Friday, February 3, 2012

Henry James' A Little Tour of France - Angers and Le Mans

Much of the rest of Henry James' trip through France is a whirlwind of history, mostly regarding the local royals. He starts with Angers, a town you might recognize from Shakespeare's King John. Angers was the original homebase for the Dukes of Anjou. Henry James describes the area as doux pas or "soft, sweet country".

The Chateau d'Angers, one of James' stops, was the birthplace of King Rene of Anjou (who was also King Of Naples), father to Queen Margaret of Anjou (who married King Henry VI of England). He was also brother to Marie of Anjou, onetime Queen of France, being the wife of King Charles VII of France.Wow.. this is starting to sound a little biblical lol.

King Rene himself had a bit of a sad hiccup in his love life (or political partnership, depending on how you view relationships of that era), he married the Duchess of Lorraine, Isabella, in 1419 when she was just 19, which I realize is a bit old maid - ish for the time, but when I think "what if I had to marry the guy I was seeing at 19?", it still makes me shake my head a little. It's good to live in these times ;-)

The newlyweds were famously immortalized in a painting by acclaimed artist Rosetti.  They had a good run but sadly Rene was left a widower in 1453. By 1454 he found himself already remarried, this time to Jeanne de Laval, more than 20 yrs his junior. Laval was said to be sweet natured and it was believed to be a happy marriage right up to the end in 1480, when Rene passed away.

 Chateau d'Angers

impressive garden at Chateau d'Angers

"King Rene's Honeymoon" by Dante Gabriel Rosetti
C'mon girl! TRY to be interested! 
Look at her staring off into middle distance :-P

King Rene (the later years) with wife #2
Jeanne de Laval... I'm not immediately struck with a sense 
of her "sweet nature" here but maybe she was the type of girl 
that was "great once you get to know her" :-)

Also in the Anjou line was Geoffrey V of Anjou, who somewhere got the nickname "Geoffrey The Handsome" (wonder if he started that himself or if he was that much of a hit with the ladies lol). Geoffrey founded the House of Plantagenet and married Empress Matilda, or Maude to her friends, (I'd rather go by Matilda myself.. but hey lol). Matilda was the daughter of Henry I of England and widow of Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Germany. She was 11 years Geoffrey's senior and it was said they had a stormy marriage due to her belief that she ended up "marrying down" (you never trade down!!) but they worked it out once in awhile since she ended up giving him three sons and he inadvertently gave her the gift of letting her outlive him.  I just picture the two of them having a scene in the royal bed chamber (whether it was the king's or queen's since they typically had separates) with him saying "C'mon baby, you got Geoffrey the Handsome here, all for you!!", making some macho, lewd gesture and she's giving him a look like "PUHLLEEZE" ... that's just the way history works in my brain! Maybe why I find it so fun, I play the "what if" game so much lol. 

"Geoffrey The Handsome" ??

Empress Matilda

Mt. Saint Michel in Angers, France

Angers was also home to Nicholas Fouquet, finance minister to Louis XIV. His name instantly reminded me of Lord Farquaad from the Shrek movies.. and there's actually a little similarity in that look that seems nice enough on top but a layer of potential sinister underneath :

 Lord Farquaad in the movie Shrek.

Nicholas Fouquet
maybe a dash of Farquaad with a hint of Gary Sinise? lol

Above: Maison d'Adam - then and now,
 the inn where James stayed while exploring Angers

One of Geoffrey and Matilda's sons, Henry II,  was born in Le Mans (another town covered by James' tour), and was the grandson of the legendary William the Conquerer. Henry II, after taking the throne as King of England, was actually the first royal to specifically use the title "King Of England". Prior to Henry, monarchs used "King of the English. Ascending the throne, Henry also took on the duties of Lord of Ireland, Count of Anjou and Maine, and Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine, Gascony and Nantes. In 1152, he married Eleanor of Aquitaine when he was 19 years old. At the time of their marriage, Eleanor's first marriage to King Louis VII of France had only been annulled just a few months earlier. It's strange that the marriage was considered annulled, since they were married for some time but from what I've read, a number of French kings throughout history have had their share of bedroom troubles with the wives picked for them so maybe Eleanor was able to convince her highers up "I don't care what we did in there, that CANNOT count!" ;-)

