Saturday, February 4, 2012

Henry James' A Little Tour Of France - Nantes, Amboise, and Chinon

Loire River, France (runs past Nantes)


Beautiful as it is in pictures, Nantes has a bit of a rough and tumble history. Nantes was the site of some of the worst scenes of fighting during the Reign of Terror (1793-1794), a period following the French Revolution where numerous people were labeled as "enemies of the Revolution" and killed in mass executions. Hundreds of people were executed by drowning!

public gardens in Nantes, France

Erdre River in Nantes, France

It was also the birthplace of General Christophe Leon Louis Juchalt de Lamoriciere, leader of the Papal Army, in 1806. Lamoriciere was well known in his time for not supporting the presidency of Napoleon Bonaparte.


"In The Reign Of Terror" by Jessie Macgregor

One of the most notable sites of Nantes is Nantes Cathedral, the burial site for Francis II, Duke of Brittany (or Bretagne as it was known way back when) and his second wife, Margaret of Foix. Margaret and Francis were the parents of Anne of Brittany, wife of Charles VIII. In another one of those awkward family twists, Francis II also had three illegitimate children with his mistress, Antoinette de Maignelais, who just happened to be the former mistress of Anne's father-in-law, Charles VII.  As you read A Little Tour Of France, you may notice the marriage and life of Anne and Charles VIII is mentioned quite a few times throughout this work. 

Cathedral at Nantes

ornate tomb of Francis II and Margaret

Mary Boleyn
(previously mislabeled as Antoinette de Maignelais)

Steam Engine traveling over Loire River Bridge, Nantes


Amboise was the place Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII decided to call home, though "home" was said to have been made amidst a pretty rocky marriage. Anne and Charles nested themselves in their cozy cottage of Chateau Amboise.

Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany

Chateau Amboise
Not bad for a starter home, I'd say!

It was at Chateau Amboise that sadly one day, as he was leaving for a hunting excursion, Charles VIII bonked his head on a low door frame, shortly fell into a coma and died 9 hours later. The "heartbroken widow", Anne, didn't waste a whole lot of time in taking up with Charles' cousin and successor, Louis XII.

Another famous couple that took up residence in Amboise was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots and her first husband , Dauphin Francis II (a different one I think... the other Francis mentioned was a duke, Mary's husband was king... if I have that right). The marriage was unexpectedly short-lived. The two married in 1558 when Mary was 16 and Francis was 14. It was just short of two years later when Francis became ill, developed an ear infection which caused an absess in his brain, killing him - just 16 years old!! I was close to that age when I developed pneumonia and an ear infection in both ears at the same time -- at the time, it felt like it might kill me but thank god for modern medicine!

Mary Stuart and Dauphin Francis II at the time of their marriage.
Just babies!!

Also on James' tour were two other chateaus, Chateau de Chaumont and Chateau de Loches, and St. Hubert Chapel, burial site of the great Leonardo da Vinci. 

"Chateau de Loches" by Rourague (1856)

Chateau de Loches

Chateau de Chaumont

Also near Chateau de Chaumont is the pretty cool looking park and walking trail, Parc des Buttes. I would love to take that walk up to that gazebo! :

Parc des Buttes

waterfall in Parc des Buttes -
okay, definitely going on my places to see list!
I LOVE waterfall hikes!

 St. Hubert's Chapel, Amboise

stained glass windows put on a show inside St. Hubert's!

Da Vinci's resting place inside St. Hubert's

One place with a bit of an interesting story behind it is the Chateau Chenonceaux, on the Cher River. Chenonceaux was designed by Pierre Trinqueau (who also designed Chateau Chambord, to be discussed in the next post) in 1515. It became the home of Thomas Bohier, who was basically what we know now as a CPA (Certified Public Accountant). Bohier got the home from a noble family that was going into bankruptcy. After Bohier's death, the Crown forced Bohier's son to return the estate to royal rule, claiming that Bohier himself had excessive debt that needed to be repaid (those sneaky royals!). Francis I took possession of Chenonceaux until his death, where it was bequeath to King Henry II who gave it to Diana of Poitiers, his royal mistress. After Henry's death, Diana was evicted from the chateau but Catherine de Medici, Henry's widow, took pity on Diana and gave her Chateau Chaumont as somewhat of a consolation prize I guess. And a nice literary connection here -- the next owners of Chateau Chenonceaux were Claude Dupin and his wife who later turned it over to Maurice Dupin de Francueil. Claude Dupin was the great -grandfather of authoress George Sand. Maurice Dupin de Francueil was her father. The real name of writer George Sand was Baroness Amantine (or Amandine, in some records) Lucille Aurore Dupin.

Chateau Chenonceaux

King Henry II of France
(son of King Francis I and Queen Claude of France)

Henry's mistress, Diana of Poitiers
(this portrait by Primaticcio, previously discussed in this blog)
Diana was given Chateau Chaumont
 (see picture posted higher up in this post)
by Catherine de Medici upon losing Chateau Chenonceaux

Catherine de Medici
Henry II's wife and Queen of France

Later owners of Chenonceaux:

 Claude Dupin

 Maurice Dupin
"the culprits you are looking for went that way" x)

Baroness Amandine Dupin / writer George Sand

Henry James also visited Chateau Azay le Rideau (built between 1515-1527), one of the oldest Renaissance era chateaus in France. The chateau and the property surrounding it was later turned into a commune.

Azay le Rideau


Chinon is believed to be the birthplace town of French Renaissance humorist and monk (interesting combination) Francois Rabelais. 

I know Rabelais was a monk but doesn't he look like a guy 
you could party with though? :-P
That face just seems like he could be 
that guy that all us girls have met at least once that's 
like "Heeeyyyy laaadieezz!" LOL

I don't know a whole lot about Rabelais, but there was one place Henry James mentions seeing while in Chinon that got my attention. This castle:

This is said to be the castle where Joan of Arc first spoke with Charles VII, in her bid to try to get him on the throne. Joan of Arc was one of the first historical figures I remember learning about and even now her story still moves me. To be so young and be brave against such persecution, to be so profoundly set in your convictions, the story always leaves me in awe when I think of it!

next up... let's talk about some Honore de Balzac while we're here in France :-)