Before we came, both Hannah and I read “The Confessions of Catherine d’Medici,” and it filled the halls we walked through with the people who lived in them. It also influenced our choice of chateaux to visit as we only had a few days in the Loire Valley. The book, by C.W. Gortner, is fiction, based on the lives and events of the French royalty in the 1500s from the perspective of Catherine, and brings them to life in a way non-fiction cannot. For us it, was a perfect accompaniment to the chateaux of Blois, Chenonceau, and Chaumont, flowing in stories from us on to John and Marlie as well.
We chose to stay near Blois, because that was the main royal chateau where the court gathered outside Paris during Catherine’s lifetime. The castle there was built in four stages, one ancient and medieval, built along with fortress walls by the Dukes of Orleans. The second was gothic, with spires and triangles reaching skyward, built by Louis IV, whose emblem of the porcupine decorates the castle and recurs throughout the city. The wing built by Catherine’s father-in-law, Francois I, is ornately renaissance with themes of Roman myth in the carvings, and where we naturally spent most of our time. The fourth was built later by an exiled brother of the king, it would not have existed in Catherine’s world.We next visited Chenonceau, the castle that was taken from Catherine, the wife, and given to Diane, the mistress. It is lovely and light, and clear why, after the death of King Henri II, Catherine forced Diane to return it, trading back the chateau neither woman wanted, which we visited later. The crowds were heavy at Chenonceau, and the sun was hot. We opted to play in the relative shade of the hedge maze rather than wander the farther parts of the garden. The front was covered in scaffolding, our bane on this trip. So very many places we have visited have been shrouded in metal and a net screen. They did have a picture of the castle on the screen, so we could have an idea of what is looked like, but it’s not the same. Although we appreciate that they are maintaining these buildings for the future, it doesn’t make them particularly pretty.
The next day was for Chaumont, the match in the trade. Given to Catherine as a consolation for the taking away of Chenonceau, we walked through laughing. Although very picturesque from the outside, the inside is dark and feels cramped. We could see why Catherine was pissed. Unfortunately, as we were there, my “I’m not feeling so good” became “Ooh, am I sick,” filling my next 36 hours with fever and chills, and ending our chateaux tour.Although we’ve done reading about the places we’ve visited, none have brought them alive in the way this experience has. I think we’ll check the kindle store for historical fiction often from here out, reading stories as we wander.