The Château de Sully-sur-Loire is a castle, converted to a palatial seigneurial residence, situated in the commune of Sully-sur-Loire, Loiret, France.
The château was the seat of the Duke de Sully, Henri IV’s minister Maximilien de Béthune (1560–1641), and the later dukes of Sully. It is a château-fort, a true castle, built to control one of the few sites where the Loire can be forded.
The imposing medieval architecture of the château de Sully has dominated the Loire for seven centuries. With is high towers, its moats still filled with water and its superb conical roofs, the château gives the impression of having seen some of the finest moments of France’s history. You can visit the residence of Maximilien de Béthune, better known by the name Duke de Sully, Henri IV’s famous minister, and discover the history of this family which owned the castle for nearly four centuries.
The castle proper was constructed in two separate parts, each with its own defence system. The keep was constructed around 1395 for Guy de La Trémoïlle, Lord of Sully by Raymond du Temple, the king’s architect. It was intended as both a fortification to defend the bridge over the Loire River and a fine residence where the lord could organize sumptuous celebrations. The small castle was built a few decades later. It is smaller in size and served the daily needs of the lord and his family. The bailey yard, enclosed within the walls and its corner towers, included what is known as the Philippe Auguste tower, constructed in 1218, the village church and a few other everyday and defence elements.
The major changes made during this period were the work of Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully, who purchased the castle in 1602. He had what is known as the artillery tower built with thick walls and defensive canons to reinforce this little defended part of the site. This tower is connected to the rest of the castle by two covered galleries. A third gallery connects the keep and the small castle. The whole construction was then completely enclosed, which makes it harder to attack. In the bailey yard, the church was removed and rebuilt in the centre of the town and stables were constructed. The levee was strengthened to protect the castle in case of flooding on the Loire River and access to the levee was made easier with the installation of a bridge.
In the 18th century, the castle was marked by cycles of destruction and reconstruction. The Philippe Auguste tower, a vestige of the passing feudal age, was destroyed while new buildings for farming were added. A large wing connecting the keep to the small castle was erected in 1767. It contained the magnificent apartments of the Duke, the centre of vibrant cultural life. A fixed bridge was installed in place of the drawbridge at the entrance to the castle. The tops of the towers on the keep were removed in 1794 by the 8th Duke of Sully who supported the ideas of the French Revolution. The gallery leading from the artillery tower to the keep was destroyed sometime in the middle of the 19th century.
The castle saw a number of major changes in the 20th century. From 1900 to 1902 the lord of the house decided to have the tops of the towers on the keep rebuilt, but only the eastern towers were completed. In 1918 a terrible fire destroyed the wing built in the 18th century. It was rebuilt soon afterwards but with one less storey and the inside was not completed. The castle suffered some damage during World War II. The gallery that connected the artillery tower to the small castle underwent significant restoration after the war.
In 1962 the castle and its grounds were purchased by the Loiret local Council from the Béthune-Sully family. Major renovations were begun then. More recently, the burned wing was completely refurbished and then fully furnished.
The castle is surrounded by moats still in water and comprises two distinct parts: the dungeon and the small castle. It is built at the confluence of the Loire and the Sange.
The keep, rectangular building confined to four circular towers, and with a door to two turns to the south, corresponds to the campaign of Guy de la Trémoille. The interior has been deeply redeveloped by Maximilian of Bethune. Note on the first floor, the large room with its wooden doors of the seventeenth century, the painting of Rosny-sur-Seine Castle on the mantelpiece, finally the iron door giving access to the “cabinet” Sully. The underburden is a remarkable work of the fourteenth century cradle broken. The dungeon of Sully offers a remarkable case of lodgings with circular towers of the end of the fourteenth century; entirely devoted to the pageantry, it is doubled by a private dwelling of the same internal structure, but much more intimate, giving the measure of the dichotomy between the public and the private in the great princely courts.
The little castle closes the courtyard south of the dungeon. It includes a dwelling and two towers, one of which is in the south-east, was built in the middle of the fifteenth century on an older tower, while the other, called “Tower of Bethune”, lower and terraced, is ” a cannon tower “built in 1605. The house, built in the first half of the fifteenth century, was from the sixteenth century, the usual residence of the lords of Sully. The interiors were remodeled (decor and furniture) at the end of the nineteenth century. The body that joins the castle to the dungeon was added in the eighteenth century, and rebuilt after the fire of 1918.
The Great Hall:
This formal room was among one of the most important in the castle, located as it was, on the noble storey where the lord of the house lived. Its enormous size, about 300 m2, meant it was used for sumptuous receptions.
A painting of the castle of Rosny-sur-Seine, the birthplace of the Duke of Sully, appears above the fireplace. The flaming cannonballs painted on the last beam refer to his title as Grand Master of Artillery. The paintings represent several of his descendants in the 17th and 18th centuries.
This was the room from which the drawbridge was controlled in the Middle Ages overlooking the machicolations. It is said that the Duke of Sully turned it into a study where he could store some of his treasures and especially, where he could work, which explains the small fireplace decorated with the Béthune coat of arms. This room was closed by a strong iron door.
