Inside a Hidden and Authentic French Chateau with Its Owner
Hello, you're here in Messilhac, on the borders of two historic regions Haute Auvergne and Rouergue. And more specifically in Carladès. Messilhac, as you're about to discover, is a unique vestige, French Renaissance architecture in the Cantal.
And it's a monument that has hardly changed since the 16th century. So here we are in a totally unspoilt environment. You don't hear any noise, you don't have any noise pollution. We're in the middle of a green cirque which gives Messilhac all its charm. We are indeed far from the rest of the world. So what you're about to see today, is first and foremost a historic château, very authentic, which has hardly changed since the 16th century.
which is unique in the richness of its architecture, on the facade, as well as by the transformations inside the château. This is why Messilhac has been twice , the setting for two films, the last and best-known being La Princesse de Montpensier, one of Bertrand Tavernier's last films, before he died. Messilhac was acquired by myself in 1998. Interestingly, the château has remained in the same family, Since its origin, i.e. the middle of the 13th century, up to a first sale, in 1942, to third-party buyers and I bought it myself from the owner's descendants in 1998. and so, for the past 25 years, I've been maintaining and restoring Messilhac as far as possible, to this demeure to pass through the centuries, as it has done for the past eight centuries.
So Messilhac was built on a rocky plateau. Originally, you had this first keep, called a seigniorial tower, which rose to the height of the third floor. And this keep, where the Lord lived, was surrounded by a wall, which rose to about the height of the second floor. And was equipped with five or six towers, of which only two remain today.
The entrance tower here, which clearly dates from the 13th century. And another tower behind, The last three or four towers have been demolished over the years, The same goes for the perimeter wall, Since, as you can see, only traces of the original perimeter wall remain. And the stones were reused, the construction of a terrace extension, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So, starting with this first keep, we have proof that the second keep, which looks just like it, So much so that they can be considered twin towers.
Probably built in the 15th century, and that in the 16th century, the two keeps have been reunited, through the design of the central body, So as to give unity and coherence, to this castle. And so the result is that today this château stands with a relatively classic plan, as you can see, With two keeps and a central body, but it's the result of a number of historical developments. And you'll see that during construction. Messilhac's grand central staircase, In fact, the owner took the opportunity to, make all the dross disappear, of the old Messilhac structure, to create a château that's extremely easy to live in, and on which I believe the Messilhac family has lived many happy days, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, Because it really was a home, albeit a country one, but a very comfortable home for the times. And above all, a lot of fun, given Messilhac's location. So the most emblematic element of Messilhac, the one for which Messilhac is most renowned, That's the quality of this façade.
So I won't go into all the details, But you can see that this façade is clearly Renaissance. It is even dated 1531. And all these transformations were carried out by the owner at the time, whose name was Jean de de Montamat, who left his initials engraved on the façade as well as the bust you see, in the middle of the scallop shell, symbol of the Compostelle pilgrimage. His bust is surrounded by the motto, In domino confido, which was the motto of the next owner, in the family that was the de Rastignac family.
And so this beautiful facade, which has not yet been completed. And you'll see later, inside the château, that the exterior gives every appearance of a finished job. Inside the castle, however, you'll see that from the second floor onwards, I'd say the main thing remains to be done.
And that the next owners of Messilhac, will still be able to continue the work, which were launched at the beginning of the 16th century by Jean de Montamat. And so this facade and this door, with this carved structure is a thing of beauty and finesse. And we think that these works, which are very refined, were made by Italian craftmen and artists, that came here after François the first's campaign in Italy. Who came here, who worked at first for the archbishop-count of Rodez and then, have moved northwards, stopped in Messilhac, and have probably spent some time to build this beautiful sculpted facade with all these patterns, which are, it must be said, relatively well preserved today.
So when I tell you it's not over yet, If you imagine a Renaissance castle as seen with other stones, of course, in the Loire Valley, you say that this façade should have ended with a pediment. And indeed, you will see later in the framework, that the pediment was already planned. And here too, it's a new evidence of the fact, the owner was unable to complete the work. Nevertheless, he leaves us with a facade which, let me remind you, faces due south, Summer is extremely cheerful.
The sun, thanks to the large windows which were opened in early 16th century. As you can see, even if there are mullioned windows. The sun is shining very brightly inside the château, which made life in Messilhac extremely pleasant, especially during the summer months, since the house was actually bathed in sunlight.
