Discover Beynac The Fortress

The Fortress

In Beynac, the strategic importance of the Cliff and its plateau had a direct influence on the architectural approach of the defenses. Populated since the Bronze age, this location was protected "naturally" and became the object of numerous desires. This limestone edifice anchored on the banks of the river Dordogne was to become the object of many pages of history.

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Even if the Vézère valley was reputed for its prehistoric relics emanating from the many paleolithic sites, the caves and shelters built into the rock near to Beynac were also witness of the presence of reindeer hunters who had inhabited the area close to the river.
After the successive invasions by the barbarians and the Normans, the feudality was introduced as of the 10th Century, and Hélie de Beynac, the first known and recorded lord, installed the first fortified presence (Castrum) in 1050. As of the 12th century one of his descendants, Adhémar, went off to the crusades, (crusades of 1147).
As a direct consequence of the marriage between Alienor d'Aquitaine and the future king of England, Henri Plantagenêt, Beynac, as did all of Aquitaine, became english, controlled by the Count of Toulouse, a vassal of the king of France. However, the new king of England, Richard the 1st (the "LionHeart") seized the castle (1197) as he could not accept the link with the Count of Toulouse. His army found shelter in the central tower of the castle, but wasting no time the family of Beynac retook the citadel at the same moment when Richard found his death, (1199),at the foot of the ramparts of Chalus in the High Vienne.

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Only just forgotten the English king and his period of occupation, another army descended the valley and approached Beynac (1214). This time it was Simon de Montfort, the terrible knight and his army whose objective was to destroy all who supported the Cathares. We are now in the "Albigeois" crusades. Like their neighbours, the fortress was put under seige and, even if Beynac had been called "The devil's arch" by the monk Pierre des Vaux de Cernay, the real reason for this conquest was to simply recover the lands governed by the Count of Toulouse who was acknowledged to be the principal protector of the Cathare religion.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the warlike power of Beynac permitted it to become an important influence within the region. Pons, Jean-Bernard, Geoffroy, all these lords of Beynac were to participate and energetically contribute to the anti-English wars. In the same time this lordly family managed to expand its territory as far as Vézère.
1337, the 100-year war starts. The English and the supporters of the French crown badgered each other continuously. Permanent skirmishes and guerrilla-type warfare, the taking and re-taking of fortified sites. Finally, in 1453, after one final victory by the French army over the English troops at Castillon, near Bordeaux, the valley re-found peace. The countryside was in ruins, it was essential to rebuild and the Renaissance period arrived. The castle embellished itself, the fortified wall around the village was opened permitting the construction of housesright down to the riverside.
In the 15th century, Beynac was designated as a Barony. With the three other : Biron, Bourdeille and Maureuil,the brons of Beynac participated in the future politics and conflicts of Périgord. The village made the most of this situation and enlarged itself, reinforcing its commercial infrastructure with the other townships and markets of the valley. However, the religious wars also brought new sufferings to the population, in particular in the 16th century.
The district was to suffer from guerilla type attacks and the parish church of Saint-Jacques, in the village centre was ravaged and burnt to the ground. The misery became so great that the unrest of the population started to grow ominously everywhere. Gatherings were organised in the forests, the peasant uprising, the "croquants", had started.

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At the beginning of the 17th century, the king decided to recognise the lands of Beynac and Marquisat in thanks for the support offered by their families to the French crown. Beynac took up the "sling" and the last protestant Marquis, Isaac de Beynac, died in 1687.
With the arrival of new taxes and charges, hard winters like those of 1709 and 1710, this only contributed more so to the genarl uprising of the countryside. The population of Beynac joined with the rebellious peasants from Saint-Vincent and Bézenac. They were almost five thousand when they crossed the Dordogne at Castelnaud, marching on Sarlat. The repession was terrible. Beynac was split in two, those that lived within the fortress and those from the village outside its walls… an air of revolution was blowing.

In 1761, the last heiress of the lords and barons of Beynac, Marie-Claude, Married the young marquis Christophe de Beaumont on the morning of the 10th of March. After eight centuries of history, the line of the Beynacs disappeared with Marie-Claude when she died in 1811 leaving behind her as souvenirs Beynac and its chateau.

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Castel's Official Website

Click on the logo below to access the Castel's Official Website.

Chateau de Beynac

The Chapel

As with numerous chapels in the middle ages, this one was dedicated to the mother of Christ: Marie, but locally, for the Inhabitants it is: Notre-Dame de Beynac.

The origin of the first building dates back to the 12th and 13 centuries. The major part of the modifications and changes coming during the 14th and 15th centuries.

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Video: Discover the Fortress