Tuesday 7 February 2023

Come stroll with me ...

... through the house and grounds of château Chenonceau …

I’m camped just up the road from Chenonceaux, which sits on the north bank of the river Cher.  It’s a few kilometres west of Montrichard. Despite the prettiness of the village, it’s not the focus of my visit today. But, château Chenonceau is.  Note the lack of the x at the end of the name.  You can blame that on one of the revolutionaries, apparently.  No x meant that the connection with royalty was severed! Just seems like bad spelling to me, and I suppose it’s better than severing heads.
The château is situated just outside the village and straddles the river.  But it didn’t always look as it does now.  Follow me, and I’ll show you what I mean as we walk through some more French history.
The entrance to the house takes you past the Marques tower.  This is a remnant from the original fort that was built here in 1432 for Jean Marques 2. He was allied to King Charles 7. The Marques family had actually held the fief of Chenonceaux (must include the x this time because this is pre-revolution and we are talking about the estate) since the 13th century.  The fief was the right to raise revenue on land granted by the king for services rendered, mostly in the form of manpower as soldiers in wars to keep said estates and agricultural labourers to tend said land.
The tower we see today was actually preserved by one Thomas Bohier.  He purchased the old medieval fort in 1513 from Pierre Marques, who was in debt to the state.  Bohier demolished the original building, all but the solitary tower.  Between 1515 and 1521, Bohier built an entirely new mansion out on the river using the foundations of an old mill connected by the bridge in front of us and flanked by turrets.  Bohier was Chamberllan (the equivalent of the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer) to King Charles 8.  He had married very well.  His wife was Catherine de Briçonnet, the daughter of a powerful Touraine family of financiers.  It was Catherine who oversaw the building work in her husband’s absence.  As we leave the bridge and enter through the main door, we are presented with a wide corridor that stretches the full length of the ground floor to, what would have been at that time, a view overlooking the river and the opposite bank.
Bohier died in 1524, his wife two years later, and the château came into the possession of their son, Antoine.  The history now becomes a little murky.  It seems that the Bohier family were somehow connected with Jacques de Beaune-Samblançay, an extremely wealthy and powerful man who bank-rolled kings and nobles and was subsequently executed for extortion … possibly.  My brief research hasn’t provided any definite links, but what is clear is that in 1535, Antoine was in debt to the crown, and the property was seized by Francis 1.
When Francis died in 1547, Henri 2 offered the house to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.  She took up residence and became so besotted with the location that she employed architect Philibert de l’Orme in 1555 to build the arched bridge across to the other side of the river. Once complete, Diane oversaw the planting of the gardens and the improvement of the grounds.
Henri 2 died in 1559, and his widow, Catherine de Medici, forced Diane out and into the château at Chaumont.  Catherine then moved in and greatly improved the interior so that she could properly indulge her party habit.
Moving along the central corridor of the original house, we come to the first level of the gallery on the bridge constructed by de l’Orme.  It is a light and airy space with a large fireplace at the far end, and I can imagine some of those parties that Catherine de Medici loved happening here.
But, taking a giant leap across history from the 16th century to the 20th and 1940, there’s a fascinating piece of info that I want to bring to your attention.  When France was occupied in 1940, the demarcation line ran along the centre of the river Cher and, therefore, under this fabulous gallery.  The north bank was in occupied France, but the south bank was in Vichy.  As I stand here and look down on the river below, I have to wonder if, and to what extent, that actuality was exploited before the occupiers took the property for themselves.  If the opportunity was never utilised, then some writer, somewhere, might want to consider using this quirk of history as part of a plot!

There will be more from château Chenonceau next month. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy reading about my visits to the châteaux in Blois  Ancy-le-Franc or Tanlay


  1. So interesting Angela. It's a beautiful building with a fantastic history. Quite the place to house your mistress.

    1. Just so, Allan! And there will be more from Chenonceau next month.

  2. Great description, Angela. I would love the privilege to turn the clock back and take front seat to the party.