After taking a wrong turn and spending a lot of energy riding into the wind, it was great to finally see the Chateau of Chaumont sur Loire in the distance. Like on our arrival at the previous two chateaus near the Loire River that we had visited, the grounds of this chateau were beautiful. The grounds housed huge ancient trees, some of which had their trunks encased in quite substantial wooden enclosures. I am not sure whether this was to protect the trees from attack by squirrels, roaming cattle or whether it was just an affectation of the gardener to improve the look of the tree trunk. The chateau does host garden competitions for many months during the years so the tree protection might be part of that programme.
The history of the chateau goes back a 1000 years when the first chateau was built by one Odo I, Count of the neighbour town of Blois. Similarly to so many other chateaux in the area, this one fell victim to political rivalry, being dismantled by order of King Louis XI in 1465. It was rebuilt and eventually was purchased by the famous Catherine of Medici, member of the infamous Florentine family and husband of the French King, Henry II (1519-59). She is considered by some historians to have been the most powerful woman in Europe in 16th century Europe. She bore her husband 10 children and outlived them all. We came across the story of her rivalry with her husband’s childhood sweetheart, Dianne de Poitiers, when we visited Chateau de Chenonceau; after Henry II’s death, Catherine decided her marriage-long rival couldn’t be left with the better Loire Valley chateau so she forced her to move to this one at Chaumont. Catherine had a long complex life of conflict and it’s is no surprise there were many rumours spread about her interest in the dark arts to use against her enemies. Nostradamus is reputed to have visited Catherine at Chaumont sur Loire. Catherine is remembered in the name of a room in this chateau and this room houses the tapestry on the right, telling the story of Perseus, the son of Zeus, famous for his beheading of dangerous monsters such as Medusa.
The chateau went through many owners after Catherine de Medici and the building was modernized and renovated by succeeding owners. Like so many other French buildings it was seized by the Revolutionary government and sold on again. It was donated to the French government in 1938 and is classified today as ‘Monument Historique’.
One of the curious ‘decorations’ that we noted on our stroll around the Chateau itself and in the inner courtyard was the emblem of the porcupine, one example being on the right below. It was clearly the symbol of a French King but it was perplexing in that porcupines in my experience have never been considered either regal or noble enough to be associated with monarchy. We discovered that it was a symbol of the French King, Louis XII who ruled from 1498-1515, a few years before Catherine de Medici’s husband, Henry II. He was a surprisingly effective ruler of France, despite his penchant for curious symbols. He even formed an ‘Order of the Porcupine’ at one stage in his career but apparently decided later in life that the ‘porcupine’ wasn’t the most effective symbol for his monarchy. He was actually born in the rambling Chateau of the neighbouring town of Blois and how much he spent time in Chaumont I couldn’t establish.
Louis XII spent most of his 17 years as King fighting never ending wars in Italy, attempting to conquer the territory of Milan and later on, the Kingdom of Naples. Around 1502, the equestrian statue of Louis was sculpted above the entrance to Chateau’D’Ambois and the emblem of the porcupine, which was still in vogue, was carved underneath. Like so many other treasures of France, this statue was destroyed during the revolution in 1792 but it was replaced by a copy of the original in 1858.
From Chaumont sur Loire we followed the Chateau’s driveway back to the river and headed towards our next stop, Cande sur Beauvron.
APPENDIX 1: Etching of Chateau de Chaumont from an 1863 Magazine