Every Château in the Loire Valley has its own unique attraction – or – in the case of Langeais – attractions. Visitors go, in the main, to see where a secret marriage took place between Charles, the twenty-one year old King of France and Anne, the fourteen year old Duchess of Brittany. Like so many at that time – 1491 – it was a political marriage. It was also tainted by betrayal.
Charles’ father, Louis XI, had Château Langeais built as a fortress to deter the Dukes of Brittany sailing up the Loire. Hard to believe it was built in just four years. The marriage of his son to the daughter of his erstwhile enemy put an end to the threat.
It also solved another one. Anne was married by proxy to The Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian. If her lands fell to him, France, wedged between Austria and Brittany would find itself surrounded. This marriage meant Brittany became part of France.
Anne was given a choice. Marry Charles or have her lands confiscated. She was furious. The feisty teenager was in love with Maximilian. Charles, although a nice enough chap, known as Charles the Affable, she was not in love with him nor he with her. Had Anne married Maximilian she would have been an Empress which took precedence in rank over a Queen. As an act of defiance to show she intended to start as she meant to go on, she took two beds to the marriage.
Anne was not the only one at the wedding who had been promised to someone else. Charles was engaged to Marguerite of Burgundy. They had grown up together in Château Amboise. Heartbroken, she never forgave him.
The politically important Royal Marriage Contract takes pride of place in the wedding tableau in Château Langeais. A witness was Louis, Duke of Orleans, Charles’ cousin. Neither he nor Anne could have foreseen that seven years later they would be man and wife. If Charles died without a male heir, Anne was contractually obliged to marry his successor to produce one. The couple had four children but none survived. As both were young they had plenty of time for more had not Charles died suddenly and tragically. On his way to watch a tennis match at Château Amboise he misgauged the height of a door, struck his head on the lintel and died a few hours later. He was twenty-eight.
The Château has many other Unique Selling Points. One is the original stone Keep. Built in 992, at over a thousand years old, it’s the oldest in France, possibly in Europe. When William I conquered England in 1066 he built wooden Keeps and only much later replaced them in stone. The impressive, historically correct, wooden scaffolding shows how it was constructed.
Another attraction is that visitors who arrive early or leave late can see the rare, fully operational Drawbridge opened or lowered.
What is also very unusual is the covered walk around the ramparts. Guards were protected from the elements as are today’s appreciative visitors.
Perhaps the most interesting fact of all is that a rich man fell in love with the ruins. Without him there would be no Château to enjoy. He spent time, effort and money getting it back to how it was in the days of Charles and Anne. The tapestries are splendid. When it was finished to own satisfaction he very generously gave it to the nation.
The Château does not have a restaurant so eat at the homely, authentic, old fashioned, family run Restaurant d’ Église facing the wonderful old church.
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