley of the River Rille, up which Pont Audemer lies, is of a
different style altogether, still it has characteristics in common
with other districts. The valley is flat, and from it on each side so
steeply rise the fir-crowned hills that in describing them one could
almost use the word rectangular. Though the trees are fairly thick
there is a ragged, unfinished, rather scrubby look, very often seen in

[Illustration: CHERRY BLOSSOM]

If we spring westward now to Caen, we find the flat and bald landscape
everywhere. The country is almost incredibly dull, and this is the
reason why Caen, such an interesting town in itself, makes so small an
appeal as headquarters. The long, straight roads radiate from it in
all directions. Here and there there is a lining of trees, but
generally only a green ditch, waterless, and a line of cornfield,
blue-green or yellow as the season may be, with perhaps a ragged fringe
of gnarled apple-trees standing ankle-deep in the corn, and the wide
sky, like a great inverted bowl of clear blue, fitting every way to
the horizon. There may be fields of deep crimson trefoil to vary the
colouring, or there may be fields yet unplanted in which the bare brown
earth seems to stretch to eternity, and far away in the midst are the
stooping figures of two or three men and women busily working with
bent backs on a shadeless plain. Yet in this wide flat country there
is a freshness and an openness that one might imagine could permeate
the blood, so that the peasants who were born and reared here might
suffocate and die in a mountainous country, as the mountaineers are
said to pine and die in a plain. This flat plain to the westward of
Caen, and surrounding Bayeux in the district of the Bessin, has been,
so long as history has any record, a prime agricultural country with
magnificent pasturage. The most notable points in the little villages
which stud it are the wonderful churches, out of all proportion to the
size of the hamlets they represent. Of course this feature is found all
over the country, and in almost every small town there is a cathedral,
so that one cannot but wonder where the money came from which built
such glorious monuments to piety. The line going to Bayeux runs at
about seven or eight miles from Caen, between two little villages,
Bretteville and Norrey, which share a station between them. The church
at Norrey, built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, is a very
model of architectural perfection and simplicity, the tall spire is
something in the style of the marvellous St Pierre in Caen itself.
Bretteville falls not far short of it, though the tower is after a
different pattern. A very few miles on, at Andrieu, is a church with a
splendid tower of the same date as Norrey, and about two miles south,
at Tilly aux Seulles, a church of which the nave is eleventh century,
the choir twelfth, the tower fourteenth, and the portal fifteenth, all
in the artistic and finished style we associate with that period when
there seems to have been nothing but good work. This group of churches
is worth mentioning as striking, even in the profusion to be found in
Normandy. Leaving Caen and going southward, we plunge before very long
into the hilly country from which the Orne rises. This is known as the
Bocage, a name which suggests rich foliage. The part of the country in
which Mortain and Domfront lie has been called the Alps of Normandy,
and certainly it can hold its own for picturesqueness. It is, however,
comparatively little known; the line of the quick-trip-man may touch
Falaise, but it goes no further south. Yet even at Falaise one can see
part of a ridge extending for many kilometres, a ridge which has been
so magnificently utilised as the site of the castle where William was
born. The hills through Mortain and Domfront run parallel with
this ridge, and are of the same description. Indeed the positions of
the castles at Domfront and Falaise are very similar.


Turning now to a new district westward, we find a rugged granite coast,
chiefly notable for the splendid views it affords of the bay of Mont
St Michel and its famous rock, and on a wider scale of the Channel,
where lie the Iles Causey and Iles Normandes (Channel Isles). There
are here a group of fine towns, Avranches, Granville, Coutances, and
St Lo. The first named is the capital of the Avranchin district, which
stretches up to the little stream Couesnon, separating Normandy and
Brittany. Thus we are almost at the end of a general topographical
survey; there remains only that peninsula of the Côtentin, very little
visited, and entirely off the tourist track, yet in itself delightful.
The hills rise and fall, and are well covered with trees, which, though
not of a great height, grow warmly and bushily. The roads are good, and
the country is studded with ancient chateaux, now for the most part
farmhouses, which shall have, as they deserve, a chapter to themselves.
We have thus run very quickly over Normandy in a general survey,
gaining some idea of the characteristics of the districts, and calling
them by the ancient names they bore in the days of the Norman dukes.

In regard to the people, what there is to say has been said in the
various local chapters. The quaint costumes, which are familiar to us
from many a picture, are fast dying out; in Normandy one sees less
of them than in Brittany; here and there, it is true, we find a local
fashion in caps, as at Valognes; and still on feast-days and fair-days
some damsel appears in the wonderful erection of stiffening and
beautiful hand-made lace which her grandmother wore, to be the envy of
her neighbours; but in an ordinary way these things are not seen. “On
y cherchent vainement ces riches fermiéres de la plaine et du Bessin,
dont les hautes coiffes garnies de dentelles et les bijoux Normandes
attiraient tous les regards.”

[Illustration: A FESTIVAL CAP]

And what is said of costumes may be said also of customs. Le Hericher,
who has made a study of racial characteristics, says that the Normans
are not a people of imagination and idealism like the Celtic races.
“Il y a en Normandie deux localités où on remarque une population
exotique, exotique de costume, exotique de langue; c’est Granville à
quatre lieues de Cancale, son berceau, son point de départ; Cancalaises
et Granvillaises sont des sœurs séparées par un bras de mer. L’autre
c’est le faubourg de Dieppe, celui des pêcheuses, le Pollet. Ces deux
localités où la race est Celtique, se distinguent par un esprit pieux
qui, comme cela se fait chez les Bretons, mêle la religion aux actes de
la vie civile et de l’existence maritime.” He adds, “Le Normand chante
peu et ne danse pas du tout. Son voisin le Breton chante beaucoup,
danse un peu.”

Nevertheless a dancing-match may still be found in some obscure corners
of Normandy.

The Norman has the love of country strongly developed and though
settlers have gone forth to other lands, especially to Canada, the
mother-country retains their hearts in a peculiar way. One of the most
popular of the national songs carried overseas runs:--

   “À la Claire fontaine,
    Les mains me mis lavé.
    Sur la plus haute branche
    La rossignol chantait,
    Chante, rossignol chante
    Puisque t’as le cœur gai,
    Le mien n’est pas de même
    Il est bien affligé.”

Longfellow’s _Evangeline_ is full of the spirit of the exile and his
picture of the girl herself:--

   “Wearing her Norman cap, and her kirtle of blue, and the earrings,
    Brought in the olden time from France, and since as an heirloom
    Handed down from mother to child through long generations,”

gives us a clear-cut vision of a type of Norman girl now growing every
day more rare.

A great many people who could visit Normandy as easily as one of our
own coast towns are deterred by the difficulty of knowing where to
begin, and what route to take. Normandy is the easiest of all countries
to visit. One may begin anywhere with the certainty of finding interest
and enjoyment, especially those who are cyclists, for the roads are
as a rule excellent, much better than those in Brittany, and one may
stay for a longer or shorter time with equal pleasure, for the country
furnishes material for many a month, and yet much can be seen in ten
days or a fortnight.

The best known starting-place, as we have said, is Dieppe, and of the
hundreds who enter Normandy yearly, at least eighty per cent. come in
by this gate. A very usual route for a first trip is by Rouen, Evreux,
Lisieux, Caen, Bayeux, St Lo, Coutances, Avranches, and St Mont Michel,
returning from St Malo. This for a preliminary survey is good, and
having once been in the country it is almost certain that the traveller
will go again, given the opportunity.

[Illustration: A SEASIDE RESORT]

There are of course many people who are content with the sea-coast,
and wish to penetrate no further than Dieppe or Trouville, to mention
the two largest of the coast resorts. There is much to be said for
these places. There is a brilliance in the sunny air, a gaiety in the
mingling crowds, a completeness in the round of amusements, and the
opportunities for observing one’s fellow-creatures, that are grand
elements in the tonic of change. The bathing, the bands, the casinos,
the toilets, are all excellent of their kind, and many a tired worker
goes back to that office in the city, where his view is limited by his
neighbour’s window-reflectors, a new man for the busy idleness of a
fortnight at one of these holiday resorts. Unfortunately for those who
have not much to spend, the prices at the best hotels at these
places in the season are almost prohibitive. However, the season is
late, not beginning until July, and there are sunny months before that.
There are also countless places along the coast less known, and having
the primary advantages of the others; where the sands are just as
stoneless and shadeless, and where the sea-air is as fresh and the sky
as blue, but where the hotels are not so exorbitant, and the villas and
pensions are innumerable also. Such, to take only one example, are the
places that line the coast near Caen.

But this is the merest fringe of the subject. One who has sampled the
coast towns, and rushed over the main route above described, has hardly
begun to know Normandy. He has endless choice left for future holidays.
He may make his headquarters at Valognes to explore the Côtentin;
he may settle down at Domfront, and wander throughout that lovely
district; or he may devote himself to the country around Les Andelys
and Gisors; and everywhere he will find opportunity for enjoyment.

The difficulty in passing quickly through Normandy on a cycling or
pedestrian tour is to get food when and where you want it. To make any
progress at all in summer, it is necessary to start in good time after
a substantial meal, then to take a very light luncheon, perhaps carried
with one, and to arrive in time for a good dinner at the day’s end.
This is very difficult of accomplishment. Such a thing as that which an
Englishman calls a good breakfast is almost out of the question, and
the probability is that the cyclist riding off the beaten tracks cannot
get anything at all for the rest of the day; for of all hopeless places
for eatable food, the small villages in Normandy are the worst. Drink
of some kind, vermouth, and the sweet syrupy grenadine, can be had at
every little shanty, marked “Debit du Boisson,” but there is nothing to

[Illustration: GRANDMOTHER]

I can recall one scene which could never have taken place anywhere save
in Normandy. An old farmhouse with half-door, which, being opened,
admitted one to an old room toned in browns of all shades, heavy beams,
walls, and floor alike. A few boughs, green-encrusted, and sending
up a thick smoke, lie on the open hearth. A little old dame, of any
age one likes to guess, with wizened nut-brown face encircled by a
spotless close-fitting coif, is the lady of the house. Her face is one
to which Rembrandt alone could have done justice, with an expression
at once kindly, dignified, and shrewd. On the rough table, hacked and
hewed by many a knife, are set bowls of milk strongly tasting of wood
smoke. Sour cream is spread like jam on slices roughly carved from a
loaf the size of a bicycle wheel, and about as hard as deal wood. The
cream is very sour, and a few lumps of sugar are served out with it to
be grated over it. The old dame sits by with folded hands while the
party laugh over their strange meal, but as the laughter continues she
grows slightly anxious, and asks to be assured that she is not the
object of it; a royal compliment in the best French at the command of
the best linguist of the party chases away anxiety, and also for the
moment dignity and shrewdness, leaving nothing but delight pure and
simple on that dear old work-worn face.

It is the fashion to praise French cooking, but to an Englishman who
has passed the day bicycling with nothing but a couple of soft-boiled
eggs and some sour cream, there is something unsatisfying about the
ordinary dinner menu at a French hotel. The monotonous soup, always
_maigre_; the dull variety of nameless white fish, which seems to be
kept in stock as a staple; the little tasteless pieces of veal, all the
same size and shape cut on a dish; the leathery and half-raw mutton,
also cut in the same way; the very small variety of vegetables, and
utter absence of attempt at sweets--is not an appetising menu. The
French are apparently very conservative in their food. A traveller
of eighty years ago tells us: “The breakfast at the table d’hôte at
Argentan, as at every other place where I stopped, was of exactly the
same nature as their dinners. That is, soup, fish, meat of different
kinds, eggs, salad, and a dessert with cider; no potatoes or any
other vegetable but asparagus at any meal,” and this would be a very
fair account of an hotel menu nowadays. The worst fault seems to be
monotony, always chicken, gigot, or veal. Of course, at the very
first-class hotels, at places such as Dieppe, where English influence
has penetrated, things are certainly better, but in the ordinary best
hotel in a second-class town, the food is very unsatisfactory, and the
meat always tough and bad, in spite of the splendid pasture lands and
the fine fat beasts one sees grazing; good beef is very rare, and good
mutton unknown. In this respect Normandy seems to have been unvaryingly
the same, for the traveller above quoted writes also: “With occasional
exceptions, the meat in this part of Normandy (Caen) is of inferior
quality, more particularly the mutton, which is generally as lean and
tough as an old shoe.” So often has the praise of French vegetables
been repeated, that one has learned to take it as an axiom, until
one goes and finds out for oneself. The truth is there is less, not
more variety, than with us; such a thing as a good spring cabbage is
unknown, and cauliflower is served only _au gratin_. Yet the hotels
have improved enormously in many points in the last seven or eight
years. They have their advantages, and in some ways every French hotel,
even the poorest, can beat its English compeers. The great advantage of
cheap wine is felt at every hotel in Normandy; the question of what to
drink at dinner, usually such a difficult one, is solved for you. On
the table, almost everywhere, are red and white wine and seltzer water
“compris”; and at every hotel, without exception, cider, varying it is
true greatly as to quality, can be had for the asking.

The hotels are also cheap. At those of the first class, 1 franc is the
average charge for the petit déjeuner meal; the déjeuner is generally
3; and the dinner 3.50; while the room may be taken at an average price
of 3 francs. Therefore a full day at an hotel usually costs 10.50
francs, or _en pension_ 10 francs, equalling between 8 and 9 shillings;
but at fashionable coast resorts in the season 15 francs per day is the
lowest rate, and in the out-of-the-way districts, and off the beaten
tracks, 7 and 8 francs a day are the usual charges. At any rate, in
Normandy one is free from the ridiculous impost called “attendance,”
which entails an additional 1s. 6d. a day in many English and Scotch
hotels, while tipping is expected just the same.

Many of the hotels have a forbidding aspect outside; until one is used
to it, it is a little damping to enter under a low archway leading to a
stableyard, but the entry is often the worst part of it. An Englishman
touring through the country will find as a rule he is able to find
without difficulty quarters which possess all requisites though not



Normandy is probably at the same time the best and the least known
place on the Continent to Englishmen: the best known, because the
most accessible; the least known, because, beyond the fact that the
Duke of Normandy conquered England in the year 1066, and that it
is in consequence from Normandy that our line of kings is derived,
the average Englishman knows little or nothing of its history or
associations. Ask him plainly: What is the extent of Normandy? and
he will answer vaguely, “It is the north of France.” So it is, a
part of the north of France, but not the whole. As a matter of fact,
the term Normandy has now little geographical meaning. Normandy is
not a province for practical purposes, nor does it carry any civil
boundaries marking customs, or law, or government. Normandy embraces
the departments of Manche, Orne, Eure, Calvados, and Seine Inférieure;
that is to say, it reaches from Eu and its port Le Tréport on the east;
to the stream Couesnon, which flows into the English Channel a little
beyond Mont St Michel on the west; and southward it just takes in
Alençon, dips down to a point near La Ferté Bernard, returning with a
wavering north-eastward line across the Seine at Vernon, and by Gisors
to Eu aforesaid. It answers also to the modern dioceses of Rouen,
Evreux, Séez, Bayeux, and Coutances. The Archbishop of Rouen still
keeps the title of Primate of Normandy, otherwise the name has gone out
of formal use, and Normandy is merged in France.

Yet it is extraordinary with what tenacity and affection Englishmen
regard a name which links the dwellers in the land to them as kin, and
it is still more extraordinary how, after centuries of submersion,
beneath a rule entirely French, the kinship makes itself felt in
manner and character as well as in memory. The qualities of the sturdy
northmen whose bravery and roving dispositions led them to lands far
from their own, and made them at home everywhere, still exist in their
descendants, as the colonies of England testify. When the Danes had
settled down upon the north of France “they were,” says Freeman, “no
longer Northmen but Normans; the change in the form of the name aptly
expresses the change in those who bore it.” Yet many and many a vessel
full of vikings discharged itself on that land without making any
impression, until one came bearing the mighty Rollo, who was destined
to stay and make a permanent mark.

The France of those days, torn by dissensions, was not the homogeneous
country we now know. Long before Cæsar first conquered Gaul, and in
the time of his successor Augustus, Lyons was the capital; then came
the Germans and Goths, who began to overrun the land, and a little
later the low German tribe of the Franks came also; they were destined
to give their name to a land alien from their own, just as the modern
name of Scotland was brought over the sea originally by the men of
Ireland. It was in the beginning of the sixth century that the greater
part of Gaul lay under the dominion of Clovis, King of the Franks. Yet
after his death, in accordance with the German custom, the kingdom was
divided among his sons, one province being Neustria, which included
what we know as Normandy, and endless struggles ensued, until in the
middle of the seventh century arose the great Charlemagne, who ruled by
his might over all central Europe, now divided into many nations. But
in the struggle between his grandsons, his great dominion was split up,
one grandson taking what is now Germany, another Italy, and the third,
and most powerful, Charles the Bald, holding France. He had for his
kingdom “all Gaul west of the Scheldt, the Meuse, the Saône, and the
Rhone; it ran down to the Mediterranean, and was thence bounded by the
Pyrenees and the Atlantic.” Brittany was still savagely independent,
however, and the northern coasts of Neustria were ravaged by the
Northmen. The county of Paris became part of the possessions of the
duchy of France, and Robert the Strong, made duke by Charles the Bald,
was set to fight against the northern marauders, who had penetrated
even to Paris. But the descendants of the great Charles were weak and
feeble, and as his house declined that of Robert the Strong grew,
culminating in his great-grandson, Hugh Capet, who, on the death of the
last of the direct line of degenerate Carlovingians, became king of the
France that we know.

But before Capet had succeeded in seating himself on the throne, the
Northmen had settled permanently in France. In the reign of Charles the
Bald’s grandson, Charles the Simple, Rollo or Rolf, the Northman, had
established himself at Rouen, and the king had made terms with him,
giving him his daughter to wife, and granting him a tract of land from
the Epte to the sea, with Rouen as its heart. This was in 912, and is
the first recognised settlement of the Northmen. Rollo himself is a
fine bold figure, only surpassed by one other among his descendants.
His frame was gigantic, and when in full armour no horse could carry
him. He seems to have combined, with the strenuous virile qualities of
the northerners, the capacity for organisation and settled government
belonging to a later period, and a more civilised people. He embraced
the faith of his wife Gisella, and was baptized under the name of
Robert, though it is as Rollo he will be known and remembered. He
was the founder of Normandy, and under his government, learning and
industry sprang up and flourished. His followers received the softening
influences of the French, and the French language began to be spoken in

The first Normandy was, as has been said, the district lying around
Rouen, but in 924 the district of Bayeux was added to it, hereafter
to become a stronghold of the older language and customs against the
Frenchified influences of Rouen. Freeman says: “Nowhere out of old
Saxon or Frisian lands can we find another portion of continental
Europe which is so truly a brother land of our own. The district of
Bayeux, occupied by a Saxon colony in the latest days of the old
Roman empire, occupied again by a Scandinavian colony as the result
of its conquest by Rolf, has retained to this day a character which
distinguishes it from any other Romance-speaking portion of the


As we have seen, at the time of Rolf’s settlement in Neustria there
were two powers in France, the King of France, Charles the Simple,
and the powerful Duke of the French, who included in his dominions
the future capital, Paris. It was to the King of France that Rolf did
homage as overlord; and the story goes that the proud Northman, on
being told to kiss the monarch’s foot by way of homage, deputed one of
his men to act as his proxy, and that this man, no humbler than his
master, contemptuously raised the king’s foot to his own mouth, thereby
oversetting the monarch. The story is probably apocryphal, but it
has lived with odd persistence.

Rollo died in 931, and a few years after his death his son William
Longsword had the satisfaction of adding to his lands the district
of Côntentin, including the peninsula and the land as far south as
Granville. He obtained this additional land when he was suppressing
what was called a revolt of the Bretons--for the Dukes of Normandy
held shadowy rights over Brittany, rights which they were never able
to enforce. By his new conquest the Channel Isles were included in
Normandy, and oddly enough it was thus they became attached to the
English crown, for when the Norman dukes, as kings of England, lost
all their other French possessions, they retained the islands. William
Longsword was of a softer mould than his father, and from what can be
gathered from the chronicles of the time he was a man of a thoughtful
cast of mind, serious and gentle, a character rare enough in his age.
He was succeeded by his son Richard, who, of all the Norman dukes
except the Conqueror himself, is the best known to English people from
Miss Yonge’s charming story, _The Little Duke_, in which it is to be
feared she regards both father and son through a haze of idealisation;
but it is indeed difficult if not impossible to make sufficient
allowances for the radically different cast of thought in a bygone age,
and to draw men as they really were. Richard the Fearless reigned for
more than fifty years, and it was ten years before his death that Hugh
Capet combined in himself the power of the kings and dukes of France,
and became the first king of consolidated France. Richard had been sent
as a lad to Bayeux, in order that he might be brought up under the
influences of the country of his ancestors instead of becoming too much
Frenchified; but he was of a vigorous disposition, and there seems to
have been no reason to believe that he would have suffered unduly from
any softening influence.

Nothing is more striking in the early annals of France than the
succession of weak rulers she produced; occasionally there arose a man
of capacity and power, but his sons were invariably weaklings. France
does not seem to have been able to carry on a strong ruling race. In
contrast to this, note the towering figures of the Norman dukes--the
gigantic Rolf, the wise William Longsword, Richard the Fearless, Robert
the Devil, William the Conqueror--all men of exceptional power and
capacity. The infusion of Norman blood seems to have given just that
basic power of endurance needed in the Teutonic nation. Richard the
Fearless was succeeded by his son Richard the Good, and he by two of
his sons successively, another Richard, and Robert the Devil or the
Magnificent (see p. 34). It was Roberts son William, who, left as a
child to his inheritance, became the most famous of his race. No story
of romance or legend is more wonderful than that of the Conqueror. At
present we leave it aside to form the theme of a separate chapter,
so as not to prolong too far this sketch of Norman history, which is
necessary for any understanding of the topographical allusions.

With the Conquest, Normandy began to sink in importance; as in the case
of a mother who has brought forth a son, destined to wield power and
occupy positions far beyond her capacity, she herself took a secondary
place. To be the independent King of England was grander than to be
Duke of Normandy subject to the kings of France, and it needed but a
generation or two to make the English forget the fact of their being
conquered, and to look upon Normandy as a appanage of the English
crown. It was a strange position altogether; the best blood of Normandy
was emptied into England at the Conquest; abbots, warriors, nobles,
men of learning and men of birth settled in the new country and became
the English, and England found herself so much Normanised as to be

It is customary to consider that the history of Normandy ends with
the conquest of England, being thenceforth merged in that of the
greater country; but though the importance of Normandy as a country
was lessened by the union, her history is by no means identical with
that of England. Normandy several times enjoyed a sovereign prince
altogether distinct from him who wore the crown of England, and this
state of affairs began immediately after the death of William the
Conqueror, who left the duchy to his eldest son Robert, while the
second son William became King of England. Of Robert we know chiefly
that he suffered from an incurable “mollesse,” and further, as regards
personal details, that as “Jambes eût cortes, gros les os,” he earned
the nickname of Court-hose. This son of a famous father and admirable
mother, was a libertine, given over to pleasure, incapable of taking
decisive action, one of those weak characters on which experience
cannot engrave permanent lines, but withal full of the courage of
his race. He was, however, unable to hold what had been left him.
William had prophesied that his youngest son Henry should be greater
than both his brothers, and Henry soon began to fulfil the parental
prophecy by seizing and holding for himself the Côtentin peninsula,
and with it the lordship of Mortain. Nothing is more significant of
the grasping natures of the trio of brothers than the way in which
they changed over, first one couple joining against the remaining
one, and then almost immediately breaking up for a fresh combination.
William and Henry warred against Robert; Henry and Robert combined to
thwart William; William and Robert mutually agreed to keep Henry out
of the succession, and so on; exactly as self-interest dictated for
the moment. Finally William came uppermost, and Robert submitted, and
henceforth practically held his duchy at the pleasure of his brother.
It was Henry’s turn to be the “odd man out,” and he fled before his
elder brothers, taking refuge in Mont St Michel, where they both
besieged him. He had to submit, and, yielding up the fortress, retired
a penniless adventurer. But in some way he afterwards regained the
whole of the Côtentin. When the crusading mania began, Robert was
seized with it; under his rule Normandy had been wretchedly governed,
and little he cared. For a comparatively small sum he mortgaged his
duchy to his brother William the Red, for six years, and went off
to the Holy Land. Normandy was probably the better for his action.
In returning from the Holy Land, he managed to occupy a year in the
journey, and on the way he married Sybilla, daughter of Count Geoffrey
of Flanders. He had already, it may be stated, two sons and a daughter,
who seem to have inherited the best of the traits of his house. One of
the sons, Richard, while on a visit to his uncle William in England,
was accidentally killed in the New Forest.


