The Renaissance château was commissioned by Jean de Buisson, a wealthy financier, turned man of war and soldier under François I, and his wife Charlotte de Mancip, heiress of the Bournazel estate. Construction began with the North Wing in the early 1540’s. This was on the site of a medieval dwelling which made up part of the lower court of the older Bournazel defensive castle. While Jean de Buisson was away on campaign in the 9th Italian War, his wife Charlotte de Mancip continued to supervise the construction of the new château.
The North Wing was completed in 1545. This was around the time of Jean de Buisson’s return from Italy where, having distinguished himself at the battle of Cérisoles, he had been made a Knight of the King’s Order. As a veteran of the Italian Wars, Jean de Buisson would have known Galiot de Genouillac, the Grand Master of the artillery for François I. In the 1530s Galiot de Genouillac had contributed to the dissemination of Renaissance ideas in the neighbouring Quercy region through the construction of the Château d’Assier. Château de Bournazel continued this process of dissemination, taking it even further in its second phase of construction.
With Jean de Buisson’s return, the building program was relaunched in a second phase with the construction of the East Wing and the Grand Staircase Pavilion to the south. The East Wing’s design has a strong relationship to the ideas of Italian Renaissance architect Sebastiano Serlio who was attached to the court of François I. The intention was to create a vast rectangular plan enclosing a grand courtyard of honour. However, this initial vision for the château never saw the light of day, with second phase terminating at the Grand Staircase Pavilion. The reason for the interruption is now uncertain, but is perhaps related to the religious unrest that shook this part of the province from 1561, now known as the French Wars of Religion. As a result, only the North and East Wings were completed, along with the Grand Staircase Pavilion on the return of the east wing to the south.
One of the great figures of the Rouergue in the Renaissance was Georges d’Armagnac, bishop of the nearby city of Rodez. Famous ambassador of François I, world traveller and scholar, he was also the chaplain to Marguerite de Navarre, the sister of François I. During his embassy in Venice and time in Rodez, he was accompanied by his private secretary and architect, Guillaume Philandrier, author of Annotations on the Treaty of Vitruvius. A lover of ancient texts and sensitive to all the arts, it is through Georges d’Armagnac that Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio arrived at the court of Francis I. Jean de Buisson and Charlotte de Mancip were loyal guests of the bishop’s palace and used the presence this flamboyant, high ranking clergyman to profit from the Renaissance unfurling across the kingdom.
Jean de Buisson’s journey to Italy, the frequenting of the bishop’s court and the proximity of Philandrier, the erudite architect of Georges d’Armagnac, are not without significance in the construction of the Château de Bournazel.
Remaining in the Buisson family until the French Revolution, the château suffered a fateful night in 1790. The population rose up against Jean II de Buisson de Bournazel and the taxes owed to the estate. The château was attacked, its contents pillaged and the building partly put to fire. The East Wing and Grand Staircase were severely damaged leaving only the North Wing habitable.
The château came into the possession of the Comte de Marigny in the 19th century. It was de Marigny’s intention to restore the wings damaged during the Revolution with financial support from the French government. Unfortunately, this aid was never forthcoming. As a result, de Marigny took the radical decision to demolish the Grand Staircase Pavilion, its adjacent tower and the eastern side of the East Wing. This left only the North Wing and the East Wing’s facade standing.
In 1946, the château was acquired by the National Social Security Fund of the mines of Decazeville. Converted into a convalescence home, the château underwent a profound transformation. The grand rooms were subdivided into smaller spaces, original doorways blocked and the monumental fireplaces hidden behind plasterboard.
Since 2007, the new owners have strived to give this jewel of the Renaissance back its luster by restoring the volumes and decorations of the 16th century. The demolished parts have risen again, rebuilt identically after extensive research with traditional techniques.