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Castles and castles mounds

Limousin is undeniably a viscounts land with dozen of cases. This profusion in the three departments which correspond to the old diocese of Limoges and also the Carolingian county of Limoges makes the investigation fascinating but difficult because the first generations are often presented in an enigmatic way.


At the end of the 11th century we find the nomination of the viscount « of Limousin” and its likely southern part of Tulle. Then for over two centuries, between the 10th and 12th centuries, other limousine viscounties proliferated, if we exclude the particular case of Bridiers.


Between these about ten lineages many points of convergence exist.

The viscounts of Limoges gave rise to the Rochechouart and the Brosse families. The Comborn generated the Ventadour. The Aubusson is surely at the origin of the Gimel and the viscounts of Tulle at the origin of the Turenne who created probably the Ribérac.

In the 10th century, the viscounts of Limoges, Aubusson, Adhémar of Tulle and maybe Archambaud of Comborn claimed to be relatives.

According to Bernadette BARRIERE the creation of the limousine viscounts from 930 was entirely the initiative of the counts of Poitou in order to divide the viscounts of Limoges’s power.

Discover the map of the main castles int he  Limousin region

The principalities in the Limousin area in the  XVe centuries

Le Limousin est connu pour être une terre de vicomtes. L’origine de ces grandes lignées prétendant exercer des prérogatives d’origine régalienne et leurs degrés de parenté restent toujours en débat.


Toutes ces grandes familles vicomtales (Limoges, Turenne, Comborn, Ventadour, Aubusson, Brosse, Rochechouart), auxquelles on peut associer les comtes de la Marche qui, contrairement à ce que leur titre pourrait laisser croire, ne sont pas plus « légitimes » que leurs homologues de rang vicomtal, ont en commun de contrôler plusieurs forteresses. Bien sûr, toutes ces familles s’identifient d’abord à un site castral, souvent éponyme : c’est le cas des Aubusson, des Brosse, des Comborn, des Ségur, des Turenne, des Ventadour. Seuls les vicomtes de Limoges et les comtes de la Marche ne semblent pas associer leur autorité à un site fortifié emblématique : Limoges n’est pas (plus ?) la résidence privilégiée des vicomtes à partir du XIIe siècle et les comtes de la Marche, quoique tenus pour originaires de Charroux, ne semblent pas y demeurer particulièrement.


Ces pouvoirs vicomtaux, comme c’est souvent le cas au Moyen Âge, expriment leur légitimité et leur prestige par un prénom récurrent (le nomen) et par la qualité de « vicomte » (vicecomes) dont ils apparaissent gratifiés dans les sources. Avant le XIIe siècle et souvent la seconde moitié de ce siècle, les mentions « vicomte de tel château » n’existent pas et les successions, de génération en génération, ne se décèlent que par le recours aux mêmes nomina : Ebles pour les Ventadour, Archambaud pour les Comborn ou Raymond pour les Turenne. Les mentions « vicecomes loci » ne se généralisent qu’à l’époque où les autres lignages, non vicomtaux, s’identifient explicitement à un site castral. Cette association « officielle » des lignées vicomtales à un site castral éponyme proclame alors explicitement le lien unissant la famille à son château, à un lieu donc, à défaut d’un espace délimité.


(Source - L’ancrage territorial de l’aristocratie limousine (XIe-XVIe siècles) : quelques réflexions / Christian REMY)

So in Limousin the perpetuation of the viscountal titles is strong despite the many hazards the lineages went through throughout the Middle Age: indeed the family of Tulle disappeared of the text in 930, the Segur around the year 1000, the Gimel around 1200 and the viscounts of Aubusson around 1260.

Furthermore many viscounties knew dynastic changes: Limoges moved to the Comborn in 1148 and then to the Duck of Brittany in 1277. Turenne changed hands between 980 and 1059, and between 1304 and 1350. It’s also the case of the Ventadour in 1480, the Rochechouart en 1480 and the Comborn in 1368 and in 1500.


