The origin of Caen is uncertain.—Its foundation has been alternately ascribed to Phoenicians, Romans, Gauls, Saxons, and Normans. The earliest historical fact connected with the town, is recorded in an old chronicle of Normandy, written in 1487, by William de Talleur, of Rouen. The author, in speaking of the meeting between Louis d’Outremer, King of France, and Richard Ist, Duke of Normandy, about the year 945, enumerates Caen among the good towns of the province. Upon this, Huet observes that, supposing Caen to have been at that time only recently founded, it must have acquired importance with much rapidity; for, in the charter, by which Richard IIIrd, Duke of Normandy, granted a dowery to Adela, daughter of Robert, King of France, whom he married in 1026, Caen is not only stated as one of the portions of the dower, but its churches, its market, its custom-house, its quay, and its various appurtenances are expressly mentioned; and two hundred years afterwards, Brito in his Philippiad, puts Caen in competition with Paris,
“Villa potens, opulenta situ,
Fluminibus, pratis, et agrorum fertilitate,
Merciferasque rates portu capiente marino,
Seque tot ecclesiis, domibus et civibus ornans,
Ut se Parisio vix annuat esse minorem.”—
Caen is designated in Duke Richard’s charter, by the appellation of “in Bajocensi comitatu villa quae dicitur Cathim, super fluvium Olnae.”—From Cathim, came Cahem; and Cahem, in process of time, was gradually softened into Caen. The elision that took place in the first instance, is of a similar nature to that by which the Italian words padre and madre, have been converted into pere and mere; and the alteration in the latter case continued to be indicated by the diaeresis, which, till lately, separated the two adjoining vowels.—Towards the latter part of the eleventh century, Caen is frequently mentioned by the monkish historians, in whose Latin, the town is styled Cadomus or Cadomum.—And here ingenious etymologists have found a wide field for conjecture: Cadomus, says one, was undoubtedly founded by Cadmus; another, who hesitates at a Phoenician antiquity, grasps with greater eagerness at a Roman etymon, and maintains that Cadomus is a corruption from Caii domus, fully and sufficiently proving that the town was built by Julius Caesar.
Robert Wace states, in his Roman de Rou, that, at the time immediately previous to the conquest of England, Caen was an open town.—
“Encore ert Caen sans Chatel,
N’y avoit mur, ny quesnel.”—
And Wace is a competent witness; for he lived during the reign of Henry Ist, to whom he dedicated his poem. Philip de Valois, in 1346, allowed the citizens to surround the town with ditches, walls, and gates. This permission was granted by the king, on the application of the inhabitants, Caen, as they then complained, being still open and unfortified. Hence, the fortifications have been considered to be the work of the fourteenth century, and, generally speaking, they were unquestionably, of that time; but it is equally certain, that a portion was erected long before.