After Chambord, our next stop on our day trip through the Loire Valley was the town of Amboise to have lunch. We took a short walk through town, and then we visited the Château d’Amboise.
I struggled a little bit when I first arrived in Paris, trying to reconcile what I imagined the city would be with the city it actually was. Yes, it has lots of cute little bakeries, beautiful galleries, and lots of history (as imagined!), but all of that is immersed within a busy, modern city of over 2 million people (also included: loud urban noise, crowded sidewalks, busy vehicle traffic, etc). Paris is an incredible city and definitely worth visiting, but many people find that their expectations of Paris don’t line up with reality. This isn’t Paris’ fault! It would be impossible for any city to live up to that kind of hype. London and New York have reputations for being big, bustling cities. As a result, I wasn’t surprised by the crowds when we went to London. Once I understood that Paris has that same urban energy, I was better prepared to enjoy my time there.
What I had been expecting or hoping for was something like the small town of Amboise, with a population numbering around 14,000. (Of course, it was wrong of me to expect a city of 2.2 million people to deliver something on a scale that only a smaller community can provide. Travel is about learning!) I am so glad that we took this day trip so I could experience what I had been (unknowingly) looking for. Below are some pictures that I took after we finished our lunch, when we had a little time to explore the town.
I loved this alley with an old clock tower, lined with bakeries and half-timbered buildings!
Beautiful gardens everywhere.
We walked along the Loire River.
The view of the Château d’Amboise and the town from the river (standing on the bridge pictured above). Look at that big tower on its left side!
A panorama of the chateau on the Loire river.
A picture of the two of us with the château in the background.
The remnants of an old bridge, shown below. Our guide told us that as Allied U.S. troops liberated the Loire Valley from Nazi occupation at the end of World War II, many of the bridges crossing the Loire were destroyed. I’m not 100% sure who blew up the bridges; I think our guide said it was the Allies, but I’ve read that although the Allies did plan on doing this to help control the movement of the fleeing German army, the Germans actually beat them to it, tearing down the bridges in order to protect their retreat. I’d have to do some more research to confirm which is true but I’m willing to say for now that I think it might have been a little of column A and a little of column B, as both sides had their reasons. Some bridges were rebuilt, others were replaced, and a few were left the way they were, in memorial.
Let’s take a closer look.
Another view (or two) of the bridge from within the château.
Here’s a closer look at the main building of the Château d’Amboise.
A quick walk through town on our way to the château, with more half-timbered buildings.
Side note, Amorino is one of the best places to get gelato in France. And if, like me, you’re having a hard time deciding between gelato and macarons, you can ask to have a macaron put on top!
Half-timber and brick.
Let’s take a closer look, because it turns out I’m slightly obsessed with half-timber buildings, and this is the first time I’ve seen brick used as well.
Another example. This one is gorgeous!
Below is a fairly typical French bakery with its green storefront.
A street that runs alongside the back of the château.
Here’s a look down at Amboise from the higher ground of the château. Look at the steep roofs! This town is adorable.
A (tiny) panorama of Amboise.
In the distance you can see the house where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life, from 1516-1519, the Château du Clos-Lucé. Leonardo was invited to Amboise by François I. Leonardo brought a few of his famous paintings along with him, including the Mona Lisa!
A slightly better view of Leonardo’s former home.
Speaking of Leonardo, his grave can be found in the St. Hubert Chapel. It was built in 1493 in the flamboyant Gothic style.
Note the antlers decorating the spire of the chapel, below. The chapel is adorned with wooden stags as a dedication to St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters. They’re from the 19th century.
The stag below features a cross in his antlers; it reminded me how, in Edinburgh, King David I had a vision of a stag with a cross in his antlers when he was thrown from his horse while out hunting. He founded Holyrood Abbey in 1128 where he had this vision (the Palace of Holyrood is also now on this site). Rood meant cross in Middle English.
