It is noted chiefly for its chateau, but the little village itself is charming. The houses of the village are not very new, nor very old, but the one long street is most attractive throughout its length, and the whole atmosphere of the place, from September to December, is odorous with the perfume of red and purple grapes. The vintage is not equal to that of the Bordeaux region, perhaps, nor of Chinon, nor Saumur, but “vin du pays” . of the Cher and the Loire, around Tours, is not to be despised.
Most tourists come to Chenonceaux by train from Tours; others drive over from Amboise, and yet others come by bicycle or automobile. They are not as yet so numerous as might be expected, and accordingly here, as elsewhere in Touraine, every facility is given for visiting the chateau and its park.
If you do not hurry off at once to worship at the abode of the fascinating Diane, one of the brightest ornaments of the court of Francois I. and his son Henri, you will enjoy your dinner at the Hotel du Bon Laboureur, tho most likely it will be a solitary one, and you will be put to bed in a great chamber over-looking the park, through which peep, in the moonlight, the turrets of the chateau, and you may hear the purling of the waters of the Cher as it flows below the walls.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, like Francois I., called Chenonceaux a beautiful place, and he was right. It is all of that and more. Here one comes into direct contact with an atmosphere which, if not feudal, or even medieval, is at least that of several hundred years ago.
Chenonceaux is moored like a ship in the middle of the rapidly running Cher, a dozen miles or more above where that stream enters the Loire. As a matter of fact, the chateau practically bridges the river, which flows under its foundations and beneath its drawbridge on either side, besides filling the moat with water. The general effect is as if the building were set in the midst of a stream and formed a sort of island chateau. Round about is a gentle meadow and a great park, which gives to this turreted, architectural gem of Touraine a setting equalled by no other chateau.
What the chateau was in former days we can readily imagine, for nothing is changed as to the general disposition. Boats came to the water-gate, as they still might do if such boats still existed, in true, pictorial legendary fashion. To-day the present occupant has placed a curiosity on the ornamental waters in the shape of a gondola. It is out of keeping with the grand fabric of the chateau, and it is a pity that it does not cast itself adrift some night. What has become of the gondolier, who was imported to keep the craft company, nobody seems to know. He is certainly not in evidence, or, if he is, has transformed him-self into a groom or a chauffeur.
The chateau of Chenonceaux is not a very ample structure; not so ample as most photographs would make it appear. It is not tiny, but still it has not the magnificent proportions of Blois, of Chambord, or even of Langeais. It was more a habitation than it was a fortress, a country house, as indeed it virtually became when the Connetable de Montmorency took possession of the structure in the name of the king, when its builder, Thomas Bohier, the none too astute minister of finance in Normandy, came to grief in his affairs.
Francis I. came frequently here to hunt, and his memory is still kept alive by the Chambre Francois I. Francois held possession till his death, when his son made it over to the “admired of two generations,” Diane de Poitiers.
Diane’s memory will never leave Chenonceaux. Today it is perpetuated in the Chambre de Diane de Poitiers; but the portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, which was supposed to best show her charms, has now disappeared from the Long Gallery at the chateau. This portrait was painted at the command of Francois, before Diane transferred her affections to his son.
No one knows when or how Diane de Poitiers first came to fascinate Francois, or how or why her power waned. At any rate at the time Francois pardoned her father, the witless Comte de St. Vallier, for the treacherous part he played in the Bourbon conspiracy, he really believed her to to be the “brightest ornament of a beauty loving court.”
Certainly, Diane was a powerful factor in the politics of her time, tho Francois himself soon tired of her. Undaunted by this, she forthwith set her cap for his son Henri, the Due d’Orleans, and won him, too. Of her beauty the present generation is able to judge for itself by reason of the three well-known and excellent portraits of con-temporary times.
Diane’s influence over the young Henri was absolute. At his death her power was, of course, at an end and Chenonceaux, and all else possible, was taken from her by the orders of Catherine, the long-suffering wife, who had been put aside for the fascinations of the charming huntress.
It must have been some satisfaction, however, to Diane, to know that, in his fatal joust with Montgomery, Henri really broke his lance and met his death in her honor, for the records tell that he bore her colors on his lance, besides her initials set in gold and gems on his shield.
Catherine’s eagerness to drive Diane from the court was so great, that no sooner had her spouse falleneven tho he did not actually die for some daysthan she sent word to Diane “who sat weeping alone,” to quit the court instantly; to give up the crown jewelswhich Henri had somewhat inconsiderately given her; and to “give up Chenonceaux in Touraine,” Catherine’s Naboth’s vineyard, which she had so long admired and coveted.
She had known it as a girl, when she often visited it in company with her father-in-law, the appreciative but dissolute Francois, and had ever longed to possess it for her own, before even her husband, now dead, had given it to “that old hag Diane de Poitiers, Duchesse de Valentinois.”
