The fascination of this ancient city of Normandy consists not only in
its historical associations and its splendid cathedral, but in the fine
setting, colour, and aspect of the place. Rouen should be approached, if
possible, by boat on the Seine. The steamboat journey from the mouth of
the river is very delightful, and there is no better way of gaining an
impression of one of the most beautiful of the provinces of France.
Hills, with frowning rocks, begirt the Seine in its tortuous course.
Woods and tilled fields alternate with primitive, untamed ravines,
watered by rivulets, and old sombre-hued houses and churches peer among
woods. Parts of the valley recall Wales or Scotland in their ruggedness;
while here and there we are reminded of the softer scenes of southern
The Rouen of obscure days of antiquity was probably a colony of the
tribe of the Roths-magi. Many place-names in Normandy suggest that the
Danes held this district, and they, rather than Norwegians, were the
early conquerors. From Rouen we derive our word “roan” for a horse of a
reddish colour, for the first imported Norman horses were known as
In the eighth century this was a city of ecclesiastics, who erected many
churches and convents. A long line of celebrated bishops ruled here, and
the first church of St Ouen was probably built at this period. The
Normans harried the country in 912, under the valiant Rollo, and Rouen
was then made the capital of Normandy.
In the days of Duke William of Normandy, our gallant conqueror, Caen was
of greater importance than Rouen, and at the first city the sovereigns
built their palaces. William the Conqueror died in Rouen, but his body
was taken to Caen for burial. Rufus invaded the territory in 1091, and
obtained possession of all the chief forts on the Seine, up to Rouen.
The attempt to recover Normandy, under Henry of England, is a stirring
chronicle of battle. The city of Rouen was at this time stoutly
fortified, while it was famed for its wealth and power. Led by the brave
Alan Blanchard, the people of Rouen made a fierce defence. But Henry
had cut off approach from the sea; he held, too, the roads to Paris. He
encompassed the walls of Rouen with his army; he brought boats up the
river, constructed a floating bridge, and dug trenches for his troops.
The soldiers and citizens within the city resisted for six terrible
months. Many were the victims of famine, and those who strove to escape
were at once struck down by the besiegers. “Fire, blood and famine” were
Henry’s handmaids of war, and he declared that he had chosen “the
meekest maid of the three” to subdue Rouen.
At length the starving and desperate citizens resolved to burn the city,
and to fling themselves on the English. This threat caused Henry to
offer terms of pacification. Blanchard, the valorous defender of Rouen,
was, however, killed by order of the English monarch.
The immortal Joan of Arc appears later on the scene. We cannot follow
the strange and inspiring page of her career. Betrayed at length, and
given into the hands of the English, she was imprisoned in Rouen, where
a charge of heresy was made against her. To escape from the military to
the ecclesiastic prison Joan pleaded guilty to the accusation of heresy.
The story of her martyrdom is not a theme upon which one cares to dwell.
The English cause was lost, though Joan of Arc was burned. “Oh, Rouen,
Rouen, I have great fear lest you suffer for my death. Yes! my voices
were of God; they have never deceived me.” And as the maid dropped in
the writhing flames, the soldiers cried: “We are lost! We have burned a
“No longer on St Denis will we cry,
But Joan la Pucelle shall be France’s saint.”
The French recaptured Rouen in 1499. There is now no trace of the proud
castle built by Henry V. of England. The prophetic cry of the soldiers
had been fulfilled.
Before the end of the thirteenth century a cathedral was built in the
city, and by the sixteenth century the stupendous edifice was finished.
Notre Dame has a splendid west front, and very ornamental entrances to
the transepts. The decorated rose windows are exceedingly fine. The
choir has thirteenth-century stained windows, which must be seen in the
sunlight. Here, too, are the monuments of Henry II. and Richard I.
Unfortunately, much of the external decoration of Notre Dame has been
disfigured by weathering, and some of the images have disappeared. But
the rose windows are very celebrated, and the tower of the sixteenth
century is richly ornamented.
The Lady Chapel contains the tomb of two cardinals, with beautifully
sculptured figures, and carvings of exquisite craftsmanship. The tomb of
the Duke of Brézé is attributed to Jean Goujon, and the images are true
works of genius.
Saint-Owen is perhaps more interesting than the cathedral. It is an
immense building, and though so huge, finely proportioned. The south
portal is rich and exquisite in its decoration.
For an example of Goujon’s work, you must inspect the remarkably
decorated door of the Church of St Madou. There are other notable
churches in Rouen; and the fine stained-glass windows of St Godard must
not be overlooked.
Among other buildings of interest is the Palace of Justice, with a
In Rouen was born Corneille, and upon a bridge over the Seine you will
find his statue. Fontenelle was also one of the illustrious natives of
Readers of Gustave Flaubert will remember his pictures of the country
around Rouen, in “Madame Bovary.” Charles Bovary was sent to school in
the city. “His mother selected a room for him, on a fourth floor,
overlooking the Eau-de-Robec, in the house of a dyer she was acquainted
with.” It was in Yonville-L’Abbage, “a large village about twenty miles
from Rouen,” that Charles and Emma Bovary settled after their marriage.