Château de Clermont was inherited by the de Funès family from an aunt, the Countess of Maupassant. It was built between 1643 and 1649 by the Chenu de Clermont, a family of important military administrators. René Chenu, (1599–1672) was a long-time governor of the fortified towns of Oudon and Champtoceaux which dominated the Loire upstream. His son Hardy Chenu (1621–1683) was in charge of the fortifications, cities, castles and fortified towns of Brittany.
The Chenu were vassals of the House of Condé, who had many holdings in the west of France, and this feudal relationship, so strong under Ancien Régime, was increased by a strong personal friendship. Rene Chenu was the contemporary and loyal ally of Henry II de Bourbon, prince de Condé. The birth and death of Hardy Chenu coincide with those of Louis II de Bourbon-Condé, the Grand Condé, whom he served. It is traditionally held that one of the Chenu, either the father or the son, saved the life of their master, and that Clermont was constructed to express his recognition of the act. In any case, the construction of Clermont, with its imposing proportions, testifies to some princely expenditure. The Château de Clermont was built shortly after the Battle of Rocroi (19 May 1643), where the Grand Condé, saved the throne of the enfant Louis XIV and merited a considerable reward. It reflects enthusiasm of a period filled with glory.
The appearance of the château has remained broadly the same since its construction at the time of the regency of Anne of Austria during the minority of Louis XIV. Its southern aspect, which overlooks the River Loire offers a panoramic view over the Pays des Mauges and the Pays de Retz. The northern aspect has a shaded avenue perpendicular to the Paris-Nantes road framed by the original wings of the château. It is surrounded by 3 hectares of parkland and a vineyard of 17 hectares. Louis de Funès had a rose garden planted, but nothing remains of it today.
The two wings contained the servants rooms: sleeping quarters, stables, and greenhouses, placed where they could be watched by the master of the house. Where the wings join the main body of the house are the kitchens on the right and on the left the chapel, the altar still displaying its original retable. From the centre of the wings arched passages arched lead out: on the right to the gardens and on the left to the farmyard. The two entrances provide both convenience and break the monotony of the formal lines. A gallery runs along the first floor of the right-hand wing.
The wings of Clermont are very different from those of other châteaux from the same period of the 17th century. Up until 1624, wings were designed to be of the same or very similar height to that of the main house, so the courtyard was enclosed on three sides, an echo of the former defensive role of castles. The Rocher-Portail, near Fougères, is a rare intact example of this kind of architecture. Clermont is one of the last châteaux to have wings attached to the central building in this fashion. They are, however, smaller, lower and have an Italian influence, natural enough at a time when many French architects were studying in Rome and Venice. Clermont was completed just before 1650, the year when, following the trend started by the builders of Vaux-le-Vicomte and François Mansart at the Château de Beaumesnil, the central bodies of the majority of new castles started to be built separated from the wings.
In a design that was, at the time, very modern, there are a number of features that are reminiscent of older architecture: corbelling is used on both the northern and southern sides, and on the Loire side machicolations are utilised to support the high roofs. Regardless of their architectural heritage, overall the features blend to a harmonious whole.References:
The Château de Fougères is an impressive castle with curtain wall and 13 towers. It had three different enclosures, first for defensive purposes, second for day to day usages in peacetime and for safety of the surrounding populations in times of siege, the last enclosure was where the keep was situated.
The first wooden fort was built by the House of Amboise in the 11th century. It was destroyed in 1166 after it was besieged and taken by King Henry II of England. It was immediately rebuilt by Raoul II Baron de Fougères. Fougères was not involved in the Hundred Years' War until 1449 when the castle was taken by surprise by an English mercenary. In 1488 the French troops won the castle back after a siege and the castle lost its military role.
In the late 18th century the castle was turned into a prison. The owner in this period was the Baron Pommereul. In the 19th century the outer ward became an immense landscaped garden. A museum was established in the Mélusine Tower. During the Industrial Revolution, a shoe factory set up shop in the castle grounds.
The City of Fougères took ownership of the Château in 1892. It had been a listed Historical Monument since 1862. A major campaign was launched to clean up the castle walls. While the castle had retained many of its original features, some of the curtain walls needed to be cleared and certain sections required major repairs. The changes made in the 18th century were "reversed," and the castle was finally open to visitors. The first campaign of archaeological excavations, conducted in 1925, unearthed the ruins of the manor house.
Since then, the Château de Fougères has welcomed tens of thousands of visitors every year. The castle's excellent state of conservation, and the historical interest of its architecture, make Fougères an invaluable window onto the Middle Ages. From great lords to simple builders, generations of inhabitants have left their mark on these walls.