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A Brief and Informal History of the Château de Missery

The Château de Missery is an authentic 18th century moated Louis XV château with 14th century medieval towers, set in quiet hilly Burgundian countryside, some 40 miles west of Dijon. The story begins as far back as antiquity, meanders through the Romans times, and takes shape as we know it in the 1760s, modelled by
a French Burgundian, brought back to life by Texans, and then loved and taken care of by Francophile Brits and their friends and family for the past 45 years.

The beginnings of Missery (pronounced "Miss-ree")

The earliest recorded mention of the domaine of Missery is to be found in the history of the Collegiale Abbaye of
Saint Andoche at Saulieu, when in 721 it was given in dom Lanebit by one Waré to that Abbaye.

This is very old indeed, more than two centuries before the foundation of the Capetian Monarchy, but so early a date suggests the possibility of an even remoter antiquity and one may be permitted to imagine that there may have been some building of Roman construction in the approximate vicinity of the present Château. A major Roman road followed the path of what is now route D980 between Précy-sous-Thil and Alésia, and it is known that there were Roman settlements
(i.e. Nan-sous-Thil) in the area.

From the Abbaye of Saint Andoche, Missery passed into the hands of the Bishops of Autun, one of the most powerful ecclesiastical fiefs of the Middle Ages.  Missery would have been only one of many of their extensive holdings.  In 1209 it was given by Gaultier, Bishop of Autun to the Counts of Nevers from whom it passed to the Seigneurs of Charny.  One may see at Charny today (it is on a hill not far from Saint Thibault), the vast and magnificent ruins of what was once the Châteaufort or stronghold of the Lords of Charny.

When was it destroyed?  What is its history?  Silence shrouds the answers, but it was clearly an edifice of power and importance and Missery would have been but a dependency in its shadow. In 1340 or thereabouts, Charlotte de Charny, daughter of Geoffroy de Charny, who was killed in 1356 at the side of the King in the battle of Poitiers, married
Bertrand de Chazan and the Seigneurie passed into their hands, probably as some sort of dot or marriage settlement.

In any case, by 1340 it was a seigneurie of consequence in its neighborhood and was a fief of the Barony of Mauvilly to whom the Seigneurs of Missery, Chazan and Saiseray owed an annual act of faith and hommage.  This matter of fealty, along with the concept of seigneuries, etc. was an outcome or evolution of Roman administration and was central to the whole fabric of the feudal world.  Reduced to its very simplest terms (and it is a very complex subject) the King would give some large territorial grant to an official, often a relative, to run. 
In the instance of a royal relative, the territory would often be a "Ducatus" or Duchy and the official who administered it, a Duke. 
The Duke would in his turn apportion his territory to various lesser administrators who would themselves be bound in fealty to the Duke. The lesser administrators would then grant some of their territory to still lesser officials, who in their turn would be bound by the act
of faith and hommage. 
And so forth down the line to the humble habitants of the remote seigneuries who owed tribute and service to
their local lord.  Their Seigneur, in exchange, gave them protection, along with that of their livestock, against marauding seigneurs. 
The châteauforts (fortified castles) of that day were grim bastions, build to withstand siege and to launch attack.  For it goes without saying that the principles of fealty were one thing, and their application quite another.  Open banditry, marauding missions and warfare characterized seigneurial life in the early Middle Ages.

An Aside : The European Feudal System and Burgundy (1354 - 1477)

In parentheses and by way of digression, it might be pointed out that the Duchy of Burgundy, in whose larger history the smaller
history of Missery is so closely interbound, is a perfect example of one of the royal fiefs above mentioned.  It was granted in 1354 by the King of France, Jean le Bon, to his younger son Philippe. By intelligence, force and guile, and above all by his marriage to the daughter
and only child of the Count of Flanders, the richest heiress in Europe, the first Valois Duke of Burgundy, Philippe le Hardi, built his
Duchy into a wealthy and powerful state.

