It was the seat of the powerful family of the Barons de Castelnau for a very long time.
The Château of Castelnau Bretenoux is a fine example of a medieval castle with all of the defensive facilities needed to withstand a siege : ramparts, defensive towers, keep, moat, etc.
In addition, because of a natural fault it stands on a spur on the edge of a rocky plateau which allowed it to have control of the surrounding valleys where no less than four rivers flow : Bave, Céré, Dordogne and Mamoul. When you arrive in front of the castle, the lower outside wall is 250m long with 6 semi-circular towers and 3 spur bastions. The only entrance is on the south-side via a ramp. It comprises a double cart door with machicolations above. In the past a portcullis and murder hole completed this defensive installation.
The architectural development of the Castle of Castelnau-Bretenoux over the centuries
To give an outline, the castle is surrounded by a triangular outer wall, each side about 80m long, reinforced with a fausse-braye. The north-east corner has an imposing 14 metre-diameter tower known as the Artillery Tower. The north-west corner has a smaller round tower. The south corner has 3 towers including the 13th century keep which is 30 metres high.
The initial constructions took place during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, to the specifications of the Barons de Castenau, Jean II Chamberlain to Louis XI, then Jacques who served Louis XII during the Italian Wars. The castle acquired its definitive layout with the addition of three residential buildings topped with towers, completed by a powerful artillery tower, all protected by a lower outer wall and ditches. A third wall surrounded the whole of the village - a fortified gate and a few parts of the wall remain.
The building attached to the 14th century residential tower contains the castle chapel on the ground floor, opening onto an interior courtyard through a large Gothic doorway. The chapel consists of two bays of cross-ribbed vaults and was originally entirely painted with scenes from the Passion and the Resurrection, of which very little remains. Most of its wood-panelling and Gothic furniture have been preserved, notably the splendid polychrome altar panel. The fortified entrance building (chatelet) dates from the same period and above the archway is a hall with fine cross-ribbed vaulting descending onto elegant capitals decorated with leaf designs.
The east and north residential buildings, which were added in the 15th century, close the interior courtyard and give the ensemble its triangular layout.
At the end of the 16th century as techniques progressed, casemates equipped with firing stations and square « French-style » embrasures for cannon reinforced the lining of the towers and curtain walls, making any approach to the castle very difficult.
The Clermont-Lodève family, Alexander in particular, carried out major work in the 17th century to transform the austere castle into a luxury residence, endowed with large openings, a large balcony overlooking the valley and a grand arcaded portico where parties were held to which the poet François de Maynard and Capitouls (ruling magistrates) of Toulouse were regularly invited. However, their descendants lost interest in Castelnau, prefering their Parisian mansion and their Château de Clermont (Clermont l'Hérault today), although their tenants in Quercy continued to provide them with baskets of truffles as stipulated in tenancy agreements dating from as late as 1782.