France – Langeais

AN old castle is Langeais, with dark memories of that same Foulques Nerra who rendered himself so notorious at Loches by the murder of his wife.

Directly you have crossed the drawbridge, and entered the door beneath the portcullis, you will see, beyond the garden, the ruins of his donjon. For the present Castle of Langeais, ancient as it is, does not stand on the site of the original fortress.

It was Pierre de in Broce, barber-surgeon to King Louis the Saint, who commenced the existing building, and Louis XI. who finished it, leaving it very much as it stands to-day. Here his son Charles VIII. and Anne, Duchess of Brittany, were married in 1491, and here she came to stay later with her second husband, Louis XII., who seems to have been much attached to the grim old building.

But we are still standing on the drawbridge. Let us pull the bell. What a clang! I hope we shall not be seized for our boldness and clapped into a dungeon! But just as we are thinking of running away the gate beneath the portcullis is opened by a neat, mild-looking parlourmaid, who asks us politely to walk in, and suddenly we find ourselves transported back into the midst of the fifteenth century. I cannot picture the castle to you in detail. You. must go and visit it for yourselves. You will wander through rooms hung with ancient tapestry, furnished with fifteenth-century beds, chests, and settles. Here is the great hall where Charles and Anne were married. It is now the Salon of Madame Siegfried, a perfectly charming room, cosy, full of treasures, hung with priceless Flemish tapestries. And as you stroll about looking at everything, it is easy to recall stories of the place, stories of Louis XI. and his daughters, of Charles VIII. and Anne of Brittany, and of Louis, his successor, who seems still to be quite a hero at Langeais.

But the most interesting story of all is that of Pierre de la Broce, the founder.

He had been made Sire de Langeais, and was a great Court favourite when the King, Philippe le Hardi, having lost his first wife, Isabelle of Aragon, married the beautiful and fascinating Marie de Brabant. From the beginning she and the favourite were at daggers drawn, and when Louis, the eldest of her step-sons, died two years after her marriage, Pierre de la Broce caused it to be whispered abroad that the Queen had had him poisoned.

Presently the rumour reached the King. ” Sire,” said a Courtier, ” they are saying that Madame and her foreign ladies poisoned Mon-seigneur Louis.” Then the storm broke, not on the head of Marie, but on that of her accuser, Pierre de la Broce. Letters had been found, it is said, betraying the secrets of France to the Court of Castile. He was seized, taken to Montfaurcon, and there hanged without even the opportunity of defending himself; three or four of the great lords of France conducting him to the gibbet, and standing round till all was over.

And what was in the letters? No one ever knew. Some say that the Sire de Langeais himself poisoned the Prince. There are many mysteries belonging to a castle like this.

. The cliffs on either side of the Loire, between Langeais and Tours, are honeycombed with caves, many of which are inhabited. They form little villages, or rather, I might say a long continuous straggling -village, very picturesque, and very, very ancient; for here, as at Les Eyzies, we are face to face with one of the earliest of human settlements.

Now we find ourselves passing Cinq-Mars, or Campus Martius as it was probably originally called, with its high brick tower, on the top of which the beacon fires were once lighted to warn the inhabitants of the Upper Loire of the approach of those pirates who formerly infested the estuary.

The old castle, whose ruins stand near by, was the family home of that traitorous favourite of Louis XIII, Henri Coiffier de Cinq-Mars, beheaded, by order of Richelieu, at Lyons in 1642.