- Travel and Places
Castles of France: III
Castles of France and their History
A forgotten castle ruin rediscovered during an archaeological venture; a castle known for its famous prisoners; and a castle that was involved in nearly every war or skirmish in France. These stories and more can be found on this page.
Here we will cover the following castles: Commarque Castle, Brede Castle, Hattonchatel Castle, Fort La Latte, Grangent Castle, Fort de Joux, and Najac Castle.
ChÃ¢teau de Commarque
Located in the commune of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in the Dordogne dÃ©partement, Commarque Castle was originally built near the 12th century as a wooden fortress for the abbots of Sarlat. The main purpose of small fortress was to deter an attack by the Beynac family and to protect two important commercial routes.
Commarque Castle eventually fell to the Beynac family, who reinforced the castle with stone in the 16th century. The Beynac family held the castle until the Hundred Years War, when it was taken by the English, and it was several years before the family regained control.
Commarque Castle was seized yet again during the French Wars of Religion in the 16th century. The Beynac family were Protestants and the castle fell to the Catholics and sustained damage during the attack. Commarque Castle remained under the control of the Catholics until the 17th century.
Eventually, the castle was abandoned, but when this happened exactly is unknown. As time went on, the forest grew up around the castle and the accompanying village, along with several feet of silt and dirt. The valley in which the castle lay was a rarely visited site, so Commarque Castle was basically forgotten. It wasn't until much later, that this ancient castle was re-discovered and archeological work began because of evidence of prehistoric settlements in the area.
In 1968, a descendant of the original family of Commarque Castle, Hubert de Commarque, bought the castle and began renovations. The castle was painstakingly pieced back together, and while still a ruin, its beauty is undeniable. The restorative work is still ongoing, and the castle along with the village has been declared a Historical Monument by the French Ministry of Culture. For visitor's information go to Lost in France.
Large photo of Commarque Castle courtesy of Jochen Jahnke.
ChÃ¢teau de la BrÃ¨de
Located in the commune of La BrÃ¨de in the dÃ©partement of Gironde, France, building began on the Gothic La BrÃ¨de Castle in 1306.
La BrÃ¨de Castle was built as a stronghold completely surrounded by a moat which was originally accessible by drawbridge only. The castle belonged first to the La Lande family and then passed to the Secondat family.
The famous philosopher Montesquieu (Charles Louis de Secondat), lived here and the majority of his works were written here. He had many admirers among the fathers of the America, namely Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
The room in which Montesquieu stayed at La BrÃ¨de Castle is open to the public, and is in its original condition. One can even see how he had a habit of resting his foot against the wainscoting near the fireplace, rubbing down the wooden surface.
In 2004, the Countess of Chabannes, a descendant of Montesquieu, having no heir, gave the castle and its contents to the Jacqueline de Chabannes Foundation upon her death. The castle was listed as a Historical Monument by the French Ministry of Culture. For visitor's information go to the Montesquieu Office of Tourism website.
The large photo of ChÃ¢teau de la BrÃ¨de courtesy of Carole J.
ChÃ¢teau de HattonchÃ¢tel
Located in Vigneulles-lÃ¨s-HattonchÃ¢tel in the Meuse department of France overlooking the Seine valley, ChÃ¢teau d' HattonchÃ¢tel was originally built in the 9th century for Hatto, the Bishop of Verdun.
The castle first served as the main stronghold of the Bishops of Verdun who belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. The castle also was used as the town mint until 1546. In 1556, the area was annexed to France.
The castle was attacked towards the end of the Thirty Years War, and in 1636, the castle as well as the village was set ablaze by the Swedish. HattonchÃ¢tel Castle was rebuilt, but destroyed again during WWI.
In 1887, Belle Skinner spent a year in HattonchÃ¢tel and fell in love with the village which reminded her of her Connecticut home. She returned to the area in 1918 when it was in the hands of the Germans. The beautiful village and castle was destroyed, but she exclaimed to a French officer that she would adopt HattonchÃ¢tel as her own. The soldier said there was nothing left but the hill, and she replied "Then I will rebuild what there is of it." In 1919, she returned to HattonchÃ¢tel and spent a million dollars rebuilding the castle and village. For her efforts, France awarded her the Gold Medal of the Reconnaissance FranÃ§aise and the Cross of the LÃ©gion d'Honneur.
Today HattonchÃ¢tel Castle serves as a hotel and conference center, and is a favorite romantic get-away. For visitor's information go to ChÃ¢teau d' HattonchÃ¢tel Ritz Resort.
Fort La Latte
Located in the commune of FrÃ©hel, CÃ´tes-d'Armor, Brittany, France, Fort La Latte was built overlooking the Bay de la Fresnaye. The fort was built by the Goyon-Matignon family to protect the area from attack by sea.
