In 1064, in Domfront in the Mayenne, a complaint was brought before Guillaume le Bâtard, the Comte du Maine, by the monks of the Abbaye de la Couture in Le Mans, against Guy I of Laval. (Luckily for Guillaume, people would cease referring to the marital status of his parents two years later and he would become better known as Guillaume le Conquérant, William the Conqueror who invaded England in 1066 and killed King Harold with an arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings and made himself King of England.)
Guy de Laval had been keen to found an abbey on land near his castle in Laval. He had instructed a monk from the abbey of Saint Calais, called Guérin, to start this project for him in the first half of the XIth century and had given him enough land to build an abbey and a village in Laval. As the first dependency of his future abbey he had already handed over his castle, village and lands of Auvers, (later to be known as Auvers-le-Hamon in honour of Guy’s son, Hamon).
This original foundation was witnessed and signed, but the foundation charter was misplaced not long after. Guérin got as far as building the prieuré de Notre Dame in Auvers, but unfortunately didn’t manage to complete his task as he was killed when he accompanied Guy de Laval on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1039.
On his return to Laval from Jerusalem, Guy decided to restart his project and in about 1050 he gave his newly completed prieuré de Saint Martin on his land in Laval to the Abbaye de Marmoutiers, where his other son, Jean, had become a monk. The prieuré de Notre Dame in Auvers he gave to the Abbaye de la Couture in Le Mans.
Not content with having been given a nice new priory, church and small village in Auvers, the Abbaye de la Couture claimed that the priory in Laval should also belong to them and claimed that they had been promised all the land that had been given to Guérin, as per the original foundation charter (which no one could find). Things got rather heated and the case was sent to the Bishop of Angers who passed it on to Guillaume le Bâtard in Le Mans.
As Comte du Maine, Guillaume was an extremely powerful man and he decided that he didn’t quite trust the impartiality of the church-run judiciary system in Le Mans so would hear the case himself. He declared that as the original project given to Guérin had been terminated by the monk’s death, that Guy de Laval should swear an oath that he had not given the land in Laval either to Guérin, as a dependency of the priory in Auvers, nor directly to the Abbaye de la Couture and that would settle the matter. The abbot from the Abbaye de la Couture, a man called Renauld, said he would not accept Guy’s sworn statement. So instead Guillaume le Bâtard passed his judgement that the land and priory in Laval would be the property of the Abbaye de Marmoutiers and the Abbaye de la Couture could keep the priory and village of Auvers. Case closed and there was nothing the Abbaye de la Couture could do about it.
Two separate copies of the foundation charter were later included in the cartulaire, archives of the Abbaye de la Couture. Both have since been found to be later copies– fraudulently made and passed off as originals by the monks themselves, presumably to support claims in later legal battles around 1190-1193. Unfortunately, they had got carried away by adding all sorts of powerful people as witnesses (some of whom weren’t even alive at the time of the signing of the original foundation charter!) and sealed the charters with green wax, which didn’t appear until the XII century. Historians however believe that the details held in the charters are faithful to the original.
Another interesting detail is that the founder of the prieuré d’Auvers is named in the charter as Guy de Dénéré, the title that Guy held until he was granted the Seigneurie of Laval in 1020. The original foundation and donation of the land and village of Auvers was therefore made sometime before 1020.
Now, “What does all this have to do with le Moulin de la Roche?” I hear you ask.
Well, in 1546 the then prieur of the prieuré d’Auvers, Adam Fumée, wrote an aveu, a notarised tax declaration for the Comte du Maine regarding all the property, rights, taxes and so on that the priory had been given as part of the foundation charter.
Having first outlined the boundaries of the land he then went on to itemise all the separate fiefs and their associated rights.
And there we are! The grain mill of la Roche already existed at the time of the original foundation of the priory in 1020 or earlier. We have discovered the origins of our French mill. Well, not quite. If it was already there in 1020 when was it actually built? I wonder if I will ever know!