The Origins of the Gourville Estate

Ammonites ramassées dans les champs au début des années 1900.

Ammonites Found in the Fields Early in the 1900s.

If Gourville had existed over 30 million years ago, it would have been a seaside resort: in fact, the sea rose to the shore of Longroi, a few kilometers from here. We could also step further back in time, since ammonites were once found by cultivators ploughing their calcareous soils, none too far from Gourville. The ammonites (large fossilized marine shells) are over a 100 million years old and disappeared at the same time as the dinosaurs, over 65 million years ago.

However, let’s limit ourselves to more recent time periods.

Gourville is located in Beauce on the border of the Hurepoix region. Archeologists have revealed traces of nomadic life (silex) in the surrounding area (Prunay), dating back up to 500,000 years (Paleolithic). At that time, the Beauce region had more of a “tundra” climate, but, with the warming and humidity, trees (oaks) started forming immense forests. Sedentary dwellings were certainly present on Gourville’s estate (Mesolithic about 10,000 years before JC) with main resources for the period inhabitants provided through hunting aurochs or deer. Inhabited caves from this time period were discovered in a mound located under the current Rochefort Golf Club in Yvelines (15 km from Gourville). Subsequently, the inhabitants deforested the area once they realized that the soil was particularly fertile and started cultivating  emmer wheat, barley, emmer, and even flaxseed (mid-Neolithic era approximately 3,500 years before JC : Visit the Auneau Archeological Excavation Site, 5 km away from Gourville !). However, hunting wild boars, stags and beavers also constituted an important food source. 

The Villas

It would appear that the first organised populating in Beauce was achieved by the Carnutes, of Celtic origins, who had left traces of their existence as far back as some 600 years before JC. The druids, the golden sickles, the tree houses built to welcome the bards (was there not one at Gourville?) etc…, is folklore which can all be traced back to the Carnutes. In fact, we have very little information on this society before the Roman period, for which they were renowned for being violently opposed to Julius Caesar. Since Caesar knew how to write, we know approximately what transpired during that time. Even to this day, after the harvest, a bird’s eye view of the plains of Beauce allows one to witness the remains of the foundations of the Gallic farms and Roman villas (photos here included were taken from small tourism aircrafts). The villas are ancient Carnute Gallic farms rebuilt with tile roofing and purer geometrical shapes. One of the specialists of these aerial archeological photos is Daniel Jalmain, once principal of the Collège Juliette Adam of Gif-sur-Yvette where Marlyse taught, in the 70s (1970 that is, let us not mistake which millennium!).

Trace de villa

Foundation of a Roman Villa Photographed From a Plane Flying Above the Wheat Fields of the Beauce Region During the Summer Harvests.

A villa existed near a water source, at the bottom of a glen in present day Gourville. Unfortunately, the existing constructions, the proximity of the highway and the nearby wooded areas have made taken shots untransferable to photo. This position is located at the crossing of two Romans roads:  Chartres-Lutetia and Laon-Orléans.  A small Roman garrison watched the passage ways and ensured peace and order.

Coins Stamped for the Millennium Anniversary of the Founding of Rome (Near the Year 250) and Found Near the Foundations of the Villas in the Region.

Excavations have resulted in the discovery of Roman monetary coins (see the impressive array of coins discovered at Ouarville and near Gourville, stamped for the millennium celebrations of the founding of Rome in 753 BC: these coins had thus circulated in the Beauce region near the end of the 3rd century and have proven the existence of a Roman presence on this area).

The Goths

Roman peace (“Pax Romana”) lasted a few centuries. During the 4th century, more and more immigrants from central Europe were fleeing the Asian invaders, the most famous being Attila and the Huns. Facing the substantial challenges in maintaining border cohesion (power struggle in Rome, military anarchy), the Romans authorised certain migrants to settle on the Gaule territory in exchange for various services, such as keeping limes, or by buying their neutrality (for example, theVisigoths sacked Rome in 410: Rome paid for their departure by offering the Aquitaine region), acts referred today as partnership agreements.