A close-up of the antler cross.
Here are some stained glass windows found inside the chapel.
Below is the grave of Leonardo da Vinci. There is some controversy about whether this grave really contains his remains. Leonardo was initially buried elsewhere on the property, in the St. Florentin Collegiate church, an 11th century building. St. Florentine was torn down in 1807. In 1863, an excavation was undertaken to find Leonardo’s grave in the spot where it was believed to have been. A skeleton was found near a tombstone bearing fragments of Leonardo’s name and of the patron saint of painters, Saint Luke. Italian and French coins from the start of François’ reign were found with it. Although there is a degree of uncertainty concerning whether this skeleton was Leonardo’s, I think the chances are fairly good. These remains were transferred to the St. Hubert chapel in 1871.
The chapel features 2 commemorative plaques, one written in French and one in Italian. It reads, “Born in Vinci near Florence on 15 April 1452, spent the last three years of his life at Amboise, at the Manor of Clos Luce, at the invitation of the King François I. He died there on 2 May 1519 and was buried at his request at the château in the collegiate church Saint-Florentine which was destroyed in 1807. His presumed remains were found during the excavations in 1863 and were transferred to this chapel.”
Below is a copy of a painting found in the château, showing the moment of Leonardo’s death, gazing up into the eyes of François I.
Some beautiful flowers found outside of the chapel.
All right, we’ve finished paying homage to the town and the painter. Let’s move onto the star attraction, the château itself! Neil took some really lovely photos for me as we walked the grounds around the château, including the ones below. (I was getting a little tired and knew he had fresh eyes and energy to devote to the task!).
The town of Amboise has been occupied since Neolithic times. It became the main city for the Turones, a Celtic people whose name would later be adapted for the French province of Touraine (of which Amboise is a part of). A fortified Iron Age (2nd – 1st centuries B.C.E) settlement was first built on the spur of land overlooking the Loire River where the Château d’Amboise can be found today. Roman legions then occupied the fortified site after they expelled the Gauls from the Loire Valley in 56-52 B.C.E.; Julius Caesar himself spent time here. Roman control deteriorated throughout the 4th and 5th centuries C.E., and their land was gradually ceded to the Germanic tribes known as the Franks, the Visigoths, and the Burgundians (France would later get its name from the first, and most successful, of these conquering tribes). In the 4th century C.E., the first trenches were built in this area to defend the residences built above the town.
You can still see the remnants of these Roman trenches around the outside of the château (shown in the pictures below).
Across from the château in the picture below, you can see the sandy banks of the “Golden Island.” It is the only island in the Loire that is substantial enough to have permanent buildings placed on it. The Loire, the longest river in the country, divides northern and southern France. The Golden Island is an important place because it is the point where north and south have historically come together. As a result, truces and peace treaties have been made here. In 503 C.E., it is where Clovis, King of the Franks, met with Alaric, King of the Visigoths, to work out a peace treaty between their warring tribes. The Loire was as far north as the Ummayad Caliphate¹ was able to invade in the early 8th century (specifically with the Battle of Tours-Poitiers in 732, in which the combined Frankish and Burgundian forces were victorious). The Loire was also the farthest point south that the invading English forces made it during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453).²
A slightly better view of the sandy island, with the bridge that crosses over to it.
During the Middle Ages, Amboise and its fortress were hotly contested as part of the rivalry between the Duc d’Anjou and the Comte de Blois. In 1214, the Lords of Amboise became vassals of Philippe Auguste, King of France. In 1431, Louis of Amboise was sentenced to death for plotting against a favourite of King Charles VII. Although he was pardoned and managed to escape execution, Louis had to renounce ownership of the château and it became property of the crown. The Château d’Amboise became one of several royal residences starting in 1431 with Charles VII (1403-1461) and would remain so for the next 200 years. If you are interested, the official website for the Château d’Amboise has a great page where you can view a 3D model of the château as it underwent various building projects during this time period.
