Bourbon-l’Archambault, a thermal spa town and the cradle of the royal Bourbon Dynasty

Bourbon-l’Archambault is a renowned spa town nestled in a valley of the Bourbonnais hedged farmland in Auvergne.

Bourbon-l'Archambault thermal baths
Thermal baths

The former capital of this historical province, it is also the cradle of the dynasty of the Kings of France, the Dukes of Bourbon.

The exceptional destiny of this lineage seems to be planned since the earliest times as Bourbon derives from Borvo the Celtic god of sources.

The site, known since the Antiquity for the virtues of its thermal waters, was part of the territory of the Gallic Bituriges nation.

When did the Archambault de Bourbon appear?

Ancient texts show that in 761AD the Frankish King Pepin the Short seized and destroyed the fortress of Bourbon that commanded the borders of his Kingdom with the Duchy of Aquitaine.

Fortress of Bourbon-l'Archambault in upper town
Fortress of Bourbon-l’Archambault in upper town

However, the first mention of the Bourbon family dates from 913 when King Charles the Simple rewarded the knight Aymar with lands in Berry, Auvergne and the region of Authun.

Aymar and his direct descendants steadily climbed their way to power.

They made judicious alliances with the clergy and the royal family to build an influential feudal principality.

Thus in 915 Aymar bequeathed the land of Souligny to the powerful Abbey of Cluny.

His son Aymar II, the first lord of Bourbon, and his grandson Archambaud I the Frank followed in his steps and bequeathed more estates to the monks in exchange for their support.

The Bourbons were then the most powerful lords of the region.

The Bourbons royal lineage

However, their influence of the House of Bourbon reached new heights in 1196. They merged with the House of Burgundy when the daughter of Archambault VIII, Mahaut de Bourbon, married Guy II of Dampierre.

Fortress of Bourbon-l'Archambault
Inside the ruined fortress

In 1272, Mahaut et Guy’s daughter Beatrix married Robert de Clermont, one of the sons of the King of France Louis IX.

As a result, the Archambault de Bourbon became by alliance a younger branch of the House of France and added the Fleur de Lys to their coat of arms.

This dynasty, which acceded to the throne of France in 1589 when Henry IV became king, is still associated with several ruling branches of Europe!

The fortress of the Dukes of Bourbon

The seigniory of Bourbon was elevated to the rank of Duchy in 1327.

Louis I of Bourbon, the son of Beatrix and Robert was the first Duke of Bourbon. He replaced the old wooden fortress with a stone fortress reinforced by 15 towers; this castle perched on a barred spur was ‘impregnable’.

Fortress of Bourbon-l'Archambault in upper town
Fortress of Bourbon-l’Archambault in upper town

Louis II of Bourbon strengthened it during the Hundred Years War and built the famous tower “Qui qu’en grogne” which still dominates the city.

Legend has it that the duke told the bourgeois of the city, who were worried for their safety, that he’ll strengthen the south fortifications “despite who grouted!”

Louis II reigned over the Duchy of Bourbon from 1356 to 1410, but moved to Moulins, which he made the new capital of Bourbonnais.

The Archambault thus desert their old capital of Bourbon, but they left it their name.

Duchy of Bourbonnais, annexed to the kingdom of France

The duchy of Bourbonnais was attached to the Crown of France in 1531, at the term of rivalries that opposed different branches of the dynasty.

The fortress of Bourbon-l’Archambault was abandoned. It served to accommodate the canons of the two chapels the Dukes of Bourbon built over the centuries.

Fortress of Bourbon-l'Archambault
Fortress of Bourbon-l’Archambault

The duchy was recreated in 1661 for the Condé, a junior branch of the House of Bourbon. However, the castle only served to accommodate the lords who attended spa treatments.

It was seized at the French Revolution and mostly dismantled as it serves as stone quarry.

The Bourbon-Condé recovered their estate under the Bourbon Restoration.

Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale and last Prince of Condé inherited the castle. At his death, the fortress went to the House of Orléans, however, in joint ownership between all his heirs!

Henri, Count of Paris, inherited most of the Bourbon estate and created the Saint-Louis Foundation in 1974 to protect the heritage of his historical lineage.

A poet saved the Bourbons’ Fortress

Sadly, the old fortress was mostly in ruins in 1832 when the local poet and writer Achille Allier saved it from further degradation.

Fortress of Bourbon-l'Archambault in upper town
Fortress of Bourbon-l’Archambault in upper town

Allier managed to have the castle classified as a Historical Monument and restored.

However, all that was left then were 3 towers on the northern fortifications – La Tour des Arts Chevaleresques, La Tour du Savoir et La Tour des Arts Courtois.

The 4th tower, the famous Tour Qui Qu’en Grogne, embellished with an elegant pinnacle in the 18th century, was classified as a historical monument in 196.

You can visit the castle of Bourbon l’Archambault as it’s open to the public.

Bourbon-l’Archambault thermal baths

The Celts and the Romans knew the therapeutic virtues of the source of Bourbon that treats rheumatic diseases and even gynecological ailments.

Bourbon-l'Archambault - hotel in town
Hotel in town

These thermal baths dedicated to the Celtic God Borvo were in use for centuries.

The physicists attached to the service of the French kings sent their illustrious patients to Bourbon l’Archambault. Among them were Madame de Montespan, the favourite of Louis XIV, but also Prince Maurice de Talleyrand who went there from 1801 to 1832 to cure his osteoarthritis.

These two prestigious guests have left their name to the  Grand Hotel Montespan-Talleyrand*, which is today connected to the thermal baths by a covered walkway.

The current baths** were built in 1880 and renovated in the 2000’s. They boast a lavish decoration: wooden boxed-ceiling, monumental staircase, bird of paradise murals …

Water springs at a temperature of 55°C and flows at a constant rate of 1,200 cubic meters per day.

Other building of interest in Bourbon-l’Archambault?

The Eglise Saint-Georges is a Romanesque-Burgudian style church built in the late 12th century on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to the god Apollo.

Pinnacle of Tour Qui Qu'en Grogne in Bourbon-l'Archambault
Pinnacle of Tour Qui Qu’en Grogne

The modest abbey chapel was initially placed under the patronage of St Crepin.

It was enlarged 3 centuries later and dedicated to St. Georges; a wooden figure of St. Georges slaying a dragon replaces the original stone tympanum.

It became parish church in the 17th century and was considerably enlarged and transformed in the 19th century.

Department of Allier – Auvergne region
Coordinates: Lat 46.588524 – Long 3.058613

Credits: Papou Poustache @cpauvergne – * – **

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