2 families and the legend of the shield

2 families with their origin in the Département de la Manche bear a name connected to the legend of the Strong Shield :
 Durécu and Fortescu, with a few spelling versions.

Quite a  few place names are related too:
– Dur-Ecu in  Pierreville, Picauville, Bricquebec, Les  Perques (these 4 places without any known connection with the above families), and the former fiefdoms of the Durécu family in Gatteville, Urville-Hague (Urville-Nacqueville) and Morsalines (last one to check).
– Fortécu in Anneville-sur-Mer 

The oldest mention of the Durécu family would be in 1227 of Robert Durescu.

A large Durécu family is well known in Darnétal (Seine Maritime) since the XVIIth century.

On the Fortescu side, it is well documented that Richard le Fort,  a cup bearer of William the Conqueror, and his son Adam fought in Hastings (1066), that Richard went back toFrance, and that Adam settled in Modbury in South Devon. In 1085 the Doomsday book mentions a Richard in Modbury but no family name. However in 1195 a document mentions Richard Fort Escu. It seems that the change from Le Fort to Fortescu took at least 2 generations.
There is no document related to the French branch of the Fortescu before 1350.

 Durécu and Fortescu are 2 distinct families. At this stage we have no clear understanding why they both came linked with the legend.

Notice by the Amiral de Lacroix de Lavalette 
Etude by M.E. Lepinguard
Fortescu family websites of the 2 branches: England, France
nd comments by their webmasters.


A very short history

The present owner’s family bought the place in 1773, but the castle is much older, in fact nobody knows how old. A Durecu or Durescu family was around in 1227. In 1307 the castle briefly belonged to the French king… Philippe le Bel (Philippe the beautiful !).

What you see now is mostly in Renaissance style and owes its look to major works around 1610.

Dur-Ecu means Strong Shield, a name that originates from a battle fought by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and future King of England. There are a few different versions of the story: Was he fighting in Brittany or was he at Hastings ?. An enemy threatened to slash William’s head with his ax. A Norman knight – maybe Richard le Fort – interposed his shield and the ax went deep into the wood of the shield without breaking it. William’s life was saved and the Strong Shield became a legend and reminds that this castle was meant to defend Normandy against attackers.

In our “Département de la Manche” quite a few  places are called Dur-Ecu or Fortescu. There is a prominent Fortescu/Fortescue family on both side of the Channel and a Durecu family aswell. (More details in another article of this blog).

In fact the British navy landed twice on the beach facing the castle, the last time in 1758.

2 Royal Navy Landings and an Amercian Civil War naval battle

In Dur-Ecu you face a beach that witnessed two Royal Navy Landings and the only European battle of the American Civil War.

The Royal Navy landed twice on the Urville beach, in 1522.. and 1758 (trust the Admiralty for keeping good records. Each time the aim was to make sure that the French King would keep enough ground forces in its western provinces. This way he would not be able to use these armies against continental rivals, and try to get European prominence.

The waters off the manor saw one of the most famous naval battles of the American Civil War: The sinking of the Alabama.

The following chapters come from http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/org12-1.htm

In 1862, John Laird Sons and Company of Liverpool, England built the screw sloop-of-war CSS Alabama for the Confederate States of America. Launched as Enrica, the vessel was fitted out as a cruiser and commissioned as CSS Alabama on 24 August 1862. Under Captain Raphael Semmes, Alabama spent the next two months capturing and burning ships in the North Atlantic and intercepting American grain ships bound for Europe. Continuing its path of destruction through the West Indies, Alabama sank USS Hatteras near Galveston, Texas and captured its crew. After visiting Cape Town, South Africa Alabama sailed for the East Indies where it spent the next six months cruising for enemy shipping. While there, the formidable commerce raider destroyed seven more ships before redoubling the Cape of Good Hope and returning to Europe.
On 11 June 1864 Alabama arrived at Cherbourg, France and Captain Semmes requested the permission of city officials to dock and overhaul his ship. Three days later, the sloop-of-war USS Kearsarge, which had been pursuing the raider, arrived off Cherbourg and began patrolling just outside of the harbor. On June 19, Alabama sailed out of Cherbourg to engage Kearsarge. As Kearsarge turned to meet its opponent, Alabama opened fire. Kearsarge’s crew waited until the distance between both vessels closed to less than 1,000 yards before returning fire. According to survivors of the battle, the two ships steamed on opposite circular courses as each commander tried to cross the bow of his opponent to deliver a heavy raking fire. The battle quickly turned against Alabama due to the poor quality of its powder and shells; by contrast, Kearsarge benefited from additional protection provided by chain cables along its sides.

Approximately one hour after firing the first shot, Alabama had been reduced to a rapidly sinking hulk. According to witnesses, Alabama fired 150 rounds to the Kearsarge’s 100. When a shell fired by Kearsarge tore open a section of Alabama’s hull at the waterline, seawater quickly rushed through the cruiser and forced it to the bottom. Semmes subsequently struck his colors and sent a boat to surrender to his opponent. Although Kearsarge’s crew rescued most of the raider’s survivors, the British yacht Deerhound picked up Semmes and 41 others who escaped to England. During its two-year career as a commerce raider, Alabama inflicted considerable disorder and devastation on United States merchant shipping throughout the globe. The Confederate cruiser claimed more than 60 prizes with a total value of approximately $6,000,000.