Location: Loire River Valley
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Chenonceaux, small agricultural community in the department of Indre-et-Loire in northwestern France,18 miles east of Tours. Located on the Cher River. Chenonceaux is best known as the site of the 16th-century Château de Chenonceaux, which is situated on the north bank of the river.
In 1515 Thomas Bohier, revenue collector for King Francis I, began the construction of the Château de Chenonceaux. Unfinished at the time of his death, construction of the château was completed by Bohier's wife and son. In 1535, however, Francis I took the estate in payment of debts. King Henry II, son of Francis I, gave the châteaux to Diane de Poitiers, duchesse de Valentinois, who extended the structure by a bridge across the Cher. Catherine de Médicis, widow of Henry II, forced Diane de Poitiers to deed the châteaux to her.
Catherine de Médicis constructed the gallery above the bridge and the stables known as the Bâtiment-des-Dômes. The château became her favorite residence, and it was there that her son Francis II and Mary, Queen of Scots, were married in 1560.
View over the gardens of Catherine de Medici
Gardens were finished in 1568 and inaugurated with a great fete together with the ratification of the peace of Amboise.
The gardens had flowers, fruits and vegetables which at the time were considered exotic such as melons and artichokes
One of the most meritorious acts in the history of the castle was when Gaston Menier, transformed the building in 1914 into a temporary hospital where more than 2000 wounded were recovered up to the end of World War I. Château de Chenonceaux later became the property of the French nation.
The following information was researched by our volunteer team member
Carolyn D. Ahrns from Las Vegas, NV. Thank you very much!
Known as “Château de Femmes” or “the castle of six ladies” for the succession of powerful French noblewomen of Chenonceau, who each made an impact on the castle, forming it into the lovely château we see today. This enchanting castle may be smaller in comparison to others, but what it lacks in size it makes up in charm. “This truly is a magnificent place, deeply rich with history, and is certainly one of… the most romantic Châteaus in Loire Valley.” Definitely “worth taking the time to visit.”
(I found the château’s history to contain certain dates that conflict with each other and are questionable. The reference texts I looked over did not go into detail on certain subjects, the many web sites I looked over are where I ran into the conflict, I used the dates from reference texts for most of this article, there will no doubt be some dates mentioned here that will conflict with text you may have read. I did my best to be accurate as possible.)
“The estate of Chenonceau is mentioned for the first time in writing towards the end of the eleventh century.” In 1230, Guillaume de Marques, the first Lord of Chenonceau, built a fortified manor on the Cher river. Its foundation stood on pilings embedded into the granite bed of the river bottom. A series of moats provided security to the inhabitants. “From the thirteenth century to fifteenth century the estate of Chenonceau” would remain the property of de Marques decedents.
“In 1411, a royal order to punish Jean Marques for an act of sedition included an order for the destruction of the manor.” The feudal manor was rebuilt.
In 1420, Jean I of Marks joined with the Duke of Burgundy against the Dolphin (future King Charles VII). He accommodated an English garrison at Chenonceau. Chenonceau was seized by the King’s Marshal and was partially destroyed. His son, Jean II of Marks, succeeded his father.
In 1431, Jean II of Marks paid homage to King Charles VII for the return of Chenonceau which had been seized from his father Jean I. He was granted the authorization to rebuild the manor in 1432. In 1433, he rebuilt the manor “faithful to its original layout” (a rectangular four-towered block with steeply pitched roofs) and a fortified communal mill built on piers across the Cher river.
Jean II’s son, Pierre de Marques, made the final succession of de Marques family in 1460. The de Marques family built the first medieval manor at Chenonceau and were the Lords of Chenonceau for over 200 years; this came to an end when Pierre de Marques, due to financial debt, sold Chenonceau to Thomas Bohier in 1499.
A decedent of the de Marques, an heiress, exercised “her right of redemption” and bought Chenonceau back from Bohier. Meanwhile Thomas started buying the land that surrounded the manor, and in 1512, he again purchased the manor, now in a state of ruin.
Thomas Bohier was the General Controleur of Finances for Kings Charles VIII, Louis XII and François I. In 1515, he demolished “the castle-keep and the fortified mill of the Marques family only keeping the donjon.” He started extensive “construction of a third generation castle at Chenonceau.” He made modifications to the “donjon” and the “systems of moats.” Using the piles of the old mill as foundation stones for the new structure, a vast square building, with a turret flanking each corner, was built in the middle of the river “reincorporating the previous square plan of the forecourt of the old medieval castle.” The château spans the whole width of the river.
Known as, Tour des Marques, the “donjon” built in 1230, and a well (“decorated with a chimaera and an eagle - the emblem of the Marques family”) that sits next to the Tower are the only surviving part of the original manor. The Tower was completely restored in Renaissance style, from the fenetres with pilasters and pediments, to the decorated attic windows. The Tower sits to the right of the entrance of the new centrally planned château. By 1517, Chenonceau still retained some severity of its military style, but inspired by the “fashion of the time” its exterior ornamentation added “unusual elegance to its gothic appearance. The first phase of construction, the keep and wing beside the river Cher were completed in 1521.”
Since Thomas was often away on business, his wife, Katherine Briconnet, personally took over the construction of Chenonceau. She greatly influenced the design of the building; building it in “Renaissance” style. Katherine introduced new innovations in building the castle, the “gracefulness and conveniences” of the château are owed to her. “Features such as straight wide stairs and large bright kitchens” were Katherine’s ideas. “She made most of the architectural choices, designing the section of the château (the turreted pavilion) that parallels the Cher River, including the Tower and the Monumental Entrance”, and she built one of the first “straight staircases” in France. By 1522, “the castle was completed and the surrounding estate laid out. Chenonceau was now worthy of receiving the notables of the Kingdom. It was Katherine who established her authority over the estate, taking readily to court life. The King, François I, was twice a guest at the castle.”
