The balcony at Château de Candé is surely one of the most famous in the world. This is where, on 3 June 1937, a groom and his bride posed for wedding photographs, the most scandalous wedding in history, it sparked a constitutional crisis which changed the British monarchy forever.Read More
Thanks to the sterling efforts of Monsieur Paul Metadier and his son Bernard-Paul, even those who have never heard of Balzac will enjoy Saché. This delightful, homely, house is almost as the novelist left it after his last visit in 1848.
In 1926, Paul Métadier, Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Tours, bought the nearby Château de Valesne estate (not open to the public) which included the abandoned chateau Saché.
In 1951, Metadier’s son, Bernard-Paul, a devoted fan of Balzac, persuaded his father to turn the house into a museum to pay homage to his hero. Bernard-Paul, who devoted his life to the museum, was the curator here from 1958 to 2001.
Balzac’s equally devoted followers, Emile Zola, Marcel Proust, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens (often called the English Balzac) Jack Kerouac, Henry James, Friedrich Engels and Fyodor Dostoevsky would have been delighted.
Saché was looted by Germans during WWII but luckily the wonderful trompe-l’oeil wallpaper survived. In the dining room, a fragment of the original wallpaper was used to create its replica. The wonderful frieze appears in Le Père Goriot which Balzac wrote at Saché. The wallpaper in the hall was recreated from a fragment found in George Sand’s bedroom at Nohant in the Indre, where Balzac often visited her. The writers admired each other but did not share political views.
It would be a cold heart that did not warm to Honoré Balzac. His life was more tragic than that of the characters in his novels. He is one of those you would love to sit next to at dinner although, as we shall see, that would be difficult.
Saché is where Honoré came when life got too much for him, when he needed to go for long walks and breathe fresh county air, where he hid from his creditors in Paris. With a twenty-three hour coach ride to Tours (where he was born) and (if there was no-one to meet him) a fifteen mile walk to Saché when he got off, it was not a journey to be taken lightly. He must have been pretty desperate.
He came to Saché to find quiet but often didn’t. He said:
There’s no peace living in a château. People come to visit and you have to dress at a particular time. Provincial people think it very odd that anyone should want to miss dinner to pursue an idea.
And there you have the words of a non-provincial, a non-conformist, in short a writer. Writers like staying in their pyjamas until at least till lunch time, all day if they can get away with it. They resent spending time away from their desks to wash, clean their teeth, get dressed or go to bed. As for venturing out the reason must be pressing.
On his desk at Saché is the pot for the coffee that might have helped kill him at just fifty-one. Very particular about his coffee, Balzac had it delivered from Paris and let it brew as he worked from two or three in the morning to five in the evening when the bell, which still hangs at the entrance, called him for dinner.
He loved the view from his bedroom window but closed the curtains when he wrote. Writers write to escape from Life, not embrace it. It can provide relief, although in Balzac’s case, it was counter-productive. His obsession resulted in health problems.
The Marquis de Biencourt, owner of the nearby Château Azay-le-Rideau, was a frequent guest at dinner. Balzac was not impressed by titles. He said:
The aristocracy and authority of talent are more substantial than the aristocracy of names and material power.
Of the after dinner entertainment – a deck of cards on the table in the drawing room at Saché – he said: This is how one kills time!
Despite annoying hosts wanting to show him off to their other guests, Balzac did manage to write at Saché. By the time he died he had completed ninety-one novels. You can’t do that if you stop for dinner or go to sleep. Talking about dinner, he raved about Saché’s wine cellar, especially the twenty-five year old Vouvray but it’s doubtful he got to drink much. He despised his rich host’s ‘stinginess’ and his ‘intolerant, bigoted, hunchbacked and hardly spiritual’ wife.
His hosts were Monsieur and Madame Jean de Margonne, friends of Balzac’s parents which is strange because Jean de Margonne was his mother’s lover. He was the father of Balzac’s half-brother, Henry.