Under his son, the famous Jean sans Peur, the original Duchy of Burgundy broke far beyond the confines of what today constitutes Burgundy, including : Flanders, which, with its own extensions and fiefs, covered much of what is present day Holland and the Netherlands; much of modern Switzerland; and large chunks of the Eastern border of France and Germany. All fell into the possession of the Dukes of Burgundy.  The vast revenues from the Flemish weaving industry, the banks in Bruges and Ghent and the ports at Antwerp and Bruges made the Duchy of Burgundy the richest state in Europe.

In Dijon, the court of the Dukes of Burgundy was of a splendor and luxury that dazzled the then civilized world and won them the title “Grand Dukes of the West”.  It goes without saying that by the second and third generation, their fealty to
the French Crown was barely symbolic. By the reign of the third Duke of Burgundy, Philippe le Bon, the King of France had become an open and jealous enemy.  

It was the ambition of the fourth and last Duke of Burgundy, Charles le Téméraire, to turn the Duchy of Burgundy into
a Kingdom,
 and he and his descendants, into Kings. Had he succeeded in this ambition and had he produced male heirs, the map and history of
Europe would have been very different, for the Burgundian state would have been an important buffer between France and the German states and would have totally altered the balance of power in Europe.

As it was, Charles le Téméraire was killed in battle by French troops in 1477.  His only child was a daughter, Mary of Burgundy.  Her vast possessions were dismembered. (If only they weren't so patriarchal!). Flanders and the Netherlands passed to the Hapsburgs through her husband, Maximilien of Hapsburg, and, after much rebellion and strife, Burgundy reverted to the French Crown, ceasing even to be a fief.

Back to the Château de Missery (1400-1753)

During the early 1400s, while these more eventful things were going on in Dijon and Bruges, the Seigneurie of Missery passed through a number of hands.  In 1448, it was acquired by one Jacquline d’Amboise, widow of the Duc de la Tremouille, Grand Chamberlain of the Duke of Burgundy.  She bought it with the intention of endowing a charitable hospital with one third of its annual revenues. This “hospital” was characteristic of many others of its day, the most celebrated being the Hospice de Beaune, which was founded by Nicolas Rolin and still raises charitable funds from a famous wine auction every year.

Jacqueline d’Amboise's hospital was called the Hôpital de Dracy Saint Loup. It was to be the source of annoyance and litigation to many subsequent Seigneurs of Missery, bound to honor the obligation incurred by Jacqueline d’Amboise to
the foundation at Dracy Saint Loup, even after the hospital was closed in 1590 and moved to Autun.  The claim of the Bishops of Autun on a portion of the annual income of
the Seigneurie of Missery only ended with the French Revolution, over three hundred years after the foundation of the hospital. For those familiar with French history, the image of the Bishop of Autun, of early Revolutionary fame, enjoying some of the revenues of Missery can only be amusing.
One wonders if Talleyrand ever saw its name in his account books.

The remnant of the hospital of Dracy Saint Loup is still there, and has one of the most beautiful Renaissance portals to be found in Burgundy.  Its moat has long dried up, the stone crest has been taken from over the gate and it has been a farm
for many years, but it is
a building of beauty and interest, reminiscent in its exterior stonework of the Château de Tanlay.

In 1490, the Seigneurie de Missery was acquired by Jean de Malain and at this point, the Château began to acquire
the appearance of the Châteaufort that was demolished in 1760 - see reproduction of it in painting below, in very primitive form. The four towers were joined by high fortified walls.  A drawbridge gave acces to the inner courtyard and to the Château that stood exactly where the present Château now stands.

The Malain family owned it for several generations when in 1590, it passed by inheritance to one François de la Plume, whose portrait may still be seen in the vestibule today.  François de la Plume was succeeded by his son Louis de la Plume, who in turn was succeded by his son.  The device of the “plume”, or feather, may still be seen in a fireback, although the majority have been replaced by the Suremain's symbolic hand.

