In 1758 the Seneffe estate was bought by Julien Depestre, a Walloon merchant who earned a fortune by selling goods to the Imperial Austrian troops stationed in the Austrian Netherlands. The new castle was erected between 1763 and 1768 in a novel neoclassical style. After the French revolution and the subsequent occupation of the Austrian Netherlands by the French Republic, the extraordinary art collection (1797) and the château were confiscated (1799).
After several owners the castle was abandoned for 7 years in the 1960s, until the Belgian State decided to purchase it in 1970. During these years the castle was severely looted by people who removed and sold valuable interior decoration such as marble fireplaces and carved wainscotings. Extensive interior and exterior renovations were only started after 1978 and were not finished until 1995.
The château of Seneffe with its magnificent park and annexes offers a very fine example of a mid-18th-century noble residence. In general it follows the example of French noble and royal residences. It can be compared with the Petit Trianon built at the same time (1762–1768) by Ange-Jacques Gabriel for Louis XV. Elements like the colonnades flanking the central frontal courtyard are novel elements introduced by architect Dewez who trained in Italy under Luigi Vanvitelli. Dewez also found inspiration in neoclassical English country houses of his time. The quality of the architecture and its international inspiration make it a unique building.
A wide tree-lined alley starting in the village of Seneffe gives access to the castle and its grounds. At the end of the alley a wide lawn provides an unhampered view on the broad courtyard (Cour d'honneur) in front of the castle. The courtyard is closed by a monumental wrought iron fence which has a gilded gate in the middle. The actual château or corps de logis is flanked by two long colonnaded galleries (70 m) with a pavilion on each end which forms a very monumental entry to the château. The monolithic columns of the galleries are in the Ionic order. A terrace with a balustered railing is on top of the galleries. The blind wall of each gallery is adorned with semi-domed and rectangular niches which contain decorative vases and sculptures. The pavilions at the end of each gallery are very elegant buildings decorated with pilasters in the composite order, niches, and pediment-topped doors. They both have a domed second storey of which the right one houses a clock and a bell. The left pavilion is furnished as the château's chapel and the domed second storey serves here as a lantern providing zenital light to the interior. Each gallery is interrupted by two arcaded passages, flanked by pairs of composite pilasters, and giving access to the so-called 'communs' (originally containing kitchens, mews, a farm) on the left side, to a 'potager' and 'verger' (kitchen garden and orchard) on the right side, and to the park behind the castle.
The facade of the corps de logis consists of five bays separated by monumental composite pilasters connecting the two main storeys. The middle bay stands out slightly and is topped by a pediment which contains the coats of arms of Joseph Depestre and his wife flanked by gilded lions. A stair leads to the front door and into the entrance hall on the piano nobile. The two lateral bays are also flanked by composite pilasters. A molded cornice surrounds the entire building and is topped by a balustered railing only interrupted by the pediment in the middle and by a blind railing decorated with a 'guirlande' above the lateral bays. This railing partly hides the slate roof. Like the galleries the facades of the corps de logis are entirely executed in local 'Pierre bleu du Hainaut' (Blue stone of Hainaut) or 'Petit-Granit' a very hard greyish-blue limestone. This durable and expensive material also stresses the prestige of the building.
The sumptuous interiors contain elaborated 'parquets', fine decorated stucco ceilings of which some are gilded, sculpted and molded 'boiseries' and fine marble floorings and fireplaces mostly executed in Belgian marble. The style of the interior could be characterized as an early continental neoclassicism with French inspiration. In some rooms the influence of the late rococo style is still apparent, whereas in others a more 'classical' approach is discernible.
The park was laid out following the construction of the Château in the 1760s in a formal late baroque French style. The central axis of the alley, the courtyard and the middle bay of the corps de logis is continued in the park. A parterre with a path in the middle was situated directly behind the castle and ended on the banks of a formal pond. Close to the wall surrounding the park an Orangery was built facing the south. This building can still be seen. Northwards, the axis is aligned with the church spire in the village of Seneffe.
In the 1780s part of the park was rearranged as a landscape garden following the English fashion. Numerous small buildings called 'Follies' were built on the grounds such as an island with a temple and a wooden 'cabane'. The most important addition from that time is the neoclassical theatre built by the famous French architect Charles de Wailly. The simple whitewashed building has a stage with a fixed scenery consisting of a gallery in the Tuscan order built as a false perspective. It was the intention of the patron and the architect to revive the classical theatre. The busts in the facades were created by the famous French sculptor Augustin Pajou.References:
Pembroke Castle is a Norman castle, founded in 1093. It survived many changes of ownership and is now the largest privately owned castle in Wales. It was the birthplace of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII of England) in 1457.
