Sited on a hill in the centre of the Loire Valley, in a city of the same name, Le Château de Blois offers a fascinating look at four hundred years of French history and architecture.
Originally the Château was the seat of the Counts of Blois and the beautiful vaulted Salle Des États Généraux dates back to the early days of the building at the beginning of the 13th century when it was used by the Counts as a court of justice. It is the largest remaining civilian Gothic room. Its name derives from its later use for the Estates General Convention.
In the 14th century Le Château de Blois became the favourite residence of the French Royal Family. Seven Regents and ten of their wives lived at the Château de Blois, each one adding to its “ailes” or wings or refurbishing its interiors to reflect their times and their tastes, not to mention their wealth and their power.
In 1391 Louis, duc d’Orléans, brother of King Charles VI bought the château. After his assassination, his widow, Valentina Visconti lived there. It was later inherited by their son, Charles D’Orléans, who was taken prisoner at Agincourt and spent twenty-five years as a hostage in England, before returning to his beloved Blois, which he rebuilt larger and grander than the Mediaeval Castle he had inherited from his father.
Louis XII, son of Charles D’Orléans was born at Blois in 1462 and during his reign Blois became the political capital of France. His contribution to the Château’s buildings is the extravagant Gothic red brick and white stone structure that forms the entrance to the castle today.
When François I took power in 1515, his wife, Queen Claude, daughter of Anne de Bretagne, had him refurbish the Château once again. The result is the magnificent François Premier wing, built in the pure Renaissance style. The most striking feature of this wing is the turret style spiral staircase, covered with ornate Italianate sculptures and decorations as well as the emblems of the Royal family.
Henri III, driven from Paris during the French Wars of Religion, lived at Blois and held the Estates General convention there in 1576 and 1588. It was during this convention that the King had his arch-enemy, Henry Duke of Guise and his brother Louis, assassinated by his bodyguard, the loathed and feared “Forty Five”.
Henri IV, the first Bourbon Monarch took possession of the Château after Henri III and on his death in 1610 it became the place of exile for his widow, Marie de Medici her son, Louis XIII banished her from his court.
In 1626, Louis XIII gave the Château de Blois to his brother Gaston, Duc D’Orleans as a wedding gift. The Duc charged the architect François Mansart with the task of developing a new wing in the classical style. The Gaston D’Orléans Wing which faces the Louis XIII Wing across the courtyard as a central section made up of three horizontal layers with Doric, Ionic and Corinthian elements.
After Gaston D’Orléans’ death, Le Château de Blois was abandoned. By the time of the French Revolution it had been unoccupied and deteriorating for over a hundred years. The Revolutionaries, in their determination to destroy any trace of the ancien régime, ransacked the ruins. Plans were in place for its demolition but it was decided that instead it would be used as a military barracks.
In 1841, Le Château de Blois was classified as a historic monument and its restoration began.
Today all the Gothic, Renaissance and Classical splendour bestowed on the Château de Blois by Counts, Dukes, Kings and Queens, lives again in all its glory.