In 1650, through one of the La Plume daughters (Odette), the property passed to Bernard de Bernard, President of the Parlement of Burgundy.  His portrait too may be seen in the vestibule.  It was one of the Bernard descendants of the
La Plume family who caused the paintings in the tower to be executed, probably Bernard de Thorey and probably about 1670.  The coat of arms over the chimney in the cabinet in that tower is that of the La Plume Bernard family.  The nephew of Bernard de Thorey, who inherited Missery in 1710, married one of the daughters of the Breteuil le Tonnelier, a niece of the archibishop of Paris, Cardinal de Noailles.  They lived in fine style in the Marais quarter of Paris, in the rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie. This nephew, Bernard de Marcilly, appears to have squandered his inheritance.

Missery's 18th Century revival by the Suremains de Flammerans (1753-1762)

Missery was then acquired by one Jean-Baptiste-Claude Suremain de Flammerans, Conseiller au Parlement de Bourgogne. He decided
to demolish the old fortified Château as seen in the painitng above, and build a contemporary house - to us the much coveted
18th Century style - to replace it. The four towers were retained, along with (according to S. Loomis,
but unlikely - the structural interiors of the two “pavillons” at the end of each wing). The balustrading of the terrace had been built by the Bernards, probably at the beginning
of the 18th Century; this was kept along with certain elements along the foundation, but all else was razed in 1760.

Suremain de Flammerans was a prudent and meticulous business man. While little was spared in the building of his new house, nothing was wasted either. His agreement with the contractor from Dijon (one Taisand) stipulated that the stones
of the old Château were to
be used in the construction of the new. This explains the several textures of stone in the façade
of the present Château. All work was done by local or regional artisans.  Even the trumeaux in the salon were made in Dijon, although the glass in the two mirrors was bought by Flammerans on a trip to Paris in 1752. They were set in one
of the rooms of his Hôtel Particulier in the rue des Bons-Enfants in Dijon, which still stands. The rather coarse wood and plaster work about the mirrors may not be everybody’s idea of the refined craftsmanship
of eighteenth century France,
but they are a perfect recollection of provincial life and taste under the reign of Louis XV, and are listed as part of the château classement as a Monument Historique of National Importance (listed by the present owners in 1981).

The ironwork around the stairs was executed by one Hantillot of Sombernon, a town between Dijon and Missery. With
its involuted curves,
its poires and its apparently improvised motifs, it more suggests the style of art nouveau than the eighteenth century. In truth, although not “beautiful” in the classical sense, it too is a perfect expression of regional artisans’ work. It is also an interesting expression of the looser style now known as “Louis XVI” for it was not installed
until 1768, and at this moment, in Paris too, may be seen as a new style of
fer forgé on stairs and balconies.

Monsieur de Flammerans’ first wife died in childbirth in 1750 or 1751. The Château de Flammerans, which still stands near the town
of Auxonne to the East of Dijon, had come to him through her, and it passed upon her death to his infant son. 
It was probably for this reason that he decided to acquire another Château in 1753. He paid 136,000 livres for it and all the seigneurial rights that went with it…
a most important consideration for him and most of the parlementary families who acquired Châteaux in those days. It was by this path
that men of the “magistrature” could endow themselves with nobility.  Undoubtedly just and honourable, he was a stickler all the same
for all his rights, and he insisted upon the recognition of those feudal priviledges (lods, banvin, mainmorte etc.) that were his by law. 
All this exploded in a quarrel between himself and some of the habitants of Missery who declared that he was not “seigneur”, that right having passed to the Hôpital of Dracy Saint Loup in 1448. Others refused to repair the moat as, under feudal law, it was their obligation to do.
They declared that this house “in the modern style” no longer offered protection to themselves and their chattels, and therefore their contract with the Seigneur de Missery was null and void.  This quarrel is interesting because, in its small way, it so clearly points the parting of the ways between feudality and the emerging modern world. Indeed, in miniscule,
it prefigures the French Revolution which in a few years time was to destroy most family traditions and the basis of all feudal law.  It should be pointed out that a number of the villagers supported him in his claim before the Court in Dijon.

