Friday, 26 October 2012

When is château not a castle?

When is château not a castle?

Grand-Bigard (French-Château de Grand-Bigrad /Dutch-Groot-Bijgaarden) is located in the village of Grand-Bigard in Flemish Brabant (7km west of Brussels) in Belgium.

Above: View of the stone bridge and fortified gatehouse from the entrance to Grand-Bigard.

After a visiting the Floralia Brussels at Château Grand-Bigrad, I was doing some research to get some additional details and information to include in my blog Flora and Fauna - Plants and Critters (link to Flora and Fauna - Plants and Critters) regarding Grand-Bigard. The Grand-Bigard official website (LINK) is in Dutch, English, French, German and Japanese. It was while reading the English version that I started to get confused because the information on the Grand-Bigard official website (and elsewhere) referred to the large main palace-like structure built in the 17th century as the “castle” and the older 30 meter high tower built in the 12th Century with 2 meter thick walls as the dungeon.

Above: The Grand-Bigard web site was referring to the building above as the Castle of Grand-Bigard.
The actual text that provides details about the History of theCastle of Grand Bigard reads:

“[...]. The castle of Grand Bigard, first built in the XIIth (12th) century, is surrounded by a broad moat [...]. A five-arch bridge, headed by two XVIIth (17th) century heraldic apes crosses over to the drawbridge leading to the fortified entrance dating back to the XIVth (14th) century. The castle itself, built in the XVIIth (17th) century, is a vast edifice of remarkably pure style: it is a wonderful example of the Flemish Renaissance, with a long, one-storied main building in pink brick, contrasting beautifully with the white stone mullioned windows and the blue slate roof. The chapel, in the right wing, has remained unchanged for the last three centuries, and the left wing is surmounted by a bulb-shaped roof. Erected around 1347, (i.e. the 14th Century) the dungeon, a massive 30-metre high structure next to the fortified entrance, [...].”

Now ... to me a castle is a fortified structure with basically a military/defensive purpose although it can also double as the residence of royalty or nobility. But what essentially denotes a castle (in English at least) is that it is a structure built for defensive purposes either as a refuge from attack or strategically placed to protect and/or control and/or oversee a geographic location or feature such as a mountain pass, a harbour, main road or a trade or sea route.
I have always understood that the French word château applies both to what in English is referred to as a castle as well as what in English would be more appropriately referred to as a palace. On the other hand, in English, castle signifies a fortified structure which has distinctive features that are associated with it. So if it is not a fortified and easily defended structure then it is NOT a castle at least that is what I always thought which is why the reference to a building which did not look anything like a castle confused me.
PHOTO of Den Steen HEREHet Steen
Above: Het Steen - The Stone Castle in Antwerp

So I did a little bit of research and discovered that the castles as an architectural / military feature were developed during the Middle Ages (i.e. medieval or mediaeval times) in Europe which covers the 5th to the 15th centuries. The castle originated during the medieval period as a private fortified residence of a noble or lord. Also there was a distinction between a palace which is unfortified and a fortress which is not a residence.

Above: The Grand-Bigard web site was referring to the building above  as the dungeon.

Interestingly there appears to be some debate as to what can be called a castle, but this is more in general because the term castle has been misused by some people to refer to all types of fortified structures. For example earlier fortified structures such as Iron Age hill forts have been incorrectly called castles. Also there is the whole issue of similar structures in other parts of the world such as Japan, India etc.
However, I do not want to get into the whole discussion as to why these particular structures are different or what they should be called instead. I think it would be best to leave that for a separate discussion. Instead I will stick to the issue at hand, namely the French-English translation issue of when is a château not a castle.
When I checked my trusty Collins-Robert DictionaryI saw that my initial interpretation was correct. I also discovered a few other interesting things which illustrate the pitfalls faced by translators especially if one is not aware of the existence of multiple meanings that some words may have which can lead to confusion and incorrect translations.
Basically this is what I found:
Collins-Robert gives the French meanings for the English word Castle as Château (fort) tour (chess) roquer (chess).
So basically castle has only one meaning in French if you are talking about a fort. It also means tour (tower in English) and roquer (rook in English) if referring to chess. Incidentally castling (a chess move) is roque.
Then when you look at the French château Collins-Robert clarifies things even more by indicating that château in French means castle if it is ( une forteresse); palace or castle if it is (une résidence royale);  mansion, stately home if it is ( une manoir, gentilhommière) and a chateau if it is (en France).
In other words if your château is a fortress then it is a castle. If it is a royal residence then it is a palace or a castle (i.e. an unfortified royal residence is a palace and a fortified royal residence would be a castle). And if it is a mansion or stately home as appears to be the case with Château de Grand-Bigard then it is not called a castle in English. I would have called it a palace but get the impression that in French the designation of palace is reserved for royal residences so for those residences not belonging to royalty you would need to refer to them as a mansion or a stately home.
However, here comes the tricky part because in English when referring to a château in France you actually call it a chateau. Note that chateau without the “â” ("a" circumflex) is an English word (or more accurately an English loanword from French) while château with the “â” is a French word.
I am not sure if that particular rule is a hard and fast rule or not but suspect that it is a specific loanword adopted to refer to a specific type of structure as in the ubiquitous French chateaus that were built after developments in warfare and siege weaponry (artillery in particular) had rendered medieval fortifications such as castles, keeps and fortified cities obsolete.

The question then is, should the château at Grand-Bigard be called a mansion, manor house, country home, stately home or a chateau (without the"a" circumflex)? Could you argue that since French is one of the official languages in Belgium then the rule applies to Belgian châteaux or would it be more accurate to say that the English loanword chateau ONLY applies to French châteaux as in those in France as Collins-Robert implies when it indicates that a châteaux is a chateau if it is in France?
I could be wrong but my interpretation is that the English loanword “chateau” specifically applies to French châteaux. So the Grand-Bigard châteaux should be a referred to as a Manor House or Stately Home. However, I have seen some references that argue otherwise indicating that chateau applies to any structure called a châteaux in a French speaking country which would cover France, Belgium, Switzerland and Monacco.

I could be difficult and ask if that applies only to the French speaking parts of Belgium and Switzerland (Brussels, Wallonia and Romandy regions) or if it can be used in the whole country, but I will not? However, joking aside it is an interesting and relevant question after all Grand-Bigard is in Flemish Brabant which is Dutch speaking.

Then there is the question as to whether or not this applies to Quebec and African countries where French is spoken in reference to any such structures that may exist. I'm just wondering.


Above: View of Grand-Bigard Keep on the left with the Grand-Bigard Manor House on the right.

In essence Grand-Bigard dates from the 12thCentury and is surrounded by a moat. The stately home was built in the 17th Century and is considered a fine example of the Flemish Renaissance. The Keep dates from the 12thCentury. This is a fortified tower which was built around 1347 with walls two meters thick and is composed of four stories rising up to thirty meters.

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