Today, many communes in Beauce can trace back the origins of their names from this period of barbaric invasions (in general:  invasion = immigration and barbaric = non Christian). Hence, the Alans arrived at the beginning of the 5th century AD: where one can now find the Allainville commune, 15 km away from Gourville.  All signs indicate that a group of Goths settled in an encampment vacated at the time of the Romans’ departure hence the name of Gohervilla, Hogervilla, Guntherii, and Gourville. The date of this settlement would be at the end of the 4th century.

The County of Chartres 

These invasions, both peaceful and violent, ended during the 5th century, with the establishment of the Frankish Kingdom. From this point on until the establishment of the French departments at the end of the 18th century, Gourville will share its history with the county of Chartres: the counties were geographical divisions, already in existence under the Romans, which played an important role in the Merovingian dynasty and subsequently. As king’s representatives in the city, counts held administrative, judiciary, financial, and sometimes military powers.

Upon his death in 511 AD, the county of Chartres was bequeathed from Clovis to one of his sons, Chlodomer (Clodomir). Subsequently, count-owners succeeded each other, often following the use of assassination to simplify the order of succession, a practise which lasted until Charlemagne who restored order within the cacophony of incompetent leaders. However after his death the chaos started up again, until 872, at which time the Normans, led by the Duke of Hastings, took the city of Chartres. Following this, Rollo the Dane took it over, all before the era of Theobald the Trickster (940) which we will discuss later.

Gourville, at the Frontier of the Carnutes and the Parisii

Le péage des carnutes/parisii dans sa version du XXIe siècle !

The Toll Booth of Carnutes/Parisii in its 21st Century Version!

Gourville was spared the unrest within Chartres, due to its location within the limits of the land of the Carnutes, near the Parisii border (known today as being between the Eure-et-Loir (28) and Yvelines (78) departments), and  Orléans to the South, sister enemy of Chartres for over 1,000 years.

Gourville lies near the Montfort Seigneury as well as that of Rochefort to the East. To the North of Gourville was the Aquilina Forest, then Yvelines Forest, now known today as the Forest of Rambouillet. Not far from Rochefort lays the Royal Domain of Dourdan. Here, we must relate the story of the death of St-Arnoul, an interesting anecdote about the “recent” highway toll booth of St-Arnoult-in-Yvelines, one of the most important in the world, where two great road axes meet, known in the past as Lutetia-Carnutum and Lutetia-Cenabum, now Paris- Chartres and Paris-Orléans.


Bannière de Saint Arnoul martyr

The Banner of Saint-Arnoul the Martyr.

Arnoul, Bishop of Tours, was the nephew and confidant of Clovis and spent a lot of time with him in Soissons, where he was assassinated in the year 534. 

As he had expressed the desire to be buried in his diocese of Tours, his mortal remains were transported by the caring hands of his servants and his spouse, Scariberge, towards his final resting place. Approximately ten kilometers from Gourville, the horses stubbornly refused to move forward:  this was believed to be a sign from God and he was thus buried on the spot, where the town known today as Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines was established, head city in the district of Gourville.

Another, more pragmatic version of this story exists. This one states that the remains of the Bishop were to cross a toll border from the land of Parisii, in order to enter that of the Carnutes. As the crew of horses and carriages were prestigious (not only did Arnoul come from money and was very close to Clovis, he was also known for his numerous miracles), the toll requested was thus quite steep. During the long negotiations, the servants took off, leaving Scariberge by herself. To avoid further decomposition, the body of the deceased was buried on the spot. An interesting publication (Association Historique de St-Arnoult-en-Yvelines) was written by Jean-Claude and Marie-Josèphe Houssinot on this subject.

The Carnutes’ toll still exists in the 21st century (and is still almost as costly …).