In 1762, he remarried, and in that same year, as the original chimney backings show, the Château de Missery was finished. He had five children by his second wife. His eldest son by this marriage took the name Suremain de Missery, his younger son Edmé took the name Suremain de Saiseray.  His unmarried daughter became Mademoiselle Suzanne de Varennes,
all such names taken from local hamlets belonging to the Seigneurie de Missery. At seventeen Edmé was in the Royal Navy, and in 1789 set out for a trip to Pondicherry in India.

By the time Edmé he got back from India, the King was in prison and the Revolution in full swing. His father and family went to Dijon in 1791 and did not return to Missery until the end of the Revolution. In 1792, Madame de Flammerans died in Dijon. Her heart was embalmed and returned to Missery after the Revolution, buried in the chapel tower. Edmé was arrested as a nobleman and a suspect at Lorient where he spent the Revolution. In Dijon, Monsieur de Flammerans was put under arrest and taken to the prison of the Château de Dijon.  Very fortunately for him, the Terror ended in August of 1794.  Almost certainly, he would have been taken to Paris and executed as the Parlements were the particular anathema of the Revolutionaries. The whole Parlement of Toulouse was wiped out in one big Fournée.  In 1796 or 1797, he returned to Missery and tried to rebuild his holdings. He died in 1810 under the Empire, at the age of 86, and is buried in the chapel tower, not far from his wife’s heart. After his death, there was a bitter family quarrel over the inheritance.  His eldest son moved away whilst his son Edmé de Saiseray and family stayed and occupied the château. Edmé died in 1852, and he too is buried in the chapel tower. His son Louis de Saiseray then became owner and after Louis’ son, the male line became extinct.

1922 - Today : an Anglo-French Home

The heirs then sold the château in 1922. Mademoiselle Mathilde de Saiseray, her sister Mme de Valence and the Chanoine de Saiseray, all in advanced years, sold it to Mr. Hawley Mclanahan, an American architect visiting Europe, on the look-out for a nice balustrade to take back to Philadelphia, for a client. He came to inspect the balustrade at Missery, and instead fell in love with the château, buying it on the spot! He restored it with admirable taste and judgement during the last 7 years
of his life (very necessary, for one he found chickens living in the salon!), passing it on to his grandson Mike Mclanahan at his death in 1929 (aged 64). Not much is known of life at the château following the restoration, other than the Maclanahans stayed often, it was a musical home and welcomed artists such as Augustus John.
At the start of the Second World War it was occupied for no more than a year, but still suffered badly at the hands of the Nazis in residence. Furniture was stolen, wine was drunk, curtains were torn down. Even the weather vanes were damaged, used for target practice (along with the cows in the fields). However, it could have fared far worse, since they only stayed a year in the end - probably too uncomfortable in that first, unheated winter!

After much, and tiring, to and fros from America, and especially, to and from Montbard to collect guests from the local train station,
the McLanahans decided to sell. In 1979, Patricia and Philip Hawkes became proud owners of the château, along with their American friend Elward Bresett (for a brief spell). Longstanding amateurs of historic houses turned professional estate agents specialising in
the sale of historic châteaux, manoirs and luxury apartments in Paris,
Patricia and Philip had long been admiring an aerial postcard of the château, placed on their mantlepiece for daily viewing.

The McLanahans have since returned, staying at the château with the Hawkes on several occasions. On one such last visit with their grandchildren, Mike confided that "when [he] lived at the Château de Missery, it was a museum; now it is a home." Patricia and Philip continue to run their real estate agency, finding French and foreign château-lovers their perfect home, and to host friends and family in their own family home, with energy and enthusiasm : as their Missery is their joy.  

Written mostly by Stanley Loomis, American historian, cousin of the McLanahans, and added to/modified slightly where we know/suspect an alternative to be true!


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