The high walls of the old chateau in our postcard were designed to keep people out. They hadn’t bargained for Donna McDougall, but that wouldn’t be for a few hundred years…
Over 1000 years of history
Renaud de Bailleul built the first stone castle in this valley, he was one of the Bailleul’s who accompanied William the Conqueror to England in 1066 and was well rewarded.
The Bailleuls in the Orne were generally in favour until 1119. That year the chateau was destroyed on the orders of Henry I of England, William the Conqueror’s fourth and successful (if severe) son. Another Renaud de Bailleul was one of a group of local lords and their vassals who had rebelled against Henry’s rule of Normandy. Renaud apologised, but of course an example had to be made.
There were many reasons to rebuild in this fertile valley as the Souvre, Louvois and Corday families who have lived here agree.
A revolutionary heroine
Mostly they enjoyed discrete lives except one, Ms. Charlotte Corday. The niece of an owner, she became notorious during the French revolution. She hated the increasingly extreme views of those in charge so stabbed one of their leaders, Jean-Paul Marat, in the bath. Before she was guillotined Charlotte optimistically said ‘I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand’. Unfortunately the Corday family was wiped out in retribution.
Turbulent 20th century and a family disappears
By the 20th century the Balliol family had lived at Le Renouard for 12 generations. Home was now an 18th century white box of a mansion, built up the hill from the old chateau. They used the old chateau by the lake as a private museum, to display a collection of medieval armour.
Then in 1940 the Germans marched in to Normandy and like so many grand homes the chateaux were taken over. Know-one knows what happened to the family who lived here, they never returned.
Eventually enemy occupation ended. At Le Renouard a particularly bad winter caused water tanks in the roof of the new chateau to burst and it collapsed. During those difficult years there was much to rebuild and the stones were quickly taken away to local farms that needed mending and to Vimoutiers where so much had been lost and had to be replaced.
For twenty years the vieux chateau stood empty. Finally the government put it up for sale.
Layers of history and a knight revealed
There have been four owners of Le Vieux Chateau Le Renouard since the war and each has worked hard to keep it safe for the future. While locals may have questioned some of the renovations (especially during the 1980’s) the chateau is now safe for another 1000 years (hopefully).
Today the oldest parts of the chateau on view are a 15th century hexagonal tower and some extraordinary murals. Murals that lay hidden and unfashionable behind elegant wood panelling, until a sensitive restoration revealed these perfect nuggets of history and a paint test confirmed their age.
The first British owner since Henry I
It wasn’t the chateau that bought Donna McDougall to Le Renouard, she had fallen in love with this beautiful part of Normandy; the Pays d’Auge. If you have visited the area this needs no explanation. If not, well, the Pays d’Auge has been rich farmland for thousands of years. These rolling green hills are part of the first Normandy, granted to the Viking Rollo in 911 by Charles the Simple, before a few years of battling stretched it from Cherbourg across to Le Treport.
Donna decided to look for her next home within ten kilometres of Vimoutiers, the heart of Pays d’Auge country. This would place her a reasonable distance from the ferry to England (where she still worked), near Lisieux (less than 2hr by train to Paris) and amongst the quietly industrious apple orchards and farmland that she loves.
Following a hint from a friend, Donna enquired about a possible place for sale in the valley Le Renouard. This was not a straightforward sale. The owners had tried to sell before (they lived elsewhere) but the buyer had left a deposit, run up a lot of bills then disappeared leaving debts and discontent. With the sale incomplete but a deposit given, the owner had to wait three years before they could put the property on the market again, which happened to be the very week Donna was looking for a new home.
Of course she bought it.
A careful owner
Donna has ensured the buildings around the main chateau are not only preserved, but rebuilt by local craftspeople using old skills the original owners would recognise. The result is a dream, and happily for us, it’s a dream we can live. This postcard match would be rather more personal than usual.
We live in Le Vieux Chateau Le Renouard. For a bit.
Before our visit we were grumbling through a trying few days. The NTAN car had broken down and our insurance company seemed to think a baked bean can with a hamster for an engine was a fair swap while it was fixed. Even the shortest journey was uncomfortable but we had set our hearts on exploring the Pays d’Auge, so off we rattled to stay at Le Vieux Chateau Le Renouard. We had an old postcard to match, and that is all we knew. Oh and it was now a chambre d’hôtes run by a Brit who has owned the chateau since 2012.
As we drove down a hill toward the chateau there was a break in the rainclouds and evening sunlight shone on old stones the colour of fresh Normandy butter. We parked our bean can and a smiling lady, hands outstretched to shake ours, welcomed us to her home. A cockerel and his hens looked over with interest and two little Scottie dogs wagged their tales in approval (but only because their mistress agreed).
The chateau was ours for the night. Our host shared fascinating stories about her home and the families who have lived here.
We loved our stay at Le Vieux Chateau Le Renouard (no we were not paid to say that, Donna had no idea we planned to write about her home) and look forward to visiting again. Why? Just have a look at the photos; this charmingly restored historic chateau can speak for itself.