Every Château Tells a Story #17: Le Château de Pervinquière

I don’t know about you, but I’m suffering from Covid fatigue, i.e. cheesed off with it all. The poor old blog has suffered; never has such a long gap elapsed between posts. Thankfully, the weather has been beautiful, springlike even, for the past 10 days. So I shook myself out of my torpor this afternoon and went off to visit a château about whose existence I had forgotten, Le Château de Pervinquière (or Previnquière; or Pervinquiére: there seems to be some dispute about its spelling).

Industrial past

It’s not very far away, near the village of Saint-Igne, but it’s off the beaten track. I set off in bright sunshine under sapphire skies. To get there, you go down into the deep valley of La Baye and up the other side.

La Baye rises near Castanet and joins the River Aveyron after 15 km. The river is set in wild, trackless countryside and has carved out deep gorges over aeons. The area was once more densely populated, and several water mills, now mostly in ruins, existed along its lower reaches. La Baye’s flow was fast enough to make them worthwhile. There were a number of small coal mines as well, which were exploited for a time. On the hillsides, lime kilns made use of the local forests and the limestone, which is the area’s backbone.

Silent stones

The château de Pervinquière sits in a tiny hamlet on the plateau above La Baye and has a panoramic view of the area. It’s now in ruins, except for parts of the walls and a square tower, which has been restored. The château is privately owned, and a couple of houses next door are rented out as gîtes.

What stories does this place enfold within its crumbling walls? Who built it? Did it see military action? When did it become a ruin?

Few records of the place and its origins remain. The first documentary mention is in 1370, when the Cistercian Abbaye de Beaulieu acquired the château from two brothers named Valete from nearby Le Cuzoul. Were they ancestors of the illustrious de La Valette family, one of the most important in the district in the 15th and 16th centuries?

Abbaye de Beaulieu – 17th-century main buildings
The Cistercian purity of the abbey, now a centre of contemporary art

The Cistercians of Beaulieu bought the place as a kind of retreat and also, no doubt, because it brought farmland and other valuable possessions with it. In its heyday, the Abbaye de Beaulieu was an important landowner. A number of buildings still exist over a wide area that were once part of its assets, including a fortified farmhouse close to the abbey.

Defensive or domestic?

It’s not clear if the château was ever built as a defensive or military installation. It never had a moat or a drawbridge. An inventory carried out in 1981 suggests that its position in the middle of the plateau, rather than on a promontory overlooking a valley, was not strategic. A well in the main courtyard may explain its location. They were few and far between on the arid causse and trekking down to the Baye and back for water would have been a hardship.

However, it was clearly more than a fortified house, since it had defensive walls and battlements and at one time a chemin de ronde, or sentinel walkway. It was once an imposing building. From aerial views, it covered a fairly large area, and was enlarged at some point to include two additional square towers.

The first definite evidence of military action is during the Wars of Religion. This region was consumed by fighting in the late 16th century and then again during the Huguenot Rebellions in the 17th century. Some towns and villages were Protestant (Saint-Antonin, Montauban); others were staunchly Catholic (Caylus).

The Protestants took the Château de Pervinquière in February 1587, although this action had not been sanctioned by the Protestant consuls in Saint-Antonin. They abandoned it again a few days later, for reasons that are not clear, but perhaps its lack of strategic significance explains it.

After that, history is silent. By the time of the Revolution in 1789, the place was already in ruins, and the abbey lost it soon afterwards. It was probably confiscated as a Bien National and sold off to some local farmer.

Ruined part of the château, partly hidden by trees

Today, it’s not possible to go inside. The walls are secured for safety reasons. I tried to get around the back to see more but found myself splashing about in a marshy field, so I had to beat a retreat.

The remaining tower, no doubt restored

It’s a tranquil spot. I didn’t see a soul, except for a few sheep in a field, blankly witnessing my attempts to extricate myself from the sodden ground. The only noises were the sheep bleating and the long, plaintive call of a buzzard as it circled high above me in search of prey. A far cry from the château’s medieval zenith, perhaps, when the place would have rung with the sounds of all the trades and activities needed to keep such a community going.

Phylloxera cross

Yesterday’s jaunt gave me the chance to revisit this phylloxera cross, which is right nearby. It was carved by a local maçon, Hébrard, who was noted for his decorative stonework. Our region was not spared the phylloxera bug, which devastated the French wine industry in the late 19th century. The cross, dated 1888, was a desperate attempt to invoke divine intervention against it, but the inscription concedes that its cause was no doubt divine retribution for our sins in the first place: “C’est la main de Dieu qui nous frappe.” (It’s the hand of God that strikes us.)

