Château de Chenonceau – The Ladies’ Castle:
A tree-lined avenue marks the start of the grand entrance to Château de Chenonceau. Imagine how grand it must have been when gold-gilded, horse-drawn carriages used to travel along this path, transporting its royal residents to and from the château.
Today, us mere mortals had to make our way up the tree-lined avenue on foot. That said, walking did give our legs time to rediscover themselves, after hours of sitting in our not-so-royal 48-seater coach.
If you think that the view that greets you at the end of the avenue is awesome, wait till you catch the view from the gardens. The fairy-tale castle stretches across the Cher River and its reflection in the water paints a dreamy picture of the château and accentuates its already magnificent beauty.
The Women of Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau was built in traditional Renaissance style and owes its beauty and existence to six women. On our tour of the chateau, we were told of the love triangle between King Henri II, his wife Catherine de’ Medici and the mistress Diane de Poitiers. When Henri II married Catherine de’ Medici in 1533, Château de Chenonceau became a royal palace in the Loire Valley. However, it was to Diane that Henri offered Chenonceau to in 1547. You can imagine how incensed Catherine was as she wanted Chenonceau for herself.
Diane de Poitiers – No Ordinary Mistress!
The story of Diane de Poitiers is an interesting one. She was no ordinary mistress and to understand the King’s devotion to her, one needs to trace back to how she happened to be in the King’s inner sanctum. At the young age of 15 (not so young during those days) Diane married Louis de Brézé, grandson of King Charles VII, who was 39 years her senior. Diane was made lady-in-waiting to Claude de France, first wife of Francis I. When the Queen died, Diane was placed in charge of the royal nursery and she became a mother figure for the young princes. Henri was only five at the time.
In 1525, Francis I was taken hostage after the Battle of Pavia. He offered his two sons as hostages to the Spaniards in exchange for his own freedom (I’m biting my tongue to refrain from making any comments here!) . Diane accompanied the two young princes to the Spanish border and it is said that Diane’s presence at his departure left a great impact on Henri as she tried to comfort the nine year old. When he returned from captivity, it was Diane that he sought and not his father, hence the beginning of a very powerful relationship between Henri and Diane, which then grew into one of the most powerful love affairs of the Renaissance.
Apart from being exceedingly beautiful, Diane was of sharp intellect and politically astute. She was very loyal to Henri and he in turn relied on her as his most dependable ally. As can be expected, Catherine seethed with jealousy and hatred over this relationship and on Henri’s death in 1559, she quickly took back possession of Chenonceau from Diane and even evicted her from the palace. She also redeveloped the castle to rid it of any reminders of Diane’s existence, however the spirit of Diane lives with us to this day.
You’ll see on the tour that Diane’s room is on the ground floor whereas Catherine’s room is on the first floor. Interestingly, from the plan, it appears that Catherine’s room was right above Diane’s.
From Paris, there are a number of Loire valley tours that you can do. However, if you are on a driving holiday and want the experience of staying in one of the Loire chateaux hotels, here are a few to choose from.