The Watchtower
of the Marshes
The Colombières
and Bacon du Molay
The Bricqueville The Girardin, Ludre
and Maupeou d'Ableiges
Second World War
June 1944

The Watchtower of the Marshes

With its strategic location on the edge of the Isigny Bay marshes, the castle was called the Watchtower of the Marshes. In the past, the rising tide washed up onto the lands surrounding the fortress, thus enabling repeated invasions of the hinterland from the sea. The Watchtower was a powerful and formidable bastion which controlled and blocked enemy access to the Bessin area. With its strategic location on the edge of the Isigny Bay marshes, the castle was called the Watchtower of the Marshes. Several centuries later on June 6, 1944, the welcomed “Allied invasion” took the same route from the sea through the marshes to the castle. History repeats itself!

Today, its outstanding location in the midst of the Regional Natural Park of the Cotentin and Bessin marshlands gives the Colombières estate a bewitching and captivating charm.

The Colombières and Bacon du Molay Family

Colombières dates back to the 11th Century. It was a fortress occupied by William, Raoul and Baudouin of Colombières, comrades in arms of William the Conqueror during the invasion of England in 1066.In 1147, Philippe de Colombières, member of the powerful Bacon du Molay family, is mentioned as a lord tenant of the Colombières’ fief. But the oldest parts of the present castle date back to the end of the 14th century. The wealthy Bacon du Molay built the fortress in keeping with the defensive architecture of medieval times: a quadrangle flanked by four huge towers with arrow slits, a 9ft-thick and 36ft-high surrounding wall topped with a machicolation floor (a gallery with openings in the floor, through which stones or burning objects could be droppers on attackers), a moat and a drawbridge. Inside this fortified castle, a bread oven, a well and a walk-in fireplace, essential for survival of the castle inhabitants during a siege, can still be seen in the large kitchen. An impregnable fortress that chronicles medieval events! The King of France, Charles V noticed during his visit in 1371 that the fortified castle could withstand an attack and a siege.

The Bricqueville Family

At the end of Hundred Years War (1328-1453), the battle of Formigny in 1450 ushered in a period of peace.
Two elegant Renaissance towers were added to the castle by this family who owned Colombières fief for three centuries.

During the Wars of Religion (1562-1598) fighting resumed. In 1562, the lord and master of Colombières, François de Bricqueville, one of the most dangerous protestant leaders of Lower Normandy is unfortunately remembered for plundering Bayeux Cathedral’s treasure and burning many precious items and books. He then laid siege to the town of Saint-Lô, took the Lord Bishop prisoner and desecrated the chapel of Colombières. ●In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the fortress underwent several architectural changes in order to make the main building more comfortable: the surrounding wall was demolished on one side, one of the towers which had been partially destroyed was rebuilt as a square-shaped donjon, the windows were enlarged, the chapel desecrated by François de Bricqueville was rebuilt by his grandson Cyrus Antoine, who converted to Catholicism in 1678..

The Girardin, Ludre and Maupeou d'Ableiges Family

In 1759, the fortified castle became the property of the Girardin family, related by marriage to the present owners, the Maupeou d’Ableiges family. During this period the fortress was then transformed along classical lines into a beautiful residence.

In the 19th century, the wing of the castle was converted to accommodate close relatives and friends. Gardens were added to enhance the interior perimeter of the medieval moat.

Second World War, June 1944<

During World War II, the castle was spared in the midst of military operations. On the morning of June 6, 1944, a German motorised gun battery, consisting of 15 Marder anti-tank guns, which had been camouflaged under the elm-trees of the castle’s drive, left suddenly and headed towards Colleville. Quickly followed by the command post of the 1/352nd Panzer Division, which had also been stationed at the Château. During the occupation, the German forces had kept the marshes flooded to make them impassable, but the American allies decided to cross the marshes on foot. Thus, on the evening of June 8, 1944, Colombières welcomed Lieutenant Kermit C. Miller of 115th Infantry Regiment of the 29th US Division. Thanks to the element of surprise, he took a dozen German prisoners. On June 9, 1944 the village of Colombières was liberated.The castle thus became “the centre of all American press and radio communications, and HQ of General Omar Bradley of the 12th US Armoured Group”. Excerpt from the book “History of the 302nd Signal Operation Battalion”.