Sybilla attempted to reclaim her husband from the crowd of bad
companions who gathered round him on his re-entry into Normandy, and
when Robert was tired of her, as he soon became of everything, he
found this inconvenient, so in less than two years she died suddenly
of poison. Robert had returned too late to put in a bid for the throne
of England! which was already occupied by Henry; but the death of
William freed him from any obligation to pay back the debt on his
duchy, and Sybilla’s dowry went in other directions. Henry now made
a treaty with his brother, by which he delivered up the Côtentin, but
kept Domfront and Mortain. However, becoming once more embroiled with
Robert, he quickly won for himself the whole duchy, clinching the
matter at the famous battle of Tinchebray, whereby the process of his
father was reversed, and the King of England now conquered Normandy as
the Duke of Normandy had then conquered England. After the terrible
death of his son near Barfleur, Henry set his heart on the succession
of his daughter Maude, who had been married first to the Emperor
of Germany, and afterwards on his death, evidently by her father’s
choice, to Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and Maine, one of the
most powerful of the rulers who might have opposed her succession in
Normandy. Yet Maude never ascended the throne that her father had
so carefully guarded for her. It is true that a claimant who might
have proved very formidable, William, the remaining son of Robert,
had died seven years before his uncle Henry, but there remained the
two sons of Adela, daughter of the Conqueror; of these the younger,
Stephen, was determined to oust his cousin. During the weary civil war
that followed, Normandy was many times traversed by one party or the
other, but on the whole the country declared for Stephen. The Count
of Anjou was an hereditary enemy, and the Normans did not relish the
idea of being governed by him in his wife’s name. When at last, after
the death of Stephen’s son Eustace, it was settled that Henry
should be recognised as next heir to his cousin, the land enjoyed
peace. With the accession of Henry a fresh era began, for the new
king held in France not only Normandy, but in right of his mother and
his wife, Touraine, Anjou, Maine, and Acquitaine--together more than
half the country--a formidable vassal for the French king! Henry was
tenacious of his rights, and it was only as his turbulent sons grew
older, and displayed to the full those unfilial dispositions so common
in their race, that he consented to divide some of his possessions
among them, to be held from him as lord. His gifts were many times
changed, but it seems certain that Richard had ruled in Acquitaine as
an independent sovereign before his father’s death, while Geoffrey,
by his marriage with Constance, heiress of Brittany, became Duke of
Brittany. Henry gave to his youngest and best loved John the title of
Count of Mortain, and with it the vicounty of the Côtentin; and in 1181
he made his eldest son, Henry, Duke of Normandy. But Henry the younger
did not long survive, dying at the early age of twenty-eight, after
rebelling against his father almost continuously since his attainment
of manhood. Therefore, at the death of the king, Richard came to the
throne. John still continued ruler of Mortain and the Côtentin under
his brother, and these dominions gave him an opportunity for putting
in practice those treasonable conspiracies by which he hoped to throw
off Richard’s yoke, and become an independent sovereign. Richard,
however, was too strong for him; he marched into Normandy, and speedily
showed himself master. Thereupon John came humbly to ask forgiveness at
Lisieux. The story goes that Richard, with the open-minded heartiness
which won him so much more love than his worse qualities merited,
exclaimed that he forgave him freely, and set his behaviour down to bad
influence, as he was only a child. As John was then six-and-twenty,
this reason must have galled him had he possessed an atom of pride,
but we have reason to think he did not. While Richard was otherwise
engaged in the Holy Land and on the Continent, John made a second
attempt to win his realms, which was brought to an end by a knowledge
of his brother’s death. He heard this while at Carentan, and gleefully
hastened to take advantage of it. True, there was still a boy to be
reckoned with, young Arthur, son of his dead brother Geoffrey--a boy
who was already Duke of Brittany, and who inherited to the full the
proud fierce temper of his mother Constance. But John had two points in
his favour: first, that in the old days a brother was often considered
to have a better right to a throne, especially if he were a man, than
a nephew who was still a child, and this idea had not altogether died
out; secondly, the Normans of all people would have been the last
to yield homage to the duke of the hated Bretons, their nearest
neighbours, with whom they had been perpetually at war, and for whom
they felt a fierce jealousy. On the other hand, Arthur had a powerful
ally in Philip, King of France, who saw that it would be much more to
his own advantage to have a weak boy as ruler of Normandy than a man
equal to himself in cunning and craftiness. Therefore Philip helped
Arthur, and even promised him his little daughter in marriage. But
unluckily for the boy who was the principal actor in the drama, he fell
into the hands of his uncle,--some say he was captured by treachery
while asleep,--however that may be, he was in John’s clutches, and
little chance was there for him to get out again. This was in August
1202. John carried his prisoner at once to one of the strongest castles
in his dominions, namely Falaise. Arthur was now between fourteen and
fifteen years of age, and John, reckoning without that stubborn courage
of nature which the boy inherited, attempted to make him abdicate his
rights, in vain. Finding this hopeless, he hurried him away to Rouen,
there to dispose of him finally. Arthur’s incarceration at Falaise
is dealt with in the chapter on Falaise, and his captivity at Rouen
is treated in the chapter on Rouen. The fury of the Bretons, who saw
the last of their ruling race, a promising boy, thus foully murdered
by the duke of the Normans, their life-long foes, may be imagined;
it hardly needed the French king’s call to arms to make them rise in
their wrath and flood in upon the neighbouring towns of Normandy. The
conduct of John after this displays a pitiable weakness. He alone of
all the Conqueror’s line showed a lack of courage; others had been
weak, vacillating, unfilial, cruel, vicious, but it remained for John
to combine all these qualities in himself. His movements were like
those of a timid animal who knows the huntsmen are closing in on him,
but has not courage to make a dash through the ring. He hurried from
Rouen to Caen, from Caen to Brix, and Brix to Valognes. Back again to
Caen, and then to Domfront. He returned to the Côtentin, and at last
embarked at Barfleur without striking a blow to save that land, which
he had not hesitated to gain by murdering a boy, when he thought there
was no personal danger in the action. He did indeed return in 1206 for
a short time, but never in such a spirit as to make the retrieving
of his dominions possible. Meantime the Normans did not submit so
quietly; they could not endure the entry of the Bretons, and sternly
defended themselves at Mont St Michel, which was set on fire, and at
Caen; but it was of no use; the Bretons, after a triumphal progress,
met the French king, who had received the submission of Caen as well as
Lisieux and Bayeux, and thus with hardly a struggle there fell into the
hands of France that territory which she had so long and so jealously
regarded. If ever a king deserved to lose his land, it was the craven

[Illustration: A STREET, MONT ST MICHEL]

By a curious oversight in the ratification and the submission which
followed this conquest, the Channel Islands were overlooked. It has
been suggested they were simply forgotten; if so, the event proved
fortunate for them, for they have remained ever since in the happy
independence granted them by England. The title of Duke of Normandy
was dropped by Henry III., John’s son, at the Treaty of Saintes in
1259, when it was agreed that Acquitaine should remain an English
possession, and the title was afterwards borne by a scion of the ruling
French house. But the tale of Normandy’s wars is not ended. For in
the time of Edward, that monarch was set upon recovering not only the
territory lost by his grandfather, but, if possible, the French crown
for himself; he landed at Barfleur, and, quickly subduing the Côtentin,
passed on to St Lo, Coutances, and Caen, taking towns and seizing
vast quantities of precious stuffs wherever he went. These triumphs
were followed by the famous battles of Crécy and Poitiers, and the
historic siege of Calais. However, his conquest left no permanent mark
on Normandy, for by the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360, though he received
much else, he resigned Normandy with his claim to the French crown,
and it was reserved for his great-grandson, Henry V., to recover the
duchy by the sword. This he actually did, after a brilliant series
of victories; so that in the years 1417 and 1418 Normandy became an
appanage of the English crown, but under the rule of the weak Henry
VI. his father’s conquests lapsed, and by 1450 Normandy was once more
included in the dominions of France, never again to be severed.



William’s father was the fifth Duke of Normandy, and if the story of
how he attained that dignity be true, certain it is that his nickname
“Le Diable” was more fitting than the other, “Magnifique,” which he
earned by his lavishness. His elder brother, Richard, was Duke of
Normandy when Robert set up the standard of rebellion at Falaise. But
Richard was no weakling, and did not suffer the disaffection to spread;
he appeared before the walls with all the forces at his disposal,
and soon compelled his younger brother to sue for peace. Then an
arrangement was made by which a certain grant of land was conferred
on the rebel, while the castle of Falaise, a powerful stronghold,
was recognised as the property of the reigning duke. To celebrate
the occasion the two brothers repaired in amity to Rouen, and there
in the castle fortress, then standing on the site of the markets
near the river, a banquet was held, to cement the new friendship
and understanding. But suddenly Richard turned pale and sickened,
and before nightfall he was dead. There was little doubt that poison
had been in his cup; put there by whom but the man who was now duke,
and held the power of life and death in his hands! None dare speak
to accuse him, and, like many another in the Dark Ages, he reaped
the full reward of his crime in perfect security. There were others
of his family alive, uncles as powerful, and, had occasion arisen,
doubtless as unscrupulous as himself; but Robert was on the spot,
he held possession, and apparently without a word being raised in
protest, he occupied his murdered brother’s place. An illegitimate son
of his brother’s, named Nicholas, he placed in the abbey at Fécamp
to be trained as a monk, a method often made use of by half savage
kings to soften youthful rivals, still susceptible of being taught
the hollowness of worldly ambition and the wickedness of rebellion
against authority. It may be thought that this youth can hardly have
been regarded as a serious rival, but in those days the marriage-tie
was not deemed essential to inheritance. From William Longsword every
Norman duke so far had been born out of wedlock, and though they had
been legitimatised afterwards by some ceremony between their parents,
this was rather a concession than a necessity. It is said that Nicholas
entered with zest into his holy vocation, and was himself the architect
of the first church of St Ouen at Rouen, of which there remains only
the beautiful apse, known as the Tour aux Clercs. He was fourth abbot,
and was buried in the church.

[Illustration: HARBOUR OF FÉCAMP]

What always strikes one as remarkable in reading history, is the youth
of the principal actors. Robert was but twenty-two when he murdered
his brother for the ducal crown. Falaise was one of his favourite
seats, the hunting was good, the country pleasant, and the security
of the stronghold reassuring. Once, as he returned from hunting, he
had espied a tanner’s daughter, of rare beauty, washing clothes in
the little stream that runs beneath the mighty rock; when he looked
out of the high narrow window the next day, he had no difficulty in
recognising the same girl again; and subsequently he introduced himself
to her in the guise of a lover. Tanning was looked upon by the Normans
as being a very low trade indeed, and though Fulbert, the Conqueror’s
grandsire, added to it the avocation of brewing, he could never shake
off the odium which clung to his name on account of his principal
business. The base-born brat of the tanner’s daughter would hardly be
considered at first as even a pawn in the great game of statecraft.
But the boy was dear to his father’s heart. His mother, Arlotta, was
taken into the castle, and there was none to rival her, for Robert was
not married. Yet strangely enough he did not make her his wife, and so
render brighter the prospects of the sturdy boy, whom he regarded with
much affection. He could not bring himself to recognise Arlotta
even by the sort of ceremony his ancestors had considered sufficient;
his pride was too great to give the tanner’s daughter a right to share
his throne, and he preferred that his son should start more heavily
weighted for the race than he need have been. When Robert made up his
mind to go on a crusade to the Holy Land, the position became one of
great difficulty; he was worse than childless, and men began dimly to
foresee that this only son of his would prove a heavy stumbling-block
in the way of any other succession. But Robert’s selfishness being
immeasurably stronger than his paternal love, he departed, leaving it
to be well understood that in case of accidents William was to be his
heir. But there were a number of the descendants of the great Rollo
still alive, strong men, soldiers, nobles with retinues of their own,
and each and all put his own claim prior to that of this nameless boy.
Looked at thus, it seems little short of miraculous that William should
ever have raised himself to the throne at all, a more wonderful feat
than even his conquest of England in later years. The boy was but eight
when, after various warning rumours of failing health, the news came
definitely that his father was dead. Duke Robert had left him in charge
of Alain, Count of Brittany, who, though a relative, could not himself
hope to ascend the throne, and the choice was wise. Alain fulfilled his
trust loyally, and the exceptional talent and courage of the young
duke seem from the first to have attached to him a number of nobles,
so that his position gradually gained solidarity, though the marvel
that he should have escaped knife or poison in an age where such means
of riddance were frequently employed remains the same. Full credit for
his safety at this dangerous time must be given to the nobles of the
Côtentin, especially to Neel of St Sauveur, who is mentioned again in
the chapter on that district. The bitterness of the stain upon his
birth was early felt by William, and there are instances in his career
which point to the smarting of a hidden sore shown by a man ordinarily
self-possessed. His treatment of the burghers of Alençon, because
they had openly taunted him with his birth, is one case in point; the
other is his own unexampled domestic life, which stands out in strong
contrast with those of his predecessors; he seems early to have made up
his mind with iron will that what he had suffered through his father,
none should suffer through him.

At thirteen he took upon himself responsibility, and really began
to rule. His mother had been separated from him, and had no share
in the government. She had married a knight named Herlouin, by whom
she had two children, of both of whom we hear much in history. The
elder, Odo, became Bishop of Bayeux. He it was who encouraged his
half-brother’s troops at Hastings, going before and calling them on.
As Odo’s dealings had more to do with England than Normandy, we may
dispose of him here in a few words. After the Conquest, vast wealth
and many estates were bestowed upon him; he was viceroy in William’s
absence, and second in power to the king himself. His overweening pride
made him overbearing; he aspired to sit on the papal throne. William,
discovering in him many treasonable practices, kept him prisoner at
Rouen. On his half-brother’s death, however, he once more became
prominent, led insurrections against his nephew William the Red, and
joined with Duke Robert in his fraternal wars. At last this turbulent,
vigorous, astute man went crusading with Robert, and died at Palermo in

Arlotta’s other son, Robert of Mortain, was a loyal brother; he
prepared a hundred and twenty ships for the great flotilla, and lived
peaceably during the Conqueror’s lifetime, though he too warred against
William the Red. He is mentioned again in connection with Mortain.

The generally received opinion of William the Conqueror in England is,
that he was a stern and cruel man; stern he certainly was, stern with
the sternness of strength which serves as a shield against familiarity,
and enables its possessor to go straight on his own way, regardless of
unfavourable opinions or specious arguments.

“This King William that we speak about,” says the chronicler, “was a
very wise man, and very rich; more worshipful and strong than any
of his foregangers were. He was mild to the good men that loved God,
and beyond all metes stark to them who withstood his will. Else, he
was very worshipful.” This is the testimony of one who was almost his
contemporary, and who had nothing to fear from him, nor aught to gain
by praising him.

The idea of William’s cruelty is based on his harrying of
Northumberland, an act that could never have originated in the
mind of a soft-hearted or imaginative man; but William’s bent was
not toward cruelty, and considering the age in which he lived, the
well-authenticated cases which we have of his clemency are remarkable.
When he was only twenty, an age when if there be any hardness in a
man’s nature it is at its worst, unsoftened by personal experience
of sorrow, he spared the lives of those of his vassals who had risen
against him not openly but with treachery. The manner of it was thus.
Guy of Burgundy, William’s first cousin, entered into a conspiracy with
many of the most powerful nobles of Normandy to assassinate the duke.
It is easy to be seen what was Guy’s motive; though he could only claim
through his mother, he meant to make himself Duke of Normandy; but it
is more difficult to see what the others expected to gain by a move
which proposed to substitute one duke for another. It was not the first
time that rebellion and revolt against the duke had risen, but it was
the most serious plot, and the turning-point of William’s career.

So secretly had the conspiracy been planned that he was all unaware
of it. He was at this time in his twentieth year, and, as Wace tells
us, “the barons’ feuds continued; they had no regard for him; everyone
according to his means made castles and fortresses.” Up till now
William had lived, but he had not been master. “Affrays and jealousies,
maraudings and challengings” had continued in spite of him, but
this deadly conspiracy was to bring matters to a head in a way its
projectors little thought. William was in the castle of Alleaumes
close to Valognes; he had retired for the night, when he was awakened
by the agonised entreaties of the court fool, who told him that the
nobles were even now on the point of arriving in order to seize him
unprepared, and murder him. William must have had great confidence in
his jester, for he rose straightway, and apparently without waiting
for attendants saddled his horse, and rode off into the dark night.
The whole story is mysterious; were there then no men-at-arms to guard
the duke, no attendant to go with him? would it not have been safer
to barricade the castle rather than to have fled alone? Whatever the
cause, William’s midnight ride is a matter of history. There were no
smooth, easy roads then; the country, from various accounts in charters
and deeds of the tenth century, was covered with woods, and much waste
ground; and, as we know, wolves abounded, for much later (1326),
forty-five wolves were taken in the district of Coutances, twenty-two
in that of Carentan, and nineteen in that of Valognes, in the Easter
term alone. The young duke could only have had the stars to guide him,
and safety was far off. He meant to get to Falaise, where he could feel
tolerably secure; but even as the crow flies Falaise is over seventy
miles from Valognes, and the way would be difficult to find. The
account of this dramatic episode is circumstantially given by the old
chronicler, who tells us that even as William left the town he heard
the clatter of the enemies’ horses entering it. The enemy, finding he
had fled, and knowing they had implicated themselves far too deeply to
think of pardon, set off in hot pursuit, and the duke was only saved by
hiding in a thicket, whence he saw them go by. He did not follow the
direct route, but kept along by the sea-coast, until the next morning
on a worn and jaded steed he found himself at Ryes, between Bayeux and
the coast, where he revealed himself to the lord of the manor-house, a
man named Hubert. Hubert promptly rehorsed him, and sent him on his way
with two of his own sons as guides. Thus the duke managed to reach the
stronghold of Falaise in safety.

Later on William constructed a raised road, running through the
country in the direction of his flight; it ran from Valognes to
Bayeux and thence to Falaise, part of it may still be seen between
Quilly-le-Tessin, Caitheoux, and Fresni-le-Pucceux. It is said that
it was the forced task of the very conspirators who had compelled the
fight, an instance of grim justice!

The malcontents must have trembled when they knew that their powerful
overlord was free, and fully aware of their guilt; there was no escape
now, open revolt was their only chance, so they gathered their forces
and attacked Caen.

William, for his part, collected his men, and leaving a garrison in
Falaise, marched to Rouen; but too much depended on a battle, to risk
it against a greatly superior and better prepared force. He resolved
on a stroke of policy, no less than to call for protection from his
own overlord the King of France, who had formerly been his invader
and enemy. King Henry responded to the appeal, possibly feeling that
Normandy might slip from him altogether, and France itself be menaced,
were the handful of nobles to win power by their swords.

Then was fought, at Val-ès-dunes, about nine miles from Caen, one of
the most memorable battles in the history of Normandy.

A picturesque incident marked the beginning of the battle. A splendid
company of knights, carrying devices on their lances, were seen in the
forefront of the nobles’ ranks, and William, advancing, cried out that
they were his friends. The leader, De Gesson, was so much touched by
this, that though he had banded himself with the insurgents, and taken
a fearful oath to be the first to strike William in the _mêlée_, he
satisfied his conscience by one of those transparent evasions common
to superstitious ages, and considered he had redeemed his word by
striking William gently on the shoulder with his gauntlet, and then
immediately transferring himself and his followers to the side against
which he had come out to fight.

It is said the army of the nobles numbered 20,000, but figures seen
through such a distance of time have generally suffered from a little
extension. The fight was fierce, and hand to hand; battle-axes and
swords played greater part than arrows. It is impossible to better
the picturesque account given by Wace. “There was great stir over the
field, horses were to be seen curvetting, the pikes were raised, the
lances brandished, and shields and helmets glistened. As they gallop
they cry their various war-cries: those of France cry ‘Montjoie!’ the
sound whereof is pleasant to them. William cries ‘Dex Aie!’ the swords
are drawn, the lances clash. Many were the vassals to be seen there
fighting, serjeants and knights overthrowing one another. The king
himself was struck and beat down off his horse.”

[Illustration: A ROAD NEAR ROUEN]

But in the end William and his ally triumphed, and the nobles fled in
confusion from the field. Yet, when he seized the arch-traitor Guy of
Burgundy, he treated him as we have said with extraordinary leniency,
and except for taking from him the territory which had enabled him to
play such a part, he suffered him to go unpunished, and even provided
for him otherwise. This treatment bore fruit, for Guy became a
good subject, and led troops at Hastings with distinction. The other
leaders were deprived of their estates, and one was imprisoned, but
none were executed, while the smaller men escaped scot-free. When the
duke had come to his full stature he was a mighty man, some say seven
feet in height, and unwieldy in bulk; none could wield his axe; in
battle, horse and man went down before him, cloven by the strength of
his mighty arm. And not alone in strength was he more than a match for
his fellows, but let a man as much as whisper treason, and he heard of
it; those who plotted were reached surely by that penetrating power,
and lived to rue their folly. He was a kingly man, born to rule.

But though the victory at Val-ès-dunes made him duke _de facto_, his
work was far from being done, insurrection continued in other parts of
the duchy, and shortly after he was called to subdue Alençon, which
held out against him. “He found the inhabitants all ready to greet
him: calthrops sown, fosses deepened, walls heightened, palisades
bristling all around ... to spite the Tanner’s grandson, the walls were
tapestried with raw hides, the filthy gore-besmeared skins hung out,
and as he drew nigh, they whacked them and they thwacked them; ‘plenty
of work for the tanner,’ they sang out, shouting and hooting, mocking
their enemies” (Palgrave).

Then in an ineffectual sortie some of the townsmen fell into William’s
hands, and terrible was the vengeance which fell on them for their
savage joke. Their eyes were spiked out, their hands and feet chopped
off, and the mangled limbs were flung into the town. Soon after, no
doubt awed by an anger so much fiercer than they had reckoned on, a
cruelty so merciless when aroused, the people made terms, and William,
victorious, once again returned to Rouen.

[Illustration: NEAR PONT-AUDEMER]

The next rebel was William’s own uncle, of the same name as himself,
his father’s half-brother. He trusted to the strength of the castle of
Arques, near Dieppe, which had been given him by his nephew. But the
young duke was in the heyday of his vigour. The news was brought to
him at Valognes at midday one Thursday, and by Friday evening he was
before the gates of Arques, having come by way of Bayeux, Caen, and
Pont-Audemer. The castle was stoutly defended, and so impregnable by
position, that the only method was to sit down before it and wait; a
method adopted with complete success, though the arch-traitor himself
managed to escape and fly. Many other smaller risings occurred which
kept the great Conqueror in practice, and then came the second great
battle in Normandy, that of Mortèmer, at which he was not present
himself. He had shown his diplomacy in using the King of France as
an ally against the men of the Côtentin, now it was the same King of
France, Henry, who, being jealous of the power of this great
vassal, fomented insurrection among his subjects and entered that part
of the duchy known as the Vexin, in a hostile spirit. To the French,
the Normans were even yet pirates, and pirates they continued to be
called until the end. Wace says that the Frenchmen would call the
Normans “Bigoz,” a corruption of their war-cry, “By God,” from which
comes our word bigot; and they would ask the king, “Sire, why do you
not chase the Bigoz out of the country? Their ancestors were robbers,
who came by sea, and stole the land from our forefathers and us.”

So the French marched as far as Mortèmer, and began to pillage. But
after pillage came revelry, as it so frequently does, and the Normans,
who had been watchful but unseen, fell upon the French and routed them
hip and thigh. With the blithe exaggeration of days before statistics
were known, the old chronicler says, “nor was there a prison in all
Normandy which was not full of the Frenchmen. They were to be seen
fleeing around, skulking in the woods and bushes, and the dead and
wounded lay amid the burning ruins, and upon the dunghills, and about
the fields, and in the bye-paths.”

As we have said, at this battle William personally was not present, and
the French king was not taken prisoner.

Record states that William broke into poetry, apparently the only time
he was so seized: the very words of his poem are preserved; here is a
verse of it:--

   “Réveillez vous et vous levez
    Guerriers qui trop dormi avez
    Allez bientôt voir vos amys
    Que les Normands ont à mort mys
    Entre Ecouys et Mortèmer
    Là les vous convient les inhumer.”

After this, negotiations were concluded, and the French prisoners
restored; nevertheless the French again soon after entered Normandy,
and ravaged the country, even so far as the coast. The River Dive,
lying to the east of Caen, is considered the dividing line between
Upper and Lower Normandy, and it was at this river that William came up
with the main body of the French, including the king himself. William’s
strokes generally owed as much to their policy as their strength, and
this time was no exception. He waited in ambush until half the French
had crossed the stream, and then falling suddenly on the remainder, cut
them off, and totally routed them. Those in advance, taken in the rear,
fled in confusion, and vast quantities of spoil fell into the duke’s
hands, though the French king himself escaped. After this, peace was
concluded at Fécamp.

But still fighting did not cease. The Counts of Anjou had been a
perpetual thorn in William’s side, and the most formidable of all
was Geoffrey Martel, who seized Maine, and held it as well as his
own territory; but buoyant with victory, the Norman troops advanced
upon the principal city, Le Mans, and took it without difficulty, and
Geoffrey Martel was quieted for a while; he died four years before the
Conquest of England.

