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The History of Magical Chenonceau Castle

Welcome to Chenonceau Castle!

Welcome to the fascinating history of Château de Chenonceau, a stunning masterpiece of French Renaissance architecture that captivates visitors with its elegance, beauty, and remarkable past. Nestled in the Loire Valley, this enchanting castle is not only famous for its breathtaking architecture and stunning gardens but also for the intriguing stories and powerful women who shaped its history. As you delve into the tale of Château de Chenonceau, you’ll discover a captivating narrative spanning centuries, filled with love, rivalry, intrigue, and resilience. Join us as we take you on a journey through time, exploring the rich history of this remarkable castle and unveiling the secrets that lie within its walls.

Historical Timeline of Chenonceau Castle

A royal decree against the Marques family patriarch, Jean Marques, for an act of sedition against the French crown included an order for the destruction of the original manor at Chenonceau.

Jean Marques builds a castle and a fortified mill to replace the lost manor of Chenonceau.

A short video tour of Chenonceau castle:

Château de Chenonceau virtual tour

Pierre Marques, the heir of Jean, up to his eyes in debt, sells the castle. It was readily purchased by Thomas Bohier, the General Tax Collector for the neighboring region of Normandy.

Thomas Bohier razes all of the existing buildings on the property. He then orders construction of a third generation castle. The castle’s system of moats and the donjon are retained. The latter is modified to fit with the style of the new castle. Chenonceau castle as it stands today takes shape during this period.

The chapel is consecrated by Cardinal Bohier, a member of the Bohier clan.

Construction of the chateau is completed and the extensive gardens are laid out. The King of France, Francois I, is twice a visitor to the castle at this time.

After Thomas Bohier’s death his family cedes Chenonceau castle to the French crown to pay off debts.

The High Constable of Montmorency takes possession of the castle in the name of Francois I. The King ignores Chenonceau and focuses his efforts on building the massive Chambord castle instead.

Tourists exploring an interior of Chenonceau Castle.
Tourists exploring an interior of Chenonceau Castle.

Charles Quint, Emperor of Germany, Prince of the Netherlands and King of Spain, the eternal rival of King Francois I, visits the castle.

King Henry II’s mistress, Diane of Poitiers, falls in love with chateau Chenonceau. Diane is the widow of the Count of Brézé, the Grand Seneschal of France and is twenty years Henry’s senior. Henry gives Diane the castle as a sign of his love. She officially takes ownership in 1555.

While at the estate, Diane is made the Duchess of Valentinois and becomes one of the most influential women in France. Her success assured her of many enemies, the most formidable of which was the Queen, Catherine de Medici, who envied her influence over the young King and the affairs of the French state.

A stern looking Catherine de Medici.
A stern looking Catherine de Medici

Henry II and his court visit Diane at Chenonceau. The castle is a fully functioning estate at this point with Diane of Poitiers as it’s ruler.

Numerous artists took up residence Chenonceau Castle during this period. The parties and events (balls, tilting at the ring, stag hunting) were never-ending and legend.

As legal owner, Diane embarks on an expansion of the castle. The main structure is enlarged to span the river Cher.

King Henri II is fatally injured by Montgomery, the Captain of the Scottish guards, during a sporting event. His widow, the long simmering, Catherine de Medici, demands the chateau be returned to the crown upon his death. Diane is banished to Chaumont. Chenonceau remains a vibrant estate under Catherine de Medici’s rule.

The gardens are transformed and redesigned under the guidance of Bernard Palissy.

The grand courtyard is built.

In May, the grand gallery of the castle is inaugurated. The reception with its songs, dances, and theater remains the climax of the golden era of Chenonceau.

Claude Dupin, a squire descended from the Berry family, buys the castle from the Duke of Bourbon.

Among the visitors to the chateau during this period are Voltaire, Fontenelle, Marivaux, Montesquieu, Buffon and Rousseau.

The Dupin’s are much loved by the peasants of the region.

A picture of Chenonceau Castle from the Loire river.
A picture of Chenonceau Castle from the Loire river.

Henri Menier, the grandson of the founder of the chocolate firm with the same name, buys the castle. The estate has been in the Menier family since.

The chateau is converted to a military hospital for the duration of WWI.

The great flood of the Cher river in 1940 devastates the garden. The garden lies dormant until the 1950’s.

During the Nazi Occupation, a great number of people, Nazi and Free French, take advantage of the unusual situation at Chenonceau. The south side of the castle opened on to unoccupied France, while the entrance was in occupied France.

The Menier family tasks Bernard Voisin with the job of restoring Chenonceau castle to it’s former glory.

Over a period of years Voisin successfully reconditions the castle and its numerous outbuildings and restores the beauty of the gardens and the surrounding vineyards. Little by little, Chenonceau comes back to life.

A wonderful view from the air of the grounds and castle of Chenonceau
A wonderful view from the air of the grounds and castle of Chenonceau

Today, Chenonceau has fully recovered its glory. With over 1.3 million visitors every year, and with the exception of the Palace of Versailles, it is the most visited castle in France.

Loire Valley Tours from Paris

We offer a great one day tour to Chenonceau castle from Paris as well as our new five-day Loire Cycling Tour.

See you in the Loire Valley!