As the UK gets ready to batten down the hatches with the imminent arrival of Hurricane Bertha, we head for the Channel Tunnel and our summer French affair. Driving towards Paris however, it feels as though we’ve found the epicentre of the hurricane as the sky turns black, the rain turns torrential and visibility is almost zero – the traffic on the autoroute stops due to weather rather than volume. Despite this (and the usual horrendous traffic around Paris) as we drive into Usseau, a small village just outside of Chattelerault, we are surrounded by glorious French countryside – small fields of sunflowers and sweetcorn stretch as far as the eye can see and there, in the distance, is the most perfect princess’ castle any child (or adult, come to that!), could ever dream of. Chateau de la Motte.
Surrounded by trees and an ancient stone wall, Chateau de la Motte is perched on a high point overlooking the vilage. Towers, turrets, gothic arches and a red and yellow penant flying in the breeze, all against the backdrop of a blue sky – a wonderful first glimpse. Our home for the next couple of weeks will be in the ground’s of the chateau in the Farm Guest House gite. Getting out of the car, the Littlest looks up at one of the towers and in a slightly awed voice asks “Does the queen live up there?” Priceless.
The chateau dates back to the 12th and 13th century and was originally built on a hill – a ‘motte and bailey’ castle. This early castle had a tall tower which stood on a mound (a motte) and a walled area known as bailey. The ‘Motte’ of the chateau is today a beautiful, secluded walled garden off the large drawing room, with views across the countryside. Our gite is just below it.
Historically, the chateau was occupied by powerful men, including the knight Jean II Boucicaut (a Crusader, Marshall of France as well as a lover of poetry, literature and the arts). He was eventually captured at Agincourt and taken to England where he died in Yorkshire. His remains are buried in the Cathedral of Tours. The lover of Jean’s widowed sister in law, Isabella of Poitiers, was assassinated and his body thrown into the chateau’s well. His ghost is said to still haunt the castle grounds today. In 1449 the castle was owned by Guillaume du Bec of Viking who, after a fire destroyed much of the original castle, rebuilt a new and more impressive chateau, much of which we see today. The motte became the high court, there was a narrow walkway with battlements, arrow slits and rather spine chilling ‘murder holes’ – many of these can still be seen today. A tower housed a dungeon and the whole chateau was surrounded by a deep, dry moat with a drawbridge across.
A century later, after more religious wars, Aime Square from a prominent Protestant family in nearby Chatellerault, becomes the owner after military distinction during Louis XVI’s reign.
During the French Revolution all four sons of the incumbent Viart family were executed and the only family survivors were the mother and daughter, Irene. Although the practice of religion was forbidden at this time, Madame Viart allowed a cousin of one of her workers to hide in the grounds of the Chateau. The man in hiding was Father Pierre Coudrin who had been ordained in secret, into the priesthood. Father Coudrin went into hiding for six months in the attic of the granary (his cousin’s home) and whilst there had a vision which led him to establish the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
I believe that the granary is now the gite that we stayed in – such a fascinating part of history. By 1850 Irene Viart was the only survivor of the family and she became Superior General of the Order. At some point the Order took on the chateau, but when huge taxes were owed to the French government, the chateau was locked up and the inhabitants left the country; the state eventually took ownership of Chateau de la Motte and after at least one other private owner, the current owners, Marie-Andree and Jean-Marie Bardin bought the property in 2000 and have lovingly brought it back to life.
With all this history under our feet, how can we not enjoy our time here!