Photo of the castle of Bouzols before its restoration (circa 1870)
From the time of its initial construction in the 11th century until the French Revolution, the castle was the seat of one of the most important baronies in the Velay region. It was successively held by major feudal families: Mercoeur, Polignac, Turenne and La Tour d’Auvergne.
Its hidden feature lies in its defensive organization. The 13th-15th century keep stands right in the middle. It is mostly in ruins today. It is surrounded by the lower castle, built in the 13th century, then enlarged and modernized in the 16th-17th century. The keep is separated from the lower castle by an impressive passage cut in the volcanic rock.
Its state of ruins required the launching of a campaign of consolidation and restoration, carried out between 1880 and 1900, respecting the remaining structure and using the local stones.
For a more detailed history of the life of the fortress and its inhabitants or owners, one can refer to the article published in the historical bulletin of the academic society of Le Puy-en-Velay and the Haute-Loire administrative department of the year 2015 under the title: “Bouzols, eight centuries of history under the Old Regime: three periods from the year 1000 to the Revolution.”
The article makes a distinction between three main periods
The period of feudal order and local confrontation (11th-14th century) saw the birth of primitive building and the construction of a “traditional stronghold built with its sheltering keep not exposed to the first assault and separated from the first line of defenses by an artificial moat dug in the rock and opening onto an escarpment, which constituted an ingenious deception for the fleeing assailants who would have been able to cross the initial defenses”
The ensuing period is that of great seigniorial families and national confrontation (1347-1621). Then part of the estates of the Roger family – whose members such as Guillaume Roger became counts of Beaufort in Anjou and viscounts of Turenne in Limousin in 1350, also nephew of Pope Clement VI – the castle was besieged for one year between 1399 and 1400 and was partially destroyed. The keep was rebuilt after this conflict and the fortress still played a military role up until the 1420s at the time of the conflict between Armagnac and Bourguignon extending in the Velay region. During the period of the “League” it was garrisoned and held by the city of Le Puy.
From 1621 to the French Revolution, after an attempted transformation into a lordly residence by the new owners (the House of Montagu), the castle suffered a slow decline leading to a progressive deterioration of the main buildings. The House of Montagu, who had become a courtier family at the end of the Old Regime, lost interest in the castle, preferring their more pleasant residences.
In 1783, Joachim de Montagu married Anne-Pauline-Dominique de Noailles, thus becoming the brother-in-law of the Marquis de La Fayette, a major figure of the American war of Independence. Joachim de Montagu died in 1834 as the last Marquis of Bouzols.
From the Revolution to the 21st century
Nationalized and put on sale during the Revolution, Bouzols came back into the hands of the House Montagu when they returned from emigration. In 1808, they sold it to the Beaud de Brive family, who had been living in the Coubon valley since the middle of the 17th century. Thanks to them, between 1876 and 1905, the lower castle was restored as well as the terraces and the gardens, on which the old medieval village was built.
Between 1920 and 1936 the chapel dedicated to Saint Eustache and located in the courtyard was restored too; as was the watchtower on the top of the keep. During the Second World War, some of the collections of the museum of Le Puy were kept safe in the castle.
Currently, there is an ongoing campaign for the restoration of murals, decorating an oratory inside the castle. It is being carried out thanks to the help of the “Gilles Etrillard et ses enfants” (Gilles Etrillard and his children) prize, awarded in 2014. This philanthropic action, aiming at encouraging the restoration of oratories and chapels, was made possible under the aegis of the association “La Demeure Historique”. On completion of these works and the official inauguration in the presence of the patron are done, these interior decorations depicting the life of the Virgin Mary and bearing a mysterious signature – J.F.G. 1646 – will be open to visitors.
In order to preserve and bequeath to future generations a better-known and well-kept castle, a geological diagnostic of the state of the rock – a volcanic neck – and the keep towering is carried out.