Anyone who visits Uzès, France, is in awe of the Château de Duché. It’s the town’s centerpiece and home to the Duke of Uzès, France’s oldest ducal peerage.
The Duke of Uzès would rank just below “princes of the blood if France was still a kingdom.” He would announce “Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi!“ at each state funeral and defend the honor of the queen mother.”
The Château de Duché was built in the 12th Century by Lord Bermonde of the House of Crussol. Along with the château, three distinctive towers were erected within the wall of the medieval town. The most prominent tower of all carries his name — Bermonde Tower. All of the structures are standing today. The wall has disappeared, and the wall’s watchtower is in ruins.
Visit the Château de Duchè
The gothic chapel, a striking feature of the château’s courtyard with its glittering red tiled roof, was added in the 15th Century. During the 16th Century, the cháteau underwent extensive renovations. Duke Antoine — the first peer of France, ordained by Charles IX — ordered refurbishments that morphed the medieval castle into an elegant Renaissance cháteau. The courtyard became the main attraction.
The château served as a defense unit during the War of Religion and the Revolution. It was never attacked or destroyed. As the town went through various phases of wealth and decline, the château was used as a school dormitory, workshops, and classrooms. During WWII, the buildings were occupied by the Germans. Jacques de Crussol, the current resident of the Château de Duché and 17th Duke of Uzès, has this to say about the state of Uzès during the era of his grandfather (1943-1999).
“Uzès was then steadily declining. The population of eight thousand at the time of Louis XIV had dropped to three and a half thousand. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes had already prompted some of the inhabitants to leave. Since the Revolution, the town had lost the bishopric and its tenure, the silk industry was practically non-existent, the Piémont régiment had gone, and so had the sub-prefecture. The arcades surrounding the Place aux Herbes rested on makeshift supports and many houses were in a state of neglect.”
It was the Duke’s grandmother, Anne de Rochechouart de Mortemart, who lobbied the Minister of Culture under Charles de Gaulle to list Uzès as a protected site, enabling the chatéau and the town to find funding for the much-needed restorations. Due to the efforts of the Duchess of Uzès, a law is now in place in France that similarly benefits other cultural and historical sites throughout the country. The gutsy grandmother was the first woman in France to be granted a driver’s license. She was instrumental in campaigning for women’s rights, including voting rights.
Tour of the Château de Duché
I’ve spent day after day staring at the Duché from my apartment windows, and I’ve taken hundreds of photos from every angle. Finally, I found the perfect opportunity to visit inside — along with hundreds of other sightseers — during the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine or European Heritage Days.
Come along, and let’s take a tour.