Did you know that Château de Chenonceau was a gift from King Henry II of France to his mistress Diane de Poitiers?
She didn’t get to keep it, though.
Chateau de Chenonceau is the third castle of the Loire Valley we visit during our weekend trip.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this chateau’s history is its almost uninterrupted succession down the line of fascinating women.
Here’s a brief overview of the chateau’s history and why we love it so much.
Debt ruled succession
The Chenonceau estate originally belonged to the Marques family. Financial trouble led the family to sell the property to Thomas Bohier in 1513.
Bohier tore down the original 13th-century chateau, and his wife Katherine Briçonnet oversaw the completion of a brand new castle between 1515 and 1521. Chenonceau became, under Briçonnet’s supervision, an entertainment hub for French nobility. Event King Francis I of France attended on two occasions.
Once again, financial trouble led the estate to change owners once more. The Crown incorporated the estate in the 16th century as a debt settlement with the Bohier family. It is here when King Henry II gifted the chateau to Diane the Poitiers.
She was extremely attached to the castle and oversaw many of its improvements (primarily the gardens).
That’s until the king’s death when his wife stepped in.
The Queen is here!
Catherine De’ Medici seized control of the castle by installing the authority of her young son and heir, the newly minted king Francis II of France. She was at the time, Queen regent.
She brought in lavish parties and splendor to the chateau, including various remodeling works and expansion of the property. But it wasn’t just pomp and leisure in the castle. Catherine De’ Medici managed the kingdom as regent from her study at Chenonceau, the Green Cabinet.
When Catherine died, the chateau passed on to his daughter in law, Louise de Lorraine, who then bequeathed the estate to her daughter Françoise de Lorraine, wife of the Duc de Vendome.
Restoring the splendor
Chenonceau stayed the property of the Duc de Vendome’s family, the Bourbons, who had very little interest in the estate, except for hunting. The family sold the chateau to Claude Dupin in the 18th century.
Dupin’s wife Louise brought Chenonceau into a new era of Enlightenment.
Louise Dupin welcomed scholars and philosophers from the Enlightenment movement in France to her famous literary salon at Chenonceau. Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau were notorious guests at the estate. The latter was her secretary and tutored her son, as well as helped her draft the first Code of Women’s Rights.
Thanks to Madame Dupin, Chenonceau was able to avoid destruction by the Revolutionary Guard during the French Revolution.
In the 19th century, Marguerite Pelouze, a rich heiress bought the chateau. She used a considerable amount of her funds to restore various parts of the castle until said funds were depleted entirely and she ended up selling it.
Henri Menier purchased the château from the Crédit Foncier in 1913. The chateau became of key importance during the Great War as a military hospital and during WWII as a single point of access to the free zone and a smuggling operation for people feeing nazi tyranny.
In 1951, the Menier family began a restoration project which brought the property back to its former glory. Many consider it one of the most famous estates in France and around the world, today.
Some dare to say, even, one of the most beautiful.
The castle’s interiors house an extraordinary collection of furniture, tapestries, and artwork. Some of these remarkable pieces of art are from great artists such as Tintoretto, Van Dyck, and Veronese.
And if the interiors are remarkable, the exteriors are simply breathtaking!
The gardens are definitely the defining characteristic of Chenonceau’s allure to visitors.
The Diane de Poitiers and Catherine De’ Medici Gardens are both meticulously designed and executed feats of both women’s time managing the estate. The Green Garden is a collection of centuries-old trees, visible from the Orangerie. The Floral Garden is an essential part of the Chenonceau estate as it provides the source of the castle’s flower arrangements.
And last but not least, a favorite of younger visitors, the Italian maze!
Chenonceau is without a doubt, an exceptional sight of the Loire Valley in France, and one we are very fortunate to visit during our Castles of the Loire weekend Trip!