Bertrand De Goth, the Archbishop of Bordeaux and local Gascon lad, was chosen as Pope in 1305 taking the title Pope Clement V. After delaying his departure from his castle at Villandraut for three years, he finally settled in Avignon to begin a period of almost 70 years when rival popes reigned in France and Italy.
At a time when loyalty to family was as strong as to state or even church, it did not shock his contemporaries that on his succession to the papacy he appointed five nephews as Cardinals to assist in clerical power struggles and to benefit financially from his elevation to the papacy. Indeed, the practise was an established part of the Church’s bureaucracy. They could be counted on to be loyal administrators for the new Pope and, at a time when Papal infallibility was far from generally acknowledged, they were an important bloc vote in the College of Cardinals where the Pope needed allies and supporters.
Perhaps today they would be titled ’Special Advisors’ and appointed by a new administration to ensure that the civil service delivered on political decisions, and that public announcements were delivered on ‘good days for bad news‘. In any event, given the title of ’Cardinal Nephew’ and the revenues commensurate with such high office, they were able to construct substantial castles within easy commuting distance of their patron’s palace at Villandraut. Today, one at Budos is a substantial ruin as is another at Blanquefort. Another, at La Trave, has little remaining above ground but the Chateau at Fargues de Langon has recently benefited from substantial renovation by the family owning the LVMH luxury goods brand while the fifth was Roquetaillade which is not only in an excellent state of repair but is open to visitors most days during the summer. Incidentally, the same family has occupied the fortress for the last 700 years -since the days of the Avignon Popes.
The remains of the Pope’s own moated chateau at Villandraut where he lingered for 3 years before taking up residence at the new Papal Palace at Avignon, can also be visited. Indeed it could be said that the Pope himself can be visited up the road at Uzeste as he occupies a fine tomb in the local church.
These reminders of a medieval world offer a tangible connection to a time past when the Church was the greatest power in the land and its servants the wealthiest local citizens.