Bonjour, Barfleur!

During a recent location research visit to Normandy Kathy and I visited the lovely little coastal village of Barfleur in northwestern France. It’s not far from Cherbourg and well worth a side trip! And as well as one thousand years and more of history there are some wonderful eateries featuring its famous mussels, Blonde de Barfleur, which connoisseurs rate very highly.

The port of Barfleur today

The port of Barfleur today

You can see why Barfleur’s listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France as you take in the granite houses around the picturesque harbour and in the village centre charmingly adorned with white shutters. The French Neo-Impressionist painter Paul Victor Jules Signac painted some delightful studies of the port and village; he spent the last two years of his life in Barfleur.

In the ninth century the Viking invaders from Scandinavia made Barfleur one of the bases. In time it became the largest port in Normandy and bore witness to a number of important historical events.

Cannon from the 1692 battle of Barfleur

Cannon from the 1692 battle of Barfleur

In 1066 William the Conqueror in Mora, with Etienne from Barfleur as his helmsman, headed a fleet of 400 ships to conquer England, which of course he famously did.

Barfleur became the port of embarkation for royal crossings, the royal ship Esneca Regis usually making the crossing to Southampton in a night.

In 1120 Henry I, the Duke of Normandy, was returning to England with his two sons. The crossing had been delayed by a strong north wind and to pass the time much wine was imbibed ashore. The ship Blanche Nef founded on the rock Quillebeuf and all bar Berold, a butcher from Rouen perished. (This incident is described by Renzi in Invasion.)

It is said that Henry I was never seen to smile gain.

Barfleur has a huge tide range; the harbour at low water

Barfleur has a huge tide range; the harbour at low water

The tragedy changed the course of English history as it marked the end of Henry’s direct male line and resulted in bloody civil war, only resolved when Henry II came to the throne.

Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine and passed through Barfleur many times, among them on his way to petition the Pope to lift the excommunication after the murder of Thomas Becket.

In 1190 Richard the Lionheart, oldest surving son of Henri II embarked at Barfleur on his way to his coronation as King of England.

Edward II sacked Barfleur in 1346. The population was reduced to some 800 and was under English rule until 1450.

Kathy enjoying Barfleur’s famous moules

Kathy enjoying Barfleur’s famous moules

The Battle of Barfleur in 1692 was part of the battle of Barfleur-La Hogue during the War of the Grand Alliance. The French fleet under de Tourville was seeking to cover an invasion of England by a French army to restore the Catholic James II to the throne, but was intercepted by an Anglo-Dutch fleet under Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford on 19 May 29 1692. Because of the calm conditions off Cap Barfleur it was not until after 11 am, five hours after first sighting each other, that the two fleets engaged. For the next few hours, both fleets bombarded each other, causing considerable damage. The battle continued for the rest of the day and into the night with significant losses on both sides. With the eventual destruction of much of Tourville’s fleet, the threat of invasion disappeared.

Barfleur was occupied by the Germans during World War II and liberated 15 days after D-Day. The port was used by the Allies – as it had been by William the Conqueror and Richard the Lionheart – to ship war supplies.

Copyright notices
photo credit harbour photo: by Matthieu Tétard at fr.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5 (, from Wikimedia Commons
Every effort is made to honour copyright but if we have inadvertently published an image with missing or incorrect attribution, on being informed of this, we undertake to delete the image or add a correct credit notice

2 Comments on “Bonjour, Barfleur!”

  1. Some years ago, I went on an organised tour of Normandy. This included Barfleur but unfortunately our visit there coincided with a French Bank Holiday….. the place was a human honey-pot!

  2. In the early fifties is I was onboard HMS Trafalgar as part of the 7th destroyer squadron composed of battle class destroyers one of which was HMS Barfleur

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