Leonardo da Vinci, who lived in Amboise for the last three years of his life, was invited there by his biggest fan, King Francis I who grew up in the Chateau. Leonardo’s lovely grace and favour home, Clos Lucé, which overlooks the Loire, was connected to the Château by an underground passage. Some of his inventions are still at Clos Lucé. Leonardo’s tomb is, as he wished, in Saint-Hubert’s Chapel in the grounds of the chateau.
When Leonardo trudged over the Alps from Italy to Amboise he took his painting of the Mona Lisa with him. He kept adding a stroke here and a stroke there until the day he could no longer hold a brush. He never considered it finished. When Francis saw the Mona Lisa in Leonardo’s studio in Florence he wanted it. Some biographies say this is why he offered Leonardo a home in Amboise. There may be some truth in that but it is also true that Francis worshipped Leonardo and just wanted to be in his company. He visited him every day unless duty took him out of town. Leonardo left all his worldly goods to his faithful assistant Melzi who either sold the painting to the king or gave it to him to thank him for his kindness to his master. Francis hung it in his palace at Fontainebleau. The Mona Lisa was the first painting in the Royal Collection which is why it’s in the Louvre. It started life when Leonardo’s father asked him to paint the portrait of Lisa, the wife of his friend Francesco del Giocondo. When his father died Leonardo reclaimed the painting.
At Amboise, as in so many places in France, we are reminded of the ties between England and France which did not loosen until 1558 when the French reclaimed Calais, England’s sole remaining French possession. Queen Mary Tudor, mortified, said ‘When I am dead and opened, you shall find ‘Calais’ lying in my heart’. Strangely, English monarchs continued to claim the French throne. ‘Of France’ was in their titles and the French fleur-de-lys was included in the Royal Arms right up until 1801 when France had no monarch.
Mary, Queen of Scots was brought up in Chateau Amboise. Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici raised her with their own children. She was married in infancy to their son, the puny, short lived, future Francis II. The Scottish Thistle is painted on the pillars and woven into the tapestries. Mary arrived in France from Scotland in 1548, aged six and remained there until she returned to her homeland, a widow of 19.