Although Charles VII and his wife Marie of Anjou were the first French monarchs to have possession of Amboise as a royal residence³, they actually preferred the Château de Loche (40 km south of Amboise) and Château de Chinon (80 km southwest of Amboise). Their son and successor, Louis XI (1423-1483), favoured the Château de Plessiz-les-Tours (30 km west) but set up Amboise as a residence for his wife, Charlotte of Savoie. Charlotte gave birth to their son, the future Charles VIII, at Amboise in 1470*.
Charles VIII had a lot of affection for his childhood home at Amboise. His wife, Anne of Brittany, came to live at Amboise after their marriage in December 1491. In 1495, Charles brought Italian artists and architects to begin work on the “first Italianate palace in France.” He undertook extensive building projects, transforming the château from a medieval fortress to a luxurious Gothic palace.
A portrait of Charles VIII.
A portrait of Anne of Brittany. (Note she is wearing a necklace and standing in front of a banner that features fleur-de-lis and ermines).
Below is a picture from The Drummer’s Room, where the King’s dressing room once stood. It was named “the Drumming Room” during one of of Louis XIV’s stays in 1661, and refers to the many festivities and dances held at the château.
The middle chair in the picture belonged to Cardinal Georges d’Amboise (1460-1510), a bishop who organized the wedding of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany in 1491. He was named prime minister in 1498. The chest in the room (which I barely got in the picture, bottom right, I wish I had gotten a better picture of it! You can see it on the château’s main website, here) dates to the reign of Charles VIII… that would have been one of the furnishings taken with him and his court as they moved around the country!)
Below are some pictures of the Council Chamber.
The central pillars are decorated with fleur-de-lis and ermines, the royal emblems of France (Charles VIII) and the Duchy of Brittany (Anne of Brittany).
The fireplace bears Charles VIII’s emblem, a flaming or palmate (leafy-spiral) sword. The shield that the angel on the right is holding contains fleur-de-lis and ermines.
The throne is decorated with fleur-de-lis.
The fleur-de-lis and ermine emblems are repeated on the stained glass windows.
Some other royal emblems decorate the room such as the salamander, the symbol of later King François I (1494-1547). The coat of arms in the fireplace mantel detail below is that of Queen Claude of France (who married François I); it contains fleur-de-lis and ermines as well.
Sadly, Charles VIII died on April 7, 1498 after accidentally striking his head on a door lintel at the Château d’Amboise while on his way to watch a tennis match. He and Anne had no surviving children. Charles VIII was succeeded by his cousin, Louis II of Orléans, now Louis XII (1462-1515) of France. Louis married the widowed Anne of Brittany, which is an interesting turn of events considering what had taken place between 1485-1488 during the Mad War (see footnote below for more information). Louis XII’s primary residence was the Château de Blois, but he invited his 4 year-old cousin (and heir) François to stay at Amboise. Louis XII and Anne would have several children, but only two daughters who survived until adulthood. François I, he of the salamander emblem, ascended to the throne upon Louis XII’s death in 1515. He married one of Loius XII’s and Anne’s daughters, Claude, Duchess of Brittany (she had the coat of arms shown above that featured both fleur-de-lis and ermines). François I invited Leonardo to Amboise in 1516, and commissioned the Château de Chambord in 1519.
François I was succeeded by his son, Henri II (1519-1559). Henri married an Italian woman, Catherine de’ Medici, on October 28, 1533. Their marriage plays a big part in the third château we visited on our day trip, the Château de Chenonceau (which I will cover in a later post). Henri and Catherine spent time at Amboise raising their children. They were joined by my favourite royal historical figure, Mary Queen of Scots, when she was sent to live with them in 1548 at the age of six, having been betrothed to Henri and Catherine’s eldest son François. François and Mary were married in 1558.
An ornate Henri II-style bed in Henri II’s Chamber.
Another view of the bed.