(Source - Didier DELHOUME et Christian REMY / Le Phénomène vicomtal en Limousin  IXème XVème siècle)




The « castrum time » takes us in the heart of the medieval Limousin which is still largely unknown. Castles are large complex buildings gathering often co-lords and theirs knights. From the top of their dungeons with buttresses, their mounds and their walls, these men-at-arms quickly built up true lineages and extended their domination on lands, men and their activities, which promoted the creation of new settlement areas.


Many of the actuals towns find their origins in a habitat built around the castle. These big castle complexes were led most of time by counts and barons such as the Aubusson, the Comborn, the Lastours.But a real network of fortified houses also appeared which were both a lock of sensitive areas and a country residence of minor knights. We also named them noble den or noble hideout.


At the end of the Middle Age the old fortified sites knew a change with the new modern castles: the knights left the lack of privacy in the medieval sites and moved in noble dens and mansions. These residences were built mainly in fields and became the lineage base.


The period from the 14th to the 15th century appeared to be a golden age of the fortified castle, witness of an unsafe feeling: the monumental landscape we still see today was created, for the main part, from the Hundred Years War and all the defensive elements remained after the Religion wars.


Christian REMY

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First symbol of a lord power, the feudal mounds from the 10th to the 12th centuries left many evidences in Limousin.

Here are few examples of feudal mounds that can still be seen today.



In order to stabilize the mounds and avoid weaknesses, builders hardened the central core by using the technic of vitrification.

In La Tour Saint-Austrille, in Chirouze, in Montbrun and Bré, the edification of a mound was preceded by a construction of a formwork full of diverse materials such as stones, metallic pieces, wood, and clay. Then they voluntarily set fire which created a compact aggregate constituting the internal armature. To envelope this vitrified core, ground and stones layers are added. In that way, the building edified on the top of the mound is less subjected to the piled up material effect.


(Source - Christian REMY / Seigneuries et Châteaux Forts en Limousin)


Symbol of the lord power and the feudal order, the dungeon is the central point of any fortified elevation. It is more than a battle place; it is first of all a protection and a defense place.


The seigneurial core is usually well individuated. Limited by a gap and a surrounding wall, it focuses the power of the building, starting with the great tower (turris or magna turris) commonly known as the dungeon, the easiest identified structure. This tower symbolizes with its high and its bulk the power of the lord’s command exerted on a territory, the castellany, and over the men who lived there. Supreme symbol of the lord’s authority, the tower could be conceded to the overlord at any injunctions he could make, such as in case of war or after the feudal tribute.


he second part of this seigneurial core usually closed to the tower is the big room (aula or sala). It is the biggest room of the lord’s residence where he could organize receptions and gathered general meeting.


Under the direct control of this seigneurial core a second one occurred, larger and planed to welcome the residences of the lord’s fellow soldiers, knights of the castrum the texts called “milite castri”. In Treignac, this aristocratic pen was called the “Basse cour” (lower courtyard). The noble hotels were more or less autonomous unities, comprising a house, outbuildings like stables or barn, and possibly a tower along the surrounding wall.


(Source - Christian REMY / Seigneuries et Châteaux Forts en Limousin)



A castrum in Limousin in the 13th century is a complex set, looking more like a fortified city. We can draw schematically few main facts.

First we distinguish the seigneurial yard including a great tower (the dungeon), a big room (for justice and public meetings), the residence of the lord and his family, and sometimes a chapel. This first yard commands another one, bigger, including the residence of the knights who participated to defend the site. Each knight had a residence often composed of a tower, a yard and outbuildings.



The knights’ residences were more often along the yard. Each part of the surrounding wall was so defended by a knight and his men. Sometimes, we could find also a chapel. These two aristocratic entities, constituting the castrum itself, dominated often a no-noble habitat: we talk about a feudal village because the creation and the development of this village had been required by the inhabitants of the castrum. This third entity is sometimes fortified and includes almost always suburbs.


