You can discover – or rediscover every part of William the Conqueror’s unbelievable CV here in CalVados! (sic) There are traces of his birth in Falaise, his battle in Bayeux and his death in Caen. The Castle, the Tapestry, and the Abbey. But there were other characters apart from the Bastard! Come and find out!  

THE DUCAL CASTLE OF CAEN


Founded before the Conquest by William, the huge castle, said to be one of the largest in Europe as measured by its surface area, was rebuilt in stone by his son Henry I. It became the favourite residence and palace of the Anglo-Norman King-Dukes, and remains of it survive, including the Salle de l’Exchiquier, a unique secular XIIth palace hall, offering a splendid view over his city.  

Chateau de Caen
14 000 Caen

THE MEN’S ABBEY


Also known as Saint Stephen’s Abbey, this key architectural monument in the Romanesque style was conceived by William’s Lombard builder-priest Lanfranc before the Conquest and inaugurated in 1077. William was buried there in 1087 (a bit of leg remains). One of the earliest ribbed vaults in Europe crowned the nave by 1115. In 1944 its use as an air-raid shelter saved it. The XVIIIth century conventual buildings alongside have been used as the Town Hall since 1963.  

Abbaye aux Hommes
Esplanade Jean-Marie Louvel
14 027 Caen

THE WOMENS’ ABBEY


Conceived for Ladies. The choir of the Abbey of the Holy Trinity was inaugurated in June 1066, as William was planning the Conquest. It would receive the remains of Mathilda, his Queen, in 1083 – and she’s still there, under a black Tournai marble slab in the choir. The foundation was said to be in expiation of William marrying a (distant) relative. By building two abbeys and much else besides, he’d be ‘let off’ by the Pope! Both Abbeys were Benedictine and survived the revolution by becoming parish churches.  

Abbaye aux Dames
Place Reine Mathilde
14 000 Caen

THE ARDENNE ABBEY


The Ardenne Abbey was founded in the XIIth century and until very recently was surrounded by farmland, some of the richest in France, which the Premonstratensian monks tilled diligently. This is hinted at in the size of the farm buildings within the courtyard, the cider press, the huge tithe barn and the church itself. From its towers Waffen-SS Stardartenführer Kurt Meyer of the 12th SS Panzer kept the Canadians out of Caen for over a month in 1944, and murdered 20 of them in the Abbey garden. Today the church houses the Institut Mémoires de l’Edition Contemporaine.  


Abbaye d’Ardenne
14280 Saint-Germain-La-Blanche-Herbe

THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY


You’re going to see it at last! 70 metres long, it is an embroidery of wool on a linen backing, almost certainly created in England on instruction from William’s half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, who was made Earl of Kent. It was displayed in Bayeux cathedral on July 14th 1077, and it’s been in Bayeux ever since. Its purpose was to justify the Conquest before God. After all, hadn’t Harold perjured himself by having crowning himself King? It’s quite a tale – spin doctors before their time!

The Bayeux Tapestry Museum
13B rue de Nesmond
14 400 Bayeux

LONGUES-SUR-MER ABBEY


Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this old Abbey was founded in the XIIth century and contains much of interest. Once through the portal you cross the first courtyard bordered by the Abbot’s lodgings and come to the ruins of the Gothic church and nearby, a large building that may have been the refectory. Within there are interesting XIVth century frescoes and period ceramic tiles.  


Abbaye de Longues-sur-Mer
17 rue de l’abbaye
14 400 Longues-sur-Mer

CHÂTEAU OF COLOMBIÈRES


The château de Colombières is a fortified farm of the XIVth century, built at a strategic point on the edges of the marshes of Isigny bay. The tide brings the sea up to the foot of its walls, acting as a moat. A few days after D-Day the American army set up its propaganda service here.  

Château de Colombières
14710 Colombières

THE PRIORY OF SAINT-GABRIEL


In the heart of the Bessin countryside, the Saint-Gabriel priory was founded in the XIth century by the Abbey of Fécamp on the initiative of the Seigneur of Creully castle nearby. The priory ran the lands, mills and fishponds owned by the Abbey in the Bessin. The Romanesque Abbey church choir, the gatehouse and refectory may be visited, part of what is now an Agricultural School.  

Prieuré Saint-Gabriel
1 rue du Prieuré Saint-Gabriel-Brécy
14480 Creully-sur-Seulles

THE CHÂTEAU OF CRÈVECŒUR


The château de Crèvecœur is an example of a modest seigneurial fortified farm of the XVth century. It has a moat and is divided into a lower and upper bailey, the former for the farm activities, the latter for the Lord’s lodgings. The XVth century gatehouse, the chapel, the dovecote, the barn – all are very instructive in how period buildings were built in wattle and daub, brick and stone.    

Château de Crèvecœur, Fondation Musée Schlumberger
14 340 Crèvecœur-en-Auge

FALAISE CASTLE


Falaise castle is famous for being the site where William the Bastard was born in 1027, but as a symbol of Anglo-Norman power the fortress we see today was largely the work of his youngest son, Henry I. Ducal and royal residence, it has been restored and dominates the town to this day.    

Château de Falaise
Place Guillaume le Conquérant
14 700 Falaise