Medieval Fun and Torture in the Dordogne

July 2011 visit: Beynac et Cazenac – Family fun with the 17 year old son……

My son and I passed an agreeable 4 days in the Dordogne in our own chateau room looking out on the park, the mountains, the Chateaux Des Milandes and Beynac and across the road at flapping geese waiting to be force fed daily for their delicious fat livers.

Castle of Beynac and chapel, on the top of the...

Castle of Beynac: Wikipedia

We clambered over ruined medieval fortresses and castles where Dan has scared the hell out of me perched on broken crenellations inside roped off areas at the top of towers. We queued for an obscene amount of time to get a guided tour into a Gouffre – a massive domed underworld cathedrale of stalactites and calcium pools – where we descended into this enormous cavern in a small lift. It was pretty remarkable. Some selfish tourist had brought in his screaming child who wailed its lungs out – for 45 minutes straight – so that no one could hear either the guide or the music.
That was a treat.
I took Dan to see the Chateau of Milandes

Château des Milandes (Dordogne - France)

Château des Milandes : Wikipedia

where the black singer and philanthropist and all-round fool with money Josephine Baker lived for 30 years.
I have never seen a 17 year old  “do” a chateau so quickly.
He was out again in 30 seconds,  appalled at the glittering costumes and Dior-inspired bathrooms.
I loved it of course and made him wait while I scoured every room. The story is so moving and fascinating. The photos are great. I felt plunged back into her world. She adopted 12 children from different nationalities and then of course like most abused children herself – she lost all her money and her chateau.
Sad story.
Kids survived in varying ways and apparently a few still go back now and then to the chateau to re-live the memoires.Probably a highlight was a medieval castle built into a huge rock face that we went to see yesterday called Maison Forte de Reignac.

Français : La maison forte de Reignac et sa fa...

La maison forte de Reignac Wikipedia

Really worth a visit if you are nimble. If you are not then do not bother.
It was raining and therefore it was packed with Dutch and Belgian tourists all with wide girths who stood stupidly in doorways gawping and blocking traffic.

The final room hidden away behind the mandatory gift-shop exit was the best.
It was a torture chamber packed full of genuine medieval instruments of torture. We spent at least an hour in there and most of the Tourists didn’t know it was there so we were unimpeded.
There was the Scold’s Bridle often used to gag victims and stop them being able to scream whilst they burned silently at the stake en masse because the onlookers liked to listen to music…..
There was the iron nipple twister, the common-as-dirt branding irons, the Heretic’s Fork which had super sharp fork tines at both ends and one end was placed in the upper chest whilst the other rammed in under the chin. if the Heretic nodded off he would impale himself through the throat.
It seemed to me that a lot of torture revolved around the Anus…. A particularly nasty one was the rectal spear. Spies and infiltrators were hoisted onto the castle wall for all to see – as a deterrent I expect –  punctured through the anus with a long sharpened pole and then their own body weight ensured that the pole came out somewhere near the top of their bodies shortly afterwards…..
The most awful that I saw – though it is hard to judge objectively – was the Anal Saw.I even took a photo of a medieval engraving of this one…….. a man would be strung up on 2 ropes by each leg so that he was suspended upside down with his legs wide apart and then he was quite literally sawn down the middle – again starting with the anus. Apparently the blood flow to the head kept him conscious and because there was no blood loss it was not till the sawsmen (Saywers?) reach their livers that the victims actually died.
The oddest thing was in the middle of the room there was a GUILLOTINE.
Hardly an instrument of torture. It just cut heads off quickly.
No idea what it was doing there. Totally out of place.
Did you know that the last Frenchman was guillotined in 1977? He had raped and strangled a girl of 21.
Seems fair to me.
So you see – lots of fun things to see in the Dordogne for all the family.

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