Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre, France

The Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre is a castle in the commune of Fougères-sur-Bièvre, in the French department of Loir-et-Cher.

Built at the end of the XVth century, château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre can be seen as the ideal fortified castle, with its dungeon, its curtain walls supervised by machicolations and its fortified postern gate. Located near a river, with its medieval style vegetable garden, it brings together heritage and nature. Centre des monuments nationaux, a national public institution, opens to public and runs the Chateau de Fougères-sur-Bièvre.

Originally an 11th-century structure, it was entirely rebuilt at the end of the 15th century, with only the large, square keep remaining original. The initial reconstruction retained the defensive aspect of the castle: moat, cannon-holes, parapet walk, etc. During the next century, Renaissance refinements, such as a gallery, mullioned windows and steep-sloped roofs were added. During the 19th century, a spinning mill was installed in the chapel. The castle was purchased and restored by the state in the 1930s.

It has been listed since 1912 as an historic site (monument historique) by the French Ministry of Culture.

Its first construction dates from the eleventh century. It was destroyed in 1356 at the beginning of the 100 year war by Edward III of England, Prince of Wales, said the Black Prince. Only the dungeon remained.

The king having given his authorization in 1470, the castle was rebuilt from 1475 to 1483 by Pierre de Refuge, then treasurer of Louis XI. The work was completed by his son-in-law.

René Lambot (1734-1802), notary at the Châtelet of Paris and secretary to the king, acquired the castle in 1789; his descendants transformed it in 1814 into a spinning mill that operated until 1890.

Acquired by the Lambot family in 1738, René Lambot, the third heir of the name had the idea to create a spinning mill in the castle from 1813 to 1901. This allowed to preserve it largely from the revolutionary degradation and to maintain life and the activity.

When the castle was turned into a spinning mill, a paddle wheel was placed in the chapel. Trained by the Bievre, she supplied energy to a hydraulic turbine that was turning the machines.

The production of hemp, merino wool and silk is divided into several branches: manufacture of sheets in cashmere and wool, spinning for drapery, spinning in cashmere and wool for shawls, flannels and various fabrics.

During the whole period of activity of the mill, the workmen and their families lived in the castle in rudimentary conditions. The mill closed in 1901, replaced by a sawmill in 1903 whose activity stopped before 1911. After this closure, the castle continued to shelter needy families from the village until the acquisition by the State.

Restoration in the twentieth century
Acquisition by the State
Classified historical monument in 1912, put on sale after the stock market crash of 1929, the castle is acquired by the State in 1932.

It is now owned by the French State which bought it in 1932. The restorations are mainly the work of the architect Paul Robert-Houdin (1894-1978), curator of Chambord Castle.

A vast global restoration campaign was conducted from 1934 to 1950 under the direction of Maurice Lotte with local materials (Loire sand, tuffeau, Beauce stone). In respect of the monument and its identity, the work carried out tends to erase in part the changes made for spinning.

Its appearance is that of a charming medieval fortress, distinguishable from the great châteaux of the Loire by its lack of ostentation, in spite of the embellishments added during the Renaissance.

The ideal fortress
The castle of Fougères-sur-Bièvre was built in the late 15th century and has all the characteristics of an ideal fortress with its keep, the machicolated curtain wall at the entrance and its fortified gatehouse.

The castle is particularly well preserved and, in its present state, looks much as it did from 1525 to 1530 with its military façade and the civil and domestic architecture of its inner courtyard and its interior layout with a suite of rooms with no corridors.

It was surrounded by water, and a covered and machicolated covered way crowns the walls of the north facade, the main facade which leans against the rectangular dungeon, the only remaining element of the first castle and a large round tower.

The castle has a double face: an entrance façade with a particularly defensive Gothic aspect and a courtyard façade decorated with Renaissance decorations (pilasters with foliage and capitals).

In the forecourt, the main frontage is the only part of the castle which looks typically defensive.

Example of symbolic decorative elements, the two doors of the house at the back of the court are surmounted by carved pediments: on the right two soldiers, on the left of the angels wearing coats of arms and the effigy of Saint Michael slaying the dragon.

Built by Pierre de Refuge, this austere and defensive frontage, 35 meters long, has two large and dissimilar corner towers and two turrets framing the main entrance, with traces of a drawbridge.

The master-tower
The master-tower has four levels surmounted by an attic and appears virtually “blind”, pierced only by loopholes for cannon which add to its defensive appearance.

The entrance curtain is an imposing fortified gate between two round towers. It overlooks a small inner courtyard, lined with buildings with gates surmounted by carved Gothic pediments. A round turret attached to one of the corners of the dungeon encloses the spiral staircase.

Its upper floors contain the bedrooms of the lord of the manor and his family. The tower is served by an external spiral staircase in the southern corner of the courtyard.

The round tower and the west wing
Equally monumental as the master-tower, but less massive, the round tower has all the architectural features of the great gothic châteaux of the 15th century. ts general austerity is relieved by the unusually decorative treatment of the crenellations of its encircling walkway.

The lodgings, the four-storey west wing served by a spiral staircase in a hexagonal turret and the buildings to the south were built at the end of the fifteenth century. The chapel adjoins the main building south.

Crowning the curtain wall, a machicolated encircling walkway, with some narrow passages, links the master-tower to the round tower without interruption. The covered stone gallery replaced an earlier wooden passageway.

The main courtyard
The picturesque main courtyard, opposite and to the right of the entrance, presents two main blocks, the oldest parts of the castle, built between 1450 and 1475.

The arcaded gallery
An important area in the life of the castle, the gallery with its surbased arcades links two rooms, providing shelter and making it possible to converse while walking. It is somewhat similar to the covered gallery in the château of Blois.

The gallery with lowered archways and ornamentation, pilasters with foliage and capitals of the courtyard facade are a Renaissance decoration later, dating from the sixteenth century. At the same time the dungeon was pierced with windows and skylights.

Accommodation block
The main accommodation block was built at the same time as the reception room block in order to close the courtyard and is served by a spiral staircase.
Built over an old ditch which had been filled in, the two stories each contain two soberly decorated rooms.

The frameworks
80% of the frameworks of the castle of Fougères-sur-Bièvre are original. They were built without metal fixing devices, representing true technical prowess considering their size.

Even more impressive is the framework resembling an upturned boat in the upper great room, not to mention the framework of the encircling walkway.

The river Bièvre and the romantic garden in the medieval style. The medieval-inspired kitchen garden is composed of raised beds and consolidated by braided chestnut trees. It is watered by the Bievre.

Crossed by the river Briève, the garden, medieval in its inspiration, consists of square or rectangular formal flower beds combined with “wooden boxes” where herbs, simples and vegetables are grown.

Rearranged to give pleasure, the garden is a haven of peace beside the Bièvre.

The plants grown in the garden provided not only food but were also used for washing (soapwort, beet juice) and for personal care (bedstraw, lavender and tansy).