La Force Archaeological and Historical Research Association (shortened to ARAH), founded in 1990, is concerned with researching, studying, inventorying and preserving the archaeological and historical heritage of the Pays de la Force (the 12 communes which make up the canton of La Force plus the communes of Lamonzie St Martin and Gardonne which are linked to La Force for reasons dating back to the Revolution).
The Pays de la Force is situated along the Dordogne River between Bergerac and St Foy la Grande. It is bordered to the north by the canton of Mussidan and the Landais forest. In 420 the Visigoths settled in the region and ruled until Clovis’ conquest in 507. In the 8th century Dagobert brought the Pays de la Force under the wing of the kingdom of Toulouse whereupon it was administered by Charlemagne and his descendants.
In the 10th century the Pays de la Force passed into the hands of Adalbert of Périgord renowned for his rebellious attitude towards Hugues Capet. In 1131, following the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet, the English took possession of the area. The Prévôt family first appears in the 12th century, following the First Holy Crusade. The Caumont family came to La Force in 1554 with the marriage of François de Caumont with Philippine de Beaupoil, a direct descendant of the Prévôts. These seigneurs were to become marquis, barons, dukes and peers of the crown (in 1637).
The land was ravaged umpteen times by the Black Prince during the Hundred Years War and only became French soil again following the 1453 Battle of Castillon.
During the Reformation the House of Caumont-La Force joined the House of Navarre in the Huguenot’s fight against the Catholics. Jacques Nompar de Caumont, Duke of La Force and a great friend of Henry IV, defended Montauban against Louis XIII in 1631 before fighting – in his role as field-marshal – in the Thirty Years War.
The fifth duke of Caumont, raised by the Jesuits, renounced his faith in 1683 and persecuted the Protestants of his duchy.
During the Revolution the people of La Force embraced the revolutionary movement and complied their own Book of Grievances. The château, built in 1604, was demolished in 1793. Today only a small section of the central ‘counting house’ still stands. Among the other famous personages of the family, we will mention Miss de la Force, grand-daughter of the first duke and 17th century libertine narrator, Monseigneur Belsunce, archbishop of Marseilles at the time of the great plague of 1721, born at La Force Château, the countess of Balbi, born Caumont La Force, muse of the Count de Provence, future Louis XVIII.
The John Bost Asylum was founded in 1848 by the pastor of the same name. These days the John Bost Foundation employs 1200 people and 1000 patients in its 22 centres which are mainly based in the communes of Prigonrieux and La Force.
We will not forget the Marquis de Lavalette, who was Napoleon III’s ambassador and minister, and his Cavalerie Château, where he lived with his American wife, his adopted son Samuel Welles de Lavalette, the mayors of the 3rd Republic: Mr. Clament (deputy) and Mr. de la Chapelle in La Force, Mr. Blanc and Mr. Guichard in Prigonrieux, the Boudet family, owners of St Martin Château, whose members would be mayors of Lamonzie St Martin and Gardonne, Dupuy au Fleix, etc…
The Dordogne River was used for trade from as early as the Bronze Age; a winged spearhead dating from the first Carolingian era was found at the Bourgatie ford in the commune of Lamonzie.
Palaeolithic, Gallo-roman and medieval sites have all been discovered around Prigonrieux and St Pierre d’Eyraud. Le Fleix owns the Domaine de Gillet where, next to a burial mound, is a small tower quite possibly related to Celtic water ceremonies. There is also the Gaulish ‘Villa de Melle’ not far from the Via Limovicensis – the Roman road linking Limoges to Port St Foy via Périgueux, Mussidan and St Géry (situated in the Pays de La Force).
It is thought that a Neolithic site was situated between Gardonne and La Force and that a sarcophagi necropolis could have existed at Lamonzie St Martin in the spot on which a Benedictine priory was later built (Benedictine priories also settled at Monfaucon and Le Fleix). St John’s Hospitalers (the Order of Malta) had a hospice at St Pierre d’Eyraud while the Knights Templar set up their Preceptoria de Lespau at Fraysse. Glassworks gave their name to the hamlet, Verrière, and two pottery works prospered in Fleix in the 18th century.
To conclude : archaeology and history have left behind traces which it is our responsibility to preserve – for our own sakes and for those of our children (and to remind us where we come from !).