The lovely surroundings, the formal garden and the park surrounding it add to the impression of delicate grace emanating from the castle. Chenonceau is not only remarkable for its architecture and history but also for the fine quality of its collections as can be seen from the inside visit: Renaissance furniture, a vast ensemble of XVI th and XVII th centuries tapestries and a great number of masterpieces. Le Primatice, Rubens, Le Tintoret, Rigaud, Nattier, Van Loo are among the most famous names that can be found there.History
The estate of Chenonceau is mentioned for the first time in writing towards the end of the XIth century.
From the XIIIth to the XVth century, the estate of Chenonceau, with its unprepossessing feudal manor, was the property of the Marques family.
A royal order to punish Jean Marques for an act of sedition included an order for the destruction of the manor.
Jean Marques had a castle and a fortified mill built to replace the lost manor of Chenonceau.
Pierre Marques, the heir of Jean, up to his eyes in debt, had to sell the castle, which was readily purchased by Thomas Bohier, the General Tax Collector for Normandie…
Thomas Bohier razed all existing buildings and then undertook the construction of a third generation of castle on Chenonceau. He retained, however, the donjon, modified to fit the contemporary fashion, and the system of moats. He used the pillars of the erstwhile mill as foundation stones for the new structure in the middle of the river, reincorporating the previous square plan of the forecourt of the old medieval castle delineated by the existing moats. During Thomas Bohier’s absence in Italy, his wife, Catherine Briçonnet, personally took over the construction of Chenonceau.
The building of the castle was making good headway. As for the decoration, it retained some of the severity of its former military style, but the exterior ornamentation was inspired by the fashion of the time, adding an unusual elegance to its gothic appearance. 1521-22
The chapel was consecrated by Cardinal Bohier, a relative of Thomas. The castle was completed and the surrounding estate laid out. Chenonceau was now worthy of receiving the notables of the Kingdom. It was Catherine who established her authority over the estate, taking readily to court life. The King, François I, was twice a guest at the castle.
After Thomas Bohier’s death in 1524 and Catherine’s death in 1526, their son Antoine had to yield the castle to the Crown to pay off the debts incurred by his father. 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.
Charles Quint, Emperor of Germany, Prince of the Netherlands and King of Spain, the eternal rival of King François I, visited the castle of Chenonceau.
When Henry II succeeded his father at the age of 28, his favourite, Diane of Poitiers, was then 48. She was the widow, for the past twenty years, of the Count of Brézé, the Grand Seneschal of France. Her beauty, the narrowness of her waist, her fair skin and her rousset hair were legendary. Anxious to please his favourite and to give her a residence worthy of her, the young King offered her the castle of Chenonceau. 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.
While at Chenonceau, Diane was made Duchess of Valentinois and became one of the most influential women in the Kingdom. Her success assured her of many enemies, the most formidable of which was the Queen, Catherine de Medici, who envied her influence over the King and the affairs of the country. To discover why Henri preferred a mistress twenty years his senior, she even went as far as to have a hole drilled in the wall of their bedroom. 1552
The efforts of Diane of Poitiers were rewarded by the journey to Chenonceau of the King and his Court. 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. The garden was gorgeous. The royal tennis courts were bordered with tall pine trees. Numerous artists took up residence there and the entertainments (bals, tilting at the ring, stag hunting) were never-ending and legion.
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 ressuscitated the former owners’ idea of enlarging the castle and building a bridge to span the river Cher.
During a tournament, King Henri II was fatally injured by Montgomery, the Captain of the Scottish guards. His widow, Catherine de Medici, could now take revenge and she demanded the handing over of Chenonceau. But the estate no longer belonged to the Crown and she had to threaten Diane of Poitiers into exchanging Chenonceau for the castle of Chaumont. Catherine de Medici, who was both ambitious and authoritarian, took over the management of the estate and devoted all her energies to erase the presence of Diane there. The castle became a royal residence where lavish entertainments were given, the most famous one being the feast for François II and Mary Stuart following the tragic outcome of the Amboise conspiracy in 1560. Combinations of cannons and drums, water games and fire works invested the style of Chenonceau with a new éclat.