In 1379 the Eagle of Brittany, Bertrand du Guesclin, captured Fort La Latte a year before his death. A century later the fort was attacked again by the English and in the following century it was under siege by the Holy League.
Considering the history of the fort, it was Garangeau under the reign of Louis XIV who built up the defenses of the fort and turned it into a formidable fortress. the foresight of Garangeau was a great benefit to Fort La Latte because it was later attacked by the Dutch and again by the English. The fortress saw further improvements in 1793 and the fort became a prison for suspected spies.
In 1815, Fort La Latte was attacked unsuccessfully in the Waterloo Campaign. This was the last time to date that this incredible structure had to defend the land. Today, the castle is a Historical Monument and is open to the public from June to September. The view from this well preserved fortress is awe-inspiring and you can find visitor's information at the Castleland/ La Latte website.
The large photo of Fort La Latte courtesy of Bidari.
Chateau de Grangent
Located on an island in the newly formed Lac de Grangent in the commune of Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert in the Loire dÃ©partement of France.
The ChÃ¢teau de Grangent was originally built around the year 800, but the exact date is unknown. The castle has been attacked and rebuilt throughout its history, as well as had many additions and renovations.
Grangent Castle sits in an ancient place as was evident further uphill at the ChÃ¢teau d'Essalois, a large castle that overlooks the Loire River and Grangent Castle. Excavations near the Essalois Castle have uncovered remnants of an ancient Gaul settlement.
In 1957, the Grangent Dam was completed and began holding back the waters of the Loire. Grangent Castle was originally connected to the rest of the land by a promontory, but the building of the dam has caused the waters to rise up around the castle forming a small island on which it now sits.
Today the castle is privately owned and has been declared a Historical Monument by the French Ministry of Culture. While one may not tour the Grangent Castle, the ChÃ¢teau d'Essalois near Grangent Castle is open to the public.
Fort de Joux
Located in La Cluse-et-Mijoux, in the Doubs dÃ©partement, France near the border of Switzerland, Fort de Joux was a castle built high in the Jura mountains. The first castle was built of wood in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 12th century of stone. By the end of the 17th century, Joux Castle had been the object of many additions and improvements. The most significant improvements were made by SÃ©bastien Le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban who was famous for his military engineering skills.
While the castle looked to be quite impregnable, this turned out to be untrue when it was occupied in 1639 during the Thiry Years War and was later successfully attacked by Austrian troops in 1814. This called for further improvements and defenses, and in 1879 the castle became a fort through a series of renovations carried out by Captain Joffre.
This built up Fort de Joux with it's three moats, drawbridges, and towers
served as a prison and is known for incarcerating the following famous prisoners: HonorÃ© Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau (a French statesman), Heinrich von Kleist (a German author), and Toussaint Louverture ( leader of the Haitian Revolution).
Today the fort is home to a Museum of Arms and was classified as a Historical Monument by the French Ministry of Culture. Fort de Joux also has one of the deepest wells in Europe which goes to a depth of 393 feet (120 meters). For visitor's information go to Le chateau de Joux. This site is in French.
Would you like to stay in a castle?
This book helps the vacationer make the most of his visit to France with these wonderful opportunities to stay in a chateau.
A vacation is great, a vacation in France is awesome, and a vacation in a French Chateau is the stuff dreams are made of!
ChÃ¢teau de Najac
Located in Najac, in the Aveyron department of southern France overlooking the Averyon River, ChÃ¢teau de Najac was built in 1253 by order of Alphonse de Poiters. The castle incorporated a previous castle on the site which was built by the Count of Toulouse.
The castle has been repeatedly attacked throughout its history. The previous castle at the site was occupied by Simon de Montfort during the Albigensian Crusade. Najac Castle was fought over during the Hundred Years War and sustained damage because of the intense fighting in the region. The castle exchanged hands between the French and English many times during this period. Another time of trouble for the castle was the 14th century Peasants Revolt where the over-taxing of the peasants caused them to rebel. The castle was once again in the midst of trouble during the French Revolution.
The castle may have been repeatedly attacked, but it had some good defenses which not only included the position high atop a rocky craig, but also arrow slits for archers and a secret corridor hidden in the walls that lead to the chapel.
In the 19th century, Najac Castle was abandoned and left to ruin, at which time the local people used the stone from the castle to build their houses. It was the Cibiel family who saved the castle after they bought it and began restoration. The castle is open to the public and is listed as a Historical Monument by the French Ministry of Culture.
Photo of ChÃ¢teau de Najac courtesy of Alecs.y.