Diane paid no heed to Catherine’s command. She simply asked: “Is the king yet dead”
“No, madame,” said the messenger, “but his wound is mortal; he cannot live the day.”
`Tell the queen, then,” replied Diane, “that her reign is not yet come; that I am mistress still over her and the kingdom as long as the king breathes the breath of life.”
The chateau of Chenonceaux, so greatly coveted by Catherine when she first came to France, and when it was in the possession of Diane, still remains in all the regal splendor of its past. It lies in the lovely valley of the Cher, far from the rush and turmoil of cities and even the continuous traffic of great thoroughfares, for it is on the road to nowhere unless one is journeying cross-country from the lower to the upper Loire. This very isolation resulted in its being one of the few monuments spared from the furies of the Revolution, and, “half-palace and half-chateau,” it glistens with the purity of its former glory, as picturesque as ever, with turrets, spires, and roof-tops all mellowed with the ages in a most entrancing manner.
Even today one enters the precincts of the chateau proper over a drawbridge which spans an arm of the Loire, or rather, a moat which leads directly from the parent stream. On the opposite side are the bridge piers supporting five arches, the work of Diane when she was the fair chatelaine of the domain. This ingenious thought proved to be a most useful and artistic addition to the chateau. It formed a flagged promenade, lovely in itself, and led to the southern bank of the Cher, whence one got charming vistas of the turrets and roof-tops of the chateau through the trees and the leafy avenues which converged. upon the structure.
When Catherine came she did not disdain to make the best use of Diane’s innovation that suggested itself to her, which was simply to build the Long Gallery over the arches of this lovely bridge, and so make of it a veritable house over the water. A covering was made quite as beautiful as the rest of the structure, and thus the bridge formed a spacious wing of two stories. The first floorknown as the Long Gallerywas intended as a banqueting-hall, and possest four great full-length windows on either side looking up and down the stream, from which was seenand is today an outlook as magnificently idyllic as is possible to conceive. Jean Goujon had designed for the ceiling one of those wonder-works for which he was famous, but if the complete plan was ever carried out, it has disappeared, for only a tiny sketch of the whole scheme remains today.
Catherine came in the early summer to take possession of her long-coveted domain. Being a skilful horsewoman, she came on horseback, accompanied by a little band of feminine charmers destined to wheedle political secrets from friends and enemies alikea real “flying squadron of the queen,” as it was called by a contemporary.
It was a gallant company that assembled here at this timethe young King Charles IX., the Due de Guise, and the “two cardinals mounted on mules” Lorraine, a true Guise, and D’Este, newly arrived from Italy, and accompanied by the poet Tasso, wearing a “gabardine and a hood of satin.” Catherine showed the Italian great favor, as was due a countryman, but there was another poet among them as well, Ronsard, the poet laureate of the time. The Duc de Guise had followed in the wake of Marguerite, unbeknown to Catherine, who frowned down any possibility of an alliance between the houses of Valois and Lorraine.
A great fete and water-masque had been arranged by Catherine to take place on the Cher, with a banquet to follow in the Long Gallery in honor of her arrival at Chenonceaux.
When twilight had fallen, torches were ignited and myriads of lights blazed forth from the boats on the river and from the windows of the chateau. Music and song went forth into the night, and all was as gay and lovely as a Venetian night’s entertainment. The hunting-horns echoed through the wooded banks, and through the arches above. which the chateau was built passed great highly colored barges, including a fleet of gondolas to remind the queen-mother of her Italian daysthe ancestors perhaps of the solitary gondola which today floats idly by the river-bank just before the grand entrance to the chateau. From parterre and balustrade, and from the clipt yews of the ornamental garden, fairy lamps burned forth and dwindled away into dim infinity, as the long lines of soft light gradually lost themselves in the for-est. It was a grand affair and idyllic in its unworldliness. . . .
Catherine bequeathed Chenonceaux to the wife of Henry III., Louise de Vaudemont, who died here in 1601. For a hundred years it still belonged to royalty, but in 1730 it was sold to M. Dupin, who, with his wife, enriched and repaired the fabric. They gathered around them a company so famous as to be memorable in the annals of art and literature. This is best shown by the citing of such names as Fontenelle, Montesquieu, Buffon, Boling-broke, Voltaire, and Rousseau, all of whom were frequenters of the establishment, the latter being charged with the education of the Dupins’ only son.
Chenonceaux today is no whited sepulcher. It is a real living and livable thing, and moreover, when one visits it, he observes that the family burn great logs in their fireplaces, have luxurious bouquets of flowers on their dining-table, and use wax candles instead of the more prosaic oil-lamps, or worse-acetyline gas.