Ducey, the research of its past
( The following first section of this book, dealing with the early period of Ducey’s history, was translated by Brant Ducey. It should not be considered a professional and fully accurate translation from the French.)
“Introduction to the Origin of Ducey”
Situated on the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, along the banks of the Selune River, the town of Ducey has long attracted travelers to Mont-Saint-Michel. The river traces a path that passes by its town and empties at Courtil. It has also drawn pilgrims from Germany, Switzerland and the east of France, as early as 1457-58, when the pilgrimages of children and youths intrigued our residents. Above all, the town has long been known for its fairs and its commerce.
The chateau (Montgommery) dominates the river and has proven its value throughout the years, revealing an important history that demands its publication for future generations. For it is undeniable that the history of the town of Ducey has long been linked with its founding fathers.
The First Founders
Some local historians have reached conclusions about the origins of Ducey. Among them, the dean of priests of Ducey, Bernard Labbé, (1918 – 1994) who was dedicated to local history and who collected valuable historic facts about this parish. He has also done research on related subjects, such as the origins of Ducey.
According to him, the name of Ducey comes from an ancient Celtic root that means “located on a hill near the water.” It is an origin more mythical than truthful. In reality, the name of Ducey comes from the “DUXEIO,” from a law of 129A.D. and “Dusseio,” several years later, comes from a Gallic-Roman name, DUSSIUS.
On a document from 1135, it indicates that the fishery of Ducey was even then very important. At that time, the Cathedral at Avranches had the right to half of the fish caught between the Ducey bridge and the Rock of Genets.
Bernard Labbé also wrote about the arrival of the Normans: “The Normans, not having a family surname, took the name of the locality and its principle domain. And so it was that Ranulfe of Ducey is the first name mentioned on the land-holdings of the time. Ranulfe, in Norwegian, signified “the dog that guards the domain.”
Thanks to his research of the archives, and their comparison with maps of those times, the lives of the first land-holders (seigneurs) have been revealed, bit by bit
Installed at Ducey, the Norman, Ranulfe of Ducey, the land-holder from 1095 to 1150, sent his youngest son to seminary school at Mont-Saint-Michel.
According to our historian, William (Guilliame) of Ducey (seigneur from 1171 to 1180) had been among the noblemen and priests in the Cathedral of Avranches on the 21st of May 1172, when King Henry of England asked absolution for his crime against Thomas Beckett. William died in 1180, leaving two sons and two daughters: Herve, Aeliz, Ernaid and Gisleberthe. According to custom, his eldest son, Herve, succeeded him as seigneur of Ducey.
Hervé of Ducey (seigneur from 1180 to 1220) managed Ducey for 40 years. First a servant of the King of England, he became that of the King of France, Philippe-Auguste, after the annexation of Normandy in 1204.
Robert of Ducey, born in the 11th century, is cited by another renowned historian, the abbé Desroches: “At the beginning of the 12th century, this seigneur went to Mont-Saint-Michel where he brought about several freedoms. He was accompanied by his wife, Cécile and his son, William. He entered the hall of the chapel and there, in the presence of the religious gathering, he announced that he had given to the Archangel Saint Michel, a place that had belonged to his father and his ancestors. His son, along with his mother Cécile, consented to this donation. Some time later, when the abbé Bernard governed at Mont-Saint-Michel, he (William) approached the other in the middle of a religious ceremony, extending his hand on a sacred relic and swore he would never reclaim the gift made by his illustrious father. The abbé Bernard made him a Knight of the assembly, signifying that he was such a great man, as the owner of the landholdings, and also conferred to Robert, his younger brother, the same honour, in memory of this agreement.”
The abbé Desroches then explained that “at that time, that is to say near 1140 AD, Robert, last of the name ‘seigneur of Ducey,’ had died, leaving two sons, William and Robert. William was a strong and celebrated seigneur. All the religious establishments of the diocese made note of his standing and of his liberalism.
William of Ducey extended his generosity to the abbey at Montmorel, of which he was one of the major donators. A bit later he (Desroches) detailed the donations.
“He gave to this young abbey, a wagon pulled by four horses, to carry the sand necessary for the construction of the church of the religious ….’ William also gave gifts to the poor and gave the harvest taxes from both the church of Saint-Paterne of Ducey, and the chapel Saint-Germain, located in the market place of the town.”
Desroches then summarized his knowledge of this seigneur: “William of Ducey was dying in his castle at Ducey. Facing a very dangerous illness, he sent for the bishop of Avranches. ‘He was as just as he was honest,’ said the prelate. ‘He gave witness to the truth and he dispensed with any and all sources bearing false witness; this is why, knowing that he was very ill, we were at his bedside and we recalled and repeated the vows of William of Husson and his wife Mathilde (his niece) and their son Foulques, as being faithful to his wishes, who respected his kindnesses to the religious establishment, and even forgave their legitimate debts.’”
Although he died at Ducey, William of Ducey was interred at Savigny without leaving an inheritor, according to Desroches.
His brother Robert, had also died, leaving behind a daughter, Mathilde, who had married William of Husson, producing a son, Foulques. In this manner, the family Husson succeeded the seigneurs of Ducey, whose reign ended with the finish of the 12th century.
He, who Bernard Labbé came to call “William II of Ducey,” could also be William de Husson, the husband of Mathilde of Ducey and thus the title of seigneur of Ducey passed to him. Once she became a widow, Mathilde remarried with the seigneur Nigel, an official or viscount of Mortain. Foulques of Husson, son from her first marriage, left a son, Fraslin de Husson, who became seigneur of Ducey in 1302.
Meanwhile, famines and epidemics ravaged the country in 1260 and again in 1268, and again in 1315 to 1317.
