Cadillac Chateau : a womens prison

One day I visited Cadillac Chateau, and was torn backwards in time to witness the life of the poor women who lived in a Dukes castle. I found more stories than one. Choose yours…

The Ducal Chateau

Cadillac chateau

Jean-Louis Nogaret de La Vallette (1554-1642), the first Duke of Éperon was a successful military man, and a priviledged friend of King Henri III. He gained much prestige and wealth. He was made Duke and Peer of France, a Colonel General of the Infantry, and Governor of several provinces.

Henri III was assassinated in 1589, and Henri IV of Navarre ascended the crown. The Duke found it difficult to accept this King, but he honoured his duties. The King, in turn,  despised the Duke, and did what he could to remove him from court. He encouraged the Duke to commission the construction of Cadillac Chateau between 1599 and 1610, in a style that was worthy of his rank, yet far from Paris, in the southwest of France. The Chateau was beautifully decorated with tapestries that noted the historic moments of King Henri III’s reign. It also accommodated the visits of the King and Queen, with their own appartments.

But his career came to a digraceful end under the reign of the following young King Louis XIII, when he struck a Cardinal in public. He gave up his posts, and exiled himself to Loches. After his death, his son Bernard inherited Cadillac Chateau, and the Duchy. It then passed to distant, indirect relatives, before being abandoned to plunder in the French Revolution (1789 to 1798).

“…the monument is truly magnificent. It has 60 bedchambers, arranged in very regal fashion. There are 20 fireplaces, embellished with various marbles and each decorate the bedchambers…The walls are covered in gold and silk tapestries which are worth more than their weight in gold…” (an English visitor)

Cadillac ChateauxCadillac Chateau







The Chateau Prison

Before 1790, under the ‘Ancien Regime’ (monarchal rule), there was no prison system. Criminals recieved punishment by means of hanging, corporal pain, forced labour or ostracism. In the 18th century , the wave of enlightenment in France and Great Britain brought about new perspectives on human nature, and liberties. It was thought that restriction of movement through imprisonment would be sufficient retribution for crime.

However the new penal systems of the Republican government were no less harsh than the former. They installed work camps in town centres throughout France. The State asked citizens to be ‘useful’ to France, and have virtuous values. If judged criminal, they were condemned to terms of forced labour in these correctional institutes.

Cadillac Chateau was purchased by the State, in 1818, and quickly transformed to a ‘Maison Centrale de Force et Correction’, for women.

” Such is the life of these poor women who live under the golden ceilings of the noblewomen of Cadillac.
(E. Guillon, Les châteaux historique de la Gironde, 1867)

The women detained for a term in this correctional institute were those who had, in the main, committed crimes of abortion, infanticide, and theft. They were to be constantly reminded of their crime, and the depth of depravity to which they had fallen. Work must be their only distraction, and prayer, their salvation. They suffered from the cold, malnutrition, poor sanitation, long working hours and depression. In 1864 the number of women who committed suicide was thirty four.

Daily life in Cadillac prison

At 5am they were awakened by a bell ring, expected to dress quickly, without an opportunity to wash, tidy their bed and belongings, then file in sequence,  according to their convict number, to the Chapel for prayer at 5.30am. From there to the workshop to sew, by hand or machine, embroider, twine wool, starch, knit and tint leather for hatting. At 9am came an hour and a half period to eat, and a walk in file around the courtyard, for the required turns. Only a doctor could permit a women to miss this exercise. They returned to the workshop until their second meal of the day at 3pm, followed by another walk. Work continued until 8pm. Throughout the day silence was mandatory. Sometimes a nun or priest might read, or chant Cantiques to the workers. Bedtime came at 9pm when the women slept in unlocked dormitories, watched over by a nun who slept behind a curtained cubicle. Their clothes were changed, and laundered each Saturday, their bedlinen monthly.

Work must be their only dIstraction.
Work must be their only dIstraction.

