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Château St-Ferriol
Late Medieval Castle in the South of France


History of the Château de St-Ferriol


Relatively little is known about the history of the Château de St-Ferriol. Local records were lost in a fire in the early eighteenth century, and whatever remained seems to have been deliberately destroyed during the French revolution. From the few remaining records and architectural clues, we believe that we have a reasonably good outline of the history of the Seigneurie, Village and Château of St-Ferriol.

Some buildings existed on the present site before 1300, but the principal Château at that period was some distance away along a ridge called Le Dent. This Château seems to have fallen into disuse after the Cathar period, and according to a strong local tradition the present Château was build from stones removed from the old one.

From architectural clues, we can date the present building to around 1570. The original style appears to have been late medieval - not that unusual in this area even at such a late date. The barons of St-Ferriol were caught up in the Wars of Religion soon after the Château was built, and it is possible that the building was damaged in those wars as it was comprehensively restructured soon after, around 1600, in the early Renaissance style.

From notarial records we know something about the barons of St-Ferriol, the family that build the Château. Their name was de Plaigne and their ancestors had been key participants in some of the major events of the Cathar Crusades. One of the few documents we have is a letter from the executors of one of the Barons de St-Ferriol, dated 1588 addressed to the local authorities, explaining that "françois de plaigne siegneur de st-ferriol", had died fighting in the wars, pointing out that his castle was now ungarded as his eldest child was only five years old, emphasising the castle's strategic importance in a raging war zone, and asking the local commander to provide a garrison.

extract from a letter dated 1588 from the executors of François de Plaigne, Baron de de St-Ferriol, to the Duc de Joyeuse

The family died out in the following century, after which the Château passed through a number of hands, without ever being refurbished. It therefore retains many original features, and it was for this reason that it was inscrit as a Monument Historique at the end of the twentieth century.

This is a very brief outline. More detail is given below - representing almost as much as we know. There is still much research to do.

  Arms of the village of St-Ferriol
  Arms of the Trencavel family, Viscounts of the Razès
  Arms of the Kings of Aragon, Suzerains of the Viscounts of the Razès
Arms of the Counts of Toulouse
Arms of the Counts of Foix






Château de St-Ferriol - Detailed History (Seigneurie, Village and Château)

A fanciful representation of St-Ferriol A number of saints bear the name Ferréol or Ferriol (Ferreolus, man-of-iron). The village of St Ferriol in the Aude is named after a tribune of the armies of Vienne (Dauphiné) who was supposedly arrested and tortured by the Romans for having welcomed Saint Julien de Brioude. Ferriol is said to have refused to persecute Christians and, despite God's efforts to save him, was captured and decapitated around AD 304. His feast is the 18th September. It is likely that he and his story were invented some centuries later, like so many other similar persecution stories which became popular in the Middle Ages.

Photograph taken c 1900


A number of Villages in France are called St-Ferréol but the one in the Aude is called St-Ferriol (reflecting the Occitan pronunciation). The location is first mentioned in 1155, when ecclesiastical records indicate that a church dedicated to Sanctus Ferreolus existed on the site. It is unlikely that there were any substantial buildings there. At this time the principal settlements in the area would have been at Le Dent (to the East), Moissan (to the North West), and Granès (to the North). The buildings at Le Dent and at Moissan have both since disappeared, though the sites are still known. Throughout the early Middle Ages the area would have been owned by the family of Niort (or Aniort), viscounts of the plateau de Sault, or their cousins the seigneurs of Albedun (modern day Le Bèzu). Both of these families had known Cathar sympathies in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. A Cathar bishop, Guilabert de Castres, took refuge at the Chateau of Albedun in 1226.

Both the de Niort and d'Albedun families were dispossessed after the Cathar Crusade because of their Cathar links, and their lands were given to the family of de Voisins, Pierre de Voisins having been a principal lieutenant of Simon de Montfort during the Crusade When the Razès was annexed to France in the late thirteenth century, it became necessary to defend the area against the Kings of Aragon. As well as fortifying border castles, the French kings established defensible villages to guard vulnerable valleys. Around 1300 a new bastide was constructed near Parahou. This bastide received the name St-Louis, after the late king Louis IX who had been cannonised in 1297.

Under Louis' successor Philippe le Bel further bastides were constructed at Saint-Julia, Saint-Ferriol, Saint-Eugenie, and Saint-Just.

Saint-Julia, Saint-Ferriol, Saint-Eugenie seems to have been part of a single seigneurie which included Laval (Laval St-Nazaire), Espinette, and later Granès. It was sometimes referred to as the seigneurie of St-Ferriol and sometimes the seigneurie of St-Julia - possible depending upon the location of the Seigneur's residence. The Rector of St-Ferriol (Rector Sancti Ferrioli) is mentioned in 1347 and the bastide and parish of St-Ferriol (bastide & paroisse) are mentioned in 1360.

