Chenonceau is also called the Castle of the Ladies, because surprisingly many ladies had had influence on the construction and the changes of the building. Therefore it is somehow adequate, that two sphinxes control the entrance to the park of the castle. You have to pass between them, after you have strolled through the long alley.
But let us start at the beginning: the Lords of Marques owned a castle here, which became occupied by the English during the Hundred Years' War.

On the way to the castle one finds the garden of Catharina von Medici to the left
After the treaty of Brétigny, which was the beginning of a nine year long break in the war, Du Gueselin chased away the English. But they came back when the war started again - and Chenonceau was destroyed in one or the other way (the historicans don't agree about the means). In 1432 Jean II Marques got the authorization of King Charles VII, to rebuild the castle. He built it on the northern bank of the river and connected it to a bridge, which led to a fortified mill in the stream course of the Cher - a tributary to the Loire. But his son Pierre wasted the fortune of the family and was forced to sell the property to Thomas Bohier in 1496.
After some quarrels among the heirs, Thomas finally became the owner in 1512. He was secretary at the Royal Court and was ennobled by Charles VIII. Later he was appointed general govenor in Italy - afterwards he of course had to spend a lot of time there. It became the challenge of his wife, Katherine Briçonnet, to take care of the rebuilding of the castle. So, she was the first lady, who had substantial influence on the looks of the castle. The Bohiers kept the two existing towers on land, but altered them according to the trends of the Renaissance. The castle they built instead of the old mill in the stream course.
In 1524 Thomas died in Italy. King Francis I organized a control with retrospective effect, which found out, that Thomas had cheated with the Royal fonds. Antoine, the eldest son, was not able to pay back as much as was asked and had to sell the castle to the King. Francis I used it afterwards for hunting expeditions.

The next woman to have big influence onto the castle, was Diane de Poitiers.

The tower is the oldest part of the castle.
This mistress of Henry II was in fact twenty years older than he was, but she had him tighly in her grip. She got from him, whatever she pointed at and one day she pointed at the Castle of Chenonceau. By means of several economic transactions it came into Diane's possession without her paying a penny. She had bountiful gardens to be built and she instructed one of the King's architects, Philibert Delorme, to build a bridge from the castle to the far bank of the Cher. The bridge should furthermore be covered by a gallery. In 1556 the building was started. Of course it was payed for out of the Royal treasure chest. At the death of Henry the bridge stood there, but there was no sign of any gallery. And after the death of the King, Diane's influence at the Court decreased heavily.
The gardens of Diane de Poitiers are protected with walls against flooding.
Now finally, Henry's spouse, Catharina de Medici, could take revenge for the years of humiliation she had had to suffer. She forced her former rival to trade Chenonceau for Chaumont. The books of history tell, that this was not necessarily a bad bargain for Diane, as the profits of Chaumont were better than those of Chenonceau - but psychologically it was a triumph for Catherina. Diane had after all got the castle as a present of her lover ...
No wonder, that Catharina afterwards spent a lot of time here, not at least to give flashy parties. I wonder, if she invited Diane to them?

The gallery over the bridge was built first under Catharina de Medici.
Above the entrance to the chapel there is a statue of the Holy Mother. In the chapel there are engravings, which were left by the Scottish guard of Mary Stuart, dated from 1543 and 1546. During the French Revolution Madame Dupin saved the chapel, by making it a storing place for wood. The windows are from modern times, though, because the old ones were destroyed during a bomb raid in 1944 ... How fitting isn't one of the inscriptions there: "The wrath of Man doesn't achieve the justice of God."

The bed of Luise von Lothringen.
The next lady to form the castle was Luise von Lothringen, the spouse of Henry III. She was staying at Chenonceau, when she got the message that her husband had been murdered. From this day she only wore white (the mourning colour of royalty) and lived in her dark chambers, painted with symbols of death. She gave the castle to her niece, Francoise von Lothringen, as a marriage gift. Francoise married Count César de Vendôme, an official, but illegitimate son of Henry IV.
The panels in her sleeping-room
But César wasn't very interested in Chenonceau, he preferred to live in the Castle of Anet. The maintenance of Chenonceau he left to his mother and his wife.

