Chateau of Chavaniac Lafayette
The Chateau de Chavaniac Lafayette is about 100kms southeast of Clermont-Ferrand in Auvergne.
This is where Gilbert Motier, Marquis de La Fayette was born on September 6, 1757, spent a happy childhood and in 1774 married Adrienne de Noailles.
He fled France in 1792, at the fall of the monarchy, when the revolutionary radical factions ordered his arrest after he voted against the death of Louis XVI.
His castle was declared national property, however, remained in the family until 1917 as his aunt acquired it in 1793.
An American industrialist of French origin, John Moffat, purchased it on behalf of the ‘Friends of Lafayette’ association.
The association restored the castle and transformed it into a memorial-museum to display Lafayette’s historical collections gathered in France and America.
The association managed the castle-museum at the death of Moffat in 1966.
The Haute-Loire General Council acquired it in 2009 and has since been in charge of the administration.
Chateau de Chavaniac Lafayette, a historical monument
A wealthy family from the nearby town of Langeac, the Suat, built the Manoir de Chavaniac in the 14th century.
The current Chateau de Chavaniac Lafayette was built in 1701 on the site of this fortified manor house, destroyed by a fire a few years earlier.
It passed to the Lafayette family in 1708 when Marie Catherine Suat de Chavaniac married Edouard Motier.
Gilbert Motier modernized his castle and landscaped the park in 1790.
However, the major changes date back to the 1920s.
The Friends of Lafayette association undertook major modernization and restoration work under the supervision of the architect of the Historic Monuments of Haute-Loire.
The outside work included a new roof, the reconstruction of one of the two round towers that frame the main facade; it also included the reconstruction and raising of the south wing and the square tower…
Electricity, running water, central heating, telephone and modern facilities were installed in the castle.
Finally, a landscape architect designed a rose garden and an English garden; he also planted the various plant and tree species that earned the park the label “Jardin remarquable”.
The Chateau de Chavaniac Lafayette was granted the label “House of Illustrious” and both the building and its interior were classified Historical Monuments in 1989.
The decoration and collections are exceptional; however, the bedroom where Lafayette was born on the 1st floor, and the Grand Salon on the 4th floor, are the star pieces.
Lafayette’s key role during the American War of Independence
The French and American flags permanently fly on the Chateau de Chavaniac Lafayette to honour the key role Lafayette played during the American War of Independence.
On July 4, 1776, the American colonies rebelled against British rule and made the United States Declaration of Independence.
A year later, Lafayette decided to get involved in their rebellion.
Louis XVI was not keen on provoking the British empire, however, hoped to restore French influence and presence in North America and take revenge after the Seven Years War.
Lafayette eventually convinced the French king to deploy military assistance to the young United States of America.
40,000 soldiers were therefore sent as reinforcements and a fleet of 200 ships, among which La Victoire, commanded by Lafayette, stopped the British fleet at Yorktown.
However, the British didn’t capitulate until 1781, five years after the proclamation of the official Declaration of American Independence.
Lafayette, hero of the French Revolution
This gigantic military aid, however, had tragic repercussions for Louis XVI.
The taxes the French king raised to subsidize this expedition were obviously very unpopular, at a time when the kingdom of France was broke and people starved; this accelerated the fall of the monarchy and the start of the French Revolution.
Lafayette, however, retained his popularity among the revolutionaries thanks to his humanistic and liberal views.
Indeed, with the help of Thomas Jefferson, he penned a draft of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
On July 11, 1789 he presented it to the revolutionary Assembly, which adopted it on August 27.
This major document, largely inspired from the ideals of the American Revolution, is still part of France’s current constitution.
However, Lafayette’s troubles started when he voted against the death of Louis XVI; he was indeed in favour of the establishment of a modern monarchy instead of a revolution.
He fled to the Austrian Netherlands where the Austrians captured him and imprisoned him for five years.
They indeed considered him a traitor for not preventing the execution of Queen Marie-Antoinette (who was Austrian.)
Napoleon-Bonaparte negotiated his liberation and he returned to France in 1797, but stood aside from public life during the Empire.
He entered the House of Deputies in 1815.
He died on May 20, 1834 and was buried beside his wife, in the cemetery of Picpus in Paris.
According to his wish, soil he collected on the site of the Battle Bunker Hill (one of the prominent battles of the American War of Independence) during his last trip to America, 10 years earlier, was sprinkled on his grave.
Lafayette, American Honorary Citizen and Hero of the Two Worlds
Named General by George Washington, Lafayette remains forever one of the heroes of the American Independence War.
As a tribute, some 600 places, 42 American cities and the square that faces the White House in Washington, were named after him.
Lafayette is also known as ‘The Hero of the Two Worlds’, as his humanist and liberal views earned him unlimited tributes and honours in France.
Department of Haute-Loire – Auvergne region
Coordinates: Lat 45.15861 – Long 3.58056