Last modified: 2012-10-13 by ivan sache
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Flags hoisted over (left) and at the entrance (right) of the Castle of Montaner - Images by Ivan Sache, 3 November 2009
The municipality of Montaner (459 inhabitants in 2006; 1,913 ha) is located 25 km east of Pau, on the eastern border of Béarn.
Montaner is named for a lord Aner who built in the 8th century a castellum on a hill dominating the valley of Adour. When the Carolingian Empire vanished in the late 10th century, the Duchy of Aquitaine split into a mosaic of feudal states; the tiny Viscounty of Montanérès emerged as a strategic march surrounded by the more powerful states of Béarn, Bigorre and Armagnac. Probably founded by a younger member of the house of Bigorre, Montanérès was crowded with small fortresses built on hills.
The power of the lords of Montaner peaked in the middle of the 11th
century; a Gregor of Montaner was from 1039 to 1072 Abbot of Saint-
Sever, then the most powerful abbey in the region. In the meantime,
the rulers of Béarn and Bigorre both attempted to incorporate
Montanérès to their domain.
Viscount of Béarn Centule V (1058-1090), also Count of Bigorre as Centule I (1077-1090) after his marriage with Countess Beatrix of Bigorre, married around 1085 his son Gaston with Talesa of Aragon (d. after 1136), the heir of Montanérès. When Gaston succeeded his father as Viscount Gaston IV of Béarn (1090-1131), Montanérès was incorporated to Béarn while Bigorre split. The few villages that had remained under the control of Bigorre when Montanérès emerged formed enclaves inside Béarn; this odd situation was not changed when the Constituant Assembly set up the departments in 1790.
Today, there are still two enclaves of the Department of Hautes-Pyrénées (and Region Midi-Pyrénées) inside the Department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques (and Region Aquitaine), made of the municipalities of Gard&zgrave;res and Luquet (southern enclave) and Escaunets, Serun and Villeneuve-près-Béarn (northern encalve). All attempts to regularize the situation have been rejected by the "enclaved" municipalities.
After its incorporation to Béarn, Montanérès kept its strategical importance, protecting Béarn against Bigorre and Armagnac. In 1250, the last Countess of Bigorre wrote her testament in Montaner, which started a succession war between Béarn and Armagnac. Viscount of Béarn Gaston VII (1229-1290) moved its capital from Morlâas to Orthez, farther away from the border, and granted a chart to Montaner on 16 March 1281; the villagers were bound to manage the ditches of the village and the castle. In his testament, Gaston VII listed Montaner among the inalienable fortresses of Béarn.
In 1252, Gaston VII married his daughter Marguerite to Roger Bernard III, Count of Foix, the union o fBéarn and Foix being proclaimed indissoluble. The County of Armagnac remained the only obstacle to the territorial continuity between Béarn and Foix.
On 1 January 1344, the young Gaston III of Foix-Béarn (1331-1391;
Viscount in 1343, later known as Gaston Febus) toak the oath in
Montaner. Decades later, he understood the significance of Montaner
for his two main goals: protecting his state from both the French and
English parties involved in the Hundred Years' War and, mostly,
consolidating his state by incorporating Bigorre, still owned by the
Counts of Armagnac he had defeated, at least for a while.
The building of the fortress of Montaner lasted from 1370 to 1380, after plans designed by the architect Sicard de Lordat. Even before its achievement, the fortress proved to be successful. From 1378 to 1380, all the main towns and fortresses of Bigorre, nominally allocated to England by the Treaty of Brétigny (1360), recognized the "protection" of Montaner. The counter-attacks launched by the Counts of Armagnac all failed.
On 12 September 1393, Matthew, Febus' successor, was the last Viscount of Foix-Béarn to take the oath at Montaner, whose decline started.
In 1425, the King of France officially recognized the Viscount of
Béarn as Count of Bigorre. At the end of the 15th century, the lords
of Foix-Béarn-Bigorre became Kings of Navarre and were crowned at
Pamplona. Eventually appointed Counts of Armagnac, the Foix-Béarn-
Bigorre ruled all the south-west of France. Montaner, far from the
borders and military obsolete, was superseded by the new fortress of
Navarrenx, built by Italian engineers to resist artillery sieges.
Montaner reemerged as a significant fortress during the Wars of Religion. Viscountess Joan of Albret converted to Calvinism but could not impose her religion to Bigorre, nominally part of the Catholic Kingdom of France. The valley of Adour was even a possible way of invasion of her state by the royal troops. Revamped in 1564-1569, the fortress of Montaner was not involved in the religious troubles that scoured Béarn at the time. The fortress did not help either Viscount Henry III of Navarre to conquer the throne of France, as Henry IV; the king abandoned Montaner for the much more comfortable castle of Pau.
In 1620, King Louis XIII decided to incorporate Béarn to the Kingdom of France and to restore the Catholic religion. A few Calvinist lords attempted to resist in 1621, entranchiong themselves in obsolete fortresses, such as Montaner. The Duke of Épernon, Governor of Guyenne, assaulted the castle and burned the village to ashes.
In 1641, the Parliament of Navarre forbid the suppression of the
fortress, of which only the donjon should have been kept. Duplessy
purchased the castle in 1803 but was prevented to use it as a quarry
by the inhabitants of Montaner. After a long trial, the donjon was
registered as an historical monument in 1840 while the General Council
of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques purchased the ruins in 1854.
Founded in 1968, the Pierres et Vestiges association started to restore the ruins and obtained the registration of the whole site as an historical monument. The complete restoration of the fortress was funded by the General Council.
After P. Tucoo-Chala, Le château de Montaner (1984), quoted on the Les Amis du Château de Montaner website
Ivan Sache, 3 November 2009
The donjon of the fortress of Montaner, based on a square of 13.70 m
in side and of 40 m in height, is surmounted by a flag horizontally
divided red-yellow, the colours of Foix-Béarn.
The arms of Foix-Béarn, quartered Foix and Béarn, appear over the gate of the donjon. The reconstituted bridge heading to the gate is flanked by banners of the arms of Béarn and of Foix-Béarn.
Ivan Sache, 3 November 2009