You just can’t have too many castles. And if you built a large and lovely one in any century, chances were that a king, or someone with more power, would find a reason to determine that they were better off owning your estate.
When Columbus was sailing the ocean blue, Charles VIII took over Chateau d’Amboise from its owner and decided to rebuild it extensively, beginning in 1492 at first in the French late Gothic Flamboyant style and then after 1495 employing two Italian mason-builders, who provided some of the first Renaissance decorative motifs seen in French architecture.
The famous King François I, of which we hear a great deal, was raised at Amboise, which belonged to his mother, Louise of Savoy, and during the first few years of his reign the château reached the pinnacle of its glory. Henri II and his wife, Catherine de Médici, raised their children in Château Amboise along with Mary Stuart, the child Queen of Scotland who had been promised in marriage to the future French François II .
While much of this is reconstruction, the flavor still remains, and the setting along the Loire River is wonderful.
As a guest of the King, Leonardo di Vinci came to Château Amboise in and lived and worked in the nearby Clos Lucé, connected to the château by an underground passage. It is assumed that he is buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, adjoining the Château, which had been built in 1491–96. We saw the grave, and also toured his home, which features his bedroom. He loved this room because he could see the castle of the king from here, and it was in this room that he died. We never thought we would have that experience. It was here he was free to write and invent, and IBM has built models of many of his ideas, which introduced so much technology we now use today. (He also loved spending time in the kitchen, watching his cook prepare his vegetarian meals. Go know.)
But there’s more! We then went to the town of Blois, which is larger, and also very charming – just a day’s ride by horse from Amboise, following the river. We had a lovely lunch and then climbed what seemed like a thousand steps to the amazing chateau which awaited us at the summit.
The Château Royal de Blois was the residence of several French kings, and it is also the place where Joan of Arc went in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before departing with her army to drive the English from Orléans. More on Joan to come later.
The château comprises several buildings constructed from the 13th to the 17th century around the main courtyard. The castle has 564 rooms, 100 bedrooms and 75 staircases although only 23 were used frequently While confusing architecturally, it is stunning in its diversity. The exterior staircase is unique and graceful, and we were able to climb it to the top.
The “Salle des États Généraux,” built in the beginning of the 13th century, is one of the oldest seignoral rooms preserved in France, and is also the largest remaining civilian Gothic room. The room was used as a court of justice by the Counts of Blois, and was used in 1576 and 1588 for the “États Généraux.”
The castle became the favorite royal residence and the political capital of the kingdom under Charles’ son, King Louis XII. When François I took power in 1515, his wife had him refurbish Blois with the intention of moving to it from the Château d’Amboise. His ensignia, the salamander, is quite present. King Henry III, driven from Paris during the French wars of religion, lived at Blois. The castle was next occupied by Henry IV, the first Bourbon monarch. On Henry’s death in 1610, it became the place of exile for his widow, Marie de Médici. Our old friend, Catherine de Médici, died here. It had a rough life for several hundred years, but is being restored and refurnished nicely.