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(Canton of Morteaux-Couliboeuf, Calvados)


    The origins of the Barony of Courcy can be traced back to Robert de Courcy, son of Baudric the Teuton, who, at the beginning of the 11th century, entered the service of the Duke of Normandy, Richard II, receiving the lands of Courcy in return. His descendants, and his son Robert, the eldest, took the title of Baron of Courcy, with possession of one of the most important baronies in the duchy, which contained some 32 parishes and 56 fiefs. They held the very highest positions in the heart of the duchy; they controlled the Exchequer, and Robert III and William de Courcy gained the title of Seneschal of Normandy.

The castle at Courcy is the work of this illustrious family. There were clearly, however, already some fortifications in the Gallo-Roman era, not far from the site of the present-day castle. Courcy being located on a road leading to Jort, and on the boundary between the territories of Lisieux and Sées, later the boundary of the dioceses of these two towns, was a place particularly open to attack. It is not known what system of fortification protected the site when Baudric the Teuton came into possession of these lands. The first mention of the castle of the Courcy family appears in the Ecclesiastical History, written between 1136 and 1141 by Orderic Vitalis. This monk from the Abbey of Ouche relates the story of the siege of the castle in 1091, fought between Richard de Courcy and his ally, Hugh de Grandmesnil, against Robert de Bellême, aided by the Duke of Normandy, Robert Curthose. The text mentions new fortifications. Richard de Courcy, grandson of Baudric the Teuton, defended his castle, which had recently been either reconstructed or refortified. This structure, at the end of the 11th century, was probably still of earth and wood, but was solid enough to resist a two month siege.

The ruins of the present-day castle date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. There were originally three walled enclosures. The outer, of which no trace remains, contained the village. It was fortified by moats, and possibly palisades. The second enclosed the bailey; some vestiges have been preserved, including the 13th century gate and parts of the moat. The towers were demolished at the end of the 18th century. The third and inner enclosure comprised the castle itself. This was damaged in the first half of the 17th century, when Cardinal Richelieu ordered its destruction. Although the aim of Richelieu’s men was to raze the walls and towers to the ground, they ultimately caused little more than a few breaches. Following these events, the castle fell into disuse and currently houses a farm.

The walled enclosure, roughly square in shape, is protected by moats, fed by a stream, called Douet de Houle, and by walls 10m high with a thickness of 1.7m, originally reinforced by twelve towers. Only nine round towers and one square tower remain. The south-western entrance is protected and framed by two round towers. On the outside, the towers and ramparts are battered at the base. The walls are constructed of small pieces of limestone. The castle as a whole is dated to the 13th century. It is characteristic of this period, particularly in its three defended enclosures, and adoption by the inner enclosure of a regular, polygonal shape flanked by circular towers, and by the batter of the walls.

Certain parts of the fortress, however, are older, appearing to date back to the 12th century including the chapel of St Catherine, in a tower on the south-east side of the enclosure, the lower parts of the walls near to the chapel, which have herringbone masonry, and the square tower on the north-eastern side of the defences.

The chapel, dated to the middle of the 12th century, on the basis of its vaulting, is currently located between the farmhouse and some farm buildings. From the outside of the enclosure, the only indication of its presence is a round-headed window dressed with ashlars. The minuscule interior of the chapel has a semi-circular apse at one end, lit by a single splay window which looks onto the outside of the castle. The apse is covered by a vault, supported by two ribs each with three roll-mouldings, set on concrete corbels. The two ribs join to form a vast arch which is supported by engaged pillars, 1.5m wide. This arch, which defines the end of the apse, also holds the weight of the upper part of the tower. West of the apse there is a small space also surmounted by two ribs, each with three roll-mouldings, supported by concrete corbels, although these ribs are joined by a keystone, now set into the wall of the façade. 

The chapel is only partly Romanesque, having undergone significant remodelling during the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was shortened. The bay, west of the apse, was now divided in two by a wall which constitutes the present day façade, and the keystone is now set into this wall. The present façade has a round-headed doorway with ornamental mouldings, beneath a pediment, decorated with floral motifs, framed by pinnacles and sculpted in the centre with a shield engraved on the coat of arms of the d’Aussonvilliers, noblemen of Courcy in the 17th century. A flamboyant mullioned window surmounts the pediment. The façade as a whole is set in a rounded archway, which is, in fact, the central rib of the sexpartite vault of the bay west of the apse. The chapel was thus larger in the 12th century. The herringbone masonry at the base of the wall of the farm building, perpendicular to the façade of the chapel, is at the level of the floor of the oratory, with a length of approximately 7m. The presence of this masonry shows that the chapel was not only longer, but 7m longer and was located on the first floor. Other elements, including left of the façade another defaced round-headed arch and the herringbone masonry at the base of the wall, also reaching the floor level of the chapel, indicate the existence of a structure contemporary to the small religious building. Inside the chapel, in the north-eastern and south-eastern walls of the half-bay, are the vestiges of two rounded arches, witness to the former presence of transepts or a passage. 

The dilapidated square tower probably also dates back to the 12th century; it is constructed of thick masonry a little more than 2m thick. In the interior, some square holes, 3-4m above ground level, were intended to take the ends of floor joists.

The Courcy fortress, for the most part, of the 13th century, although some parts of it date back to Romanesque times, is witness to the profound changes that took place between the military architecture of the 12th century and that of the 13th century.


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