Brittany has long been a land of lore and legends, seeped in the supernatural. The region is said to be one of the most haunted parts of France and any journey around the castles of Brittany weaves a dark path between legend and rumour; fear and fright. Unsettling tales of lost innocence and tormented souls condemned to forever haunt the old stones lest they be forgotten.
One of the most haunted sites in Brittany is surely the medieval Château de Trecesson whose grounds are reputedly haunted by the ghost of a white lady sporting a muddy wedding dress. Legend tells us that this is the spirit of a woman who was buried alive on her wedding day; murdered in 1750 by her brothers for having agreed to a matrimonial match they felt dishonoured the family. The ghost of an unknown monk – sometimes described as headless – is said to wander nearby; along the meadow that borders one of the lanes leading to the castle and the roadside calvary there.
A room on the first floor of the castle has long had a reputation for being haunted. The local legend says that some hundreds of years ago, a guest at the castle asked to spend the night in this room to prove that there was nothing to fear but the superstitions of chambermaids. Having gone to bed, our guest found sleep difficult, having been kept awake by a tremendous storm outside and the noise of the wind whistling down the chimney. Sometime before one o’clock, he was startled to see candlelight illuminating an open doorway to the left of the fireplace; as his eyes adjusted to the light, he could make out a flight of stone steps leading upwards. Thinking this a servants’ staircase that he had somehow overlooked earlier, he called out but received no response. Two liveried servants crossed to the centre of the room carrying not water and a clean chamber pot but two chairs and a gaming table. No sooner had they set down the furniture, than two well-dressed gentlemen appeared, seated themselves and began a game of cards.
Some versions of the tale say that the house guest immediately reached for his pistol and fired-off a shot before falling into unconsciousness. Others say that he sat watching the stakes quickly rise to giddying heights before firing his shot and being overcome with sleep. When he awoke, there was no evidence of his nocturnal visitors, save for the table and a significant stack of gold coins. After rousing the owner of the castle and relating his tale of the ghostly gamblers, our guest thought himself entitled to the abandoned stakes. Alas, his host considered them rightfully his and an ugly dispute ensued that was carried all the way to the Parliament of Brittany.
The castle is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a young knight who had been forced by his father to represent the family honour on the crusade of 1249. He was killed in battle the following year and his young widow died of grief a few wretched months after receiving news of his death. Since then, the spirits of the ill-starred lovers have often been sighted replaying the scene of their final farewell near the castle’s gateway.
The magnificent 14th century Château de Combourg was the childhood home of François-René de Chateaubriand (1768–1848) one of Brittany’s most acclaimed writers. In his memoirs, he evokes his lonely childhood and nights spent tormented by nightmares of an ancestor with a wooden leg who haunted the staircase of his turret chamber. Sometimes, he dreamt that the wooden leg alone wandered the flagstones accompanied by a sinister black cat. In a curious twist of coincidence, some thirty years after Chateaubriand’s death, renovation work to the tower’s walls uncovered the skeleton of a cat that was sealed into the fabric of the building during its initial construction.
Noted as the building that effectively sounded the death knell for the independence of Brittany, the Château de Châteaubriant was once home to Jean de Laval, sometime Governor of Brittany. His wife, Françoise de Foix, was a noted beauty and, for a decade, a mistress of the King of France. Having lost the King’s favour, she returned to Brittany and died, aged 41, just nine years later in 1537. A number of legends attribute her death to the resentful jealousy of her husband who is reputed to have locked her in her chamber where he had her bled to death. Her ghost returns to haunt the place at midnight every 16 October; the anniversary of her death. Some variants of the story have her appearing alone; others have her being joined by her husband and even appearing as part of a courtly procession through the sumptuous chamber known as the Golden Room; a place not built until a century after her death.
Just outside Châteaubriant, the chapel of the old Manoir de Bois-Briant was said to be visited by three beautiful young ladies, dressed in white. These apparitions always appeared from the neighbouring woods and walked arm-in-arm towards the chapel singing with ‘so much sweetness that we were all delighted with it’. In the 19th century, these ladies were reported to make themselves known every Christmas Eve and sometimes on the eve of other sacred festivals. Their lament was said to be a reproach to the populace for their ingratitude in forgetting the martyrdom of a priest murdered at the chapel’s altar by Republican forces during the religious purges of the Revolution.
Nearby, the ruins of the 13th century Château de Pouancé, which once guarded the border between Brittany and Anjou, is said to be haunted by a former mistress of the castle. This late 14th century lady is reputed to have been desperately in love with a Breton knight and one night, at his behest, opened one of the doors to the fortress. Alas, her suitor was not alone in the darkness; the gate was rushed by the Bretons who quickly overwhelmed the castle’s garrison.