The result gives a complex fortified site and very homogeneous, each residence of knight enjoying a degree of autonomy, sometimes a postern apart to access easily to the gardens and orchards located all around the fortified site. The location is often complicated with the co-seigneuries phenomena. The lord’s rights, so the great tower’s use, were shared in as much part as there are co-lords (we could be lord for ¼, 1/8 or 1/32 part!).


The example of the castle of Châlucet doesn’t except to the trend: in the 13thcentury, the Jaunhac shared the direction of the seigneury with the Bernard, the Périgord, the Montcocu. Certainly the most significant example of this reality of co-lords and the defense’s fragmentation stay the castrum of Merle (whose buildings date back from the 14th and 15th centuries but whose overall structure haven’t been modified).


Anyway, in the 13th century in Limousin, we don’t have a fortress with a perfect geometric line, regularly flanked of circular towers and equipped with arrow loops, where the lord controls entirely the defense. The limousine lords had to compose with their knights. We cannot avoid to talk about the case of Excideuil where the viscount tried to put order in the defense organization and forced the knights to rebuilt a number of houses according a façade line plan. But they didn’t succeed to rationalize the defense in Aixe and Ségur.

Castrum of the Tours de Merle



In the 11th century, the Limousin is divided into several principalities and, since the Carolingian county whose limits were confusing with the diocese ones, the fragmentation had proved to be particularly extreme. However all these entities were located in the counts of Poitiers movement. They knew, during the 10th century how to attract a lot of counts and viscounts of the center-west France under their authority of « ducks of Aquitaine ».

In addition, many of these viscounts such as the Aubusson, the Ségur, the Comborn, the Ventadour and the Rochechouart were from Limoges.


We find also during the 12th century, few occasional notes of unknown viscounts like in Gimel. They were not new creations but cadets of big viscountal families who received a part of the land in a castrum and took the titles of viscount thanks to their ancestry, but not their prerogatives. Bridiers, eponymous site of a little viscounty is the only exception. It was formally constituted during the 12th century for a cadet of the viscount of Brosse.


In addition to the big entities, there are the « princes » these big families of barons who hold many properties, partially allodial possessions. They were among the first witnesses of the viscountal families, but they didn’t have a title. We often call them « princeps of this castle »: the Lastours, the Chabanais, the Laron, the Malmort.


Also, we must not forget the prelates, with first of all the bishop who disposed of a substantial episcopal land. He ruled as a lord so he is not distinguished from the other potentates. He owned castles he entrusted to vassals knights. The origins of this episcopal land are not clearly established and we do not measure well if the bishops of Limoges created the site or just took the control of it. In any case since the 11th century the bishops have been the masters of the « Cité », the former head-place of the Limousin’s civitas, fortified since the 4th century. They controlled as well the properties constituted around St-Junien, Chateauneuf, Laurière, Razès, Nieul and Noblat. They were recognized as suzerains of the castrum of Allassac, Donzenac, Voutezac and around 1210 only of Malmort.


ther prelates owned medieval sites but not directly, they just gave them to powerful laics able to hold them who became vassals. Thus the bishop of Angoulême was recognized by the viscounts of Limoges, in the 13th century at least, in many of their fortresses of eastern Périgord like Ayen, Issandon, Ans…

Few prestigious religious institutions had also a feudal tutorship on properties more or less extended to some castles. For example, the abbey of Beaulieu had a power of suzerain on Cavagnac ; the abbey of St-Martial on the viscountal mound of Limoges, and on Pierre-Buffière, Château-Chervix and Chambon sur Vouieze ; Saint Pierre de Solignac on Margerides, Beauvais, Curemonte, Aixe, Terrasson and Larche ; Saint-Martin de Tulle on Monceaux ; the chapter of Saint-Yrieix was recognized as suzerain of the castles of Châlus, Ségur and Courbefy.