But now we must turn for a moment from William’s battles to his
domestic life. His romantic marriage is an outstanding incident in his
career. He did not marry until he was twenty-six, a considerable age
for a king. But in that as in other matters he had a mind of his own,
and one lady and one only would satisfy him, and she kept him waiting
for seven years. She was his own first cousin, Matilda of Flanders,
daughter of Baldwin V., Earl of Flanders, but neither she nor her
relatives cared for the match. There are various tales concerning her,
one of which says she was already a widow when William expressed his
preference, and had two children of her own. Another story says she
favoured another suitor, who, however, was perhaps well advised in
declining the perilous position of husband to the lady of William’s
choice, however flattering that lady’s preference for himself. After
waiting with more or less patience for seven years, William took
summary methods. He went to Bruges, where his ladylove lived, and
meeting her as she returned from church, rolled her in the mud of the
street, humiliating her in the eyes of all, and ruining her gay and
beautiful clothes. This Petruchio-like method served the purpose. In
a very short time Matilda consented to marry the man who had shown
her his determination in so unequivocal a manner. This particular
marriage seems to have been a brilliant exception in an age when
marriage vows were held in scant respect. Yet, when he won Matilda’s
consent, all William’s troubles, in regard to the alliance, were by no
means at an end. By the tenets of the Church to which he and his bride
belonged, they were within the prohibited degree of consanguinity. This
difficulty was surmounted by their gaining absolution on the condition
that they erected two religious houses at Caen, houses which stand to
this day, and are mentioned more particularly in the chapter on that

It was two years before his marriage that William had paid that
celebrated visit to England in which had probably originated his
intention to become lord of that country in due time. But it was
not until he was thirty-six that he received the return visit from
Harold, when he extorted from his unwilling guest the oath on which
he based his right to the English throne. The story of Harold and of
the Conquest is told in connection with the famous tapestry, one of
the most marvellous contemporary records ever a nation possessed.
We resume the narrative here when William, as King of England, in
March 1067 returned to Normandy, bringing with him the harmless Edgar
Atheling, also the earls Edwin and Morcar, and the archbishop Stigand,
probably less with the intention of treating them as guests than
with the idea of leaving no head for a revolt behind him in his new
country. He held festivals at Rouen, Caen, Fécamp, and Falaise, a kind
of triumphal progress in fact; and then returning to quell the revolts
which had broken out in England in his absence, he took with him
Matilda, and they were jointly crowned at Westminster. But his triumphs
were soon to be dimmed by sore domestic worry. During his frequent
absences in England he left Matilda in charge of Normandy, and with
her he associated his son Robert. But Robert was rude and unfilial;
he grasped at power on his own account, and his mother, with that
weak affection so often shown in a mother toward her first-born son,
aided and sympathised with him. One great source of quarrel between
the young prince and his father was the government of the country
of Maine. Robert had been affianced to the young Countess of Maine,
who had died before the marriage; he held, therefore, that he ought
now to rule there independently, while William, who had subdued the
country by his sword before he took possession of the young heiress
and betrothed her to his son, held it for himself, and the subject was
the cause of endless recrimination between the king and his eldest
son. Besides Robert, he had had three other sons, but the next,
Richard, “had been killed in some mysterious manner, which seemed to
make people loath to speak even of the circumstance” (Palgrave). He
seems to have met his death in the New Forest, where also were killed
William the Red and one of Robert’s sons. William, afterwards known
as Rufus, was six years his eldest brother’s junior, and Henry was
several years younger still. There were also, at ages varying between
the brothers, five daughters. Cecily, of whom we hear at Caen, as first
abbess of her mother’s foundation; she became eventually Abbess of
Fécamp. Constance, married to the Duke of Brittany. Adeliza or Agatha,
first betrothed to Harold, and afterwards, much against her will, to
the King of Galicia; but she was never married to him, dying on the
journey to Spain. Adela, who married Stephen of Blois, and whose son
afterwards became king of England; and Alice, who died young. Others
add Constance and Adelaide, but five daughters and four sons are enough
for any man, and the existence of the other two seems mythical. Various
insurrections and petty wars vexed William’s later days, but still his
hand was strong, his courage unfailing. He forgave his eldest son’s
disloyalty more than once, only to find it break out again. At last,
after wandering in exile for several years, Robert fixed himself in the
castle of Gerberoi, on French soil, whence William assailed him, having
his two younger sons with him. In one of the desperate sallies of the
besieged, father and son engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict, and being
disguised by heavy armour, neither knew the other. At length William,
being wounded, cried out, and in a moment his son, struck by remorse,
raised his visor and fell on his knees asking forgiveness, sobered by
the thought of the terrible crime of patricide of which he had nearly
been guilty. Yet the reconciliation was hollow, and the father and son
were never at heart friends. It was nine years after this that the
end came. Philip, now King of France, seized an opportunity to make
inroads on Normandy, and a mocking speech of his about William, who had
grown corpulent and unwieldy, was repeated to the English king. But
his spirit was the same; embittered by personal troubles, lonely in
the estrangement and loss of her who had been his faithful companion
through life, though not old in years--for he was only sixty--yet old
with the turmoil of a fierce, hard life lived from the cradle, he still
had the fire of youth, and he returned a furious answer to Philip’s

“The harvest was ripening, the grape swelling on the stem, the fruit
reddening on the bough,” when William entered the fertile land where
he was to meet with death. He seized the town of Mantes, belonging
to the French king, and soon the place was in red ruin. A mass of
flames mounted high in the sky, the inhabitants lay wounded to death
or fled in terror, and the king himself, in spite of his great bulk
and increasing infirmity, superintended the work of destruction; then
suddenly--one has heard the story from earliest childhood--his fine
charger, treading unexpectedly on a hot cinder, started violently,
and flung its rider violently against the high-peaked saddle of the
country--William had received his death-blow. There was little left to
follow. He was carried by easy stages to his capital city, Rouen, and
there laid in the abbey of St Gervais. And we may read of his lonely
end in the account of the city of Rouen. But even after his death,
the solitude which had attended the end did not desert him; of all
historical funerals ever recorded, that of this great man is the most

The body was conveyed at the cost of a private citizen on its journey
to Caen. Some say that his youngest son Henry followed it to Caen, but
it seems hardly likely, for in that case there would have been no need
for a subject to defray the expenses, as he undoubtedly did. The corpse
was taken to the church in the abbey of St Etienne--the abbey that,
so light-heartedly years before, William had erected in penance for
his marriage. Yet the mischances were not at an end. As the procession
passed along the narrow street, a cry arose that the town was on fire.
Down went the bier, and off went the crowd in search of this new
sensation. It was not until the fire was quenched that the funeral was
resumed. As they prepared with all due solemnity to lower the body into
the grave, one stepped forward, crying, “I adjure ye that ye inter not
William in the spot where ye are about to lay him. He shall not commit
trespass on what is my right, for the greater part of this church is
my right and of my fee, and I have no greater right in any of my
lands.... By force he took it from me, and never afterwards offered to
do me right.” He who had never dared to rebuke William publicly for
“offering that which cost him nothing,” after his death was very bold.
“All marvelled that this great king, who had conquered so much, and won
so many cities and so many castles, could not call so much land his own
as his body might lie within after death.”

The claimant was appeased by money, and after a further mishap too
terrible to relate, those who had fulfilled their duty left the body of
the king.

But even then his dust was not suffered to rest in peace, for in
1562 his tomb was broken into by the Huguenots, and again by the mob
in 1793, and the remains disturbed. All that was preserved was a
thigh-bone, a mighty bone, showing by its measurements the size and
strength of the man, and this was reburied, and now lies before the
altar, where a long inscription records the burial-place. It is the
same as the original epitaph, though new cut:

“HIC Sepultus est invictissimus Guillelemus Conquestor Normanniae Dux,
et Anglae Rex Hujus ce domus conditor qui obiit Anno MLXXXVII.”



Rouen is surrounded by high hills, and can be seen lying on the margin
of the river in the aspect of a toy city. In this there lies one
great advantage, namely, that she is not easy to forget. Perhaps the
remembrance of any place is sharpened more by having seen it whole
than by any other circumstance. If this be impossible, one’s mental
pictures are often blurred or only partial. Into what, for instance,
does the remembrance of Caen resolve itself? Fragmentary peeps, or at
best, the view from the railway, where the town is seen on edge, a thin
line, above which spires rise irregularly. At the mention of the word
Rouen, on the contrary, what a vision leaps up in the mind, a wonderful
glittering picture of spires and bridges, of shining water, and piled
house-roofs, of islands and tall chimneys!

France has an excellent plan of tucking away her chimneys and other
unsightly commercial accessories on one side of a river, leaving her
residential quarter free from smoke; so it is here. To southward,
in the Faubourg or suburb of St Sever, lie the working quarters,
with all the smoke--which, however, never seems so smoky as in
England--the noise and din of men who manufacture. On the islands, as
in an intermediate quarter, are the houses of the workmen, and on the
northern shore is the grand old city.

We have spoken previously of the difficulty of putting on paper the
soul, character, entity--call it what you will--of a country, and the
same thing holds good of a city; but in the case of such a city as
Rouen, how is the difficulty increased! There is one obvious note,
however, which must strike anyone at once, and that is that the town is
French, not Norman--thoroughly French; and the difference between it
and the towns further westward, if not so marked as in the days when
little Richard of Normandy was sent to be educated at Bayeux, is still
noticeable. The modern houses are, of course, severely French, the
people in the streets are French, the shops are French, and the whole
tone of the life is French altogether.

Secondly, Rouen is, as might be expected, a city of contrasts,
the broad boulevards have cut deeply into her, but the change is
superficial, not radical, she is still to all intents an ancient
city,--a mediæval city to which a certain trimming of the latest
fashion has been added. Electric trams run along the boulevards, but
the parts between the boulevards remain mediæval. Let anyone who
doubts it go to a topmost room in a block of buildings, say between the
Rue Jeanne d’Arc and Rue de la Republique, and, craning his neck out,
“see what he will see,”--a grotesque and curious medley of chimneys,
leaning walls, slanting house-roofs, and old-fashioned projecting
stories, mingled in an inextricable fashion. The crooked buildings
seem to have grown on to one another and stuck there, in the manner
of cowries and periwinkles on a rock. There is hardly a line exactly
horizontal or perpendicular; it is difficult to tell where one house
begins or the other ends; to pull down one would be to have all the
others tumbling about one’s ears. High up are tiny platforms with
doors opening on to them; the roofs are broken by many a quaint dormer
window; the whole could only be swept away by a great fire, such as
came to London in 1666. Then above and about these roofs and gables
and angles rise wonderful towers containing some of the best work that
man has done: the towers of the great Cathedral, or one of the famous

[Illustration: OLD HOUSES, ROUEN]

There are streets in Rouen which might have come straight from mediæval
London. Such is the Rue St Romain, near the Cathedral. Here there are
rows and rows of timber framed, heavily projecting houses with small
quaint windows. In a courtyard beneath the very shadow of the Cathedral
is a delightful row, with a carved stone parapet running across the
frontage, and the oddest mixture of lines and angles and irregular
windows ever seen out of a picture. In almost every side street
may be found traces of the ancient city. In one corner there are
grotesque figures carved on the supports of a house bowed out with age,
in another we see suddenly a bit of stone carving, worn and defaced
with continual rubbing, where the women of Rouen fill their cans at a
fountain as their mothers and grandmothers have done before them. Here
a low dark arch like a cathedral crypt is used as a small vegetable
shop, and in it a pleasant blue-bloused man and comely woman pass their
time contentedly though their heads nearly touch the roof; there an
arcade betrays what has once been a chapel, but is now a yard filled
with lumbering omnibuses. One of the most delicate and fanciful of
frontages, belonging to an old house, was preserved at the time of the
demolition which took place at the making of the Rue Jeanne d’Arc, and
re-erected beside the Tower of St André, of which the body, by the way,
was sheared off at the same epoch. It has often been overlooked, this
pretty bit of work, which must have occupied a man’s time and thoughts
and skill for many months, because it does not face the street, and
is partly concealed by the church tower. A tiny bit of railed-in
garden--that is to say, some gravel and a couple of seats--surround the
tower, and even this wee spot has its “gardien” to accompany visitors
to the summit, if they wish to ascend.

For its size, Rouen has singularly few of those open spaces of
greenery, those charming public gardens, which, as a rule, form one of
the best features of a French town. There is a little public garden to
the east, and Solferino is certainly delightful with big shady trees
and a neat bit of water; but it is small. There is also the garden to
the east of St Ouen and the Hotel de Ville, but the combined area is
not great. In the streets of Rouen, too, there are few trees. We see
none of those bright bursts of greenery overhanging walls unexpectedly,
and telling of quiet gardens within enclosing gates, that one finds
frequently elsewhere; it is a towny town.

The chief jewel of Rouen is of course the Cathedral, which in its
bewildering variety and transition of styles, has a character of its
own sufficient to stamp it permanently on the memory. I confess that
to me personally, variety has an infinite charm; I remember far more
readily and with greater appreciation a building where the slow growth
throughout ages has ensured variety, than one where absolute harmony
proclaims its completion to the pattern of a plan. After all, nothing
in nature is uniformly monotonous; we do not see an oak or an elm with
boughs at precise angles on each side, and the trees, such as the
poplar, which approach most nearly to uniformity, are by no means the
most beautiful.

The strange unlikeness of the two towers, and the centre tower crowned
by the iron _flèche_, is sufficient to ensure attention from the most
casual observer. One of the western towers has fretwork windows,
bossy pinnacles, and an octagonal coronet; and the other is much
less beautiful, and has less decorative lines, terminating in the
ugly, high, slate-roofed gable tower. Yet it is better than if it
had conformed; the two together are perfect. The plainer one to the
north is the Tour de St Romain, which dates from the twelfth to the
fifteenth century, though with considerably more of the earlier date.
The other is called the Tour de Beurre, because built from the produce
of the sale of indulgences to eat butter in Lent. It bears its date,
namely, the latter half of the fifteenth century, in every line of its

We wonder what the ancient church that stood on this site in the tenth
century was like; massive and grand no doubt, carrying out in stone
the character of its founder Rollo, who was baptised in it before its
completion, receiving the name of Robert. The edifice was not finished
for many generations, and when it was, a grand ceremony took place in
which Rollo’s great descendant William figured. But a hundred and fifty
years later, when Henry II. held Normandy and England, this church was
destroyed by fire.

The rebuilding was begun very shortly afterwards, and the main part
of the mighty fabric as we see it dates from then. The main part--but
each succeeding century added something, stamping its hall mark on its
style, so that one may say here is the work of the fourteenth century,
here the fifteenth, here the sixteenth, and--in the iron _flèche_
rising high and not ungracefully--here the nineteenth.

The decorated frontage with its three doors was considered by Ruskin
the most exquisite piece of Flamboyant work existing. The intricacies
of the detail are inexhaustible; and above the centre rises a fine
wheel window of the type that mediæval craftsmen loved.

But there are other doorways rich in detail also. Of these the
northern, the “Portail des Libraires,” was so-called because the
courtyard before it was once filled with booksellers’ shops, in the
same way as the space round our own old St Paul’s in London. This is a
most impressive entrance, and the innumerable sculptured figures which
decorate it are representative of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It was begun in
1280 and finished in 1470. The southern door has also its own name: it
is the Portail de la Calende.

The great drawback to the Cathedral is the difficulty of seeing it at
a “middle” distance. From afar it rears itself with splendid majesty
over the house roofs, but nearer it is too much hemmed in and enclosed
by houses. One has no place to stand in such a position as to see it in
right perspective.

[Illustration: A STREET IN ROUEN]

The interior is graceful enough, and the delicate arcade running round
choir and transepts is attractive. One great defect, which at the same
time is a curious feature, is the cutting in two of the nave
arches by a sort of false story with a second and shorter arch over the
primary one. The effect is unpleasing and inharmonious. How infinitely
more graceful the arcades would have been if allowed to rise to their
natural height, may be gathered from the instances in the side aisles.

The dust of Rollo and William Longsword lie within the great walls,
while an empire mightier than ever their wildest dreams foreshadowed,
governed by their descendant, covers half the earth, and its sons and
daughters come to do homage at the cradle of their kings. There is here
also the heart of Richard Cœur de Lion, though Richard himself lies at

The churches in Rouen are almost innumerable, and in many, notably
St Patrice and St Vincent, the glory of the old stained glass in the
windows is a great attraction. But out of all the two which every
visitor goes to see are St Maclou and St Ouen. St Maclou is quite
small, but no one who has seen, under favourable conditions, its
curious convex western façade will ever forget it. The fine, deeply
recessed doorways, with their magnificent carved doors, are unique.
The stonework is like lace; and the stone is of that variety which
shows artificial shadows in its stains. The whole appearance is so
original, so unlike the conventional western façade, that the beauty
is heightened by the rarity which tends to emphasise the impression.
The interior is disappointing, and there is a mass of metal high over
the altar, which looks as if it might suddenly descend, and cause ruin
to all beneath. St Ouen is the fifth church on the same site. It can
be observed at leisure from the green garden that lines its sides,
and it is wonderful, with its coronet tower and flying buttresses. It
was built in the first half of the fourteenth century and restored in
1846, when the western façade was added; and if possible it is better
to make a _détour_ to avoid the western façade, or the memory of an
almost perfect piece of work will be blurred. It was in the garden
beside St Ouen that two scaffolds were erected on the 24th of May 1431.
On one was placed Joan of Arc, strictly guarded by armed men, and on
the other stood the dignitaries and judges who had gathered to hear her
recantation. This and her submission she formally made, saying all that
her persecutors wished, but afterwards, having fallen back into her
“errors” and announcing that saints still visited her and voices spoke
mysteriously, she was adjudged a witch, and condemned to death.

[Illustration: THE TOWERS OF ST OUEN]

One of the oddest bits of Rouen, and one which it is to be hoped will
be long cherished, is to be found in the Rue de la Grosse Horloge.
The great clock itself is a marvellous work in gilt, standing on a
low, heavy archway which bestrides the street, as Temple Bar bestrode
Fleet Street before a utilitarian age hustled it away. In London,
the only specimen of this kind of gateway, suffered to remain over a
public street, is the gateway of St John’s, Clerkenwell. La Grosse
Horloge conceals an older clock of the fourteenth century, and itself
dates from 1529, when it was put up on the newly completed arch. The
inner part of the arch is highly carved, the chief figure being the
Good Shepherd. Close at hand is a strongly built and well-designed
tower or belfry, begun in 1389 and finished about a hundred years
later. It contains a deep-toned bell, from which the hour of curfew
sounds sonorously every night. This bell, whose name is Rouvel, is
cherished by the citizens, as in times of danger and distress they
have been summoned by its tongue echoing over the walls and roofs for
many a hundred years. In 1382 a new tax on merchandise was imposed
by the French Government, and its first enforcement was demanded
at Rouen. The people rose in revolt, named one of themselves king,
and made him solemnly revoke the tax. The procession gathered as it
went, mockery turned to riot, blood was shed, and condign punishment
followed. The Duke of Anjou, at the head of troops, marched in the
king’s name to the city to enforce order, and as it was Rouvel who had
called the men of the city to rebellion, he commanded that the belfry
should be destroyed. So it was; but the citizens preserved their bell,
and very soon after began building a new tower for him, so Rouvel’s
deep-throated notes still vibrate every night.

It is not however the clock, the arch, and belfry that constitute this
one of the most quaint and picturesque corners in Rouen, though they
all add to it. There is also a fountain, begun in 1250, and decorated
with a large stone bas-relief in the reign of Louis XV. There is a tiny
house of carved woodwork that looks as if it were glued to the wall
behind. There are many other quaint houses near at hand, and if one had
to choose a sample of the old city one could not do better than select
this bit. Take it as we may see it any day from the western side. There
is the heavy arch, with its sombre shadows beneath its broad curve;
there is the wonderful glittering clock, which may perhaps catch the
rays of the declining sun. Rising high at the corner is the solid tower
with its cupola. We may people this background with figures to fancy.
A group of loungers there is sure to be, the men in caps and a few of
them in blouses, though the blouse is not so ubiquitous in the town as
in the country; perhaps a neat little shopwoman comes tripping by, with
her hair screwed up on the top of her head in a glossy tight knot; an
old country-woman passes her, wearing a close-fitting coif-like cap,
and bearing on her shoulders a wooden frame from which are suspended
baskets of ripe strawberries. Then out of the darkness of the arch,
starting dazzlingly into the sunshine, there comes a lithe slim figure,
robed from head to foot in a sheet of white muslin: it is a young girl
returning from her First Communion. The loitering vendors with barrows
stop to look at her, and the tourists from England, of whom there are
sure to be two or three, for the Hotel du Nord is just the other side
of the archway, turn to stare also. Such is a slight sketch of the
best-known corner in Rouen.

But besides her mighty Cathedral, her wonderful churches, her street
vistas, and her quaint corners, Rouen has much to show. We have not yet
touched on her Renaissance palaces, and her historical memories, to say
nothing of the twenty-six other fountains with which she is credited,
and her busy quays.

To take the Renaissance houses first. There is a magnificent “hotel,”
standing in a part lying west of the Rue Jeanne d’Arc, which has also
a little group of associations of its own. Here, where the great
iron-bound markets stand, Joan of Arc was burnt to death, after which
her ashes were cast into the river. In these days when the thought of
the public hanging of a notorious criminal turns us faint and sick, we
can hardly, even in imagination, fancy a great crowd gathered to watch
the agonising torture and death of an innocent young girl.

It was thought for long that Joan was burnt in the open space near by
the Place de la Pucelle, and here stands a grotesquely hideous statue
of her, the very epitome of all it should not be; but it is now fairly
certain that the place of her last agony was on the site of the market.
Facing the statue is the entrance gate of the beautiful house of which
we have spoken, the Hotel Bourgtheroulde, now the “Bureaux du Comptoir
d’Escompte.” The house was begun in 1486 by Guillaume le Roux, Lord of
Bourgtheroulde, and was decorated by the most famous of the Renaissance
architects, Jean Goujon, to whom almost as impossible an amount of work
is attributed as to Grinling Gibbons. The decoration in the courtyard
is a splendid example of the period, and can hardly be overpraised.
Under the five broad windows on the left hand, run large panels, with
scenes of the meeting between François, King of France, and Henry,
King of England; for the mansion was not finished until 1532, a date
when that meeting was still one of the greatest of political events.
Above the windows the artist has given his fancy full rein, and in the
symbolical scenes and strange beasts we find a representation of the
“Triumphs” of Petrarch. All the uprights and lintels of the windows
are richly carved. In the corner is a hexagonal tower, and in this the
carving is in marvellously sharp and clear preservation, treated with a
certain flatness of the most prominent surface, difficult to describe,
but very effective and original; the scenes are pastoral. There are
two splendid windows on the frontage beyond, rising into high, pierced
pediments, with pinnacles and tracery, and on this side also is
exquisite carving.

The Earl of Shrewsbury was lodged in this house when he came as
Ambassador from Elizabeth to invest Henri IV. with the Order of the

Another magnificent example of Renaissance work in Rouen is the Palais
de Justice, begun in 1499, on the site of the Jewry. It was meant to
be partly the Exchequer and partly the Exchange. Unfortunately, the
worst end--the west end, which is of eighteenth-century sham Gothic,
unmistakably so, even to the merest novice in architecture--is that
most frequently seen, as it faces the open space in the great Rue
Jeanne d’Arc, whereas the really fine court has to be sought for down a
side street.

Lying northward, hidden away by houses beyond the Solferino Garden,
not far from the great buildings of the Musée and the Library, is a
solitary relic, namely, the round tower called Tour Jeanne d’Arc. It
is not very attractive in appearance, being a solid cylindrical mass
of masonry capped by projecting wooden battlements and a conical slate
roof, both of which were added in restoration. The battlements are
interesting, as they are of the ancient sort, formed to protect the
defenders, who poured down boiling lead or showered stones upon their

It was not in this tower, however, that Joan was kept a prisoner from
December 26, 1430, to May 30, 1431, but in another which stood near
the top of the present Rue Jeanne d’Arc. Both of these towers belonged
to the great castle begun by Philip Augustus in 1205, when he had at
last snatched Normandy from England, and was feverishly anxious about
the safety of his new dominions. Before beginning his own castle, he
destroyed all that remained of the old castle built by the Norman
dukes, and now his own has followed the same fate, and has vanished,
excepting the Tour Jeanne d’Arc, an interesting relic, dating far
further back than most of the ancient buildings we have seen.

Joan was brought to the tower, still standing, on the 9th of May,
for an examination before her accusers, and the torturer was held in
readiness to prompt her replies did she fail in answering. The very
room in which she stood is here to be seen; though it was in the chapel
of the archbishop, near the Cathedral, that her death-warrant was
signed. When Joan was in Rouen the oldest of the timber houses must
have been fresh and new, the Palais de Justice and Hotel Bourgtheroulde
had not been begun. The oldest parts of St Ouen stood, and St Maclou
was incomplete. Could Joan but have looked on into the future and have
seen the finest street in Rouen called after her name, have known that
her memory was regarded as that of heroine and martyr, how astonished
she would have been.

The thought of Joan and the various scenes in which she played a
central part, conjures up many other historical memories also.

Rouen is rich in such pictures, not the pictures painted by human hands
and representing imaginary scenes, but living pictures which, though
lacking the cinematograph, have nevertheless remained indelibly fixed
in the great drama of history. The earliest of all is the vision of a
dying man, royal in position and by nature a king, alone, forlorn, and
stripped of every vestige of glory.

From the day when he had been a boy amid the turbulence of a headless
court, had heard men whisper this and that, and look aside at himself
with significance, he had ever stood out by virtue of some compelling
power, which, even while he was still undeveloped, drew the force
from the strong and made it a weapon on his behalf. Yet now, perhaps,
those weary eyes, fast closing, saw more plainly than ever before. The
dominions he had gained were but as the shuffling of a pack of cards
in a game, his clemency, his loyalty of life, outweighed all the deeds
that men called great.

He was only sixty, but his life had begun so young that it seemed
long since that first wild dash at Val-ès-dunes, where he had settled
himself on the ducal throne and given the outward sign of his mettle,
to the day when, soured by the loss of the wife who had been to him the
true mate, lonely, in grim dignity, he had irritably replied to the
coarse jest of the King of France by a red-hot retort which had cost
him his life.

Now there stands a modern church on the site of the abbey of St
Gervais, in which William then lay. It stands a little away from
the din of tempestuous Rouen, and beneath it is the oldest crypt in
France, the crypt of St Mellon. Dimly through the dying Conqueror’s
brain scenes would flit; in them he himself would be always the most
prominent, the principal figure; and now an end----

Hark! what was that? The tones of the bell in the Cathedral of Rouen
were wafted across in at the heavy unglazed window; it was the call for
prime, at six in the morning, and as the slow strokes fell on his ear
William recognised in them another call; he offered up a prayer, and

Yet, by a strange mischance, those who would have honoured the mighty
dead were not present. The pious Anselm had been summoned from Bec; but
travelling was slow, the prior was ill, and he had not arrived. William
the Conqueror’s best-beloved and ever favourite son had hasted to seize
on that inheritance which his father had hardly dared to leave him,
except provisionally; Henry had disappeared on a similar errand, though
some say he returned in time to accompany the body on its last journey;
between Robert and his father no love had lain, and Robert was missing.

A living dog is better than a dead lion; and living dogs there were
at hand. Within an hour of his death, the Conqueror’s body had been
stripped of all that was valuable, even the hangings of tapestry in the
chamber had been seized, and the craven souls who had trembled at the
flicker of the king’s eyelash in life handled him contemptuously in


A whole day he lay there, alone and untended. Then the news spread
abroad, and bishops and barons gathered together. The body was placed
on a bier, suitably draped, and with a great procession was carried to
Caen, as had been commanded, passing down the Seine in its route. And
to Caen we must follow it for the last terrible scenes of that drama,
for it is with Rouen only we are now concerned.

The picture of William dying is the first of those connected with the
town which can never be forgotten. Another of a different sort calls
us for a moment to the river-side. By 1090, Robert, the Conqueror’s
eldest son, had so misruled his duchy that there was a prominent party
in Rouen which held it would be better to apply to William the Red,
who, though cruel enough, was a strong and able governor. At that time
Henry Beauclerc was in league with his eldest brother, and the two
together entered Rouen, and established themselves in the tower by the
river, which was indeed the only part of the city where they could feel
safe. This tower had been built by Duke Richard (996) on the right
bank of the Robec, near the Seine, to replace that of Rollo, which was
falling to pieces. An affray succeeded the brothers’ entry, in which
Beauclerc led his men through Rouen, and engaged in combat with the
leading citizens. The place was turned into a shambles, the narrow
streets ran red, and many peaceful citizens were involved. Meantime
Robert had retired to a little abbey near the city, where he awaited
the result in fear and trembling. Henry captured the principal leader
of the town party, who was named Conan, and brought him captive to
the castle. Robert thereupon returned, and vindictively declared that
he would not kill the traitor, but condemn him to a far more hideous
punishment--perpetual imprisonment, which in those days of noisome,
airless dungeons was equivalent to perpetual torture. Henry, however,
had no mind to do the thing; he thought death was preferable from many
points of view; notably, because a dead man is forgotten, and provokes
neither sympathy nor reprisal. Therefore, with cold brutality which
equalled that of the occasional streaks of hardness to be found in
his otherwise great father, he dragged Conan to the top of the tower,
and pitched him straight over the ramparts. “The mangled corpse,
contumeliously dragged amidst the soaking filth from end to end of the
town, gave insulting warning to his compeers and townsmen” (Palgrave).

This is the record of the Conqueror’s sons.