A branch of the family of Niort had settled in the Rebenty valley, at a place known as Castelport, near modern Joucou, where the Niorts had had a château for several centuries. This branch had adopted the title of de Castelport, and it was one of their number, Guillaume de Castelport, who had built the new bastide at St-Louis on land that had previously belonged to the Niort family. It likely that this family were also involved in the construction of the other bastides in the area. Amongst their possessions were fiefs near Esperaza, Cals (modern Laval), and St-Ferriol - possibly these were all the same fief as they are never mentioned together.

In 1389 Hughes de Castelport was co-seigneur of St-Ferriol along with Etienne Marty, seigneur de Voisins. Towards the end of the century Hugh's property was inherited by Gaucerand de Marsa, who passed it on to Jeanne de Castelport. She sold most of it to Jean de Castelport, but the fief at St-Ferriol and Espinet was sold to Etienne Marty in 1393. A few years later we find Noble Antoine Martin described as Seigneur de St-Julia. Antoine Martin had a daughter Giraude, who married Sicard de Plaigne, co-seigneur de Plaigne. Sicard came from another family who had been dispossessed because of their Cathar connections (two of them had been involved in the massacre at Avignonet in 1242, and had also been members of the garrison at Montsegúr during the siege of 1243-44).

Sicard already had fiefs at St-Louis. Presumably through his wife's inheritance his family acquired the seigneurie of St-Ferriol/St-Julia. We find Sicard and Guiraud's son, Guillaume-Arnaud de Plaigne described as Seigneur de St-Ferriol as well as other places. Guillaume-Arnaud had two sons, the elder of whom, Sicard, inherited seigneuries at Plaigne (near Belpech), Castrofizel, and Marsa. The younger son, Philippe, became seigneur de St-Ferriol, and the seigneurie stayed in the cadet branch of the family, passing from Philippe to Guillaume-Arnaud, to Michel, born around 1493.

In the fourteenth century the fief of Sainte Eugénie became the property "indivise" of Jean de Hautpoul, seigneur of Granès and of Montazels (nearby villages), and of Michel de Plagne, seigneur de Saint Ferriol et de Saint-Julia. An acte of 1522 confirms the division. One part retaining the name Sainte Eugénie, is attributed to the seigneur de Saint Ferriol, while the other, apparently under the name of Robert Guiraud remained the property of the de Hautpouls.

The fief of Sainte Eugénie included a château, long fallen into ruin, called le Château de l'Adent (or Château de la Dent) - it is thought to take its name from the tooth-like rock formations of the hill on which it stands - still called Le Dent. In 1632 it was to be the object of an "assignat" in favour of Pierre de Voisins.

Extract from the first cadastre of St-Ferriol in 1824. Detailed maps like this were commissioned by Napoleon, and updated versions are still used for example in property transactions.The present chateau de St-Ferriol was probably built by Michel de Plaigne, or his son Arnaud-Guillaume. Certainly a "chateau" is mentioned in an inventory taken in 1570 at the death of Françoise de Narbonne (Michel's wife and Arnaud-Guillaume's mother). According to local legend it was built from stones brought from the nearby ruined chateau of Le Dent. (Perhaps Michel de Plagne bought the ruined chateau for exactly this purpose).

One of the sixteen surviving canoniers

On the winter, the canoniers are
blocked up by specially made wooden plugs

Originally the new Chateau followed a rectangular plan, with a bastion at each corner to provide covering fire to all external walls, as can be seen from the surviving canoniers (the successors to earlier arrow slits). Originally the main (indeed only) entrance would have been the large gateway to the East, now unused. Slate roof slates found in the courtyard suggest that it originally had a steep state roof, increasing its height by around five metres. The style echoes that of a family of grander châteaux built at around the same time, and indeed the ideas may have come from the de Rougier family who were Barons of Ferrals and who built a magnificent château there around 1565.

From Arnaud-Guillaume, also castellan of Quillan, the seigneurie de St-Ferriol, now referred to as a barony, passed to his son François de Plaigne. In 1584 François married his cousin Pierrette Le Roy de la Roquette, Pierrette's mother's parents being Michel de Plaigne and Françoise de Narbonne. François took an active part in the wars of religion raging in the area at this time, deputising for the Duc de Joyeuse on occasion. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Cruzy in 1586, leaving a wife, young children, and an undefended chateau in a raging war zone. A request was made for soldiers to garrison the chateau de St-Ferriol, described in the document of 1588 as "fort et tenable" . The request was granted, but is not known whether the chateau was ever attacked. No war damage is evident, but the fact that major rebuilding works were undertaken soon after suggests that it was. On the hand the alterations turned a defensible late medieval building into a comfortable early renaissance one, which was the fashion of the period.

