The Castles Of Francois
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IT has been said that the reign of Francois I. educated Europe. Be that as it may, it was that French monarch who made culture fashionable and, though he lived back in the Middle Ages, one finds in France today almost as many souvenirs that still recall his name as those left by Louis XIV. and Napoleon, while a visit to his castles through Touraine makes an ideal driving or motor tour.
When young he was a beau ideal of knighthood, handsome, brave and polished. He was cleverer than his contemporary, Charles V. of Spain, more elegant than Henry VIII. of England—and more profligate than both put together. This was the time of the "Old Regime," the Renaissance and the Reformation. Each of these young rulers enjoyed despotic power, and their reigns are marked by great events, but all three died prematurely old—more depraved than princely.
Francois' court was noted for its splendor, for he attracted the most beautiful women and most gallant men of the day.
The least conspicuous figure there was his wife, Queen Claude. She never attempted to understand state affairs, but busied herself with her embroidery, and after a few years of shameful neglect she obligingly died, leaving the King too glad to be rid of her to reflect on the fact that he had probably broken her heart.
Diane de Poitiers made her first appearance at Court to beg the King's pardon for her father, then a prisoner. Her beauty, afterward world famous, so charmed the sensuous monarch that the father was freed and the daughter became the captive—albeit a most willing one.
She assumed the greatest power at Court, and when she realized that Francois had tired of her, she made a successful onslaught on the foolish heart of the King's young son. It was that admirer who, when he became I-lenry II., gave Diane the beautiful castle of Chenonceaux. This gift, the King said, was made because her husband had died unrewarded for his services to the crown. He was evidently a man who did not let his right hand know what his left hand was doing, and it was never quite clear to any one but the enraptured King just what those services were.
Francois had made of this castle one of the finest buildings in France, and Diane added the wing that is 'built right across the little river. It was there the fair chatelaine said she threw her wishes out one window and her regrets out the other. No one however coveted her neighbor's house more than Catherine de Medici did,in regard to her rival's possessions, and as soon as the King died she turned out Diane with the utmost haste, and then frequently honored Chenonceaux herself with lengthy visits.
It ranks as one of the most beautiful dwellings ever built by man, and with its sloping grounds. noble old trees and peaceful little river, it has a natural setting particularly charming. It is more a home and less a fortress than many of the other castles of the Middle Ages, and an additional attraction Was the fact that it alone of all Catherine de Medici's
castles was free from the stain of blood. She would send for Tasso, the favorite poet from Italy, and taking him out to Chenonceaux would seat herself in the garden with her beautiful women about her and listen for hours to his rhapsodies. She knew well that to hold her sway she must dazzle the people, and every day some wondrous entertainment was given. Writers say one night fireworks in such quantities were displayed on this little river Cher, it seemed the whole stream was on fire, and then. suddenly a long shower of beautiful flowers surprised the delighted guests. Thus with feasting and merriment here her dark deeds were temporarily forgotten.
Among its guests the old castle can boast besides Tasso, of Voltaire, Rousseau, Anne of Austria, "La Grande Mlle.," and many other notables. It is but a few hours distant from Paris and on certain days the present owners open it to visitors. The gorgeous room of Francois I. is quite the most attractive, and another very interesting one is called "the room of the four queens," as is was occupied successively by Catherine de Medici, Mary Queen of Scots, Margaret of Navarre and Louise of Lorraine. The gallery has had many of its best pictures removed, but the old tapestries and curious decorations are well worth seeing.
After the death of the German Emperor in 1519, three claimants came forward for his throne, but in spite of much bribing, the Electors at Frankfort decided in favor of Charles V. of Spain, the late Emperor's grandson. Chagrined at his defeat, Francois then determined to form an alliance with Henry VIII. of England, and at their meeting, which resulted in naught, such a display was made by both sovereigns, one trying to outdo the other, that Guincs is still spoken of as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The pomp and regal attire of their retinues that day rivaled in brilliancy the famous meeting of Solomon and the Oueen of Sheba. Meanwhile the. subtle Charles had leagued with Wolsey, the power behind the English throne, and Henry was easily persuaded by him to form an alliance with Spain instead of France.
