The Île Sainte-Marguerite island is most famous for its fortress prison (the Fort Royal), in which the so-called Man in the Iron Mask was held in the 17th century.
The island is first known to have been inhabited during Roman times, when it was known by the name Lero. In 1612, ownership of the island passed from the monks of Saint-Honorat to Claude de Lorraine, Duke of Chevreuse. Shortly after, construction of a fort on the island (to become the Fort Royal) began. In 1635, the island was captured by the Spanish and recaptured by the French two years later.
Towards the end of the 17th century, the Fort Royal became home to a barracks and state prison. During the 18th century, the present-day village of Sainte-Marguerite developed, thriving on the spending power of the soldiers stationed on the island.
The Fort Royal was home to a number of famous prisoners until its closure in the 20th century. As well as the Man in the Iron Mask, a mysterious prisoner whose identity remains unknown, Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri (an Algerian rebel leader), Marquis Jouffroy d’Abbans (inventor of the steamboat) and Marshal Bazaine (the only successful escapee from the island) have all spent time there.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).