And as you'll see inside, I'd say the circulation inside Messilhac, was very easy, since we built this grand staircase, and we also have very large rooms, not many, but enough, to enable the de Messilhac family, to live in very comfortable conditions. for the time. I now propose to continue the tour inside Messilhac by passing under this beautiful arched door. Then you'll notice that there are still coat of arms, even if they are a little damaged.
above this door. These are not, of course, the original coat of arms, since they are in fact arms of the France family, crossed out in red, since in fact these are the coat of arms of the Prince de Montpensier. And it's a leftover of decoration which had been set up for the shooting of Bertrand Tavernier's film, Since Messilhac was supposed to be the home of the Prince de Montpensier.
You'll see that there are two or three remnants of these coat of arms, who was a cousin of the king's by the "left leg", which explains the red stripes on the coat of arms, since he was a "bastard". So let's go inside, where you can't fail to see this magnificent and grandiose Italian staircase, which was built at the same time, than the rest of the château's restructuring. So, as you can see, This too is a highly refined piece of work. The staircase, finally, is held by this central pillar, on which some very fine sculptures remain. This is a beautiful frieze.
You do have this ridged column. And on capitals, on both sides, who take over bow effort, And above the door. And so the ceiling is ribbed. which are still in very good condition, and which unfortunately were damaged during the revolution. Since you see that all the decorations which were clipped into these warheads, be arms, be bunches of grapes, any type of decoration we had at the time, was probably hammered out during the French Revolution, Fortunately, this is the only damage the Revolution did to Messilhac, And which unfortunately has not been corrected.
What's interesting is that this staircase as you see it, rises to the left. In other words, it's a staircase that leaves a very large space to move for the person climbing the stairs. Which just shows.
that we were out of the war period, since staircases which are designed for wartime, favor those who defend themselves. In this case, the staircase rises to the right. Here, however, there's a staircase leading up to the left, which means that any warrior wishing to assault Messilhac..,
With his right arm, he can move extremely widely. While the defendant who tries to prevent him from going up, is stuck, as the staircase moves to the left. So that's one more testimonial, of the fact that these transformations of the 16th century were really intended to transform a military castle into a pleasure residence. So this beautiful stairwell, you'll see later, goes up to the second floor. So it serves two rooms on each floor.
Here, for example, the room that is now the family dining room, was for several centuries the lower hall of the château. And the owner, in the early 16th century, who was Marguerite de Saunhac, She's made it her room, I'd say her living room. It's this room, in which a number of acts , found in the archives, have been signed, always referring to the château's lower hall. And as you can see, even if the paint is a little faded now, the ceiling was completely painted, and you have the repetition of a certain number of patterns, and in particular the crossed S , which was Marguerite de Saunhac's signature, the owner of Messilhac, during this house's heyday, which actually took place during the second half of the 16th century. As a result, this piece is now a very acceptable one, since imagine that during construction work in the 16th century, the loopholes on the main façade were removed, to replace them with large windows, which means that today's room is extremely bright, And sunny, if the sun wants to come out. On the right of the staircase is the room which was one of the heartrooms of the Messilhac house during its history, which is the old kitchen.
So, as you can see, this kitchen is very much in keeping with traditional kitchens of Cantal region. With that big fireplace we call an inglenook, with the two small benches inside the fireplace. for older people in particular, to keep warm, and monitor meal preparation, which, of course, were done over a fire. So this room is no longer used as a kitchen, allowed domestic staff, family, etc., to work together. to share a large part of the day, when preparing and serving meals, who were certainly taken by all these people, around this traditional table of the region, which also has, I'd say, a very special detail, is the drawer you have here, used to seat young children.
And so we didn't put the bread away, but sat the children down, which avoided the need for high chairs, which were not yet available. And the children took part in the meals sitting in this drawer. There's an element of modernization in this kitchen.
Probably from the 17th century. It was, I'd say, the ancestor of a timer. Here you have a clockwork system, quite similar to that of a pendulum, which was driven by a weight, And the weight was in that p lacard. And therefore, when it comes to cooking, the weight was lifted. Then you had a string, to turn the spindle.
And once the weight was down, this meant that the cooking time had been reached, and meat, or the animals that were cooking in the fire, were cooked. For the rest, in this piece, you have the traditional layout. kitchens in the region, including a number of ceiling hooks, which were used to dry charcuterie, to dry vegetables and herbs, but also to hang instruments , for cooking. Good. After this tour of the ground floor, I suggest we move up to the second floor, where you'll find a similar layout. After the 16ᵉ seigneurial hall, you'll see the 17ᵉ seigneurial hall in particular, which gradually turned into a salon.