(Source - Christian REMY / Seigneuries et Châteaux Forts en Limousin)

Chateau-Chervix's castle

Castrum of the Tours de Merle


That we call today and since the 14thcentury a « castle » doesn’t correspond at all at the castrum the medieval texts named before the Hundred years War. This term nominated, indeed, a true city composed of several habitats: the residence of the lord, the hotels of the knights, and the houses of the other inhabitants. In clear, « castrum » had a larger meaning than the word « castle » today very restricted. It is only during the 13th century and especially in the 14th century that we observe the semantic shift. The castrum is reserved only to the noble habitat, which are the lord residence and the aristocratic backyard, contrary to the « bourg » called more frequently « villa » like in Donzenac in 1270.


(Source - Christian REMY / Seigneuries et Châteaux Forts en Limousin)

Yhe main principalities in the XIII centuries

(Chistian REMY)

Comborn's castle family



In Noblat, although lord of the castrum since his men honored him, the bishop was poorly the master. He had to share with three other co-lords the use of the great tower one trimester each. Moreover when he went on the site, he resided in his palace of Saint Léonard and not in the castrum while he owned a mansion there, neighbor of the « repaire des Marchés ». The same phenomenon was observed in Allassac where the bishop was one the six co-lords, but the fifth other ones, including the Comborn had to pay tribute to him. He owned an « aula » (big room) but we didn’t find a mention of a great tower except the Comborn’s one which was occasionally profitable.

The same system of seasonal management was attested in Pierre-Buffière where in 1117, under the viscount of Limoges’s authority, the tower (turris) was for six months for the Pierre-Buffière’s lineages, three months for the Jaunhac and three for the Lastours. In Merle also, in 1370, the Carbonnières, although suzerains of the site, owned jointly only one-eight part of the rights shared with the Merle and the Veyrac.


If sometimes the relations between co-lords were bad, often they reached an agreement to coordinate their rights: in Allassac, in 1317, the six co-lords named a common judge, Pierre Rigaud. In Lastours, the three co-lords clearly disjointed, got an agreement to establish a single authentication seal. And this « judge of the court of the lords of Lastours » was soon nominated as « judge and seneschal » in charge to valid the notarial deeds of the castellany and perhaps in charge of the meetings as it is noticed from 1326.

But the aim of any co-lord stays to unify all the rights in his hand. In Pierre-Buffière, the co-seigneury disappeared around 1200, and in Chälucet around 1270 with the action of Géraud de Maulmont. In Aixe, the co-lords were still attested at the end of the 13th century but the viscounts of Limoges hold the place for a century. In the castrum of Tulle, former base of the viscount « des Echelles », many families of knights shared the rights. In the third quarter of the 13th century, Pierre, abbot of the closed Saint-Martin monastery, bought the whole part by part : the toll, the tower and the room of La Motte, the tower of the Chanac and the other hostels. At the end of the century he succeeded to focus all the feudal rights on the city and the castral yard, abandoned therefore by the knights’ families.


This politic of reconcentration of the different parts is noticed also in the castrum of Noblat in the second part of the 13th century for the benefit of the bishop of Limoges who strengthened his authority on the site’s milicia and forbids the main neighbor lord family, the Châteauneuf, to raise their rights in the yards or built a tower in.


Consider the case of Montbrun. The Bruns had a major part of the castellany (attested like this in 1328) and their co-lords were allies : Aymeric of Aixe and Hélie de la brande since 1270 who transfered their rights to Aymeric of Lobestor and Raymond Extranei translated as the « foreigner ». In 1348, Gui Brun devastated the « castle » of his neighbor Jean of Lobestor composed of a aula, a tower and other buildings. Result of his trial, the Hélie of Pompadour took the part of Lobestor and it was after a wedding between the two families of Pompadour and Brun in 1388 that we had a reunification of the parts for the Bruns who then be named « Montbrun ».


(Source - Christian REMY / Seigneuries et Châteaux Forts en Limousin)

Gérald de Maulmont 's castle

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