Le Chateau des Femmes
Ah, Chenonceau. Remarkable, refined, superbChenonceau - perhaps one of the finest chateaux in France, certainly one of the finest in the Loire Valley. This is a must visit. Chenonceau sits astride the Cher, a tributary to the Loire, in solitary splendor.
It is called the Château des Femmessince, like Chaumont; so much of its history was woven by women. Wives both legitimate, or less than legitimate, or the kings courtesan, or the queen herself - they all occupied these walls for more than four centuries with more or less contentment.Its history begins in the early 16th century when the chateau was built by the kings tax collector, Mr. Bohier.
His son Henri II took the throne in 1547 and, to the great distaste of his wife, gave use of the chateau to the beautiful Diane de Poitiers, his courtesan. This is where the rivalry between the two women became public. To be a Kings favorite mistress was often acknowledged in the royal court, sometimes discretely, sometimes less so. To be honored with a chateau - well, it is a bit much for even the most devout wife to accept. Especially when the mistress is twenty years older than the King... Diane de Poitiers was a very seductive lady. His wife, Catherine de Medici, and Queen was humiliated.
Diane de Poitiers was also a lady who knew how to manage her estate. She interested herself in the variety of ways that the estate generated revenues from its vineyards and vegetable fields. She had built the beautiful gardens near the entry to the chateau, as well as a bridge to the other side of the Cher. She was to be happy here, often with the King. However, Diane de Poitiers knew she has no wealth of her own. She lived on that provided by a tax and that which the estate developed. So, she conceived of an ingenious scheme to have the ruling which gave the chateau to the King retracted. As such, it would return to the Bohier family, now impoverished. She would purchase it from them. This scheme is about to work, when....
Henri II is unexpectedly killed in a tournament! His son, Henri III, is too young to assume the throne, so Dianes rival, Catherine de Medici, becomes regent.
The rest of this story, if you have read that above regarding Chaumont , you should know. Generously assisted by Catherine de Medici, the charming and intelligent Diane de Poitiers passed into historical oblivion.
Catherine de Medici was not as attractive as Diane de Poitiers. But, she was a descendant of the Florentine de Medici family who were wealthy, cultured and intelligent. Chenonceau pleased Catherine, which is no wonder. She built the two-floored gallery, using the existing bridge, extending the chateau over the Cher. Catherine feasted sumptuously at Chenonceau and arranged for festivities, dinners, dances, fireworks, and water battles on the Cher to distract her guests. It was a gratifying relief from Paris with its stultifying customs. She bequeathed Chenonceau to her daughter-in-law, Louise de Lorraine, wife of Henri III.
Louise de Lorraine is known as the White Queen. Upon the death of her husband, inconsolable, she retired to Chenonceau and, as was custom of royalty, wore white as a sign of her mourning till she died.
A hundred years later, the chateau had a bit of luck. The ownership of Chenonceau passed to a general-farmer named Dupin. His wife, a woman of letters, invited authors and philosophers as guests. The chateau obtained a literary notoriety as such personalities as Jean-Jacques Rousseau stayed for a while and wrote here. Perhaps due to her intelligence, refined manner and gentle ways, Mme. Dupin, buried in the park at Chenonceau, was much liked by the villagers. It is for this reason, twenty years later, when the French Revolution unleashed a hurricane of hatred against all that was royalty, that Chenonceau was spared harm. It thus remains in its origianl beauty for us to appreciate today.
In the last century, a certain Mme. Pelouze bought the chateau and carried out some minor external modifications. Today it is privately owned and visitable. Thus ends the history of the Château des Femmes.
There is a wax museum at the entry to the grounds which portrays various scenes of life at Chenonceau as it was. It is worth seeing and will nourish your imagination whilst visiting the chateau.
Reluctantly we leave the silent beauty of Chenonceau for our next stop on the virtual tour.
Virtual Tour of the Loire Valley(©Virtual-France, 1996)
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