Anxious to leave her mark, Catherine de Medici transformed the gardens of Chenonceau in accordance with the programme devised by Bernard Palissy in his Drawing of a Delectable Garden. 1576
Catherine de Medici embarked on some ambitious projects at Chenonceau: a grand courtyard, the transformation of the windows of the entrance façade, which were to be ornate with caryatids and the number of which was to be doubled, an extension to the terrace towards the east between the chapel and the library and the setting up of the gallery over the bridge, which was different from the initial plan. But these extensive works required the incomes of both the Barony of Levraux en Berry and the estate of Chenonceau.
In May, during the feast given by Catherine in honour of her son, the new king, Henri III, the grand gallery of the castle with its arches that spanned the Cher was inaugurated. Two other queens were also present: Louise, Henri III’s wife, and Marguerite de Navarre, the wife of the future Henri IV. The reception with its songs, dances, shows and concerts remains the climax of the golden era of Chenonceau.
Catherine de Medici died in Blois on January 5, 1589 at the age of seventy. She bequeathed the castle to Louise of Lorraine, the Queen and the wife of her son Henri III. The extensive transformations undertaken in 1576 were not yet finished: except for the gallery, only one wing of the main courtyard, the building of the Dômes, was completed. Although Louise had married a man who preferred men to her, she was a loving and considerate wife. But that same year, Henri was murdered in Saint-Cloud. Overcome with grief, Louise gave way to melancholy and never recovered. Soon called « the White Queen » by the villagers, she turned Chenonceau into a place of meditation and solitude. Symbolically, she stored all the velvet and satin dresses for the feasts in a large chest in the gallery. After years of light and music, silence and darkness fell upon Chenonceau. 1624
César of Vendôme became the owner of the estate and his wife, Françoise of Lorraine, Duchess of Vendôme, was entrusted with its management. She endeavoured to maintain the estate and to keep the castle in good repair. During the whole of the XVIIth 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 King of the Ancien Régime to go there, which he did on July 14, 1650.
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.
Claude Dupin, a squire descended from an old Berry family, bought the castle of Chenonceau from the Duke of Bourbon. He married for the second time one of the daughters of a rich financier, Samuel Bernard, Louis XIV’s banker. An aesthete, Louise Dupin surrounded herself with brilliant and exhilarating company in Chenonceau: she received among others Voltaire, Fontenelle, Marivaux, Montesquieu, Buffon and Rousseau, who later became her secretary and her son’s tutor. 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.
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.
After the death of her husband, Madame Pelouze proceeded with some very important construction work until 1878. She entrusted the architect Roguet with the task of giving the castle the appearance which it presumedly had at the beginning of the XVIth century. Many of the alterations carried out by Catherine de Medici were thus destroyed. The caryatids on the façade of the castle were removed and relocated to the park.
A sale by order of the court was followed by the conveyance of the castle to a rich manufaturer, 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.
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.
The great flood of the Cher in 1940 dev astated 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. 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.
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.Gardens
Beyond the visit of the castle, which will always remain a memorable experience for visitors, the vast Domain of Chenonceau offers the possibility of freely discovering the two renowned and magnificent gardens of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medicis. They are ornamented with a myriad of shrubs, hundreds of climbing and stemmed roses. There are amoug 40000 flowers grown in the Domain, which are planted twice a year in spring, and in summer. Moreover the Domain’s 70 hectares of richly wooded parks undoubtedly make a perfect setting for walks and relaxing moments. Along the splendid climbing roses and the Majestic Path with sixteen orange trees of the fore-courtyard, the visitor discovers the « Bâtiment des Dômes » which in bygone days housed the Royal Stables and raisings of silk worms which were introduced into France by Catherine de Medicis. Then the visitor enters the courtyard of the 16th Century Farm. Finally he enters the Flower Garden where the numerous flowers for cutting are produced and intended for the castle, the « Bâtiment de Dômes » and the Orangerie’s floral decoration.
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