Combourg, an austere medieval fortress

Combourg-castle-and-village

Castle seen from the village

Combourg is located in the north of Brittany.

Archeological finds show that the village has been occupied since the Gallo-Roman period.

Guingené, the Archbishop of Dol de Bretagne, built the fortress of Combourg in the early 11th century.

He then created the Seigneury of Combourg for his younger brother Riwallon.

The Seigneury belonged to Riwallon’s descendants until 1097.

Various aristocratic Breton families owned it in the centuries that followed.

One of them, the Coetquen, had the Seigneury upgraded to a County in 1575.

The old fortress of Combourg was modified during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.

However, it has to this day retained its austere architecture.

It therefore consists of four turreted buildings laid out around a central courtyard.

Four massive round towers topped with pepper-pot roofs marked their corners, and small apertures pierced their tall walls.

Finally, a  beautiful landscaped park showcases this dark yet impressive castle that dominates the village and boasts superb views of the Lac Tranquille.

Chateau de Combourg, the chateau of René de Chateaubriand

The Chateaubriand Family, one of the oldest baronies in Brittany, bought the County in the 18th century.

Indeed, the family’s aristocratic title dates back to the 11th century Crusades.

Combourg-castle

Château of Combourg

The kings of France, however, overlooked their descendants during the centuries that followed.

Their family crest carries the memory of the religious expeditions to the Holy Land in their motto:

“Mon sang a teingt la banniere de France – My blood is on the banner of France”

The French writer Viscount Francois-René de Chateaubriand was the heir to that dynasty.

His father restored the family’s good fortune.

He, indeed, rebuilt the family wealth through a series of successful maritime dealings.

This, therefore, allowed him to buy Combourg in 1761 and regain social status and a long lost recognition.

François-René de Chateaubriand

François-René de Chateaubriand was born on September 4, 1768 in the Hôtel de la Gicquelais in St-Malo.

He was the tenth child of the family.

Combourg-castle-2

An austere fortress…

He arrived in the Chateau de Combourg in 1777 where he spent most of his youth in the fortress.

Like his mother he suffered from the severity and darkness of the place.

These years of loneliness and boredom certainly shaped the personality of the young man, who is considered the founder of the Romantic literary movement.

At the end of his life he wrote in his Mémoire d’Outre-tombe – Memoirs from Beyond the Grave.

Here’s an extract of his masterpiece:

“C’est dans les bois de Combourg que je suis devenu ce que je suis, que j’ai commencé à sentir la première atteinte de cet ennui que j’ai traîné toute ma vie, de cette tristesse qui a fait mon tourment et ma félicité, c’est là que j’ai cherché un Coeur qui pût entendre le mien…”

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Francois René de Chateaubriand – Wikimedia Commons

“It is in the woods of Combourg that I became what I am, that I started to feel the first attack of boredom I dragged my whole life, the sadness that made my anguish and my happiness, it is where I looked for a Heart that could hear mine …”

This talented writer with a melancholic and sensitive soul was also an acknowledged diplomat and politician.

Indeed, he exercised his office under Louis XVIII and Charles X.

Chateaubriand died in Paris on July 4th 1848.

He was buried according to his wishes in the Ilôt de Bé off St-Malo, an islet only accessible at low tide.

His lonely grave bears the following epitaph:

“”Un grand écrivain Français a voulu reposer ici, pour n’entendre que la mer et le vent.”
“Passant, respecte sa dernière volonté”

“A great French writer wanted to rest here, to listen only to the sea and wind.’
“Passerby, respect his last wish ”   

Coordinates and map Combourg Castle: Lat 48.407524 – Long -1.754111

Photo via Wikimedia Commons:  François-René de Chateaubriand  Author Public domain