History of the Château de Saint-Maclou-la-Campagne

The Château of Saint-Maclou-la-Campagne, was the site of an extraordinary real-life drama, recently come to light after the examination of rare XVIII century documents in the French Foreign Office at the Quai d’Orsay.

In the XVIII Century, at the end of the reign of Louis XV, the family of de Giberville possessed huge estates in Normandy. The Château of Saint-Maclou was the jewel in the crown, surrounded by 550 hectares of land. In 1770 M. de Giberville, aged 30,suddenly died, leaving a widow and 5 small children.

Arriving at that moment, a certain Chevalier de Loyse, a former engineer in the army of Frederick the Great, saw the advantage of the situation. If he married the widow, got rid of the children, and then even their mother, he would gain control of an immense fortune. So he married Mme de Giberville, and had a son, who would, he hoped, inherit everything in the fullness of time.

The marriage took place in 1772 and de Loyse put into effect his plan to get rid of the Giberville children. Edouard and his brother were apprenticed to 2 English merchant ships, plying between Germany and Hull. The daughter Henrietta was sent to work on a farm in Altona, while the 2 youngest children were sent to the poor house where they soon perished.

Arriving in London, Edouard was befriended by a Captain Jackson and   signed on with his ship bound for St Petersburg. In St Petersburg he was apprenticed to a vintner, who was Captain Jackson’s brother and gradually the story of his life was unfolded, to the astonishment of the wine merchant and his family. Mr Jackson approached the French Ambassador to Russia, Count de Nicolay, and presented Edourd and his story of misadventure and malpractice to the Ambassador, who ordered an enquiry be set up to find out the truth about the Giberville inheritance.

Meanwhile, the eldest daughter Henriette had escaped from the farm where she had been placed, and made her way to Russia to join her brother, thanks to the good offices of M. de Nicolay. The Ambassador presented the children to Catherine, Empress of Russia, who was touched by their story and gave bursary to have them educated. They were also provided with a home by the Grand Duke Paul, Catherine’s son.

Two years later Edouard returned to France, and with money given to him by the Empress, started a court case to recover his inheritance from his wicked stepfather and his mother. The boy won his case and recovered all his possessions that had been stolen by his step-father.

With his fortune intact, Edouard made several successful business trips to Russia, and remained in contact with the Imperial Court. He decided to enlarge the Château of Saint-Maclou and make it worthy to receive Catherine the Great on her proposed state visit to France. He planted avenues of Lime trees 1200 yards long, dug out a water basin, and planned 2 wings to the Château. He also refurbished the state dining room so that it would be fit to receive the Empress.

However his luck did not last. Edouard spent too much money on his grand schemes. The Empress was appalled by the excesses of the French Revolution, and refused to contemplate a visit to France. The Gibervilles were ruined by Edouard’s extravagance, and having sold off almost all his property, he was finally arrested at Saint Maclou in 1794 by the revolutionaries from Caen. He was taken in chains to Paris, imprisoned, and guillotined on the Place de la Concorde on the 7th July 1794, only several days before the end of the Terror.

In 1797 his daughter, the Vicomtesse de Lenthilac, petitioned to have the Château restored to the family, and as she had remained in France all through the Revolution, and not emigrated, she regained possession of the Château de Saint-Maclou.

In the mid 19th Century the Château was bought by the family of Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin, the celebrated chemist, who was the inventor of Chrome. Armand Vauquelin, his nephew spent a fortune recreating the wings that Edouard de Giberville had sought to build. They were later pulled down in the 1990’s under supervision of the Monuments Historiques, who placed the château on the Supplementary Inventory (ISMH).

The Château was occupied by the Prussians in 1870 and again by the German Army in 1944. Under the floor of the Pigeonier the Germans are said to have buried their loot. No one has dug it up! After the war the house was used to shelter the local school, since the Germans had blown up the one in the village.

In the 1990’s the estate was bought by Alan Clore, the son of the financier, Charles Clore, who turned the property into a stud for rearing racing thoroughbreds. Since then, the Château fell on hard times, was rescued by the Monuments Historiques, and with the help of several sympathetic proprietors, Saint-Maclou-la-Campagne has taken on a new lease of life and returned to its former glory.