My New Favourite Castle

So Celine and the two youngest have travelled to the UK to see relatives after more than two years, separated by the pandemic. We parted at a bus stop in Le Mans before breakfast. Evangeline and me hit the town centre as the tabacs were opening and sat sipping and watching Le Mans wake up and go to work.

From the Place de la Republique its three stops on the tram to the Musée de Tessé, one of the oldest museums in France, opened in 1799 and home to an array of French, Italian and Dutch paintings. In the basement is an ancient Egyptian exhibit with grave goods and mummies, but I particuarly enjoyed the medieval religious icons from the 14th century.

The tram took us back to the car park on the edge of the city. The sun was shining, but a squally wind threw down bright, white hailstones as we rode along the streets of Le Mans. It was all over by the time we came to our stop.

It had been an early start so we had little will to stay out all day, but had decided to stop halfway home in the town of Sillé-le-Guillaume to break the journey. We had heard there was a chateau in the town, but, unlike many castle towns, we had never been able to spot it the numerous times we had passed through on our way to Le Mans.

The fact that the town is built on the side of a hill, which has become even more built up since medieval times, might have something to do with it. Also, that we are usually returning from Le Mans late at night, after dark, must have played a part, because this time we spotted a round tower with a characteristic pointy slate roof rising up behind a church spire.

Our next clue was a tiny finger post appended to the side of a townhouse. We made a hard right turn back down the hill, squeezed between an abandoned boulangerie and a high stone wall and there it was in front of us. A little further on there was free parking below tall defensive stone walls. Time for our little rest!

The Artillery Tower was gradually developed into living accommodation after the English went away!

What a place! It’s not the biggest chateau (that’s in Fougeres) but it played a key role in the Hundred Years War and changed hands between the French and the English several times. In March 1434 the Earl of Arundel, John Fitzalan, is said to have taken the castle with just seven knights and two-dozen longbowmen. He was only 27. A year later, at the Battle of Gerbevoy he was wounded, had a leg amputated then died from an infection. Dangerous times.

More recently, the chateau was used as the town’s school. Imagine going to school in a castle! It was transferred over the road to a purpose built structure in 1971. Today there is an exhibition space and access to the Artillery Tower (4 Euros per head) which is awesome. At the top the roof timbers are all exposed to view, all pinned together with dowels. The only metalwork on display is from modern repairs.

In a boxed-out space are the workings of the 19th century clock, the weights used to run it hang high overhead between the oak roof structure. We checked. It was keeping good time. In the exhibition space we discovered that a resident of this cité de caractère, Arsène-Marie Le Feuvre, was an artist who catalogued and organised the Musée de Tessé back in 1927. Nice coincidence to end the day.

I love that since the revolution in the 18th century, buildings like the Musée de Tessé and the castle here at Sillé-le-Guillaume, falling into the hands of the general populace, have been restored, kept up and repurposed over the centuries. I shall come back again soon!

About 14thcenturypoet

Author of The Legend of Zonza, an historical fantasy based on traditional Italian folk tales...
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