Tragically, Henri II died after sustaining a serious injury in a jousting accident in July 1559. François was crowned King (as François II), but as he was only fifteen years old his mother, Catherine de Medici, assumed the regency. She struggled for power with Mary’s maternal uncles, the Guise brothers. This was also an excessively tricky political time for her to rule as religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants (the latter were a group known in France as the Huguenots) began to hit a boiling point. Although Catherine and the Catholic Valois Kings who had ruled before her had tried to distance themselves from the theological divide percolating throughout the country, events occasionally forced them to take more extreme measures (in 1534, François I had burned people alive on the charge of heresy). Catherine’s rivals, the Catholic Guise brothers, favoured the implementation of more punitive and repressive measures against the Huguenots. Understandably, the Huguenots did not like how much influence the Guise brothers held over François II and Mary. Instead, the Huguenots favoured a rival branch of the royal family that was more sympathetic to them, the Princes of Condé.
In March 1560, a group of around 200 followers attempted to kidnap François II in order to remove him from Guise influence, but were unsuccessful. François II took refuge in the Château d’Amboise as it was besieged. The plotters of this “Amboise Conspiracy” were captured and executed. Their bodies were strung up along the balconies of the Château to “serve as an example” to others. This kicked off a period of armed confrontation (The French Wars of Religion) between the Catholics and Huguenots that culminated in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, and continued until 1598.
François II had always been a sickly child; in December 1560, he died from an ear condition. The widowed Mary returned to Scotland, and Catherine continued to act as regent throughout the short, bloody reigns of her following sons Charles IX (1550-1574) and Henri III (1551-1589). During this tumultuous period, the Château d’Amboise faded from prominence. The attentions of the royal family were demanded elsewhere, and Amboise was no longer the seat of the French court. Upon Henri III’s death in 1589, his distant cousin Henri IV (1553-1610) ascended to the throne. Henri IV, the first King of the House of Bourbon, moved the French royal court from the Loire Valley to the Ile de France (Paris region).
Below is an illustration from “The finest buildings in France” by J. Androuet du Cerceau (1576) of the Château d’Amboise. Surviving buildings are in black ink. Buildings that no longer exist are drawn in red ink.
The Château d’Amboise played a smaller role in French history throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Kings occasionally stayed there when they were traveling through the area (including Henry IV, Louis XIII, and Louis XIV). The castle was all but abandoned when it passed into the hands of Gaston of Orléans, the brother of Louis XIII (he paid better attention to Château de Chambord, as discussed in a previous post). Neglect caused parts of the château to fall into disrepair, and portions of it were demolished between 1627-1660. After Gaston’s death in 1660, Louis XIV used Amboise as a prison. His disgraced superintendent of finances, Nicolas Fouquet, was escorted to Amboise in 1661 by the famous Musketeer captain, D’Artagnan**.
In 1763, Louis XV gifted the Château d’Amboise to his minister Étienne-François, Duke of Choiseul. However, the Duke mostly left Amboise alone as he preferred another château he had built 115 km to the northwest, the Château de Chanteloup (later demolished in 1823). After Choiseul’s death in 1785, the Château d’Amboise was purchased back by the Crown. In 1786, it was gifted to Louis-Jean-Marie of Bourbon, Duke of Penthièvre, Louis XVI’s cousin and legitimate grandson of Louis XIV. In 1789, the Duke carried out some construction projects throughout the château and grounds, building some areas up and tearing others down. He also created an English-style park.
When Louis-Jean-Marie passed away in 1793, he left the château to his daughter, Louise-Marie-Adélaïde, the Duchess of Orléans. It was confiscated from her in that same year by revolutionary authorities who had the château stripped of all its contents and decoration. The château was turned into a detention centre and barracks. Louise-Marie-Adélaïde was imprisoned and then exiled to Spain; her husband, Louis-Philippe Joseph (known as “Philippe Egalité”), Duke of Orléans, was guillotined. In 1803, the château was gifted to Senator Roger Ducos by Napoleon Bonaparte, who wished to thank the Senator for helping him rise to power. In 1806, Ducos ordered the demolition of many buildings that he considered “useless” or “ruined”, including the Henri II wing and the St. Florentin Collegiate Church in which Leonardo da Vinci was buried. Only a fifth of the buildings on the terrace survived his “renovation.”
