Thursday, 13 February 2014

Colombier

Last month we posted some views of the village of Montrésor. You can see them here. What we didn't post was a photo of what was stood on the opposite side of the small rural road we'd pulled over on.
Colombier à pied  at Montrésor
The building is a pigeonnier or colombier. Colombier is the more traditional term, which began to go out of use in the 19th century and historically referred to the 'stand-alone' towers which form such a lovely part of France's rural patrimony. Colombiers were a sign of the affluence of the seigneurie and from 1368 a royal decree set out the who could own one and of what type; the 'droit du colombier'.

The highest level [seigneur haut justicier] could have as many colombier à pied [towers] as they wished. Nobles one level lower in the pecking order could also have 'colombier à pied' but they had to meet a minimum requirement of 50 arpents [1 arpent = 5,000 m2] of arable land and they had to build the colombier on their own land. Presumably therefore, that meant that the highest ranking nobles could build them on a vassel's property. Nobles, individuals and commoners on the next level down were only allowed a colombier d'etage [parts of larger buildings; a loft in a barn for example] and had to have at least 50 arpents of land.

Unsurprisingly the whole system was open to abuse and the ordinary person suffered. They were forbidden to undertake any action when flocks of voracious pigeons, often several hundred strong, stripped their fields. If they did kill, trap or injure a pigeon severe fines were imposed. As a result the whole 'droit du colombier' was one of first things which the National Assembly abolished in August 1789 at the start of the French Revolution.

We know that even tiny birds can be voracious-- we have a plethora of blue and great tits; and the amount of bird seed they consume is impressive and proof enough :-)!
Who are you lookin' at?
Diving into the food

15 comments:

Susan said...

At least there was some attempt at controlling the pigeons though. The point of having to have a minimum area of land before you could have pigeons was because you had to be able to prove you could afford to divert a portion of a staple food (wheat grown on your 50 arpents of land) to produce a luxury food.

rusty duck said...

We have a little robin who will stand in an empty seed tray on the bird table, tap the bottom of it with his beak, then stare at us through the kitchen window. Tap, stare, tap, stare... until the mission is accomplished.

Tim said...

I love the last picture...
well captured!!

We get Blue and Great Tits tapping...
ON THE WINDOW!
And they just stand there staring...
until you refill the feeders...
and Pauline was filling the "field" feeder [the one out in the meadow], yesterday...
and had a Blue Tit nagging her from a branch above...
unfortunately, I couldn't get a decent picture that showed the bird and Pauline!

the fly in the web said...

Do you know the underground pigeonnier at Tourtenay?

http://www.pays-thouarsais.com/index.php/articles-communes/116-patrimoine-de-tourtenay

Well worth a visit and the wine from the vignerons who own the site is pretty good too.

Carolyn said...

At the Commanderie d'Arville, the audioguide said that the amount of land you owned determined the number of pigeons you could have--the more land, the more pigeons. The pigeonnier that's there now could house 2000 birds.

MorningAJ said...

Those bluetits are adorable!

The village we live in has a number of dovecotes (pigeonniers). We even have a street called Dovecote!

Niall & Antoinette said...

ALL - apologies for late replies, the laptop's firewall has been over zealous.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Susan - yes in theory -- the 50 arpents minimum was sensible but from what I've read there was such a flouting of the rules that ordinary labourers with only a few arpents really suffered from 'pigeon invasion'.

Niall & Antoinette said...

'Rusty duck - our blue tits sit and scold until the feeders are replenished. The robins in contrast are pretty laid back - except when they fight each other!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Tim - demanding wee scruffs aren't they? :-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - no we don't; thanks for the suggestion. It sounds really interesting and with a vineyard thrown in = a great day out .... if it ever dries out here!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Carolyn - apart for the most senior rank, who had more freedom in setting up a colombier; you had to have at least 50 arpents of land and it had to be built on your own land so that the impact on others was minimal-- as Susan points out it was a luxury food - you had to be able to produce enough surplus so as to be able to feed the birds.
The bigger the colombier [more niches] the higher the status. It showed that you had so much surplus land as to be able to support a very large colony.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Mornign AJ - they are cute aren't they? My personal favourite is the Gold Finch. I love their little red masked faces.

Perpetua said...

I know which I'd rather have invading my land. :-) I'd hate to have been a mediaeval peasant trying to keep the pigeons off my pea crop, if the neighbouring noble had built his colombier on the edge of my land.

They are impressive buildings and I try to imagine what it must have been like with so many birds nesting there.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - I suspect the smell [ammonia] would have been eye-watering!