Pouancé Castle

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Medieval castle of Pouancé
Château médiéval de Pouancé
Pouancé, Maine-et-Loire.
The castle, view from the west.
Coordinates 47°44′29″N 1°10′30″W / 47.7413888889°N 1.175°W / 47.7413888889; -1.175
Type Castle
Site information
Owner Town of Pouancé
Open to
the public
Condition ruined
Site history
Built end of the 12th century
In use end of the 12th - end of the 16th century
Materials shale, granite.
Battles/wars Siege of Pouancé (1432) (fr) ; Breton War (fr)
Garrison information
Occupants Jean II, Duke of Alençon

The medieval castle of Pouancé is located in Pouancé, Maine-et-Loire, France, at the western border of the old province of Anjou, facing Britanny. Along with the remains of the city walls, it covers a surface of three hectares. It is nicknamed the "second castle of Anjou" because of its size, which is just below that of the castle of Angers. It belongs to the Breton march, facing the Breton castle of Châteaubriant.

On a location fortified since the 11th century, the castle was built during the 12th and 15th centuries. Besieged several time during the Hundred Years' War, it became a strategic fortress at the end of the 15th century, during the Mad War. Ruined during the 16th century and completely abandoned since the 18th, it was preserved from destruction when Louis Bessière, a inhabitant of Pouancé, decided to save the building in the 1960s. The castle is now ownd by the town of Pouancé and is open to visitors during summer.

The castle has been listed as a monument historique since 7 July 1926. Despite volunteers and mainly amateur excavations over 40 years, little is known about the organisation of the castle, due to a lack of deep archaeological researches.


The first times of the castle[edit]

Since the end of the early middle ages, the location of Pouancé, at the boundaries of the Breton march and the province of Anjou, was probably fortified to oppose the Breton castle of Châteaubriant. The first mention of the castle date back to 1049-1060, inside the cartulary of Carbay: the count of Anjou maintained troops and a vicarius named Landri or Landry. Fragments of Merovingian sarcophagus were found in the walls of Saint-Aubin church, proving the existence of a human settlement in Pouancé before the construction of the castle.[1]

After the death of Landri, the castle was given with complete confidence by the count of Anjou to a close relation of Landri, Hervé de Martigné, vassal of the count of Rennes. Hervé already possessed the "honor" of Lourzais, a territory close to Pouancé. In 1066, the Duke of Brittany, Conan II took the castle, maybe with the help of Hervé. At Hervé's death, around 1084, his son Gautier Hay succeed him. Emma, Gautier's heir, married around 1130 Guillaume Ist of La Guerche, uniting the seigneury of Pouancé-Martigné with La Guerche.[2][3]

The lords of Pouancé then enter in rebellion against the Plantagenet. Geoffroy Ist, grandson of Emma, took part with others Breton lords to the revolt of 1173–74 against Henry Plantagenet. They were defeated, and their castles destroyed.[4] The son of Geoffroy revolted against the count of Anjou with some Breton lords in 1196, and defeated the army of the seneschal of Anjou.[5] At the beginning of the 13th century, the castle is the center of a vast seigneury located in Anjou and Brittany consisting in the seigneuries of Pouancé, Martigné, La Guerche and Segré. It is around this time that the actual castle was erected, with the first towers and ramparts. Guillaume III, lord of Pouancé, established a levee on the Verzée river, thereby forming the pond of Pouancé, protecting the western front of the castle, facing Brittany.[6]

The 13th century saw the beginning of the decline of the Pouancé House.[7] The son of Guillaume III, Geoffroy II, died around 1244. His own son, Geoffroy III, died in 1263, leaving his daughter Jeanne only heir. She married Jean of Beaumont. Their grandson, Jean II of Beaumont, after a sterile union with his first wife Isabeau of Harcourt, married Marguerite of Poitiers. Their only son Louis of Beaumont died in 1364 during the battle of Cocherel.[8] This is Marie Chamaillard, the granddaughter of Isabeau the first wife of Jean II, who got back the seigneury of Pouancé, adding it to the fiefs already owned by her husband, Pierre II of Alençon.

The Hundred Years' War[edit]

Between 1371 and 1379, Pierre II probably built the "Big tower" and the machicolation on the castle.[9] Some towers are altered by adding some spirals staircase, notably the Saint-Antoine tower. Between the 14th and 15th centuries were built the Grand dwelling and the ice-house.