Apologies for my car, which I could have moved, and for the telephone cables, which I couldn’t.

You might also like

Other posts in the châteaux series

L’Abbaye de Beaulieu – A Hidden Gem

Wine Blight: How the French Wine Industry was Almost Wiped Out

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14 comments

  1. Well done Vanessa for going exploring, and for writing about it! What a wonderful place that must be full of secrets and stories!! I am with you on the Covid fatigue. It’s so hard to get motivated to do anything…and everyone I know is at least mildly depressed. Anyway we in Belgium at least have a bit of freedom and are off to our seaside for a few days today. Stay safe and well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It just goes on and on, doesn’t it? And the vaccine situation in France is a complete shambles. We’re still allowed to go pretty much anywhere, but with all museums, art galleries, etc. being closed, there doesn’t seem much point! I just do what I can locally. I hope you and the family are all well.

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  2. It’s great to read a new post from you, Vanessa! I know what you mean about being fatigued by the covid restrictions, it’s getting tedious, especially the 6pm curfew now that the days are getting longer… Still, spring is on the way and if Castex is to be believed the vaccination programme will be ramped up, and before we know it we’ll be out of all this!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was a gap of nearly three weeks in between, which is unheard-of! A lot of people I know are feeling this Covid torpor, but, as you say, hopefully they will speed up the vaccinations, which will help.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A fascinating account of a fascinating chateau. I had a little smile to myself imagining you floundering in the boggy ground…the sort of thing that happens to me when exploring unusual sites in the countryside! Sorry! We have just started getting out and about again due to the upturn in the weather and went half a walk on Friday morning…we were tired and out of practice (our excuse). I found a walk around Vaillac in the Lot which has a huge chateau (privately owned) overlooking the village. A pretty village and we are our picnic at a useful table near the church (sadly locked). We’ll go back sometime and walk the other half of the trail. The OH gets his second jab on Monday and I’m due my first in Wednesday…so we hope to start seeing people soon. Bon courage and thank you for the interesting post..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I do get myself into some scrapes sometimes! Still, it could have been a lot worse. At least only the sheep were there to witness my struggles. We have been focusing on the garden during this stretch of good weather. It was desperately untidy after the wet and windy winter. Now, after some back breaking work, it looks rather better, but it means that we haven’t been for a really decent walk for ages. My OH had jab #2 last week and had mild side-effects, but they went away quickly. I am not yet eligible. Good luck with yours.

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  4. Hi. Vanessa. Well done for getting out and about. We can enjoy vicariously through you! We used to spend most of our time exploring, but now have lost the habit. You set a good example. We’ve been talking about a day trip to the coast for ages. Time to pack a picnic and get on with it! MaryJane

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  5. It is hard to find motivation for posting at the moment. Glad you were able to out again and be inspired by the amazing heritage sites, even if closed. Interesting observation about the phylloxera bug which, while not coronavirus or the Spanish flu, was certainly a plague at the time for the paysans!

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    • It was good to get out and do something different from shopping or medical appointments! Yes, phylloxera was a real scourge. Ours is no longer a wine-growing area, but 100 years ago a lot of it was under vines for the farmers’ own consumption.

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  6. I agree with you. I am so weary of Covid 19. This time last year no-one could have imagined the devastation this virus would wreak on the world. Here in Australia it is only really in hotel quarantine, unless it ‘ escapes’ and then there is a quick response from authorities. But it still is on the news all the time with vaccinations and what is happening elsewhere in the world. I sometimes feel as though it is an awful cloud hanging over us and at any time it could burst and overwhelm us.
    Thank you for your wander around an old chateau. You do wonder what those walls could tell us, and it is sad when wonderful old buildings such as this can fall into ruin.
    We have resigned ourselves to not being able to visit France this year, and are not even sure about 2022. Maybe by September next year the situation may be better.
    Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think a lot of people are feeling this. It just goes on and on. We knew at the start we were probably in for a long haul, but you don’t really imagine it until it happens. Australia seems to have managed it well. The vaccination programme is slow to get going here in France, and a lot of politics are involved.
      It was good to get out and see a château of which I was dimly aware. I had no idea how big it was. It must have been quite imposing in its heyday.
      I hope 2022 will be the year for you. I agree that this year is a bit soon.

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