At the entrance to the château, a salamander, the emblem of François I, is sculpted above the main door with the inscription “François, by the grace of God, King of France and Claude, Queen of the French.” On the left is the coat-of-arms of Thomas Bohier and on the right are the coat-of-arms of Katherine Briconnet. “The hall is covered with a series of rib vaults whose keystrokes, detached from each other form a broken line. Made in 1515, it is one of the most beautiful examples of decorative sculpting from the French Renaissance period. The hall, said to be designed by Katherine Briconnet, leads to four rooms, including the bedroom of César de Vendôme….and across from this room is the bedroom of Catherine dé Medici” and a study “richly decorated by Italian Renaissance paintings.” The Italian style oak coffer ceiling dates from 1525, “with small hanging keys, is one of the first of this type known in France. It has the initials T.B.K.” the initials of the original owners. François I’s bedroom has one of the “most beautiful Renaissance chimneys. On the mantelpiece you can see the motto of Thomas Bohier - ‘S’il vient à point, me souviendra’ (if the building is finished, it will preserve the memory of the man who built it) - which echoes his coat-of-arms above the door.” There are “three 15th century French credence tables and a 16th century Italian cabinet, exceptional with its mother-of-pearl and fountain-pen engraved ivory incrustations” a wedding present to François II and Mary Stuart. At the right of the chimney is “The Three Graces” by Van Loo which represents the “Mesdemoiselles from Nesle. Three sisters, successive favourites of King Louis XV: Madame di Châteauroux, Vintimille, Mailly.”
In the Guards’ Room “Thomas Bohier’s arms decorate the 16th century chimney.” Above the sixteenth century oak door is the motto of Thomas Bohier and Katherine Briconnet: “S’il vient à point, me souviendra’.” The walls are draped with sixteenth century Flemish tapestries with scenes of castle life, a marriage proposal, and a hunt. There are Gothic and Renaissance chests that “during the 16th century would had held silverware, crockery and tapestries with which the Court moved from one residence to another.” The remains of a sixteenth century majolica can be found on the floor, and the exposed ceiling joists have two intertwining “C’s” of Catherine dé Medici. The entrance hall is characterized by triangular ribbed vaults. The sixteenth century rooms are decorated with “beautiful arrays of Flemish tapestries, paintings and furniture” along with classic French chimneys and gorgeous timbered ceilings.
The most original innovation of the château is the sixteenth century straight staircase - “or banister on banister” - built in France based on an Italian model. “It is covered with a pitch vault with ribs intersecting at right angles, the groins are decorated with keystones, the coffers are decorated with human figures, fruits and flowers. The staircase with two banisters intersected by a landing forming a loggia with a balustrade from which you can discover a view of the Cher.” The Hall is tiled with small baked clay tiles “stamped with a fleur de lis crossed by a dagger.”
Catherine dé Medici hung Italian marble “medallions” above the doors. Each are carved in the likeness of Roman Emperors. Each room’s detail is decorated differently from the heavy beams in the vualted ceilings and the fabric wallcoverings to the designs on the floors. There is a fabulous flower arrangement in every room from the castle’s garden, individual shutters on each window.
“The kitchens are located in the huge bases which form the first two piers sitting on the bed of the Cher.” There is a large rotisserie in the kitchen with an “ingenious clockwork mechanism” that “used a heavy weight suspended over the river to drive the mechanism.” The pantry is a low room; the ribs of two cross vaults intersect. “Its 16th century chimney is the château’s largest, next to the bread oven. The pantry serves both the Dining Room reserved for château staff, the Butchery in which you can still see the hooks for handing game and the blocks for cutting it up, and finally the Larder.” A bridge leading to the kitchen also served the pantry by crossing from one pier to another. Boats with supplies could deliver foodstuffs to the château.
“The chapel was consecrated by Cardinal Bohier, a relative of Thomas.” Above the door of the chapel is a statue of the Virgin. “The leaves of this oak door represent Christ and Saint Thomas, and repeat the works of the Gospel according to Saint John: ‘Lay you finger here’ ‘You are my Lord and my God’.” The original stained glass windows were destroyed by bombs in 1944. They were replaced by the works of Max Ingrand, a master glassworker, in 1954. “Dominating the nave, the Royal Gallery from where the queens attended mass shows the date 1521. You can still read the inscriptions on the walls left by Queen Mary Stewart’s Scottish guards: On the right as you enter dated 1543 ‘Man’s anger does not accomplish God’s Justice’ and 1546 ‘Do not let yourself be won over by Evil’.”
Thomas Bohier died in 1524 leaving the castle unfinished. His wife and son completed construction of the château before Catherine’s death in 1526. His son Antoine inherited Château de Chenonceau. In 1535, Antoine Bohier made arrangements with King François I to exchange the château in payment for financial debts. Château de Chenonceau became a possession of King François I in 1535 and thereafter remained a royal residence. “The High Constable of Montmorency took possession of the castle in the name of François I. The King, however, who was at the time engaged in the building of Chambord, was only moderately interested in the castle of Chenonceau and did not effect any improvements.”
