Messilhac history

A short summary of its history

Messilhac was built in the twelfth century on a rocky promontory bordering the Haute Auvergne and Rouergue regions. Originally it was probably composed of a medieval Romanesque keep (the present one on the west side), surrounded by a high protecting wall with five to seven defence towers. This wall was destroyed at the beginning of the twentieth century and nowadays the original square tower at the south-east corner and another one (later raised and modified) in the northwest corner only remain ("tour de l' oubliette").

Inside the wall, a moat surrounded the keep, with other low buildings nearby to house guards and servants. The old keep most probably had three floors – the first two for the squire and his family, while the upper floor is used as a watchtower to guard the Goul Valley.

Messilhac was built in a strategic position overlooking the Goul Valley, an easy way to penetrate the Haute Auvergne region from the south and one of the eight valleys which have their source in the Plomb du Cantal (1850 m). During the Hundred Years' War, English troops entered the Goul Valley, invaded Auvergne and occupied Messilhac. On the two banks of the river, other strongholds had existed but now only the Château de Cropière and the Tour de Puechmouriez, situated upstream on the left bank of the Goul, remains. A village probably existed close to Messilhac, near the river. However, nothing remains today of the village except the walls of an ancient mill, converted into a power plant in the 1900's

Messilhac is part of the history of the famous Carladez region and of the Bénavent family.

This family came from the Vallée de la Truyère and built Montamat castle on the right bank of the Goul River. It was an ancient and illustrious family of Rouergue, part of the house of Rodez, who owned other lordships, among them the Viscounty of Carlat. Later, a branch of the Bénavent family crossed the Goul and built Messilhac on the left bank, opposite Montamat. 

Messilhac remained the property of this aristocratic family until 1942 when the castle was sold for the first time in its long history. In 1998, Messilhac was bought by its present owners.

From the fifteenth century onwards, extensive modifications were made, with the construction of the gothic-style eastern tower with vaulted rooms whereas the rooms in the western keep have flat ceilings. The central part of the castle was probably also built at this period for the first time. The entrance to the castle then was situated on the north side and probably protected by a wooden drawbridge. A spiral staircase in an adjacent tower situated in the middle of the north facade led to the different parts of the castle.

At a later date, and completed in 1531, the new staircase was built, the entrance modified and archer slits in the south-facing wall were opened up to create large windows. Messilhac was therefore converted into a residential estate. At the same time the central part was probably modified in order to welcome the new staircase whereas the old rear tower with the previous staircase was destroyed leaving only the three doors in the present staircase leading to the rear wing rooms.

Later probably at the end of the fifteenth century, the three rooms on the ground floor were transformed: the stables are now the present dining room with a recently-discovered painted ceiling, the harness room in the west keep, later turned into a chapel, has been converted into a handsome library and the traditional original "auvergnate" kitchen still remains in the eastern wing.

In the fourteenth century, the squire of Messilhac, no doubt wishing to strengthen the security of the stronghold, decided to raised the level of the western keep and embellished it with the same machicolations as the eastern keep to give greater symmetry.

This can be seen from the former oratory situated on the fifth floor of the western keep with a gothic-style vault. A covered walkway existed on both sides of the main building; only a small section of this remains today in the north part and some supporting corbels in the south.

The most significant embellishments were completed at the beginning of the sixteenth century (the date 1531 is engraved on one of the stones of the façade) when there was a period of relative calm following the civil and religious wars which ravaged France, until the reign of King François 1. Jean de Montamat commissioned the south façade to be embellished with leaded windows and renaissance sculptures which can be seen above the new enlarged entrance to the castle and a new Italian-style staircase which now leads to the first two floors to replace the old spiral one. The entrance hall was decorated by a new flaming gothic vaulted ceiling with many ribs reposing on richly-sculpted "culs de lampes".

At the end of the eighteenth century, a final addition was made: the rear wing was built between the surrounding wall and the central part of the castle and three modern rooms were added.

At the end of the nineteenth century part of the protection wall was destroyed and its stones used to build the sustaining wall of the eastern terrace, the rest of the wall was levelled and the front terrace cleared of all the old remaining partly-ruined buildings. 

The Messilhac family

The history of Messilhac is closely linked with the history of the family who occupied the castle. The most illustrious period was the sixteenth century with Jean de Montamat and Captain Raymond Chapt de Rastinhac, third husband of Marguerite de Saunhac, the only daughter of Jacquette de Montamat (she was the daughter of Jean de Montamat and Marguerite de Beauclair) and Guy de Saunhac, a nobleman from Rouergue

Marguerite, known as the Lady of Messilhac, married successively François du Port in 1566, Charles de Barbesières in 1574 and finally Raymond Chapt de Rastinhac in 1579.

Jean de Montamat was responsible of the renovations and embellishments already mentioned. When Carladez was directly linked to the French crown in 1531, he rendered homage to the King François I in 1538. The Lord of Messilhac's authority then covered twenty four parishes in Auvergne and Rouergue and he owned three large estates: Courbelimagne, la Borie Grande and Pleaux.

Marguerite de Rastignac lived 71 years from 1550 to 1621. She ruled Messilhac and the surrounding area for over 20 years supported by the local aristocracy. Her husband, a faithful supporter of King Henri III and leader of the royalist party in Haute Auvergne, fought against the Huguenots. He was Governor of Haute Auvergne until his death at the Battle of La Fère in 1595. Marguerite de Valois (known as Reine Margot, first wife of King Henri IV) was often a guest at the castle when she stayed several months in the neighbouring citadel of Carlat in 1585.

Messilhac was handed down to the heirs of the family, who unfortunately were obliged to sell a large part of their inheritance. Fortunately for us, their financial position meant that Messilhac was spared from the architectural transformations that many French castles suffered during the nineteenth century and it remains a unique and authentic Renaissance building.