Nestled in a soft green Normandy valley, could anything be more tranquil than château Saint-Germain-de-Livet?
Probably not but this is Normandy and it doesn’t take much digging to find a furious fighting past.
Château Saint-Germain-de-Livet is no different, don’t let it’s pointy turrets and pretty tiled façade mislead you.
Long long ago
XIème siècle, the 11th century, heroic times when living in Normandy was like being in a live game of chess; Knights, Kings and powerful Bishops battling it out for territory and a top spot in the history books.
One such knight lived in a castle on the site of the current dainty château. The Lord Tournebu.
It’s a long time ago and we couldn’t find any pictures but are fairly sure Tournebu was tall, probably very handsome and as history shows, trouble.
Bad tempered bully
This wild, battling knight would have given his life for his King but he was also a bad tempered, stubborn, argumentative, grudge holding, moody headache.
He picked arguments with everyone and anyone including the King who was finally forced to decree, for the peace of his court that Tournebu was ‘forbidden to appear before him. “on foot, horseback or by carriage‘.
Tournebu returned, grumbling, to Saint-Germain-de-Livet.
It wasn’t long before the King was involved in a battle, an occupational hazard he was used to.
His knights quickly assembled ready for the affray. Then to his fury the King received a message. Tournebu and his army were on the battle field awaiting orders!
The King was stunned that loyal Tournebu had disobeyed him. He could not show weakness, a decree was a decree. The King set off with his retinue (medieval posse) to give Tournebu an earful.
Loyalty and ingenuity
But Tournebu was not on foot. He was not on horseback and he was not in a carriage.
Tournebu and his brave, devoted army were ready for battle riding cows. Solid Norman cows, but still cows.
The King laughed, how could he not? And forgave his knight Tournebu who joined in the battle very effectively.
Because the opposing army, when seeing an army riding cows hurtling towards them were confused and afraid.
They ran for it.
Move on 400 years and..
Tastes change and even fearsome Tournebu’s can be calmed by love. The current romantic château was designed for one of our knight’s descendants who had a beautiful, slightly homesick, Italian wife. You can see the Italian influence in the lovely courtyard arches.
The Tournebu family owned the château until 1920 when the fight, after many hundreds of years, finally went out of them.
It is now owned by the town of Liseux who looks after it very well.
Handy heritage hint!
Every September all over Europe everyone is encouraged to look at the local heritage when many buildings, monuments and sites are opened up for free.
Many are not usually open at all so a double heritage treat.
Heritage days are publicized if you know to look, start at the end of August early September or it may have passed you by as it has us many times.
We discovered them when we visited the château Saint-Germain-de-Livet in Calvados and couldn’t work out why it was free.
- Planning to visit the château? Local tourist info has all the details here.