More than a hundred years later, this ancient castle or tower was
the scene of a tragedy so dark and mysterious that it has never been
wholly penetrated, and some hold that it cannot be proved to have taken
place at Rouen at all; but our greatest dramatist notwithstanding, the
evidence against Rouen is pretty strong, and though we can never know
the method of young Arthur’s death, there is little doubt that here
by the Seine he was murdered. There are various suppositions as to
the manner of his death; some, with Shakespeare, believe that he fell
from the tower walls in attempting his escape, but if this were so we
may be pretty sure that John would have made the most of it to absolve
his craven soul from the accursed stain resting on it, which made him
abhorred of his contemporaries. The commonly received theory is that
John took the boy out in a boat and stabbed him with his own hand.
This does not seem impossible, for notwithstanding the cheapness of
assassins in that day, it may be remembered that John had already been
disobeyed once when he gave orders for Arthur’s mutilation, and he may
have dreaded a like result, for even in those days, to kill a helpless
boy of fourteen was a crime not lightly to be bought. By whatever means
it was effected, no trace remained of Arthur, who suffered his last
agonies of terror or revolt alone and helpless, and with the added
hideousness of enduring his death at the hands of a near relative.

Every vestige of the old castle has now disappeared, and on its site
there stand market buildings round three sides of a square. On the
south side is a curious double cupola--an arch over an arch--called
a chapel, the Chapelle de la Fierté, and this is associated with a
strange custom, which must originally have had its rise in that solemn
scene when the crowd called, “Not this man, but Barabbas!”

Once a year, on Ascension Day, the Chapter of Rouen Cathedral were
allowed, by the “Privilege of St Romain,” to release a prisoner
condemned to death, and the list of such releases runs from 1210-1790.
The ceremony took place at this little chapel; it was performed with
great solemnity, and was witnessed by a vast crowd. As it was always
necessary in mediæval times to have some legend to account for the
origin of any custom, a legend was forthcoming, as follows:--A mighty
dragon dwelt in the marshes by the river, and devoured all whom he
could catch. The saint Romain, however, lured him from his place of
security by the bait of a condemned criminal, and then made the sign
of the cross over him, after which he had no difficulty in leading
the beast captive to the town, at the end of his stole. Therefore, in
memory of this great deliverance, a condemned criminal was freed each

Among historical scenes it is impossible to forget the terrible siege
of 1417, when stern-faced Harry of England sat down before the walls
and waited. His fleet was to the north, his army had crossed to the
south, so that Rouen was cut off from assistance from Paris and left to
her fate. The citizens made desperate sorties now and again; they could
make no impression on the mighty force opposed to them. It was the end
of July when Henry appeared, and by the time winter came, the horrors
of starvation were at their height. A scene which has been enacted
in other sieges, and more than once depicted with ghastly power upon
canvas, now took place. Fifteen thousand “outsiders,” countrymen who
did not belong to Rouen, but had taken refuge inside her walls, were
turned out, and on the bitter icy slopes, between the full-armoured
English and the rigid walls, they writhed in agony, tearing up the
very earth to still their craving, and dying raving mad, or of utter
weakness. It is said that 50,000 persons died before New Year’s Day,
when envoys were sent to ask terms of the English. But it was not for
another ten days that terms were agreed upon as follows: Life to all
but nine persons whom Henry chose, was granted, and an enormous price
was fixed as ransom. Then Henry received the keys, and until 1449 the
town remained English. The Duke of Bedford ruled here as regent during
the infancy of King Henry VI., and he was succeeded by the Duke of
Somerset, under whom the final surrender took place. He was supported
by the veteran Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who had seen a hundred
fights; but well they knew that the case was hopeless. Fortress after
fortress had fallen before King Charles of France, and in the town
itself was a strong party in favour of France. At length Somerset made
a disgraceful compact with the French before his gate, by which he
surrendered the town, and delivered Talbot and other officers up as
prisoners. He also pledged the English to surrender Honfleur, Caudebec,
and Arques, and to pay 50,000 crowns. Charles VII. entered on the 10th
of November 1449.

It would be impossible to give the slightest sketch of Rouen without
mentioning the names of the great among her sons. Greatest of all is
Corneille the poet, born in 1606, in a house standing on the site of
No. 4 in the present Rue Pierre Corneille; Maupassant and Hector Malot
owed part of their education to Rouen; Flaubert was born at Rouen in
1821; and the roll of lesser names contains many which, if not known
across the Channel, are representative of good work to their own

Such is Rouen, a city with as many facets as a jewel, each one of which
contributes something to the perfect whole. We can see her as a city
of magnificent churches, a city of famous Renaissance buildings, a
city of narrow, crooked, winding streets, cobble-paved, and lined by
mediæval timbered houses; we can see her in the light of an historic
past, or as a wideawake city of the present day, with trams running
along broad thoroughfares, with spacious quays and busy trade; she is a
medley of the past and the present, and the one or the other is seen as
it is sought. But there is one thing to be noted, she is not a city of
the Normans, those Norman dukes who held her as their capital seem to
have been utterly effaced; there are but few fragments surviving from
their time, and those either difficult to find, or so much incorporated
and overlaid with later work, that for all superficial purposes they
are obliterated: in Rouen the magnificence of mediæval times has made
an ineffaceable impression; she is a mediæval city if you will, or a
modern city, or both together; but above all things she is thoroughly
French, and not Norman.



The admirers of Caen rank it high. Mr Freeman says: “Caen is a town
well-nigh without a rival. It shares with Oxford the peculiarity of
having no one predominant object. At Amiens, at Peterborough--we
may add at Cambridge--one single gigantic building lords it over
everything; Caen and Oxford throw up a forest of towers and spires
without any one building being conspicuously predominant. It is a
town which never was a Bishop’s See, but which contains four or five
churches each fit to have been a cathedral.”

It is quite true that in the richness of its churches Caen rivals
Rouen. And if we except the splendid abbey of William and Matilda
which flank each end of the town, most of these churches belong to the
fifteenth century, and show the marvellous combination of grace and
strength, of richness without tawdriness, in which the workmen of that
date were unrivalled. After its churches, the most notable feature in
Caen is its collection of Renaissance dwelling-houses, called hotels,
which are to be found here and there--but not always conspicuously--in
its streets. Beyond the churches and hotels, Caen is not otherwise a
mediæval town; though many of the streets are narrow and old-fashioned,
they do not contain anything like the same number of carved and
timber-framed houses as are to be found at Rouen. There are a few of
these to be seen, lying for the most part in the narrow streets at the
west end of St Pierre. The Maison des Quatrains in the Rue de Geoles
is one which visitors most frequently find; it is a large timber house
in excellent preservation, but of plain design; on the tower in the
court is the date 1541, though the house itself is older than this. A
far more fascinating example is to be seen in the little steep street
going up to the castle. This house is small, and no line is in its
right plane; it looks as if it would very soon fall down altogether,
yet it is carved everywhere, with human figures and faces, all animated
by that diablerie and wicked mirth which the carvers of the Middle Ages
seem to have been able to pour forth from their tools at will.

Beautiful bits and picturesque corners are to be found in Caen in
plenty, as in every continental town with a long history, but they are
different in kind from those we see in Rouen. The most beautiful part
of all the town is to be found around that famous church, St Pierre.

Shady horse-chestnuts in all the glory of delicate foliage and fresh
pink flower, show up in contrast with the towering fretwork pinnacles
of the church. Close by, a tram crowded with people going home from
work stops for a moment, to fill up every foot of space on its two cars
before it winds slowly away, toot-tooting to clear the lines.

The pavement near at hand is covered with flowerpots in bloom, azaleas,
roses, cinerarias, pelargonium, and fuchsia, showing flashing lights
like those of some rich window of stained glass, and the foot traffic
flows round about the impediment tranquilly; for in all foreign towns
every shopkeeper seems to have a prescriptive right to the bit of
pavement before his door.

In front of the church is a space of green grass, with seats and a cool
basin of water. The evening sun, which has now left in shadow all the
base of the masonry, picks out the lines and curves and angles of the
parapet and the buttresses above, those wonderful flying buttresses
with bossy pinnacles; it shows up the stiff, eternally yearning
gargoyles, and the red-tiled roof. High above, up against the brilliant
clearness of a pale-blue sky, swallows skim and wheel around one of the
most graceful and perfect spires ever man devised or wrought.

Opposite to the church, in the depth of grey evening shadow, is the
great Hotel de Valois or Escoville, a Renaissance palace, built early
in the sixteenth century. The lower part is occupied by a row of shops;
above rise small engaged pillars, between which are the lofty windows,
now cut into two stages. In the courtyard all is gloom and dirt; a huge
scaffolding covers most of the building, and grimly down from those
once princely walls look the gigantic statues of David and Judith, each
carrying the gory burden of a head!

Above, but difficult to see without a crick in the neck, is a lantern
tower in two stages, recalling a little the famous domes of Chambord.
There was formerly the figure of a white horse carved on the stone
above the principal door, and the symbol exercised greatly the
imaginations of antiquarians, some of whom went so far as to see in it
the Pale Horse of Revelation. In some lines written on the hotel by M.
de Brieux, we read:--

   “Lorsqu’on porte les yeux dessus chaque figure,
    Qui lui sert au dedans de superbe ornament
    On croit être deçu par quelque enchantement
    A cause des beauté de leur architecture.”

The house was built in 1585 by Nicholas de Valois, Sieur d’Escoville,
the richest man in the town, who died even as he entered into
possession; for, the first time he seated himself at table in his new
dwelling he was choked by an oyster, at the early age of forty-seven.
This hotel, with many other buildings in Caen, is attributed to Hector
Sohier, the architect of part of St Pierre, and it is supposed that he
carried on the two great buildings that faced one another--the church
and hotel--partly at the same time.

In most Norman towns the first object for which the visitor seeks
is the cathedral, and the second the castle. Caen has no cathedral;
and though it has a castle, no one can see it, for it is used as a
barracks, and entrance is forbidden. In any case the castle is not at
all evident; it stands on no great elevation, and has to be sought for
by a narrow back street. Yet it has seen many a spirited historical
feat, and been through not a few sieges. From time immemorial a fort
of some kind has stood upon the site, but it was William--the great
William--who founded the present building. On his death the castle
formed one of Robert’s most important strongholds, and it was from
thence he started out on his crusading expedition. On his return he
made Caen his headquarters, and added greatly to the fortifications
in prospect of being attacked by his brother Henry. Yet when Robert
was overthrown at Tinchebray, these very defences fell into Henry’s
hands, and served him against whom they had been intended. That the
town was of great importance then, was shown by the fact that when
Henry established two permanent exchequers, one for England and one
for Normandy, it was at Caen and not at Rouen the latter was placed.
Caen was one of Henry’s favourite residences; here was born his eldest
son Robert, afterwards Earl of Gloucester, whose mother was Nesta, the
Welsh girl who managed to hold the king’s affections so long. In days
when loyalty was a rare virtue, Robert proved himself throughout his
life a loyal brother, and the Empress Maud owed much to his strong
arm and good faith. John took refuge at Caen after the murder of his
nephew, but he soon had to retreat, and the city opened its gates
to Philip Augustus in 1204. However it was not destined to remain
consistently French, for it was besieged by Edward III. in 1346, when,
according to Froissart, the town “était grosse et forte, pleine de
très-grande draperies et de toutes marchandises et de riches bourgeois
et de noble dames et de belles églises.” After a stern resistance this
rich prize fell into the hands of the English, who pillaged it for
three days, and reaped a magnificent harvest of “draperies” and other
goods, so that many stout ships were sent laden across to England. It
however reverted again to the French, and was subject to another siege
under Henry V., when, with the rest of Normandy, it remained attached
to the English crown from 1417 to 1450. It was at this time Henry
founded the famous university, which continued to flourish throughout
the change in the town’s ownership. After 1450 the castle was twice
besieged by the French themselves, during the Protestant wars.

[Illustration: THE MILK CARRIER]

So much for a rough sketch of its history. But Caen belonged far more
than this to the personal history of William the Conqueror, who had
particular reasons for loving it. When he and Matilda, his wife, had
agreed to rear two abbeys in penance for the sin of having married
though they were first cousins, it was at Caen that they established
their twin abbeys, one at the north and the other at the south end of
the town.

William’s abbey indeed was begun in 1066, the year in which he had
established himself as supreme in a wider sphere than Normandy, and he
doubtless returned to the scene of the work with none the less interest
because of his larger experience. There is a little vagueness about the
date when the sister abbey was actually begun; some say in 1062, which
would make it slightly in advance of St Etienne, and it seems to have
been consecrated in 1066, while St Etienne was not consecrated until
1077, when the ceremony was performed by Lanfranc, who had been brought
from Bec to be the first abbot, but had been rapidly advanced to the
Archbishopric of Canterbury, which at the time of the consecration he
had held for seven years.

The opening ceremony was an occasion of great solemnity, and the king
with his queen and eldest son Robert, then in early manhood, were all
present. The church was not at first exactly as we see it now, for the
two mighty western towers, grandly simple, had no spires, which were
added in the fourteenth century. In William’s time also the church was
shorter, ending in an apse. The present choir dates from a couple of
centuries after that fine opening scene, and is of the Pointed, not the
Roman, or as we call it, the Norman, style like the nave.

Could William, when seated on his throne, with his wife and son by his
side, overlooking that vast crowd of nobles, knights, and commoners, to
whom his lightest word was law, have gazed ahead into the grim mystery
of the future, he would have seen a far other picture. A lonely death,
with his son a traitor, and himself deserted, at last to be hastily
and ignominiously buried by the charity of the monks, whose munificent
patron he had been. Could he have seen such a vision, the realities of
power and place might have seemed less pleasantly substantial to him!

None of the Conqueror’s sons are buried in the abbey, though the bones
of the youngest, Henry, rested for nearly a month before the high
altar, waiting for a favourable wind by which they could be taken over
to England for burial.

Close by the abbey William built a palace, where now stands the École
Normande; nothing of the palace remains, though a later building which
succeeded it has been partly adapted for the school.

The earlier kings of the Norman race seem to have resided at palace or
castle indifferently while at Caen. The abbey grew and flourished. It
was at the height of its power in the twelfth century, but was totally
ruined in the religious wars at the end of the sixteenth.

The large building, called the Lycée, to the east of the church, dates
from 1726, and a Gothic hall, used as a gymnasium, dating from the
fourteenth century, is considered to have been once part of the abbey.

Matilda’s Abbaye aux Dames, or St Trinité, has one great advantage
over St Etienne--it can be seen to advantage from the broad open space
which lies before it. The church, like the other, has two western
towers, but they are more decorative, not so grand and stern as those
of St Etienne, and show a charming and original feature in the row of
oval openings beneath the parapet. The windows are long, narrow, and
round-headed. Matilda’s church, as well as William’s, is one of the
purest remaining examples of Norman work. The husband and wife were
parted in death: he lies at St Etienne, and she here. Their love was
genuine in an age when wedded love was a rarity, more especially with
kings; but they were bitterly estranged in their quarrels over their
sons before the end came. Matilda died four years before her husband,
and her grave may be looked on with reverence as that of the ancestress
of all succeeding sovereigns who have held the English crown.

The city hospital buildings, dating from 1726, occupy the site of the
convent which Matilda founded for gentlewomen of the highest rank,
and of which her own eldest daughter, Cecily, was the first abbess.
It is said that she was dedicated to this office at the time of the
consecration of the church in 1066, when she can only have been about
twelve or thirteen years of age.

After the two great abbeys, and perhaps before them, in the minds of
many, comes that jewel of the fifteenth century, St Pierre, of which
the exterior has already been slightly described. The chief feature
is the towering spire, so pierced as to give a fairy-like appearance
of elegance, and yet so firm in its lines as to produce a powerful
impression of strength. This spire was built in the beginning of the
fourteenth century, on the foundation of an earlier one. The nave
followed, and the choir was completed about 1521. But in spite of the
two centuries over which the building spread, the whole design is
emphatically of one style and time, of which it forms one of the most
brilliant examples. In the two disused churches in Caen, St Etienne
the Less and St Gillies, we may see the same design and style in the
pierced parapet, the flying buttresses, and the decorated pinnacles;
though parts of these churches are of the twelfth century. This is
not so notable in St Gillies, but in St Etienne the Less, in spite of
the growth of weeds in all the crevices, in spite of discolourment,
and filled-in windows, in spite of bars and general decay and disuse,
we have a most beautiful church, and one that almost any English town
would consider its most precious possession.

There are many other churches which might be mentioned, but we have
space only for one, because of its peculiarity. St Sauveur consists of
two churches, which were originally built side by side, and now, with
the partition wall removed, form one! Not far from St Etienne is St
Nicholas, belonging to the eleventh and twelfth centuries; and in the
Rue St Jean--down which the station traffic passes--is the church of St
Jean, dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

After the churches in interest come the Renaissance hotels, of which
we have already described the principal one; of the others, there are
two connected with the name of Etienne Duval de Mondrainville which
cannot be overlooked. These are to be found in the little narrow street
running behind St Sauveur. Etienne de Mondrainville was born in 1507,
and was for a long time one of the most important personages in Caen.
He twice made a fortune, and was twice ruined by the jealousy of his
comrades. He was an energetic man, and pushed his trade to an extent
which at that time was remarkable; he carried on trade with Africa and
America, and his staple was corn from Barbary.

The smaller of the two houses he built stands in a little courtyard.
The carving, the miniature tower, and the dormer windows are all
charming, and are enhanced by the bit of green in front. In 1550 the
Chambre de la Monnaie was moved here from St Lo, and the house retained
the name. Across the street is the larger house of about the same
date, now a printing establishment. It was built in 1549, and the
cupola and lantern, columns and dormers, all bespeak its date. Etienne
died in 1578, leaving two sons, one an abbé and the other a soldier.
The Hotel de Than, in the Rue St Jean, is another house of the same
date, telling of the wealth and opulence of the burghers of Caen after
the city had recovered from the effects and uncertainty of the English
occupation, and become once more French.

From all that has been said, it may be gathered that there is much
to see in Caen, and yet the account is fragmentary, and has not told
the half. There are other churches not mentioned, other hotels to
be found in dark courtyards and down unpromising tunnels; there is
the famous Maison des Gens d’Armes, built in the reign of François
First, only a mile or so out on the Ouistreham Road, and there are
countless other features that would take long to discover, but are
well worth the explorers trouble. By the river Orne there are wide
quais and boulevards, and the great race-course fringed with trees.
In the centre of the town is the pleasant and well-kept Place de
la Republique, once the Place Royale, a name still retained by the
principal hotel, which stands at one end. Here there are the usual
flower-beds, and seats, and trees, and on the west side rise the large
and fine public buildings, the Hotel de Ville, including the splendid
public library, the inevitable Musée, and behind is the Prefecture.
From all of which it may be gathered that Caen is a town which in
no way neglects the interests of her citizens. Yet with all these
manifold attractions, with her many advantages and her historic past,
it is impossible to deny that a slight feeling of dulness broods over
Caen. It is indescribable, it is unanalysable, but perhaps it may be
due to what I have before called the spirit of a town; perhaps Caen as
an entity lacks originality, or else why is it that English visitors
who go there, full of intelligent appreciation, who see much, and who
acknowledge the intrinsic interest of what they have seen, leave at the
end of two days, feeling glad to go?

Malherbe the poet was born at Caen in 1555, and it is impossible to
quit the city without mentioning the name of Charlotte Corday, who,
though not a native, passed her girlhood here with an aunt. The house
in which she lived has disappeared, but No. 148 Rue St Jean stands on
the site of it. She came here after being educated in a convent, and
seems to have been left much to herself, spending her time in reading
such works as those of Voltaire.

After the downfall of the party of the Girondins in 1793, some of the
leaders came to Caen, and Charlotte attended their meetings. It was
at this time she conceived her courageous idea of going to Paris to
assassinate Marat, who typified all that was worst in tyranny. She
obtained a passport in which she is described as being twenty-four
years of age, only 5 feet 1 inch in height, with chestnut hair and
grey eyes. Her face was oval, her forehead high, her nose long, and
her chin dimpled. The quiet determination with which she executed her
project, and the absence of all revulsion after it, put her on the same
level as the other great heroine, Joan of Arc. A country which has
produced two such women, may well take high rank.



Although Falaise is not a typical Norman town--for it has too much
character of its own for that--there are certain features here which
are to be found in nearly all the other towns in Normandy, such as the
long narrow streets, roughly paved with cobbles, and the irregular
houses, most of which are neither very old nor very new, but just
softened by time.

To linger in the streets is to get many a peep which, transferred to
canvas, would give lasting pleasure. In one place we see long narrow
passages running between houses; the black shadow is in contrast with
the yellow sunlight on the pavement beyond, and at one end there falls
over a parapet a mass of glorious deep-tinged lilac. Surely lilac
never grows elsewhere as it grows in Falaise! In another place there
is a tiny court, with an indescribable medley of steps, grey stone,
worn beams, gable ends, and child life. We come suddenly upon a tiny
chapel with a bit of ancient moulding that proclaims its hoary age; it
is perched upon a rock, up the steep sides of which straggle staring
yellow wallflowers, brilliant blue forget-me-not, and stiff tulips of
various colours.

One of the most striking bits of Falaise is the quiet square before the
Hotel de Ville, where grass grows between the cobbles, overshadowed by
the mighty figure of William on horseback, many times life-size. Round
the pedestal are graven his ancestors, the previous dukes, men to be
reckoned with, one and all, but not one to compare with their great
successor, whose magnificent energy and power the artist has succeeded
in transfixing in metal.


On one side, aslant to the square, is the church of La Trinité, a
curious church, built without any rules; and at its east end bestriding
a street, with a delightful disregard for the change of level. It
has a fine porch, and admirably carved buttresses, and over a great
part of it runs that profusion of carving which the ancient craftsman
seems to have thrown in for sheer love of it. The tower, however, is
a note of ugliness, interrupting much pleasant quaintness. This is
not the most notable church in Falaise; that honour is claimed by St
Gervais in the widened space in the middle of the main street, and St
Gervais is all glorious without but disappointing within, where its
dull lines are devitalised by the terrible mockery perpetrated in the
name of decoration. Outside, however, the warmly tinted sandstone,
carved in every fantastic semblance, rises grandly against the
clear blue sky. Particularly noticeable are the gargoyles, turning this
way and that, and the wonderful moulding round the tower windows. The
restoration has affected notable improvement on the exterior, clearing
away all the old houses which clung like barnacles to the walls.

If one could only reverse the wheel of time and see the church as
it looked at its great dedication festival, when, glittering in the
smartness of work fresh from the chisel, it was dedicated in the
presence of Henry the First of England! Would the workmen differ
greatly in type, we wonder, from the group who now sit lazily sunning
themselves on the steps? The present men, who are in blue blouses,
are spare, not large of limb, with faces the colour of their own
house-tiles, with sharp thin features and keen eyes? The clothing
of the poor in Falaise is not so picturesque as in many parts of
Normandy--the blouse is here as everywhere, but there is nothing else
striking in the costume of the men, and only the older women wear caps,
and those of a very simple sort; the young ones go about with heads
uncovered, and hair neatly coiled up in a little top-knot, after the
usual manner of the French.

One of the most attractive views in Falaise, is that to be gained by
standing on the raised road that leaves the town direct to Caen, and
looking east and west. In the deep fosse, where once a mighty river
must have run, there is now only a dirty ditch, which serves the women
of Falaise for a washing-place, as it did nine hundred years ago.
On either side rise neat trimly-kept gardens, terrace upon terrace,
rich in greenery. In fact, the masses of green foliage which break
up any general view of Falaise are among its principal charms. The
influence of environment is seen in character, for even the smallest
and poorest cottages have their window-boxes and flowerpots, and the
neatness of the gardens is a sight to marvel at; even the wee children
love flowers. In the shops, especially the butchers’, where least of
all one would expect to see them, one finds great bowls and pyramids
of flowers, so large that they could hardly be encircled by both arms;
these are made up of lilac, rhododendron, pale pink peonies, tulips,
and forget-me-not, and are such Gargantuan bouquets as would make
sunshine in any London house.

[Illustration: A LITTLE NORMAN GIRL]

A rough and narrow track leads along the northern side of the river
opposite the castle. This is a very poor part of the town, where one
small room serves for bedroom and living-room for a whole family, and
the dark nut-brown interiors are in striking contrast with the blaze of
sunlight outside. The children are mostly healthy, sometimes strikingly
so; and among them it is difficult to pick out any special type; bright
brown eyes and sepia locks are seen side by side with hair perfectly
flaxen in colour and eyes of palest watery blue; both types alike greet
the “English” as a friend, for too many English are seen here to allow
them to be awesome, and perhaps also the little ones learn with
their earliest history there is a bond of kinship between them and
these strange people who come from across the sea. From nearly every
house comes the quiet hum of a hand-machine, wherewith men and women
knit socks and other garments; this sound mingles with the splash and
thud of the women busily washing clothes in the little narrow ditch,
kneeling in their wooden tubs, arms in ice-cold water, and backs bent
in the occupation which seems to take up far the largest proportion of
a French peasant-woman’s day.

There are little bridges over the water, and footpaths winding in and
out, and above all is the clear vivid sky of a May day. If we went on a
little further until we were almost beneath the perpendicular walls of
the castle, we should come all at once on two things, which would carry
us back into the far past, for a large tannery still spreads irregular
buildings on the very place where once rose the tannery of William’s
maternal grandfather. Its presence is quickly felt, and we can see the
peasants coming away from it laden with the little “cakes” of waste
bark called “mottes,” which are used for fuel, and so oddly resemble
peats. Not far off a sound of voices and splashing of water will bring
us to a strange place, the town washing-shed, where, with the dim light
from the roof gleaming on the soapy green water, and the time-worn
posts, we shall find a score of women, perhaps some of them actual
collateral descendants of Arlotta’s, slapping and splashing the soiled
linen with as much heartiness as ever did the girl who was to become
the mother of a line of kings. It is the same spot, the same stream,
whose name is Ante, only the place is now roofed over instead of being
open to the sky, as it was in Arlotta’s day. We leave the valley and
wind upward past some tumbledown cottages of picturesque lath and
plaster; past others with such a solid foundation of stone showing in
the low doorways, that they seem as if they might well have stood since
the Conqueror’s day. On and on until we reach a lane, with high hedges
and lush rich green grass, and pass out at last on to a flat tableland,
where the purple-red orchis stand up like little tin soldiers in the
grass, and heather and gorse grow everywhere. We are upon Mont Mirat,
and at one end is a clump of grey rocks close by a group of windswept
firs; quite suddenly, at our feet as it were, a familiar object greets
us, startlingly close; it is the flat cap of the Talbot tower, and
as we near it, we see the whole castle appear, and realise we are on
the other side of the ravine, on a level with the tower, which is in
reality some distance away, but which, in the brilliant clearness of
the atmosphere, looks as if a well-thrown stone might easily strike it.
The jackdaws wheel and scream around the walls, and their shadows flit
after them, growing, fading, disappearing with infinite fantasy. And
the castle is a vision of light, bathed in the rays of a westering sun;
it appears as a perfect mass of yellow, from the deep dead gold of the
streaks of lichen to the palest biscuit colour of the patches on the
walls, fading to dun and sepia in the shadows.