Then disappointed Francois began a war with Charles and was defeated and taken prisoner at Pavia. The only redeeming feature was that the Spanish soldiers tore his coat into bits for souvenirs, spoiling his fine raiment, but pleasing his vanity. After that battle he wrote his mother the well-known lines that rearranged to interest posterity have come down to us as: "All is lost save honor." He proved later he had none to lose.
It is customary now when driving in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris to stop for refreshments at the Cafe de Madrid. It marks the spot where Francois, on his return from Spain, built the Chateau of Madrid, that was so ruthlessly destroyed during the Revolution. In that storehouse of the past, the old Musee de Cluny in Paris, one is still shown the exquisite enamels that ornamented its outside walls—the largest specimens of such work in existence.
From the time of his sojourn in Spain and Italy, Francois became the most enthusiastic patron of art. He brought Leonardo da Vinci and other artists back to France with him, and gave the painter a home near his own castle of Amboise. He is buried' there in the little chapel of the castle whose delicate stone carving makes it a gem of architecture, and a most appropriate resting place for a great genius. It is dedicated to the memory of the sacred hunter I-Iubert, and its exquisite daintiness is in refreshing contrast to the sombre gloom of the rest of the castle. The designs are carved as minutely as frost pictures on a window-pane in winter, and the stag that appeared with the crucifix to the hunter Hubert is impressive even in our miracle-disputing days.
At Amboise the King entertained his old adversary, Charles V., when he stopped on a friendly visit, and the description of the festivities reads like a fairy tale. The castle is situated on a height, and knowing the Emperor disliked to climb steps, the King had an inclined plane made in one of the toWers, by which Charles could ascend to his apartments in a carriage without taking a step. At Amboise Charles VIII. of France was later born and eventually killed here, according to popular stories, by hitting his head against the top of a low doorway. It was here too that a few years later Catherine de Medici invited Mary Queen of Scots to come out on one of the balconies to see the great massacre that delighted the blood-thirsty soul of the Queen Mother. To punish the conspirators against the young King Francis I., and to thwart their plans to get him from her control, she had them strung up on the balcony, here to hang until her vengeance was satisfied and then the rope was cut and the body dropped and buried itself in the river Loire below. The Queen Mother, however, in her enjoyment of such sights, had not counted upon the results, for the dead bodies, piled up in such horrible numbers, made the air so foul in a few days that Amboise was no longer safe as a residence, and finally Catherine was obliged to move the pitiful young Francis and the beautiful Mary Stuart to a healthier habitation.
Another association with Amboise was the long imprisonment here of Abd-el-Kadir, the heroic Arabian chief taken prisoner in the French war under Napoleon III. The castle underwent extensive restorations under Louis Philippe and is now owned by the Orleans family.
The Louvre that Philippe Augustus had erected was more a stronghold than a palace, and after tearing it down Francois began the erection of the fine facade that still bears his name, and he bought the land, now the Garden of the Tuileries, for the erection of a suburban villa for his mother.
Some of the Raphael paintings that hang in the Louvre today were done at his request. He covered his walls with masterpieces, his tapestries were the finest made; Titian, who never saw the King, was commanded to paint his portrait.
Thanks to his encouragement, a school of painting was established and the Renaissance spread abroad. I-Ie always showed favor to men of talent and used to entertain Benvenuto Ccllini, who covered the royal table with the golden vessels engraven by his skill, while Rabelais, Clement Marot and other wits were the King's companions.
No better example of the Renaissance architecture can be found than in that old house that still stands in Paris, called the Maison de Francois Premier. Some claim it was brought, stone by stone, from Fontainebleau, its original site, to lodge the King's sister, Margaret, the Pearl of the Valois, but more likely it was intended for a Paris home for one of the Court beauties.
Francois I.'s facade of the old castle of Blois far exceeds the efforts of his successors. A later owner, Gaston d'Orleans, by his would-be improvements nearly ruined the whole building. Louis XII.'s side he has marked with his crest, the crown and porcupine, while we know the rooms of that fascinating Queen Anne of Brittany by her emblem, the ermine.
