Thursday, November 8, 2012

Chateau Chenonceau: The Conqueror

Taylor Speer-Sims
September 21, 2012


Chateau Chenonceau:

 The Conqueror

 
 
 

Part I

Introduction

The Enlightenment of France brought with it certain ideals. These ideals were the saving grace of the beauteous Chateau Chenonceau. Controlling nature had been a significant movement.[1] The fabulous gardens tamed the countryside. The bridge over the water of the River Cher became a ballroom that took nature into the very depths of the monument. Equality, individualism and usurping the king and aristocrats had also been important.[2] The mulberry orchard provided fruit for the silk worms that showed the rest of the world that France had the capability of producing the richest fabric. The French militia used the ballroom bridge as a road over the River Cher, which created a sense of political power, and personal ownership for the people.[3] These were the real reasons that the Chateau had not been demolished as other symbols of the aristocracy had. Chateau Chenonceau had been saved the ravages of destruction during the French Revolution not because of its intrinsic value of a water crossing, or because the owner’s wife had been nice to the local peasants, but because it was a true representation of Enlightenment ideals.

Background on the Chateau before Le Revolution Francaise

            Ideals of the French monarchy had originated in the Loire Valley. This was “the heart of France.”[4] Kings and Queens of France frolicked here for generations. The Loire was filled with rolling acres filled with abundant farms. This was where the idea of France as a nation had been born.[5] “Part of the land, part of the river”, Chateau Chenonceau became a part of the French landscape.[6]

Chateau Chenonceau had originally been a small tower and mill built on an island in the River Cher.[7] Building of the “Chateau of the Dames” began in 1513 by Katherine Briconnet.[8] Another woman of the manor was Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henry II, who began the building of the bridge over the river. Queen Catherine de Medici conquered her rival, her husband’s mistress Diane, and claimed the chateau upon the King’s death. She was also the woman who enclosed the bridge, and created a ballroom with the river as a backdrop.[9] When Madame Dupin came to be the mistress of the castle, she only used it as a summerhouse, and lived a parvenu life there and in Paris. Monsieur Dupin, a tax collector by profession, allowed his wife the freedom of an opulent society madame.[10]

 
Entering the Reign of Terror

            When the Terror began, Madame Dupin removed herself from Paris, and fled to her summer home on the River Cher.[11] France began “crumbling into total ruin” and Maximilien Robespierre liked it that way.[12] He believed that “terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe and inflexible.”[13] Paris became living chaos, with other cities following suit. Dupin left the uproar of the city for the gentle country, and so therefore, saved her life in the process.[14]

            A woman of wealth and status having had to run for her life must surely have been   traumatized by such an experience. After all, it had no longer been safe for any person of circumstance in Paris, much less the wife of a tax collector. She must have been exceedingly anxious to get to her country abode where she would not have to worry about the rabble attacking her person. It would have been easy to imagine Madame Dupin murmuring lines of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s famous poem as she made her escape to the country:

Give me great God! Said I, a little farm,

 In summer shady, and in winter warm,

Where a clear spring gives birth to murmuring brooks,

By nature gliding down the mossy rocks.

Not artfully by leaden pipes conveyed,

Or greatly falling in a forced cascade,

Pure and unsullied winding through the shade.

All bounteous Heaven has added to my prayer,

A softer climate and purer air.[15]

 

            The softer climate of her chateau allowed the Loire Valley to welcome Dupin home into tranquility. Shortly after her arrival, the angry mob mentality filtered its way from Paris through the rest of the country, and the Loire began to fall in with those vibrations. As the nobles had always been landlords and “land, with all the rights, privileges, and powers associated with it, was… still the principal social symbol”, Dupin had once again found herself in a precarious situation. [16]

            This situation included the rampaging mob, but it had also included the ideals of Enlightenment. So, as the French Army advanced to the beauteous Chateau Chenonceau, they found that they could either destroy the castle as instructed, or allow it to stand. The Enlightened professionals decided to not burn the manor, but to keep it as a symbol of Enlightened France. The people saw three main Enlightenment ideals that allowed the palace to be saved from ravagement. One of these ideals had been the ever-popular thought of victory over governmental authoritarianism.[17] Another Enlightenment ideal was the belief in the people having victory over the wealthy aristocrats.[18] A third, and the most basic ideal, was the one of human beings controlling nature.[19]          