The King’s bedroom:
This was doubtless the chamber used by the lord of the house in the Middle Ages. It was later transformed into a chamber for the King when he was travelling, a common practice in castles. Despite the portrait above the fireplace, Henry IV never came to Sully. However his grandson, Louis XIV spent two days here in March of 1652, during the Fronde uprising.
The first of four rooms entirely renovated in 2007, this room is reminiscent of the office that a steward would have used in the early 20th century. The steward was the person in charge of
managing the castle grounds and surrounding land. The furniture dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. The decorative pieces show the ancestors of the last owners as well as the castle at different times throughout its history.
This small room is the first in the Psyche’s apartment. This includes three rooms connected in a single file and it was redone in 2007 in a late 18th century style. At that time, these were the rooms occupied by the Duchess of Sully. Although according to archival documents this room was originally an antechamber, the idea was to recreate the feel of bath and dressing room.
The Psyche’s bedroom:
The woodwork, paintings, gilding and parquet in this room were installed in 2007 but they were made in the style of 18th century rooms. This room was then the Duchess of Sully’s bedroom. The early 17th century tapestries illustrate the myth of Psyche. The furniture, grouped around a canopy bed known as lit à la duchesse (in the duchess’ style), is from the first half of the 18th century.
The antechamber, with its numerous seats is where visitors waited to be received by the lady of the manor in her chamber. It is decorated with a 17th century tapestry and a portrait of the first son of Maximilien de Béthune. In the 18th century, this room was a boudoir used by the Duke of Sully.
Room in the square tower:
This room, located above the entrance of the castle, overlooking the central path of the grounds, was in the 18th century the bedchamber of the Duke of Sully. It was destroyed by the fire of 1918. It has been refurbished several times since and today contains among other items, a late 18th century bed “à la polonaise” (in the Polish style).
It was here in this space, which in the 17th century was organised in three small rooms, that Maximilien de Béthune’s bedroom was located. In the 19th century the rooms were turned into a sitting room for receiving family friends and intimate guests. The room boasts a painted ceiling, furniture dating for the most part from the 18th century and paintings depicting the Duke of Sully and Henry IV.
Small sitting room:
This room, formerly a bedroom, was turned into a small sitting room at the beginning of the 20th century. The decor recreates a ladies’ bedroom from the early 19th century. The delicate marquetry furniture is Charles X period. The decorations show Henry IV and his wife Marie de Medici.
The Rampart Walk:
The rampart walk, 15m high around the top of the keep, gave guards a view of the surrounding area that extended for nearly 10km. In case of attack, the castle guards defended it by releasing stones through the murder-holes and firing arrows out of the arrow slits. The walk leads to the two rooms on the upper level which served as storage and rooms for the guards.
Under the roof:
This is where the castle’s garrison lived. The room is topped with an impressive roof structure, a full three quarters of which is the original construction dating from the beginning of the 15th century. It is made mainly of oak beams from local forests (some are of chestnut) that have been formed into a pointed barrel vault, following the principles of gothic architecture.
Fortified gate house:
This low-ceilinged space is found at the top of the small, fortified castle entrance. Originally, it was covered with a roof like the four towers of the keep. There was an upper level, the rampart walk of the gate house, with its own machicolations and arrow slits. The drain trench may have served as an additional means of defence through which projectiles could be launched at attackers.
The vestibule serves the dining room and what in the 19th century was the butler’s pantry and the kitchen. It is decorated with lions as well as crowned MBS monograms for Maximilien de Bethune, Duke of Sully and CCSS monograms for Courtenay Cochefilet Sully, referring to the surnames of the Duke of Sully’s two successive wives.
This dining room dates from the 19th century. It boasts a painted ceiling and a fireplace decorated with the symbols of the Duke of Sully. It was here, when this room served as his study that the Duke wrote his memoirs, the Oeconomies Royales, printed in secret at the castle in 1638.
The Tomb room:
The tower surrounding this room was destroyed during the Revolution and later rebuilt between 1900 and 1902, when this room was made into a chapel. It originally included pews and an altar. Today it houses the plaster replica of the tomb statue for the Duke of Sully and his second wife Rachel de Cochefilet. The original marble tomb is found in Nogent-le-Rotrou.
Hallway and small lower room:
This room at the end of a corridor was a rather luxurious bedroom in the 17th century that was used for receiving. In the Middle Ages, the fireplace was moved to the other side in the gable. The Duke of Sully ha dit moved so that a large window could be added in the room to let in more light.
This small area was connected with the kitchen. It served as a larder and also contained an oven. The visible corbels and the high door show that there was an upper level at one time. The remnants of a staircase leading to the cellar where food was stored are also visible.
Great lower room:
This huge was the work area for servants and cooks. It was divided into several smaller room, including the actual kitchen in front of the little fireplace. Near the great fireplace from the late 14th century, there is a large statue of the Duke of Sully, represented with several military titles and titles of nobility.
The Château de Sully-sur-Loire became a property of the Département du Loiret, and has since benefited from numerous restorations. It hosts a classical music festival each June. The château contains numerous tapestries (including a set of six seventeenth-century hangings, the Tenture de Psyché), paintings of Sully’s ancestors and heirs, and seventeenth-century furnishings. Here is also the tomb of Sully and that of his second wife.
Château de Sully-sur-Loire is listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.