Here again, the evolution of the house and the lifestyle of its inhabitants. So this beautiful staircase with extremely wide steps is worn by time and all the more so. that we can imagine that at one time, some people didn't hesitate to take their horses up the stairs. And the motto "La vertu pour guide" (Virtue as a guide), which is thought to have been.., was the motto of Captain Raymond Chapt de Rastignac, who was the third husband of the owner of M essilhac, who was at the end of the XVIᵉ century, the Lieutenant General of Haute Auvergne, who was the leader of the high royalist party. And who contributed to Messilhac's heyday, both in economic and social terms.
in political terms and in terms of influence in the region. Until the end of... Until the end of the XVIᵉ century. And that's why you'll see later, in the Queen's bedchamber. p assages that Queen Margot made to Messilhac, since, in a way, Messilhac dominated the whole region, and therefore lords and visitors, used to come and pay their respects, to the dame de Messilhac and her husband, who at the time was Captain de Rastignac, which helped rid this region of Cantal, Protestants, since he succeeded in driving them out, outside Mur-de-Barrez and outside Aurillac, by laying siege to these two cities, As you turn right, you'll notice this door, now closed, which was the old entrance to the château, before this transformation in the XVIᵉ century, The château entrance and staircase, Were outside an adjacent tower.
And so, among the transformations there has been a change in levels and, above all The replacement of this stair tower, By this great e scalier we now have. Good. So I now propose to you to discover the large 17ᵉ seigneurial room, in which stood the Seigneur de M essilhac, in which, of course, his meals were assembled, the comfort provided by this large stone fireplace, which is decorated with a 17ᵉ painting, which is a fairly classical painting, with no particular representation. And so this large room was gradually transformed into a large living room, as you can see.
So the s ol remains as it was then, i.e. a terracotta floor, tomettes, terracotta floor tiles, on a bed of sand, which provides very good insulation indeed, both thermal and acoustic, which allowed the lords to receive a certain number of people in this large seigneurial room, which was also the heart of life in Messilhac from the XVIIᵉ century onwards. So, here's what's interesting. to finish on this part of the floor, It's to go and have a look, on the original part, which is the second floor of the old keep, i.e. the first floor
of the 13ᵉ seigniorial tower, And who was at that time l to , the seigneurial room. As you can see, due to the thickness of the dungeon walls, approaching three metres, we have a small room, in which the Lord stood, which allowed him to , thanks to an external entrance on the second floor, to be relatively protected. And with interior wooden staircases, probably improved scales. There was communication with the upper floor where his family lived and the top floor, which was where the soldiers were positioned, who helped keep watch over the Goul valley. So, as you can see, the walls are extremely peaceful, And it really is a very old piece, that wasn't even v oasted, with a flat ceiling. And at the time, you were also probably in the center of the room, a trap door leading to the ground floor room, traditionally found in feudal towers, served as a reserve.
And in which food and weapons were stored, well protected from outside intrusions, and, of course, pests as far as food is concerned. So, after this historical part, since you will have seen t hree seigniorial rooms from the 13ᵉ, 16ᵉ and 17ᵉ centuries, I'd now like to take you a step further, in the XXᵉ and XXIᵉ centuries. with a small lounge, which is not usually open to visitors, and the focus of today's family life. when you can't enjoy the terrace. And in it I've put together a number of paintings, which were made in representation of M essilhac.
Or historical paintings, Or slightly more recent paintings which can be either orders spent with regional painters which are interesting, since everyone was able to interpret his vision of M essilhac. We all have in mind the traditional vision of the beautiful facade, as seen from the front on some of the paintings, But there are more original approaches, with either skew or bottom-up approaches. or with very special angles of view, like this one, made by a great Marseilles marine painter, who came to M essilhac and represented us. the way he saw Messilhac when he arrived, or this one by a regional painter from Aveyron, and found it interesting to show. Messilhac's never-seen north façade, on which there are no openings, but it's a bit of a counterweight to the south facade you see today. which, in turn, is extremely cheerful, south-facing with lots of windows.
On the other hand, this is the other side of Messilhac. closed north facade which we don't enter. And so it was interesting for him to also present this northern façade, and not focus solely on the south façade, as some do. So we're going to continue up this beautiful staircase. You'll notice that the second floor...
on the ground floor. What's interesting is that the motifs are completely different. They remain as refined and varied as ever. But clearly, the sculptor was given carte blanche.
So each floor has a different set, which contributes to the originality of this staircase. So the staircase continues. You'll also notice that the steps are less worn, which shows that, as much as the second floor kept a somewhat public character, because that's where the Lord received. its entire environment.
