The word “fairy-tale” when applied to a château usually makes me cringe. But there is something a little magical about the château de Cornusson, with its jumble of towers and turrets. You get tantalising glimpses of it peeping above the trees from the countryside around, but very rarely a full face view. It has an air of mystery and secrecy that you long to penetrate.
This is the next in my series about some of the châteaux in the area. Mostly, they are not magnificent testaments to the glory of their seigneurs, like the châteaux of the Loire. Ours are no-nonsense fortresses, without frills or architectural fancies, built as strongholds against invasion, or to subdue the local population.
Even so, there is a sense of folies de grandeur about the château de Cornusson. What did all those towers serve for? And why did they build a tower on top of another tower? From photos I have seen on the internet, it has a magnificent gateway, flanked by two towers, but this is not visible from the road.
The château dominates the Valley of the Seye and the small village of Cornusson in the commune of Caylus. It’s a Monument Historique but is privately owned and we have never been inside. The sense of mystery is deepened by the scantiness of information about it on the internet. But I did find a detailed official inventory, with photos and sketches, compiled about 30 years ago.
The village existed before the château and is first mentioned in 1157 as belonging to the seigneurie of Parisot. It passed into the hands of the de La Valette family in the 15th century, from which arises its main claim to fame.
The de La Valette-Cornusson family was a branch of the family whose most famous son was Jean de La Valette-Parisot. He became Grand Master of the Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem in 1557, defended Malta against the Turks in 1565 and founded the city of Valletta. He was born at the nearby château de Labro on the banks of the Seye, now in ruins and a future subject for this series.
It’s not clear which member of the family built the château de Cornusson, but it dates from the late 15th or early 16th century, with later additions. It saw some action during the Wars of Religion and held out several times against Protestant forces. A truce was signed there in 1589. The châtelains often held important religious or administrative posts.
The Vignes family from Puylaroque acquired the château by marriage in the late 17th century. (We known people locally called Vignes; I wonder if they are descendants). Apparently, it was pillaged during the Revolution and left in a terrible state. After that, it passed through various hands and sank into the obscurity of rural French life. I can’t find evidence of any role it might have played during World War II.
A few years ago, we heard that extensive renovation work was to take place, but there is no sign of this yet.
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