The eldest son of François de Plaigne and Pierrette Le Roy de la Roquette was Barthélémy de Plaigne. He married Anne de Mauléon in 1610, but died without issue. A curious fireplace on the top floor of the château bears an achievement of arms which appear to represent a combination those of de Plaigne (presumed to be a castle) and those of de Mauleon (a lion). An inscription reads:


Which means NOBLE ANNE DE MAULEON + THE LOVE OF GOD BURNS IN MY HEART: + 1630: + FERRAND MADE ME. The words IN CALCEAT COR MEUM AMORE DOMINI closely resemble those of the Stabat Mater - a prayer placed in the mouth of the Virgin Mary grieving for her recently dead son. There is known to have been an unusually severe outbreak of the plague in the area in 1629, and it is possible that Barthélémy and Anne's heir or heirs died of it, leaving Anne childless and too old to bear more children. Did Anne make a conscious connection between Mary's maternal grief and her own, giving her the idea for the inscription? We may never know for certain. In any case this branch of the de Plaigne family would die out after this generation, followed shortly afterwards by the senior branch of the family, whose property at Plaigne and in the Rebenty valley (including Castelport) would pass through marriage to the Comte du Faure de Coustos.

Pierrette, the widow of François de Plaigne, remarried in 1591. Her new husband was Sicard du Vivier de Sarraute, a younger son of Nicolas du Vivier, Seigneur de Sarraute, born of a cadet branch of the du Viver family. Sicard adopted the style of Seigneur de St-Ferriol, perhaps while he was acting as regent for the infant Barthélémy de Plaigne, as well as step-father. Louis du Vivier, the son and heir of Sicard and Pierrette, would later be referred to as co-seigneur de St-Ferriol - he was after all the great-grandson of Michel de Plaigne through his mother.

Jean Peyrat bought the seigneuries of Saint Ferriol and of Saint-Julia from Louis du Vivier, apparently unaware that the same Louis had recently (on the 8th March 1639) given half of his property to his son Henri on his marriage to Anne de Montfaucon, according to Henri's and Anne's marriage contract.

It seems that Jean Peyrat or (aka Payrat d'Esperonnat) thought that he had bought the entirety of both siegneuries because legal proceedings were soon started to determine their legal owner - Jean Peyrat claiming that he had bought both of the siegneuries and Henri claiming to be the frightful owner of one half. Legal arguments were to continued for several years.

In the end the Court of the Parliament of Toulouse favoured Henri du Vivier. The Court gave judgement (probably on the 6th October 1668) that the Lordship of St-Julia should be detached from the Barony of St-Ferriol. Pierre d'Esperonnat was awarded the Barronnie de St-Ferriol including the siegneurie de Laval, the fiefs of Moissa and Espinet, and the lands of Le Bac. Henri du Vivier was awarded the seigneurie of Saint Julia and the forêt des Fanges " en priage " with the King.

On 12 January 1665 - before the verdict - Pierre d'Esperonnat had bought the fief of Sainte Eugénie from Arnaud Le Roi.

Some of this division is preserved in the local government of the area : the Commune of St Ferriol still includes Moissa and Espinet, the lands of Le Bac and Sainte Eugénie though Laval now belongs to Quillan and Espinet to Esperaza. Saint Julia is a separate Commune, and the forêt Des Fanges is now owned by Quillan.

Detail from Cassini's eighteenth century map of the area. Click to see more.When Louis du Vivier died in the middle of the seventeenth century, he was succeeded by Henri du Vivier, who styled himself Seigneur de St-Julia. When Barthélémy de Plaigne died without heir, the property of the cadet branch of the de Plaigne family was left in the hands of du Vivier, with the widow Anne de Mauléon presumably in possession of the Chateau at St-Ferriol. When she died her assets passed to her niece Marie de Mauléon de St-Pol.

The Seigneurie of St-Ferriol passed from Pierre d'Esperonnes to his son Jean d'Esperonnes

The arms of the Commune de St-FerriolModern logo of the French RepublicJean d'Esperonnes was castelan of Quillan when it burned down in 1714 destroying all the archives there. From Jean the Seigneurie passed to François d'Esperonnes, and in the next generation to another Pierre d'Esperonnes, who held it until the revolution. After the revolution we find the property being sold, around 1820, to Jean-ange Michel Bonnaventure, Marquise d'Ax, who sold it on to Antoine Sournia around 1830. Around 1870 it was owned by François Sournia and in 1908 was divided between his two sons, Etienne and Pierre. From then on it was further divided by sale and inheritance.

The château itself was divided along with the land, and was used as a farm building for many years. The north-east bastion was used as a quarry in the early twentieth century, the stones being used to build new houses in the village. A renaissance window in the courtyard was enlarged to make a doorway for farm machinery, and other external doorways were created, possibly at the same time. The finest of the six monumental chimneys was demolished, reputedly for resale, but the removal caused so much structural damage that part of one pier was left intact and the other had to be reconstructed. The present owners purchased most of the site of the chateau in three separate purchases in 1999, and these parts were listed soon afterwards.

Arms from the Commandery built by the de Plaigne family, before the Cathar Crusade


In 2011 we discovered an almost identical version of the presumed arms of de Plaigne at another chateau (the Commandery) built by the de Plaigne family near the village of Plaigne in the 12th century. These provide convincing if not conclusive evidence that the arms are those of de Plaigne.



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