« The river of Loyre… continuing its happy course, passes by the medium of France… falling in Vienne… From there it discharges in Loyre with Montsoreau where it loses its name ». Here are what wrote, in 1607, the lord of Villamont in his Small speech on the description of the Kingdom of France.
With the confluence of the Loire and Vienne, with the limit of Anjou and of Touraine, Montsoreau allured by the originality of its architectural choices and by its situation. The castle of Montsoreau is, indeed, the single castle « ligérien » builds « the feet » in water. It is located halfway between Saumur and Chinon, and constitutes an exceptional site by many points:
- Its geographical situation, with the confluence of Vienne and the Loire. Few monuments can today be praised to have like garden the royal river: the Loire.
- Exceptional site also, by this architecture between two worlds, the modern Middle Ages and times. Semi fortress, semi-castle of approvals.
- Exceptional finally, by the character innovating of the course spectacle to discover with the wire of 18 rooms of the castle.
At the beginning of XIth century, Montsoreau was a military strategic point and a granting on the river. It is at that time that the Seigniory of Montsoreau appeared, at the time when feudality develops in Touraine and Anjou. At that time the rocky outcrop of Montsoreau supported an old fortress, the castrum of Monte Sorello, mentioned in a document of 1089.
This fortress belonged then to Guillaume de Montsoreau, husband of Hersende de Champagne, of which it had a son, Gautier. Strong piles, this one gave in 1101 to Robert d’ Arbrissel of the grounds to build the abbey of Fontevraud there, called to become the symbol of the power of Plantagenêt.
The Lords of Montsoreau are then vassal Counts of Anjou and they manage to extend their influence in particular towards Chinon and Chinonais.
In 1213 the heiress of Montsoreau marries a member of the Savary family which is Seigneur of Montbazon.
In 1374 the Seigniory of Montsoreau passes to Craon who are Vicomtes of Chateaudun. A little later about 1400, it is to the Chabot family. March 17, 1445, Jeanne Chabot marries Jean II of Chambes.
Jean II of Chambes is the sleeping partner of the castle which we can admire today. He is a important character , first Master of hotel of the king Charles VII (in fact an adviser) and associated of Jacques Cœur in a maritime company of trade. It will open the doors of its residence not only with Charles VII, but also with Agnès Sorel and Jacques Coeur. It is to Jean de Chambes and to his children that one owes the current castle, with his sumptuous octagonal turret with the Italianising decoration.
Scientific analyses made in 1994, make it possible to date with precision the chronology of construction of the castle.
Between 1443 and 1453, one raises the principal main building directly in edge of the Loire, then, about 1460-1461, the right wing in return which was not envisaged in the preliminary draft. Two square towers frame the main building. This exceptional choice at one time when the round towers are used precedes the houses of angle of the following times. It is necessary to imagine the castle of Jean II of Chambes without the tower of Renaissance staircase on the right, located in the court, which undoubtedly replaced a simpler screw.
The first level, that of the cellars side court and the ground floor Loire side, concentrates all the defensive potential of the castle and allows the control of navigation on the river. One of the parts, with the north-western angle, has a direct access to water, without its function being given with precision. Another, the vaster, plays the part of room of defence.
In the court, the principal staircase located on the left carries out to the home, superimposed on the second and third levels (ground floor and first stage on court). According to the use of time, Jean de Chambes undoubtedly occupies that placed above, on the first floor on the court, that of Jeanne Chabot, his wife, being located at the ground floor.
The staircase gives access to the very luminous room, long 17 meters and lit by five windows. It is heated by two chimneys, very close one to the other, one on the northern wall, Loire side, the other on the eastern wall. Perhaps the presence of one second chimney on the Loire side wall, is explained by the extreme moisture of the places, the castle bathing in the water.
Parts of a smaller surface follow the room, according to the usual progression of public space towards private space. A secondary staircase makes communicate the home with that placed below which reproduces the same organization. On the other side of the room, in the west, a second home comprises a principal room and a private room, separated by latrines.
On the second floor on court, the distribution of space differs, in spite of misleading resemblances. Indeed, the « room » which is superimposed on those of the home was in the beginning divided into two rooms, as the position of the two chimneys placed this time on opposed walls indicates it, they are not centered, and therefore they were not in the same part.
It is on the level of the second stage that one reaches the covered way. Outside, it is with the top of a strong machicolation which reinforces the defensive character of the device, while inside, its utility is contestable since it is impossible to circulate there continuously; attic windows stopping it with regularity and splitting it in a series of small parts which do not communicate between them. They bring an indirect lighting to the parts located behind, and, treated like as many small independent balconies, they are provided with « coussièges » (stone bench) where one settles to admire the landscape. From there, the visitor covers glance Anjou, but also Touraine in the East and Poitou in the South, just after the royal abbey of Fontevraud, built with a few kilometers of the castle.
Jean III of Chambes, which succeeds his father in 1473, makes raise, at the beginning of 16th century, a tower of Renaissance staircase to replace the screw which served the right wing of the castle. The polygonal cage is covered in terrace and broadside of a railing encrusted with slate, reconstituted with the identical one. The decoration concentrates on the principal span of the staircase. Short pilasters border the windows and the delicately decorated barges of Renaissance design: medallion with the antique, garlands, putti, candelabra carried by claws or legs of lion. Such is the paradox of Montsoreau, its main staircase does not carry out to the room as it is in current use.
During the wars of religion, Montsoreau is a stronghold « papist » vis-a-vis in Saumur the Protestant place. The son of Philippe de Chambes, Jean IV of Chambes, massacres the local Protestants before finding death in 1575. His brother, Charles de Chambes, husband of Francoise de Maridor (the Diane of Alexandre Dumas) made assassinate, in 1579, Bussy d’ Amboise, at the time of an ambush. It is the topic of the novel of Alexandre Dumas: La dame de Montsoreau.
The 17th century sees the decline of Montsoreau whose lord, Rene de Chambes, is condemned as trafficker of salt and forgery minting in 1634. It flees in England and dies there in 1649. The residence is then given up and is used as warehouse of goods until 1913, date of its repurchase, on the initiative of the marquis Jean de Geoffre, by the general Council of Maine-et-Loire. Owner of the castle since, the General Council of Maine-et-Loire undertook to renovate it in 1994.
The first work made it possible to find, hidden in the ground, some vestiges of the castle of the 11th century, the latrines of the 15th century and the ditches, formerly filled by the Loire.
The second section released interior spaces of the castle and arranged the accesses by building a house of reception and a tearoom for the comfort of the visitor. The castle shelters today an exposure, « the Imaginary ones of the Loire », devoted as well to the « Injury of Montsoreau » as to the troglodytic dwellings of the village and navigation on the Loire. It is by visiting it that one can better include the decisive economic part played by the river throughout the history, a river whose Vauban said: « It is the largest river of the kingdom, that which has the most navigation and which makes the best part of the trade of France ».
The village of Montsoreau received 2 labels: « Village of charm » and « most beautiful village of France », its secondhand furniture street market is re-elected and receive nearly 5 000 visitors all 2nd Sunday of each month.
Its village troglodyte whose windows, doors and staircases cut out cliff and who reveals an astonishing underground world in which country, fishing, vine growers noble and ecclesiastics cohabited a long time. It is estimated that at the 18th century end, a great part of the population lived in « cellar »!
The champignonnists settled at beginning the 20th century in these immense galleries dug with 15th century.