With nearly a million visitors each year, the castle of Chenonceau, nicknamed “the castle of the ladies”, is one of the most visited castles in France, behind the Castle of Chambord and the Castle of Versailles . Located in Touraine, near the town of Amboise, the castle of Chenonceau is a jewel of Loire Valley architecture, with its double gallery overlooking the Cher. Built from 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, an architect from Tours, the the castle of Chenonceau was developed and embellished under the reigns of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Médicis. In this article, we will focus on the history of the castle of Chenonceau, and more particularly on the ladies who owned it.
The history of the castle of Chenonceau
Thomas Bohier, a young bourgeois from Tours, bought in 1496 the estate where the future castle of Chenonceau would be built, replacing the Manor of Couldray. In 1512, after several years of legal battles with the Marques, former owners of the estate, Thomas Bohier took full possession of the premises which extended over nearly 1680 hectares. From 1513, Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet, an architect from a wealthy provincial family, initiated the transformation of the estate by razing the old castle of Marques, but retaining the original platform which would serve as an esplanade for access to the new castle. The Marques tower and the adjoining well are also preserved, and construction work on the future castle of Chenonceau will last until 1521. In 1526, after the deaths of Thomas Bohier and Katerine Briçonnet, an audit of public accounts revealed embezzlement by Thomas Bohier. King François 1st then imposed a heavy fine on the heirs of the castle and in 1538, the Chenonceau estate was ceded to the king and then became a royal residence. But during his reign, King François 1er did not undertake any decoration and renovation work, the latter focusing his attention on the castle of Chambord . On the death of François 1er in 1547, his son Henri II offered the castle of Chenonceau to Diane de Poitiers.
The castle with Diane de Poitiers
As early as 1551, Diane de Poitiers had a 2-hectare garden laid out which would bear her name. An earthen levee allows this space to be protected from flooding and major masonry work is carried out around the garden, in order to create a terrace and the creation of a flowerbed. In 1552, the Diane de Poitiers garden was laid out with plantations supervised by the great lords and owners of the gardens of Touraine. That same year, Diane de Poitiers received Henri II and Catherine de Médicis in Chenonceau. She also entrusted the architect Philippe Delorme with the construction of a bridge linking the castle to the left bank, in order to create new gardens and hunting grounds. The work lasted 3 years but King Henry II, mortally wounded in Paris, could not inaugurate the work. On the latter’s death, his wife Catherine de Medici forced her rival Diane de Poitiers to return the castle of Chenonceau to the crown, in exchange for the castle of Chaumont-sur-Loire.
Chenonceau with Catherine de Médicis
In March 1560, Catherine de Médicis organized a party in Chenonceau in honor of François II, who died a few months later at the age of 16. In December 1560, Catherine de Médicis was appointed governess of France and Charles IX succeeded her deceased brother. Beautification work on the the castle of Chenonceau began in 1561 with the development of the Francueil park and the creation of a new garden, downstream from the Marques terrace. A new big party was organized in 1563 in honor of Charles IX and personalities like the Prince of Condé or the young Henri III were invited. The court then left Chenonceau for the domain of Chambord and Charles IX died in 1574 at the castle of Vincennes. His brother Henri III, new king of France, succeeded him and married, in 1575, Louise de Lorraine. With the construction of two galleries superimposed on the bridge of the castle, Catherine de Médicis envisages a great project in order to compete with domains like the castle of Chambord or the castle of Versailles . In 1589, Catherine de Médicis died at the castle of Blois and her son, King Henri III, died the same year, assassinated at Saint-Cloud. Henri de Navarre then becomes king of France under the name of Henri IV.
The castle with Louise of Lorraine
In 1589, Louise de Lorraine, wife of King Henri III, inherited Chenonceau. Very affected by the death of her husband, Louise de Lorraine made the castle of Chenonceau a place of contemplation where she wore the color of royal mourning, white, which earned her the nickname “white lady of Chenonceau”. The castle is shrouded in black and funereal patterns, commensurate with the queen’s grief. Louise de Lorraine’s room, painted black and gloomily decorated, is an oratory located on the second floor of the castle which remained in place for more than a century. In 1593, the heavily indebted castle of Chenonceau was put up for sale by the House of Parliament. Gabrielle d’Estrées, wife of Henri IV, allowed Louise de Lorraine to retain possession of Chenonceau until her death in 1601, despite the debts she could not pay. The castle of Chenonceau was then bequeathed to César de Vendôme (son of Henri IV and Gabrielle d’Estrées) and his wife Françoise de Lorraine (niece of Louise de Lorraine). In 1606, the Duchess of Mercœur, Marie de Luxembourg, became the new owner of the castle of Chenonceau, until her death in 1623. In 1624, César de Vendôme took possession of the estate and then sold it to his son Louis Joseph de Vendôme. After being ceded to Louis-Henri de Bourbon, Chenonceau was sold to Claude Dupin, a French financier originally from Berry. From now on, the castle of Chenonceau no longer belongs to royalty.
The castle of Chenonceau under Claude and Louise Dupin
Claude Dupin is a wealthy farmer general, owner of the prestigious Hôtel Lambert in Paris. He marries, in second marriage, Louise Dupin, the natural daughter of his widow. In 1722, Louise Dupin organized a salon where she invited Voltaire, Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had become private secretary to the Dupin couple. Claude and Louise Dupin begin a series of embellishments inside the castle and the funeral apartments of Queen Louise of Lorraine are redecorated. The gallery on the first floor is distributed in rooms served by a long corridor and the convent of the nasturtiums is refurbished. The gardens left fallow are replanted and the vineyards reconstituted. Abandoned for nearly 100 years, Chenonceau has regained all its former splendor thanks to the Dupin couple. The difference in spelling between Chenonceau (without x) which indicates the castle, and Chenonceaux (with an x) which indicates the town, is attributed to Louise Dupin, although no archive can attest to this. At the same time, the setbacks and the accumulation of debts of their son Jacques-Armand Dupin de Chenonceaux forced the Dupin couple to have the latter locked up in a fortress near Lyon.
Chenonceau after the French Revolution
Since the French Revolution, the castle of Chenonceau has belonged to several families. Count René de Villeneuve owned it for 65 years and his two heiresses sold it in 1864 to Madame Pelouze, a doctor’s wife who commissioned the architect Félix Roguet to refurbish Chenonceau. Ruined, Madame Pelouze sold the estate in 1889 to Crédit Foncier, before the latter parted with it in 1891, ceding it to José Emilio Terry, a deputy from Havana, whose father was a banker and owner of sugar cane. in Cuba. In 1913, the estate was put up for sale at public auction and Henri Menier, an industrialist specializing in chocolate, acquired it. Nowadays, the castle of Chenonceau is still the property of the Menier family.
Organize your stay at the castle of Chenonceau
There are several ways to visit the Chenonceau estate:
- By boat : take a trip on the Cher on board a barge or a toue, passing under the arches of this sumptuous Renaissance castle.
- By canoe : climb aboard a Canadian canoe and set off to discover the Cher or the Loire.
- By bike : discover the charms of the Cher Valley on a fully equipped bike, on the “Cher by bike” cycle path and join the castle and its vineyards for a 12 kilometer family outing.
Chenonceau and its heritage have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage since July 9, 2017. All information concerning accommodation and the organization of your trip to the Loire Valley is available on the website www.chenonceau.com