 
 
Part II

How the Chateau Showed Victory Over Nature

            Controlling nature had been an ideal of the Enlightenment; it had also been a symbol of aristocratic heritage. The estate had four acres that included an orchard, an orangery and an aviary. The orchard and its field held trees of peaches, apricots, strawberries, gooseberries, artichokes, cucumbers and melons.[20] The orangery was a type of orchard that had specifically been cultivated with oranges in an ornamental fashion. Orange trees were not native to France, so the idea of making a fruit tree grow outside of its natural habitat would have been exhilarating. Also, the local people would have wanted to keep some of this fruit as part of their own diet, if at all possible. The aviary was a type of large cage where birds of all kinds had been kept. Birds were meant to fly free, not to be encaged. So, both of these were a way to keep nature confined to the wishes of human beings.

            Humans planted the rest of the gardens on the grounds as well. This chateau had the finest gardens in all of France Not only were there beautiful flowers and shrubbery, but it was a working farm with vegetable gardens and a vineyard. Grapes had been planted by Diane de Poitiers, and have been cultivated successfully ever since. The chateau made the best wine in the region.  Mulberry trees had been planted to produce fruit for the silk worms that had been brought over from the orient. [21] Most farms of the eighteenth century did not show a profit. [22] Chateau Chenonceau had been an exception, and so the point of conquering nature via farming had been a great consolation for the local Enlightened French.

            The chateau conquered nature by its architecture as well as by its land. The building of a bridge over the sublime River Cher implied that mankind did master nature’s elements. Bridges had been around for centuries, including castles using water and bridges as part of their design. Moats had been used as defense mechanisms long before the eighteenth century. The Romantics used water and water frontage as part of the scenery, which offered “visual and perhaps emotional relief”.[23] The difference here was that the “Ch√Ęteau des Dames” had literally conquered a free flowing river, and used it as one of its own ornaments.

 
            To further the idea of conquering the river, the bridge had been covered and decorated to create a magnificent ballroom. No other castle, manor, or palace in the world had such a fanciful, romantic room. Dancing over water would have been any romantic’s ideal of a charming location. The finest craftsmen from all over Europe had been brought in to work on this masterpiece.[24] The River Cher had no choice but to allow people in the chateau to take control of its air rights.

            The most destructive force of nature throughout time has always been rising river water. This force dared to have had occasion to find its way to the grounds of the commanding structure of the chateau. So, mankind found a way to tame the tide of the river to protect the grounds and building of the “Chateau of the Dames”. Levies, stonewalls, and terraces were built to ensure that the palace was safe from floodwaters. Not only were these river taming devices, they were also ornamental in construction. Fountains with water jets stood betwixt these controlling forces.[25]

A Time of Victory Over Wealth and the Aristocrats

            Agriculture had been the labor of the everyday man, even if the property that they usually had made their living upon had been owned by the wealthy. Plebeians were the husbandmen of the eighteenth century, not the nobles. Burning the castle would have been a blow to the men and women who had created and tended the lovely gardens and orchards. It had been the servants that were the ones that had kept the building shining and in good working order, even if it was the owner’s money that had paid them to do so. Allowing the building to stand had been a testament to their hard work, not that of the nobles. Enlightened French thinkers, such as Voltaire, encouraged farming, so it had certainly been part of the ideology of the time. [26]

 
Keeping oranges had been a French fashion for quite some time, but King Louis XIV, the Sun King, made it a French passion. The symbolism of the fruit went back to the fact that this had been the Sun King’s own personal insignia. It was, after all, a small sun that was able to be enjoyed by people.[27] Having the general populace take control over the symbol of the French monarchy would have been sweet and delicious! Chenonceau’s orchards had no longer produced the fruit of kings; it was now the fruit of the people that was harvested.

