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The castle of Amboise - English

A royal residence

Overhanging the Loire, the castle of Amboise was the residence of kings of France during the Renaissance

Amboise, architectural jewel of the Renaissance, plunge its majestic draw in the Loire, the river classified in the World heritage.

At the dawn of the Renaissance, the powerful medieval fortress of Amboise makes way for a royal residence under the reigns of Kings of France Charles VIII and François I. The Court, the number of men of letters and European artists stay at the invitation of the sovereigns, like Leonardo da Vinci, whose remains in the Chapel of the Castle.

This top-place of the History of France possesses an exceptional collection of Gothic and Renaissance furniture, which testifies of the artistic refinement of the first French Renaissance. After the visit of the royal lodging houses and the impressive cavalier towers, the walk goes on in beautiful panoramic gardens which dominate the Loire.

The genesis of the castle of Amboise

From the origines until 1431

The headland of Châteliers establishes from the Neolithic an ideal observation post of the Loire and one of its tributaries, the Amasse. The overhang of about forty meters offers an exceptional natural defense. The city becomes the main estate of the Turones, a Celtic people who gives its name to the future province of Touraine. The site is strengthened from this period.

The Roman legions also occupied the strengthened site. Local chronicles tell that Julius Caesar (100 before J.-C.-44 before J.-C) himself would have been seduced by the oppidum of Amboise.

However, the site durably enters the history books because of the meeting between Clovis (towards 466-481-511), king of Francs and Alaric (? - 484-507), king of Visigoths. After the disturbed period of the Norman invasions, Amboise joins the domain of the counts of Anjou, then the one of the house of Amboise-Chaumont. In 1214, Touraine is surrounded by Philippe Auguste (1165-1180-1223), king of France. The family of Amboise-Chaumont then becomes his vassal..

But in 1431, Louis d' Amboise (1392-1469) is condemned to death for having plotted against the favorite of king Charles VII (1403-1422-1461), Trémouille (1384-1446). Finally pardoned, Louis d'Amboise however has to give up the castle of Amboise, seized for the benefit of the Crown..

Then, the most luxurious days of the castle began, in particular under the reigns of kings of France Louis XI, Charles VIII and François I who made shine in Amboise a particularly rich court life.

Amboise home of the court of France

 XVth and XVIth centuries

The arrival to Bourges of Charles VII (1403-1422-1461) and of his wife Marie d' Anjou (1404-1463) marks the beginning of the stay of kings of France in Val de Loire. However, the latter prefers the castles of Loches and Chinon to the Castle strengthened of Amboise.

His son, Louis XI (1423-1461-1483), will live in his castle of Plessis-Lès-Tours ( La Riche). However, he chooses Amboise as the residence of the queen, Charlotte de Savoie (1441/1461/1483), and of the heir apparent - future Charles VIII (1470-1483-1498) – born in Amboise in 1470. He makes build a new lodging house and an oratory, supported against the outer wall in the South, at the origin of the future Chapel Saint Hubert.

Charles VIII (1470-1483-1498) and his wife, Anne de Bretagne (1477/1491-1498/1499-1514), mark durably Amboise.The attachment which king keeps for the castle of his childhood certainly has a lot to do with his will to transform the former medieval fortified town into a luxurious Gothic palace. Charles VIII is also the great architect of the castle because he orders successively the construction of two lodging houses of splendor, a chapel in the location of the oratory set up by his father.

Besides, he orders the construction of two cavalier towers (the third was not finished) in exceptional sizes. These allow horses and harnesses to connect to the city with the terraces of the castle situated 40 meters above. This construction site of an exceptional scale mobilizes the royal treasure and continues in spite of military campaigns led in the Italian peninsula.

Innovative techniques are even worked out to warm stones and avoid their frost in winter to continue the work. The King calls on the French masons and the Flemish sculptors then from his return of Italy, to transalpine artists: joiners; gardeners; architects. The castle counts then 220 rooms.

