Saturday, 28 September 2013

Amboise - a seat of royal power

Is it possible to run out of French chateaux to visit? I think I'm getting close. There are small and less significant chateaux scattered around but I've visited all the others within a one day trip of home. As JC tells it, I've explored more chateaux in my short time in France than French people do in their life-times.
Consequently I recognise a lot of emblems, kings, styles of furniture and architecture. It's enjoyable for me to wallow in the historical stories, the adventures famous people had, to walk where they walked, to touch the walls they touched hundreds of years ago. I'm starting to make mental connections between one set of stories and others; same characters with different situations for example the connections between Cesare Borgia and France, Napoleon and the infernal administration that is crippling this country.

Last weekend I visited the town of Amboise and here begins a series of three posts on this interesting place.
There have been inhabitants of this areas since neolithic times and constant grappling for power by nobles and kings but the focus comes on Charles VIII, a short and rather ugly man and his wife Anne of Brittany. At this time Brittany finally became part of 'France'. The queen lived at Amboise, in the chateau and had 3 boys and a girl but all died young. Improvements were made to this royal palace. When King ferrante I of Naples,  a cruel and rather deranged person, died Charles decided to take possession of that Kingdonm of Italy by force with 30,000 men. Victories never lasted long, strife continued for many years but it did introduce Italian renaissance artists to France.

In St Hubert's chapel on the grounds which was designed for the king's use is the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci, who died at Amboise 2nd May 1519. I took a photo of his plaque in the flooring. He was originally buried at a church in Amboise but that was destroyed. His remains were later discovered and reburied on the chateau site in the chapel. he knew the palace/chateau well and created many spectacular events there.

The chapel's decoration is intricate and in good condition since its restoration.King Charles VIII was heading towards a gallery with his Queen to watch a game of tennis but, despite being short, he hit his head on thelintel. Within hours he was dead, aged just 28 and without a male heir. he was scceeded by Louis XII who was subsequently succeeded by the great Fran├žois 1st.

Though not spectacular this chateau is worth a visit. Allow a day in Amboise to see everything. I explored the guards room where the guards who defended the noblemen's floors were present, as well as the king's bodyguards usually made up of Scottish and Swiss companies but were later French Musketeers during the reign of Louis XIV and captained by d'Artagnan. D'Artagnan stayed in the chateau 4-16 December 1661 while escorting that poor deposed minister Nicolas Fouquet to Paris for his trial (see a previous blogpost 2011 on Vaux le Vicomte).

The sentries walk is an open gallery which gives great views over the River Loire, the bridge and some of the nobles and bourgois homes in Amboise.
Of special note there are a mariner's chest and a set of armour with exquisite engraving all over it.

When Charles XII died his widow was obliged to marry his successor to keep the kingdom together. This was Louis XII, her husban's brother. During the renaissance, the king spread his power progressively through the provinces and travelled with the rest of his court from place to place. It wasn't until Louis XIV created Versailles that the royal court had a permanent home. Louis's successor was Francois d'Angouleme who arrived at Amboise aged 4 and acceded the throne in 1515. More construction and decoration of the property followed.

Henri II came next, married to Catherine de Medici of Florence. His bedroom is well appointed. The chateau has quite a bit of light in it and the beautiful windows display different details. It has gone through periods of neglect but this is an historically important monument so efforts have been spent in restoring it over the years. In 1763 the chateau was bought by the Duc de Choiseul from the King but he later abandoned it in favour of is bureoning estate of Chateau de Canteloup (See next blogpost) which no longer exists. After Choiseul's death it was sold to the Duc de Penthievre (legitimate  grandson of Louis XIV).

The chateau was confiscated during the revolution, suffered a fire and then some demolitions. The Orleans-Penthievre study and chamber are a bright fuchsia red with original furniture in the Louis Phillipe style. Louis Phillipe was the head of the younger branch of the Bourbons. He espoused revolutionary ideals and exiled himself in the US while Napoleon was in charge of France.

When Charles X abdicated due to insurrections Louis Philippe was a popular choice for the throne. he reigned for only 18 years, a time known as the July Monarchy.

 This is the man who signed off on a French settlement to be established in Akaroa, New Zealand. My ancestors set out in 1840, accompanied by a French frigate to fulfil Louis Philippe's wishes. The portrait is rather flattering. He was, in fact, quite portly. He was incapable of dealing with economic and social crises and was pushed to abdicate 24th February 1848. Louis-Phillipe died in exile in England in 1850.

The republic's provisional government confiscated the chateau as a suitable residence for a State political prisoner Emir Abd al-Kader of Algeria, along with his retinue, many of whom died at Amboise and are remembered there in a cemetery in the gardens. Prince President Louis Napoleon Bonaparte gave the Emir his freedom in 1852.

The gardens are a little bit of a disappointment, in my opinion. I like gardens with flowers though I realise they are more expensive to maintain. The Naples Terrace is bordered with lime trees and has three belvederes looking out over the Loire River.During the past few years oak, box, cyprus and muscat vines have been planted. Some flowers can be found and a bird feeder, well patronised.

I was intrigued to see an ancient wisteria against a wall with a label saying it was planted around 1840. That's the same year my ancestors set sail from Rochefort for New Zealand. I enjoy coming across these little connections which help make it all a bit more 'real' for me. Next blogpost - The Pagoda of Chantaloup.


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