Rehabilitation of a detainee

Angélique Jordain, detainee number 5573, was sentenced to a term in the ‘prison’. She was profoundly affected by her crime and conviction, and considered committing suicide by throwing herself down a well. Then one day, a priest arrived wearing a white robe, and her life was transformed.

” Father Lateste, in a white robe, one beautiful day. A simple white robe. And here we live now in a Chateau! We are enclosed, and even in these walls, we are free. Free with a liberty we have never known.” (Paul Claudel)

In September of 1864, Father Marie-Jean-Joseph-Lataste, was sent to the Cadillac prison to preach the Word of God to the detainees. He went reluctantly with preconcieved judgements. He was embarrassed by these thoughts on meeting the inmates, and he came to call them “his sisters, after all”. He became very concerned with their life after prison, and during prayer one day he had an idea to create a new religious congregation for women leaving prison. He went on to found the House of Bethany.

Angélique became the first convicted women to convert to the religious life. On Christmas day 1868, he gave Angélique her nuns habit, and her name,’ Little Sister Noel’.

The woman convicted to Cadillac prison after Angélique, number 5574, was deported to French Guyane, as was the adopted practise at that time.

Deportation and relegation

That crime was contagious, and convicted women carried the virus was the fear. The answer was to protect French citizens by sending convicts far away from France. This policy was introduced in 1852 by Napoleon III.

TRansferred to French Guyana.
TRansferred to French Guyana.

On her arrival at the prison, a convicted woman would be shown to a freed male convict, and asked if she would choose to marry him, and be deported to French Guyane, not to return. As the alternative was to remain in prison for a long term, many women chose to marry. A quick marriage took place just outside the prison, the couple were given a token gift of a model clay house, and it was hoped that  their re-education, through work, would be beneficial to them. But due to tropical disease in Guyane, the mortality rate proved too high. Convicts were sent to New Caledonia instead, it being considered a cleaner place. This practise continued until 1907, in Cadillac, and until 1953 in some cases, across France.

As more women went to New Caledonia than stayed, the number of convicts to imprison diminished, so in 1890 Cadillac prison closed, but only briefly, as it reopened a year later as a Maison d’education surveillée.

Remand house for delinquent girls

At the end of the 19th century, the state became concerned about the problems of child sufferance, lack of education, and delinquency, which needed to be addressed. Cadillac Chateau was again used, to house and educate delinquent girls aged nine to fifteen years. These times proved to be darker than at any other, for the girls were generally mistreated. Lock and key became the norm. The famous ‘chicken cages’ were installed, and girls were locked in their cages at night.

In 1928, following a riot from the girls, a fire destroyed part of the building. This provided an opportunity to modernise the centre. Eventually, after fifty years of detaining girls, the remand house closed in 1952.

” She looked at us with a bland expression, as an abused animal.”


Cadillac Chateau is now a Monument Nationaux, refurbished, with its original tapestries hanging in darkened rooms, and is open to the public. Father Lateste was canonised in 2012.

The town of Cadillac, to this day, has an Institute for people with mental illness, who are free to come and go, and dangerous individuals or criminals, confined. A wall guards the Institutions graveyard, and is affectionately called ‘ Le Cimetiére Fous’ ( cemetery for the mad). Recently it was protected by the town inhabitants against construction plans. To build on top of the graves was seen as consecration, regardless of who lay there.

Interior door in the basement where dangerous detainees were kept.
Interior door in the basement where dangerous detainees were kept.
Cadillac Chateau through the portal gate of Cadillac.
Cadillac Chateau through the portal gate of Cadillac.

References from storyboard exposition in Cadillac Chateau, and I have included some old photographs and drawing.
Bethany House Ministries website.
Généalogie de Jean Hervé Fauvre website.

Images of November : in southwest France

November is as beautiful as always. Treeleaf has turned, now falling rapidly, but temperate weather encourages flowers to bloom. We have collected a few apples, almonds, and cobnuts. Squash ripens in le jardin ‘potager’, waiting to be, ‘put in the pot’. The stove is lit, and warms the thick stone walls. This is how we prepare for winter.

