Langeais is one of the oldest towns in the Touraine Region and lies on the border with Anjou in the small valley of the Roumer River.
Historically speaking, its people have suffered from being in the frontline of various battles for control of the domain though they seem hardly to get a mention in any guides to the town which focus on the ‘great’ Kings and Counts and their various shenanigans. So, here’s a brief timeline I’ve put together:
Langeais dates back to at least the late Gallo-Roman era (c.300-500 AD) when there was a small town “Alingavia” on the site.
In the 4th century, Saint Martin established the Saint Jean-Baptiste church in the town.
Around the year 1000, Foulques Nerra, the Count of Anjou conquered the area and built a fortress dominating the town. The ruins of Nerra’s fortress represent the oldest keep
in France and The Great Tower, as it is known, can be seen beside the more recent 15th Century, Renaissance-inspired, Château.
The Counts of Anjou, English Plantagenets, went on to become the dominant force in the Touraine.
In 1206 Langeais was captured from the English and became part of the France. Control was conferred on various lords through royal patronage.
During the Hundred Years War, the English took re-possession of the Château, town and surrounding countryside and began to pillage and subject the local population. The people of Langeais and the owners of neighbouring fiefs gave them 2,500 gold crowns to get rid of them. During this period Langeais became occupied by lawless armed bands ~ I presume these were displaced mercenary soldiers and knights.
In 1422 the French army regained the territory and all the château’s fortifications were destroyed, except for the “Great Tower”.
1766. The area of Langeais was bought by the Duc de Luynes, forming part of the Duchy of Luynes until, a few decades later, the Republican Revolution put an end to his ownership. What exactly happened during the revolutionary period? It would be good to find out for, generally speaking, and for all the displays of tri-coloured flags and RF signs, the actions of the revolutionaries are glossed over in all(?) official guides to historical sites and towns of the Loire. I presume they don’t want to frighten the tourists or give local people any wrong ideas. It’s so sad though, as their actions still reverberate around the world and shape the everyday life I and so many others lead in France (end of rant).
By 1839, the château was in the hands of Christophe Baron who undertook restoration work.
In 1886, Christophe Baron’s son sold the château to the international banker, businessman and politically connected Jacques Siegfried, who continued its restoration and refurbishment.Wether or not any improvements and modernisations were carried out in the town remains unclear.
In 1904, Siegfried donated the château and its collections to the Institute de France.
World War II, I’ve found no record of what the château was used for during the period of occupation but I’d be surprised if it was not used by the Nazi Military Command.
Michael Bel writes this moving account in his 2008 blog:
“The scene that greeted us at Langeais station was shocking – a
red train van used to transport Jews to concentration camps during World War II stood beside the platform. The French flag flew beside it alongside a plaque commemorating the deportees and the many lives lost from this part of the Loire Valley but somehow the single van, standing alone, seemed to emphasise, in a way that words could not, the terrible, awful way so many people died during that horrific war.”
There is also a tragic story of a German Military freight train carrying forty US PoWs being attacked by allied aircraft in 1944 – just click here.
Today, the château is open to the public and is still in the state ownership of the Institute de France which is rather like a cross between a Ministry of Culture & Science and the UK’s National Trust.
There is a lovely, contemporary, illustrated description of Langlais – its school, people and château – at Sarah & Brenda’s Blog – do visit.