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The origins of the village of Crillon date back to Roman times when it was known as Crillonium. The village’s modern history dates to the 14th-century when a leading Avignon family acquired the feudal rights to the village. A long line of dukes ruled Crillon throughout the period leading up to the Revolution but it drew its full name from the most legendary of its dukes. Le Brave Crillon (1541-1615) was one of Henri IV’s fiercest generals during the wars of religion that swept through France in the late 16th century. The same Crillon family also gave its name to the famous Hôtel Crillon on Paris’s Place de la Concorde.
The village of Crillon le Brave was lively and prosperous until late in the 19th century, but by the beginning of the 20th century, this once-powerful fortified village of over 500 inhabitants was in the throes of a long, slow decline. A lack of direct water supply caused young Crillonnais to abandon the village and by the end of WWII, the village was in ruins and almost deserted. By the early 1970’s however, new home-owners gradually began to breathe life into the remaining stone ruins so that today, under the leadership of the village council, the village of Crillon le Brave is gradually regaining the charm and wealth of a long-lost era.Like most of the houses surrounding the church in the old part of the village, the houses which form the core of the hotel have their origins in the 16th and 17th centuries. The large house which houses the sitting rooms, bar and restaurant was originally the “presbytère” - the priest’s home as well as the local school. Elderly neighbours still recall their parents’ tales of going to school in the building that now welcomes guests from around the world.
The village church has occupied this site since the 13th century, although no traces remain of the original church and the cemetery that surrounded it. The current church was built in 1844. The interior of the church is simple but attractive. Although it has few truly distinctive features, there is an interesting altar carved in wood and an 18th century confessional. Also, there is a large plaque in memory of le Brave Crillon.
King Henry IV of France called him “the greatest general in the world”, and his epitaph reads, “Henry IV loved him, the people mourned him”. These are grand tributes for a man who in his youth was known as a disagreeable and bellicose character. Yet by the time of his death at age 74, Louis de Berton Balbe had become a renowned general and had earned the nom de guerre of le Brave Crillon.
Louis de Berton Balbe was born in 1541 in the village of Murs, about 30km southeast of Crillon le Brave. He lived with his family in Avignon, but at about age 15 (around the time that his father bought the fiefdom of Crillon) he headed off to war to escape capital punishment for killing a rival. Crillon turned out to be a courageous warrior and valiantly served 5 kings in campaigns in Italy, Spain, and France.
After the death of Henry III in 1589, Crillon declared his loyalty to Henry IV, the Protestant King. He served Henry with great devotion and became known not only as a brave soldier but also as a man of great compassion and generosity. After the peace of Vervins he returned home to an enthusiastic welcome from the people of Avignon. A writer of the time noted that the roofs of the houses sagged under the weight of people anxious to get a look at the returning hero.
Crillon’s great patron, Henry IV was assassinated in 1610, leaving the old soldier filled with sadness. He himself died 5 years later; unfortunately, he was a sick and unhappy man for his last few years. The body of le Brave Crillon is buried in the Metropole des Doms in Avignon.