Our region is crammed with small châteaux that played an important role in its history at one time. Almost every village of any size had one. Now, they are seen as quaint relics of bygone days. I set out to find out more about them and this is the next in my series of occasional posts about these fascinating examples of French patrimoine.
Féneyrols is a pretty village on the banks of the Aveyron between Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and Laguépie. The part of the commune on the rive droite is in the ancient province of Rouergue. On the rive gauche it’s in the former Albigeois region.
A village existed on the site during Celtic times. The Romans prized its thermal springs, which were a source of income for the village up until the 1940s. It called itself Féneyrols-les-Bains. Only the vestiges of the thermal baths now remain.
The population in 2012 was 159 (census figures), a far cry from its high point in 1856, when it had 794 inhabitants. World War I and rural depopulation affected Féneyrols, as they did so many French communes. The low point came in 1982, when it had only 136 residents. The village no longer has any shops or a school and the Montauban-Lexos railway has long since been closed down and converted into a road.
But it does have a château. It was first mentioned in 1323, but no doubt there was some kind of fortification long before that. During the Middle Ages, the château had a defensive role and served as a look-out post as well as a refuge for the villagers if Féneyrols was attacked. Being on an important route along the Aveyron, it was a sought-after strategic prize.
Its fortifications were not sufficient to prevent it being taken by the English during the Hundred Years War. They occupied it for two years from 1352 and then again for a few months in 1358-59 until the people of Saint-Antonin came to the rescue.
The Hundred Years War caused all sorts of disruption, but I often wonder what the local people did during these periods of occupation. Did they go about their normal business unmolested or were they oppressed by the occupying army? Or were they grateful for any semblance of security in troubled times?
The château saw action again during the Wars of Religion, which were particularly bitterly contested in the region. Caylus, for example, was staunchly Catholic, while Saint-Antonin was equally staunchly Protestant. The Seigneur of Féneyrols, Flottard 1st de Lafon was a mortal enemy of the Protestants. Buoyed up by their defence of Montauban against Louis XIII, the Protestants even planned to seize Féneyrols and surrounding villages in 1622, but they were defeated before this could happen.
After that, the château seems to have settled into a quiet existence. I can’t find any record of what happened to it during the French Revolution. It does not seem to have been damaged during that period. The château has been remodelled from time to time and was swamped during the terrible Aveyron flood of 1830. The flood also swept away the former bridge, which was replaced by a suspension bridge, painted a rather odd shade of pale blue.
Now, the château is privately owned and not open to the public. But you get a good view of it if you wander up the alleyway beside the clock tower.
You might also like, in the “Every Château Tells a Story” series:
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