Since the Revolution. An interview of the current Duke.
“During the French Revolution, the castle is sold as state property to one Olivier, a land agent who proceeds to dismantle the property and sell its contents separately: chimneys, ornamentation, furniture and stonework. But as this proves unprofitable, he resells the duchy to four local families who let the premises out to a school.
At the Restoration, the duke of Uzès, who heads the compensation list, negotiates on what terms the property should be bought back. The new owners very decently agree to sell it back to him at cost price. The duke will have to wait for the school to move to new premises before he can reoccupy the duchy fifteen years later, in 1835.
The duchy buildings are then uninhabitable. Alterations made by the school management had not taken into account the nature of the building, and if the main structures have been left as they were, much damage has to the rest of the building. First, the rooftops are done up, in Burgundian style. Then the chapel, the family vault and the top of the Bermonde tower, wrecked by M. Olivier. The duke has a colonnaded balcony added to the northern façade of the viscounty.
The duke of Uzès is elected royalist deputy for the department, regaining thus some authority at regional level. However, he spends most of his time in the Paris rue de la Chaise mansion given him in compensation for the loss of his private mansion of Uzès, taken away from him during the Revolution. He has the castle of Bonnelles (which no longer belongs to the family) rebuilt.
His son, a deputy for the Gard department, married the famous duchess who was so often in the news. She was the only descendent, and heir to "Veuve Cliquot" (Champagne). Widowed at the âge of thirty-one, she spent her time between Paris and Rambouillet, paying very few visits to the duchy.
Emmanuel, 3rd duke, and Anne de Mortemart had two boys and two girls, the one married to the duke of Brissac and the other to the duke of Luynes. The elder of the boys, Jacques, having died in the Congo, the title passed to Louis Emmanuel. The latter unfortunately experiences economics setbacks, sells the farms ne owned in the Camargue, and lets the duchy out to the local school, who use it as a dormitory and a deposit between 1920 and 1954 without showing too much respect for the place. During the war it is occupied by the Germans and in 1954 the duke of Uzès sells the buildings back to his first cousin and my father, the marquis of Crussol. It is he and my grandmother who open the duchy to the public.
Uzès was then steadily declining. The population of eight thousand at the time of Louis XIV had dropped to three and a half thousand. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes had already prompted some of the inhabitants to leave. Since the Revolution, the town had lost the bishopric and its tenure, the silk industry was practically non-existent, the Piémont régiment had gone, and so had the sub-prefecture. The arcades surrounding the Place aux Herbes rested on makeshift supports and many houses were in a state of neglect.
My grandmother had lived alone for many years. She had moved in political circles and was very close to Daladier (whence her being nicknamed "the red marquise"}. She had known André Malraux, who was to be appointed Minister of Culture by General de Gaulle and pass a law on the protection of ancient monuments. My grandmother pestered him until she obtained from him that Uzès be listed as a protected site; it became the first French town to benefit by this new law. But the Minister does not go there. Invited by my grandmother to come and see the rehabilitation works in progress and how the town is finding its feet again, Malraux replies: "Uzès!, but that’s even further away than China!”
Other, less spectacular restoration works are now under way: openings, lighting, water mains and security measures, painting, etc... The most attractive of the Renaissance façades has just been restored. Finely-carved stonework is emerging from under layers of ghastly plaster al the chapel entrance, beneath French-style ceilings also freed from their coats of plaster. Visiting conditions and guides' training have been improved, new rooms opened up and extra furniture brought in to make visits more attractive. We have had leaflets printed to help visitors round and promote the place.
You must know too that the upkeep of a place such as this, with so rich an architectural heritage, makes very specific cultural demands. Important as it is, state support helps finance only certain projects; the rest must therefore come from admission fees. Luckily, there are many visitors.
Uzès and its duchy are united by historical ties, just as they are united geographically, lying as they do within the city's protected area. I therefore see my mission as a major contribution to the rehabilitation of this group of buildings unique in France.
Indeed, many towns have protected areas. But the fact that the entire old part of Uzès is protected, and this in a particularly attractive region which includes the famous Roman aqueduct over the river Gard (Pont du Gard), surely accounts for the increasing number of visitors to the city.
My wishes for the future are that the town and the duchy continue their communal task of conserving this marvellous heritage.”