The history of the Plateliai Manor homestead dates back to the 17th century. This building belonged to French citizens when the Town of Plateliai, together with the manor, became the private property of the French Count de Choiseul-Gouffier family, who owned it until 1940.
Plateliai Manor was first mentioned in written sources in the middle of the 15th century when it was still run by deputies serving Lithuanian rulers. Later, the manor went to the rulers themselves. In 1529, the Samogitian elder Stanislovas Kęsgaila handed it over to Sigismund Augustus, who later passed it on to his mother Bona Sforza. At the end of the 16th century, the entire Town of Plateliai and 18 surrounding villages belonged to the manor. It was ruled by Vaitiekus Stabarauskas; then by Jeronimas Valavičius, a notary of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; and then by Samogitian judge Andrius Valavičius.
Plateliai became part of Russia in 1795. In 1797, Tsar Paul I presented the Plateliai Manor and its surroundings to a French Count, Colonel of the Russian Army, and Chief of Chamber of the Tsar’s House – Augustine Choiseul de Gouffier. This gift was made official in 1801 by Alexander I. According to surviving documents, which are kept in the Samogitian Alka Museum in Telšiai, the Plateliai Manor was officially transferred to Choiseuls in 1807-1808.
The land of Plateliai, with its lakes and green forest, is exceptionally beautiful. It is also popular among Plungians and all Samogitians. And not only among them, but also among all Lithuanians and those who visit Samogitia and its seaside. However, locals did not like the Counts Choiseul-Gouffier, who ruled there for almost 150 years. However, the fact that the counts were French citizens helped protect the manor from demolition, as the manor was not affected by land reform during the interwar period. Interestingly, the childless representatives of the Choiseul family, who died before the Second World War, were buried in the Plateliai Church cemetery. Many art treasures and books were stored in the Choiseul house.
The Choiseul Counts in Lithuania and Poland were related to several famous and influential families at that time. The first wife of Octavius, the son of the eldest August Choiseul, was Countess Potockaitė, and his second wife was Sofija Tyzenhauzaitė.
After her husband’s death, Sofia Tyzenhauzaitė and her son settled in Plateliai Manor and ruled it for some time. At the beginning of the 19th century, Sofia rebuilt the manor house, building a new foundation on the old one. The period of Sofia’s reign in Plateliai is remembered as one of the most favourable for ordinary people; Sofia was attentive to everyone. Later, her son Alexander managed the manor. Through Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Sofia made sure that her son kept Plateliai without losing French citizenship.
The last owners of Plateliai Manor were the two grandchildren of Sofia, Maria (buried in Plateliai) and Liudvikas (Lui), who left Plateliai in 1940 to live in France. Sofia’s son Alexander had four children with Countess Sofia Čapskytė.
The Choiseul Counts ruled Plateliai until World War II. During the rule of Choiseul, Plateliai Manor was an important centre of Samogitian culture, politics and economy.
The Plateliai Manor homestead buildings include a vegetable cellar, officina, stables and barn. The homestead is surrounded by a 6.32 ha park with three natural monuments. Plateliai Manor Park was founded in the 19th century in an area of 6.2 ha that descends slightly to the east. Although the park is small, its relief and vegetation reflect the hilly and green landscape of the Plateliai area. The park is mixed but ultimately dominated by elements of a landscape park, with alleys, winding paths and irregular lawns. There are two small ponds in the park, and it is filled with local tree species that have since been declared natural monuments. There remains of the burnt wooden foundations of the central manor palace can be found next to one such tree. The pride and decoration of the park – the witch’s ash tree – is the biggest ash tree in Lithuania. The witch’s ash tree was declared a natural monument in 1960. There are several legends about this unique tree. According to one of them, in ancient times witches and devils deceived people to steal from them. There was one incident when a villager was misled by witches while walking home late at night. The woman rushed around the manor park, imagining that the forest there was unfamiliar to her. She wandered until she got tired. Then, sitting down at the ash tree to rest, she fell asleep. At that time the witch grabbed a loaf of bread from her and was already biting into it when the roosters starting singing. An angry witch smashed the loaf of bread into a tree, which turned into a tuber. That’s when people started calling it the witch’s ash tree.
There have been many exhibitions at Plateliai manor since the Samogitian National Park took over its administration. In 2012, the manor’s barn and stables were reconstructed and equipped with modern exhibitions. There are exhibitions dedicated to nature, the history of the manor, antiquity and ethnography in the barn. The stable is home to a museum celebrating Lithuanian Užgavėnės. According to folklore, Užgavėnės is the threshold between the passing of winter and the coming of spring. As such, Užgavėnės, formerly known as the Ragutis Festival, is like a carnival where people wear masks and costumes. Masks are usually made of tree bark, sheepskin, paper or cardboard, and people wear unusual clothes according to the character they are portraying. They then go from hut to hut joking, singing and trying to prank others while in costume. You can see what Užgavėnės masks look like in the museum. Visitors are also invited to take part in the Užgavėnės theatrical programme.
A centre for traditional crafts operates in the former vegetable cellar of the Plateliai Manor homestead, the purpose of which is to popularize various ancient crafts, spread ethno-cultural customs and ceremonies, and acquaint visitor with the culinary heritage of Samogitia.