Introduction Hotel d'Escoville1
The Mansion of Levalois d'Escoville 2
Seat of the Academy
Construction In 1531 Jean de la Vigne's house was sold and pulied down.
ln 1533 the pavilion , at the far end of the courtyard as you go in, was built, the wing at right angles to it was erected in 1535 as can be seen from the dates carved on the mullions; 1537 saw the completion of the main building on the Place Saint Pierre.
During the excavations a fair amount of 'quicksilver' (mercury) was discovered in the foundations - a full pewter pot - . Some thought it was due to a Iode others to the fact that an apothecary had had his shop there.
Who was the Architect? There are several possibilities:
- A taiented builder who was also the creator of the Châteaux of Fontaine-Henry and Lasson, the Hôtel de Duval de Mondrainville in Caen and other remarkable constructions of the Renaissance period in Normandy.
- Hector Sohier the wonderful architect of the apse of Saint Pierre nearby which displays many identical details.
- Finally, Blaise Leprestre is credited with having been the architect. He was a Caen master-builder who enjoyed quite a reputation in the early XVIth Century. ln any case, the gateway on the Place Saint-Pierre is, beyond any doubt, attributed to him by a text from Cahaignes and, consequently, it is quite likely he was responsible for the whole of the building overlooking the Place Saint-Pierre, the last to be completed in 1537.
The Sculptors? Undoubtedly local artists for the decorative patterns on the one hand, but certainly Italian sculptors for the figures of Judith and David which recall Florentine work of that period.
The Seat of the Academy. On Nicolas Le Valois's death, his eldest son Louis took the title of Lord of Escoville Valois and became Great Lord of Normandy in residence at Caen. Louis took over the Mansion but soon tired of it and gave it up, contenting himself with deriving financial benefit from that magnificent building.
Thus the City of Caen hired the Mansion in 1574 to house the Count of Montgomery who was to stop in Caen and , in the course of time, various great lords, chief of whom Charles de Matignon, Lieutenant General of Normandy. Moreover shops were established, at that time, on the ground floor looking on to the Place Saint Pierre.
Early in the XVII th Century, Nicolas Le Valois's grandson Jean sold the Mansion to Guillaume Moisant, a rich merchant from Rouen who had made a fortune in the cloth trade and wanted to enjoy a peacefut retirement in Caen. Jacques Moisant his son settled in Caen to devote himself, whole-heartedly, to the cult of Belles Lettres; he got into the habit of meeting people every Monday at this the main crossroads in town; they were mostly gentlemen of no occupation who used to collect there waiting for the Paris Mail
These gatherings were sometimes marred by bad weather and, quite naturally, they moved into the neighbouring house of Jacques Moisant which became their shelter and then the permanent seat of the Academy of Arts and Belles Lettres on its foundation in 1652; Jacques Moisant provided one of the finest halls of his abode for the meetings.
Destination Jacques Moisant, like his father before him, did not occupy the whole of his vast Mansion and there were some sizeable premises left which the City of Caen kept for the great visiting dignitaries and, subsidiarily, to house its high officials on a permanent basis.
Thus, after 1614, Monsieur de Matignon, LieutenantGeneral of Normandy, left his mark there, to such an extent, that after him the Mansion was known as the Hôtel de Matignon instead of the Hôtel du Grand Cheval...( the House of the Great Horse - see farther on).
Gradually, the Town took advantage of different opportunities, such as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the banishment of Robert Moisant to Holland, to acquire parts of the Mansion whose maintenance had proved very costly to Moisant's inheritors. ln short, the Town turned it into a City Hall and allowed some associations, like the Academy of Music, to use it as a venue for their activities; concerts, indeed, could easily be given in its large halls.
In 1750 the meetings of the" Académie des Arts, Sciences et Belles Lettres "were resumed there at the behest of the Intendant Fontette who had become the Patron of the Academy, as is shown in the History above.
On Alexis de Touchet's death, his widow Catherine Moisant, the sole owner of a great part of the Mansion sold the remainder, i.e. the left wing, to the City which wished to house the Commercial Court there. But the move did not take place and that part of the Hotel is worthy of note only for the temporary installation of the Post Office during the Revolution. lt was eventually sold again to various people as on 8 Vendémiaire (30th September 1795). Finally, it was turned into business premises.
The right wing accommodated, for a time, the Commercial Court and the Municipal Administration until the latter moved to the former Seminary of the Eudists, then the Commercial Exchange, the Chamber of Commerce, the Commercial Court again and the Conciliation Board. lncidentally, the resumption of concerts with the presence of the Philharmonic Society for Calvados, as from 1827, and that of the Fine Arts Society,gave the old Mansion a new lease of life.
To-day the Tourist Office keeps up the tradition of using the Hôtel for public services enjoying as it does such a central situation.
A salvaged and restored fireplace