A 19th century reproduction of the castle of Pouancé.

The castle was attacked by the Breton army led by John V, Duke of Brittany in 1379. The castle was maybe taken by betrayal.[10] Pierre II then exchanged the seigneury to Bertrand du Guesclin against some lands in Normandy. John V gave back the fortress to Bertrand's brother Olivier du Guesclin in 1381. Olivier sold back Pouancé to John V in 1389. When John V married his daughter Marie to Jean I, Duke of Alençon, Jean I was given the seigneury of Pouancé for dowry.[11]

The son of Jean I, Jean II of Alençon, was captured by the English during the battle of Verneuil. Ruined by the ransom after his release, he decided to put the pressure on his uncle John VI, Duke of Brittany to pay the remaining part of the dowry of his mother.[12] He kidnapped Jean of Malestroit, bishop of Nantes and chancellor of Brittany, to force the duke of Brittany to pay. Refusing to be blackmailed, John VI gathered his army and launched the siege of the castle around January 6, 1432. The castle of Pouancé is besieged during 5 weeks by the 6000 men of the duke's army and his English allies, and bombed by 7 cannons.[13] After 5 weeks of siege, despite the ongoing resistance of the castle, Jean II decided to negotiate and the siege was lifted on February 19.[14]

Eleven years after this siege, in 1443, an English army, led by John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, besieged the castle. Despite the warning of Arthur III of Brittany, Jean II of Alençon counter-attacked with his men without waiting for reinforcements. His army was surprised by the English at night, and the counter-attack failed. The castle and the town however manage to resist the 7000 men strong army of the English who lifted the siege after two or three weeks, leaving the faubourgs of the town destroyed.[15]

The Breton War[edit]

In 1467, Jean II of Alençon plots with Francis II, Duke of Brittany against the king of France, Louis XI of France. The Breton attack in October 1467[16] and besieged the castle, defended by the "sir de Villier" in the name of the king of France, without Jean II consent. After three days, the castle is taken and the Breton looted and sacked the town, burning the town and the castle.[17]

In July 1468, a French counter-attack drive the Breton out of Pouancé. Since then, the Angevin fortress became an essential part of the French system of defense and attack against Brittany. In 1472, Louis XI spent time in the fortress with more than 5,000 men when he learn Breton troops are gathered in La Guerche.[18] In 1488, Louis II de la Trémoille assembled 12,000 men in Pouancé before launching the siege of Châteaubriant, starting a military campaign against Brittany that will definitely defeat the independent duchy.

Wars of Religion[edit]

In 1562, the seigneury falls into the hands of the Cossé-Brissac family, more precisely to Charles II de Cossé, Duke of Brissac. Fervent catholic, he enters the Catholic League in 1590 and oppose the king of France Henry IV. In 1592, Madam of Brissac send Chanjus, commander of Pouancé's castle, pay homage to the king in Angers.[19] Despite of the desire of neutrality, the town and the castle are occupied in 1593 by fifty soldiers of Charles, Duke of Mayenne, member of the Catholic League. He joins the king in 1596, but Philippe Emmanuel, Duke of Mercœur, governor of Brittany, continue the combat. In September 1597, Chanjus, commander of Pouancé, hand over the castle to Mercœur who most likely set up a garrison.[20] He will finally surrender in March 1598, setting an end to the eightieth war of religion in France.

Abandonment of the castle[edit]

Inside of the fortress before 1916. Dwellings and workshops are built along the ramparts. On the right, the Mill tower before its collapsing in 1915. On the left, the Criminal tower, which fell down in 1936.

For a long while, the castle has lost its residential function. The family of Cossé-Brissac use it in rare occasions. However, François de Cossé died in the castle in 1651 and its body is exhibited inside.[21] During the 17th and the 18th centuries, some rooms are still livable, since several person are mentioned residing inside: a gardener in 1620, a lieutenant of bailliage died inside in 1671, an officer between 1756 and 1767.[22] A tax office is testified in a "lower room" of the castle at the beginning of the 17th century.[23] However, most of the officer in charge of the administration of the seigneury were living outside of the walled city of Pouancé, inside mansions.[24] As soon as 1541, the ancient ramparts are partially broken and abandoned. On the 18th century, inhabitants of Pouancé are allowed to break them if they own them.[25]