Might as well be on the second floor, we're clearly in more private apartments. in which a number of rooms were located, And now we'll see, the Queen's room, which is well known in Messilhac. And it's in that room there, according to oral tradition, Queen Margot spent a number of periods in Messilhac, when she came to visit to the lady of Messilhac in 1585-1586. So now we enter the home of Queen Margot.
As you no doubt know, Queen Margot was Queen Marguerite, Henri IV's wife, Henri IV's first wife, who was no longer on good terms with her husband, in the late 1580s, She fled the Nérac court in 1585, And she took refuge in the fortress of Carlat, which is about ten kilometers from Messilhac, which belonged to his mother, Catherine de Médicis. and so she came to seek shelter. And like I said, Messilhac was the seat of the Lieutenant General for Haute Auvergne, was the headquarters of the leader of the royalist party. It was only natural that Queen Margot should drop by. a number of stays in Messilhac, where she worked, which is also perfectly normal, the most beautiful room in the château, which is this great room, just above the main hall, which is also very comfortable, with a beautifully carved fireplace. You'll see decorations that clearly date back to the Renaissance, A painting on the mantelpiece.
The specialists hesitated for a long time, to find out who was represented on this medallion, in the middle of the mantelpiece. In fact, it appears that it was the woman who married Cap de Rastignac's son, Marie de Breuzon, who was apparently endowed with a large fortune, which saved the family from serious financial difficulties. And maybe it's in thanks.
that his medallion was reproduced on the mantelpiece of the most beautiful room in the castle. So this room, which is also a very comfortable room, Also benefited from improvements. by Bertrand Tavernier, since, unfortunately, the murals you see here are not, date from 2010, not the XVIᵉ century. But they look great in this room.
And that's why, In memory of Bertrand Tavernier and the Princesse de Montpensier, we decided to keep them. Before continuing the tour to the third and fourth floors. I think it's worth stopping here for a moment, on the second-floor landing.
If you look up you'll see that you have the same organization as on the previous floors, concerning the ceiling of this staircase. But the work obviously hasn't been done. So we don't have the center column.
we have the four capitals. as on the ground and second floors. We have the c hapiteau above the window. but the staircase, and therefore the finishing work. from the early XVIᵉ century were never completed.
We don't know why. We think it's probably for financial reasons, than the owner, Jean de Mont amat, was unable to complete its project. And so, what's interesting, is that from the beginning of the 16ᵉ until today, from this floor, Messilhac's entire interior is still made of wood. Which just goes to show that in his mind, were temporary installations. Pending completion of the final works , mainly in cut stone, that this work was never carried out and so today, from this second floor, to reach the attic , under the roof of the central section, we have to use this wooden staircase, and you will see that everything has been prepared above.
to complete the work. as imagined by Jean de Montamat, but nobody came. replace provisional elements with definitive ones. What you're about to see is temporary construction. which dates from the early XVIᵉ century.
So, let's take the wooden staircase. Before continuing our visit to the upper floors, you noticed earlier on the façade that above the beautiful Renaissance decorations remained the corbels. that supported the old c hemin de ronde. Obviously, if the work had been completed, The crows would have been replaced by the pursuit of these sculptures. to a pediment built inside the roof. To give you an idea of what this walkway actually looked like We are fortunate to have a north-facing building.
I'd like to show you what's left of the path, through this maid's room. which we have reconstructed to show what living conditions were like. Messilhac staff at 18ᵉ and 19ᵉ. And so, by opening this door, you come to the remains of the old parapet walk. Which was used to watch over and defend the castle. on its northern f açade.
And as you can see, the crows are on the ground, on which were placed simple wooden planks, which could be used to throw stones in the event of an assault on the castle. And you have protection in the form of essentially of stone mixed with earth. and certainly a bit of straw, So relatively rustic.
The objective was clearly defensive, which provided protection against stone-throwing, but mostly arrows. And in return to throw stones at the attackers. if they wanted to enter from the north.
Imagine if this type of layout existed on the south façade. and that it was obviously totally incoherent at the time of the Renaissance, when we wanted to create something new, let's do it, a Renaissance palace or castle, to preserve the remains of a medieval period which was now a thing of the past. Nonetheless, the family has kept, Fortunately for us, and for our understanding of the building and its history, this remnant of the covered walkway. on the north side, which is the rather poor facade I was talking about earlier. and has not benefited from all these transformations.
from the XVIᵉ century onwards. So, if we continue our tour of the temporary building, you can clearly see that from this very first piece. which precedes the dovecote we're about to enter, the entire building is made of wood. you can see that the beams have not been placed between the walls. that we've done some temporary construction.
on which a wooden s uperstructure has been placed in order to be able to use this space and these rooms, pending completion of the work. So one of the historic pieces we still have on this floor, is the Messilhac dovecote, which has the particularity of having been landscaped. inside the castle in the east keep, and not, as is often the case outdoors.
