Martainville Castle’s history

Jacques Le Pelletier came from a rich Provençal family of merchants. He purchased the fief in 1481, which covered 25 ha (around 61.77 acres). After he was named alderman of the town of Rouen, this rich ship-owner wanted an even better and nobler social status, which is one of the reasons why he decided to build a castle on this property. The year ‘1485’, engraved on a window keystone of the south tower, gives us a precise idea of the building period which ended around 1495.

The original building looked like a stronghold with four flanking towers, a drawbridge and a parapet walk with machicolation on its walls (nevertheless, the whole building already announces the Renaissance period and style, by the map of the castle as well as by the materials utilized). On each floor, around a central corridor, there are four rooms, each with a fireplace; in each turret there are latrines overlooking the ditch. In those times, the use of new materials like red and black bricks recalls the Flemish technique. The bricks were fired on the site and the white stones came from the Vernon quarries. One can notice a clever decorative inclusion of black glazed bricks, arranged so they could form hearts, crosses or lozenges. Martainville castle is definitely one of the first Normandy Renaissance-style buildings.

When Jacques de Martainville died in 1510, his nephew, Jacques (the second), inherited all his fortune. He completely transformed the castle by having the moats filled, a defensive wall with towers built, windows widened, some parts of the roofing elevated, some new chimneys with Gothic ornamentations made, and the ground-floor corridor vaulted. Mostly, he had the main façade redone: the drawbridge was destroyed and replaced by an elegant doorway which was crowned with concave arches with foliage ornaments. Upon the main frontage, the corbelled loggia coincided with the construction of a chapel on the first floor. Jacques Le Pelletier’s family made the renovations stop, so he died before achieving his purposes, in 1545. A precise inventory, already made then, specifies that the farm buildings, like the dovecote, the barns, the byres and stables, were completed. In 1571, one of his sons, Richard Le Pelletier, was knighted and authorized to change the name Le Pelletier into Martainville. The whole property remained in the hands of the same family until 1781, when the last of the Martainvilles died without an heir. The castle was abandoned; only the farm was still in use.

The castle was classified as a historic monument in 1889, and the farm in 1931. In 1905, a cattle dealer bought the property; the castle was in a very bad shape. The State bought it out in 1906, saving it from destruction. As all its original furniture had been dispersed, the General Council of the former Department of Seine-Inférieure, in charge of the castle in 1955, had the building restored in order to create a museum, which was opened in 1961. Today, Martainville Castle houses the Museum of Traditions and Arts of Normandy, owned by The Department of Seine-Maritime.