“Assidue veniebat” (“He came here often”, inscription on the exterior wall of the Château de La Brède).
When the French Revolution broke out, the Secondat family was no longer living at the Château de La Brède: Montesquieu’s son, Jean-Baptiste de Secondat, Baron of La Brède, was living primarily in his Bordeaux townhouse whilst Denise, his younger sister, was living on the Montesquieu lands that she had inherited in the Lot-et-Garonne area of South West France.
Charles-Louis de Secondat, Montesquieu’s grandson, who had distinguished himself in the American War of Independence, left France for England. The chateau was seized as a national asset, meaning that it would have to be sold. This did not happen, but the abandonment of the building and its grounds during this time left its mark and the first few years of the 19th century were devoted to making repairs.
In the absence of Charles-Louis de Secondat, the task of supervising this work fell to Joseph Cyrille de Secondat, son of Denise Secondat and Baron of Montesquieu. Nonetheless, Charles-Louis asked his cousin “not to make any changes […] to [his] grandfather’s former residence. His memory must be upheld in the place that created him.” This desire to immortalise Montesquieu’s legacy in the arrangement of the chateau was respected, and the ground floor room where the author spent the final years of his life was not affected by the improvement works that took place in the 19th century.
Charles-Louis de Secondat died in 1824 and having no heir, Prosper de Secondat, the son of Joseph Cyrille, inherited his property and the title of Baron of Montesquieu and La Brède. The Château de La Brède became the family’s home and various works were carried out. No changes were made to the external structure because of the moats, but the way in which the walls of the chateau were clad, its internal layout and the interior finishings reflected a shift in taste towards the increasingly fashionable neo-Gothic or Troubadour style, and in the way of life within a chateau. The nobility was becoming gentrified, with implications for interior decoration.
Three major phases of work ensued. The first was the work of the architect Henri Duphot, who was responsible around 1834 for the crenelations on the main exterior wall and the ogival windows in the dining room, which was also created in the 19th century. Next came the work of Gustave Allaux, from 1863 to 1864. The exterior wall was remodelled once again, and the windows in the upper section were probably added at this time. Initial plans were made at the same time to alter the grand staircase, which was ultimately completely rebuilt by Dubert. It was, however, the work carried out by Paul Abadie, a pupil of Eugène Viollet-Le-Duc, assisted by Jean Valleton, that changed how the chateau was arranged. The work took place between 1870 and 1877, when Charles de Secondat, son of Prosper, was the Baron of La Brède. The separation between historical rooms and living quarters was made clearer. The residential rooms were substantially altered and their layout was modernised with a system of hitherto non-existent hallways. The desire for convenience also extended to the servants’ quarters and part of the attic was converted into maids’ rooms.
The modernisation of the Château de La Brède did not affect the determination to keep the reminders of Montesquieu intact. Visitors, at first from learned societies or local academic institutions, asked to pay their respects in the room where Montesquieu had spent his final years. La Brède became an essential stopping-off point for any author visiting the Gironde. Stendhal, for example, left a detailed description of his impressions of the Château de La Brède when he visited in 1838.
There is little in the way of documented history for the chateau in the 20th century. After the work carried out by Paul Abadie, it appears that there were no further changes to the external structure or the internal arrangement of the chateau. The two global conflicts during the 20th century had no major impacts on the La Brède estate, despite its occupation by German troops during the Second World War.
In 1951, the Château de La Brède was listed as a French historical monument, with the whole estate being listed in 2008.
The chateau ceased to be a family home in 2004 when Countess Jacqueline de Chabannes, the great-granddaughter of Charles de Secondat de Montesquieu, died, leaving the estate to the government-recognised public interest Foundation that she had recently set up. The chateau and its estate have since become a place of cultural interest and a tourist attraction for visitors keen to tread in Montesquieu’s footsteps at La Brède.