With the departure of the Bretons, legend tells us that the lord of Pouancé had his wife walled-up alive within the castle for her treachery. Since then, many people have reported seeing a lady, dressed in white, walking the ramparts; her finger pressed close to her lips. Another tale says that in the 18th century, renovation work at the castle uncovered a sealed chamber where the body of a woman was found, tied seated at a table upon which rested silver cutlery; inside her mouth was a single gold coin.
Today, little remains of the Château de Vioreau near Joué-sur-Erdre but it was a significant site in the Middle Ages and was, for a time, part of the powerful Barony of Châteaubriant. A tale tells that a lady of the castle once had a brief love affair with her husband’s favourite page; a liaison that ended badly and saw bitterness soak the lady’s heart. One day, she sent her former lover on an important errand; to deliver a letter to her kinsman, the governor of the castle of Nantes. He was promptly clapped in irons after the governor read the message: “Hang, without delay, the bearer of this letter”.
Fortunately for the page, the lord of Vioreau had been concerned by the sudden departure of his servant on a secret errand and had followed him to Nantes. In the dungeon of the city’s castle, he confronted his page: “Tell me all and I will save you”. Having already betrayed his master, the wretched man now betrayed his mistress.
Some weeks later, the lord and lady of Vioreau attended a great celebration at the nearby Château de Blain. As the music began, the lord took his wife to dance and danced with such enthusiasm that all remarked how joyful was the lord of Vioreau. The lively dancing went on late into the night and the attentive lord insisted that his wife dance with him without any interruption. Having danced for hours, the lady eventually collapsed exhausted, hot and breathless; her husband lost no time in tenderly escorting her to rest on a window seat nearby.
As he had hoped, the treacherous coolness of the stone seat served his vengeful designs better than any more violent means; the lady of Vioreau contracted a harsh cold that quickly proved fatal. The lord duly rewarded his former page with a generous gift of land. Betrayed by the only two men she had ever loved, the ghost of this lady roams the castle ruins to this day.
In ruin for the last 250 years, the 15th century Château de Rustéphan near Pont-Aven is reputed to be home to the ghost of a young girl from the 16th century who is said to have died of grief after her fiancé renounced their marriage to become a priest. Legend tells us that the lord of Rustéphan did not consider the prospective groom a good match for his daughter and pressured him to take holy orders and leave the parish. After midnight, during the nights of a full moon, the unhappy lady, wearing a green dress, has been seen weeping while walking along the castle’s walls. Sometimes, the ghostly figure of an old priest has been sighted at the windows, longingly gazing of the apparition of the green lady of Rustéphan.
Near Elven, the 14th century Château de Largoët boasts the highest keep in France; rising some 57 meters above the fortress’ massive moat. We have already been introduced to the castle’s resident white lady who is said to wander the surrounding forest in a bloodied dress; the ghost of a former lady of the castle who killed herself upon the death of her lover, a knight who had been slain defending her. There is another tale of ghostly goings on; sometimes between the hours of eleven o’clock and midnight, the spectres of the former lords of the castle are said to feast rowdily together in the keep. The ghost of an otherwise unknown crippled man is also said to haunt the border of the castle’s moat.
A former residence of the Dukes of Brittany and, for a dozen years, home to the exiled Jasper and Henry Tudor, the 14th century Château de Suscinio on the Rhuys Peninsula of Brittany’s southern coast is steeped in history. Alas, the Lancastrains’ departure in 1484 marked one of the last times the castle was officially used by the rulers of Brittany. Duke Francis II died in 1488 and was succeeded by his 11 year old daughter, Anne; the last ruler of an independent Brittany and subsequently twice Queen of France. After 1532, the castle passed to the French crown and was sometime home to Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Médici before being slowly abandoned by the aristocracy.
After the Revolution, the castle was sold to a local merchant for use as a stone quarry and remained in ruins until the late 1960s. The castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young boy, reputed to be the son of a former Captain of the Guard, who seems to play hide-and-seek with those who chance to catch sight of him. Sceptics might note that sightings of this ghost appear to coincide with the major restoration works carried out to the building since the 1970s and its eventual opening to the public.
I would like to end this post with a sincere note of gratitude to those of you who have taken the time to read it and the 46 others that I have posted since joining the WordPress community a year ago! Thank you! Thank you for your kindness and encouragement throughout the year – it has been very much appreciated!