Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

History of Bonnefont Castle (aka, Château de Saint-Just-Le-Martel)

Bonnefont Castle is a small castle is listed on French maps as “Le Grand Bonnefont”. It is viewable on Google Earth near the town of Saint-Just-Le-Martel, five miles east of Limoges.

bonnefont side
Bonnefont Castle

Bonnefont Castle was built in the 13th century, the medieval period of Europe. A document in the office of the maire (Mayor) of Saint-Just-Le-Martel attests to its antiquity. The original keep was one of several small castles built by the French military to protect the two towns of Limoges (the City and the Château) which overlook the strategic Vienne river trade route, and the town of Saint-Just-Le-Martel. Bonnefont was garrisoned by French, and occasionally British troops, for over three centuries.

In the mid 1600s the castle was inhabited by the Sieur (territorial lord) de Bonnefont, surnamed ‘Desmaisons,’ a lieutenant of the king’s ‘Light horses.’ Louis XIII sent Desmaisons to fight on the island of Île de Ré against the British. He distinguished himself gallantly and the king created him a nobleman (rank of Sieur) in July 1628. Desmaisons then become Lord (of) Bonnefont and received a coat of arms: silver with a green oak tree, two houses to its side, which are topped by two green stars (in French: ‘d’argent aun chene de sinople accoste de deux maisons de gueules surmontees de deux etoiles de sinople ed chief’).

The escape tunnel in the castle’s lower cave, reachable by steep granite stairs, had partially collapsed

Bonnefont’s gate house dates from the late 1600s. Its underground vault was a weapons armoury and later a wine cellar. After the French Revolution, in 1799, the chateau required extensive work. Repairs were completed using portions of the granite curtain wall surrounding the castle. This was a common practice during the late Middle Ages when damaged walls provided building material. The remaining curtain walls are seven feet high and thirteen feet high near “dependencies.”

In the 1800s the castle was modernised into a liveable family manor house with numerous rooms and fireplaces. Additional windows covered with iron security bars were added to the lower floors. Windows in upper floors were enlarged to enable furniture to be moved in and out. The medieval garderobes, (water closets or toilets) that once protruded from upper walls of the castle are now sealed shut (the outline of one can still be identified high up the wall of the castle’s keep). The garderobes were eventually replaced by modern bathrooms with indoor running water. The water was pumped from an artesian well, now the residence of frogs.

Early in the 1900s, the escape tunnel in the castle’s lower cave, reachable by steep granite stairs, had partially collapsed. The lower portion of the step stairs into the cave is currently blocked by a removable platform, but a portion of the escape tunnel can still be seen.

Bonnefont Castle - end view

The castle is surrounded by rich farm land divided by rows of mature trees with occasional farms and mansions. A half mile away is the world-class golf course of Porcelaine - visit the website here. It is viewable from the top floor of the castle, but only after the leaves from surrounding trees have fallen in autumn.

Renovation has commenced on the castle, and is anticipated to last over a year. It will eventually be available for weddings, parties and for high-season lease by the day or week. However, the castle will be available on a limited basis by reservation to family and friends hopefully by mid-summer 2017.

For further information, you can email De Yeochrie at this address.

Article by Richard Stuart

Added: 24 Apr 2017 Updated: 16 Oct 2023
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