Château Chenonceau is also known as Le Château des Dames (the ladies’ castle) because of the remarkable women who owned it.
Katherine married Thomas Bohier, Chief of Finance to four successive Kings, Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII and François I. When he bought the old ruined château, he and Katherine, became Lord and Lady Chenonceau.
Bohier died in Italy when Francois I was fighting there. It was now down to Katherine, mother of ten, to rebuild Chenonceau. She designed it then oversaw its construction, acting as architect and Clerk of the Works. It took her eight years. Although it did not look as it does now, the Château was so splendid; Katherine entertained Francois I and his Court here on several occasions. Using rather dubious means, when Katherine died, it came into the King’s possession.
Diane de Poitiers
Henry II, the son of Francois I, inherited Chenonceau from his father. He made a present of it to his lover Diane de Poitiers, like Katherine, a formidable woman. She was ecstatic. Henry’s wife, Catherine de Medici, was furious.
Diane had many homes but Chenonceau was her favourite. This is where she spent most of her time. It was Diane who had the brainwave of building the now famous bridge over the Cher to join the Château to the opposite bank. A stroke of imagination, this was the first time it had ever been done. You can still visit her kitchens inside the piers of the bridge.
She could not know that one day her bridge would save her beloved Chenonceaux from those bent on destroying all royal residences during the French Revolution. Nor could she know that people would flee over her bridge from Nazi occupied France in the north to Petain’s free’ Vichy France in the south.
Catherine de Medici
When Henry died Catherine lost no time putting legal wheels in motion to deprive Diane of her beloved Chenonceau. As Henry lay dying after a tournament which went wrong Catherine sent a messenger to a devastated Diane demanding she relinquish the keys.
Chenonceau became Catherine’s favourite residence. She spent a fortune on it but left her huge debts for the next owner to settle. It was Catherine who enclosed Diane’s famous bridge and turned it into an art gallery. It was Catherine who in 1560 arranged the first firework display in France. It took place at Chenonceau to mark the accession of her son Francois II. This is where he and his bride Mary, Queen of Scots, had their wedding feast. They spent their honeymoon here enjoying fêtes, picnics, hunts and balls.
Queen Louise of France
When Catherine de Medici died, she left the deeply indebted Chenonceau to her daughter-in-law, Louis of Lorraine, wife of her fourth son, Henry III. The gentle Louise loved Henry as much as she did. He lavished affection on her buying elegant dresses and made her into a fashion icon which Louise, neglected as child, loved. She was living in Chenonceau when the news was brought of her husband's murder. Devastated, she wandered around the Château, dressed in mourning. The traditional mourning colour of French queens was white so she became known as The White Queen. She died in a convent.
Francoise de Lorraine
Louise left Chenonceau and its debts to her niece Françoise de Lorraine who married the Duke of Vendôme. Their descendants owned the Château for the next hundred years but having little interest in it, sold the contents to pay off inherited debts. Many of the fine statues ended up at Versailles.
In 1733 when Claude Dupin bought Chenonceaux, his wife Louise started a literary salon which attracted all the famous writers of the day. They included Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau, who became her son’s tutor, wrote a play here called Sylvie's Path, after his favourite path along the Cher.
The widowed Louise Dupin saved the Château from being destroyed by French Revolutionaries. She pointed out that her bridge, the only one across the river for many miles, was essential for the movement of arms and troops.
Marguerite, a refined, elegant, attractive divorcee, was the daughter of Daniel Wilson, a Scot who made his fortune installing gaslights all over Paris. In 1864 she used her inheritance to buy Chenonceau then hired an architect to restore the Chateau to its former glory when it was owned by Queen Catherine de Medici in the 1500s.
This was a lady who enjoyed spending her money. She became famous for her hugely extravagant parties. In 1879 she employed the gifted young pianist Claude Debussy for her chamber orchestra. Debussy spent his summers in Chenonceau dazzled by the Chateau and by Marguerite who was passionate about music. Other frequent visitors were famous writer Gustave Flaubert and Jules Grevy, President of the French Republic.
Marguerite spent 1886 travelling in Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, Hindustan and Syria (where she met the Sheikh of Palmyra). When she returned to Chenonceau she invited the Sheikh to stay.
Two years later Marguerite was bankrupt. She had to sell Chenonceau to the Bank. It sold it on to Henri Menier of Menier Chocolate fame whose descendants still own it.
Post by Pamela
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