Château de Chenonceau – The King, the wife and the mistress!
A tree-lined avenue marks the start of the grand entrance to Château de Chenonceau. Whilst you can picture gold-gilded, horse-drawn carriages transporting its royal residents to and from the château, us mere mortals had to make our way on foot. It was just as well as it gave our legs time to rediscover themselves, after hours of sitting in our not so royal 48-seater coach.
If you think that view that greets you at the end of the avenue is awesome, wait till you catch the view from the gardens. The fairy-tale looking 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.
As mentioned previously, Chenonceau 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.
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, who was 39 years her senior. Louis was grandson of King Charles VII. 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. 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. Catherine would have 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.