In the 17th century, the port of Saint-Malo had become rich from transatlantic trade. Goods brought back from Newfoundland and India allowed shipowners to build large mansions called "malouinières," today the jewels of civil architecture in the Corsair City.
Corsairs at the service of the king
Many Breton families were corsairs and shipowners from father to son. The trade flourished while France was in more or less permanent conflict with other maritime nations, England above all!
Dugyay-Trouin, Captain of the French Royal Navy
One of the best known French corsairs was René Dugyay-Trouin, born in Saint-Malo in 1673. Captain of his own privateer at 18, he took command of a 40-gunner at the tender age of 21. He captured more than 300 merchant ships and 16 warships. Louis XV made him lieutenant-general of the naval armies.
You'll come across a statue of this corsair during your walk around the ramparts of Saint-Malo, near the quay Saint-Louis. A second statue carved in marble is housed at the Museum of History of the city.
Surcouf, the king of the corsairs
Born a century after his cousin Duguay-Trouin, Robert Surcouf waged war against English commerce. His most dastardly feat was the capture of the Kent, a powerful 1200 ton ship of the East India Company. This act of piracy earned him the title of King of the Corsairs, making him one of the richest and most powerful men in Saint-Malo.
The bronze statue of Robert Surcouf is located in the Jardin du Cavalier, facing the Petit-Bé and Grand-Bé islands. Surcouf, dressed in his gay corsair's costume, invites his troops to come behind him.
Mansion houses in Saint-Malo
The ship owner, Auguste Magon of La Lande, a contemporary of the corsair Dugyay-Trouin, gave his name to this jewel of upper class heritage. The Magon Hotel, built in 1725, is a fine example of the architecture of corsair houses in Saint-Malo. You'll find it at the Porte Saint-Louis city gate.
The house, classified as a Historic Monument, has 59 rooms. A magnificent wrought iron railing staircase connects lounges with wood panelling to the ceremonial rooms. The terrace, above the level of the ramparts, once allowed the corsair to watch the comings and goings of the ships in the harbour.
The "Malouinière" manor houses of du Clos-Poulet
Malouinières are beautiful mansions built in the countryside, retreats for the great Saint-Malo shipowners. Malouinières were built between 1650 and 1730, within a radius of 15 kilometres around Saint-Malo. The corsairs had the money to escape the cramped conditions within the city walls and decided to build large houses for pleasure, near the port.
The majority of these are in the Clos-Poulet district, inland of Saint-Malo. Most are private residences, though many open to visitors for much of the year, or on special open-door heritage days.
The symmetrical architecture of the Malouinières may seem a little austere but you'll be charmed by the carved woodwork and French gardens around them.