Sunday, February 5, 2012

Henry James' A Little Tour Of France - Bordeaux, Chambord



The port city of Bordeaux is primarily known for its famous wine industry and beautiful countryside. Wine production has been a major part of the area's economy since the 8th century and even now, every two years the town hosts VinExpo, a convention for wine professionals.

Place Tourney, Bordeaux, early 1900s

 Chateau Villandry in Loire Valley area
the last French chateau built during the Renaissance era

James' tour of the area consists largely of his walk around shopping district, Porte du Caillou, which even today maintains its beautiful medieval architecture. The town of Bordeaux was the setting for parts of Honore de Balzac's Comedie Humanie. James mentions his appreciation for and interest in Balzac and his works quite a bit throughout this book.

Porte du Caillou, Rue du Palais, Bordeaux
(Steel engraving 1845, drawn by T. Allom, engraved by J. Carter)

The word "caillou" is French for pebble or stone, but in some translations can also mean "bald". Makes sense now since caillou just reminds me of one of that cute cartoon sometimes shown on PBS - Caillou!  Anyone else ever watch this show? I don't see it on much anymore but I always thought it was pretty adorable. The series was based on the children's books by Christine L'Heureux.

tv cartoon character Caillou
The show featured a little boy who was bald, 
the stories were basically everyday events told from
a child's perspective, full of innocence and humor.

Also visited is nearby Biarritz, a coastal vacation spot for the wealthy and famous during the early 20th century. Such notables to use the area as an escape included Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway, and CoCo Chanel, who even opened one of her stores here. Even before the celebrities discovered the beauty of the area, Empress Josephine (wife of Napoleon Bonaparte) had a palace built here. The palace is now the Hotel du Palais. 

postcard featuring Biarritz in the early 1900s

lovely Biarritz

Empress Josephine's former palace,
now Hotel du Palais in Biarritz


James' time in Chambord was a whirlwind of chateau tours, beginning with Chateau de Chambord, a residence belonging to Francis I. His object of desire, Comtesse de Thoury, lived in the area so he had the place built as sort of a love memento, architecturally proclaiming his love for her. 

Chateau de Chambord

 Francis I

Comtesse de Thoury

Chateau de Chambord continued to change royal ownership over the years but use of the residence declined after the reign of Henry IV. It was sometimes visited by Louis XIV but he preferred to stay at Fontainbleau, so over time the place was left mostly abandoned. How sad is that!

In 1725, Stanislaus Leczynski, the elected King of Poland, moved in after he was ousted from his throne. He stayed at Chateau de Chambord as a place of refuge for 8 years and ended up marrying his daughter to Louis XV. In 1748, Maurice de Saxe (another ancestor of author George Sand) was given Chateau Chambord in recognition of his military accomplishments. He died at the estate 2 years later. A group of Quakers in 1791 put in a request to use the chateau, perhaps as a meeting house. Not sure if that was ever granted. Funny though, I thought Quakers preferred simplicity, wonder what they planned to do with this place 'cause this isn't exactly your run of the mill, barebones house!

Aerial view of Chateau de Chambord

The most interesting story attached to this chateau was one involving Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon offered Chambord to Berthier, a marshal for Napoleon. Not sure what the guy did to be rewarded such an estate but it must have been something pretty major! After Berthier's death, his widow -- the Princess of Wagram -- hmm, just realized maybe he got the estate because of his wife's title? -- his widow gave the estate / land title to the infant Duke of Bordeaux, a potential King of France. The duke later changed his title to Comte de Chambord, but the estate was taken away from him under the government of Louis Phillipe (I guess on a whim?? Couldn't figure that out). It took him 25 years and a ton of litigation to have his property and title reinstated to him. 

Other chateaus visited:

Chateau de Cheverny, near Russy Forest in the Sologne countryside

example of Sologne countryside :-)

Chateau de Blois, also belonged to Francis I

 Chateau de Langeais
Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII were married here
in the Great Hall here in 1491

wax figures in Chateau de Langeais depicting the marriage of 
Anne & Charles

James also went through nearby Tours, the birthplace town of Honore de Balzac, mainly to see Chateau le Tours and the attached Tour de Guise -- a tower of Chateau le Tours where Charles de Lorraine, Duke of Guise and Prince of Joinville, was imprisoned (on the order of Henry II of Blois) after his father's assassination in 1588. He was held there for three years before escaping in 1591.

Chateau le Tours
the prominent tower on the left is the Tour de Guise

While in Tours, James also visited St. Gatiens Cathedral, which holds the tombs of two of Anne and Charles' children who sadly died in infancy. They were originally held at the Basilica of St. Martin's in Tours, until an attack on the church in 1797 (during the French Revolution) left it almost entirely destroyed. The tombs were unharmed and moved to St. Gatiens in 1815. 

Above: St. Gatiens, then and now

two children of Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII
now resting at St. Gatiens Cathedral

Hotel de L'Univers, near Lussat
Where Henry James stayed while exploring
Chambord & Tours

Square in Tours

Some pretty amazing homes here, huh! Next post, we wrap up James' little French walkabout!