ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE AND THE CHATEAU DE TOCQUEVILLE
To his way of thinking, the charm of the Château was only magnified by the memory of his many ancestors who occupied it throughout its history, ancestors traced back to Guillaume Clérel, who accompanied William the Conqueror to England in the year 1066 and fought with him at the battle of Hastings.
Alexis de Tocqueville inherited the Château from his father in 1836. He and his wife Mary decided to settle there, so that Alexis could work on the second part of his masterpiece “Democracy in America“. At the same time they decided to renovate the property and the park.
“There“, he wrote, “I glimpse into a world of dreams. Do you know that, from the top of the tower, I can see the port where William the Conqueror embarked for his conquest of England, and do you know that all these places around me bear names that are famous in our history?”
From the “Tower wing”, one can watch “a long meadow blending into the sea on the horizon“, and in his writings and letters, Alexis de Tocqueville also refers to the port of Barfleur, where Sir (and Saint) Thomas Becket stayed on his way from England to the Continent, as well as to the shipwreck in 1120 of the “Blanche Nef“, which deprived Henry I – King of England and Duke of Normandy – of a male offspring, and to the landing of Edward III’s troops in 1346 not far from Saint-Vaast-La-Hougue, which marked the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War and where the King knighted his son the Black Prince.
Already in 1837, the year in which Alexis de Tocqueville sought his first election as representative to the French National Assembly, he had penned: “I like this place. I am going to lead an extremely orderly, tranquil life here“.
As “a writer before lunch and a countryman afterwards“, he personally oversaw the management of his estate and modernized the way it developed, such as converting ploughed fields into meadows. In a more humorous mood, he doubted that his writings would last as long as the solid pigsty that he was building. In the evenings in front of the large fireplace, he would submitt his latest writing to Madame de Tocqueville, as well as to his close friend Jean-Jacques Ampère, only son of famed physicist Andre-Marie Ampère (from which comes the word “amps”), and himself a noted French philologist and homme de lettres who had also visited America (in 1851) and who was a frequent guest of the Château.
In 1852, Tocqueville begins to work on the “Old Regime and the Revolution” at the Château.
Alexis de Tocqueville, increasingly fond of his old Château, admitted that there is “a certain delight in treading upon the land where one’s forefathers used to live and in living among people whose origins are bound up with our own“. He who, in his reports for the National Assembly, was concerned with finding a solution to poverty, wished to be regarded as a benefactor of the unfortunate. Every week, bread was baked at the Château for the poor, and, as lord of the manor and in keeping with an ancient tradition of Christian charity to which he felt bound, he would visit the sick.
But like many today, Alexis also could not resist the invitation extended to all nature lovers by “those long, leafy lanes that open up at every step (and) offer the most delightful places to walk“. To which he added: “The countryside is perfect for welcoming true friends“.