Fit for Royalty: Château Cheverny in the Loire Valley of France
Classic French Architecture in the Beautiful Loire Valley
Château Cheverny: A Site to Behold in the French Countryside
If I died tomorrow, just send me to the Château Cheverny in the Loire Valley of France. Well, to be honest, Versailles in Paris would be my first pick, but the droves of tourists would quickly get on my nerves.
On a recent trip to Paris, my family and I took a day trip to four châteaux, traveling via high-speed train across the French countryside to the city of Tours. It is located less than an hour northeast of Tours by car.
Ahh, the Library
The History of Châteaux in the Loire Valley
The land mass surrounding the Loire River has been called "The Garden of France," and it is dotted by more than 1,000 châteaux.1
Their spires, domes and massive walls of stone stretch to the heavens. For just a moment they can make you imagine you've stepped into a fairytale.
French châteaux were predominantly built between the10th and 17th centuries. While there is no official listing of French châteaux, some are more prominent than others for historical, architectural, or ownership reasons.
Those that were built later in this time frame often exemplify the ideals of the Renaissance and Age of Reason.
Château Cheverny: Less than an hour from Tours, France
Paris Becomes the Center of Influence
The Loire Valley was the center of power in France until the mid-1500s, when King Francis I began to shift it back to the city of Paris.2
However, most of the noble born remained in the Loire Valley until King Louis XIV ascended the throne and began to personally rule in 1661.3
The Sun King expanded the Palace of Versailles in Paris and gradually moved the court there, leaving the Loire Valley as primarily a summer retreat for the well-heeled and politically connected.
Even as the center of influence shifted to Paris, some wealthy Frenchmen continued to build expansive châteaux in the countryside. Unfortunately, the radical social and political turmoil of French Revolution would later see many of them ransacked by rioting peasants as part of the Great Fear of 1789.4 Peasants sought to destroy legal papers and other indications of the age-old feudal system.
The Apprenctices' Garden: The North Facade of the ChâteauClick thumbnail to view full-size
Château Cheverny: Fit for Royalty, Inhabited by Lesser Men
The lands that are now part of Château Cheverny were acquired by Henry Hurault from his father, Philip. The elder Hurault served as chancellor for two kings: Henry III and Henry IV.5
Henry Hurault subsequently served as a viscount to King Louis XIII, helping to oversee public spending and financial matters.6
A Crime Against the State
The property that is now Cheverny held an 11th century castle-fort. (Parts of the old structure are still visible on the grounds today; they are part of the outbuildings and are used for upkeep of the existing castle.)
Unfortunately, that land and the ancient castle upon it were seized by the Crown due to Hurault's fraud of the State. The property was then gifted to Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henry II.
The lady, however, preferred the newer 16th century accommodations of Château de Chenonceau. The Hurault property was therefore sold back to Philippe.
In 1599, when Philip died, his son Henry Hurault acquired it.
The scandalous part of the story involved the situation that led to the construction of the 17th century château.
Early Scandals: Why Château Cheverny Was Built
In 1588, himself only 13, Henry Hurault married Françoise Chabot when she was merely 11 years old. (This was not uncommon at the time.) Then, he quickly went off to battle.7
Upon inheriting the ancient castle-fort from his father in 1599, the younger Hurault kept his bride at the old property, hoping to keep her faithful.
However, as the years wore on the young lady developed a crush on a page boy (a male attendant). The cuckold husband eventually caught his wife in the arms of her lover. (By this time, she was 25 years old.)
The page boy attempted to escape by jumping from a window, breaking his leg in the process. Hurault finished him off with his sword, then turned to his wife, Françoise. He offered her an ugly choice.
The murdering husband offered his adulterous wife a forced choice of "suicide" by poison or by a sword. Believing it the lesser of the two evils, Françoise chose poison.
As punishment, Hurault was banished from the city of Blois, and he lived in exhile at Cheverny.
The Grand Salon: Elegance Defined
He Got the House
Hurault later remarried, and in an attempt to erase the past he had the 11th century castle-fort torn down. The present building — the beautiful Château Cheverny — was constructed in its place between between 1624 and 1630.
So there you have it: Château Cheverny was built because a young wife was caught cheating on her husband. She lost everything. He got the house.
Keeping the Château in the Family
The newly built Cheverny was passed down through the Hurault family until 1802. At the height of the French Revolution, the family sold the château. Then, in 1824, when the aristocracy was once again in vogue, they bought it back again.
It has remained in the family since. Today Cheverny is owned by the Marquis de Vibraye, a direct descendant of the original owners. It is one of only a few privately owned châteaux in the region.
In 1922, they opened its doors to the public, one of the first châteaux to do so. It is one of the most popular châteaux in the Loire Valley for tourists.
Château Cheverny's Classic Architecture
The architect behind Château Cheverny's elegance was Jacques Bougier (Boyer). He used soft stone from the Bourre Quarries of the Cher valley. This stone has the unique property of becoming much stronger and whiter with age.8
Bougier also used rigid symmetry of the classical Louis XIII style, softening the design somewhat through the use of contrasting roof styles — including domes and bell towers.