The King’s second son Henry, Duke of Orleans, was as child held captive for four years in a cell in Spain. After his release Henry was a rebellious youth, insolent and rude, and the King realized something had to be done. He needed someone to refine young Henry and guide him in the graces of the Court. The King called upon Diane de Poitiers, decedent from the Comtes de Poitiers an ancient sovereign family; she was highly educated and cultured. Set in her were the highest principles of honor and wisdom. During this time Henry developed a strong affection for Diane.
In 1515, she married Louis de Breze, “who became one of the foremost dignitaries of the kingdom as “Comte de Maulevrier” (Count of Maulevrier), “Seigneur d’ Anet” (Lord of Anet), “Grand Senechal of Normandy” (Grand Marshal of Normandy) “and ‘Grand Huntsman’ of France.” He was fifty-six, forty years older than Diane. Through her marriage and thanks to her beauty and intelligence, she was called to the court of France where she had access to the highest circles. She became Lady of Honor to Queen Claude, the King’s wife. Her husband’s friendship with King François I and their mutual love of hunting, brought the King and Queen to Anet, Diane and her husband’s home. Diane shared her elderly husband’s enthusiasm for hunting. She acquired a reputation as a huntress. There are many paintings and sculptures of Diane depicting her as a very healthy, robust, athletically toned woman. Diane’s husband, Louis de Breze, died at Anet on July 23, 1531. “Diane mourned him sincerely, erecting a magnificent tomb for him in the Rouen Cathedral. She went into mourning which she never abandoned; her attire was confined to black and white. The death of her husband did not change her position at the French court, she remained “La Grande Senechale.”
King François I and Pope Clement VII arranged the marriage of Henry Duke of Orleans to Catherine dé Medici. In 1533 they were married, both were fourteen years of age. Catherine was neglected by her husband throughout his reign. By the time Henry was fifteen years old, the beautiful widow, Diane, almost twenty years his senior became Henry’s secret mistress. In 1533, Henry elected also to appear only in black and white under the pretext of platonic affection, making the crescent which was attributed to the divine huntress his emblem and adopting the famous monogram with H and D interlaced. Henry became King in 1547 at age twenty-eight Diane was fouthy-eight and had been a widow for twenty years. “Her beauty, the narrowness of her waist, her fair skin and her rousset hair were legendary. In matters of state the King trusted only his mistress, and many official letters were written in her hand and signed jointly with the one name: HenriDiane. Through Henry, Diane gained much influence in the government of France.” Diane advised the King throughout his reign. Diane “rode at his side while” Queen Catherine “followed behind.” Diane became very concerned when Catherine seemed unable to conceive. Realizing a marriage annulment would bring “the arrival of a new queen” whose disapproval could “pose a greater threat to her position.” Diane helped by encouraging “Henry to father children so that the royal line of Valois could continue. On designated evenings Henry would spend the first part of the night in bed with Diane as usual, until she sent him upstairs to Catherine. Once his marital duty was accomplished, Henry would return to Diane. The young King anxious to please his favourite and to give her a residence worthy of her,” gave Château de Chenonceau and the Crown Jewels as a gift to his beloved mistress Diane de Poitiers. “The castle, however, belonged to the Crown and Diane would have to wait until 1555 and to resort to legal artifices and other subtle procedures to become its legitimate owner.”
In 1551, “Diane was made Duchess of Valentinois and became one of the most influential women in the Kingdom.” In 1552, Diane’s efforts were rewarded by the visit of the King and his Court to Chenonceau. “With the help of the bailiff, André Béreau, Diane ran her then prosperous estate with unmistakable authority. Even if the expenditure was onerous, receipts from the farm produce, royalties from vassals and fines imposed by the castle court enabled to balance the budget.”
In 1555, “The profits made through the cultivation of the estate and the confident knowledge that the castle was hers encouraged Diane of Poitiers to further embellish her property. She undertook new works and resuscitated the former owners’ idea of enlarging the castle and building a bridge to span the river Cher…“
Diane de Poitiers loved Chenonceau, she devoted much of her time and money turning Chenonceau into one of the finest royal palaces in France. Her bedroom “The Chamber des Reines is a delightful blend of style and luxury. The room is dominated by Diane de Poitiers’ bed which is believed to have an ‘extraordinary’ effect on those who lay on it.” There are also two “impressive Flemish tapestries of exceptional beauty.” Her fireplace is decorated with royal symbols made of pure gold. She designed and laid out beautiful gardens for which Chenonceau became famous. In 1556 she enlarged Chenonceau by building a five arch bridge over the Cher river; Philibert de l'Orme, a famous French designer, “had the brilliant idea of linking this garden, via the Château and a long gallery, to a new garden on the south side of the river.”
“Although she loved him deeply, Henry was more in love with his mistress. This severely bothered Catherine, but she did not cause problems or create a stir. She kept her personal feelings and attitudes to herself.” Henry II suffered a fatal wound in a jousting tournament accident. He lingered for eleven days before succumbing to his injuries. He died in 1559, leaving his fifteen year old son, François II, King of France. Until her husband’s death Catherine endured the domination of his mistress Diane. “Catherine attained her victory when Henry was fatally wounded….As he lay dying, Catherine resumed control of him and was in charge of access to him. He called out for Diane, but she was not summoned. She was also uninvited to the funeral.” The King’s death came as a fatal blow to Diane. “Hardly had the King breathed his last when Diane, measuring the extent of her misfortune and expecting the worst, sent back the crown jewels to the Queen Mother (Catherine), humbly asking forgiveness for her sins. Catherine contented herself by reclaiming Chenonceau but gave Chaumont to Diane in exchange.” Diane was far removed from the court. “She contracted a sudden illness and died on the 25th of April, 1566” at Anet six years after Henry died.
