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Combourg (Municipality, Ille-et-Vilaine, France)

Last modified: 2023-08-24 by olivier touzeau
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Banner of Combourg - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 20 October 2021

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Presentation of Combourg

The municipality of Combourg (5,963 inhabitants in 2019; 6,355 ha) is located half distance (40 km) of Rennes and Saint-Malo.

Combourg as an early parish belongs to the diocese of Saint-Malo. Its territory was larger than that of the current town: between the 11th and 14th centuries it was successively composed from the finages of Trémeheuc (attested in 1053), Lanrigan (attested in 1070) and Lourmais (attested in 1319).
The feudal domain of Combourg was created by the archbishop of Dol, Ginguéné, in favor of his younger brother, Riwallon de Dol, while the castle was built around 1025. Combourg remained in the possession of the descendants of Riwallon until the death of Yseult de Dol in 1197. However, the son she had had from her union with Harsculf de Soligné (d. 1197) took the name of his mother by becoming John III de Dol. Combourg was then transmitted by inheritance to the families of Châteaugiron, known as Malestroit de Rieux, Châtel, Montjean, Acigné, and, finally Coëtquen, who were erected Counts in 1575. The ultimate heiress of this family, the duchess de Duras, sold the county and its castle to Chateaubriand's parents on 3 May 1761. During the Hundred Years' War, Arnoul d'Audrehem, who resided in Pontorson, rode to Bécherel, then occupied by the English. On the way back, he was discreetly followed by the garrison of the Bécherel. While the French rested at Combourg, the English entered the town by surprise, killed a few men and took many prisoners. Arnoul managed to flee, but a few days later, he was back in Combourg. The Bécherel garrison learned it and advanced, hoping to renew the previous feat of arms ; it fell into an ambush set by Bertrand Du Guesclin, who quickly received help from Arnoul. A large part of the English were massacred and their captain, Hugues de Calverly, was made prisoner.

René-Auguste de Chateaubriand and his wife, Apolline de Bedée, who were rich shipowners in Saint-Malo, acquired the county of Combourg on 3 May 1761, and settled there in May 1777 with their six surviving children (out of ten). Their youngest son François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) spent twelve years of his youth there.
A Royalist politician (State Minister, 185-1816; Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1822-1824) and Peer of France (1815-1830), Chateaubriand is mostly known as a prolific writer and the precursor of French Romantism, especially in the novel René (1802).

Chateaubriand's main work, Mémoires d'outre-tombe (Memoirs from beyond the grave; full text), published in 12 volumes between 1849 and 1850, is a mixed collection of the writer's personal exploits, but also of the main historical and political events of the era.
There are 137 occurrences of the word "Combourg" in the Mémoires, chapter tittles and subtitles included.
In Part I, Book I, Chapter 1 details the complex genealogy of Chateaubriand and his connection with the domain of Combourg. Chapter 3 details, in a quite confuse manner, how the writer's father recovered the title of Count of Combourg and ownership of the castle of Combourg.
Thee castle, mentioned as Combour in Froissart's chronicles, was erected in 1016 by Junken, Bishop of Dol, to defend the land border of Brittany against English or Normand raids; the big tower was added in 1110.
Chapter 7 relates the first visit of young Alphonse-René to Combourg and provides a detailed description of the castle, which looked like a "four-wheel cart" with a "sad and severe facade", concluded by "Everywhere, silence, darkness and stone face: this is the castle of Combourg"; the description of the rural environment follows, idealized with time and contrasting with the cold description of the castle.
Book II is mostly dedicated to the writer's youth and its first (Chapter 2), second (Chapter 3) and third (Chapter 4) vacations spent in Combourg, as well as to its mission (Chapter 7) and return (Chapter 8) to Combourg.
Book III describes the reminiscence of Combourg during a walk (Chapter I), life in Combourg (Chapter 3), and return and farewell to Combourg (Chapter 16). "Life in Combourg" is one of the most famous sections of the book; the writer describes the sad atmosphere of the moors, and even sadder, of the castle, which he compares to the Great Chartreuse of Grenoble he subsequently visited. The four inhabitants of the castle, who hardly received visitors, were the writer, his silent father, his religious mother, and his sister Lucile. In the evening, the writer used to sit near the fireplace and spoke mezzo voce with Lucile, fearing the return of the spectral father walking through the dark rooms of the castle and asking them: "What did you talk about?". The chapter ends with the descriptions of the horrific legend involving a wooden-legged Count of Combourg, dead for three centuries, who appears from time to time in the turret's great staircase; his wooden leg also uses to walk alone with a black cat.
The writer relates its last visit to his old and ill father, "no longer so scaring but a father worth of tenderness", in Chapter 16, which ends with the reminiscence of his last three visits in Combourg. Short before leaving Saint-Malo for America, he found the castle abandoned, ports and windows closed, and immediately left. The chapter ends with the famous tribute to Combourg, often considered as a pre-Romantic manifesto and an anticipation of Baudelaire's spleen: "In the woods of Combourg, I became who I am; here I experienced the first damage by boredom that I have been legging behind me all my life, of that sadness that made my torment and my felicity." Accordingly, the town of Combourg (5,912 inhabitants in 2016) is self-styled "Cradle of Romantism".
Significant descriptions of Combourg in the Mémoires stop here, p. 86. The rest of the book (up to p. 1420) includes only incidental, melancholic reminiscences of the woods, pond, paths, moors, crows, and turret of Combourg.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 20 October 2021

Banner of Combourg

The banner of Combourg (photo, 2014) is in proportions 7:2, Vertically divided red-white, with countercharged squares in the upper part, one ermine spot above, and two ermine spots in the lower part. The design refers to the municipal arms, "Quarterly argent and gules".

Olivier Touzeau, 20 October 2021

Flag used in twinning events


Flag of Combourg - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 20 October 2021

In twinning events, Combourg is represented by a banner of arms with the name of the municipality in black letters centered in the flag's lower half (photo).

Olivier Touzeau, 20 October 2021