The use of various styles of roofing give Château Cheverny a look that is distinctive from other castles in the Loire Valley. The tendency towards visual symmetry later became synonymous with classic French architecture.
Wool and Silk Tapestry
Château Cheverny's Furnishings: Eye Candy
Cheverny is filled with original art work, family portraits, and furniture signed by the prominent craftsmen. The interior is true eye candy.
Some of the highlights include:
- A Dutch 18th century solid bronze silverplated chandelier that weighs more than 220 pounds (100 kg)
- A Nursery filled with the first rocking horses of the era
- 17th century floor-to-ceiling Flemish tapestries
- An 18th century harp and a regulator clock from the Louis XV period — both of which are still fully functional
- 34 painted wooden panels that illustrate the story of Don Quixote.
The Kennels of Cheverny
Cheverny is also known for being an important hunting venue. From April through September 15, tourists can witness the ritual 5 p.m. feeding of 100 or more hounds. The dogs are half English foxhound and half French Poitou. They are specially bred for stamina and large feet.
Piles of raw meat are brought in front of the dogs for their once-a-day feeding. The hounds wait patiently for the trainer's command to begin their free-for-all. During the rest of the year (September 16 - March 31), the feeding follows a different schedule.9
Although the dogs were beautiful, I don't like the idea of fox, deer, or wild boar hunting, so I tried to stay away from the spectacle.
The Famous Hunting Dogs of Cheverny
Château Cheverny: The Connection to Tintin
Hergé, the Belgian creator of the cartoon The Adventures of Tintin, used the château as inspiration for Marlinspike Hall, the home of Tintin's friend, Captain Haddock. His drawings omit the outermost domed portions of the building.
There is a permanent exhibition on site which honors the connection between Tintin and the chateau.
Château Cheverny Fun Fact: Mona Lisa Was Once a Guest
During World War II, the Mona Lisa was hidden on the property of Château Cheverny, along with other famous works of art.10 The priceless painting was moved six times total before her homecoming to the Louvre in June 1945.
The Louvre dismantled its esteemed collection of paintings, sculptures and other works of art and scattered them to châteaux throughout the French countryside. Château owners volunteered to host the masterpieces to prevent the Nazis from plundering the nation's art collection. Nazis plundered museums in European capitals that they occupied, such as Warsaw and Prague.
Average Temperatures in the Loire Valley
4 C / 38 F
62.1 mm / 2.4 in
5 C / 40 F
50.8 mm / 2.0 in
6 C / 43 F
51.7 mm / 2.0 in
10 C / 49 F
44.6 mm / 1.8 in
14 C / 56 F
54.4 mm / 2.1 in
16 C / 61 F
41.2 mm / 1.6 in
18 C / 64 F
43.8 mm / 1.7 in
17 C / 63 F
44.9 mm / 1.8 in
15 C / 59 F
52.2 mm / 2.1 in
12 C / 53 F
59.6 mm / 2.3 in
7 C / 45 F
64.5 mm / 2.5 in
4 C / 39 F
63.4 mm / 2.5 in
As If You Were There: Take a Video Tour of Château Cheverny
1Wikipedia. "Loire." Accessed July 11, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loire_River.
2Wikipedia. "Châteaux of the Loire Valley." Last modified February 22, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chateaux_of_the_Loire_valley.
3Steingrad, Elena. "Biography." Louis XIV - the Sun King: Louis XIV - the Sun King. Accessed July 11, 2013. http://www.louis-xiv.de/index.php?id=31.
4World History Project. "The "Great Fear" - WorldHistoryProject.org." Accessed July 11, 2013. http://worldhistoryproject.org/1789/7/20/the-great-fear.
5Wikipedia. "Philippe Hurault de Cheverny." Last modified March 21, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_Hurault_de_Cheverny.
6Travora Networks. "Cheverny Facts." NileGuide. Last modified 2013. http://www.nileguide.com/destination/cheverny-france/overview/local-info.
7Broadhurst, Ken. "Living the life in Saint-Aignan: Cheverny's sordid past." Living the life in Saint-Aignan. Last modified April 2, 2012. http://ckenb.blogspot.com/2012/04/chevernys-sordid-past.html.
8Chateau de Cheverny. "The Tour." Official Pamphlet of the Chateau Cheverny. English translation. No date.
9Dawn Advertiser. "The Secrets Of Marlinspike Hall." The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser. Last modified January 5, 2012. http://dawnadvertiser.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/the-secrets-of-marlinspike-hall-2/.
10Barchfield, Jenny. "Exhibit reveals how the Louvre kept 'Mona Lisa,' other masterpieces safe during WWII." USA TODAY. Last modified July 9, 2009. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/2009-05-06-louvre-war-exhibit_N.htm.
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