William was only eight when his father, Robert, died on his return from the Holy Land. He was to face hostility from his own uncles and cousins who refused to acknowledge him as Robert’s rightful heir. In 1046, William fled Valognes in the midst of the night, miraculously escaping an assassination attempt. He finally reached his castle in Falaise, safe and sound, after having sought refuge on his way at Hubert de Ryes’ castle. The road that the young duke had travelled during his historic flight on horseback was later to be renamed « la sente au bâtard » (William the bastard’s pathway).
A decisive place of refuge in times of conspiracy and rebellion
The flight towards Falaise
William was only 18. He lived in his residence in Valognes.
One night, one of his jesters told him of an ongoing plot to kill him. It was not the first, for William had been threatened for years by barons keen to take control of the Duchy of Normandy. And they were a serious threat.
William decided to flee on horseback. To avoid taking busy roads, he headed through narrow pathways and found refuge in Ryes, a village in the Bessin area.
Hubert de Ryes was a lesser lord who lived on an estate of the same name. He welcomed William and had him escorted to Falaise by his three sons. The four young men reached their destination safe and sound.
To do so, they chose to ride across the fields. One of the paths they took was later baptised « la sente au Bâtard » (the Bastard’s path). It runs from the Asnelles roadside Calvary and crosses the River Gronde. The entry to the path is concealed by two small embankments.
Asnelles and the Sente au Bâtard today
Today, the path is essentially used by tourists. Indeed, it is identified on a map of the area’s pedestrian pathways.
The villages of Asnelles and Ryes are in the vicinity of Arromanches-les-Bains, where the Arromanches artificial harbour was installed during the Second World War. This port was to prove of decisive importance for France’s liberation.
And now, tourists on their way round Arromanches and its surroundings take to the path that was once used by William the Conqueror to escape his oppressors.
Over the centuries, from the 10th to the 20th century, Asnelles has remained a strategic site.
Ryes, La sente au Batard
Images of the site
1027 - Arlette’s fountain
1027 - William the conqueror’s castle
1046-1047 - Ryes, the ‘Sente au Batard’
1047 - The battle of Val-es-Dunes
1057 - Varaville
11th century - Dives-sur-Mer, the church of Notre Dame
1066 - The Ladies’ Abbey
1067 - Eglise Abbatiale
1077 - The Men’s Abbey
1060 - Caen Castle
1040-1050 - The Olivet Castle mound – Grimbosq
1077 - Bayeux Cathedral
1066 - Bayeux Tapestry
1083 - Church of Saint-Nicolas, Caen
11th century - Church of Saint-Laurent, Falaise
12th century - The Church of Saint-Martin, Ryes
11th century - Church of Saint-Pierre, Thaon
1180 - Church of Saint-Samson, Ouistreham
10th century - The Château Ganne in La Pommeraye