As you round a hairpin bend just before the hamlet of Mazerolles, you get a breath-taking view of Najac across the valley, crowned by its ruined château (pictured below). This must have greeted the chatelains of Mazerolles (above) every morning since the 13th century.
Today, Mazerolles is a pretty hamlet, whose houses are built of the local pink-grey stone. It’s bisected by the road between Parisot and Najac, but has no school (it once supported two) or shops. A friend lent me a book about it, published by a local history society.
The origins of the village’s name derive either from mas olei, referring to the production of walnut oil, or from maceiras or mazières, meaning a collection of stone huts with an enclosure. By the 13th century, it was a seigneurie with its own château.
Traces of the original château remain but it was extensively remodelled in the 15th century and again in the 19th by the author Bernard d’Armagnac Castanet. The building has been renovated internally in recent decades and is still inhabited. The rectangular château is flanked by a square tower on the east side (built in 1880) and a round one on the west.
Although scant evidence remains, the turbulent events of the medieval period probably affected Mazerolles and its château. During the Hundred Years War, the English took possession of Najac in 1362 but were driven out six years later. The chronicles mention roving bands around Najac, les routiers, plundering mercenaries who probably terrorised Mazerolles along with other villages.
Bands of Huguenots also pillaged and burnt churches in the area during the Wars of Religion in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. And the Revolt of the Croquants broke out in 1643 in the region. A band of 13,000 disaffected peasants besieged Villefranche-de-Rouergue, but were routed and their leaders broken on the wheel at Najac. Did the Croquants count inhabitants of Mazerolles amongst their number?
The French Revolution
The area has been described as “relatively calm” during the French Revolution. Some accounts say the château was burnt down, but no evidence of this exists. In fact, the owner, François Hilaire de Bérail, adopted revolutionary ideas – or affected to – and thus hung onto his head and his property.
The local clergy were less fortunate. Revolutionary laws required them to swear a constitutional oath but a number refused, or retracted afterwards. Most of those were imprisoned in Bordeaux, but the local curé, l’Abbé François Bertrand, evaded capture.
He celebrated mass in the houses of the faithful, often sleeping in shepherds’ huts or woodpiles. One day, he was warming himself by the fire in a house in the woods but had forgotten to close the gates. He was surprised by a paysan who had come to collect grain. The priest helped the man to fill his sacks and begged him not to denounce him. The man kept his word.
I’d love to know what happened to l’Abbé François, who was prepared to risk so much for his faith.
Like many villages, Mazerolles has suffered rural depopulation, but the château possessed two large farms in the 19th century. They produced cereals, plums, chestnuts, wool and linen. They also produced wine: 29 barriques of red and two of white in 1842, i.e. about 9,300 bottles, but the phylloxera outbreak devastated the local wine industry in the late 19th century.
The book doesn’t say much about the 20th century or the two World Wars. The church was the first building to have electricity connected in 1935, followed by the château. Piped water came to the village in 1973. Before that, the main source was a spring that fed the lavoir (public washing place) and the château.
If only these stones could talk.
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