On the small island of Jersey, just off the coast of Normandy, there’s a historic site that has been the source of a legend passed down through the ages; La Hougue Bie. When you visit this place, it’s very evident that this isn’t part of the natural landscape. It’s a man-made mound that reaches about 40 feet high. And while it may not seem all that remarkable, for over three millennia it held a secret.
It’s a site I feature in one of my upcoming novels. It has a varied history. In the 12th century, a little church, Chapel of Notre Dame de la Clarté, was built on the top. In the 16 century, the Jerusalem Chapel was added along with a replica of the Holy Sepulcher. In the last 18th century, the property was purchased and extensively remodeled into what was called the Prince’s Tower. When La Société Jeriaise purchase the property in 1919, they tore it down and restored the two medieval chapels. During the German Occupation of World War II, the Nazis built a 26-foot observation tower on the site so they could monitor the movement of enemy ships.
But a story persisted regarding the origin of the mound. No specific time period is noted for the origin of the legend, but as the story goes a dragon lived in Saint Lawrence Parish and terrorized the people, killing them and burning down their homes. When Seigneur de Hambye of Normandy learned of their plight, he sailed to Jersey to fight the beast. The details of the battle didn’t survive other than that the brave knight killed the dragon and cut off its head. After the battle, tired and wounded, he laid down to sleep while his squire kept guard. But while he slept, the squire killed his master and buried his body. He returned home to Normandy bearing the tale of his master’s demise and bragging of how he had avenged his master’s death and killed the dragon himself.
The disloyal squire divulged his master’s last wish, that his servant marry his widow. Out of love for her husband, she did. But unfortunately for the squire, he had a tendency to talk in his sleep. One night, he revealed the truth. The lady had him brought to trial where he confessed all and was sentenced to death. Lady Hambye travelled to Jersey and had a memorial, La Hougue de Hambye, built for her beloved husband. Over time, the name was shortened to La Hougue Bie.
In 1925, the site was excavated. Beneath the mound, a passage grave was discovered—one of the best preserved Neolithic sites, dating from somewhere between 2200 bc – 1800 bc. Unfortunately, the site revealed little more than some bones and shards of pottery, most likely it had been ransacked by the Vikings centuries earlier.
I got the chance to tour the passage. It speaks to the engineering ability of those ancient men and women that this historical monument survived intact for thousands of years, even with construction happening overhead and the additional weight.
Although the details of the legend have probably morphed over time, the story embellished over the centuries, the element of it being a grave site always carried forward. The real origin of the mound mostly likely will remain hidden, a mystery forever. But it’s fun to learn that some legends contain a kernel of truth. We can only guess at what part that may be. And that is what makes them so fascinating.
C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.