Pembroke Castle stands on a site that has been occupied at least since the Roman period. Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury founded the first castle here in the 11th century. Although only made from earth and wood, Pembroke Castle resisted several Welsh attacks and sieges over the next 30 years. The castle was established at the heart of the Norman-controlled lands of southwest Wales.
When William Rufus died, Arnulf de Montgomery joined his elder brother, Robert of Bellême, in rebellion against Henry I, William's brother and successor as king; when the rebellion failed, he was forced to forfeit all his British lands and titles. Henry appointed his castellan, but when the chosen ally turned out to be incompetent, the King reappointed Gerald in 1102. By 1138 King Stephen had given Pembroke Castle to Gilbert de Clare who used it as an important base in the Norman invasion of Ireland.
In August 1189 Richard I arranged the marriage of Isabel, de Clare's granddaughter, to William Marshal who received both the castle and the title, Earl of Pembroke. He had the castle rebuilt in stone and established the great keep at the same time. Marshal was succeeded in turn by each of his five sons. His third son, Gilbert Marshal, was responsible for enlarging and further strengthening the castle between 1234 and 1241.
Later de Valence family held Pembroke for 70 years. During this time, the town was fortified with defensive walls, three main gates and a postern. Pembroke Castle became de Valence's military base for fighting the Welsh princes during the conquest of North Wales by Edward I between 1277 and 1295.
Pembroke Castle then reverted to the crown. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle was a place of peace until the outbreak of the English Civil War. Although most of South Wales sided with the King, Pembroke declared for Parliament. It was besieged by Royalist troops but was saved after Parliamentary reinforcements arrived by sea from nearby Milford Haven. Parliamentary forces then went on to capture the Royalist castles of Tenby, Haverfordwest and Carew.
In 1648, at the beginning of the Second Civil War, Pembroke's commander Colonel John Poyer led a Royalist uprising. Oliver Cromwell came to Pembroke on 24 May 1648 and took the castle after a seven-week siege. Its three leaders were found guilty of treason and Cromwell ordered the castle to be destroyed. Townspeople were even encouraged to disassemble the fortress and re-use its stone for their purposes.
The castle was then abandoned and allowed to decay. It remained in ruins until 1880, when a three-year restoration project was undertaken. Nothing further was done until 1928, when Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps acquired the castle and began an extensive restoration of the castle's walls, gatehouses, and towers. After his death, a trust was set up for the castle, jointly managed by the Philipps family and Pembroke town council.
The castle is sited on a strategic rocky promontory by the Milford Haven Waterway. The first fortification on the site was a Norman motte-and-bailey. It had earthen ramparts and a timber palisade.
In 1189, Pembroke Castle was acquired by William Marshal. He soon became Lord Marshal of England, and set about turning the earth and wood fort into an impressive Norman stone castle. The inner ward, which was constructed first, contains the huge round keep with its domed roof. Its original first-floor entrance was through an external stairwell. Inside, a spiral staircase connected its four stories. The keep's domed roof also has several putlog holes that supported a wooden fighting-platform. If the castle was attacked, the hoarding allowed defenders to go out beyond the keep's massive walls above the heads of the attackers.
The inner ward's curtain wall had a large horseshoe-shaped gateway. But only a thin wall was required along the promontory. This section of the wall has a small observation turret and a square stone platform. Domestic buildings including William Marshal's Great Hall and private apartments were within the inner ward. The 13th century keep is 23 metres tall with walls up to 6 metres thick at its base.
In the late 13th century, additional buildings were added to the inner ward, including a new Great Hall. A 55-step spiral staircase was also created that led down to a large limestone cave, known as Wogan Cavern, beneath the castle. The cave, which was created by natural water erosion, was fortified with a wall, a barred gateway and arrowslits. It may have served as a boathouse or a sallyport to the river where cargo or people could have been transferred.
The outer ward was defended by a large twin-towered gatehouse, a barbican and several round towers. The outer wall is 5 metres thick in places and constructed from Siltstone ashlar.
Although Pembroke Castle is a Norman-style enclosure castle with great keep, it can be more accurately described as a linear fortification because, like the later 13th-century castles at Caernarfon and Conwy, it was built on a rocky promontory surrounded by water. This meant that attacking forces could only assault on a narrow front. Architecturally, Pembroke's thickest walls and towers are all concentrated on its landward side facing the town, with Pembroke River providing a natural defense around the rest of its perimeter.