Bonaguil

Six years on, with the coming of war, the Edwardian world of Lawrence would start to dissolve. In post-war years, when life was difficult for him, he would doubtless have sometimes thought back to those youthful days of travel in rural France and the Near East. Of all the châteaux forts visited, that of Bonaguil is likely to have had a special place in his memories.

Standing with its cluster of seven towers upon an outcrop of solid rock, it certainly has dramatic presence (Fig. 20). Fortunately it survived the levelling and wanton destruction during the French Revolution and periods of stone-robbing. The powerful lord responsible for the greater part of the structure that we see today was Baron Bérenger de Roquefeuil (1448 – 1530).39 He came to live at Bonaguil in the 1490s and spent the rest of his long life in developing the fortress from its earlier thirteenth century foundations. Lawrence, well aware that the castle belonged to a much later period than that of his prime interest, delighted in wandering through its chambers and passages and, in a letter home to his mother, wrote ‘It is so perfect that it is almost ridiculous to call it a ruin: all the vaults, stairways and some of the roofs are perfect.’.

Fig. 20 – Castle of Bonaguil, Aquitaine

Gunpowder had been available in Europe for more than a hundred years and Bérenger accordingly provided his walls and towers with numerous horizontal loopholes through which the defenders could fire small arms such as arquebuses. On reflection, one realizes that Bérenger was out of joint with his times and that Bonaguil is more of a stately home, with reminders of past glories, than a truly up-to-date fortress. There was an underlying emphasis on comfort, worthy of the châteaux on the river Loire, and it had windows, many great fireplaces to warm everyone and relatively hygienic latrines. However, politically, the days of local warlords were past and it was advisable for nobles such as Bérenger to attend the King’s court at Paris from time to time. The realisation that Bonaguil is an anachronism is strengthened when one looks at Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut ‘Siege of a Fortified Town’.40 Dated 1527, just three years before Bérenger’s death, it shows a fascinating panorama of Renaissance conflict, with phalanxes of infantry, bristling with pikes, and massed cannon belching smoke. The principal feature of the town’s defences is a great convex bastion overlooking a vast semicircular ward. Clearly, the design of Bonaguil, with its emphasis on vulnerable towers, belonged to the past. Significantly, Bonaguil is regarded as the last of the great fortified castles in France: it was never besieged.

  1. Antoine Rego and Michel Renaud, The Castle of Bonaguil(47150 Gavaudun: Les éditions Fragile, 1994). []
  2. Catalogue of the Quincentennial Exhibition, Albrecht Dürer: 1471-1971, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, 1971, Die Belagerung einer Befestigten Stadt, Kat. Nr. 658 (Prestel Verlag, München) ISBN 37913 00040. []