Chateau de Billy – Fortress in Bourbonnais
Chateau de Billy - Property of the House of Archambaud
Le Chateau de Billy is a medieval fortress located about 15kms north of the city of Vichy.
The origins of castle are uncertain, however, historians reckon that it was built in the 12th century.
The Archambaud Family bought it from Hughes Colombi in order to extend their Duchy of Bourbon (Bourbonnais).
This newly acquired fortress indeed reinforced their position in the territorial struggle that opposed them to the Counts of Auvergne.
They fortified the village and turned Billy into an impressive stronghold.
Billy indeed enjoyed a prime strategic position, as it stood at the boundary with the County of Auvergne, which extended over part of the current department of Allier.
The Archambaud made the Chateau de Billy the seat of their judicial administration.
This allowed them to extend their influence and authority over 60 villages and 3 manors in the region.
Billy therefore became one of the 17 châtellenies (lordships) of Bourbonnais.
It thrived from the 14th century until the Wars of Religion of the 16th century.
The Protestant troops of the Prince Condé indeed seized the Chateau de Billy after a disastrous siege that severely damaged the defense system.
They then occupied the castle and its village for several months.
As a result, Billy lost its judicial and defense purpose, and eventually lost his authority over the region!
The Protestant Henri IV, once King of France, sold the fortress in order to replenish the Kingdom's coffers, which had been drained by the expensive Wars of Religion.
As a result, the Chateau de Billy changed hands several times over the next three centuries.
It was even converted into a jail until the French Revolution.
The castle and its outbuildings steadily fell into advance state of disrepair, mainly because of the lack of interest on the part of its successive owners.
By the 19th century it was a complete ruin!
Fortunately, it was listed Historical Monument on May 17, 1921 (despite its state of ruin!)
The perimeter wall was listed on December 9, 1929.
Best of all, the commune of Billy bought the Chateau de Billy on August 28, 1963 in order to restore it to its past glory.
And they have!
Chateau de Billy, a perfect example of military architecture
The imposing medieval fortress is located in the centre of the village.
It has retained several sections of ramparts, towers and gates that protected its large ovoid enclosure.
It is perched on top of a hill that rises some 50m above ground level and boasts prime views over the Allier Valley.
The castle and its inner courtyard are protected by a first rampart.
The outer courtyard of the castle is enclosed within a second perimeter wall.
The village unfolds below the fortress, all around the hill.
Both enclosures are ovoid in order to follow the gradient and contour of the hill.
First curtain wall
The castle inner courtyard is about 50m long by 40m wide.
The fortress has retained six massive semi circular towers; the most imposing is the main gatehouse - Le Châtelet.
The fortress also boasts an amazing hexagonal watchtower, La Guette, which overlooks the medieval village and lanes that wind around the castle walls.
The fortress' walls bear the marks of long gone ancillary residential buildings.
These collapsed over the centuries and their stones were probably reused in order to built new village houses.
The southern walkway offers spectacular views that stretch from the Valley of the Allier to the Monts d'Auvergne (mountain range).
Second curtain wall
The second enclosure is approximately 120m long by 100m wide.
Seven semi-circular towers can still be seen on this rampart.
They are interconnected by sections of walls that have different shapes in order to adjust to the steep terrain.
Some sections are therefore straight, others curved or even jerky in places!
Billy has undergone various works in the 14th century in order to strengthen its defense system.
These included the reinforcement of the Châtelet gatehouse, the construction of a watchtower and the heightening of the main tower.
Billy is therefore a perfect illustration of medieval military architecture.
N.B. The Chateau de Billy is open to the public only from April to October.
Department of Allier
Coordinates: Lat 46.236492 - Long 3.428400
Credits: Photos and source text by Jean Piludu - Translated and edited by and for TravelFranceOnline - Wikimedia Commons: header