Though the ages, very few women were successful in making an impact on the world, “but of the few of these women who were able to break from tradition made an immense impact on the society of their time and upon history in general. One of these women is Catherine dé Medici, an Italian woman who eventually became Queen of France.”
Catherine was born in Florence on April 13, 1519 into the richest non-royal family in Europe, the dé Medici family, who for three centuries were among the most powerful in the world. “They were the supreme rulers of Florence, and later of Tuscany. They patronized the arts and produced three Popes and enough royal marriages thoughout Europe to ensure their lasting influence.” She was the granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent and was the niece of two Popes, Leo X, and Clement VII. “Her parents were Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino” and the French Countess, “Madeline de la Tour d’ Auvergne. Both of her parents died shortly after her birth leaving her as the sole heiress to all of the possessions and holdings of the Medici family. Her father’s relative Cardinal Guilio dé Medici came to Florence to take control of the Florentine government and to care for the young Catherine. Pope Leo X sent her to Rome to live with a family connected with the papacy. When she was six she was brought back to Florence and all of the splendor of the dé Medici wealth.”
In 1527, “when Catherine was eight years old the Medici palace in Florence was attacked by an angry mob of Florentines.” Her relatives who lived with her in the palace decided to flee. The rebel leaders would let them leave only if they left young Catherine behind. A valuable hostage Catherine was placed in several convents in around the city. While in these convents she was educated by the nuns. She became fluent in Greek and Latin, and “received an education that allowed her to be one of the best-educated women of her time.” The Florentine rebellion was finally crushed by Guilio dé Medici, now Pope Clement VII, Catherine was sent to Rome to live with him. Once in Rome her marriage arrangements were made as part of an Italian-French dynastic alliance. At age fourteen Catherine was described as “small and slender, with fair hair, thin and not pretty in the face, but with the eyes peculiar to all the Medici.”
“Catherine grew up around the artistic splendors of the Medici villas and took particular delight in the banquets, balls, tromfi and intermezzi given by her powerful Florentine relatives. In a letter to her future father-in-law, Catherine stated that she greatly enjoyed Italian court dances, and hoped that she might be allowed to learn those of the French court, of which she had heard glowing reports.”
(I LOVE THIS STORY!)…
“As a teenager, she was small and thin, not quite 5 feet in height. She was painfully plain, with indelicate features and eyes too large for her face.
Catherine had nothing to say about her betrothal to the Duke of Orleans - par for the royal matchmaking course. On the other hand, the Duke was to become the next King of France, Henry II. Catherine would be his Queen. The thought itself was almost too thrilling to contemplate.
The young Catherine began feeling insecure.
The French court was, perhaps, the most splendid on the earth. Those who populated it were so elegant, so glamorous. How could tiny, plain Catherine possibly charm the inventors of such a world? How could she make a dramatic and impervious impression on the fabulous French Court?
In desperation, young Catherine dé Medici sought the aid of an ingenious Florentine artisan. For hundreds of years, scholars have tried in vain to discover his name. All we know is that he had a brilliant reputation, and he was there when Catherine needed him.
Not unlike the fabled Cinderella, Catherine confided in this clever, fairy godfather – at best, she would be ignored, at worst she would be ridiculed – unless she dazzled all at her first French Ball.
And the artisan smiled. He would produce a creation that would cast a spell over the entire French nation.
On September 1, 1553, Catherine dé Medici bade her homeland farewell and embarked on her journey to Paris. The wedding was even more jubilant and spectacular than she had imagined it, and an aristocratic multitude clamored to meet her. Their first opportunity would be at the Royal Ball.
Catherine’s appearance created a sensation. The men, it is said, were staggered by this sensuous Florentine Queen. The women were breathless with envy. There was, all agreed, something indefinably alluring in her walk, a subtle undulation, a gently seductive sway, the like of which the French had never seen.
What sorcery had this enchanting young woman brought to their court? Of course, we know that the source of the magic was a gifted artisan back home in Florence – a man whose name was long ago forgotten – the fairy godfather of Catherine dé Medici – her cobbler.
For Catherine, he had concocted that which would later be called the world’s most potent aphrodisiac – a device which not only endowed her with serpentine grace, but gave her the physical stature she could not otherwise posses.
So don’t let it be forgotten that once upon a time the sophisticated French looked up to a girl of 14 – Catherine dé Medici, their future queen and mother of the modern high-heeled shoe.”
Catherine’s arrival in France, while wearing these shoes, caused quite a stir.
“After her marriage to Henry of Orleans, she traveled and saw much of France.” King François I, “now her father-in-law soon realized what a wonderful traveling companion his new
daughter-in-law was. Other than François, Catherine had not a friend in all of France and was not looked highly upon by the French people, especially the nobles, who called her ‘that Italian woman’.”
The death of King François’ eldest son, the Dauphin François in 1536 caused quite a commotion throughout France. “The French did not want an Italian woman to become their queen. Many hoped for Catherine to do something wrong to keep her from ever reaching the throne. Many thought that she would never have children and that her time in there would be short, but between the years 1543 and 1555 Catherine had ten children, three of which died in infancy. Of those that survived three of them, François, Charles and Henry would later serve as Kings of France.”
