château (shătōˈ, Fr. shätōˈ) [key], royal or seignioral residence and stronghold of medieval France—the counterpart of the English castle of the period. In such a fortress, peasants of the surrounding country took refuge during time of war. The early fortified château, called a château-fort, reached its culmination in the late 15th cent., when the magnificent feudal Pierrefonds was built near Compiègne. The 16th-century château, with its gardens and outbuildings, was usually surrounded by a moat, but was only lightly fortified. Notable châteaus of the transition period between the military château and the later country estate with extensive landed property are those of the Loire, Indre, and Cher valleys, such as Chambord, Amboise, Blois, Chenonceaux, Azay-le-Rideau, and Chaumont.
See study by F. Gébelin (tr. 1964).