There are many potential problems to think about when taking a fairy (or fée in French) for your wife. The Lord of Argouges ignored them all that fine summer day when he spotted a young lady about to take a swim in a refreshing forest pool.
She was beautiful in a way no other lady had appeared to him. So he turned on the medieval charm and made her his. Her fairy heritage did not worry him at all as he gazed into her azure eyes and stroked her midnight black hair.
Of course there are strict conditions for mortals when marrying La Fée. Fairy conditions vary and are often fatal and if unmet, there is nothing anyone can do to stop the terrible outcome.
Bernard was warned and the condition was very simple. Never say the word Death in front of his fairy wife.
For years all was well. Bernard built his lovely fairy wife a tall tower (fairies do like a good view and he thought may put her off flying away) and they were blessed with a dozen or so cheerful children.
One fine day a grand tournament was taking place in the château grounds. The fairy was up in her tower making herself even more beautiful and perhaps enjoying a few moments peace before her noble obligations took over the day.
As usual she was a little late and her husband, pacing across the courtyard lost all patience. She pretended not to hear his shouts, although he could perfectly well hear her sweet enchanting singing above him. This time it was not enchanting enough.
So he stormed up the many stairs of her turret room and grumbled “Madam, you are very slow in your tasks! You would be good to send to fetch death, you take so much time”. At his words she screamed, steadied herself on the window ledge for a moment (her handprint can still be seen) looking at her husband in horror, then in a flash flew out of the window and out of the Lord of Argouges’ life for ever.
And that is the end of the fairy legend of château de Gratot.
Fibs and legends
There have been unkind stories suggesting the family borrowed the story to cover up a scandal (‘she left the old bore! And she weren’t no fairy, I knew her Dad!‘). Certainly the legend is suspiciously like other fairy legends, but perhaps fairies are just consistent.
The family Argouges lived here from William of Argouges’ marriage to Jeanne Gratot in 1251. They extended the old fortress into a more comfortable, if strongly defensive château and stayed for fifteen generations until 1777 when it was sold to a marquis whose name no-one seems interested in remembering.
After a few unwanted years various owners in the 19th century patched up the building but eventually abandoned it to a local farmer, who gratefully used the spacious old rooms to store his harvest.
There is a tale that suggests the main house was still nearly habitable at the beginning of the 20th century.
The last wedding
One summer day in 1914, an elegant old room in the château was opened up for a wedding feast. No-one lived in the house but it was sometimes still used by the family for celebrations. Garlands of meadow flowers were draped around the fireplace and pinned to the high ceiling beams. A long table topped with white linen was laid with shining silver and candles glowed in tall candelabras along it’s length. Sunlight shone in but missed dusty corners, leaving a little mystery where damp plaster barely clung to the old walls. It was a romantic dream, empty and waiting patiently for the wedding party to arrive
They left the château chapel to laughter and music, singing happily as they crossed the moat and then just before they reached the château… Crash! The largest beam fell down, right across the pretty table, taking most of the ceiling with it. Above, the sky could bee seen through what little was left of the roof. There would be no more wedding parties in the old château.
We do not know if this was a terrible portent or if the marriage was long and happy. The latter we hope.
Château de Gratot in danger
After a desolate few decades the ivy covered ruins of château de Gratot were in danger of falling down and being lost forever.
Fortunately in 1968 a determined group of volunteers took it on. Work is ongoing but they have achieved a remarkable restoration; ivy removed, ancient thickets cut back, the moat cleared and impressively the undercroft, once filled in with rubbish and rubble, has been cleared to reveal a curved cellar roof. Volunteers have come from across France and Europe to help out and many companies have donated their time.
If you are in the area keep an eye out for events and the annual theatrical production set in the grounds The shop is summer only but there are guide books (incl. English) available year around. When we visited some new rooms talking about the restoration were just being put together with some very interesting photographs.
The château is hugely popular with visitors but does not feel crowded. It is classified as a Monument Historique and your entrance fee will go towards continued restoration. Very good value.