It is more likely during the second half of the 18th century that inhabitants of the town decided to destroy the gatehouse, filled the ditch and build several dwellings and workshops inside the bailey, along the curtain wall, starting a long period of degradation. Yet, during the Archaeological congress of France in 1871 in Angers, the fortress is judged as "a beautiful feudal ruin, one of the most beautiful doubtlessly possessed by Anjou".[26] In 1880, in its speech given during the awards ceremony of Angers lycée, Paul Lehugeur mentions the castle of Pouancé: "Any corner of Anjou his feudal ruins, but it is Pouancé to look for the great fortress, with its double wall and powerful defenses".[27]

In 1911, a catholic private school, the Christ Child school, is built between the bastion and the northern postern. The upper part of the northern curtain wall is destroyed. In 1915, one of the towers, the Mill tower, fall down with a part of the curtain wall, opening a breach into the outside wall, formerly preserved. The castle is listed Monument historique in 1926. In 1929, the inspector-general of historical monuments carries out a plan of the ruins, in order to "preserve at least the memory" of the castle. After studies have shown the risk of collapsing, the Marquis of Montault, owner of the castle, evacuated the remaining residents.[28] In 1934, the Beaux-arts destroyed the now abandoned houses inside the bailey.[29] The upper part of a second tower, the Criminal tower, fall down in 1936. The top of the remaining towers and ramparts are restored the prevent further degradation.[29]

Rescue and restoration[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Peuplement, pouvoir et paysage sur la marche Anjou-Bretagne, Jean-Claude Meuret ; société d’archéologie et d’histoire de la Mayenne, 1993
  2. ^ Cornet (2000), p. 19
  3. ^ Neau (2010), p. 31
  4. ^ Cornet (2000), p. 21
  5. ^ Neau (2010), p. 33
  6. ^ Neau (2010), p. 34
  7. ^ Halbert (2000), p. 25
  8. ^ Racineux (1983), p. 41
  9. ^ Neau (2010), p. 47
  10. ^ Cornet (2000), p. 17
  11. ^ Racineux (1983), p. 49-50
  12. ^ Odolant-Desnos (1787), p. 35
  13. ^ Racineux 1983, p.54
  14. ^ Revue de l'Anjou et de Maine et Loire, tome 2, 1853, p. 372
  15. ^ Racineux (1983), p. 59-60
  16. ^ Cintré (1992), p. 140
  17. ^ Odolant-Desnos (1787), p. 153
  18. ^ Racineux (1983), p. 62
  19. ^ Racineux (1983), p. 67
  20. ^ Cornet (2000), p.24
  21. ^ Cornet (2000) ,p.62
  22. ^ Cornet (2000), p.63
  23. ^ Halbert (2000), p.180
  24. ^ Halbert (2000), p.181
  25. ^ Neau (2010)
  26. ^ Galicca.bnf.fr Congrès archéologique de France, 38e sessions, juin 1871
  27. ^ Paul Lehugeur, Excursions historiques en Anjou, discours prononcé à la distribution des prix du lycée d'Angers, 1880 Read online
  28. ^ Géhan (1992), p.41
  29. ^ a b Géhan (1992), p.42


  • Alain Racineux, À travers l’histoire, au pays de Pouancé, 1983
  • Thierry Géhan, Rapport de sondage : Pouancé, le Vieux Château, DRAC, 1992
  • Céline Cornet, Usages historiques et environnement mental d'un château de marches du XIe au XXe siècle. La forteresse de Pouance (Maine-et-Loire), Maîtrise d'histoire, 2000.
  • André Chédeville et Daniel Pichot (dir.), Des villes à l’ombre des châteaux : Naissance et essor des agglomérations castrales en France au Moyen Âge, Presse Universitaire de Rennes, juin 2010, 240 p.
  • André Neau, Sur les chemins de l'histoire : En Pays Pouancéen, t. 1, novembre 2010, 256 p.
  • René Cintré, Les Marches de Bretagne au Moyen Age, Jean-Marie Pierre, 1992 (ISBN 2-903999-11-2)
  • Pierre Joseph Odolant-Desnos, Mémoires historiques sur la ville d'Alençon et sur ses seigneurs, t. 2, 1787
  • Odile Halbert, L'allée de la Héé, Odile Halbert, 2000