In Francois' wing one sees cut in everywhere his device, the salamander, with his motto: "I am nourished and I die in fire." Even the plumes of the King's hat were fastened with a jeweled salamander, and one finds it like a trade-mark on everything he created. His beautiful carved open stairway remains in our clay unsurpassed, for the stone carving looks like lace work.
But the fame of Blois is greater than its beauty. It is celebrated as the place of murder of the Duke de Guise. The door is shown through which the effeminate Henry III. came to gloat over the body of his enemy. Shocked, however, at sight of his victim, he started back, exclaiming: "My God, he looks greater dead than alive!"
On the floor above, Catherine de Medici had her apartments. In one room the walls are covered with two hundred carved wooden panels, no two alike. Each one opens by a secret spring, and in these niches Catherine kept those poisons she found more convincing than arguments. She died here in Another death - chamber shown at Blois is that of Anne of Brittany, the only woman to be twice Queen of France, for after her gain in the loss of her first husband, Charles VIII., she promptly married his successor, her old lover, Louis XII. A window o is shown where Marie de Medici escaped, after her son thought affairs of s ate would be more benefited by her absence than by her presence and confined her in this prison-home, and here too Anne of Austria brought her boy, little Louis XIV., for safe-keeping when the cannonading of the Fronde made Paris too dangerous for real comfort. In addition to its having been sought as a strong place of refuge in rebellions, it has also been the home of beauty and pleasure, for Mme. de Pompadour loved to preside over her worshipping Court here in imitation of the real queens before her.
There is no railway and one must drive from Blois to Chambord, a distance covered in about two hours. It was Francois' favorite castle, where from its wonderful roofs he could watch the hunts, and its carved chimneys make one wish our modern builders could reproduce the masterpieces of their predecessors.
With its doors concealed in panels, and its secret stairways, Chambord is typical of the King's intriguing life. It is situated in a park of twenty square miles, has over four hundred rooms, and the stables used to accommodate twelve hundred horses. The well-known double spiral stairway is a perplexing surprise for all visitors, as people may ascend and descend at the same time, occasionally seeing each other, but never meeting.
At Chambord, Moliere gave before the Court his first presentation of the "Bourgeois Gentilhomme." The castle was given at a later date by Louis XV. to his father-in-law, King Stanislas of Poland, and afterward to that interesting roue-warrior, Marshal Saxe.
After the Revolution it was purchased by subscription and presented to the young Duke of Bordeau, who took from it his title of Count of Chambord. The castle is so immense and the rooms with their vaulted ceilings so marvelous that there is no more satisfactory edifice in '1'ouraine to visit to give one an idea of the magnificence of the French Court at that period. Even now, in the silence of abandonment, it is sublime.
Not content with these vast buildings, Francois completely changed Fontainebleau, and his bedroom and gallery there today are most imposing in their richness. In the palaces of St.-Germain, Inches, and Rambouillet, he made elaborate alterations; like Nebuchadnezzar, he could boast of what he had created by the might of his power, but in his old age how the strength of these buildings must have mocked the shallow character of the royal builder.
For twenty years he had carried on war, and the money that should have been spent for the soldiers' pay was lavished on dissolute women. The whole country was impoverished. The people had no voice, the King's wish was law. He had ill treated two good wives and at last, disgusted with all women, he wrote on the window-pane at Chambord: "Often woman varies; he is a fool who trusts her."
His persecution of the Reformers was one of his greatest errors, but he should be judged by comparison with his contemporaries. Henry VIII. was chopping off his wives' heads, and Charles V., having weakly abdicated, amused himself in a monastery by rehearsing his own funeral.
If you would know the French King as he really was, read Victor Hugo's "Le Roi s'amuse," or see Verdi's opera of Rigoletto, and then weighing his vices against his virtues, remember he was a product of his time. Look among any collection of miniatures and you will see the immortal faces of his favorites. He left palaces sumptuously built and gorgeously furnished, but the King who had not a single moral with which to bless himself, will be looked upon contemptuously until his buildings have crumbled to dust.