Once farmers used every piece of land productively. They grew apple trees along vineyard verges. But no one collects the apples now. They ripen and fall, food for the insects, anyhow.

The sky falls in,
from the big oak tree,
there nestling
in a bed of leaves.

she warms my heart,
still beacon bright,
midst autumn light.

autumn landscape

long shadows
warm autumn sun
paints landscape
leaf rust

Le Chai au Quai : Wine warehouse at the quay

Grapes are gathered, and vineyards abandoned awhile. Then, nature and nuture perform the alchemy that produces our goblet of wine..

art of  pressing,
and fining,
and bottling.


A wise winemaker accompanies a winegrape, from its birth, to maturation as a good wine. He cares for it, and provides a nurturing ambient. He lets it live its own life. He does not interfere with its development too much, because this always results in a mediocre wine. As each year is different, with its amount of rainfall, and sunshine, so the grape is different to the year before, and after. Left alone in the barrel, the wine chooses, according to its experience, how it will mature. Its hues of colour, aroma, and taste will be unique, and maybe it will be a good vintage, maybe not. That is tradition.

Le Chai au Quai

Alongside the Dordogne river sits Le Chai au Quai (shay-o-key) built in 1856. Here, wine barrels were stored until rolled across the quay, passed into ‘gabares’ (flatbottomed boats) and then carried down river to the Port of Bordeaux.

Today, in this beautiful, and historic building, wine is made, matured in barrels, then bottled before exportation.


A rose
I send to those hearts
who give the gift
of encouragement.

This is a simple post to thank a few bloggers for their recognition of my work, through nominations, that I apologise for not accepting, and for their encouragement. It means a lot to me, and so I would like to give links to their inspiring blogs.

Ngobesing Romanus of SUCCESS INPIRER

reochocran of witlessdatingafterfifty

Best wishes

Laborde : Small farm

touches someone or something
and leaves impressions.

A warm thankyou to a favourite, and beautifully creative blogger,
A Wayward Scribblez, who nominated me for the Creative Blogger Award. I respectively pass on this award to other bloggers I follow who are also superbly creative. They are:

Dancing Echoes      JoHanna Massey      A Momma’s View

MyRedPage      bCL Photography

The rules are; to thank the person who nominated you, and give a link to their blog. Share five facts about yourself. Nominate other bloggers that you find creative, and inform them. Include these rules in your post.

Our house (in place of five facts)

We have lived in rural, southwest France for ten years now. We moved here because we fell in love with the undulating landscape of pasture, vineyard and forest.And time seems to have stopped still for several centuries. Beautiful romanesque churches grace each village. The houses are mostly built in stone, with clay tile roofs, and large open fireplaces. Our house was built in 1860, and is called ‘Laborde’, which means ‘small farm’ in the old language, of L’Occitan.

It was built in the style of that time, with three walk through rooms . The first was used to welcome visiting wine buyers, and has an open fireplace. The second was a bedroom, the third, a living/kitchen room, with another chimney for a stove. The front door was tall and wide, with large stone steps leading up to the knocker. Sadly, we were obliged to replace the original old oak door because it gaped, and let in the wind and cold.

These living rooms were built over a cellar, that leads out onto the road, that goes down to the village. In this cellar, the old ones made, and barrelled wine. Today the space is cluttered with several large, old oak barrels, a nineteenth century wine press, and a twentieth century concrete cuve. A spiral staircase, now collapsed, leads up to a trap door opening to the rooms above. A large arched doorway allowed space for loading carts.

Fifty or so years later, an extension was built, we think for the workers. The room has a beautiful stone sink under an arched window, and another open fireplace. We live, cook, eat and socialise in this kitchen. The older rooms have become bedrooms.

Outside, just beyond our garden, there were two hectares of vineyard that once belonged to the owners of this house. One is now our meadow, the other a vineyard still. Traditionally, the first row of grapevine was offered to the house occupants, and we are happy to continue the habit of helping ourselves, each harvest, to the three types of edible grape it grows.