Balzac’s relationship with his family was strained. His father, one of eleven children, was aspirational, inspirational. In 1760 he left home for Paris with no money and no support. By 1776 he was Secretary to the King’s Council. After the Reign of Terror he was posted to Tours to coordinate army supplies.
Balzac’s mother, who came from a wealthy family, was just eighteen when she married François Balzac. He was fifty. It was not a love match. She didn’t like children either. As soon as Honoré was born she sent him away to a wet nurse, didn’t see him again until he was four and even then kept her distance. At ten he was sent away to school. Although his parents were very well off he was kept short of money and bullied, just one of the many reasons he hated it there and spent most of his time in the naughty corner. Not that he minded. An avid devourer of books, he read till his eyes watered and until the day he became so ill he was removed from school.
When he moved with his family back to Paris, Balzac was so unhappy he jumped in the river. After three boring years at the Sorbonne he spent a further three miserable years in a law office. In his novel Le Notaire, his character despises:
The hideous wrangling of heirs over corpses not yet cold. He hated being a clerk, a machine, eating and drinking and sleeping at fixed hours…that’s what they call living, that life at the grindstone, doing the same thing over and over again… I am hungry and nothing is offered to appease my appetite.
What he really wanted to do was write. His disapproving, furious, parents gave him a starvation allowance to rent the proverbial writer’s garret and starve he did. In the naughty corner again, Balzac felt at home. He considered toil and effort a mark of nobility.
When his father died, Balzac, age 30, wrote a story about a 30 year-old man who kills his father. This was the first time he did not use a pseudonym. He signed it Honoré de Balzac adding the aristocratic de in an attempt to fit into respected society.
One day Balzac had the inspiration to write La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy) a series of books reflecting French society. Considering his own life, La Tragedie Humaine would be more apt. The moment the idea came to him, Balzac raced to tell his sister. He said I am about to become a genius! He did. Edison said genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine perspiration.
Balzac nurtured political ambitions. He failed. He said a mediator between the King and insurgents needed a young, vigorous man. Planning to be that man he addressed the upper classes in Chinon. After a near-fatal accident in 1832 when he slipped and cracked his head on the street Balzac decided not to stand for election.
In 1836 Balzac became editor of Chronique de Paris, a weekly magazine. The magazine failed. In 1840 he founded Revue Parisienne. It also failed. He tried his hand at publishing French classics but failed. The books were sold as waste paper.
He then borrowed money to try his hand at printing. He failed. The wonderful 19th century printing shop in Saché reminds visitors of the trade Balzac practised from 1826 to 1828. It ended in bankruptcy.
Balzac wasn’t cut out for business. His genius which lay elsewhere. His spirit was captured by Auguste Rodin in his Monument to Balzac which the visitor will also find in Saché in a room which tells the story of the statue. It caused outrage when it was unveiled in 1891.
All Balzac’s early works which were published under pseudonyms are here as are almost all the first editions of his novels alongside his corrected proofs. He revised obsessively, covering proofs with changes and additions to be reset. He repeated this process during publication causing significant expense both for himself and the publisher.
In 1832 Balzac received an anonymous letter from the Ukraine with no return address signed L’Étrangère (The Foreigner). It began a fifteen year correspondence between Balzac and Lady Eveline Hańska the object of [his] sweetest dreams. Each had found their soul mate.
Lady Eveline was Polish. As a teenager she was married off to an aristocrat twenty years her senior. When her husband died in 1841, overcoming every obstacle put in her way by those who disapproved of Balzac, she married Honoré in 1850. They arrived in Paris on his fifty-first birthday but Balzac tragically died five months after his wedding.
Balzac is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
At his funeral, Victor Hugo, who was a pall bearer said the nation was in mourning for a man of genius.
The original Château Cheverny was, by fair means or foul, taken from the family by Henri II. He gave it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers who cynically sold it back to the family.
