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The Footballers and forgotten château de Tancarville – a story of heritage in danger

Tancarville Le Chateau ruines de la tour Coquesart

An impossible match….

18th century chateau within an ancient abandoned complex, viewed through padlocked gates, will chateau de Tancarville survive to open again?
18th century chateau within an ancient abandoned complex, viewed through padlocked gates, will chateau de Tancarville survive to open again?

High on the cliffs above the River Seine in Normandy is an imposing old château .  Here history stretches back to the 11th century and the first Dukes of Normandy.

19th etching of chateau de Tancarville entrance
19th etching of chateau de Tancarville entrance

Tancarville was home to Raoul I Fitzgerald, trusted friend of Robert, first Duke of Normandy.  Raoul would become William the Conqueror’s first Chamberlain, managing his household and Normandy’s money. Raoul’s son Guillaume was the first to use the title ‘de Tancarville’.  Uniquely powerful, Guillaume became Chamberlain of Normandy and England. Knights travelled to Tancarville to train in the joust and learn the codes of chivalry.

The joust
The joust

As important as the châteaux of Falaise and Gaillard, Château de Tancarville’s history is rarely spoken about.  Normandy loves it’s heritage, so what happened here? What went wrong?

A château in danger

From a distance, pale walls glisten in the sun, suggesting a vast complex of buildings. Sailing between Caudebec-en-Caux along the river Seine to Paris, or driving towards the Pont-de-Tancarville, the buildings appear suddenly, their heritage oddly unexplained.

Getting closer, it’s impossible not to be shocked by the ruin of château de Tancarville.   There are no longer open days, once hosted by the passionate local historical association.  Doors are padlocked.  The château is now considered so dangerous the road up to it has been closed by sensible local authorities, fearful walls may crumble at any moment.  The causes of this architectural tragedy go back many years.

Entrance to chateau de Tancarville
Entrance to chateau de Tancarville

History of greatness

Dates of major building work listed on the Ministry of Culture website, reflect times of greatness for the château; first established in the 11th century for Raoul the Chamberlain, continued success for the de Tancarville family and new buildings in the 12th .  A few terrible years from 1418 when the English successfully invaded and John Grey took the château from the Harcourt family.  A new ballroom in 1468, when the English had been expelled and the Harcourts took it back.

Then in 1709 a new château was built for Louis de la Tour d’Auvergne, comte d’Evreux, completed in 1717. This is the elegant building that from a distance still seems intact. During the French revolution the château was abandoned, looted and partly burnt.  A major restoration in the mid 19th century for le comte de Lambertye restored the chateau as a home.

France Pittoresque etching of chateau de Tancarville, 19th century
France Pittoresque etching of chateau de Tancarville, 19th century

20th century & dubious ownership

By the 1960s the château was a children’s summer camp. Then it was used for a restaurant and as workshops for artisans.  The last real occupant was a junk shop about 20 years ago.

While some of the oldest buildings have been loved as romantic ruins for centuries, somehow the 18th century château stood strong.  But then an owner in the 1990’s did nothing but sell some of the land, along with a few medieval ruins hidden in the trees, for hunting. Unattended, the château gradually became uninhabitable.

Exterior walls chateau de Tancarville
Exterior walls chateau de Tancarville

Brief hope for restoration

Then in 2013 an exceptional buyer was found. One with enough money to save the old buildings and renovate what could be renovated; the complex was sold to a consortium, a group of professional footballers that include Franco Senegalese Rémi Gomis.  Their plan was to transform the elegant eighteenth century château building into nineteen luxury apartments.  Work was done on the chateau roof and one of the towers to protect the buildings from the rain.  Inside, scaffolding supports a few corners and wooden planks fail to properly cover glassless windows. Outside the gardens are a wilderness.

Then. Nothing.