 If you read the novel The Book of Eleanor by Pamela Kaufman, you get the impression that Eleanor and Henry had the classic case of the love-hate relationship (he did lock her up in a castle for all those years after all ...), running very hot and heavy and then turning all War of the Roses on each other! If you are interested in this couple, I also recommend checking out the film The Lion In Winter. The original version has Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor and Peter O'Toole as Henry (how can you go wrong with that team!). There was a remake a few years back with Patrick Stewart as Henry and Glenn Close as Eleanor and honestly I can't decide which one was better for me. Both films had powerful performances -- Patrick Stewart started out as a Shakespearean actor so no surprise he could take on Henry II and hold your attention!

 Henry II

Eleanor of Aquitaine

One of Eleanor and Henry's sons, Richard I (aka Richard the Lionheart) became perhaps one of the most well known kings of England. There was a bit of family awkwardness, I'm sure, once Richard became a man and became betrothed to Princess Alys, the sister of King Philip II of France. There was already some tense relations with France, due to momma Eleanor's history there, what with the annulled marriage and all, AND the fact that Alys was the daughter of Eleanor's ex, Louis and his second wife.  With her son, there was the added scandalous story of his bethrothal to Alys being called off. It seems there was a rumor going around that Alys was the secret mistress of Richard's dad, Henry and possibly the mother of one of his illegitimate children. So rather than risk having to come to terms with possibly having his dad's sloppy seconds, Richard called off his engagement to Alys and later went on to marry Berengaria, who became known as "the only Queen of England to never set foot in the country" as she preferred to live in France. 

 Richard I, "Richard The Lionheart"


Another notable of Le Mans was Francoise d'Aubigne, Marquise de Maintenon (aka Madame de Maintenon).

Francoise d'Aubigne

Francoise was the 2nd wife of King Louis XIV of France, nicknamed "the Sun King", though the marriage was never announced or publicly admitted during her lifetime... imagine being burned like that!

Louis XIV

Francoise came from interesting parentage. Her father, Constant d'Aubigne, was imprisoned. I've read different accounts as to why .. possibly for his open opposition to Cardinal Richlieu, or was it..  oh yea.... murdering his first wife and her lover! Maybe it was the same reasoning used to nabb Al Capone ... "Yeah he's done some shady, vicious stuff, hurt people, had people killed.. but my god, he CHEATED ON HIS TAXES! *gasp*.  His second wife, Francoise's mother, Jeanne de Cardillac, was actually the daughter of Constant's jailer! "So... you come round here often?"

After having Francoise, Jeanne found her to be a financial burden to the already cash strapped couple, but went on to also give Constant a son, Charles. In true scoundrel fashion, Constant abandoned his second wife and children to go try to find wealth in America but died alone and more than likely no better off. Francoise and Charles grew up having to beg door to door for each day's food :-(   Perhaps pushed by financial strain, Francoise married for the first time at the age of 16 to a 42 yr old, Paul Scarron, in 1652. Scarron died by 1660, leaving Francoise a respectable widow. She was later invited to an event at Versailles where she met Louis XIV and soon became a court favorite, leading up to their eventual secret marriage and subsequent children.... gotta love court intrigue!!

St. Julien Cathedral

I love ornate stained glass windows :-)
Stained glass work in St. Julien Cathedral, Le Mans

I've never heard of this before, but apparently these amazing light displays resembling stained glass 
are projected onto cathedrals all over France during the holidays! 
I think I would be awe-struck seeing these in person!

Signing off for now... more later!