This view is from the old castle, now just a hill, at Moulins-la-Marche in the Perche. Looking out through gently swaying trees across the Perche countryside or back into the town it’s hard to believe these were once the badlands of medieval Normandy.
Marche in this instance is from ‘marka’ an old Frankish word for frontier; here the borderlands between Normandy and France. This feudal mound was once Castrum Molinis, castle of the mills.
When Duke William, one day to be known as Conqueror, inherited Normandy he was still a child and Norman barons fought to protect or control him. Others battled to claim his inheritance for themselves. For Normandy this meant violence and chaos. The time between the death of William’s father Robert I in 1035 and 1047 when William was old enough to crush rebellion and claim his title, was known with stark accuracy as ‘the Anarchy’. While Normandy raged, the French king looked at those northern lands covetously.
The Moulins of la Marche
The Anarchy did not stop when William claimed his Dukedom in 1047, Normandy was ravaged by battles for many years as he consolidated his power. To the south of Normandy at Moulins-la-Marche the borderlands were protected by Guimond, Lord of Moulins and Bonmoulins who lived there with his wife Marie from around 1033. His son, Guimond II, was lord when William claimed the Dukedom in 1047.
Guimond II had a reputation as much for his ‘turbulent and violent character’ as for bravery, all useful characteristic when protecting a border from acquisitive neighbours.
For some reason, perhaps underestimating young William, Guimond made a surprising decision in 1052.
This was the year that William’s treacherous uncle William of Talou Count D’Arques, with support from the French King, made a serious attempt to overthrow his nephew. Supporting D’Arques, Guimond invited a French garrison to take up residence in the fort at Moulins-la-Marche.
The winner takes it all
Unfortunately for D’Arques and Guimond, the rebellious uncle and his solders were corralled into their castle at Arques (just outside of Dieppe). Young William, distinctly fed up with D’Arques constant scheming and contempt, laid siege. The only surprise about the outcome of this year long contretemps was that William did not have D’Arques killed in one of the many imaginative medieval ways. He merely had his devious uncle banished.
When news of D’Arque’s defeat reached Moulins-la-Marche the French garrison showed remarkable good sense and slunk off under cover of darkness back to France. They left behind blustering Guimond to face William, one of the greatest grudge-holding leaders in history. This is the man who, when taunted by the besieged citizens of Alençon for being the ‘bastard child of a tanner’ (they hung old hides on the castle walls for added effect), vindictively cut off the hands and feet from 32 of those insolent townsfolk.
An apology and retribution
Guimond, the perfidious Lord of Moulins and Bonmoulins was extremely apologetic. Then William did something surprising. He appeared to forgive Guimond, but of course it was not as simple as that. He also tortured him in a very special way.
First he confiscated Guimond’s lands for five years and handed various holdings over to the church. Then he wreaked a terrible revenge on his proud, disloyal vassal. A revenge that was as simple as it was deadly.
He denied Guimond’s many sons their noble inheritance. Not one of them would become Lord of Moulins and Bonmoulins. Their hard won noblesse would stop with Guimond II.
In a cruel if typical William twist, he married Guimond’s only daughter Albarède, a young widow with one son, to Guillaume son of Gaultier de Falaise. He also gave Guillaume the title ‘Lord of Moulins and Bonmoulins’… William (wrongly it would turn out) had faith in Guillaume as the son of his mother’s brother Gaultier de Falaise, a man who protected him loyally as a child.
Unjust and harassing war
How Guimond lived with this shame is not known. He is thought to have taken part in the invasion of England in 1066, but soon returned to his feudal mound overlooking the Perche. He was not quiet for long.
Perhaps it was Guimond’s natural fury, or a haunting bitterness that drove him to look for trouble. He found it very close to home. For reasons not recorded (as far as we know) Guimond took strongly against his neighbour Enguerrand, Lord of Courtomer (“stupid name, stupid man… I just can’t stand the blighter!” *not an historic quote*).
Records simply state that he started an ‘unjust and harassing war’ against Enguerrand and became so troublesome that again Duke William was forced to intervene and put an end to Guimond’s ‘odious vexation’. And that is the last anyone really heard about Guimond, the last lord of his line.
This courageous yet reckless warrior died an old man, father to (at least) 9 children. Daughter Albarède did her duty and provided her husband with two children. She then found a handy familial link (family members however distant were banned from marriage) with Guillaume, had her marriage annulled and took herself off to the peace of a nunnery. Guillaume kept all the lands at Moulins-la Marche and swiftly married again.
Guimond’s sons left their mark, but far from home. They knew there would be no future for them in Normandy while William ruled and the family lived under a cloud of shame. Most of them headed for southern Italy where their descendants still live today. Their stories helped shape Italy.
The name Moulins became Molise over time, still the name of a region in the south of Italy. We do know eldest son Radolphe (or Raul) battled his way to became Count of Bojanon. Guimond III was excommunicated in 1067 by Pope Alexander II with two other Norman adventurers, Turgis de Rota and Guillaume de Hauteville, for appropriating property belonging to the Church in the region of Salerno…
Hugo, Alain, Guillaume, Toresgaud, Robert and Antoine – their history is shadowy but we suspect they made their bloody minded parent proud.
Quite a few old histories include this tale here is one version in Antiquités et chroniques percheronnes, 1840 (Fr)
Read more about the clash between William, Duke of Normandy and his uncle Count D’Arques in our post ‘On being a Normandy castle‘.