Out of the in 95 “départements” in France, there are only ten districts that contain over a hundred Chateaux and Manors. La Manche is one such region, with listed Manors and Chateaux scattered throughout its beautiful landscape. In fact most of these buildings are Manors, in a contrast to the profusion of Chateaux that one finds in the Loire Valley…
But there are, many more Manors too – others that have not been officially recognised or listed but which are nevertheless both beautiful and intriguing. We come across these Manors out by the roadsides and obscure country pathways of Cotentin; but to those of us who live here, these are very usual sights.
Yet one only has only to look to Ireland, whose beautiful landscapes are in many ways similar to our own, to see some splendid Chateaux juxtaposed with but very modest farm buildings. Society was obviously structured very differently when these Chateaux were built, owned as they were by rich landowners – English aristocrats mostly – whose lifestyle was at antipodes to that of the local population.
In contrast, the large number of Manors that one finds in Western France reflects the pre-Revolutionary presence in these provinces of a small and more modest nobility. The typical nobleman of La Manche supervised his own farming interests in the local countryside while living in much the same manner as his “commoner” neighbours – who, it would appear, could also afford to construct buildings of the highest quality.
Most of the buildings that we see today date back to the 15th or 16th centuries, when the end of the Hundred Years War provided a resurgence of prosperity nevertheless over-shadowed by the fear of further troubles. There were a great number of Chateaux constructed in this era too: classic Chateaux whose architecture was grander and more ornate than that of a Manor, and Chateaux Forts that were fortified and prepared to withstand even the most concerted attack. The English Castle, such as that at Warwick, would be that island’s equivalent to the Chateau Fort, while a normal Chateau is more like an English Country House.
The Manor itself possesses three characteristics:
– It stands in the centre of an agricultural concern; several buildings are grouped around it that are dedicated to agriculture, and in fact it is this feature that distinguishes the Manor from the Chateau, in as much as the latter was designed with strictly residential purposes in mind.
– It is fortified, so as to protect it from the everyday dangers of living in such troubled times rather than in preparation for any serious assault, for which the French fortified Chateaux and fortresses were built.
– It is a prestigious dwelling, a demonstration of the owner’s rank that finds its principal expression within the Manor in a way that may seem quite strange today: the building features two floors, joined by a… staircase. In fact, it was this staircase, which winds its way through a turret, which often made the difference between the house of a Noble and that of a commoner.
The typical Manor is often accompanied in its environs by a dovecot – another building with a functional, agricultural purpose. Pigeons were raised there for food, and as a strategic food reserve our “Pigeonnier” is also fortified. Furthermore, the dovecot provided further demonstration of the owner’s wealth and status: the more pigeons in his dovecot the more elevated was esteemed to be his rank, since the birds fed off his surrounding fields.