History of the department

As part of Normandy and lying close to the Ile de France region, the Orne has experienced both the darkest and the most glorious moments in the History of France. With periods of building, destruction and then renovation, times of war followed by more prosperous eras have helped to shape the landscape in our towns and countryside. Almost every stone bears witness to a catastrophe, a victory or a revolution.

From this sequence of historical events, which periods have had the most profound effect on the destiny of the Orne? Here is an overview of the key dates and figures in local history.


The Celts settled in the area that would become the Orne before 500BC. They colonised the area according to the lie of the land and sources of water. Three groups occupied the area before the Roman conquest: the Aulerci-Diablintes (in the Perche), the Essui (around Essai, their capital) and the Sagii (in the future diocese of Sées).

The Aulerci were the first to rise up against the Romans as they invaded Gaul. Instead of Cesar, they attacked Titurius Sabinus, under their leader Viridovix, then played an active role in the general Gallic insurrection led by Vercingétorix. As for the Essui, they formed an alliance with the attacker, who promised them a privileged position under Roman rule.

From 286 AD, the Saxons moved into the area and settled along the Channel coastline. The time of the great invasions had started and the Roman Empire disintegrated.

Camp de Bierre

Le Camp de Bierre

One of the biggest archeological site in west France. The visits retrace the history of the first settler in the region.

Medieval times

Throughout the 4th century, barbarians ravaged and plundered the region. Local populations in the Orne resisted by uniting with the Armoricains (Bretons). Having repelled the first offensive by Clovis in 497, they subsequently surrendered. Alençon and the diocese of Sées became part of the Franc kingdom. Then followed a short period of calm during which the towns of Exmes, Sées and Alençon gained in stature.

The start of the 10th century saw the beginning of another series of invasions. The towns and the countryside were ravaged by the Normans. In 911, the territory, then part of the Neustria kingdom, was finally surrendered to the Normans. However, peace did not return in the area around Alençon. In 943, Richard I, Duke of Normandy, handed the region over to the Talvas family, lords at Bellême, and the family’s inner fighting split the region.

In 1204, a new chapter began. Philippe-Auguste, king of France, conquered the territory again and annexed the counties of Alençon and the Perche to the kingdom of France. From then onwards, they were part of the appanage of one of the King of France’s sons or brother.

During the Hundred Years’ War, the counties of Alençon and the Perche changed hands several times. In 1449, Jean II, Duke of Alençon, finally regained his Duchy from the English, who had seized it in 1417-1419.

Sées cathedral

13th century example of the synthesis between gothic art from Normandy and Ile de France. From July to September, the Musilumières de Sées (unique, night-time accoustic shows). Open all year: 02 33 28 74 79

Château de Domfront

Built in 1100 by Henry 1st Beauclerc, Lord of Domfront in 1092 and King of England in 1100. Visits from 15th June to 15th September: 02 33 30 60 60.



One of the "most beautiful villages in France", St Céneri has remarkable painting on the walls of its church and beautiful architecture. It is also home to many artists. 02 43 33 28 04

Modern times

The protestant reform profoundly marked the Orne. Several reformist communities settled here between 1550 and 1560. During the religious wars, the Duchy of Alençon thus became the scene of many clashes. The Duke of Mayenne, chef of the League and Henri de Navarre (the future Henri IV) fought over several towns.

In 1590, Henri IV reclaimed Alençon and sold the Duchy to the Duke of Wurtemberg in 1605. Marie of Medicis bought it from him in 1613.

In 1636, Richelieu completely overhauled the administrative layout of the kingdom of France. The Duchy of Alençon was done away with and replaced by a Generality dependent, along with those of Rouen and Caen, on the government of Normandy.

Moats, terraces, elegant entrance lodge, parks and gardens with old gates and fences.

Château de Carrouges

Château de Carrouges

Stunning castle with a moat, park and gardens dating back to the 14th century.

Courboyer Manor at Nocé

Early rennaissance manor house in the Perche. Guided tours, exhibitions and walks on the estate.

Haras national du Pin

Fondly called the “Versailles for Horses”, the Haras nestles in a green haven covering more than 1,000 ha.

Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle at Alençon

Discover the world of "Point d’Alençon" lace-making, invented around 1650 by Madame de La Perrière.

Comtemporary times

The wind of revolution blew through the region as early as April 1789. A number of revolutionary revolts took place in the Perche. The department of the Orne had only just been founded when it found itself at the heart of torment. It had to resist temptations from federalists and the Chouannerie who were moving into the Bocage.

The Orne started to develop its industrial base during the 19th century. The first mechanised textile factory opened in La Ferté-Macé in 1862. Metallurgy developed on a large scale in the Pays d’Ouche. The symbol of this economic growth is the Bohin pin factory near L’Aigle. At the same time, the first railways were being built, with the Flers-Argentan-L’Aigle-Paris line completed in 1867. 20,000 soldiers from the Orne fought in the First World War. The department was a rear base for British soldiers and a refuge for populations from the North, chased out of their home regions by the Germans.

The Orne was also heavily affected by the Second World War. From June 1940, the Germans occupied Alençon. However, people in the Orne quickly organised the springtime 1941 resistance, creating their own intelligence networks. The movement became well structured and counted 3,500 members by June 1944. The department suffered heavily during the Battle of Normandy but quickly arose from its ruins. Well-located geographically and benefiting from a significant population boom, it enjoyed renewed economic fortune during the Trentes Glorieuse (the prosperous post-war period).

Mémorial de Montormel

Mémorial de Montormel

Built on “Cote 262” where the most violent battles were fought, the Memorial of Montormel-Coudehard, commemorates those who gave their life to liberate France. Virtual visit of the battlefield.

L’Ecomusée du Perche

A living museum, entirely devoted to rural life and the popular arts and traditions of the 19th and 20th centuries.