“In 1547, Catherine’s beloved father-in-law, François I died. Her husband of 14 years became King Henry II of France, and Catherine was now the Queen. Catherine’s severe unpopularity with the French people became greater than ever. Their new queen was not of royal blood and she was Italian – not a good combination according to the French.”
“Catherine survived Henry II by thirty years and was Queen Mother to the next three Kings of France.” After Henry’s death, Catherine’s eldest son, Françios II, became King of France. “Like his father he was weak of mind.” He ruled for seventeen months before his death in 1560. Catherine’s second son, Charles IX, became King of France at the age of ten. “This allowed Catherine to become Queen Regent of France, and she served as such until Charles IX’s death. She also served as Queen Regent for her third son, Henry III.”
“During her reign, Catherine dé Medici faced many problems including the religious wars involving the Huguenots in France and the French hatred toward her. She overcame such obstacles, managed to uphold the power of the monarchy, and protected the claims of the Valois dynasty.” As Queen Mother, Catherine played a major part in French government and twice ruled as Regent. She had three sons who became Kings and arranged her daughter’s marriage to the King of Spain. Catherine’s first son François II, married to Mary Queen of Scots (1558), died after just one year on the throne (1560). His wife Mary, age sixteen, returned to Scotland she would later be beheaded by her cousin, Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Her second son, Charles IX, was married to Anne of Austria, ruled during the massacre (1572), died at the age twenty-four (1574). Her favorite of all her sons was Henry III, “through her efforts” he was elected King of Poland (1573). He returned after the death of his brother and was crowned Henry III of France (1574).
Catherine lived at Chenonceau after the death of her husband. The château became her favorite residence; she decided to enlarge the castle. Catherine tried “to erase the presence of Diane.” In Diane de Poitiers bedroom “the chimney of Jean Goujon, a French sculptor…, has the initials of Henry II and Catherine dé Medici: ‘H’ and ‘C’ which intertwined could form the ‘D’ of Diane de Poitiers.” Catherine’s bedroom has beautiful sixteenth century sculpted furniture and is decorated with a series of sixteenth century Flemish tapestries retracing Samson’s life. “They are remarkable for their edges filled with animals symbolizing proverbs and fables, for example ‘The Crayfish and the Oyster’ or ‘Skill is greater than Cunning’.” She completed the gallery started by Philibert de l'Orme, transforming it into a magnificent two storied Italian style ballroom in 1570; it took eight years to complete. The floor of the gallery is laid with enameled tiles of slate and chalk and at each end are two beautiful Renaissance chimneys. Lit by eighteen windows “it leads to the larger rooms, such as the drawing room, and bedrooms of François I and Louis XIII, who was the last King to come to the château. Pure gold and crimson tapestries decorate the Louis XIII chamber, with its wounderful fireplace and the portrait of Louis XIV in a magnificently carved and gilded frame.” According to legend Catherine kept a cabinet filled with a variety of Italian poisons “for she believed that ‘a pinch of some-thing strong’ was preferable to uproar and mayhem” in her “cosy little study.” Catherine built the “magnificent stables and the splendid Italian gardens which adorn the lands of the castle.”
“The Château was used extensively by Catherine and other French Royalty for festivities and hunts.” Catherine loved to entertain and as “her favorite get away, she gave many beautiful parties in honor of her three sons, all Kings of France.” “The castle became a royal residence where lavish entertainments were given, the most famous one being the feast for François II and Mary Stewart” in 1558. “In 1577, during the feast given by Catherine in honor of her son, the new King, Henry III, the grand gallery of the castle with its arches that spanned the Cher was inaugurated. Two other queens were also present: Louise, Henry III’s wife, and Marguerite de Navaree, the wife of the future Henry IV. The reception with its songs, dances, shows and concerts remains the climax of the golden era of Chenonceau.”
“She was a political realist who sought compromise between the Roman Catholics and Huguenots (Protestants).” The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, “of the Huguenots was caused in part by her political miscalculation.” It is estimated 3,000 Protestants were killed in Paris and 70,000 in all of France. Catherine had always placed the interests of her children and her family first. When her youngest son died in 1584 and Henry III had no children, she tried in vain to keep the royal family of Valois from extinction. Catherine learned from her son Henry III that he had rid himself of his rival, the Duke of Guise through assassination (1588). “Her surprise was tragic.” Catherine died in January 5, 1589 at the age of seventy from pneumonia. “It is said that she was strong enough to overcome her illness, but her disappointment with her favorite son caused her to die of a broken heart.” Henry III was assassinated in 1589, he was the last male member of the house of Valois.
In 1589, on her death bed, Catherine left Chenonceau to her daughter-in-law, Queen Louise of Lorraine, Henry III’s wife. “Although Louise had married a man who preferred men to her, she was a loving and considerate wife.” At the shock of her husband’s murder she was overcome with grief, “she became melancholy and never recovered.” Louise’s bedroom is on the second floor of the château, “unforgettable for the poignancy of its sadness. Her bedroom has been reconstructed around the original ceiling. It is painted black and decorated with mourning objects: silver tears, widow’s cordons, crowns of thorns and the religious scene - a 16th century painting on wood - which decorated the chimney. The furniture is from the 16th century.” Royal protocol required she wore white (the royal color for mourning) which she wore for the rest of her life. She was soon called the “White Queen” by the villagers, for which she became known. “Symbolically, she stored all the velvet and satin dresses for the feasts in a large chest in the gallery.” After years of extravagant parties and royal celebrations, “years of light and music, silence and darkness fell upon Chenonceau.” Sadly, the Queen is said to have “murmured nothing” but prayer for eleven years and grieved for the rest of her. She died there in 1601.