Ruins of chateau de Tancarville
Ruins of chateau de Tancarville

Promises broken

Since 1988 the Association des Amis du château de Tancarville has campaigned to save the château, and keep a worried eye on the property.  They frequently buy new padlocks to replace those broken by squatters. Jean-Loup Diviné of the association said with dismay “We have no contact with the owners. We see no change.” Mayor David Sablin has sent letters to the owners’ company.  He has heard nothing.

In August 2017 the newspaper did some digging. They discovered the real estate company Correze Immorev, originally employed to develop the site, went bankrupt in 2015. But one of its executives Daniel Sol promised in 2016 the château would still be saved.  Jean-Loup Diviné and the association asked to be kept updated on developments.  Daniel can no longer be reached. Christian Bourliataud of Immocation, coordinator for the work and also based in Uzerche, Corrèze, has withdrawn from the project.

Pierre Bortolussi, architect from the department of Historic Monuments is still waiting to hear from any firms employed to undertake the renovations.  His department are always closely involved in renovating buildings of historical importance.  Château de Tancarville was registered as an historic monument in 1862.

Old postcard, 1950s view chateau de Tancarville
Old postcard, 1950s view chateau de Tancarville

An uncertain future

The story of the château cannot be over, but now while it has stalled the buildings deteriorate and ancient carvings are lost.

We look forward to the day when we match our postcard of château de Tancarville and tell the full history of this fascinating place; the time Satan took up residence in a tower, the famous knights who learnt to joust in the grounds, fine de Tancarville lords who changed history and the prisoners, damned in its dungeons.

Map of chateau de Tancarville 1678
Map of chateau de Tancarville 1678

The Legend of the tour de l’Aigle

Centuries ago an amorous Lord de Tancarville locked a beautiful maiden up in this tower, refusing to free her until she agreed to give in to his passionate demands. She was remarkably resilient and one night he discovered why.  He saw her shake a white piece of material out of the window and shortly afterwards a handsome young man scaled the tower and climbed into her room. Furious, the next night the lord was waiting with two of his best archers.  As the young man began to climb they fired and he fell, mortally wounded. The lord took great delight in telling the young woman what had happened to her lover.  But to his horror she screamed and simply fell down, dead. And that is the legend of the tour de l’Aigle, at château de Tancarville.

They say that on clear summer nights, if you look up at the Eagle tower you may see a small movement, the fluttering of a single white handkerchief and then hear a terrible cry.  Perhaps now the maiden screams for the fate of the château.

Tour de l'Aigle chateau de Tancarville 1678
Tour de l’Aigle chateau de Tancarville 1678

Some sources

Association des Amis du château de Tancarville

Ministry of Culture

We hope to visit the chateau another day when it is being restored, and talk more about its remarkable history.

Discover more Normandy heritage in danger!

4 thoughts on “The Footballers and forgotten château de Tancarville – a story of heritage in danger

  1. The Tancarvilles regularly used the names Raoul and William. One Raoul de Tancarville married Theophania (Tiphanie), daughter of Stephen, Count of Tréguier in Brittany, and Hawise of Blois, Lady of Guingamp and half-sister of Stephen, Count of Blois. Their son William was called “father of knights”; it was he who trained and knighted his kinsman, the famed William Marshal.
    Knightly prowess ran in this circle: Stephen of Tréguier was a brother of Alan Niger, William II’s favourite knight in his latter years, and of Alan Rufus, William the Conqueror’s household knight commander who was a renowned hero of Hastings and other battles and appears frequently on the Bayeux Tapestry.

  2. My next blog post is titled, “The Chamberlain’s in America Y-DNA link to William de Tancarville.” This article will be published in July, 2018. I will include a link to your website post. Hope interest can be raised to restore Chateau de Tancarville. Dennis Chamberlain, The Chamberlain Story

  3. what an amazing place, I hope someone will put up the money to stabilize and restore it. Love your blog posts. Always learn something. We hope to cruise in Bordeaux this summer, God willing.

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