An Architectural Icon – Château de Bonaguil

Château de Bonaguil is a beautiful Château situated in France. It is well-known for its incredible defensive features as well as its general attractiveness, in fact, it is considered one of the most attractive castles in France. It is also known around the world and especially in France for how architecturally iconic it was in its glory and how perfect it remains now.

Château de Bonaguil is situated near Fumel, in northern Lot-et-Garonne, where it has been classified as a historic monument since the year 1862. If you are looking to venture around France, this lovely castle should definitely be on your list if exploring an icon of medieval military architecture is something that interests you greatly.

Château de Bonaguil in France towering over nearby houses. The castle has large stone walls and towers and sits on a mountain surrounded by trees
Château de Bonaguil. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The history of Château de Bonaguil

Château de Bonaguil was the last ever fortified castle to be erected in France during the Middle Ages. Due to the way that his magnificent castle was constructed, it was deeply considered somewhat of a marvel of military architecture that incorporated the latest development in defensive protection against artillery. These days, it is seen as one of the most impressive and evocative castle ruins in France and it isn’t hard to see why.

The early history of Château de Bonaguil

According to Jacques Gardelle, the very first castle built at Bonaguil was constructed sometime after the middle of the 13th century (1258-1271). It was built on a rocky spur and was most likely built by Arnaud La Tour de Fumel. The entrance to the keep was single and the door was around six metres above a natural cave, only accessible by ladder.

The first-ever mention of Château de Bonaguil in writing was in the year 1271 in a charter listing the possessions of the King of France Philippe III le Hardi. At this point in time, the castle was likely just a simple polygonal keep that had a small courtyard surrounded by a wall. It is also rumoured to have had a lower courtyard surrounded by a palisade during this time. The actual dwelling was not built until the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th century.

During the Hundred Years War, the lord of Bonaguil fought bravely alongside the King of England. The castle was taken many, many times, burnt down and abandoned, and badly damaged. Throughout this time, it was always owned by the Fumel Family.

Jean de Fumel-Pujols, baron of Blanquefort and owner of the castle, married the heiress of Roquefeuil, Jeanne Catherine de Roquefeuil on November 11th of 1380. He dropped his name and instead took on the more prestigious and well-known name of his now-wife. Their son Antoine joined together the properties of the two families, and their grandson, Jean de Roquefeuil, moved with his wife Isabeau de Peyre to Bonaguil in 1444.

the entrance to an old stone castle
Entrance to Château de Bonaguil. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Jean de Roquefeuil

Jean de Roquefeuil who had sent his son Antoine to take part in the War of the League of the Public Weal made several modifications to the castle such as:

  • A ramp that made access to the keep far easier than before.
  • Raising the walls of the dwelling so that they reached the height of the keep. This made the castle’s silhouette far more empowering.
  • A new dwelling built to the east of the keep. Its length currently stands on the east-south-east against the curtain wall and its openings are orientated to the north-north-east and west-north-west.
  • Rebuilding the entire keep with an overall streamlined shape that helps to better resist artillery.
  • A grand and beautiful spiral staircase that was installed in a new turret in the west that helped to increase the amount of available space.

Out of all of Jean’s nine children (including four sons), it was Bérenger, the third son, who managed to survive and inherit the lovely property that his father had put so much time and effort into.

The works of Bérenger de Roquefeui

Bérenger definitely put just as much, if not more, work into the castle than his father did. In fact, most of his work in regard to defences still remain today and the considerable defences of the castle have origin in the lord of Bonaguil’s problems with King Charles VII, who condemned him for his violence against serfs and vassals. All of these repairs and enhancements were financed by the good fortune of the Roquefeuils who had owned the lands in Gironde and the Golfe du Lion. These works extended to around thirty years.

The main danger that was on the rise at the end of the 15th century came from the artillery. To keep the castle and its inhabitants protected, it was very much necessary to keep the enemy’s cannons at a fair distance. Because of this, an external wall that ranged roughly 350m in length was then added to the castle with the lower part having a large mass of earth on it. This enabled the cushioning of the artillery shots. The wall was reinforced with small towers and was also equipped with many guns.