In 1624, César, the son of King Henry IV, (Henry IV, succeeded Henry III in 1589, he was the first Bourbon Monarch of France) “Duke of Vendôme became owner of the estate and his wife, Françoise of Lorraine, Duchess of Vendôme, was entrusted with its management. She endeavored to maintain the estate and to keep the castle in good repair.” On the ceiling of the Five Queens’ bedroom is the coat-of-arms of King Henry IV and Gabrielle d’Estrees who was Henry IV’s mistress, and César’s mother.
The Five Queens’ bedroom is named in memory of Catherine dé Medici’s daughters, Queen Margaret (married Henry of Navarre in 1572, who became King Henry VI in 1589, she agreed to have the marriage annulled in 1599) and Elisabeth of France (wife of Phillip II of Spain), her daughter-in-laws, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (wife of King François II), Elisabeth of Austria (wife of King Charles IX) and Louise of Lorraine (wife of King Henry III). “The 16th century coffer ceiling displays the Five Queens’ coats-of-arms. The chimney is from the Renaissance period. The walls are covered with a 16th century Flemish tapestry suite representing the siege of Troy and the kidnapping of Helene, Circus Games in the Coliseum and the crowing of King David. Another tapestry shows as episode from the life of Samson. The furniture is made up of a large four poster bed, two Gothic credence tables topped with the heads of two women in polychrome wood and a studded travel chest.”
“During the whole of the 17th century, the heirs to Queen Louise and their descendants succeeded one another as owners of Chenonceau without managing to recapture its former glory. The castle that the Valois had been so fond of was abandoned by the Bourbons. Louis XIV was the last of the Ancien Régime to go there, which he did on July 14, 1650.”
The castle passes from César Duc de Vendôme, to his son, Louis de Vendôme, then his grandson, Louis-Joseph Duc de Vendôme, to Philippe V, King of Spain and finally Louis de Condé (1720).
In 1720, “The Duke of Bourbon bought the castle. Year by year, the contents - the furniture, the paintings and the books - were dispersed. Numerous statues were given to the Palace of Versailles.”
In 1733, Claude Dupin (a descendent from the old Berry family) bought the castle from the Duke of Bourbon. His wife (a daughter of a rich financier) “Louise Dupin surrounded herself with brilliant and exhilarating company in Chenonceau.” Once again Chenonceau had its former splendor and “became an important pole of literary activity.” “Madame Dupin held salons which were attended by the luminaries of French society. Her son was tutored by Jean Jacques Rousseau; his book, Emile, was written for the boy. Madame Dupin lived to an advanced age and was much loved by the people of the area. When the French Revolution came, they defended the Chateau and Madame Dupin.” “Magnanimous and much loved by the inhabitants of the village, Madame Dupin reestablished the court life of the castle and imbued the estate with a happy prosperity.”
In 1864, Madame Pelouze was the sixth and last woman of “Château de Femmes”, she began restoration work on Chenonceau that would last ten years. “Marguerite Pelouze took possession of Chenonceau which had been sold to her husband, the famous chemist, Théophile Pelouze, by Madame Dupin’s heirs. The fortunes of the castle were once again in the hands of an energetic and dedicated woman.” In 1864, “After the death of her husband, Madame Pelouze proceeded with some very important construction work until 1878. She entrusted the architect Rouget with the task of giving the castle the appearance which it presumedly had at the beginning of the 16th century. Many of the alterations carried out by Catherine dé Medici were thus destroyed. The caryatids of the façade of the castle were removed and relocated to the park.”
In 1913, “A sale by the order of the court was followed by the conveyance of the castle to a rich manufacturer, Henri Menier, the founder’s grandson of the chocolate firm of the same name. The estate of Chenonceau has since that date stayed in the same family.”
In 1914-1918, “Mr. Gaston Menier set up, at his own expense, a temporary hospital, using all the rooms of the castle as wards for the sick. The gallery in particular was an important space in attending the wounded. The castle thus played a role in the Great War.”
In 1940-1942, “The great flood of the Cher in 1940 devastated Diane’s garden, which was not replanted until the fifties. During the Nazi Occupation a great number of people took advantage of the unusual situation of Chenonceau and its gallery, because the south side of the castle opened on to unoccupied France, while the entrance was in occupied France.”
In 1951, “Mr. Hubert Menier and his wife decided to end the long slumber in which Chenonceau had found itself and to revive the memories of five centuries of glory. In 1952, they entrusted a young agronomist, Bernard Voisin, with the preservation of the castle, which was then in a miserable condition. The ravages of time as well as man’s neglectfulness had left the buildings, the roofs and the gardens in a dilapidated state. But the enthusiasm of Bernard Voisin payed dividends. He successfully reconditioned the castle and its numerous outbuildings, protecting them from the rain, and managed to restore the beauty and the prosperity of the gardens and the surrounding vineyards. Little by little, Chenonceau was given a new lease of life. It could now be open to the public, bearing witness to five centuries of history and culture.”
2001, “Today, Chenonceau has fully recovered its glory. With its one million visitors every year, and with the exception of the Palace of Versailles, it is the most visited castle in France.”