You can still see in the castle the room in which the mighty William
is said to have been born, though all probability points to his
birthplace having been in the valley below. The room shown is in no
sense a royal apartment; it is a little, dark, dungeon-like chamber,
airless and lightless, built in the thickness of the wall; but sleeping
accommodation was not made much account of then. In any case, the
castle and the valley on which we look were the earliest associations
of William’s childhood. Here he lay an unconscious babe, when, as we
are told by Wace, he was visited by two of the premier barons in the
land, one of whom exclaimed prophetically, “Par toi e par ta ligne sert
la mienne moult abaisse.”

Here in that varied childhood, passed partly in the unsavoury tanyard
with his grandfather, partly in the castle with the stern-faced man
who caressed him, and whom he was told to call father; eyed askance by
the richly-dressed young nobles; hugged by the simple-minded Arlotta,
he grew up. Gradually a knowledge of his own peculiar position, of his
royal but sullied birth, of the battle before him, must have forced
themselves into the mind of a boy far more thoughtful than his years;
and by the time he was eight, at an age when most boys have hardly
begun to think, he had to take up his stern inheritance.

There is no doubt that spring is the time to see Falaise--spring,
when the trees are at their freshest and richest, undimmed by dust or
heat. By standing on the highest part of one line of rocks, we can see
behind the castle in miniature the church of Guibray perched on a hill,
its conical spire showing up against a distant line of horizon, so
straight, so blue, so misty, it might well be the sea.

The town itself shows as a mass of roofs, varying from brick red
to slate blue, but mostly the colour of rust; these are strangely
high-pitched to an English eye, and show well amid the mass of
complementary green, in which there are darker touches in the copper
beeches and cedars here and there--a magnificent panorama, with enough
sentiment and history about it to keep it from the insipidity of mere
beauty, and nothing more.

Only second in interest to the story of William’s precarious boyhood,
is the tale of that other boy, Arthur, the young Duke of Brittany,
who, at the age of fourteen, was brought to Falaise a prisoner in
the hands of his treacherous, crafty, and unscrupulous uncle, John.
The room in which Arthur was confined is still pointed out near the
supposed birthplace of William. It was in August that he came here,
and often must he have looked out over the wide horizon, wondering if
his faithful Bretons would come to his rescue. All through the winter
he remained a close prisoner; but he won the sympathy of his gaoler,
Hubert, and when John, finding him obdurate in his refusal to sign
away his rights, gave the cruel order that he should be so maimed as
to render him incapable of ruling, Hubert tacitly refused to obey it,
pretending to the king that the boy had died, and even arranging a
mock funeral. It seems odd, that having got so far he could not manage
to compass Arthur’s escape altogether; but when matters had reached
this point “the fury of the Bretons became boundless, and Hubert soon
found it necessary, for John’s own sake, to confess his fraud” (Miss
Norgate). This incident showed John that if he were to rule in peace
he must use sterner methods, and Arthur was, at the end of January,
removed to Rouen, from which time we hear no more of him.

A good deal of the castle which still stands is of the thirteenth
century, and there is no reason to doubt that it was within these very
walls the proud boy ate out his heart in loneliness and captivity.

A word must be given to the famous General Talbot, first Earl of
Shrewsbury, whose name is kept alive in the great donjon which he
built. He held the castle as governor during the English occupation
under Henry V. and VI., and his deeds are scattered broadcast in the
annals of the continual fighting of the period. We hear of him at
Dieppe, in Anjou, and in Maine, and his name became a synonym for
dash and daring. At the age of more than seventy years he was slain in
actual warfare at Castillon!

There is one other association of a generation preceding that of
John which cannot be wholly omitted. It was at the Castle of Falaise
that William the Lion, King of Scotland, did homage to King Henry of
England, acknowledging him as overlord, and thereby regaining a limited

The castle can be visited at any time, and though there is not much to
see--the keep being a mere shell, and the chapel not now shown--it is
worth going over for the sake of the superb views which its situation
commands. It is said that Rollo built a fort on this site; and
certainly if he ever saw it he must have done so, for a more perfect
position for a fort can scarcely be imagined. It was in this building
or its immediate predecessor that Robert was besieged by the brother he
afterwards so traitorously murdered. It is probable that Robert himself
built up and restored the castle after his accession to power. A good
deal of what stands, however, dates from much later, including Earl
Talbot’s tower.

[Illustration: RURAL SCENE]

Beside the memorable siege under Henry V. of England, Falaise has been
retaken more than once, notably by Charles VII., commanding in person
in 1450; and by the French king, Henri IV., in 1590.

In the neighbourhood of Falaise there is some of the most attractive
scenery in Normandy. It is true that the main roads, which stretch
out from the town like the rays of a starfish, are not interesting.
They are of the typical green-bordered, poplar-lined kind. But the
side roads are very different. Take, for instance, the direct route
between Falaise and that other castle-fortress, Domfront. Here there
are woods of straight-stemmed beeches and proud oaks covering acres of
rounded hills that fold softly, contour on contour, revealing at last a
distance seemingly infinite in its horizon. Wide, splendidly engineered
roads sweep in flattened curves down the hillsides to the brown river,
amid its brilliant grass, and rise again as smoothly. Every vista shows
some picture; perhaps a tiny church perched on the top of a hill, its
spire rising sharply, or a tall, stern Calvary set against a background
of firs. The number of these Calvaries bearing recent dates, would seem
to show that faith still shines brightly among the country people,
whatever may be the trend of thought in the large towns.

The road passes many a typical Norman village of the poorer
sort--villages where the houses are made of lath and plaster or lath
and mud, and are set about anyhow and anywhere, rather as if they had
come together from some neighbourly instinct than had been regularly
built as a village. They stand often in a little plot of ground, worn
and poor enough, but made shady by the apple and pear trees. The umber
of the simple cottage walls, and the peculiar dead colour of grass in
shade, make a particular effect. Under the trees the mother of the
household sits sewing, as often as not with a child beside her.


The women do a great deal of the work. Far out on a country road one
overtakes an old, wrinkled, shrivelled woman, whose right place is
surely not far from her hearthstone, trudging along with a great scythe
over her shoulder. The market carts one meets on the roads are driven
by women more often than men; women tend the cows as they feed quietly
by the wayside; women do the work in the fields; they do the milking,
frequently also in the fields; where the great glittering copper jugs
may be seen, standing on the grass, shining in the sun; the women
make the butter; and when one thinks that to all this are added the
multifarious duties of maternity and housekeeping, there is little
wonder that Norman women have small time to think of their personal
appearance, and are usually far from beautiful, though their brown
shining faces generally have that comeliness which the content of a
well-filled useful life gives. On the roads all over Normandy one meets
with donkey carts, for donkeys are more largely used than with us,
and they form a contrast to the fine team of great horses over which
the carter cracks his whip, and whose height is greatly increased to
the eye by the monstrous sheepskins, dyed dark blue, with which
their collars are nearly always adorned. In some parts the collars
themselves are resplendent, painted red and yellow, and bells jingle at
every step, making a team of horses as striking an object as a show.
Yoked oxen of massive build are still occasionally seen, notably in the
country about Gisors.

The situation of the castle at Domfront is curiously like that of
the castle at Falaise; both stand on a spur of cliff, separated from
a similar spur by a deep ravine in which runs a tiny stream. But at
Domfront the scene is more striking, for the rocks are higher, the
ravine is narrower, and the great masses of strata, inclined at an
angle of 45°, would fit into one another if pushed together like two
pieces of a child’s puzzle. It seems almost incredible that water can
have exercised such immense corrosive force, the appearance is rather
as if a giant hand had chiselled out the rocks, for their masses would
require no less than a Titanic agency, yet we know that from time
immemorial that little stream the Varennes has run in this cleft.

The peculiarities of the situation are best seen from the fir-crowned,
heather-covered heights opposite; and it is the situation that makes
Domfront, for the castle is a mere ruin, picturesque enough, and giving
an excuse for the public garden that runs around its base, but not in
itself interesting. The site is grander far than that of the famous
Chateau-Gaillard, grander even than that of Falaise, for the sheer
height is stupendous; no wonder Domfront was a strong castle and house
of defence to him who held it.

The view from the plateau is limited only by vision. A single hill to
the south-west stands out above the plain. In the immediate foreground,
just below, are a few toy houses, and a tiny, neat church, cruciform,
and bearing Norman date in every line of its architecture. It was
only ten or eleven years junior to the chateau in its first building,
and has long outlived it. The man who built both chateau and church,
Guillaume de Belesme, sleeps within the latter. He had not held the
chateau so much as forty years, when a stronger William than he, the
mighty Conqueror, swooped down upon him and drove him out. Of another
Belesme, a scion of the same house, we shall hear elsewhere.

William’s successors retained the castle in their own hands, and Henry
II. here received the nuncio sent by the Pope to reconcile him and
Becket. In the religious wars of the sixteenth century the castle was
seized and held by the Protestants, and only taken after a bitter
siege; otherwise it has not much recorded history. It is peaceful
enough at present, surrounded by a charming garden, where one may
wander at will, gazing out over the widespread view, watching the
swallows wheel and skim far below, and hearing the song of countless
birds, which, here as elsewhere in Normandy, build preferably in the
neighbourhood of man to escape their more dreaded foe, the magpie.

There is an old rhyme which says:--

   “Domfront, ville de malheur
    Arrivé a midi pendu à une heure.”

Though the reason why the town should have earned so unhappy a
reputation is lost in the mists of antiquity.

The neighbourhood of Domfront is full of interest: westward lies
Mortain, which has a bit of ruined castle, speaking of the building
destroyed by Henry I. after Tinchebray. Mortain is interesting because
of its counts. The first of any general interest is that Robert,
half-brother of the Conqueror, son of Arlotta and Herlouin, who took
great part in his brother’s conquests, and accompanied him to England,
being the first Norman to receive a grant of land after Hastings. He
was made Earl of Cornwall, and received also large estates in Devon,
Somerset, and Yorkshire. The title had previously been held by the
Comte de St Sauveur, and it was after his rebellion it was joined to
that of Mortain, and the two went down the ages together. John Sans
Terre, when only a little boy of eight, became Count of Mortain and
Vicomte du Côtentin. Though the first Count Robert is known chiefly
as a rather rough soldier, he was a large benefactor to the Church,
founding the abbey of which, as usual, the church remains, and but
little else. The parish church of Mortain is due to a later gift of
the same patron.

Mortain abounds in beautiful peeps; its irregular rocks stand up in
fantastic shapes amid numbers of trees, and the broken ground makes
great variety of scenery. It is chiefly celebrated, however, for
its waterfall, notable only in a country where such a possession
is literally unique. The Great Cascade, as it is called, is about
sixty-five feet high, and should be seen in wet weather if possible,
or the glory of Normandy’s only waterfall will be sadly discounted.
Northward is Vire, with a ruined castle, which was rebuilt in the
twelfth century, and demolished by Richelieu’s order in 1630. But the
fine gateway with its tower belfry is what everyone goes to see at Vire.

Not far from Vire is Tinchebray, the site of the brothers’ struggle.
This battle is mainly of importance because it indicated a curious
reversal of that at Hastings. Then a Norman duke had conquered England,
at Tinchebray an English king conquered Normandy. Freeman says “the
fight of Tinchebray really was a battle, one of the very few pitched
battles of the age,” and he decides that it must have been on the flat
ground near the station that the historic contest was fought, when
Robert fell into the hands of a brother some eight or ten years his

If instead of coming north-westward from Domfront we had gone
north-eastward, we should have come to a district not so beautiful in
natural scenery as that about Mortain, but in itself well worth study.
Argentan has the donjon of an ancient castle, a fifteenth-century
church, and several other points well worth attention. The two small
places of Exmes and Almenèches are associated with the name Robert of
Belesmes, who seems to have been a monster of cruelty. He is said to
have plucked out the eyes of a little godson; and refused ransom for
prisoners, as he preferred holding them for the pleasure of torture.
His unfortunate sister Emma was abbess of Almenèches; and in 1102, when
Robert had been driven out of England, he descended upon her abbey and
burnt it, meantime occupying the castle of Exmes.

At one time he had in his possession the strongholds of Alençon,
Bellême, “Domfront, St Cevery, Essai, La Motte, Pontorson, Mamers,
Vignes, and very many more.”

Robert had been in every Norman war occurring since he was of an age
to bear arms, and his personal vigour had made him worth something
to the cause he espoused. He married Agnes, daughter and heiress of
Guy, Count of Ponthieu, the same into whose hands Harold had fallen,
and he subsequently became Count of Ponthieu; also, he succeeded his
brother as Earl of Shrewsbury, in England. When he was tired of his
diversions in Normandy, he returned to England, seized and held his
forfeited castle of Shrewsbury, until he was forced to surrender,
and a second time exiled. He came to a fitting end, for having,
by joining in the rebellion of Fulk of Anjou against King Henry of
England, proved himself a traitor, he had the audacity to go as an
envoy from the French king to Henry, who, with poetical justice rather
than in accordance with the laws of nations, seized him and kept him
a prisoner, out of the way of further mischief, until his death. The
little town of Bellême, twelve miles south from Mortagne, was the
original home of the family from which this promising branch sprang.
The highest part of the hill is crowned by houses, but beneath there
are still underground vaults, and wall foundations belonging to the
mighty castle of the Bellêmes or Belesmes.

At St Saturnin, near Séez, in this district, Charlotte Corday was born,
but her later life was so closely associated with Caen, that she is
there mentioned more fully.

Westward is the large town of Alençon, which marks the border of
Normandy in this direction. Alençon has been famous since the reign
of Louis XIV. for its beautiful point lace, and the industry is still
carried on, though to a less extent than before. The lace is made of
pure linen thread, worth £100 per lb., and is composed of ten different
stitches, which are specialities done by different workers.

[Illustration: LACE MAKING]

The usual earning for this highly-skilled labour is about 1s. a day.
The castle of Alençon was destroyed, all but the keep, by Henri IV. of

Of the famous siege of Alençon we have already spoken.

Here must come to an end this rather rambling chapter, designed to
cover a district which, with the exception of Falaise, is comparatively
little known by the English visitor to Normandy.



Some old established shops there are, with prestige so secure that
they do not have recourse to the art known as “dressing the windows”;
it is the customers who seek them out, not they who try to attract
the customers. Something of this kind may be said of Bayeux, for of
all simple unpretending towns it is the chief; anyone who entered the
long straggling street unforewarned, would imagine that he was in some
humble village, and yet Bayeux ranks high among Norman towns. After
Rouen, admittedly the capital, and Caen, so much larger than herself,
she assuredly, for importance, antiquity, and all those things that go
to make the fame of a city, comes third.

The first sight of the cathedral strikes one with astonishment; it is
so composite, so decorative, that it takes one’s breath away. There is
a feeling of hopelessness--one will never be able to understand it.
And even after some study it remains almost impossible to analyse the
architecture as one generally can analyse a cathedral, setting down the
nave to one age, the choir to another, and perhaps the western towers
to a third.

The great central tower rests on a square decorated platform, and is
carried up two lantern stages above it; the top one is surmounted by a
copper cupola. The upper stage was added in 1860, and is unfortunately
quite ugly. Features which add much to the appearance of the exterior
are the richly decorated portals; that of the south transept is carved
with figures representing scenes in the life of St Thomas à Becket, who
at the time it was done had been dead for more than thirty years, and
was among the most popular of saints. The great portal at the west end,
however, surpasses it in beauty; in it are no less than five doorways,
diminishing in size from the centre; and seen beneath the fine western
towers, it forms a feature in a view of the exterior by no means the
least attractive.

The oldest church on this site was burnt down in 1046, and rebuilt by
Bishop Odo, Arlotta’s son by her second marriage. It was consecrated
with great ceremony in the same year as St Etienne of Caen, and in the
beginning of the next century again suffered by fire. But the greater
part of the cathedral as we see it, dates from the reconstruction in
1205 by an Englishman named Henry Beaumont, and as has been said, the
tower was only completed recently.

It is well to enter from the west, and to seat oneself at the very
end of the nave, in order to observe best the cathedrals greatest
peculiarity, namely, the strange carving on the spandrils and
interstices of the pillars. The patterns vary from diaper work to
overlapping scales, and clothe the walls richly. Between the arches
are shields with the strangest collection of figures, a dragon, an
Anglo-Saxon man, and other devices, showing a wide range of thought
on the part of the sculptor. The pillars themselves, which rise into
Norman arches, are all of one pattern, what may be called the fascicle
or bundle of small shafts forming one whole. As in every church whose
growth ran throughout several centuries, the Early Pointed style caps
the Norman work; and here pointed clerestory windows rise above those
splendid arches. The arches are decorated with various devices, among
which we see an unsurpassed example of the beakhead moulding. The choir
stands over the crypt, and both the transepts are on the lower level--a
beautiful idea, which gives an appearance of loftiness and elegance
in looking up toward the east. The vista is, however, unfortunately
blocked by a heavy altar at the chancel step. This peculiarity in the
level of the choir, and the fantastic carving in stone, are the two
most notable features in the building, as the stained glass is not very

[Illustration: AN ANCIENT INN YARD]

It was in this great church that William wrested from Harold the
deadly oath on which he partly based his own right to the throne of
England--an oath extorted by fear and partly by fraud, and the breaking
of which, by even the most malevolent of Harold’s foes could hardly be
accounted to him for wickedness. The scene is depicted in the Bayeux
tapestry, fully described in the next chapter.

On this same wide green space there is a statue to Alain Chartier the
poet, a native of Bayeux, the “most distinguished Frenchman of letters
in the fifteenth century,” who also bears the reputation of having been
the ugliest man of his time. He was born at Bayeux between 1380-90,
and became highly popular by his verse. Margaret, wife of the Dauphin,
is said to have kissed him as he lay asleep, for the sake of all the
beautiful things that had proceeded from his lips; and it is probably
the record of that kiss rather than his poems which has kept his memory

One of the charms of Bayeux is the number of its famous old carved
houses, which more than anything else carry us back into the streets of
the past. One of the most notable of these, with innumerable statues on
its frontage, is to be seen in the Rue St Malo, another, plain but very
substantial, and having several features of its own tending to give it
individuality, is in the Rue St Martin.

This is at the corner of the main street, and turning up it we may
go to the open space where the market is held. If we are fortunate
enough to visit the town on a Saturday, we shall see this long, narrow,
cobble-paved street literally flecked with the little tight white caps,
which are all that remains of the national headdress. These are not
worn by very young girls, but are assumed after the first communion,
when the child is supposed to have become a young woman. The fact of
wearing the first “bonnette,” as the cap is called, is very serious,
and not to be lightly considered. The invariable style is that the hair
should be neatly parted in the middle and smoothed back, flattened
down, while a tight-fitting bit of muslin is drawn over the head and
set into a band of muslin, which is again mounted on one of plain black
velvet; the only jaunty part of the headdress is the white muslin bow
at the back, which bobs up and down like a rabbits scut, and when a
number of women are talking together, the bobbing sometimes becomes
quite laughable.

The rest of the women’s costume is of the usual peasant type, stuff
jacket-bodices or blouses; full, all-round stuff skirts, well off
the ground; check aprons of blue, or mauve, or grey, and among them
all there is a strong family likeness. We see the same good-humoured
commonplace face again and again; there is shrewdness in the keen eyes
and sensible mouths, health in the smooth brown-red cheeks, and a
certain comeliness notwithstanding the homely features. One feels sure
that if one asked a question an intelligent answer would be given,
for these women habitually use their brains as well as their hands
in all their daily occupations. Here and there one sees a young girl
with a much fluted upstanding edging to her cap, and perhaps a pair of
white muslin strings elaborately tied under her chin, but where such
a one appears she is recognised as being uncommonly fashionable, and
respectfully admiring glances follow her self-conscious figure.

The men in this district have a great partiality for pearl buttons
about the size of a sixpence, with which they stud the fronts of
their smocks, sometimes in double and treble rows. They are big,
broad-shouldered fellows these brothers by blood to the men of the
Côtentin, and are more akin to ourselves than to the Frenchmen of
Rouen, for the Danish blood and speech lingered on in Bayeux when the
west of Normandy had been Frenchified.

The market is surrounded by a thick hedge of limes, and here is sold
the usual assortment of everything in daily use, from boots to bonnet
pins. The only thing which would strike a stranger as novel are the
enormous masses of butter, fitted into cylindrical hampers, and so
heavy that it takes two men to move them at all.

Later on the crowd thins down, and a steady stream sets in toward the
station. The women laden with enormous baskets carried by leather
straps, and sometimes holding large red cotton umbrellas, compare notes
as to the days events. At the station nearly every one, man and woman
alike, invests in a paper for Sunday reading before they disperse to
their homes on the flat plains of the Bessin. Some to go to homely
cottages, others it may be to those castles fallen from their high
estate, such as Argouges, once the fortress-dwellings of the highest
nobles in the land.

Less than ten miles westward from Bayeux is Formigny, one of the
historic battlefields of Normandy; it ranks with Val-ès-Dunes,
Tinchebray, and Mortèmer. It was in 1450, when all Upper Normandy was
already in the hands of Charles VII. of France, that a desperate effort
was made to save Lower Normandy from the same fate. The English landed
at Cherbourg and marched on into the Bessin; they were met and defeated
at Formigny, and the battle was the final stroke that severed Normandy
from England.

In a book like the present it would be as difficult as it would be
futile to attempt to give in detail an account of every town. Those
already described give the atmosphere of the country, and to go further
would be wearisome, or lead to repetition, for in many of the towns the
same features reappear. In Lisieux, prettily situated amid its broken
green hills, we have a fine cathedral, which shares to the full in that
irregularity so often found in Norman churches. One tall spire springs
from a platform base, and its companion ends in a conical stumpy gable.
The manufacturing part of the town lies mostly south of the railway,
and the wonderful carved wooden houses which attract visitors from all
parts reproduce the best features of those already noted elsewhere.

In a town like Evreux, we may see the narrow streets and cool green
sun-shutters, with the stately cathedral rising over the roofs, its
grey majesty softened to beauty by the lace-like fretwork. Down by
a canal-like feeder of the river Iton, in a part reminiscent of the
Cambridge “backs,” is the Allée des Soupirs, under whispering limes; by
the river also are the washing-sheds, with tiled floors, where women
and girls wring and beat and twist all day long, chattering the while,
as if the perpetual dipping of hands and arms in the ice-cold water
and the bending of backs were a mere game. Under the limes on a market
day the usual Norman crowd can be seen. The prevailing tone of colour
is blue--blue blouses, blue bodices, blue check aprons. Now and then a
gendarme strolls down the centre, looking like a gorgeously coloured
fly in his bright uniform. All the promenaders passing to and fro are
in list slippers, which speaks volumes for the dryness of the climate;
and none of the women wear hats, and only a few caps or folded cotton

The typical Norman town is for the most part irregularly built; we do
not find the formal squares and straight streets to be met with in
Touraine. There is almost always a cathedral, varying a little in its
beauty, but at the worst wonderful. There is very often a barracks,
and an open dusty space for the drill; and the other public buildings,
the Préfecture, and Palais de Justice, if the town be the centre of
its district, the Hotel de Ville, the public library, the Musée, the
Mairie, according to its status. There is generally a river, sometimes
very small, and an open space or two wherein wayfarers may sit.


We may spring northwards to Pont Audemer, where we shall find some
features in common with many Norman towns, and some peculiar to
itself. We may go there on a Monday, for Monday is market day, and
we shall find the wide street before the splendid old church filled
with stalls--indeed, here, as ever in Normandy, the wonder is, where
everyone is a vendor, who buys; perhaps it is a disguised form of
barter. The men are good-looking as a rule, though the strong admixture
of French blood has produced a race in which there are few of the
characteristics of their countrymen further west. One sees all sorts,
of course, but the type which might be selected as predominant is that
of a slightly built, fairly tall man, with straight marked features,
abundant hair showing strong tendency to curl, on head and lips; dark
eyed and dark complexioned, good-looking, merry genial fellows, they
are a sun-loving race. It makes a splendid picture this open-air
market. The church with its great tower at the west end, carved and
enriched, speaks of the richest period of the fifteenth century.
By the grand western door are many decorative niches for saints, now

Perhaps the western sun has fallen sufficiently to cast the long
shadows of the odd medley of houses facing the cathedral over the rough
cobbled street, and thereby to render the contrast of all that gallant
fretwork, picked out, illuminated, and gilded by his splendour, all the
grander. Within, the church is magnificent--and heartrending. Surely
never in any other Catholic church, where loving hands are usually
ready to perform devout offices, was more dirt seen.

There is rich stained glass of the fifteenth century in the side
aisles. But for those who prefer their architecture unembellished,
there is plenty here. The chancel was built at least two centuries
before the nave, and is plain indeed. Heavy and solid arches,
comparatively low, and somehow lacking the grace that usually
appertains to this style, enclose the chancel. The singularly low
central arch is not in line with the nave.

The main street crosses a narrow bridge, beneath which the quickly
running current of the Rille or Risle flows. Both above and below,
there is such a medley of picturesqueness and decay as surely never was
seen more condensed before.

Gable-ended, timber-framed houses, with projecting stories, overhang
the flood; beams discoloured and all but fallen to pieces, jut out
in all directions; here the red brick walls catch a glimmer of the
departing sun, there the flap of a bit of wet linen reveals a kneeling
woman in one of the little washing-places on the lip of the river. Here
a thatched gable projects like a huge hood; there black darkness shows
a tiny court.