And so, as you can imagine, This dovecote was built in the XVIᵉ century. Probably by the owners, Cap de Rastignac and Marguerite de Saunhac. It was, I would say, the completion of the.
status. Messilhac had taken at the end of the XVIᵉ century. And it was obviously important for lords to have a dovecote. Especially at a time when Messilhac ruled the entire region. This room was built by removing the floor between the third and fourth floors, to make a large room in which the bolts who are these vases e n t erre were sealed inside the walls. To give you an order of magnitude, we estimate that each of the bolts which contained a pair of pigeons. represented about one hectare of land.
And so we deduced that Messilhac's heritage was at its peak, That is, at the end of 16ᵉ, was around 300 hectares, which is huge for the region, which allowed Messilhac to dominate, according to historians, 24 parishes, a number of vassal castles depended on Messilhac, and it was only natural that the owner, Seigneur de Messilhac, a dovecote at such a time. To establish his position and show his influence. on the Carladès region. And so, in addition to removing the floor, This room has been fitted out with a large opening, since it's obvious that the original murder hole was unsuitable for pigeon entry and exit. And so we made a grand opening. with a slab of schist on the outside for both so that the pigeons can take flight and land, but also to protect the dovecote.
against rodent intrusion. Because it's clear that with a horizontal plate, rodents can't, even if they climb all the way up the facade, cannot enter the loft. And inside the loft, you always have. since the XVIᵉ century, this revolving ladder.
which allowed access to each of the boulins. and take either the eggs that had been laid, or pick up the droppings which, as you know, was used as fertilizer at the time. I'm not sure we've used much pigeons as a means of communication, but I think they were certainly used in the kitchen.
both meat and eggs, in the same way as droppings. since the floor is very clean now, the meat was used to fatten the land for cultivation. So, as you can see, I borrowed here again a wooden staircase which is quite temporary. to reach this last level, this large room.
which lies exactly between the two dungeons. And as you can see, Two chimneys had already been planned at each end. It was therefore obvious that this room should have been fitted out. Like the stages, on the first or second level, with one large and one medium-sized room, each with a fireplace, with beautiful openings because, as you can see, This frame dates from 16ᵉ, which is extremely well preserved. because it's a chestnut frame.
There are no cobwebs, there are no pests, There are no insects, since chestnut has repellent properties. On the south side of the building, the framework included opening a large window which would have ended here the development of the facade in the early XVIᵉ century. And on the north side we would have cut two windows, that today we would call sitting dogs, that would have shed some light, in each of the two rooms.
that should have been built here. Today, the floor is made of wooden planks. And this confirms the obvious. than the work I presented earlier, have not been completed. you can imagine what Messilhac would have been like.
If all this could have been achieved according to Jean de Montamat's plans. In other words, we would have had two or four beautiful reception rooms again, with excellent southern exposure and with beautiful openings, in Renaissance style. Unfortunately, this was not achieved.
and today we can at least enjoy the privilege, to have this great piece, which was used in one of the two films, as the Musketeers' dormitory. So I'll leave it to you to imagine this room converted into a dormitory. This was not his original vocation, but in the end it was to a temporary job, during the filming of Young Blades, the first film shot in Messilhac in 2000. Well, I hope you've enjoyed this quick tour of Messilhac. And that I could have given you a bit of, the passion I have for this monument. which I acquired 25 years ago.
This is very interesting in Messilhac, is the authenticity of the place. You can tell it's steeped in history and that it was not disturbed beyond the XVIᵉ century. Which is also important, is what it gives visitors, a particular idea of a certain type of castle. In France, we know the great châteaux of the 18ᵉ. that more or less inspired Versailles. We're all familiar with fortified castles.
Conversely, a small rural château like Messilhac is little known. And what's interesting is that you've seen it for yourself. Even though we're in an extremely rugged region. And imagine how remote this region was in 16ᵉ. We were nevertheless able to benefit from the quality of the work.
made by craftsmen and artists who have considerably e mbelished this country house. And so it's a small castle, But it's a small chateau in terms of size It's a small castle that no longer has any influence on the region, as can still be seen in large châteaux open to the public. But it still shines today by the quality of the work over the centuries by successive Messilhac owners. And I, in turn, am working to preserve and pass on this heritage to those who will succeed me.