Louise-Marie-Adélaïde returned to France in 1814 during the First Bourbon restoration, and the Château d’Amboise was given back to her. Other legal battles to restore the rest of her inheritance would last until her death in 1821. The château was then inherited by her eldest son, Louis-Philippe I, who became the last King of the French and reigned from 1830-1848. During his ownership of the Château d’Amboise, he had it restored as a holiday retreat for the Orléans family, although he only stayed in the château once. Louis-Philippe I was passionate about French history, and supported the classification and protection of monuments that were emblematic of the nation’s history. In 1840, the Château d’Amboise was listed as a historic monument.
The Orléans-Penthièvre Study. The portrait in the picture below is of Louis-Philippe Joseph (known as “Philippe Egalitè”), Duke of Orléans, Louise’s husband who was executed during the French Revolution.
The Orléans Chamber contains an Empire-style sleigh bed.
The study also contains engravings done by Jacques Rigaud of the Château d’Amboise done around 1740. My pictures of the engravings didn’t turn out that well, so I’ve borrowed some better depictions of them from Wikipedia.
The Music Room.
Louis-Philippe I was forced to abdicate the throne on February 24, 1848. The Château d’Amboise was confiscated from the Orléans family once more, this time by the Second Republic’s provisional government. The Ministry of War at the time was looking for a suitable residence for a State prisoner, Emir Abd al-Kader (1808-1883). The Emir had fought in opposition to France’s colonization of Algeria, and he had surrendered in December 1847. In November 1848 the Emir, his family, and his retinue of around 80 people were sent to the Château d’Amboise. They stayed there for four years before being freed by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte on October 16, 1852. The Emir left France for Turkey, then went on to Syria. However, 25 members of his retinue passed away while they were living at the Château d’Amboise, and so a memorial was erected in the gardens to honour their memory (shown below).
Rosemary, jasmine, laurel and cyprus are reminiscent of a Mediterranean landscape.
In 1873, the Château d’Amboise was returned to the Orléans family. Louis-Philippe I’s grandson, Philippe, Count of Paris, began a vast restoration program.
On June 18th and 19th, 1940, a Senagalese infantry unit bravely fought to hold German troops back from entering Amboise. About a hundred shells fell on the château. During the occupation, the château was used as an arms and aerial communications depot. In July 1944, the château was bombed by advancing Allied troops. On August 1, 1944, the last German troops left the château. A restoration campaign was undertaken in 1952. Today, the château is owned and managed by the Fondation Saint-Louis.
Now that our history is complete, here are some exterior shots of the gardens.
There is a vineyard!
An old crumbly wall.
A beautiful gate.
Here are some exterior shots of the château.
I love these gables!
Imagine having a castle in your own backyard? (Or just above your backyard, as the case may be).
The ramp in this tower allowed horses and carriages to ascend to the higher ground of the château’s terraces from the town below.
Here are some more shots of the château taken by Neil.
I especially loved the pictures he took with the lavender!
Whew! That was a more extensive post than I was initially planning. Stay tuned for the third and final château on our day trip of the Loire Valley, the Château de Chenonceau!
¹I’ve used “Ummayad Caliphate” here instead of the term “Moor” in the interest of being more accurate and specific, although this militaristic push north through Europe is often referred to as the “Moorish Conquest of Europe.” Europeans of the middle ages and the early modern period commonly applied the term “Moor” to various groups of people (Arabs, North African Berbers, and Muslim Europeans) in many different regions (including but not limited to northwest/northern Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and Malta). Some sources are updating their use of this terminology, still others are lagging behind. I acknowledge that it is an era of history that I’m not very familiar with, and need to do some more research into it.
