France – Amboise

If Chenonceaux is a recent castle, Amboise is one of the most ancient. Caesar it was who built the foundations and raised the first fortress. Its great tower was crowned by a statue of Mars, which they say fell, struck by lightning, at the approach of the first Christian missionary who came to Amboise.

But we need not go back so far as Caesar’s day. Louis XI. is the first person who will meet us at Amboise. He is spending his honeymoon here. He has just married Charlotte de Savoie, after the death of his first wife, the unfortunate young Margaret of Scotland, and is giving all manner of fetes in consequence, perhaps to hide his want of enthusiasm for his new bride. A few years afterwards his son Charles is born, and the bells of Amboise ring out joyfully. But Louis has retired to his lair at Plessis-les-Tours, and poor Charlotte and her son are left alone together. I dale say they were happier without the King. Louis was not a comfortable man to have about the house. ” The universal Spider,” as Philippe de Comines called him, came to see them some-times, but generally they lived absolutely alone, the Prince growing up almost uneducated, with scarcely the state of an ordinary gentleman, and often in absolute want of money to pay his way.

It was to this castle that Charles, on becoming King, brought his wife, Anne of Brittany, after the marriage at Langeais. Here their children were born; and here they died one after the other. It was while the King was walking along this very terrace, on his way. to watch a game of ball, that passing beneath yonder low doorway he struck his forehead. For a moment he appeared stunned, then, making light of it, went on his way. But suddenly, as he was watching the game, he staggered and fell back. They carried him to a room close by, a poor dirty place belonging to a servant, where nine hours afterwards he died, as Philippe de Comines says: ” A Prince little understood, but so good that it would be impossible ever to see a better creature.”

It is said that Anne, on realising she had lost him, burst into tears, exclaiming: ” Oh, my be-loved husband, I never will marry any one of lower rank than yourself! ” and as we shall find later she was ‘ shortly united to the next King, Louis XII., an old flame of hers. ‘

There is one episode, enacted here at Amboise, so tragic that it blots out the memory of all others. It is the year 1560. The Duc de Guise and his party are not feeli g too secure. There are rumours of plots in the air. The Huguenots are suspected of a design to get the young King, Francis IL, and his wife into their power, away from the baleful influence of the Queen Mother, the Duke, and the Cardinal. But their schemes are betrayed. The Court is moved swiftly and secretly out of harm’s way to Amboise. A few days later, in the wood, the Huguenot chief, La Rena.udie, is captured, and hung from a gibbet on the middle of the bridge. What a sight for the ladies to look down upon! But the Duke has provided even more exciting entertainment. Every one suspected of being in any way concerned with the Conjuration d’Amboise, as the plot was called, was seized. Then the walls of Amboise were decorated indeed—hung with bunches of bodies; bossed with groups of heads, till it ” became quite interesting to stroll round of an evening and see how many more had been added during the day! ”

Regnier de la Planche, who has left an account of this awful retribution, adds: ” The execution of some of the principal prisoners was generally reserved till after dinner, an arrangement expressly ordered by the Duc de Guise as a pastime for the ladies, who were beginning to find so long a stay at Amboise dull. And indeed they used to place themselves at the castle windows as if it had been a question of watching some mummery, showing no pity or compassion, or at least seeming to show none.” But we must remember that the Duke and Catherine were watching them, and that it would have been as much as their own lives were worth to have shown any sympathy with the victims.

Sometimes they received a shock, as when the Sieur de Castelnau. stopped as he was about to lay his head on the scaffold, and, dipping his hands in the blood of the man who had gone before him, raised them red and dripping to heaven.

” Lord,” he cried, ” see the blood of Thy children, and take vengeance! ”

The regular executions stopped when some twelve hundred had been put to death. But still out in the forest the murders continued, travellers being strung up to the trees for no other crime than that of having a little money in their pockets; while others were tied, hands and feet together, and cast into the Loire. The town at length grew so unbearable, so foul with murder and blood, that the Court had to move away.

There is at Amboise an exquisite little chapel dedicated to Saint Hubert. Over the entrance is carved the scene of his meeting with the stag, and within is the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci. You can stay at Amboise for days if you are lucky enough to have the time; but if you stop for weeks, you will not exhaust either its charm or its interest.