Information obtained from: The History of Europe, Europe a Journey with Pictures, Time Life Books: In the Age of Chivalry, Rand McNally Standard Atlas of the World, The Columbia Encyclopedia, The American Peoples Encyclopedia, World’s Popular Encyclopedia, Grolier Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia.com, Chenonceau.com, Lorievalley-online.com, kings.edu, artsci.washington.edu, editionsmontparnasse.fr, marie-stuart.co.uk, jack-travel.com, aristotle.net, gofrance.about.com, fastlane.net, yesnet.yk.ca, androsdance.tripod.com, geocities.com, solarnet.org, coastmagazine.com, ivenus.com, google.com wouldtouristattractions.travel-guides.com and members.aol.com
Alexandra, 12, from West Wales, wrote:
When I visited Chenonceau in September 2001, I adored it, If I ever had a small chance to getting there again I'd grab it before you lot can say Chenonceau! I'd like to thank Thomas Bohier for the idea for the construction, Catherine Briconnet for finishing it off, Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici for the gardens and most of all the people who saved it from the revolution. Many thanks, see you in heaven au revoir
Diane, 41, from San Diego, Ca. Wrote
I saw Chenonceau in June of 2000. The gardens are breathtaking, and the view of them from the upstairs rooms are incredible!! The difficulty in getting a good picture of the huge space involved with the gardens and the castle was impossible, and don't do them justice. The kitchen in the basement was really set up well with the river running under it. I felt as if I had gone back in time. The idea of living in that period is of such great wonder when your standing in the same spot as those who lived there so many years ago. It was one of the most beautiful castle's that we saw on our Tour through France.
JNS, 63, from Miami, wrote:
Château de Chenonceau (without the “x”) is in the village of Chenonceaux (with the “x”). It is not, nor has it been, “the property of the French Nation”. It is privately owned and the second largest tourist attraction in France after Versailles. It has been owned by the Menier family, the chocolate barons, since 1913. Because it is privately owned, it is meticulously cared for and is open 365 days a year.
Maddie, 18, from Canada, wrote:
I went to France in '99 and stayed in Paris for over a week. While I was there with the travel society, we traveled to the Loire Valley to view some of the chateaux there. Of everything I experienced and saw while in France, I truly believe that Chenonceau was the most beautiful. The way is was built over water, the grounds and the uniqueness of each room in the chateau were amazing. I fell in love with Chenonceau the short day we visited the Loire Valley. I have tons of pictures of it and I have a picture of it as my computer wallpaper. I suggest to anyone who goes to France to go to the Loire Valley and see it, and drop by Chambord as well, it too is exquisite.
T. Holmes, 20, from Lexington, KY, wrote:
I traveled to this castle my junior year of high school with a lot of other students, and as unbearable as the trip was, it all left my mind as I wandered the beautiful gardens and learned the history of this amazing chateau. The constructions is amazing, the garden beautiful, and the story of the building is probably as interesting as the construction itself. I have since bought any pictures, posters, calendars and even a 3-D puzzle, anything to do with Chenonceau I buy, and I absolutely cannot wait to return to this magnificent castle. Diane de Poiters was one lucky woman…. I envy anyone who got to live in that castle…
Tamara, 16, from Canada, wrote:
I went to France in '99, and we went to the Loire valley, where I got the chance to explore a few of the Chateaux there… As all of France is a treat, walking thru those old rooms, and almost living in those eras for even half an hour was gold…. I have never been to any other country in Europe, but if I could recommend any place to check out (even if I am inexperienced) I would recommend the Loire Valley.
Ashley Chamberlain, 15, from Eastern USA, wrote:
The Castle I been to is one that was built out over the river. It was so beautiful and enjoyable I will never have an experience that good ever again I can not tell you how beautiful it was. If you ever have the chance you have to go that is a once in a lifetime deal.
Emily, 19, from Iowa, wrote:
I visited this castle June of 2000 and it was wonderful! It was unusually hot for that time of year but it was so beautiful that you didn't hardly notice. I loved the gardens they were so wonderful, and the gallery over the river was so cool! I would recommend this to anyone visiting the Loire River Valley it is well worth the time.
Andrew Edelman, 15, from USA, wrote:
Bonjour, quand je suis alle au Chenonceau j'ai pense que les chateaux etaient tres ennuyant, mais cette chateau etait tres interesant et j'ai aime beaucoup. Ma mere et mes deux seours on emprenter un bateau mais elles n'etaient pas bien avec les bateau et donc elles etaient perdu et mon pere et moi nous devons les chercher avec une notre bateau. C'ette tres amusant et j'ai l'aime cette experience beaucoup. Merci
Bonny, 18, from Australia, wrote:
Chenonceau was my favorite of all the Loire chateaux. It is a highly feminine, light, accessible and practical structure - more like a large summer house, which, in a way, it was. Its position straddling the Cher river is quite amazing. I believe that this chateau is haunted - de Medicis' mourning fittings remained up for years, and remain still. Her room is papered with black fleur de lis and teardrops, and the ugly carved bust of Christ bleeding is quite startling. This is certainly a very dark corner of the chateau, compared with the light-filled, openness of the rest. The formal gardens are delcicious, as are the sprawling gardens around the cellars.
L. Madeleine Beltran, 18, from USA, wrote:
We visited castle Chenonceau during our recent visit to France. This is a must-see castle. I highly recommend this castle for its sheer beauty, surroundings, and interior ambience. These pictures do not give the inside the justice it is due as every room was exquisite. With fresh flowers on the entry way table and a kitchen that could easily step into this century you will well imagine yourself coming home.
Phoenix, 28, from Ohio, wrote:
I think there is no lovelier castle in the world then Chenonceaux. I found a beautiful framed picture of the grand place at a flea market & proudly hang it in my bedroom. It is like something from a fairytale & so heavenly the way it rises from the river. I hope one day to visit my dream castle & see it with my own eyes in all its glory.