²For the first two years of World War II, France was divided into two zones: the “German Occupation Zone” of the north and the west were under the dictatorship of Nazi Germany, while the “Free Zone” of the South and the East remained under the (severely limited) rule of Vichy France. Although the Loire Valley was located within the Occupied Zone, the demarcation line between the Occupied and Free areas (a de facto border that required special German authorization to cross) was located just a little farther south. I thought it was interesting that this area has long served as such a significant border land, even in the 20th century. However, this demarcation line disappeared in November 1942 when the free zone was abolished; Nazi and Italian troops invaded the rest of France in response to Allied movement in North Africa. Both north and south France would remain under German military administration until the end of World War II.
³Although the French monarchs had their favoured residences, court life in the middle ages was nomadic. The royal family lived on the move, staying in a residence for only a few weeks at a time before moving onto the next one. They rotated through a series of residences, making appearances throughout various French provinces, and the kings would often move around based on different military campaigns. The entire royal family, their staff, and all the courtiers would travel with them–numbering up to 10,000 people with the court of Henri II (1519-1559)! All of the necessary furnishings, food, and other supplies would have to be brought with them.
*Charles was still a minor when Louis XI died in 1483; Louis and Charlotte’s eldest daughter, Anne of Beaujeau, acted as regent from 1483-1491 until Charles came of age. She faced down a rebellion, known as the “Mad War” or the “War of the Public Weal”, from 1485-1488. One of the main opponents in this conflict was Louis II of Orléans, Charles VIII’s cousin and the next legitimate male heir to the French crown. Another opponent was Francis II, Duke of Brittany, who wanted to maintain the sovereignty of Brittany from France. There were other leading French lords who opposed the expansion and centralization of power under the French monarch, but I’ll limit myself to these two. England, Spain, and Austria supported the revolt, as they liked to be a thorn in France’s side whenever possible.
*(cont’d) The Hapsburg dynasty (of which Maximilian I of Austria, who would soon be elected Holy Roman Emperor) and the French Valois Kings both wanted the Duchy of Brittany under their own control. To make a long story short, let’s just say that Maximilian I of Austria wanted to marry Anne of Brittany, Francis II Duke of Brittany’s daughter and heir. Francis II approved of this match because he saw it as the only way to maintain the sovereignty of Brittany. However, Louis II of Orléans (Charles VIII’s cousin) had his own plans to seize the regency of France and marry Anne himself, thus gaining both the Crown of France and the Duchy of Brittany. Hostilities ensued. A decisive battle was fought between French and Breton forces on July 28, 1488. The French were victorious; Louis II of Orléans was captured, and Duke Francis II had to sign a punitive treaty with France on August 20. Francis died on September 9. Anne was enthroned as Duchess of Brittany in January 1489, and her father’s supporters arranged a marriage-by-proxy for Anne with Maximilian I that took place on December 19, 1490. However, this violated the treaty that had been signed by Charles VIII and her father, which stipulated that Anne’s marriage had to be approved by the French king. It wasn’t, as Anne’s marriage to Maximilian I put control of Brittany into (enemy) Austrian hands. Hostilities ensued between France and Brittany once more. Austria didn’t come to Brittany’s aid. France won, Brittany fell, and Anne was married to Charles VIII on December 6, 1491. Charles broke his own engagement to Marguerite of Austria, Maximilian’s daughter, to marry Anne. Brittany officially became part of the French kingdom in 1532.
**Courtilz de Sandras’ novel Les mémoires de M. d’Artagnan was also the source for Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers and also featured a heavily fictionalized portrayal of D’Artagnan. The mythology has long eclipsed the reality. In fact, I was surprised to find that D’Artagnan was an actual historical figure while doing research for this post!