Visiting the castle




Visiting the gardens


Map of gardens

(1) The Linden Walk

(2) The Court of the Lions

(3) The Medieval Enclosed Garden

(4) The Panoramic Moat

(5) The Rose Garden

Sister Castle in Abergavenny, South Wales


Visit St Mary's Priory

Brief History

Early Times

The fortress was begun in 1005 by Guillaume 1 de Belleme, Earl of Maine. At that time the Normans to the north were powerful and eager to expand their lands. The first obstacle they encountered on their way south was the fortress of Ballon, known as “The Gate of Maine”. In truth, this supposedly impregnable stronghold changed hands twenty five times during the 11th century.

In 1064, William of Normandy, two years later to become conqueror and King of England, captured Ballon. Later his sons, William Rufus (later King of England) and Robert “Courte Botte” (Curthose (short leggings), in English), later Duke of Normandy, recaptured the fortress for the Normans after it had been fallen back into the hands of the Earls of Maine.

By the 12th century English royalty were allies with the Earls of Maine. This area was at the centre of skirmishes between the weaker Kings of France and the more powerful kings of England. In the early years of the 13th century, the King of France, Phillipe Auguste (1165 – 1223, last King of the Franks and first King of France), took the fortress from King John of England and ordered its destruction. However realising the strategic importance of its position, he ordered it to be rebuilt the very same year! From this time the Chaources family managed to keep Ballon in their possession for three hundred years.

The 13th century was a time of strong Anglo Norman influence in the locality despite the dominance of France more generally. Blanche de Castille (1188 – 1252), mother of the infant King, known as Saint Louis IX (1214 -1270) and who acted as his regent, captured Ballon once more during this complex period of changing allegiances and land ownership with the English.

For a while peace reigned in France and the prosperity of the country increased, but it was not to last.
The Hundred Years War (a series of conflicts between the English and the French for control of the French throne which lasted from 1337 to 1453) saw the region of Maine plagued by robbers and a period of lawlessness. Ballon was inhabited by Robert le Mareschal who stole and plundered from the whole area. Eventually this was stopped by the Breton knight, Bertrand du Guesclin (1320 -1380) “without fear and without remorse”.

French and English troops continued to fight for Ballon culminating in the triumph of Joan of Arc’s companions, Olivier de Prez, Lord of Ballon and his nephew Ambroise de Lore (1396 – 1446), military commander and Norman baron.

Post Middle Ages

Reconstruction of the fortress began at the start of the 16th century. The land was sold at the Chatelet in Paris and bought by Jeanot d’Ynurse, an esquire from Burgundy whose wife, Radegonde de Maridort, was daughter of the Lord of Souligne-sous-Ballon.

During the French religious wars, Ballon again played its part. Henri IV (1553 -1610, issuer of the Edict of Nantes which granted tolerance to the Protestant Huguenots), came to stay during his conquest of the west of France.

As the sixteenth century progressed and the importance of artillery during battle decreased, alterations were made to the chateau to reflect this. Windows replaced arrow slits and the building became more like the residence we see today. A period of relative inactivity proceeded.

French Revolution

After the storming of the Bastille on July 14th 1789, a spirit of popular sovereignty had spread through France by the end of the month. Many commoners began to form militias and arm themselves and some attacked the nobility in what became known as La Grande Peur (The great fear).

In Ballon, on 21st July 1789, now known as Black Thursday, a crowd kidnapped local nobleman monsieur Cureau and his son. They were led to the fortress where one was killed on the first floor of the keep and the other in the moat. Their heads were placed on pikes and carried around the village. Later, the assassins were captured and one of them was wheeled and tortured. He was the last man in France to undergo this kind of punishment.

Present Day

Jean Gueroult began creating the gardens in the 1960's and they have been awarded the title of ‘Jardins Remarquable’. The enclosed garden facing the keep, accessed by the drawbridge, Le Court des leons, is inspired by medieval and renaissance gardens which reflect the long and interesting history of the building they surround.

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