Michelle Calaba, 52, from California, wrote:
For anyone who enjoys walking along the French country- side, I recommend traveling to Chenonceau by train & getting off a Blere de la Croix. There is a fabulously beautiful and level walking path along the Cher River to the Chateau so that your arrival is graced by the truly spectacular vision of the Chateau as it stretches across and is reflected by the Cher River. This is the perspective that is most often seen in pictures. The walk to the chateau is about 5.5 miles, then you must continue walking further to the next bridge over the Cher River and back around to the only entrance. This adds about another mile to the walk. Of course, you can start at the entrance and walk up to the bridge and around, then return. This would be a lovely 3 mile walk and you could stop in town for a lovely lunch or boisson!
Brad Reeder, 46, from Mesa, Arizona, wrote:
This was a marvelous castle. The long walk from the parking lot to the castle gardens was impressive. This was the first time I had seen black swans. I am awe struck will all French gardens. I was really taken back by the inside of the castle. You can really believe someone lived there. The kitchen was wonderful. I enjoyed the fact that five different women took part it the construction of the castle (Catherine Briconnet, Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medicis, and Dame Pelouze) I already knew the conflict between Catherine de Medicis and Diane de Poitiers this made the story real.
Megan Lacey, 18, from Illinois, USA, wrote:
The article said that Francois II and Mary Stuart were married at Chenonceau, but this is not the case. They were married at Notre Dame in Paris, but they spent the first few months of their marriage at the Chateau de Chenonceaux. Also, Diane tried to prevent Catherine's appropriation of the castle by attempting to give it to Mary, but her husband died prematurely. During the French Revolution, the castle was spared due to the fact that it was the only bridge across the Cher for many miles. My commendations on the excellent photos
Tiffany Amos, 20, from Los Angeles, CA. USA, wrote:
I noticed that there is no information about the chapel inside of Chenonceau. I visited Chenonceau in Spring of 1998 and was awe-stricken by its beauty. The little chapel is one of the first sights beheld upon entrance. The door is original and dates from the 16th century. The stained glass windows are replacements due to a bomb attack in 1944. On the walls under the glass plates are the inscriptions of Scottish guards made sometime around 1543. Above the door is a gallery where the queens watched mass. One thing I learned about Chenonceau and other castles was not to use a flash when taking a picture because they will chase you down and they will take your camera! (Personal experience from Chenonceau)
Melissa, 15, from Rhode Island wrote:
I visited Chenonceau in April, 2000 and I can honestly say it was the most beautiful thing I saw on my trip to Europe. Even though my tour mates would disagree, I truly believed this place must have cast a spell on me. I have become absolutely fascinated with this beautiful piece of art, and I have started to save for another trip to France and another visit to this enchanting Chateau.
Destiny, 16, from California wrote:
I first saw this castle on a TV special and I was intrigued immediately with the story Catherine. The way they told the story was that Diane had this castle built and had her initial D and H interlaced all over the castle I mean everywhere even on plates. When Catherine got the castle on the event of her husbands death she changed the whole decoration and interlaced her own initial with her husbands but it didn't turn out as she planed. you see the interlaced initials looked exactly the same as the initials of Henry and Diane's. now her comes the part where the TV. got it wrong they said that Catherine went crazy with the reminder of her nemesis of youth surrounding her that was not so all it accomplished was it made her stronger. She took it as a sign that she must never trust a man with her heart when ever she felt weak she went to the chateau to remind herself that she ruled France and won the self proclaimed goddess. She ruled France as reagent for all but one of her sons she always remained strong and the only man she ever loved after her lesson from the King was her sons
Larry Webb, 50,from Atlanta, GA, USA, wrote:
I visited Chenonceaux in April 2000. As a semi-pro still photographer and full-time video pro, I found this place absolutely gorgeous. The Frenchwoman who was our tour guide, with whom we toured Madrid, Barcelona, the Loire Valley and Paris, said that Chenonceaux is her favorite place in the world – and we could see why! Be sure to take a 360-degree series of photos (to paste the prints end-to-end when you get home) from out in front of the castle somewhere – I did, and the picks bring back magnificent memories of this site. This castle alone is making me hasten my plans to return to France again someday soon!
Sergio Marulanda, 24, Colombia, wrote:
I visited the Loire Valley in 1995 and it was one of my best trips ever. It is not a huge castle, but it is the impressive archicture that impacted me. You can visit the castle in 45 minutes. The surroundings are beautiful. If you have never been to a castle before this is the place to start in Europe. It is the definition of what a castle is.
Charlotte, from Springdale, Arkansas, USA, wrote:
I visited this castle March 1999. I absolutely loved it! I loved the fresh flowers in every room and the gardens were lovely. The furnishings and fireplaces were beautiful. This is a must see castle when visiting the valley.
Teresa, 17, from New England, wrote:
I visited this castle in the spring of 1999. They're beginning construction of a hedgemaze on the castle grounds! It was about to the middle of my shins when I visited, so if you visit it in about 5-10 years, the hedgemaze should be full grown. Also when I was there, some of the rooms were closed off, so there may be some more restoration work taking place. Chenonceau is a lovely castle and definitely worth visiting.
Liz, 13, from Midwest USA, wrote:
This is an amazing chateau! On a trip during summer '99, I was visiting England we decided to go to France for a week, and I went to this chateau. I have many pictures and will never forget the amazing architecture, style, and beauty it contains. I would recommend you visit there in a heartbeat.