The Château de Bonaguil used the latest development of armaments to push back the assailants who had been firing causing them to have to set up their cannons further away which then resulted in them having a very difficult time trying to attack. Large calibre guns were also added to the top of the towers so fighting could be done from a distance. The spur that the castle stands on is cut by a large ditch sunk in the rock and it was just beyond here that a barbican was built.

An old draw bridge connecting two parts of a castle
A bridge at Château de Bonaguil. Source: Flickr

It was then linked by two large drawbridges to the body of the castle and was also defended by several large guard towers. The main aim of all of this was to ensure that no point was uncovered by weaponry and so the caponiers were built in the ditches. This was done in front of the curtain which allowed the ditch to be wept with fire from the defenders, from one or both sides of the structure. In addition to all of this, boulevards were laid out to permit rapid movement from one point to another of the fortress, in case of attacks on different parts of the castle; this anticipated the fortresses of the 17th century.

This was all only designed to postpone the danger to the residential part of the castle known as the heart. This was all equally strengthened when six towers were built. Four round towers in the corners, and two towers in the middles of the curtain, a square on in the west and a round tower in the south. These towers allowed greater coverage of the curtains which meant that defenders could fire on the sides of assailants who were attacking the castle at the foot of the wall between two towers.

The towers served well to protect the walls thanks to their incredibly defensive and well-thought-out design and due to their massive height, they couldn’t be scaled. The corbels supporting the walkway were replaced with inverted pyramids that were much more solid and able to support a much heavier weight.

Changing fortunes (the 16th-18th centuries)

Unfortunately, Bérenger died in the year 1530 and at this point, Château de Bonaguil had not yet adapted for siege warfare, however, it remained as an imposing fortress. His son Charles then squandered his fortune on Blanche de Lettes de Montpezat who was his beautiful wife whom he adored. His sons Honrat and Antoine also inherited a reduced fortune. During the Wars of Religion, the brothers fought in opposite camps and in 1563, the castle was taken.

A restoration took place in the year 1572 and in debt, Antoine was forced to give the beautiful castle to the lord of Pardhaillan in 1618. Luckily, he was able to purchase it back many years later. His son, Antoine-Alexandre was a marquis, however, he gladly passed the castle on to his only daughter Marie who was given Château de Bonaguil in a poor state. She devoted herself completely to repairing the castle and performing the much-needed maintenance.

She remarried in 1655 to Claude-Yves de Tourzel, Marquis of Allègre and together they had a beautiful daughter who later on married Seignelay, minister of the Colbert family. In 1656, François de Roquefeuil took possession of Château de Bonaguil. He was a distant relative and somehow had some claim to the castle and in the time he had it (roughly one year), he kept and pillaged it before soon after abandoning it. Marie lived in Paris for the last few years of her life and abandoned the castle completely until she passed away in 1699.

Walls and towers of a ruined castle
Inside the walls of the castle. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This time, Château de Bonaguil passed on to François-Gaspard de Montpeyroux who was a soldier. He almost never lived at the castle, so he passed it on to his sister who afterwards sold it in 1719 to Jean-Antoine de Pechpeyrou-Beaucaire. He owned the castle until 1761 when his son sold the beautiful castle to Marguerite de Fumel, widow of Emmanuel de Giversac, who then devoted her time to carry out some works on the castle that made it far more comfortable.

Marguerite de Fumel stayed at Château de Bonaguil regularly and she even converted the castle far more than anyone else did. During her ownership, the earthworks to the far west of the castle were drastically enlarged and laid out as somewhat of a large terrace that later became a pleasant promenade. To the south, some new apartments were built outside the inner wall. The seven large drawbridges became fixed bridges eventually and a part of the ramparts was demolished to give a stunning view over the valley.