[Illustration: VALLEY OF THE RILLE]

Some fifteen miles from Pont Audemer, in the valley of the Rille,
are the ruins of the famous Abbey of Bec, which takes rank with the
Jumièges and Fécamp, and others of their class. There is no remnant
of the first great abbey; what are called the monastic buildings,
date from the seventeenth century; they are now used as a depôt for
military stores. The tower and part of the church, rebuilt in the
fifteenth century, are, however, standing, but the greater part of
this magnificent building “one of the finest of its kind in France,”
was overthrown at the Revolution. Bec is so closely associated with
the names of its two great abbots, Lanfranc and Anselm, successive
Archbishops of Canterbury, that it is impossible to pass them over
here without mention. Lanfranc was an Italian, born at Pavia in the
first years of the eleventh century. He had a genius for attracting and
influencing young men with a desire for learning, and his following
was soon a large one. He crossed over into France and settled at
Avranches, where he founded a college. In the course of a journey
to Rouen he was seized and robbed in the woods near Jumièges, and
was left bound to a tree for the whole night. In the morning
when released, he found, not far off, a humble abbey which had been
raised by the piety of one Herlouin. He was greatly influenced by this
incident, and abandoned his scholastic career to become a monk. But
his great genius for teaching could not be hidden; scholars flocked to
him, and as all the money he earned by this avocation went into the
common fund, the monastery grew and flourished. But the holy man had a
bitter tongue, and he made enemies who maligned him to Duke William,
so that at last he was sentenced to banishment. The well-known story
goes that Lanfranc, stumbling along on a worn old horse, met the duke,
who caused him to be upbraided for not having already gone; he made
answer in all good humour, that if the duke would give him a better
horse he would depart faster. William was pleased with his ready wit,
and did not forget him. While in Rome, the prelate was able to be of
some service to his royal master in pleading his cause with the Pope,
who was angry with William for marrying his cousin, and when the two
great abbeys of Caen were built in expiation of this fault, Lanfranc
was installed as first abbot in St Etienne. He then became Archbishop
of Rouen, and after the Conquest, Archbishop of Canterbury. During his
rule a fire destroyed the cathedral at Canterbury, and the rebuilding
was due to him. In the new cathedral he crowned William II. in 1087.
Two years later he died. His great successor, Anselm, was some thirty
years younger; he was also an Italian, born at Aosta; he followed
very closely in Lanfranc’s steps, going first to Avranches, and then
to Bec, where he succeeded Lanfranc in the abbacy. It was he for whom
William cried in his last illness; but Anselm was also ill, and could
not travel speedily, and the king was dead before his arrival. He was
forced by William II. to accept the Archbishopric of Canterbury, but he
shrank so much from the office that it is said the pastoral staff was
actually thrust into his hand, and his fingers savagely closed upon it
so that he could not drop it. His quarrels with William II. belong to
the history of England. He died in 1109.

[Illustration: ST LO]

Passing now to the west of Normandy, we find St Lo, Coutances,
Granville, and Avranches forming a group with features in common.
They are all picturesque, all worth seeing; but with the exception of
Avranches, poised upon its rock, there is no peculiar feature which,
like the Bayeux tapestry, the carved houses at Lisieux, and the twin
abbeys of Caen, draws visitors. St Lo is on different levels, and the
river Vire which flows through it is of a considerable width for a
Norman river, therefore pretty peeps can be seen in many directions.
There is, of course, a cathedral, dating from thirteenth to fifteenth
centuries, and also an old church, named, so the story goes, in
accordance with the advice of St Thomas à Becket, who was passing
through the town while it was being built. He suggested it
should be dedicated to the first saint who should shed his blood for
the Church, and as he was himself murdered shortly afterwards, the
dedication was made to him.

Not far from St Lo is the Forest of Cerisy, mentioned in connection
with the Chateau of Bur. At Cerisy an abbey was founded by Robert,
father of the Conqueror, and the church, which still stands, is in
use, a plain and grand building resembling St Etienne. Coutances
has also a cathedral and an ancient church. Its name is derived
from Constantia, which we see in slightly different form in the
Côtentin, derived from the adjective Constantinus, which occurred in
its description, “pagus Constantinus.” Coutances is the seat of a
bishopric, and its bishops played no small part in the stirring times
of old. Its bishop, Geoffrey, blessed the Norman host on its march from
Senlac to Hastings. He was made Earl of Northumbria, and his estates
spread through thirteen shires; “his flock and his see were little
thought of.” The cathedral which stands now is later than his time.
The principal features are its towers, the central one, octagonal in
shape, is interesting and striking, and the two towers ending in spires
at the west end, themselves spring from a forest of smaller spires.
The cathedral has been called the most beautiful church in Normandy.
Coutances was for long considered the chief town of the Côtentin,
which nominally extends so far south as to include it as well as
Granville. Passing on to Granville, we find a coast town built on the
side of a rocky promontory, and having quays and jetties and a small
lighthouse. The chief charms of Granville are in its views over the
bay, and the possibility of visiting the Isles of Chausey.

Of Avranches there is much more to say; with it we enter the district
of the Avranchin, which now, with the Côtentin, is included in La
Manche. The town stands, to begin with, on an extraordinary hill,
the spur or outpost of a range; it rises sheer from the railway at
its foot: a situation to arrest the attention and stimulate memory.
Then its views of the islands of Tombelaine and Mont St Michel are
unrivalled, and, seen as they may be against the glory of a western
sky, the setting is worthy of the jewels. Avranches has claims to
historical memories of its own. On a spot known as the platform, and
embracing a wide prospect of sea and sky, we find a stone inscribed
to the effect that it was part of the threshold on which Henry II.
knelt in humble penitential garb to be absolved from the curse of
excommunication brought upon him by the murder of Becket. This is
preserved from the ruins of the cathedral which, unlike most of the
solid work of early Norman times, did not stand the test of time, but
partly fell down, and had to be wholly dismantled in 1799.


To this town may be accredited the honour of having produced the
first poet laureate, for a poet named Henry of Avranches so attracted
the notice of Henry III., that he gave him a pension and attached him
to the court.

Avranches was from very early times noted for its magnificent and
valuable library, but in 1899 a fire broke out and destroyed many
priceless MSS., among them a copy of Domesday Book in three colours.

There are still, however, 16,000 volumes in the Public Library. These
public libraries are notable features in almost every town in Normandy;
they do not quite correspond with the English libraries of the same
heading, but rather with the cathedral or chapter libraries attached
to some of our diocesan towns, and they usually have owed their
foundation to the monks, for abbeys were in early times the chief seats
of learning. They frequently contain very valuable MSS., and nearly
always have some treasures to show. The reference rooms are lofty,
well furnished, and convenient, and strangers are freely admitted. At
Rouen the library contains 133,000 volumes and 3600 MSS., including
several service books and missals written in the eleventh century in
the Anglo-Saxon style. One missal belonged to Robert of Jumièges, who
became Archbishop of Canterbury, and to whose chronicles we owe so much
of our knowledge of early Norman history; there is a Benedictional of
988, written for Æthelgar, Bishop of Selsey, and the earliest printed
book is of the year 1468. The origin of the library is obscure. At the
end of the twelfth century it is first mentioned as containing 160
volumes; in 1200 it was partly destroyed. The library at Bayeux holds
30,000 volumes, and that at Caen 100,000 volumes and 800 MSS. Other
figures are--Lisieux, 28,000; Cherbourg, 30,000; Valognes, 20,000;
Havre, 30,000, with eighth and ninth century MSS. These libraries are
often housed in a part of the building of the Hotel de Ville, and
should certainly be seen by any visitor who has half an hour to spare
in passing through any of the above towns.



There is not a school child in England who has not heard of the
marvellous piece of work supposed to have been wrought by Queen Matilda
and the ladies of her court; but until the tapestry is actually seen,
the conception of it is as vague as that of giants and fairies. As a
matter of fact, the work is not tapestry at all, but crewel work. Real
tapestry resembles carpet, and is closely worked, and the background
is all filled in; but this of Bayeux is lightly worked in worsted,
on a strip of linen about two hundred and thirty feet in length by
about twenty inches in breadth, and is placed on a stand, ingeniously
arranged, so that by walking round the outside and inside the whole
strip can be seen without trouble, and in itself remains intact.

The question whether Queen Matilda and the ladies of William’s court
really were the authors of this marvellous record in needlework will,
with such subjects as the authorship of the _Letters of Junius_,
always remain unanswered. There are arguments for and against; the
fact that the tapestry was designed for the glorification of William,
looks as if it were executed in his lifetime, and the disproportionate
importance attached to the smallest events in the campaign in Brittany,
which are given with more detail and fidelity than even in the
chronicles, looks as if that campaign must have been contemporary,
and was depicted with that disregard for proportion which is ever the
effect of seeing an affair in the foreground. The minute details given
in the case of the figures look also as if they were done from personal
knowledge--details such as the fact that Edward the Confessor is
always represented with a beard, and that the Saxons wear moustaches,
while the Frenchmen are clean shaven. In the reign of the Conqueror’s
successor, the Normans themselves cultivated beards, and allowed the
hair to grow; and anyone working tapestry at that date would surely
never have been realistic enough to depart from the fashions he saw
around him to depict those which had preceded them. Later on, also,
other little points, such as immoderately peaked shoes, were adopted;
these are not shown in the tapestry, though had the work been done
later than the Conqueror’s reign, the fashions would have been those of
the then prevailing mode.

On the other hand, there are serious arguments against Matilda’s being
the designer, though they are mostly negative; for instance, the
tapestry is not mentioned in her will, neither does it find a place in
the inventory of the goods belonging to the church at Bayeux in 1369,
though it is mentioned in that made in 1476, from which the inference
is drawn that it was not in existence at the earlier date. But, on the
other hand, it may well have been overlooked. By some it is supposed to
have been executed for the cathedral of Bayeux by Bishop Odo’s command,
and it is a fact that in length it exactly fits the circuit of the
choir walls, where it might have been hung on feast days.

It was in 1724 that attention was first drawn to the tapestry, which
until then had been lying unnoticed at Bayeux. There was a drawing
of it in the Cabinet of Antiquities at Paris, and M. Lancelot coming
across this was struck by it, and searched for the original, though
he was quite uncertain what material it was in, whether it were a
fresco, a sculpture, or a piece of needlework. It was unearthed at
last at Bayeux, and was kept in a side chapel at the cathedral rolled
around a mighty spool, whence it was unrolled once a year. In 1803,
when Buonaparte meditated an invasion of England, the tapestry was
brought to France with a view to stimulating the spirits of the French
by pointing out to them what had been done might be done again.
Subsequently, the much better plan of preserving the work from injury
and enabling it to be seen, which is at present in use, was adopted.
The case is glazed, so that the tapestry may stand for as many hundred
years as it has already stood, without perceptible injury.

The worsted in which it is worked is as fresh as the day it was first
used, and its brightness against the light background contrasts very
strongly with the dingy hues of the tapestry one is accustomed to see.
The colours used are drabs and greens, russets and blues, all art
colours, and extraordinarily effective. The shadows are treated in a
very original manner: for instance, when it is desired to show the
inside of a horse’s leg in shadow, the leg is filled in in a different
colour from that of the horse’s body; it is technically supposed to
represent a shadow, and this does very well.

There is a border decorated by grotesque beasts and heraldic figures,
and the border has sometimes to give way to the exigencies of the
story, when an exceptionally tall man or a large ship has to encroach
upon it.

The drama begins long before the Norman Conquest, and is told with a
verve and humour quite unexpected; whether it were Matilda who was the
designer, or the wives of those “natives of Normandy on whom William
had bestowed lands in England,” as the writer in the _Encyclopædia
Britannica_ thinks, the authors must have had plenty of character, and
strong indeed must their freshness have been to resist the withering
dulness of the life then deemed meet for women. And freshness they
had in full measure, for no one could have depicted the lugubrious
roundness of Harold’s face, and the quaint expressions of the horses,
who did not delight in the work.

The first scene shows King Edward the Confessor commissioning Harold
to visit Normandy. Harold’s object was nominally to obtain the release
of his nephews held prisoners by William, but it is supposed that
Edward the Confessor had his own reasons for sending him into William’s
power, as he feared Harold, and really desired William to be his heir
in England. If this were so, William certainly took the advantage thus
given to him, and played his cards with conspicuous skill. We are
carried through Harold’s journey to the coast, his voyage, his wreck,
and his subsequent capture by Guy, Count of Ponthieu. It may be noted
that the hawks, which can be seen on the wrists of the characters, are
not hooded, another small indication as to date, for hawks began to
wear hoods about 1200, so that the work must have been executed before
then. When Harold follows Guy as a prisoner, his hawk sits reversed
upon his wrist, a sign of dejection, while that of Guy looks forward
in the usual way. At the repeated solicitation of William, who backed
his request with the present of a considerable slice of territory,
Harold is next brought to him as a prisoner by the triumphant Guy, who
points to him, as much as to say, “See what I have done!” However,
William receives him as a guest, and brings him to his palace. The
leading characters in this drama are by no means lay figures; Harold
can be easily recognised by his round face and vacuous expression;
he is smaller than William, who is heavy jawed and strong. In the
beasts on the border we see the same spirit which is to be found more
developed in the gargoyles on churches, a spirit full of mischief and
appreciation of what may be called the “weird grotesque.”

Did some of these ladies who worked, apparently so patiently and
submissively, get rid of their feelings of petty jealousy and spite by
working them into the canvas? Did Edith caricature the knight who was
blind to her charms, and Matilda glorify him who loved her in secret?
It is strange to notice that the main figures are all men; women very
seldom figure in the play, only three times in fact, and twice they are
nameless. In the next compartment we have the principal exception, a
lady dressed in a nunlike habit stands in a small kiosk, and a man pats
her cheek condescendingly; the inscription tells us that some woman
named Elgiva conversed with a clerk. The probable explanation is that
this is William’s daughter Adeliza or Agatha, whom he agreed to give
to Harold in marriage, and it may be that the pleasing intelligence
so jocularly conveyed to her, is that of her future destiny. Though
Adeliza at this date was only seven or eight years old, she afterwards
refused to marry a Spaniard, on account of her former betrothal to
Harold, and so it seems probable that she played a part in the drama.

[Illustration: THE SPINNING WHEEL]

In the next stage Harold assists William in an expedition to
suppress the rebels, Conan, Duke of Brittany, and the Duke of Anjou.
The men are all represented in chain armour, and their pointed shoes
nearly touch the ground on each side of the horses, which are small. It
may be noted also that the horses wear no defensive armour, which was
not used until the time of Henry the First. Towns are symbolised by a
kind of dome standing on an arch. The army passes by Mont St Michel,
and at the river Couesnon, which forms the boundary between Normandy
and Brittany, many of the soldiers come to grief. The towns of Dol and
Rennes are next passed, and Dinan is besieged. In it Conan is caught,
and is forced to yield to hand out the keys of the besieged town.
Harold is knighted by William for his prowess on the field. In this
section we have the local touch which gives Bayeux her representation
in the tapestry, for at Bayeux is held a solemn parliament, whereat
Harold acknowledges William heir to King Edward.

At this time also took place the formal ceremonial of betrothal between
himself and Adeliza, which made so undying an impression on the child;
and which seemed to Harold merely a part of the game he had to play,
as he took no account of it whatever, marrying almost directly after
his return to England. The ceremony of the oath, by which he swore to
uphold William’s claim to the English throne, was, if chroniclers can
be believed, of more importance in his eyes. For a book of the New
Testament having been laid before him, he swore upon it with a sacred
oath, and then the gold cloth on which it had been laid was lifted, and
there, disclosed to his astonished eyes, were relics of great sanctity
and value, apparently to him of far more import than the Gospels, for
he started and trembled violently.

Having thus committed himself, he returns to England and gives an
account of his enterprise to Edward, who soon afterwards dies. There
are several deathbed scenes; indeed we are never quite sure that we
have seen the last of Edward. Two of these scenes, for reasons of
space, are put into one compartment; that is to say, those representing
Edward on his deathbed, and Edward at the point of death addressing his

It is said that William was hunting in the forest of Rouvray, near
Rouen, when the fact of Harold’s having assumed the crown was made
known to him by no less a messenger than Tostig, Harold’s own
rebellious brother. William was not the man to submit quietly; the
next scene in the tapestry shows us the diligent preparations made for
the invasion of England. Normandy maintained no standing navy: it was
necessary to build one. We see men chopping down trees, which have a
striking resemblance to barnacles upside down. It was in January the
news was brought, and not till the following autumn was the fleet ready
to sail. The smallest details are given faithfully on the tapestry; we
see the ships, when ready, being drawn down to the shore by ropes, and
floated on sinuous waves. The conveyance of the horses to the English
shore threatened a difficulty from the tapestry-workers’ point of view,
but they did not shirk it. They represented a row of horses’ heads
projecting in regular array from the edges of the boats, and the bodies
were left to the imagination, supposed to be neatly packed away in a
space that would have conveniently held their tails! The flotilla set
sail on September 12th from Dives, but was driven into St Valery, where
it lay until the 27th, then once more set forward with a favourable

Harold had himself been by no means idle, his fleet had cruised the
Channel during the summer months, waiting for the expected foe; but in
September there bore down upon the Yorkshire coast his brother Tostig,
in force, with the support of Harold Hardrada, so Harold hastened
northward to engage with him, and while he was facing and subduing
this new foe, his fleet, left without a head, dispersed, and William
landed without opposition. He landed at Pevensey, and we see in the
tapestry the horses, restored to their full size, led ashore; the ships
drawn up in array on the beach, and the establishment of a camp, with
arrangements for plenteous eating and drinking. On one side we have
the killing of an ox, who regards his executioner with an expression
of pained surprise. This is deliberate; the lady who worked that ox
could have made him wear any expression she chose. A sheep is also
sacrificed, and red tongues of flame start up beneath the cauldrons
wherein the food is cooked. Then we see tables spread, groaning with
provender. “The duke sat down to eat, and the barons and knights had
food in plenty; for they had brought ample store. All ate and drank
enough, and were right glad that they were ashore.” The fortifying of
the camp is done symmetrically; the men raising the earthworks take
care to have three little dabs or mounds of earth of equal size upon
their spades;--indeed the mixture of symmetry and fidelity to detail
is remarkable throughout the work; we generally find that in following
design, truth is lost sight of. A messenger comes from Harold to
William, and in the next scene hostilities have begun in the burning of
a house, in which are a woman and child--the third woman in the piece,
the second being present at King Edward’s deathbed.

Then after all these preliminaries we come to the climax, the _mêlée_
at Hastings, which occupies fully a quarter of the whole length of the
canvas. These scenes are extraordinarily fine. All the vigour of mixed
action is shown in the most uncompromising of materials, wool-work.
We have the deaths of Harold’s two brothers, Leofwine and Gurth;
the encouragement of Bishop Odo of Bayeux; the scene where William
raises his visor to show himself unhurt; the _mêlée_ where Harold’s
army is cut to pieces. The border consists of a line of more or less
dismembered men lying prostrate, and the ladies’ highly-developed
sense of humour shows itself at every turn. It is unfortunate that some
of these, the most brilliant of the scenes, are on the inside of the
frame as the tapestry now stands, and cannot be photographed for lack
of light and space.

At last we see Harold in agony drawing the fatal arrow from his eye;
and though he lived for some hours longer, the news of his death when
it came was the signal for flight, leaving the Normans victors in a
fight which had lasted the whole day. Of Earl Godwin’s seven sons,
two still remained alive after the battle, but both ended their lives
in the seclusion of a religious house. As we draw to the close of the
great drama the stitches are unfinished, the work left in many places
merely indicated, and the roll is worn.

We feel a debt of gratitude toward the workers difficult to express.
The tapestry thrills with life: it is not a mere strip of worked linen,
but what we in these latter days would call a “human document,” and
it has come down through nine hundred years bearing more detail, more
history, on its folds than has ever been told to us by any monkish
parchment or royal scroll.



In spite of all that has been said of the glory of Mont St Michel,
not the half has been told. This magnificent abbey, palace, citadel,
church, remains unique, no less in its situation than in its stupendous
strength, in its intricate variety than in its architectural beauty.
The solidity and awe-inspiring grandeur of the Norman work is softened
and enhanced by the delicate tracery of the thirteenth century; the
towering citadel impresses as much by its elegance as by its strength.

From the heights of Avranches the cliff-fortress is seen as in a
miniature, clearly outlined against the sapphire sea of summer, set
off by the long, rolling, richly-wooded slopes of the shore. Three
rivers flow into this bay, the Sée, the Sélune, and the Couesnon, and
their channels make long tracks of shining water over the sands at low
tide. The island of Tombelaine, resembling a couched lion, serves the
same purpose to the Mount as the spire of St Dunstan’s on Ludgate Hill
does to St Paul’s, it gives a unit by which to measure the height of
the grander island. But it is impossible to approach St Michel from
Avranches. The only feasible road is over the sands from the Pontorson
side, and to attain this it is necessary to circle round the forked bay
from Avranches, a proceeding which, as the way is as bow to string to
that across the bay, makes in all some sixteen miles to be traversed.
But a more startling effect is gained from the new view thus obtained.
For there, growing larger with every yard we advance toward it, is the
most graceful, most striking, and most wonderful island in the world!
Within the last thirty or forty years a tower and spire, rising high
into the air, bearing a gilt figure of St Michael, has been erected at
the summit of the rock, and this has altered the outline considerably,
drawing the eye upward at an angle ending in a sharp point, instead
of to the conical or blunt summit familiar from old representations.
It is impossible to deny that from an artistic point of view this is
an improvement, however much one may revolt against modern work being
patched on to antiquity.

From the Pontorson road we approach the island, facing northward, and
if we are fortunate enough to arrive in the evening when the sun is
setting behind the line of sea in the west, we shall see a gorgeous

   “One gleam like a bloodshot swordblade swims on
    The sky line, staining the green gulf crimson.”

[Illustration: MONT ST MICHEL--SUNSET]

The flame-coloured glowing background shows up the Mount dark and
sombre, yet not wholly unrelieved, because lit by gleams that catch
the facets and angles innumerable that stud its surface. The wide
stretch of level water gently heaving round the base gives a strange
mystical sense of illimitable space, and this with the majesty of the
rock fills any who have imagination at all with the same emotion and
sensation of eternity and infinity as is aroused by the sound of grand
music. Yet in the morning light, glowing with an extraordinary amethyst
hue, the Mount is mystic and wonderful too; it has then a more joyous
and softened beauty; seen in storm and rain it is forbidding, and the
grandeur alone is predominant; in every season, in every phase of
weather, one or the other of the characteristics that combine to make
up its unsurpassable glory, its mystery, its grandeur, or its wonder,
start out and proclaim themselves supreme. So that according to a man’s
luck at his first approach will he be ready to exclaim, “How grand it
is!” “How wonderful!” or “How beautiful!” The actual road over the
sands is about a mile and a quarter in length. It was made in 1880,
before which time the sands could only be crossed at low tide. It is
built up high, and hedged on either side by a low wall. It is bare,
exposed, and dusty. Around it lie the wide flats of half-uncovered
sand, resembling those of the Northumbrian coast near Coquet Island.
Yet though this approach in itself is slightly chilling to
feelings of enthusiasm, its deficiencies are lost in the vision ahead,
which grows each minute more and more detailed, more and more vivid.
There is in reality only one hotel on the island to which any ordinary
tourist would think of going. Its message has been proclaimed half a
mile away, for directly mystery began to give way to detail, it could
be seen, in letters six feet high, on every building of any size that
rises up on the precipitous face of the cliff, that Hotel Poulard
Ainé and its _dépendances_ occupied all the prominent houses that
were available. Some rival establishments have been set up by other
members of the same family, but their light is a candle to the electric
arc compared with the original Poulard, famous for its excellent and
Brobdingnagian omelets.

No vehicles enter the gateway of the island, they stop at the end of
the causeway; it would be impossible for them to effect an entrance,
and if they could they would be of no use in the steep, narrow, broken
street like a Scottish wynd, which is all the island boasts.

At the end of the causeway a rough platform of raised boards carries
the traveller over an expanse of slimy mud, and from this he descends
by steps to the gateway.

Once inside the gateway there is a narrow street with the entrance
of the Poulard Hotel on one side, and small recesses with seats and
tables for refreshments on the other; while the street itself is
spanned a little higher up by a massive gateway called La Porte du
Roi. In the season the hotel is generally crammed, and largely by
the English. It is frequently necessary to get put up in one of the
_dépendances_, and for sheer wonder it is hard to beat that which
stands some fifty feet higher up the cliff. Entering the main hotel to
go to this, one traverses many flights of stairs, and finally, coming
out by a wholly unexpected door in the wall, finds oneself on the
rugged face of the cliff, with rough-hewn stone steps stretching higher
still to the number of fifty or sixty. These lead to a terrace whereon
is a large white and red house; and from the terrace what a view! Sea
and sky, and the great green scimitar of the French coast, low-lying
in the distance, are the principal components. The _dépendance_ is
built absolutely plumb with the rock, so by leaning out of one of the
long French windows in the front, one might fling a pebble into the
murmuring lapping water below; and at night when above gleams “the
intense clear star-sown vault of heaven,” and below the tide steals up,
and there arises the gentle sucking of the tethered boats, one might
well imagine oneself in Mohammed’s coffin, swung between heaven and

[Illustration: LA PORTE DU ROI]

Such are a few of the glories of the Mount when first approached; but
the reverse side of the medal quickly shows itself. It is impossible
to be there for a couple of hours without feeling oneself in a
cage. To begin with, the mountain, like the moon, shows only one face,
and try as one will, it is but unsatisfactory glimpses one can get of
the other. Full of the ardour of discovery the visitor starts out.
The little, crooked, narrow main street, if street it can be called,
is full of picturesque bits, of visions of blue sky of an intense and
dazzling brightness, framed in towering irregular walls. But no time
is allowed for enjoyment of these peeps, for in the tiny shops full of
penknives, trinkets, paperweights, and every atrocity that has ever
been perpetrated under the name of souvenir, the women are waiting
to pounce like spiders on any visitor, and pester him to buy their
wares. There is no escape. One may pass on quickly, only within a very
short time to be brought up by a high blank wall, baffled and annoyed,
as visions of sitting on a rocky promontory, and enjoying the quiet
evening light grow more remote. The result of a fresh start is to find
oneself back on a higher level on the terrace of the _dépendance_,
stopped by the hotel wall, and the entrance to a Musée, where two
officials are no less persistent than the women in pressing visitors
to come in. One may repeat the experiment, only to realise that, like
Sterne’s starling, one “can’t get out.” In despair, one goes on to
the walls, broad and flat, and free from shops, with bastion towers
at intervals. For a moment irritation is quieted by the repetition of
the view, for in front lies the sea, behind, towering into the air,
that marvellous fortress of masonry. At the very end of the promenade
there is a glimpse, over the high boundary wall, which hems one in so
exasperatingly on the east, of growing trees and cool greenness, but
admittance to this paradise is apparently unattainable.

In the middle of the day the odours rising from the insanitary
pavements is intolerable; oh for a torrent of rain! It is marvellous
the inhabitants do not suffer from typhoid fever, but they, like the
rest of their countrymen, seem absolutely impervious to any ill-effects
arising from lack of sanitation.