The Virgin in a blue mantle. Giovanni-Battista Sassoferrato, 17th century.
After some different owners, the castle decayed in the 17th century. Books and pieces of art were sold, displaced or given away - and it took until 1733, before the decline was stopped. This was, when Claude Dupin bought the castle. Again was it the wife of Dupin, Louise, who gave the castle its prestige back. There she organized philosophical and literary events, with wellknown people like Voltaire and Montesquieu. For her son she engaged Jean Jacques Rousseau as teacher. It is partly her merit, that the castle came through the French Revolution without harm. Her popularity among the people, as well as the fact, that she excluded the "x" at the end of the castle's name (the "x" at the end was to show Royal property), chilled the hot minds to some extent.
After her, it was Marguerite Pelouze, who had the castle restored. Due to her we can admire a great deal of the many paintings there today. But finally she had spent all her money and lost the castle to a bank. In 1913 Henri Menier purchased it at an auction and his family still owns it.
The gallery over the river Cher
The stones in the flooring are of different hardness. The white ones are worn out more.
The southern exit of the gallery
The gallery played an important part in WWII. The border between the occupied part of France and the free part of the country went alongside the river Cher. Thus the main entry of the castle was under German control, the southern exit though in the free part. Naturally many people used this possibility to flee - and the other direction was used for "guerilla warfare".

As mentioned before, there are many outstanding paintings in the castle - only that should motivate for a visit there.

The graces by Carl Van Loo
Diana by Ambroise Dubois
Ludwig XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud

The graces are three of four sisters de Nesles, who one after the other were mistresses of Louis XIV. Gabrielle dŽEstrées stood model for Diana. She was the mistress of Henry IV and mother of César de Vendôme. The Sunking was not in need of being somebody else ...

Furthermore the many flower arrangements in the castle stick to the eye. Probably they have been chosen with a lot of love and been placed with care, in order to make the surroundings look even nicer.

What concerns the furniture, it only can show what it could have looked like at this or that time, like here the room of César de Vendôme (left) or that of Catharina de Medici (right). But the positive thing is, that the production of the furniture really was done in or about the lifetime of the inhabitants. That means, that there are a lot of originals and only a few reproductions. Even the ceilings and sometimes also the floors have been kept in their original form. All of this is of course contributing to the special atmosphere.

On your way home, you should not just pass the earlier administrative buildings ...
Even if you don't want any coffee and neither buy some souvenirs, there is a really nice completion to the visit of the castle - that is the waxworks. This is a very wonderful idea, because - even if all the paintings and busts of the famous historic persons certainly are worth looking at - when you see them here almost alive, you get an entirely different impression. Only the typical clothing for their time does a lot. Maybe it might have been difficult to reconstruct the faces according to the how they really looked like, but I have no problems at all to recognize Francis I beyond every doubt, to give an example.

He looks definitely very much alike on all those paintings, that I have seen of him. Here he is received by the widow of Thomas Bohier, Catherine.
The next scene is a lot more intimate. Here we find Henry II, on a lover's visit at his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.

Now it is Catharina de Medici's turn. We can see, how she instructs Bernard Palissy on how to build her gardens. The next one in the row is "the White Queen", Luise von Lothringen, whom we see mourning her husband. Finally there is Le Primatice, whom we can watch while he is working. From this painter of the School of Fontainebleau there are a couple of pictures in the castle.

The last scenes are taken from the daily life of Madame Dupin, which she spends in philosophic discussions, as well as Gustave Flaubert giving a lecture in Madame Pelouze's home.

It is surprising and at the same time a pity, that so few visitors find their way into the waxworks. In any case this is a marvellous complement to the visit of the castle.

© Bernhard Kauntz, Wolvertem 2008

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last update: 26.11.2008 by