Louis, XIV King of France and of Navarre, founded his first stud in Saint-Léger, not far from Saint-Germain-en-Laye where he was born. Despite the prestige of the venue and the massive financial investments, production never appeared to give satisfactory results: the cultivated lands were hardly fertile, the pastures were too far apart and the horses were seldom in good health.
In 1714, François Gédéon de Garsault, the King’s first horseman was thus given the task of finding a more appropriate venue for horse-breeding. After first being tempted by Brotonne Forest in the vicinity of Rouen, de Garsault then came across the Buisson d’Exmes, near Argentan. This chosen spot was then extended to encompass the Seigniory of Le Pin, owned at the time by State Counsellor Béchameil de Nointel, who agreed to hand over his estate in exchange for other property located in the county of Picardie (North of Paris). On 2nd April 1715, order was given for the transfer of the initial Saint-Léger stud to the Buisson d’Exmes.
Two names are linked to the construction of the King’s Stud, built for the most part between 1715 and 1736 in the midst of a 600-hectare estate (≈1,480 acres).When considering that the Château was built between 1719 and 1724, but that the 200-odd horses from Saint-Léger were already being transferred as of 1717, this leads us to believe that the main stable blocks were already built at the time, the Stud possibly having been constructed in two distinct phases.
Robert de Cotte, first architect to the Crown after the death of Jules-Hardouin Mansart in 1708, drew the plans of the central building. Prior to that, de Cotte had been involved in major royal works, notably in terminating the chapel at the Château of Versailles.
Pierre le Mousseux then used Robert de Cotte’s plans and oversaw the construction of the new Stud. Subsequently, le Mousseux worked for several years with Jacques-Jules Gabriel (who in turn later became first architect to the Crown in 1735), notably collaborating on the reconstruction of Rennes, burnt down in 1720.
Nevertheless, it is only at the beginning of the 19th Century that we find, on Desessart’s plan dated 1807, trace of all the buildings required for proper stud management, witnessing the classic architecture of the Grand Siècle (French 17th Century).
The creation of a royal stud evolved by want and by need - to produce the best horses for military remount, i.e. providing horses for the army and the Grand Stables of Versailles.Hence, the main activity of Exmes Stud, Haras d’Exmes, was to select breeds and rear horses, the better ones being kept for breeding purposes, with the others being sent to the Grand Stables of Versailles for remount and for Royal Order. The last few years of the Ancien Régime were marked by the efficient governance, between 1784 and 1789, from the Prince de Lambesc, Grand Horseman to the Crown and Superintendant for the management of the Royal Studs, reorganised in 1764. Indeed, by Order of the King’s Council dated 11th December 1784, the Harbour at the Haras d’Exmes was abolished, the establishment being governed henceforth by the Grand Horseman. From that time on, the Royal Stud was exclusively devoted to the remount of the Province of Normandy.On the eve of the French Revolution, the King’s Stud accounted for 196 stallions. In 1790, figures showed 40 fillies and colts on the stud, the majority being suckling foals, a sign of the formidable production dynamism. To these figures were added 132 horses, known as "approved horses", owned by individuals, spread across the Province of Normandy (comparable to today’s French départements (counties) of the Orne, the Calvados, the Manche, the Eure, the Seine-Maritime and the Sarthe) and placed under control of the Stud Aministration Inspector.
The constitutive Assembly ordered sale of the stallions at Le Pin, as per a decree dated 20th January 1790. However, due to petition from the Orne County Council, wishing to maintain the stud's activity, 40 stallions were kept until 1793 when the sale thereof could no longer be prevented.
After a period of uncertainty, the State-run stud institution and the associated stallion farms were reinstated by Imperial Decree, dated 4th July 1806.
The Haras d’Exmes then became the Haras du Pin, named after its locality rather than the surrounding woods, and was promoted to the primary establishment of the 1st district, located within a constituency composed of the Somme, the Seine-et-Marne, the Haute-Marne, the Eure and the Manche counties.
Even though sold to private owners as national property during the French Revolution era, much of the land was bought back as of 1808, a time when significant urgent repair work was being undertaken on the buildings of Le Pin Stud.
Aside from that, the stables quickly needed to retrieve their life and soul: Norman mares and English thoroughbreds, appreciated for "their figure and their legs", as well as the horses repatriated in January 1814 from Borculo Stud, situated on former Dutch land, commandeered by the Empire and annihilated by the Napoleonic campaigns, came to replace the old or sick horses and even those no longer.
The Haras du Pin regained its role and readily coped with the impact that it was due to have over the French horse-breeding sector for more than a century.
Copyright GRAHAL (text prepared for the Discovery Trail in Stable no. 1, dedicated to the museographic zone and open since April 2006). Photographs: "Louis XIV on horseback", Houasse, RMN-DR; "Robert de Cotte", Rigaud, RMN G.Blot/H.Lewandoski; "Charles-Louis de Lorraine, Prince de Lambesc", Cars, RMN-F.Raux; architectural plans for the King’s first stud, Robert de Cotte, National Archives, HN-G.Vilquin; wrought-iron entrance gate, HN-DR.
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