A short history of a glorious past ...
The first castle was built in the eleventh century by Foulques Nerra, Count of Anjou, on the foundations of what was a Roman Oppidum. Indefatigable warrior, insatiable builder, Foulques Nerra (also known as Black Falcon) was a member of an elite group of loyal subjects to the King.
Through Foulques Nerra, descended the Plantagenêt dynasty which was to reign in England from 1154 to 1485; most notably: Geoffrey Plantagenêt, Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard Loinheart and King John……Some of whose tombs and burial chambers can be seen at the abbey of Fontevrault.
Foulques Nerra gave the castle to his vassal, Giraud Berlay, (also known as Bellay). Montreuil-Bellay was then to become widely known as an impregnable fortress during the conflicts between the English and French monarchies. A three year siege was necessary to quieten the resistance of Giraud II Berlay.
So strong was the Berlay attachment to the French Crown that King Philip Augustus held his court in Montreuil-Bellay in 1208, as did King Louis VIII in 1224.
In the thirteenth century, Montreuil-Bellay, surrounded by immense forests belonging to the siegniory, was a popular centre for stag hunting and falconry. It is recorded that there were many impressive feasts held at that time.
The fourteenth century then brought the Hundred Years War. Starving peasants in the locality took refuge in the moats of the castle and in the neighbouring monasteries, while Lord Montreuil-Bellay (Guillaume de Melun-Tancarville) died a glorious death in 1415 at the battle of Agincourt. His grandson, Guillaume d’Harcourt, married Yolande de Laval, sister-in-law of the King René.
The Château, as we see it today, was constructed between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. The end of the Hundred Years War, brought about by the truce signed by Louis XI and Edward IV in Picquigny in 1475, put an end to the English influence. The architecture of the château evolved in a distinctive manner; the austere fortress built for defensive purposes then became a large country pile. It is an excellent testimony to the arrival of Renaissance Humanism.
Henry II of Orleans, Duke of Longueville, inherited the château. As ambassador, he signed the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which brought the Thirty Years War to an end, and which in turn put Alsace back on the French map. His wife Geneviève de Condé, instigated the rebellion with her brother, Le Grand Condé, and was subsequently sent into exile by Louis XIV. A number of admirers joined her, one of whom was Le Rochefoucauld and another Turenne.
Religious wars broke out: Catholics and Protestants each took advantage of Montreuil-Bellay to re-arm and recuperate themselves.
All through the revolution, Jean-Bretagne of Trémoille, lord of Montreuil-Bellay, remained loyal to Louis XVI. His demanding position as Marshal brought him away from the château, which was then turned into a prison for female monarchists.
After the Revolution, the château was bought by a rich merchant of Saumur whose daughter married the Baron Alexander Adrien de Grandmaison, Officer of the guard of Charles X. They then passed the château on to their nephew, great-great-grandson of General Mouton, Count of Lobau, Marshal of France, military assistant to the Emperor Napoleon I.
Georges de Grandmaison, Mayor of Montreuil-Bellay for sixteen years and member of parliament for the Saumur locality for almost half a century, opened the Château to the wounded during the Great War. Almost 1,200 soldiers were treated in this unlikely hospital.