By this time one has realised that only a strip of the island, the
front facing shorewards, is available; that the whole of the other
side is cut off, and can only be seen by descending through the main
entrance, and making one’s way at low tide across the wet sands, and
fording numerous tidal rivers _en route_. It is difficult to see why
doors should not be pierced in that horrible encircling barrier; a
small charge might even be made, and visitors allowed access to the
slopes beyond; steep they may be, but it is not beyond human power to
cut a few terrace paths for walking.


Yet there is still the abbey to be explored, with its endless
ramifications. The wonder grows as it is examined, how could monks of
the thirteenth century, with no mechanical contrivances, bring the
ponderous blocks of stone across the sands, so treacherous and often
impassable, raise them up five hundred feet, and plant them so
that they stand with an air of finality, impregnable, unshakable? So
steep, so massive are those walls, that to look up at them produces
almost the same sensation as looking down over a great height: it makes
one giddy. Over one corner there peeps a bit of lace work in stone,
flying buttresses and decorated pinnacles; old also, older than the
marvellous abbey itself. Below this are two rounded towers that guard
the entrance to the chatelet. Abbey, fortress, church, and castle, St
Michel comprises them all, and the masonry of the various buildings
is so interwoven, so intricate, that it is impossible to separate one
from the other by mere external looking. The island is small, but its
abbey is vast, and much as has been said about it, familiar as are
the representations of the Mount, very little has been written about
its internal beauties; consequently most people go there expecting to
find a ruin, but here is an almost perfect bit of masonry, perfect in
construction and in repair.

The oldest part is the church, which is the pinnacle or crown of the
island, standing at its highest point, more than four hundred feet
above the sea-level. The first church on this lonely and windswept
spot was built in the eighth century by the Bishop of Avranches, named
Aubert, who declared that St Michael had appeared to him in a dream,
and commanded him to undertake this task: before that time the islet
had been called Mont de la Tombe, a name recalled in the isle of
Tombelaine near. The place is called in old charters “St Michel au
péril de la Mer,” and the name must have seemed more fitting then in
its loneliness than now, when connected by the solid causeway to the
mainland. The bishop’s church was a mere grotto, and of it nothing
remains, though the good man’s own name is preserved in a little
chapel of St Aubert on the inaccessible southern face of the rock.
The incredible difficulty of the task was quite sufficient to ensure
its repetition, for what man has done man will do. But the succeeding
church, built in the reign of Duke Richard the Fearless, was swept
away by fire, and the present one is the third on the same site, built
in the course of the eleventh century. The surprising difficulty of
the task may be gauged by the fact that only a very small part of
the building rests on the solid rock, most of it being founded on a
platform or platforms. It seems curious that the apex of the rock was
not cut down to make a basis instead of being built up to the required
level, but from whatever reason, the more arduous method was chosen.
The choir fell down in 1421, and was rebuilt, so that it is of later
date than the rest.

Pilgrims had flocked to the shrine built by St Aubert, and in time
a few rough houses clung like limpets to the sides of the rock, and
became the nucleus of the present village.


Below and on each side of the church is the abbey, justly called La
Merveille. This is composed of two vast buildings, backing on the
rock and facing landward. It was built in the first half of
the thirteenth century, and is one of the most perfect specimens
of the architecture of the time in existence. Of the same date are
the fortifications, ramparts, and bastions, which transformed the
mount into a fortress and citadel. This tiny rugged island has had a
chequered career. The Mount was the only spot in the whole of Normandy
which defied England when she ruled the rest of the territory. It was
besieged and attacked again and again without success. The ancient
monks, with as much of the church militant as the church penitent in
them, clung to their bare sharp rock, and defied the would-be invaders.

The abbot was a personage of great importance; at the time of the
Conquest he fitted out six vessels for the Norman duke, and for this
he was well rewarded, for monks of the abbey were raised to the
highest ecclesiastical dignities in England. One became abbot of St
Hilda, another of St Peter at Gloucester, another of Canterbury.
Coins, bearing the image of the Archangel Michael, were struck also in
commemoration of the Conquest.

In the fifteenth century the abbot had attained almost regal power,
holding not only the adjacent isles of Tombelaine and Jersey and
Guernsey, but even the sister isle of Mount St Michael off the Cornish
coast, which had been given to the monastery by Edward the Confessor.

Tombelaine has a history of its own, independently of Mont St Michel.
In 1048 two monks came and took up their abode here to live the
contemplative life, and nearly a hundred years later a priory was
founded on the rock, which was very popular with the abbots of the
neighbouring monastery, so that one of them was buried here by his own
request. After a while fortifications grew up around the cloistral
walls of the priory, and thus the island was fitted to become an
important strategic base. When the English seized it in Edward III.’s
reign, they saw its possibilities, and strengthened the fortifications

What fortifications there were, remained till 1669, when they were
demolished by order of the King of France. During the fourteenth
century, when war flamed continually between England and France,
they played a notable part. Mont St Michel itself was menaced, and
though the pilgrims were allowed to pass to it over the yellow sands
without hindrance, the inhabitants of the Mount were for a year more
or less in a state of siege. But it was not until 1423 that the grand
siege began, when pilgrims were intercepted and turned back, and
sallies and counter-sallies passed between the large and small rock,
crouching like two lions about to spring. Then the investment became
more strict, English vessels appeared in the shallow waters of the
bay, and the English soldiers thus reinforced, might probably have
succeeded in cracking this very hard nut, had not the Bretons come to
the assistance of the garrison, and sailing into the bay engaged the
English in combat. There is little to be gathered of the details of
the fight, but the effect was to make the English retire hastily to
their entrenchments. This was by no means their last attempt, however,
on the island fastness, for in 1427 a great attack was made under Lord
Scales. It was at this time that the two cannons which now stand within
the gate of the Mount were taken by the French.

A strange incident is the pilgrimage of 400 children, in the middle
of the fifteenth century, to the Mount, from Germany and Flanders.
These children had left their homes without the consent, and in many
cases against the wishes, of their parents. The sight must have been
an impressive one as the little pilgrims, travel-worn and stained, saw
at length their goal, and crossed the shifting sands toward it. What
became of them afterwards is not recorded, whether they returned to
their homes or settled down in the country near, but the actual fact of
the pilgrimage seems well attested, though the numbers taking part in
it must be received with caution.

In the reign of Louis the Eleventh, the island was made into a state
prison, and continued to be so more or less until 1863. During the
French Revolution many of those called “enemies of the Republic” were
incarcerated here, in deep and vaulted dungeons from which there was
no possibility of escape. The buildings are now government property,
and admittance is nominally free, as the officials who show strangers
round are paid by the State; but a tip is also expected! The system is
another of those annoying little arrangements which so mar the pleasure
of a visit to the island. The guardian of the abbey waits until he has
collected a sufficient party, say thirty or forty people, and then
leads them through from room to room, locking each door behind him, and
pouring forth a voluble string of monotonous words in the very worst
“guide” style.

So intricate is the architecture, so numerous the rooms, halls, and
corridors, that a description in detail of the whole of the building
is impossible, nevertheless one or two points stand vividly out in
the mind. One is the marvellous flight of steps beneath the archway
by which entrance is obtained; another, the winding stone staircase,
called L’Escalier de Dentelle, by which one mounts to a platform
running round the exterior of the choir beneath the flying buttresses,
with their delicate turrets and pinnacles; another, the wide panorama
seen from any of the platforms around the church. The church itself
is half Norman, half Pointed, and the nave, with its solid pillars
and rounded arches contrasts with the later decorative work in the
choir. Nor is the crypt beneath--rightly called the Crypt of the
Great Pillars--less interesting. These stupendous columns, planted in
couples, support the whole fabric, and their colossal strength strikes
one with wonder and awe.

The abbey is in three stories, the highest containing the dormitory and
cloister, and the second two vast halls, while in the lowest are the
almonry, and endless vaults.

The cloisters are the most perfect of their kind in Europe, and strike
one the more imperiously from their delicate and almost fragile beauty
amid much that is so stern and massive. They were made in the early
part of the thirteenth century, and the twenty-first abbot, Raoul de
Villedieu, was the designer. The cloisters consist of a double row
of slender columns of polished granite round an interior courtyard,
and the rows are placed so that the columns in each do not coincide
with one another in the line of vision, but interlace. Within the
narrow passage between the rows are ribs, admirably and symmetrically
disposed, connecting the two, and in the spandrils of the exterior rows
there is carving of fruit and foliage of such fairy-like delicacy, that
it is almost impossible to believe it was executed seven centuries ago.
The cloister was “restored” 1877-81.

The dormitory, which is reached from the cloister, is vast, and has
an arcade of deeply-set lancet windows on each side, to the numbers
of thirty-one and twenty-six. This is of slightly later date than the
cloister. In the Salle des Chevaliers on the floor below a raised
terrace runs along one side, and there are two carved mantelpieces,
while the ribbed roof is supported by pillars with carved capitals.
The same profusion of space and detail is noticeable everywhere. The
refectory adjoining shows fireplace, ribbed roof, and graceful columns
also, and was finished about 1215. There are nine large mullioned
windows. Each hall varies, yet all are animated by the same spirit
of artistic loving care. In the lowest storey there is the ancient
cloister, superseded by the work of Villedieu, and also a beautiful
crypt with short thick pillars, and a delicately groined roof.

One carries away loving memories of all this beauty, embodying so much
strength and thought and care; one forgets, as one always does forget,
the herding together, the sense of imprisonment, the disagreeable
sights and sounds; and one thinks of this island, standing alone,
and rising from the bosom of the sea, as one thinks of some glorious
picture well-known and loved. It is said that once all this bay was
clothed with wood; that the island was no island; and rumour whispers
now that the bay is to be reclaimed, the land planted and cultivated,
and the island be an island no more; may it be but lying rumour, and
not based on any foundation, for the day that St Michel ceases to be
an island, that day will she have been robbed of half her beauty and
nearly all her charm. Long may it stand, that church-citadel, graceful,
stern, and solitary “St Michel in peril of the Sea.”



This is an age of travel, and many persons are searching diligently for
some district intrinsically interesting and desirable, not too much
overrun by their kind, and above all not too inaccessible, wherein they
may take a holiday. Such a district there is in the Côtentin peninsula
jutting out from the north coast of France, one of the only two
peninsulas in Europe, by the way, which do point in that direction. It
is not only in position that the Côtentin resembles Denmark, but also
in race; here and here alone in Normandy may still be found men of the
same blood as the Conqueror.

In conformation the Côtentin peninsula is akin to Brittany, being
almost entirely of granite, which ancient formation extends over the
whole district, with the exception of a strip south of La Hogue, on the
western coast. The landscape is such as is generally found in granite
countries, broken and varied, with stern coasts and massive cliffs,
which are continually breaking away and letting the sea eat into the
land. It is said that at one time Jersey was divided by only a narrow
river from the mainland, and now with the recession of the coast it
is far out to sea. Not only in scenery is the Côtentin a delightful
place for a holiday, but in more unusual attractions. Its heights
and hollows are studded with architectural remains, proud and stern
chateaux, now for the most part occupied as farmhouses; its annals are
as full of skirmishes and romantic stories as our own border country.
Within a ten-mile radius of Valognes to the west and south, we find
the chateaux of St Martin le Hebert, Bricbecque, Nehou, Vicomte St
Sauveur, Crosville, Urville, and Flottemanville. Further south are
the ruins of the ancient castle of La Haye du Puits. Of all these,
Bricbecque and St Sauveur are the best known. Bricbecque stands up
stern and strong still, a majestic ruin; in its courtyard is the hotel,
and the far-stretching walls tell of its previous extent. The Sire of
Bricbecque was nearly always at enmity with the Sire of St Sauveur, and
the two regarded each other with great jealousy. St Sauveur was the
more powerful, and in the time of the Conqueror its chieftain Neel, or
Nigel, held the title of Premier Baron or Vicomte of the Côtentin. He
it was who joined the conspiracy against William, to whom his father
had been a loyal and true vassal; and he was among those horsemen who
entered Valognes by stealth in order to seize William unawares
and assassinate him. The story of the duke’s escape and the subsequent
fight at Val-ès-Dunes has already been told. Yet after Neel had made
his submission, William forgave him, and in time restored him to his
castle, though the lands which Neel had held in Guernsey were handed
over to the Church as an act of reparation. In this was only completed
what his father had begun, for the elder Neel had given largely to the

[Illustration: A HOLIDAY HEAD-DRESS]

Neel’s line ended in a daughter, who carried the castle by marriage to
Tesson Jourdain, and from the Jourdains it passed, also by marriage, to
the Harcourts. In the reign of Edward III. of England, the chieftain
Harcourt rebelled against the French king, and joined Edward in his
attempts on France. He was once pardoned, but again turned traitor, and
was finally killed fighting gallantly enough with his back against a
tree, all alone in the midst of the soldiers sent to take him by the
King of France. After his death the castle continued in the hands of
the English, under Sir John Chandos, who built the splendid keep or
tower which still stands; and when Sir John fell, his company held on
until, in 1372, the whole force of France was brought to bear on them,
and the men who had ravaged the country and behaved like robber barons
for three years were forced to come to an agreement. They were allowed
to go out with the honours of war, however. Once again, in the reign
of Henry V., the castle was in English hands, but with the rest of
Normandy became French in 1450.

The fine abbey founded by Neel still remains, though it has been so
largely restored as to be almost new built; one splendid aisle arcade
remains to tell us of its ancient origin. It now is the home of the
Sisters de la Miséricorde, while the castle, after its stormy career,
has settled into a peaceful old age as a hospice for old people and
children. Bricbecque belonged to the Bertrands, from whom the earls of
Huntley and Dudley claim descent; then to the Paisnels, and then to the
D’Estoutevilles. The castle is now a splendid ruin, with a high and
massive donjon keep, a deep, dark, tunnel archway, a smaller tower, and
a great part of the encircling wall. In the courtyard, enclosed within
part of the ruin, is the Hotel des Voyageurs.

Of the older part of La Haye du Puits there is only a ruined donjon,
but the castles of Crosville and Flottemanville stand in good
preservation, though fallen from their high estate to the condition of
farmhouses. The splendid tower at Crosville, with its bastion turret,
is well worth seeing, and the large room, probably the banqueting-hall,
is still decorated on ceiling and frieze and panels with paintings
done in the sixteenth century, showing that up till then it still
remained the dwelling of the great ones of the land. Flottemanville is
as attractive in a rather different style. They all have features in
common these castles: the keep or tower for defence, their proximity
to the church, and their massive walls, probably dating in their
foundations from William’s own time, but rebuilt at a later date, as by
his order all these strongholds were destroyed after Val-ès-Dunes. But
those we have mentioned are only a few of the principal survivals amid
the numerous castles that stud the district.

Valognes itself has been from very early times a centre of gaiety, and
this reputation lasted up to the eighteenth century. At present it is
a quiet yet busy town. It is built on no fixed plan; its streets run
anyhow. In the centre is the church, which is quite peculiar, being
surmounted by both a spire and a dome of different dates. The main part
is of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but the dome was added in
1612. Inside there is some superb wood-carving.

In the streets of Valognes, and everywhere in the neighbourhood, may be
seen a curious cap worn by the women. It is edged in front by a high
upstanding ruche of black and white, with the ends frayed out, giving
the appearance of feathers, and the whole at a little distance is not
unlike an Indian headdress. Everywhere in the Côtentin one meets among
the strong-faced farmers men who might have been blood-brothers to
William, men with square faces, thin lips, and stern features. They are
often of massive build, and though not excessively tall, certainly of
greater height than the ordinary French agricultural class. The Danish
blood has remained here with strange persistency throughout generation
after generation: these men are not Frenchmen at all. You feel it the
moment you encounter them; they are a northern race with northern

Not far from Valognes, in its suburb Alleaumes, are the ruins of the
castle where William was staying when he made his midnight escape.
Besides the history connected with its castles, the peninsula has
annals of its own. As the northern coast was a very convenient
landing-place from England, it was often the Côtentin which bore the
first brunt of an English engagement. Edward the Confessor landed here
on mischief bent, but was driven back by the inhabitants, who rose as
one man under Neel the Elder.

[Illustration: CHERBOURG]

While William the Red reigned in England, and the feeble Robert was
nominal Duke of Normandy, Henry Beauclerc descended upon the Côtentin,
and ruled it for many years. His rule was firm and good, and he was
popular, and the peninsula consequently enjoyed far more prosperity
than the rest of distracted Normandy. Henry’s power extended as far
south as Domfront, for the titles of Count of Mortain and Count of
the Côtentin still went together. When Henry became King of England
he yielded the Côtentin to Robert, until he won it back again by his
sword. When Edward III. swooped down upon France he passed through
the whole district capturing, burning, and destroying, and none
could stand up against his army. Again, when Henry V. made an effort
to retrieve the domains which had belonged to his forefathers, the
Côtentin was swept from end to end. In the religious wars, once again
the town was in the midst of turmoil, but it yielded to Henri IV. after
the battle of Ivry.

We have specialised only on a very small part of the Côtentin, and that
the least known, but it is impossible to leave without mention of the
famous port of Cherbourg, the finest harbour in France. The records of
Cherbourg go back to the sixth century, when a saint named Scubilion
is said to have resided here, and even before Scubilion’s day, a
still mistier and a nameless saint had landed here, and converted the
inhabitants. The breakwater at Cherbourg, finished in 1853, can hold a
fleet at anchor, and is guarded by forts.

The town of Cherbourg is said to derive its name from Cæsar’s Bourg,
but the derivation is very doubtful. William the Conqueror founded here
a college, which his granddaughter, Matilda or Maude, incorporated
into a new monastery of her own. The castle was a great favourite with
Henry I. It was here he had been staying in November 1120, when he
set sail from Barfleur, leaving the merry company of young nobles to
follow with his son and daughter in the _White Ship_. History gives it
that the prince himself might have been saved after the fatal wreck
had he not returned at the cry of his sister, who had been left on the
wreck, whereupon so many leapt into the boat that it was swamped. How
persistently the fact that only a butcher of Rouen was saved, impresses
itself upon the childish mind, so that years after, when we have
forgotten far more important things, we still remember it!

Before we leave the Côtentin altogether, we may mention that delightful
chronicler Wace, to whom we owe so much, and who wrote with the ease
and picturesqueness of a Pepys, in an age when composition was a
serious and dry-as-dust matter. Wace was born in Jersey about 1100-20,
therefore he was a native of the Côtentin, in which Jersey was then
included. He is reported to have lived to the age of eighty-four, and
to have died in England. His life was contemporary with the reigns of
Henry I., Stephen, Henry II., and Richard I., and that which he records
before 1100 was told to him by word of mouth, partly by his father, to
whom he makes reference. His chronicle, which is in the form of a poem,
is called the _Roman de Rou_ (or Rollo), and the English translation of
it goes no further back than William I. Wace is the most delightful and
interesting of chroniclers in an age which was singularly rich. Robert
of Jumièges, Ordericus Vitalis, and others have left us accounts as
full as any modern newspaper report, of what happened in their days,
and they are only the leaders among a host of lesser men.



Passengers who land at Dieppe may perhaps be conveniently divided into
two classes--those who pass through, intent on tours further inland
or in other countries, and those who go to Dieppe, as they would to
Brighton. It is pretty safe to say that very few of either class really
know the place.

But Dieppe deserves some consideration apart from its harbour and
its beach; it is no mushroom town of villadom, but has an old-world
flavour, and a delightful mingling of simplicity with its fashion. We
can see in it a series of charming pictures. There is, for instance, a
long, narrow, cobble-paved street passing through the middle, running
more or less parallel with the front, and cut off from it by a double
wall of houses. But, alas, there are few old houses, for gable end
and ancient woodwork went down before the furious bombardment of the
combined English and Dutch fleets in 1694, when the bombs, falling
in all directions, set the place on fire. After having done such
damage that the whole town had to be rebuilt, the fleet sailed away
to Havre. It is said that some of the rich inhabitants at the first
sign of danger hid their valuables in the caves, which may be seen in
numbers along the limestone cliffs, and that 4000 houses in all were
burnt. Thus it is that there is nothing to be seen in the streets
anterior to this date. Nevertheless there is a quaint irregularity in
the nondescript architecture that is very charming. And on a Saturday
morning the long street is lined by the market women, who come in to
dispose of their country produce. They have no stalls, but sit on
the edge of the pavement on the sunny side, each one with her basket
or baskets ranged beside her. Dazed hens with tied legs, faintly
expostulating ducks, baskets of pearly eggs, wedges of butter under
cool green leaves, great masses of roses and other flowers--such are
the goods for sale, and each one represents a large amount of hard
work and patience. The women chatter gaily, comparing produce and
prices, their pleasant, brown faces shining the while in the sun,
until perhaps the babel is for an instant stilled by a funeral passing
down the narrow street. The walking priests, in their birettas, lead
the procession, followed by the acolytes and the silent coffin; they
wind slowly over the cobbles, and the solemn dirge rises on the summer
air; but it has passed, and is forgotten, and all is happy tumult once

Midway down the street, by the fountain, there curves off another, at
the end of which is the magnificent church of St Jacques. It is only
the west end we can see in this vista, with its two curious octagon
turrets, gargoyle crowned, but as we draw nearer, the fine western
tower comes into view. The church, like so many another, was begun
in the thirteenth century, and completed in the sixteenth. The other
notable church of Dieppe, St Remi, stands further west, and is hemmed
in by houses; it was not begun until St Jacques was nearly finished.

[Illustration: THE GATEWAY, DIEPPE]

If we go into St Jacques late in the afternoon, when the sun is
flooding that glorious western rose-window, we shall find the whole
building filled with opalescent light. Soft patches of transparent
colour, amethyst and gold, far more glorious than even the rich blue
and orange of the glass through which they filter, creep slowly across
the aisle and climb the pillars. They rest upon the bowed shoulders of
an old peasant woman, who sits with hanging head. Her plain stuff dress
and the print cap tightly fitting her grey hair, the blue check apron
telling of days of toil, are all suddenly transformed into something
“rich and strange.” But she sits there with the dark beads falling
one by one through her work-worn fingers, heedless of the glory in
which she is bathed; and if you go nearer you will see that poor proud
face drawn by lines of sorrow, and every now and then the fingers are
interrupted in their work to wipe off those too insistent tears;
evidently no ordinary case this, but a woman who has suffered trouble,
and who comes to seek peace, though happiness has left the world so far
as she is concerned.

It is a wonderful place this church, the mighty chancel and transept
arches seem to hold the silence as a bowl holds water; one could not
“strive or cry” aloud here. Yet outside, through the open door, one
can see a patch full of life and movement--boys darting to and fro, a
carter unloading a van, continual passers-by; and every now and then
out of the light a boy or girl flits into the solemn spaces of the
wonderful silence, gives never a glance at the gorgeous colours that
make one feel as though one were in the heart of a jewel, but with a
hasty genuflexion passes out at the other door into the market-place.

In the market-place there is medley and chatter, bargain and sale. All
the usual things are here. Coloured curtains, masses of shoes, rows
of shining utensils, piles of snowy draperies, sweets, flowers, toys,
cakes in profusion. A yard of ribbon, a pair of stuff shoes, a bit of
glittering jewellery from that fascinating stall where all goes at
“quinze sous” the piece, this is the extent of most purchases that can
be seen.

Behind the market-place rises one of the chapels of the transept, built
by Ango, whose history is told in connection with the castle; its
fellow is on the other side, and in its solid plainness of design,
and with its worn stone, and two stages of red tiles, the chapel is in
delightful contrast with the ornateness of the pinnacled and buttressed

To the south and west of the church is another market, one of the most
repulsive imaginable. Spread out on the open ground are old second-hand
articles of every description, from loathsome rags to rusty iron.

If we pass down one of the narrow streets to the east of the church,
we come quite suddenly upon a scene of a different order. Here is the
basin where the steamers lie, and the swing-bridge which leads to the
fishermen s quarter, Le Pollet, one of the two places in Normandy where
the Celtic influence still lingers. There are some quaint superstitions
and ideas held by these men, but they are not ready to speak of them.
They are religious, and would not think of letting a boat go out
unblessed. One of the songs which is chanted at the lighting of a
candle in the hold before a boat puts out to sea, is as follows:--

   “La Chandelle de bon Dieu est allumée
    Au saint nom de Dieu soit l’alizé-vent, unie, regulier
    Au profit du mâitre et de l’equipage,
    Bon temps, bon vent pour conduire la barge.
            Si Dieu plaît!”

On the quay is the fish-market, and outside it a mass of fisher-folk
broken up into groups. The men are nearly all rust-coloured in
complexion, with hair that curls fiercely and thickly, and among
the younger ones is to be seen not infrequently that type of face
which, idealised, appears in the portrait of Gilliatt, in the English
translation of _Les Travailleurs de Mer_, a face of a short oval, with
small pointed chin, and mobile, sensitive lips. Yet others there are as
square-jawed and bull-dog, as ruffianly in expression, as the lowest
among the sailors in London by the river.

The chaffering goes on hotly; two fine mackerel are handed over at
thirteen sous, four good ones, not quite so fine, at sixteen sous. All
the dealing is in sous. Strange, evil-looking fish with large heads
are sold for a song, and each customer as she gets them--for it is
nearly always a she--slips them into her string bag, and goes on her
way rejoicing, with a cheap and wholesome dinner for the young ones
at home. High on the cliff across the water, is the stiff new little
church--there is another in the town below--and behind it, on the
windswept cliff, the Le Pollet cemetery, filled with the cheap wooden
crosses laden with those tawdry ornaments that mean so much and tell
so little. But the Le Pollet cemetery does not account for more than a
fraction of its dead, for many a man and lad lie out beyond the point
in the shifting sea, and the wives and mothers at home have no graves
on which to lay their hardly bought offerings. On Le Pollet, under
the renowned General Talbot, the English erected a fort called the
Bastille, a name still retained by its site.

