In a land full of fancy fortified manor houses and grand Conqueror’s castles, Manoir de la Saucerie, 7km west of Domfront, manages to stand out.
Not because it isn’t really a manor; it is a gate house, but because of a 17th century decision.
After a couple of hundred years of ownership, the Doynel family felt confident enough to dress up their property rather than simply arm it, and removed the old crenellations and battlements. Their renovations to the 14th century towers continued with the addition of two rather fancy sheds.
With an eye for elegance, the roofs on these practical boxes are beautiful curved creations shaped like the upturned hulls of ancient ships. A central bell tower has a similar ornate topping. The roofs are covered with chestnut shingles that have aged to a soft shiny grey and catch the sunlight. The result is charming, if quirky.
Embedded in the past
La Saucerie’s fortified past can still be seen; grooves for a draw bridge surround the entrance and arrow slits puncture the walls. The gatehouse was once moated. Now a large pond reflects the towers at the front while marshland has filled in the rest.
The first buildings on the site were for Robert, Le Saucier and faithful servant of Queen Aliénor of Aquitaine. This remarkable queen was the widow of Henry II Plantagenet, mother of Richard the Lion-Heart, King of England, and grandmother of Louis IX, king of France.
Robert had a crucial, confidential role within her kitchens. He was responsible for preparing the brines that salted and picked food, keeping it edible long into the winter and through hot summer days. He also created sauces that made 12th century food fit for a queen.
Robert exploited his success in the kitchens into a friendship with is queen who gratefully decreed him, Bailiff of Domfront in 1198. With the role came responsibility for collecting tax the area. The need for a fortified home becomes clear. Queen Aliénor was apparently a frequent guest when Robert was visiting his lands at Domfront. Those sauces must have been spectacular.
Owned by a private person
Sometime in the 14th century the land passed from the Le Saucier family to the Villaine, when Marguerite Le Saucier, last heir of the family, married with Jehan de Villaine. It was during this century the fortified entrance gate was built, using local Amorican sandstone and granite. Originally there were four towers, and a fortified complex of manor house and barns behind.
By the 15th century the Doynel family, ‘Doynel de Saucerie’ became owners, as they still are to this day.
There were a couple of hiccups. During the 100 Years’ War La Saucerie went through the ‘Darkest Time’ as the owners refer to it. During the war John, first Duke of Bedford, brother of King Henry V, unwelcome Governor of Normandy and murderer of Joan de Arc, had the Villiers family ousted. He replaced them with his own man, Thomas Montgomery. For some years La Saucerie was English!
After the English were ousted the Villaine family returned; Guillemette de Villaine, wife of Jacques Doynel of Montécot.
The next blip happened just after the 1789 French Revolution. Like many of his noble kind, Le comte Doisnel (Doynel) de Torchamp thought it wise to emigrate rather than lose his head. The new government declared his manor and 200 hectares at Haute-Chapelle ‘National Assets’ and sold them.
The Doynel’s got it back after a few decades, but not before the locals had carried out their own home renovations using stones from the old farm buildings. At this time the Doynel home was a large 17th century manor house, considerably more comfortable than the old medieval fort just a few yards to the south. It burnt down in 1840. Some of its stones were used to build the new little house that stands away from the main buildings, by the dovecote.
Finally… registered as a historic monument
Archaic, original, and rare, beautiful La Saucerie was formally listed as a historic monument in 1955.
In the 21st century restorations have secured the building. Paid for by the State, the Department of the Orne, the owners and a local heritage association, it has taken 15 years of specialist repair to save the roofs, floors and beams.
There is more to do but the owners are retired and with limited resources have considered selling La Saucerie. They had thought to turn it into a B&B as, they say; ”this is very common in England. The British love to spend nights in the ancient monuments” (we do!).
Today, work is on stand-by. Part of the roof remains in danger and only the first level of the gatehouse can be visited on rare open days in the summer.
Set deep in Orne countryside, we had La Saucerie to ourselves on a beautiful spring day. Visitors are welcome to drive right up to the moat and parking is informal. It is a perfect place for a picnic, but do watch where you sit, a lot of the ground is marsh.
We have been told there are open days in the summer from mid-July to the end of August for €2, and guided tours on request. Details on the Normandy Tourism website here.
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October 2017 – La Saucerie is for sale!
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