Then Normandy became involved in a political struggle between King Edward III of England and the French king, Philippe 6th. The countryside became “the theatre of boldly wars.” This was the start of the Hundred Year War of 1337-1453.
In 1346, the English surprised the Normans, landing in Normandy and pillaging numerous towns. As told in the archives, the great horse-trail routes across the region were destroyed as well. Desroches also found in a manuscript at the National Library in Paris, indicating that Ducey was destroyed by the Englishman Renaud de Gobehen, after having burned the settlements around Avranches.
The Black Plague was particularly devastating in Europe and France in the summer of 1348. Historians agree that the cities and towns lost between 15 to 50 per cent of their populations.
Eight years thereafter, the English knights re-took and again battered Normandy. The enemy, until then, had been an ally of the Normans: the count of Evreux and king of Navarre, “Charles le Mauvais.” A civil war erupted between the Normans. The historian Labbé summarized the insufferable atmosphere which fractured our province:
“Thus it was there were those who governed, pillaged and ravaged all sections of Normandy. The Navarrois, English, Bretons and French fought, ravaged and pillaged together, the occurrence of these actions during these times could be seen everywhere amidst ruins and misery; they came out of their castles like bandits out of their hideouts, to bother, extort and massacre the poor…”
The new king, Charles VI, tried to establish a provisional peace, with the aid of Bertrand of Guesclin, his captain, whose sister had married the seigneur of Ducey.
Du Guesclin, captain of Pontorson, perhaps warned by friends of his sister, Clemence, Chatelaine of Ducey, went to expel the trouble-makers with losses and battles (…) Enraged, Du Guesclin wanted to impose on the monks of Montmorel, a penalty of 40 pounds as a price for their connivance with the undesirable occupants. The king of Navarre occupied the Avranches region in 1368.
The cease-fire with England succeeded and calm returned again in 1381 and again in 1412. But three years later, the war began again and the King of England, Henry V, landed in France. His marauding knights did not stop until the Battle of Agincourt, in which he was victorious. He conquered Normandy and took control of the Norman towns. In 1419, only Mont-Saint-Michel resisted him. In 1420, the Treaty of Troyes made the King of England the ruler of the kingdom of France.
But we return one century back, with Fraslin de Husson, seigneur of Ducey, of Champcervon who came from Cherence. He had married Clemence DuGuesclin, the sister of the great commander of the Crown. The couple had two children, William and Tiphaine. This surviving sister inherited the lands of Ducey and transferred them by marriage, to Guy of Laval. Their second son, Guy, married Jean de Raiz, who gave birth to Gilles of Laval, whose daughter later married Pregent of Coitivy.
All would have been simple if Tiphaine de Husson, once a widow, had not remarried, in a second marriage to Raoul of Meullent. Her marriage contract indicated that she gave the seigneury of Ducey, among other holdings, to their future children. “This was the start of a process of lasting duration between the young seigneurs of Laval and her other children, who came from Raoul de Mullent.
“During this time, Pierre of Pontbriand (called Hector by some) seigneur of Rouel and a gentleman servant of a knight, purchased the seigneury of Ducey from Guy of Laval and his wife, Jeanne de Raiz. But because he could not take possession of these lands, he undertook a legal process to give it to the Laval family.” We leave it to the Abbé Desroches to explain some of the detail:
“Those who complicate the strange manner of this first process, and for whom nothing was overlooked, the King of England, who as well had ravaged the coast of Normandy, then gave the seigneury of Ducey to an englishman named Nessfeld (…) It happened that Ducey had some importance, for the King made him guard it with five horse-lancers, 16 foot-lancers and 60 archers…”
After the lifting of the siege of Orleans in 1429, thanks to the intervention of Joan of Arc, and the level of pride in her conquest, the English were definitively chased out of France and Normandy (Nessfeld with them) in 1450. The seigneury of Ducey returned to the daughter of Pontbrient, Marie, wife of Floridas la Porc, a gentleman servant.
Desroches made mention that Ducey, now qualifying as a town, became a walled city, defended by palisades.
Marie of Pontbriend came and paid homage to the fiefdom of Ducey in February, 1473, again on the 20th of March 1473, and once more in July 1485. She had probably by then married for a second time, to a member of the Bossieres family, for she left a son, Pierre de la Bossieres, a gentleman who became the seigneur of Ducey in 1490. He married a woman of Maros, who gave him the children Nicolas, Bertrand and Claude.
Nicolas married the noble woman of Neuvilletette, who bore him a daughter Jeanne, who could not be given the estate. Bertrand, being a religious, the seignury of Ducey then came to Jacques, the first of the Montgommery family.
In this manner, the lands of Ducey fell into the hands of an illustrious Norman family in 1521, and they made the town one of their principal and most appreciated residences.”
(end of translation)
The above translation from Valérie Houlbert’s book, represents most of the first section, entitled “Introduction of the origin of Ducey.” The book includes another 200 pages about the town of Ducey’s history down through the centuries to the present day.
In the next section, the book largely documents the reign of the Montgommery family. From an established Norman linage, they held title to the Ducey fiefdom for close to 200 years, beginning about 1521. They are considered to be Ducey’s premier historical family. Between 1620 and 1626, they built the elegant Chateau Montgommery that now serves as Ducey’s historical centerpiece. It is owned by the town and was extensively renovated several years ago.
The second half of this book of begins with the time of the French Revolution in the late 1780s and carries through to the present. It identifies political, industrial, religious and cultural builders of Ducey and their achievements. A listing of the town’s mayors from 1793 brings the reader to the current mayor, Henri-Jacques Dewitte.