[Illustration: THE QUAY, DIEPPE]

But in lingering by the town and along the quay, we have not yet
visited the castle of Dieppe, which is at the other end, rearing
itself steeply on its mighty cliff. For Dieppe lies in the valley
between two heights, and occupies the space dipping down to the level
of the sea, hence the name which signifies deep, and is related to our
names of Deepdale and Deepdene. The castle hill was at first occupied
by a mere fort, which Rollo rebuilt; and Rollo’s fort lasted until the
time of Henry II. of England, who rebuilt it entirely, but Henry’s
fort stood a very short time, for when Philip Augustus retook the
country from John, one of his first acts was to raze any strong places
which might afford the English a foothold, and this fort was among the
number. Nevertheless his destruction was not entire, and some of the
walls attributed to Henry still remain incorporated in the castle,
which was begun by the Dauphin, after the historic fight of Arques
in 1435. The four towers belong to this date, but various additions
were made later. There is no admission to the castle now, and but
little history to clothe its walls in an aroma of the past. The most
interesting name connected with it is that of the merchant prince,
Jean Ango, who died here in 1551. Ango was a native of Dieppe, and
began life as a common sailor, but he had in him that curious ability
to seize his opportunity, which goes to the making of a fortune more
than any other quality. He soon rose to be a shipowner, and wealth
bringing wealth, he owned a whole fleet of vessels, and was a power
on the sea. When King François came to Dieppe, he was received and
entertained by Ango in princely style. François made his host governor
of Dieppe in return, and afterwards conferred upon him the dignity of
a vicomte. It was in 1525 that Ango built a house of the old timber
style, magnificently carved, on the site where the Lycée now stands,
opposite the station, by the quay where the Newhaven boats arrive and
depart. Shortly afterwards he followed this up by a country house at
Varengeville, which is still standing (see p. 173). Ango is described
by a contemporary as a big blonde man, with a large head and a gay
expression. For long he ruled as a prince, both on sea and land; when
the Portuguese had the audacity to harass French shipping, it was Ango
who armed twelve ships and made war on his own account, capturing
several of the Portuguese vessels. The king sent angrily to ask the
French king why he had done this, as the two countries were then at
peace, and the French king replied gaily that he must ask Ango, who
alone was responsible.

But this big, cheery, bluff man, a sailor at heart, changed
unaccountably in his old age; he grew morose, suspicious, and
overbearing; he quarrelled with his neighbours, got himself entangled
in lawsuits, and finally, ruined in pocket and credit, had to take
refuge from his enemies within the castle walls, where he died.

The general idea is that Arques is the parent town of Dieppe, and that
the men of Arques gradually established themselves on the sea-coast,
for the purpose of fishing. Others, however, point to the Camp of
Cæsar, anciently called the City of Limes, which is on the top of the
hill near Puys, as an old Gaulish settlement before the advent of
Cæsar, and say that this was the parent town, and that the settlement
at Dieppe came later, when a great part of the cliff near the Gaulish
town had fallen bodily into the sea.

With the siege of the castle of Arques by William the Conqueror we
have dealt elsewhere. But the castle of Arques, always a stronghold,
underwent a yet more terrible ordeal in the attack by Henri IV. in
1589, when it was held by the Duc de Mayenne. The king had 4000 men
against 30,000 of the Leaguers, but the smaller force was victorious,
and the battle was long spoken of as a miraculous event.

Having so far dealt with the immediate surroundings of Dieppe, we turn
now the coast-line. The great white cliffs which rise vertically on
both sides of Dieppe have their counterparts in the white cliffs of
England, so exactly similar in structure that no one can doubt they
once joined across what is now the Channel. Even were there no other
means of judging, the great friability of these cliffs and the masses
which continually fall off into the sea, driving the coast-lines
further and further apart, would alone answer the suggestion in the
affirmative. All the way to Tréport stretches this grand rampart.
Tréport is situated in the embouchure of the river Bresle, and above
it rise the cliffs. It has a modern part with first-class hotels, a
casino, and other of the usual attractions, and the older village
nestles in the narrow valley ascending from the beach. The beach is
limited by the river to the east, beyond which begins the beach of Mer.

Eu is a place of considerable importance in Norman history. It is
the outlying border town of Normandy in this direction, and beyond
it was the vexed country of Ponthieu, between whose counts and the
Norman dukes there was so much fighting. All those who have followed
the chapter on the Bayeux tapestry will remember that it was on the
territory of Ponthieu that the unfortunate Harold was blown by wind
and tide, and that it was Guy, Count of Ponthieu, who brought his
captive proudly to William. He did not, however, do so until he had
been repeatedly commanded by William, who also bribed him, though Guy
was “his man,” having done homage to him five or six years previously.
Eu had also been the scene of the Conqueror’s marriage about ten years
before, when his Flemish bride, his own first cousin, had met him here.
The church which witnessed that famous ceremony has disappeared, but
the present one, a fine building of the thirteenth century, worthily
replaces it.

In the Chapelle du College, a splendid building, are some fine
monuments to the Guises, whose name was associated with Eu in the
sixteenth century. The elder Guise, François, was called Le Balafré,
because he bore on his face a horrible scar from a sword-cut received
at Boulogne; he was assassinated in 1563, and succeeded by his son
Henri, also assassinated in 1588.

The whole coast-line is shingly, and its chief characteristic is the up
and down sweep of the contour, which continually rises to the top of
tall white cliffs, and almost immediately falls again right down to the
sea-level, only to rise once more. This peculiarity is admirable for
its variety, and it affords fine shelter to the seaside places in the
folds, but it renders any attempt at passing along near the coast on
foot or bicycle very tedious work. The white cliffs, however, and the
shingly beaches make eminently beautiful foregrounds for a sea so often
blue in the sunlight which France seems to attract so much more than
England, and some of the cliffs are crowned by fine trees or blooming

Going westward from Dieppe, we come to the little village of
Varengeville, standing high on the top of the cliffs. It has two great
attractions--one its shady lanes, arched by beeches so as to resemble
veritable cathedral aisles, a thing unique in Normandy; and the other
the fine Maison d’Ango, now a farmhouse. This is built round four sides
of a courtyard, and the walls are worked with marvellous skill into
various intricate patterns with the materials of flint and brick. The
latter, which adorn the cowbyres, are set in even patterns, and the
effect with the red tiles and thatch is pretty and curious. On one side
of the mansion itself is an open loggia or arcade, raised above the
ground-level. But the most striking and notable detail is the columbier
standing in the yard, one of the very few remaining. It is cylindrical,
and the walls are worked in patterns of lines and bands in the same
way as those of the house. It terminates in a curved dome-like roof.
The whole is well worth going to see, in spite of the churlish, and we
must add, in France, very unusual, spirit that animates the present
occupants. We pass many little places ever growing in popularity, such
as Veules and St Valery en Caux, bearing family resemblance to Dieppe
in their situation in the breaks formed by streams cutting through the
chalk cliffs, and come to Fécamp, which is a bit of a health resort, a
bit of a manufacturing town, and a bit of a fishing harbour, without
being particularly distinguished in any one of the three things. From
Fécamp, as from all these northern fishing towns, there annually
sets forth that fleet for the cold waters near Iceland so touchingly
described in Pierre Lôti’s _Pêcheurs d’Islande_.


Fécamp stands at the foot of cliffs from 300 feet to 400 feet in
height, around the base of which are scattered the great blocks of
débris with which the seas play like footballs. The memory of the
terrible storm of 1663, when the whole of the valley or chine was
blocked by these stones, hurled up by the terrific power of the
sea, is still preserved. The chief claim of Fécamp to notice, however,
is its splendid abbey, of which the church still remains; it was built
in the Conqueror’s reign, burnt and rebuilt, so that the greater part
is of the thirteenth century, and some dates from the reconstruction in
the fifteenth. What is left of the abbey has been built into the public
offices of the town.

But the strange legend of La Fontaine du Precieux-Sang should come
before mention of the abbey, for it was because of this relic St Waneng
erected here the first religious house for nuns. The story goes that a
case containing some of the blood of our Lord had been placed in the
cleft of a fig-tree by Isaac, the nephew of Nicodemus, but in some
way the stump had been cut down, and reached the sea, from whence it
floated unaided all the way to Fécamp, and a well in the courtyard of
a house is pointed out as the actual spot where it stranded. During a
great conflagration this precious relic was lost, but an angel brought
it back, saying, “Voici le prix de la redemption du monde, qui vient
de Jerusalem.” Needless to say, this priceless relic drew thousands
of pilgrims to the shrine at Fécamp. They came in spite of wind and
weather; as the quaint old Norman song has it:--

   “Rouge rosée au matin,
    Beau temps pour le pèlerin
    Pluie de matin
    N’arrete pas le pèlerin.”

And the monks reaped a rich reward from their ingenuity! Passing
Valmont, with its old castle of the D’Estoutevilles, we come to
Etretat, a much more fashionable bathing-place than Fécamp.

The coast at Etretat is grand and beautiful, though the beach is stony.
The sea with its ceaseless work has carved caverns in the high cliffs.
The three principal headlands, standing grandly out to sea, all end in
a natural arch. Here, as elsewhere, fishermen mingle with the gay crowd
that increases the population some five hundred per cent. in the summer.

[Illustration: HAVRE]

The wall of cliff continues right on to Havre, where the Cape de la
Hève feels the full shock of the resistless north winds. Also the cliff
is always crumbling, with that law of nature that ordains that the sea
shall gain on the land on the rocky coasts, and the land shall advance
out to sea on sandy beaches. Once or twice, more than mere crumbling
has taken place, for with a noise like the rumbling of artillery the
face of the cliff has broken away, and fallen headlong into the sea,
sending gigantic spouts of water heavenwards, while the roar attracted
attention even at Havre. Havre has a population of 120,000, and is a
self-respecting busy town. It has a very large traffic, and it is also
favourably situated for inland trade, being connected by a dredged-out
canal with Tancarville, and thence by the Seine to Rouen. The mouth of
the Seine is here so treacherous and shifty, that without constant
dredging navigation would be impossible. There is only one more remark
to make before leaving Havre, and that is, to tell how it earned its
secondary title of Le Havre de Grace. One of those terrible high tides
that about once in a generation sweep through the Channel, appeared on
the coast and overwhelmed the breakwater, flooding it to such a height
that it seemed to the inhabitants nothing remained for them but utter
ruin, even if they managed to preserve their own lives; when, as they
were momentarily expecting to see the town swept from end to end by the
lowering mass of water, a new channel burst suddenly through one of the
walls which prevented the escape, and the water flowed away into the
bed of the Seine. This was considered a special miracle in favour of
the town, which was henceforth known as Le Havre de Grace.

A more complete contrast than that presented by the next two coast
towns could hardly be made. We have Honfleur, old, picturesque,
tumble-down, full of fishermen, with a church which for quaintness
could hardly be surpassed, and we have the villa-ed and elegant
Trouville, resembling one of the most gaily dressed of Parisians, where
not a line is out of order, nothing is left to chance, every fold, so
to speak, is arranged, every movement self-conscious.

I confess that to me such towns as Trouville exercise a repulsive
effect; the moment I arrive there I want to flee, and yet it is
impossible to overlook a place so patronised, so praised, so entirely
self-satisfied. Trouville is not Norman; it is a little bit of Paris
by the sea, and it is French entirely; it does not share in the old
Norman history, “C’est le monde frivole, joyeux et bruyant qui s’agite
et s’amuse et dont les petit cris, les chants quelquefois vulgaires et
de gout douteux, et tous les bruits de fêtes se percent dans le grand
murmure de la mer.” Hardly more than fifty years ago, Trouville was a
mere collection of fishing-huts; then someone saw the advantages of the
situation, the high cliff-like hills, the surrounding woods, the flat
sands, and almost at once sprang up the hotels, the casinos, the shops,
and the other accompaniments of a fashionable resort. Fishing is now
the least of its sources of wealth, or rather, perhaps, we may say it
is replaced by angling of another sort. Deauville is a kind of offshoot
of Trouville, situated on the other side of the Fouques, a lesser
Trouville, a shade quieter, but after the same pattern.

The next point to notice along the coast is the mouth of the river
Dives, where William assembled his ships before setting out to conquer
England. They remained here waiting for a favourable wind, and finally
put into St Valery, at the mouth of the Somme, from whence they made
their real start. The number of ships is estimated very variously; Wace
puts it at six hundred and ninety-six, a number which he had heard from
his father, but he says he saw it stated in writing to have exceeded
three thousand, a number which may have likely included every boat or
flat-bottomed raft which crossed over. William’s own ship, made like
the others of a boat-shape, with high prow, was propelled by oars. It
was brilliantly decorated; its sails were crimson, and its metal parts
were gilded; the figure-head was a child armed with bow and arrow,
aimed at England. The whole was a present from his duchess Matilda, and
it is said that the figure of the child had been copied from that of
their son Robert, a boy who was to cause them both so much sore grief.

Then we come to the mouth of the Orne, on which stands Caen. From the
Dives to the Orne we have had flat sands and sand dunes, a state of
things which continues still. Back from the coast is one of the most
splendid pasturage lands in Normandy, only rivalled by those about the
drained lands behind Carentan. Ouistreham and the minor seaside resorts
near Caen are much patronised, and contain hotels and villas to suit
all purses. After passing Courseulles, the hotels and shops and bathing
stations are left behind, and little fishing-hamlets take the place of
coast resorts. Port en Bessin is situated in the fracture of a cliff,
and there are in the neighbourhood formidable rocks. Then we come to
the great angular Bay de Veys, in shape not unlike our own Wash. Here
stands Carentan, and before the land was drained Carentan was almost
surrounded with water, for the tides ran far inland, making any attempt
to pass that way from the Côtentin hazardous and difficult. A grand
scheme was once mooted to build a large dike which should protect these
meadows, but the much more reasonable scheme of drainage was tried,
and has succeeded. Instead of being marsh land, the flat stretches now
serve for pasturage. The town has been no less than twelve times taken
by the English, in addition to which it suffered in the religious wars
of the seventeenth century. It is now a flourishing port, carrying
on an enormous trade in butter, of which the exports in one year to
Southampton alone were equal to 15,000,000 francs! Isigny, which stands
a little eastward, is the chief butter-producer, so much so that the
name Isigny butter has come to be a synonym for good quality. We have
now reached that strange peninsula, which, with exception of a strip
along the eastern side, is almost all of granite; the coast town La
Hogue marks the transition from the one sort of coast to the other. We
have dealt so fully with the Côtentin and with its continuation on the
west to the little stream Couesnon, that it is of no use to say more
here. We would merely remark that the action of waste by the sea can
be seen strikingly on the western side, where the peninsula meets the
full winds of the Atlantic. History says, though the statement may be
accepted with caution, that at one time Jersey was severed only by a
narrow channel from the mainland; if this is so, then without doubt,
at some far distant geological epoch, the whole of the peninsula will
be worn away to one thin strip of sandy beach, like those arms we see
extending for miles along the northern coasts of Germany.



A great river always exercises an attraction upon a certain class
of people, and when that river is lined by historic towns and flows
through beautiful country, it cannot fail to be attractive to everyone.
As we have said, the Seine belongs to France rather than Normandy; very
French are the views of its olive green flood, with the blue-green
fringe of poplars, and the cliff-like scarred banks to be seen so
continually in its course; but yet in some of the towns we shall pass,
especially the smaller ones, there still lingers the breath of things


The mouth between the two similarly named towns of Harfleur and
Honfleur is very wide, but not good for navigation, for it is filled
with perpetually shifting sandbanks, which try the mariners’ patience
to the utmost. For this reason there was made that canal from Havre
to Tancarville which ensures at all events a certain passage. The
wide funnel-like mouth narrowing suddenly near at the corner by
Quillebœuf, and again below, is the cause of the great mascaret, or
wave of the high tide which sweeps up occasionally as far as Caudebec;
this is a great wall of water, higher or lower according to the force
of the wind and the strength of the tide, which together combine to
produce it. The bar or line which sweeps up first is the advance-guard
of an unusually high tide, which will carry destruction to all small
or badly managed boats. The mascaret is regularly reckoned among the
sights of Caudebec.

It is magnificent in its impetuous flow, coming on in irresistible
force, the water turning, writhing, and twisting under the impetus,
with a fringe of foam outlined on the indigo slopes--a strenuous thing,
living, growling, hungry for its prey.

As the wide mouth of the river contracts a little, the ruined castle of
Tancarville is seen standing on its precipitous cliff. This belonged
to the Sires de Tancarville, one of the proud Norman families who
held the hereditary chamberlainship of the dukedom of Normandy. The
last of the line was killed on the field of Agincourt, and the name,
disguised as Tankerville, is held by an English peer. The chateau as it
is now, consists partly of the ruins of the ancient chateau, to which
is attached the new chateau, so called. The older parts date from the
twelfth century, the newer from the eighteenth. The gateway is still
imposing, with its two flanking towers; and the small dungeon-like
rooms with iron-barred windows, in which the unhappy prisoners were
kept, can be seen. Most of the building is, however, of the later
date. The towers, by their name, suggest the wild, stirring days of
old; we have la Tour de l’Aigle, la Tour du Diable or du Lion, and
la Tour Coquesart. In the keep is a well three hundred feet deep.
Quillebœuf, from its position on a rock stretching out into the flood,
was at one time a place of no small strategic importance.

Opposite is Lillebonne, charmingly situated amid woods, and owning
one event of historical importance which gives it dignity. It was in
the castle of Lillebonne that William held the celebrated council,
in which it was finally decided he should attempt the subjugation of
England. That Lillebonne has been of importance from very ancient
times, is shown by its splendidly preserved Roman theatre, which is
celebrated throughout all the world of antiquaries. The ruins are now
overgrown, but that the place could easily accommodate 3000 spectators
is apparent. Near the theatre are the remains of William’s castle;
but ruins of this sort are so common in Normandy, that they hardly
provoke comment. After this the river takes its first great bend before
Caudebec; nothing is more curious than the amazing sinuosity of the
Seine, which forms loops and horseshoes of extraordinary length.

Caudebec is one of the most charming of the small Norman towns, and is
beloved of artists; unfortunately, as it advances in fame it loses that
unsophisticated innocence which was one of its delights. The church
is so magnificent that it merits the designation cathedral, and the
quaintness of the ancient timber houses leaning over the narrow street,
down which, as in all mediæval cities, a stream runs to carry off the
refuse and drainage, is part of the delight of this little place.

The forests that line the Seine, sometimes on one side and sometimes
on another, from this point onward, merit a special word. Wonderful
are they, rising high on wooded slopes or stretching over acres of
flat country. Some, as those opposite Jumièges, are of beech almost
entirely, with a sprinkling of dark evergreens; others are varied.
There are forests of firs penetrated by “rides cut as straight as
rulers” through a chunk of solid tree-growth; there are others so mixed
up with intertwining creeper that to penetrate them would be impossible.

Jumièges is in exactly the place where you would expect to find an
abbey. They loved a broad encircling river those old monks, they loved
to be surrounded by wide forests, to build on low ground: their idea
was defence, not aggression; the peace of those who are passed by, not
of those whose strength defies invaders.

We must cross the Seine somewhere, and we cross it at Jumièges, in an
open boat, for there is no bridge. And not long before the crossing we
have caught our first glimpse of those twin towers, so unlike anything
we have seen before. And when we reach the abbey and walk in that grand
ruined nave, the feeling is rather one of increased exaltation than of
the disappointment nearer vision so often brings. If we had to choose
one word to express the quality here wrought into stone, it would be
stateliness. The abbey stands roofless and serene, a mighty nave with
two western towers, which, beginning squarely, end by being octagonal,
with the walls in four stages, and with a chancel arch which, for
height and grace, has hardly ever been surpassed.

Long before the days of the mighty William whose name overshadows the
land, before the time when his ancestors had taken root in the country,
a monk named Philibert settled in this place with his small following,
to lead a life of peace and order, amid the wildness and ignorance of
the ninth century.

But even this well-chosen spot was not secluded enough to save him from
the marauding northmen; the very river, which had seemed a safeguard,
was its undoing, for the pirates came up the river and found the spot,
and utterly destroyed all Philibert’s labour. But as the years passed,
and the northmen settled down, no longer as pirates but landholders;
as Christianity claimed their king, William Longsword, the abbey
was rebuilt on a much grander scale. Edward the Confessor spent his
exiled boyhood at Jumièges, and when he came to the throne he made the
learned abbot Robert, Bishop of London, and subsequently Archbishop of
Canterbury, an appointment that did not prove a success.

[Illustration: CAUDEBEC-EN-CAUX]

In the fourteenth century the library at Jumièges was one of the
most notable in the land. Till 1790 this abbey continued whole, and
sheltered a household of five hundred persons, including monks. It is
now the property of a French lady, who permits visitors to see over the
ruins with a caretaker. Not far off is Duclair, and the greater part of
Duclair lies along the front of the river. It certainly lacks beauty,
and after Caudebec the contrast is striking; but Duclair has interest.
Its high chalk cliffs are imposing in their sheer precipitousness,
and the deep, dark caverns, used as dwellings which are made in their
sides, are weird and uncanny. One of these cliffs, from its size and
shape, is called the Chair of Gargantua. With another immense dip
southward, and corresponding rise, we come to Rouen, with its islands,
and its bridges, and its busy life.

The end of the next horseshoe brings us within a few kilometres of the
preceding one, and once more we double back on our tracks to reach
Pont de l’Arche, an attractive place, much patronised by artists,
above which the Eure joins the Seine. On the former river, only about
nine miles away, is Louviers, with a magnificent church, celebrated
for its decorated porch, which rivals those at Rouen. Continuing in
the main stream of the Seine, we come soon to the range of chalk
cliffs which leads up to Chateau-Gaillard. Many of these might be
castles themselves, so curious is the effect of the rough, grey
rock, outcropping suddenly from the green turf. The even strata look
remarkably like lines of stonework laid by hand, and the general
ruggedness and hoariness are just that which ruins gain by time and
exposure, and at first it is difficult to distinguish the castle
itself, so closely does it resemble the rock on which it stands.

Chateau-Gaillard was built by Richard I., as an outpost or defence on
the Seine below Rouen, and it was instantly recognised by the King of
France as being the key to Normandy; while the castle stood untaken, no
one could hope to approach Rouen with any chance of success. Standing
as it did on the borders of Normandy and France, it was many times
a meeting-place for the two kings, when fair words were spoken and
promises made, only to be broken and renewed. It was not until after
the death of Richard, when John’s dastardly act had alienated from him
all who were not dependent on him, that Philip advanced against it.
It was held by Roger de Lacy, a man of known courage, and it was well
prepared for a siege. Among the defences were a stockade across the
river and a fort upon the island in midstream. But by encamping on the
further shore of the river, Philip managed to break down the stockade,
and replace it by a pontoon or bridge, thus he could surround the
island fort; but even John the Shifty could not see one of the noblest
castles in his dominions so attacked without an effort at succour. He
planned well. A part of his force was to fall by night upon the French
camp on the left bank of the Seine, and at the same time a flotilla
of boats was to attack the pontoon. Unfortunately the ebbing tide,
combined with the strong current, prevented the flotilla’s arrival in
time. The land troops did their part, and so fiercely were the French
attacked that they fled across their bridge, but they rallied and
returned, and, overcoming their foes, were ready to meet the English
boats when they appeared. It is a gallant fight to picture, under the
clear sky of an August night. The first alarm, the scurried retreat,
the stumbling, and slipping, and scrambling of the terrified fugitives.
The straining into the darkness of the men on the island-fort, who
could not conjecture what was going on. The clash of steel, the splash
of water, the cry as one went down, the breathless expectation in the
air. Then the pulling together of the demoralised Frenchmen by one or
two strong officers, the reforming and recrossing the now swaying and
half-broken bridge, the stringing up of those half-beaten troops to
face the foe, the struggle, the sense of victory, the final rout; but
that was not the end; after having reformed and repulsed the boats, the
Frenchmen, drunk with the wine of victory, set fire to the island-fort,
and seized it also, while the defenders fled in terror, and joined
by the whole population of the little village, now left defenceless,
demanded admittance and refuge at the castle gates. A desperate picture
truly. And above, overhanging the flood on its rock, the saucy castle
was watching, crouching, eager, expectant. Had friend or foe won the
fight? Was relief at hand? There would be no eye closed within the
walls that night, and then would come the hurried knocking, the parley,
the admittance of the fugitives with their disastrous tidings, and with
the first grey light would come the confirmation of despair, when the
French bridge was seen repaired and intact; and alas, not the bridge
only, but the island in the hands of the enemy!

After this one attempt--in which, however, he seems to have played
no personal part--John made no effort to relieve his gallant castle;
though he was at Rouen in November, and sent a letter to the commander
in ambiguous language, a letter to chill the hearts of those who bore
arms for him. Nevertheless, the garrison held out until March 6th in
the next year, 1204, and with its fall the fate of Normandy was sealed.
Chateau-Gaillard is the jewel that makes the fame of both Les Andelys,
but there are other things to be seen here also, a fine church in each
place, and at Le Grand Andely a splendid old sixteenth-century house,
now used as an hotel. Poussin the painter was a native; he was born in
1594, and he must have had plenty of opportunity for the exercise of
his talent in the scenery around his home.

It is impossible to mention Les Andelys without at the same time
referring to Gisors, which lies some fifteen miles eastward, on a
feeder of the Seine, called the Epte. Gisors is not in itself an
interesting town; its main street is dull, its river is of the
sluggish, canal-like variety, its streets lack pretty peeps; but all
is atoned for by the beautiful ruin of its castle, which is well and
worthily made use of. It stands high behind the main street, and is not
readily seen. But the grounds enclosed by the still strong and perfect
wall are open as a public park, and on the soft green grass, beneath
many shady trees, countless hosts of children daily play. There is
no attempt to keep the place too stringently; the grass grows long,
and may be trodden underfoot. The grey hoary keep rises high, to give
character and dignity to the scene; and behind, outside the walls, is
a magnificent wood. The castle was built by Rufus, added to by his
successor, and repaired by Henry II. It, with Chateau-Gaillard, was one
of the castles on the outer line of defence of the duchy lying in that
much-disputed ground, with the appropriate name of Le Vexin, and it
stood many a siege. There were two surrounding walls to be taken before
the stronghold; the keep could even be assailed, and Gisors must have
been a tough nut to crack. The whole district is full of the ruins of
castles showing the perpetual state of warfare and uncertainty which
must have prevailed.

Returning to our river, we soon come to Vernon, the very last town in
Normandy, chiefly known on account of its forest and its seven-arched
bridge. With this we take leave of Normandy, over which we have
wandered in so desultory a way, gathering impressions, examining some
things in detail, leaving others aside, but all the while intent on
gaining an insight into that character and individuality which marks
the country. We have found it in the west still preserving traces of
its rulers, who made its fame; to the east, almost wholly French. We
have found it full of variety and delight, full of historical interest,
and that mostly of a far past generation.

Transcribers’ Notes

Simple typographical errors were corrected.

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not
changed, except as noted below.

Page 3: “probably be surprise at” was printed that way.

Page 10: “par un bras” was misquoted as “pas un bras”, and “Son voisin”
was misquoted as “Se voisin”; both changed here.

Page 167: “Si Dieu plaît” was misprinted as “plâit”; changed here.

Page 174: “Pierre Lôti’s” perhaps should be “Pierre Loti’s”.

Page 177: “lowering mass” was printed that way.

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