Mulberry trees provided another fruit on the grounds of Chenonceau. These trees had been brought in to supply food for the silk worms. Silk had been called Queen’s cloth, possibly due to its expense.[28] This would have been a perfect way to control supply of the excessively ornate fabric that had once only been permitted to adorn the nobility. Sumptuary laws had been thrown out the door with the new Republic. So, this would be a way that the populace literally showed the nobles that they were their equals. The removal of the old aristocratic ideals of inequality had been a major factor in Enlightened France.[29]

The Ever Popular Victory Over Government

French Revolutionaries at first wanted to follow orders and burn the chateau to the ground. It had been a “symbol of Royal excess” and had a decree of demolition.[30]  Rumor had it that the local priest had averted this act “by the subtle reasoning [that it] would be a disservice to the community to get rid of the only river-crossing between Montrichard and Blere.”[31] While this may, or may not have been true, the idea of parading troops through the aristocratic ballroom would have been something that the Revolutionaries would have adored. The conversion of the bridge into a two-story bridge-gallery with court festival rooms had “symbolized the triumph of the widow [Queen Catherine] over her long-standing rival” Diane. [32] It stood to reason that troopers marching over the marble tiles and through a room where French Kings and Queens had danced would certainly have been a symbol of the people conquering the aristocrats and the monarchical government.[33] Whatever their thought, it was lucky enough for Madame Dupin that troopers had been easily swayed to the charm of the estate.[34]



The farm income of Chenonceau had been in a state of profit during the monarchy, and because it was still profitable after the region fell to the Revolutionaries, this would still have been income for the locals. If the palace and its grounds had been destroyed, many men, women, and children would have been without jobs. At the very least, they would have lost the pride of name. Chenonceau had sold its wine and silk throughout Europe.[35] Losing a brand name would most probably have dropped the price of its products, and therefore lowered profit.

Produce from Chenonceau was also most probably a matter of pride for the locals that had worked the farms. Another rumor had it that Madame Dupin had always been kind to everyone.[36] Perhaps these people felt a sense of relationship with the lady aristocrat because of her affection to the local peasants and workers. They could have also felt a sense of ownership because of their hard labor. Many people did not like their work destroyed, even if it technically belonged to another. This was not true of everyone, of course, but it still would have been a possibility. Individualism was a point of Enlightenment that personal ownership would have fallen into.

Conclusion

It certainly can be argued that Chateau Chenonceau had been spared destruction because of its beauty, its crossing locale, and even its generous owner, Madame Dupin. These reasons may certainly have been true. However, it was also true that the chateau had held ideals of Enlightenment. The “Chateau of the Dames” held three main Enlightenment ideals. The first was that humanity-controlled nature by its lavish formal and vegetable gardens, the enclosed bridge-ballroom over the River Cher, and the beautiful terraces that had been built high enough to stop a flood. A second point of Enlightenment was the sense of equality by the removal of the old aristocratic ideals. The local people around Chateau Chenonceau held this ideal by making the orangery a subject of the people instead of a symbol of the crown. Individualism, instead of allowing the crown to control one’s life, had been shown by the Revolutionaries trampling through the ballroom to cross the river exactly where monarchs of the past had danced. Peasant loyalty, and a sense of personal ownership due to hard work by the locals in the creation and upkeep of the palace grounds and buildings were other indications of individualism. Chateau Chenonceau was not saved from burning to the ground because of the value of the river crossing, nor was it Madame’s niceties to the locals. It was the values of the French Enlightenment that Chateau Chenonceau embodied that allowed the palace to remain intact, and to remain as beautiful as ever.


