Château de Vitré

Château de Vitré



Location: Ille-et-Vilaine department   Map

Constructed: 11th century by Robert I of Vitré


Description of Château de Vitré

Château de Vitré is located in Ille-et-Vilaine department of France. Château de Vitré was constructed in the late 11th century by baron Robert I of Vitré on a site that was formerly occupied by a wooden fortress erected here around year 1000 AD. After the wooden citadel was burned monk found a settlement here. Baron eventually used this strategic location of the Vilaine valley. After the castle lost its military importance the castle was turned into a prison. In the 19th century it was proclaimed as a historic monument.



The Château de Vitré occupies the end of a schist spur overlooking the valley of the Vilaine to the north and a marshy stream to the south, which disappeared in the 18th century to make way for the royal road going from Paris to Rennes. “The general party remains that of domination of the field with strengthening of angles. To the south-east, above the then marshy area, near the urban gate of En-Bas, the Saint-Laurent tower is a real dungeon. The renovation of the castle around 1420 had another goal: the affirmation of seigneurial power, shaken by the arrival of the English in Maine ”because the castle then was the refuge of the counts of Laval, in particular when the English took Laval in 1427.



Around the year 1000, a first wooden castle (vetus castrum mentioned between 1066 and 1076) was built on a castle motte by Baron Riwallon de Vitré on the current site of the Sainte-Croix church. This castle, whose shape is unknown, was burnt down on numerous occasions. It was abandoned in favor of a new stone castle built by Baron Robert I of Vitré at the end of the eleventh century on a new defensive site, a vast rocky promontory of schist which dominates the Vilaine for about thirty meters. A Romanesque-style porch still remains of this building. It is to Baron André III that we traditionally attribute the reconstruction of the castle in its current, triangular form, and the fortification of the city in the first half of the 13th century. The architectural appearance of the castle shows the influence of the model of Philippian architecture. The castle is dominated by a large circular keep, which follows the top of the rocky outcrop, surrounded by dry ditches. On the death of André III, the estate fell by marriage to the family of the Counts of Laval. The direct successors of this family lead us to the beginning of the fifteenth century, through a great historical gap of 150 years. In the 15th century, Guy XII de Laval enlarged the castle which was heavily modified. It was at this time that the last defensive works were carried out by the two ladies of Laval, the baroness of Vitré Anne and Isabelle de Bretagne: châtelet with double drawbridge with arrow, tower of the Madeleine, tower of Saint-Laurent (later breakthrough of gunboats). The major transformation, however, is to transform the castle from a defensive edifice to a comfortable residence.

During the Mad War, Guy XV of Laval opened, according to Bertrand d'Argentré, without a fight, on September 1, 1487, the doors of his castle of Vitré and the city, to the royal troops. D'Argentré affirms that he had left for instructions: To enter from night the François in his castle of Vitré by a poster, and by this means the fist masters of the city. This decision is taken against the will of the inhabitants and presented as a fait accompli.

From the end of the fifteenth century and into the sixteenth century, comfort arrangements prevailed: construction of circulation galleries and a Renaissance-style oratory (in 1530). The Parliament of Brittany took refuge there three times (1564, 1582 and 1583) during the plague epidemics which raged in Rennes.

With the families of Rieux and Coligny, owners of the castle between 1547 and 1605, Vitré shelters the Protestant cult and becomes for a few years a Huguenot bastion. In 1589, the fortress resisted a siege of 5 months by the Duke of Mercœur.

In 1605, after the death of Guy XX de Laval, the castle became the property of the La Trémoille family, originally from Poitou. The castle was abandoned in the 17th century and was slowly deteriorating. It suffered in particular the partial collapse of the Saint-Laurent tower. One of the major elements of the French Revolution in Vitré was the accidental fire which destroyed the stately home in 1795.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a departmental prison was built in place of the seigneurial house and occupied the entire northern part, including the Madeleine tower. The prison became a garrison with the arrival of the 70th Infantry Regiment from 1867 to 1877.

The castle was bought by the state in the 19th century. In 1872, it was one of the first castles classified as a historical monument in France and restored from 1875 under the direction of the architect Denis Darcy. Passed into the public domain, a small museum was set up there in 1876, under the leadership of Arthur de La Borderie. Paradoxically, the latter had the collegiate church of the Madeleine destroyed, located on the forecourt of the Château, while he was the town's curator. A boys' school is built instead.

Nowadays, the town hall of Vitré is installed inside the enclosure of the castle, in a building rebuilt in 1912 according to the plans of the medieval house.



The entrance facade to the east is preceded by a vast esplanade called “Place du Château”. This esplanade nowadays replaces the medieval farmyard transformed in the 17th century into a stable yard.

The entry gatehouse, which dates from the 15th century, is made up of two pepper-pot towers (north tower in rubble stone and south-facing tower) topped by a gallery of Breton machicolations in sandstone and a double-storey fortified walkway (covered walkway above). above which rises a recessed upper story, topped with pointed roofs from which emerge large stumps of chimneys). The symbolic meaning of this defensive work is stronger than its military necessity, the lord having probably wanted to demonstrate his desire for ostentation and dissuasion. A plank walkway takes the place of a drawbridge and leads to a double door, each one served by its drawbridge as evidenced by the grooves of the cart door lined on its left by a narrow pedestrian door also in a pointed arch. This massif is completed to the south by a square turret used as a latrine.

The Saint-Laurent tower was the governor's home. The four floors of this imposing tower are such that it acts as a dungeon. Built in the 15th century on the site of a 13th century tower), it collapsed in 1835 and was rebuilt around 1870. It currently houses a museum which presents a collection of paintings retracing the history of Vitré.

The Oratory tower, also called the Chapel tower, takes its name from the Renaissance apse that adorns its facade. This tufa aedicule is the work of Guy XVI and is one of the first manifestations of Renaissance art in Brittany. The coat of arms of the Count of Laval surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint-Michel appears intertwined with those of his wives, Charlotte d'Aragon, Anne de Montmorency and Antoinette de Daillon. This tower was the subject of protection as historical monuments in 1898, then in 1901. Since the 2010s, this tower has been restored. That of the apse was completed in 2012.

The stately buildings are distributed around the inner courtyard, which have become those of the Town Hall.

The oldest element of the castle is the facade of the old 12th century Romanesque chapel, in polychrome apparatus (unusual use of slate for the keystones and columns). Two blind arches frame the portal formed by three arches falling on small columns with simple transoms and a tympanum whose lintel is formed by keystones.