The Renaissance Manor Houses
Manor houses of the Renaissance period belong to a special class of architecture characteristic of the age. A manor house is a fortified country house. During the days of the feudal system in Europe, a manor was the lowest unit of territorial organization. Thus manor houses were administrative centers of manors. Also stately homes occupied by gentry families during the late medieval period were also called manor houses. These fortified country houses were built and maintained for the primary purpose of showing social importance than anything else.
Fortification was an essential feature of Renaissance manor houses. But the fortifications of manor houses were not as elaborate as those of the castles of the times. Most of often, the manor houses were partly fortified. There were walls or ditches around the manor houses and the farm buildings. There were arrangements for defending against thieves and enemies. It would be surrounded by a moat and drawbridge. There would be watchtowers and gatehouses. The manor house had a great hall. There would be living apartments attached to the hall. They provided peaceful ambience for domestic life.
A Renaissance manor house was the official residence of a feudal lord of a manor. Most often, a feudal lord held many manors and as such he occupied a particular manor house only during his visits of the manor. He would be holding his manor court in the manor house during his visits. A steward would be appointed to take care of all the manorial properties. A bailiff or reeve would be entrusted with the responsibility of the day-to-day administration.
Manor houses were usually fortified. But the fortifications of manor houses were not as elaborate as those of the castles of the times. Most of often, the manor houses were partly fortified. There were walls or ditches around the manor houses and the farm buildings. There were arrangements for defending against thieves and enemies. It would be surrounded by a moat and drawbridge. There would be watchtowers and gatehouses. The manor house had a great hall. There would be living apartments attached to the hall. They provided peaceful ambience for domestic life.
There took place a transformation in the style of manor houses by the turn of the 16th century. By this time, manor-houses and small castles underwent a change in style and they got the character and facilities of the residences of country gentlemen. This new change had its impact in the residential styles in France and England in the 16th century. English country mansions of the Elizabethan and Jacobean styles and French Renaissance chateaux are the outcome of this transformation of the manor house during the late 16th century.
A French manor house is called a chateau or manoir. There were elaborately fortified French manor houses and the fortification was known as maison-forte. A maison-forte would consist of two sets of enclosing walls and drawbridges. There would be a ground-floor hall called salle basse. Peasants and commoners were received at this salle basse hall. The salle basse hall was also the place for the manor court. There would be the seating position of the steward and place for cupboards keeping records and other administrative arrangements. There was also an upper hall called salle haute which was used for receiving high ranking guests. This salle haute upper hall could be accessed by an external spiral staircase. The salle haute was open up to the roof trusses. The upper hall was well decorated to a finer taste in tune with the social status of the more sophisticated guests who occupied it. The upper hall was usually located just above the ground-floor hall.
The steward or seigneur and his family had their private chambers close to the upper hall. They had their own fire-place, lavatory and chimney-piece. The ground-floor hall and the up-stair hall were the essential features of the French manor houses. Apart from these, French manor houses also had watchtowers, partly fortified gateways, enclosing walls, etc. In addition to having both lower and upper-halls, many French manor-houses had partly fortified gateways, watchtowers and enclosing walls. The protective walls had arrow loops or gun loops. Some Renaissance manor houses had ditches and fore-works. Some had gun platforms for cannons.
The Chateau de Kerjean in Finistere, Brittany belongs to this category of manor houses of the Renaissance period. Such protective precautions were necessary to safeguard the occupants from possible attacks form armed bands. During the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Holy League there were constant threats to rural manors and protective measures were taken to avert such dangers.