[1] Daniel Roche,  France in the Enlightenment, trans. Arthur Goldhammer. (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2000.), 54.
[2] Ibid, 290, 297.
[3] Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chambord”,  by Mary Ellen Iwata
and Tom Okkerse for The Learning Channel. 1993; Bethesda, MD: Discovery Communications Home Video, 1994.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chenonceau”,  by Mary Ellen Iwata
and Tom Okkerse for The Learning Channel. 1993; Bethesda, MD: Discovery Communications Home Video, 1994.
[7] Ibid.
[8]  The Castle”. Chenonceau. N.d. http://www.chenonceau.com/en/le-chateau. Accessed
August 26, 2012.
[9] Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chenonceau”. 
[10] Ibid.
[11] ibid.
[12] “French Revolution: The Terror”. Uploaded by phoenixfilmandvideo. (October 7, 2008.) Youtube.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYLnzAtQoTk. (accessed September 21, 2012).
[13] Maximilien Robespierre. (1794.) quoted in “The Reign of Terror” (2008.) HistoryWiz. http://www.historywiz.com/terror.htm. (accessed September 21, 2012).
[14] Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chenonceau”, 
[15] Mary Wortley Montagu,  “Verses.” (1718.) The Penguin Book of Eighteenth-Century English Verse. Ed. Dennis Davison. (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1973.), 146.
[16] Roche, 412.
[17] Ibid, 289.
[18] Ibid, 290, 297.
[19] Ibid, 54.
[20] Michael of Kent, Her Royal Highness Princess. The Serpent and the Moon: Two Rivals for the Love of a Renaissance King. (New York: Touchstone, Cantium Services, 2004.),  242.
[21] Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chenonceau”. 
[22] Paul Leland Haworth, George Washington: Farmer. (1915), location 2616. Kindle Edition.
[23] Marian Moffett, Michael Fazio and Lawrence Wodehouse. Buildings Across Time: An Introduction to World Architecture. (New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2004.) 397.
[24] Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chenonceau”.  
[25] Kent, 242.
[26] Roche, 414.
[27] Taylor Speer-Sims. “Politics of Versailles.” Research paper for class. (West Virginia: American Military University, March 2012.), 2-3.
[28] Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chenonceau”. 
[29] Roche, 290, 297.
[30] Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chenonceau”. 
[31] Phillippe Barbour. Loire, 4th ed. (Northhampton, MA: Interlink Publishing Group, 2010.), 228.
[32] Chateaux of the Loire. Trans. Isabel Varea. (London: Tauris Parke Books, 1997.), 146.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chenonceau”. 
[35] Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chenonceau”. 
[36] Ibid.


Bibliography:

 Barbour, Phillippe, Loire, 4th ed. Northhampton, MA: Interlink Publishing Group, 2010.
 
 “Castle, The”. Chenonceau. N.d. http://www.chenonceau.com/en/le-chateau. Accessed August 26, 2012.
 
Chateaux of the Loire. Trans. Isabel Varea. London: Tauris Parke Books, 1997.
 
“French Revolution: The Terror”. Uploaded by phoenixfilmandvideo. (October 7, 2008.)
Youtube.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYLnzAtQoTk. (accessed September 21, 2012).
 
Great Castles of Europe: Volume 1, France and Spain, “Chenonceau”,  by Mary Ellen Iwata
and Tom Okkerse for The Learning Channel. 1993; Bethesda, MD: Discovery Communications Home Video, 1994.
 
---- “Chambord”,  by Mary Ellen Iwata and Tom Okkerse for The Learning Channel. 1993;
Bethesda, MD: Discovery Communications Home Video, 1994. 

Haworth, Paul Leland. George Washington: Farmer. 1915. Kindle Edition. 

Michael of Kent, Her Royal Highness Princess. The Serpent and the Moon: Two Rivals for the Love of a Renaissance King. (New York: Touchstone, Cantium Services, 2004. 

Moffett, Marian, Michael Fazio and Lawrence Wodehouse. Buildings Across Time: An
Introduction to World Architecture. (New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2004. 

Montagu, Mary Wortley. “Verses.” 1718. The Penguin Book of Eighteenth-Century English
Verse. Ed. Dennis Davison. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1973. 

Robespierre, Maximilien. 1794. Quoted in “The Reign of Terror” 2008. HistoryWiz.
http://www.historywiz.com/terror.htm. (accessed September 21, 2012). 

Roche, Daniel.  France in the Enlightenment, trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Boston: Harvard
University Press, 2000. 

Speer-Sims, Taylor. “Politics of Versailles.” Research paper for class. West Virginia:
American Military University, March 2012.
 
Originally written for class at American Military University.

 


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