Marguerites nephew, Joseph-Louis de Fumel inherited the castle in 1788 and he then fled not long after in 1789 and at this time, Château de Bonaguil was declared national property. Everything was dispersed and the roofs, floors, and wood panelling was taken down. The Fumels recovered the castle following the Thermidor but did not live there, instead, they sold it. The castle continued to be passed from owner to owner until the commune of Fumel purchased it in 1860 who obtained the classification Monument historique.

They did some serious restoration work to the castle and the architect from the Monument historique restored the keep between 1882 and 1886. Plenty of repairs continued to be made up until 1900 which included covering the watchtower roof with stone tiles. Further restoration works were carried out in 1948–1950, 1977 and 1985.

The present day

These days, you can visibly see the love and care that has gone into creating this magnificent castle and it has certainly undergone many changes and renovations. Château de Bonaguil is now one of the most visited and adored attractions in France. Despite many misfortunes and the fact that the castle has changed hands many times throughout the years, the castle remains extremely breathtaking and it is a lovely site to visit.

What remains today is an absolutely perfect representation of a fortified castle. There are many guided tours available and during summer, the castle also proposes nocturnal tours with stunning lighting and sound effects that give an extra dimension to the visit and you won’t want to miss it. It is most certainly something that the whole family will enjoy, and it is even an amazing sight for all of the castle enthusiasts.

To enter the castle, you go through the barbican that is still protected by four-metre-thick walls. When you begin your journey, you see many of the practical parts of the castle such as the pigeon-house, the rubbish dump and the bakery. These were practical times and the pigeon droppings were used as fertiliser while ashes from the bakery were used for washing.

You may enjoy reading more about French château’s such as Château de Villandry.

Château de Bonaguil’s timeline

  • 1258 to 1271- The first castle is constructed
  • 1271- The first written mention
  • 1444- Jean de Roquefeuil moved to Bonaguil with his wife Isabeau
  • 1470 to 1482- The keep is rebuilt
  • 1563- The castle is taken
  • 1572- The first restoration takes place
  • 1618- Bonaguil is given to the lord of Pardhaillan
  • 1788- Joseph-Louis de Fumel inherits Bonaguil
  • 1789- Joseph-Louis de Fumel flees Bonaguil
  • 1860- Purchased by the commune of Fumel
  • 1862- Classified as a historic monument
  • 1868 to 1985- Restoration work

Interesting facts about Château de Bonaguil

  • Bonaguil was the very last of all the great fortified castles built in France
  • The location was chosen because of the steep rock in front of a hill which makes it far easier to defend
  • The castle played home to seven drawbridges
  • To this day, it is still considered an architectural icon because of its military architecture
  • Although Château de Bonaguil was taken in the wars of religion, it was never actually attacked during its time as a fortress
  • Thomas Edward Lewis, when he stumbled upon Bonaguil, said “A fortress so perfect it seems ridiculous to call it a ruin”.

Who owns Château de Bonaguil?

Though Château de Bonaguil is located in the French commune of Saint-Front-sur-Lémance, it is actually owned by the neighbouring commune of Fumel in the Lot-et-Garonne département. Fumel is perfectly situated at the right bank of the river Lot, it is the centre of a small agglomeration that consists of 7 communes, including Monsempron-Libos and Montayra.

Books on Château de Bonaguil

  • Château de Bonaguil by Unknown Author (1994)
  • Étude sur le Château de Bonaguil, Canton de Fumel by Philippe Lauzun (2011)
  • Le château de Bonaguil en Agenais – Description et histoire by Philippe Lauzun (Unknown publish date)

Tourism

The castle is most certainly a beautiful place to visit. The main part is one of the most important areas which includes a large, round tower as well as a square tower. You can also view a great tunnel that travels under the castle.

If you plan to Château de Bonaguil and are wanting to search the local area a bit more, there are plenty of attractions available. Right next to the castle, there is a quaint little church as well as a spooky cemetery for thrill-seekers. From that point, you can easily continue your stroll and the path nearby will lead you to the village.

This then leads you near shops and cafes. If you enjoy checking out castles, nearby, there is also Château de Gavaudun that sits in a picturesque valley.

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