The Cheverny we see today, completed in 1640, was built by Henri Hurault, Comte de Cheverny. He was the son of Phillippe, Chancellor to Louis XIII and Henri IV. The Marquis de Vibraye, present owner and occupier of the chateau, is a direct descendant.
In keeping with tradition, Cheverny keeps kennels for a hundred hunting hounds. They keep the family, staff and the dogs themselves well provided with fresh supplies of deer or wild boar according to the season.
The family lost everything during the French Revolution but got Cheverny back in 1824 during the restoration of the monarchy under Charles X. This means that the chateau has been lived in by the same family for six centuries which is pretty impressive.
The dining room has thirty-four wooden panels painted by the Blois artist Jean Monier illustrating the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Cervantes was all the rage when Cheverny was built. Monier, who also decorated the very impressive Arms Room, surpassed himself with The King’s Room which is quite simply astonishing.
In 1922, having managed to survive the many vicissitudes of Life, Cheverny opened its doors to the public, the first chateau to do so.
There are many tapestries, family portraits by François Clouet and de la Tour and paintings from the studios of Titian and Raphael to appreciate in this elegant chateau.
The terrible tragedy of Charles’ death threw a pall over the Château and the town. Anne was only twenty-one. Already heartbroken having lost seven children to early deaths, she was devastated. She couldn’t wait to leave Amboise and went home to her beloved Brittany.
Alas. When you are high born your destiny is mapped out. She had to go through a second marriage with a cousin of Charles who reigned as Louis XII.
It was also Louis’ second marriage. Because France needed Brittany for security reasons his first marriage was annulled so that he could marry Anne. She, understandably, refused to live in Amboise which held too many sad memories for her so she and Louis lived in Château Blois.
Not only did Louis marry Charles’ widow, he carried on with the improvements at Château Amboise which Charles had begun. He also carried on Charles’ claim to Naples. Like Charles he became, for a short while, King of Naples.
Louis and Anne had four stillborn sons and two daughters. Anne died in 1514. Louis followed her a year later. At her marriage to Charles age 14, Anne was described as a young, rosy-cheeked girl. By the time of her marriage to Louis, aged 22, after seven pregnancies with no surviving children, she was described as pale-faced and wan. By the end of her life, at 36, she had been pregnant 14 times, from which only two children survived. Their elder daughter, Claude, married Louis’ cousin and heir, François of Angoulème. Brought up in Amboise, François retained a lifelong affection for his childhood home.
He reigned as François I. A cultured, intelligent, man he spoke Hebrew, Italian, Latin and Spanish. He loved dancing, music, archery, falconry, riding, hunting, jousting and tennis, He studied philosophy and theology and was fascinated with art, literature, poetry and science.
Before François, the royal palaces had only a few paintings and no sculptures. France’s magnificent art collection now at the Louvre began with him.
Determined to gain a foothold in Italy, François promised Pope Leo X authority over the Catholic Church in France in return for his authority over Naples.
Leo’s nephew Lorenzo II de’ Medici married Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne, Duchess of Urbino, Countess of Boulogne, a relative of François in Château Amboise. It was a double celebration. His wife Claude, daughter of Anne of Britany and Louis XII, had just given birth to a son named François.
Like Charles VIII, François was obsessed with all things Italian. His fascination with the Renaissance meant he was a generous patron of the arts and famously persuaded Leonardo da Vinci to leave Italy and live in Amboise. He refurbished one wing of Château Amboise and decorated the windows in the Italian style.
It was from Amboise that François set out to conquer Italy and achieved victory at the Battle of Marignano. He was twenty-one. Ten years later, he was not so successful at the Battle of Pavia and was taken prisoner. His second son Henri II would finally renounce France’s claims on Italy.
This was the age of Martin Luther who protested against the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church of Rome. Protestants were called Huguenots in France. François was fairly tolerant of them until the night they managed to access his private apartments in the Château and nailed their grievances to his bedroom door just as Luther had nailed his on the door of his local church. François ordered brutal reprisals be carried out on the Huguenot Leaders but their punishments paled in comparison to what happened in 1560 when his grandson was on the throne.
