Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chenonceau - Castle over the Water - 7-17-09

Ever since I saw a picture of Chenonceau in 8th grade, I've always wanted to see this chateau that was built across the water. So when I saw that it was included in a tour of the castles of the Loire, I snapped right up on it.

It was the second castle of our tour. Luckily, the rain just stopped as we arrived. After the bus parked, we walked through a long walk of tall trees (just as you would imagine) to reach the chateau. I was surprised that we actually saw the side of it before we saw the bridge part. Just before we went in, I lost my travel-mate, Sheila, who had stopped to take pictures (surprise, surprise). So she missed the guided tour, but went in on her own. We met up afterwards just outside the entry.

Previous to arriving, our guide had given us some of the history behind Chenonceau. It is actually owned by a private family who allows tours of most of it. But it was once the property of a well-known mistress of King Henry 2. Her name was Diane du Portier, and she was supposedly the most beautiful woman in the country. Henry fell in love with her at age 9, when he and his brother were sent to Spain as hostages so that their father would be released. Diane, who was probably around 20, was one of the court to see them off, and she cried and threw her arms around the boys. That's when Henry fell in love. After he was released, he reacquainted himself with her and apparently their affair began around when he was 17. Chenonceau was a gift to her, as well as some of the crown jewels and many other expensive items. Originally, Chenonceau was basically a hunting lodge, and the part that goes over the river was a bridge from the castle (built on a stone pier) to the hunting grounds.

Of course, he was bound to marry someone else, either for money or political position. So he ended up marrying Catherine di Medici of Italy and the famous (and very rich) di Medici family. Doing so paid off the debts he owed and helped pave the way for peace with Italy. As far as Catherine was concerned, it was a great deal because their family was not of royalty, and this was definitely a step up in the world. However, Catherine was not happy with the mistress situation, but she couldn't do too much about it. But she was able to have LOTS of children and guarantee that one of them would inherit Henry's throne. I think the guide said she had 8.

Henry died an odd death -- he challenged one of the royalty to a joust and the court member could not refuse. Unfortunately, during the "fight", his lance went right into Henry's eye and Henry died shortly thereafter. Everyone wondered what Catherine would do about Diane. She could have her killed outright, imprisoned, all sorts of stuff. Instead, Catherine stripped her of all her property, the jewels, etc. and banned her from the court. But she let her live (which, I guess, was considered very generous). Catherine took over Chenonceau and enclosed the bridge, adding one story, to have more room for balls and receptions. And that is basically the history of Chenonceau.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of construction/renovation going on and I couldn't really get any good angles of the front of the building. But it was beautiful, and the history made it even more fascinating.

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad you connected the castle with the history of it - fascinating.