and Museum of the Order of Malta
History of the Château
The oldest mention of this edifice appears in the archives under the Noble House of de La Roche when it was given as a wedding present in 1410 by Miss de La Roche to her husband, Nicolas Gillier, who was from a local family and in the court of Charles VII of France.
The Appelvoisin family acquired the property at the end of the XVth century and from 1490 to 1535 carried out some major alterations and improvements which are visible to this day. The facade to the left of the front door was embellished with flamboyant gothic sculptures, whilst to the right it was decorated in the Renaissance style. Three towers were added, along with a chapel in around 1530.
The Chapel dates from 1535 and shows it’s original flamboyant Gothic style portal which design is characteristic of the Poitou region.The stain glass windows were awarded at the universal exhibition of 1867 in Paris. They are signed by Marechal de Metz, painter and master glassmaker leader of « l’École de Metz ».
When the Appelvoisin family became extinct, the château went to Claude de Villequier. On the death of his son, George de Villequier, who was Commandant des Armées de la Ligue en Poitou and who drowned himself trying to escape the Royal Troops, it was inherited by Mr. de Rilhac. He made it a condition of acceptance that it was proved to be debt free and this entailed carrying out a full inventory of the chateau in 1603. This inventory is still in existence and provides interesting clues as to the layout of, and contents within, the chateau at that time.
The château and land was then acquired in 1608 by Judge Pierre de Brillac, who became mayor of Poitiers in 1614. He carried out improvements to the rear façade by introducing windows in about 1610.
The construction of the barns and stables in front of the château (part of which is now used as the site for the Museum of the Order of the Knights of Malta) were built by his son Pierre II who acquired the Barony of Gençay in 1650. He had this Barony elevated by Louis XIV, King of France, to a Viscountcy in 1656. On the death of Pierre II the property and Viscountcy were inherited by Claude Brilhac, Commander in the Royal Army and also Knight of the Order of Malta.
It is believed that the parkland and woodland which surround the château were laid out by André Le Nôtre (1613-1700), architect and landscaper of the park and gardens in Versailles. In 1675 he was asked by the Royal architect, Mansart, to design the gardens for the Château de Sommières which was to become the summer residence of Madame de Montespan, favorite of King Louis XIV in 1675. This château is 10 kms from Gençay and he would have had to pass by Château de La Roche to get to it.
In the middle of the XVIIIth century Château de La Roche was acquired by the Marqes de Créqui who did the interior decoration which is still largely in evidence to this day. On his death, the château passed to his son-in-law, the Earl de Milon and last Viscount of Gençay. During the Revolution, he emigrated to Hamburg and the château was requisitioned by the State.
In 1795 the château was acquired for the benefit of the Earl de Milon with the help of the local solicitor who had kept in touch with him throughout the Revolution.
In 1799 the château was bought by two sisters called Révigliasc de Veynes who originated from the Piedmont region of Italy; one of them married the Viscount de Buzancy-Pavant; the other one married the Marques de Vareilles-Sommières.
The Earl de Briey who was great nephew of the sisters received the château as a wedding gift when he married Miss de La Fare in 1853.
From 1860 to 1870 the Earl and Countess de Briey carried out some restoration which included retailing the roof, building the fourth tower and modifying the parkland in the English taste of the time. They restored the chapel and installed the stained glass windows which came from the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867. The windows were nominated for a prize and offered to them by the Bishop of Saint-Dié, brother of the Earl.
Since that time the château has remained in the same family. His grandson was Bailli of the Order of the Knights of Malta and an erudite historian and collector.
His son became also Bailli of the Order of the Knights of Malta, and started the Museum of the Order of Malta. The exhibits there today represent many artifacts collected by his father.
Since 1972 much work has been carried out to reinstate the original character of the château which has been altered in the XIXth century. This included alterations to the façade of three of the four towers and removal of the bell tower above the clock. The château, chapel and surrounding barns and stables are now all listed buildings.
The present owners are dedicated to continue the process of restoration whilst preserving the variety of architectural styles which have been applied to the château since the end of the XVth century by Gillier, Appelvoisin, Brillac, Créqui, Milon, Vareilles- Sommières & Briey-La Fare.