François, like Charles VIII, wanted a palace like Alfonso’s. Instead of spending more time and money tinkering with Château Amboise he built new, grand, Renaissance Châteaux at Chambord and Fontainebleau after which he spent less time in Amboise although it remained an important staging post for royalty.
Francois I died in 1547. He was succeeded by his second son Henri II who married Catherine de Medici. It was her parents, Lorenzo II de Medici and Madeleine de La Tour d’ Auvergne, who got married at Château Amboise.
It was at the Château their children were raised with Mary Stuart, the child Queen of Scotland.
Henri II, like Charles VIII, died before his time in a tragic accident.
In 1560, his son King François II was sixteen years old. The previous year he had married Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. The Protestants, to air their grievances, planned to abduct the young couple from Château Amboise but the plot was foiled. The conspirators were executed in public and their corpses were hanged from the Château walls. The carnage was shocking. An understandable pall fell over the town and the Château fell out of favour with royalty. It was used a prison for a while. A huge part was destroyed by French Revolutionaries in the early 1800s.
Louise-Marie-Adelaïde, Duchess of Orleans, great-granddaughter of King Louis XIV (The Sun King) inherited Château Amboise in 1815. She gave it to her son, Louis-Philippe, when he became King in 1830. A cousin of the murdered King Louis XVI he left France in 1793 to escape the Terror and roamed Europe for twenty-one years. His father, who refused to leave France, paid with his life.
Louis-Philippe bought and demolished houses built against the castle walls to clear the ramparts and began restoring the Château intending it as a holiday home for his family. His study, bedroom and music room are still there.
Louis-Philippe somehow managed to survive seven assassination attempts. It would be romantic to think that the tunnels under the Château (one runs to the writer’s house) were excavated on his order in case more were to come.
It was the King’s son, the Duke of Aumale, who led the invasion of Algeria and took its leader, Emir Abdel Kadir prisoner in 1847. The Emir lived in honourable captivity in the Château for four years with his mother, wives, brothers, children, their tutors, caliphs and servants; in total, eighty-eight. Members of his entourage are buried in the gardens of the Chateau. The Emir was personally liberated by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte in 1852 and died in Damascus in 1883.
Louis-Philippe fell out of favour with the public when the economy deteriorated. Forced to abdicate following the Revolution of 1848, he lived in exile in England as an honoured guest of Queen Victoria in one of her Grace and Favour homes. Château Amboise was confiscated by the government. Until 1950, a law passed in 1886 banned all heirs of formerly reigning French dynasties from entering France. Heirs of Louis-Philippe were later given back control of Château Amboise and made a major effort to repair it.
During the German invasion of WWII, the Château suffered more damage. After the fall of Paris, Amboise witnessed a stream of refugees fleeing the enemy and French soldiers retreating. The Red Cross served 50,000 meals a day in Amboise.
French Resistance fighters who set up camp in the Château blew up the bridge between the Isle d’Or and the foot of the castle to prevent Germans crossing the Loire. Germans built a pontoon bridge which was replaced by a wooden bridge and a ferry. They set up camp on the island and bombarded the Château. When they managed to cross the Loire, despite the gun battery stationed between the Town Hall and the Loire and fierce resistance, they took the town which suffered severe damage.
German troops had also invaded the farm of Girardière and broke the roof tiles to install a machine gun. French soldiers, shot as they crossed the vineyards, are buried in the local cemetery. The Germans occupied the farm and stayed there a few days before entering the Château. They took the remaining Resistance Fighters as POWS.
The Château today is just one fifth of how it looked when Charles VIII lived there. It now belongs to the Saint Louis Foundation, presided over by His Grace, the Count of Paris, Henri d’Orleans, a fifth generation descendant of Louis-Philippe, the last King of France (King of the French). He is recognized as the legitimate claimant to the throne by French royalists.