On July 3, 1189 in the foothills of Hattin, near the Sea of Galilee, Saladin the Great won a victory over the Frankish armies aided in part by the incompetence of the King of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan, the betrayal of the Grand Master of the Templars, Gerard de Ridefort and the brutality of Renaud de Chatillon. During the action, his horse shot from under him, one of the Knights Templar, Jacquelin Jalesne, struggled to his feet, spear in hand, and bravely continued to rebuff the enemy. Alone on the field of battle, he was given an opportunity to escape with his life but he chose to stand and fight, losing so much blood in the process that he eventually succumbed to his wounds and died. The Turks, in awe of his courage, shredded his clothes and kept them as souvenirs.
The Jalesnes continued to serve as knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem for several hundred years. There is nothing left of the original old feudal castle today, and the current chateau dates from the beginning of the 17th Century, being built in 1610.
The first Marquis de Jalesnes – In December 1634 Charles de Jalesnes, Baron de la Beunesche was elevated to the ranks of the Marquisat by Letters Patent issued of King Louis XIII in recognition of the loyalty of the Lords of the Manor of Beunesche, indeed the new Marquis was a ‘Captain of 100 armed men under orders of the King’.
The first Marquis (and unfortunately the last of the male blood-line); Charles de Jalesnes, Chevalier of the Order of the King, Gentleman of the King’s Chamber and a Councillor of State, died in 1642. His wife, Eleonore de Maille-Breze died in 1644. It is believed that until the latter half of the 19th Century, their tombs were interred in the crypt under the old chapel of St Louis at the chateau however their remains were removed to the local Mairie-Eglise in Vernantes by a subsequent owner of the chateau; Louis-Ferdinand Ackerman who pronounced ‘ I will buy the chateau but I will not buy the dead’. A memorial to the Marquis and his wife can be found in the chapel of the Mayoral church (as opposed to the parish church) identified by two busts of white marble. The rather long epitaph was left mysteriously incomplete on the death of the Marchioness – ‘she died the …day of One Thousand Six Hundred…’ The Marchioness was the Sister in Law of Cardinal Richelieu and Aunt of Claire- Clemence, wife of the Prince of Conde; Louis II de Bourbon. The Pavilion de Conde at Jalesnes was constructed in honour of this alliance (the front of West Wing of the current castle).
Following the death of the first Marquis, there being no male heir, the Chateau and title both passed Jure uxoris via Charles and Eleonore’s eldest daughter (also called Eleonore) to her husband of 27 April 1634, Louis de Maille de la Tour-Landry; Marquis de Gillebourg. Louis was the son of Jean de Maille Comte de Chateauroux and his wife Louise de Chateaubriant. Louis and Eleonor produced three children; Charles the heir, Marie-Susanne who regrettably died whilst a novice of the Benedictine Order in nearby Laval and Susanne who married Francois d’Avennes, Seigneur de la Jaille, de Gastines, Marquis de Fougeray.
The first of the de la Tour-Landry Jalesnes – Charles de Maille de la Tour-Landry, Marquis de Jalesnes married the widow Bonne-Marie-Madelaine du Broc whose first husband was Charles’ Great Uncle Sebastien, the Vicomte de Fouilietourtre, on 30 November 1663. They produced seven offspring including the heir Georges-Henri. Two of George’s brothers; Charles and Phillipe became Knights Templar of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.
Charles de Maille de la Tour-Landry, Marquis de Jalesnes married the widow Bonne-Marie-Madelaine du Broc whose first husband was Charles’ Great Uncle Sebastien, the Vicomte de Fouilietourtre, on 30 November 1663. They produced seven offspring including the heir Georges-Henri. Two of George’s brothers; Charles and Phillipe became Knights Templar of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.
During the French Revolution, Charles Henri Francois de la Tour-Landry, sold the chateau to Marquis de Maille on 10 March 1791 for the sum of 60,000 pounds. He was a timber merchant who became rich from his sale of Louroux Abbey. In 1792, seals were placed on the castle and looting occurred in 1793.
During the 19th Century, the façade of Chateau de Jalesnes changed often. The current building was extensively renovated and the central building and chapel were added on in 1862, to give it a stately appearance with its magnificent deep moat. The avenue of large trees was created, with a large enclosure for thirty-six cattle and sixty large kennel dogs were added. Deers were raised in a specific park and the surrounding land became the site for many hunts.
On tour from Spain in 1879, the castle became the temporary royal apartment of Dom Carlos, the grandson of exiled Don Carlos VII of Bourbon, who ruled the throne of Spain by the abolition of the Salic Law (which excluded women the right of succession), under Ferdinand VII of Spain. At age 28, the young Dom Carlos, without giving up his claim to the throne of Spain, had many admirers and he stayed in many residences that offered refuge on his travels. He was received for a month by the Lords of Jalesnes and they did not skimp on the preparations – building a new staircase, constructing a theatre in one of the rooms to host dancers from Nantes and actors from le Opera House in Paris, embroidering a square of lawn for Dom Carlos’ WC with very fine fabric and transparent linen, providing silver bits and silver shoes for the horses, and adding extra grass to the central aisle to soften the pitch of the horses. Grand Receptions were held in his honour, and nobility were offered special visits to the lounges, and the park was illuminated for the farmers and villagers.
It was reported that the servants also benefited from his stay, through pillaging and theft of the silverware by taking it through a small window down into the moat, that still to this day, bears traces of these thefts! After the royal visit, many setbacks occurred and future prospects were ruined. Opulent traditions of great stately life were hard to sustain, although the charitable works allowed Marquis de Maille to surround himself with the affection of the whole country till his death. The resources of the castle gradually disappeared over time to where there was little left.
In 1886, a rich merchant from Saumur, Mr Ackerman, brought the property and restored the chateau to its former glory. The Ackerman family is founder to the famous sparkling wine dynasty of the Loire Valley, that continues to be a very popular well known product in Saumur even today. After his death in 1914, his daughters inherited the castle to yield a work of education.
One daughter became a Carmelite nun and in 1916 the Oblates of the Assumption came to settle in Anjou and transform the castle into the Institution of St Louis – a convent school for daughters of the French aristocracy. It remained a fine educational institute until its closure in 1965.
In 1940, the castle became the headquarters of the German 1st Cavalary Division during WWII under the command of PC General Feldt. A first aid station was also installed to evacuate Germans killed in the area. The school continued to be run by the nuns whilst the soldiers took up part of the building.
In 1965, Dr Fretigny opened a nursery for Encephalopathic children, and the centre expanded to accommodate children and adults with disabilities. The chateau outbuildings and land were sold off at different times to local neighbours over the years.
The Chateau has been rescued by its current owners from a downward spiral of neglect and is being developed in line with its previous glamorous existence as a moated jewel in the collection of chateaux of the Loire Valley.