Tag Archives: Henri III

Le Chateau de Chenonceau

The Château de Chenonceau was built in 1521 by Thomas Bohier. It did not remain long in Bohier hands, however. When the family failed to pay outstanding debts to the Crown, the king, François Premier, seized the property and added it to his considerable collection of Loire Valley estates.

Chateau de Chenonceau
Chateau de Chenonceau

In 1547, Henri II installed his mistress Diane de Poitiers at Chenonceau. During her time there, she established the extensive flower and vegetable gardens, set up a silk worm farm and a thriving weaving business, had an arched bridge constructed to join the château to the opposite riverbank. In 1555, she was officially granted ownership of Chenonceau.

Unfortunately, in 1559, Henri II died and Diane de Poitiers lost her protector along with her position as mistress of Chenonceau. Immediately after the King’s death, his strong willed widow, Catherine de Medici, expelled Diane from the château and moved in herself. During her time Chenonceau was the scene of extravagant soirées and in 1560, when François II took the throne, the occasion was marked by a spectacular display of fireworks – the first ever in France.

When Catherine died in 1589, the château passed to her daughter-in-law, Louise de Lorraine-Vaudemont, wife of Henri III who was assassinated. Louise fell into a depression after the demise of her husband and draped her quarters in sombre black tapestries emblazoned with skulls and crossbones. She spent her last years wandering the vast hallways dressed in mourning clothes. The château, once so beautifully maintained and so alive, fell into silent decay.

In the 1770s a squire named Claude Dupin bought Chenonceau and his wife brought it back to life. Somehow, too, she saved it from destruction during the French Revolution.

In 1913 the famous chocolatiers, the Meniers bought the château and it remains in the family to this day.

During World War I Chenonceau was used as a hospital and in World War II, it served as an escape route from Nazi occupied France on one side of the river Cher to the free zone on the opposite bank.

By 1951, le Château de Chenonceau had been completely restored and it is now, after the Palais de Versailles, the most visited castle in France.

Le Chateau de Blois

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.

The spiral staircase at Blois
The spiral staircase at Blois

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.