A citadel, stage of the sovereigns of France

XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries 

At the end of the XVIth century, Amboise keeps its function of strong place because of its strategic position, but becomes a stage of the French sovereigns who stay there punctually thanks to their travels inside the kingdom, like Henri IV (1553-1589-1610), Louis XIII (1601-1610-1643), Louis XIV (1638-1643-1715) or Philippe duc d’Anjou (1683- 1700/1724-1746), his grandson, future Philippe V of Spain..

Louis XIII orders however in 1620 the construction of new defenses. But for lack of maintenance, the Castle degrades gradually: main buildings of the western surrounding wall of the Castle (between the Chapel Saint Hubert and the Lodging house Charles VIII) are demolished between 1627 and 1660. Amboise serves besides as prison. Famous prisoners are held there, like Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680), superintendent of the Finances of Louis XIV, rejected in 1661. He is escorted by the famous captain of musketeers d’Artagnan (by 1615-1673) during this stay.

Amboise goes out finally of his sleep in the XVIIIth century with Etienne-François, duc de Choiseul (1719-1785), powerful Secretary of Louis XV (1710-1715-1774). He becomes the owner in 1763 at the same time as of the domain of Chanteloup where he makes build a luxurious castle in the taste of the moment. So he prefers to live there rather than in the citadel of Amboise where he installs factories.

At the death of Choiseul, his immense property is bought back by the Crown to be sold in 1786 to Louis-Jean-Marie de Bourbon, duc de Penthièvre (1725-1793), grandson legitimized of Louis XIV. He fits out apartments there from 1789; he proceeds to the destruction of columns and to the subdivision of Big Room. He makes fit out a panoramic dining room on the Tower of the Juniors. He orders works in gardens: he makes crash lime trees in staggered rows on the North terrace and fits out a park of English style. In the western point of the fortress, he makes build a pagoda on the Garçonnet tower, in the Chinese style..

In 1789, the lodging house of Seven Virtues undergoes a fire.

The castel of Amboise and its gardens © OTBC

A detention center in the Revolution

The Revolution changes definitively the fate of the Castle. In 1793, the authorities seize the Castle and its furniture to make a detention center as well as barracks for the veterans of campaigns led by the revolutionary armies.

In this dismantling, the main part of the decoration of the Castle also disappear: panellings, fireplaces, sculptor, paint, ironworks, joinery, etc. … After a short-lived hope to get back their properties, the heiress of the duc de Penthièvre, Louise-Marie-Adelaïde, duchess of Orléans exiles following the Coup d'état of Fructidor 18th of the Year V (in September 4th, 1797) and under the decree which obliges Bourbons to leave France..

Insults and revival of an ancient memorial

XIXth and XXth centuries 

The Consulate (1799-1804) and the Empire (1804-1814/1815) open a new page in the life of the Castle. Amboise is offered in 1803 to Senator Roger Ducos (1747-1816), former member of the Management Board, whom the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte (future Napoleon 1st ) (1769-1799/1804-1814-1815-1821) wish to thank for his help in the seizure of power.

To “renovate the Castle”, the Senator orders from 1806 the destruction of in ruin buildings (the adjacent lodging house of Seven Virtues and nearby buildings) or useless ones. In particular, he makes break down the wing Henri II and the Saint Florentine collegiate church (building of the XIth century) and the canonical house. The garden is also reshaped. All the works are finished in 1811..

In 1814, during the first Restoration, the Castle is given back to the heiress of the duke of Penthièvre, Louise-Marie-Adélaïde of Bourbon, duchess of Orléans (1753-1821) gone back from her Spanish exile. Having temporarily - during the Hundred Days - found back its vocation of prison fortress, Amboise is definitively given back to the family of Orléans in 1815.

In her death, the duchess passes on the domain of Amboise to her son Louis-Philippe (1773-1830/1848-1850), future king of French people. He makes proceed to renovations to transform the castle into holiday resort. These works are entrusted to the renowned architect Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853) and to his follower, Pierre-Bernard Lefranc (1795-1856). King Louis-Philippe 1st, vocal advocate of the French heritage, supports the classification of the symbolic monuments of the national History, in the front row of which represents Amboise, classified from 1840.

The castle of Amboise above the Loire. © OTBC

The castle is placed under sequestration

The Revolution of 1848 causes the exile of Louis-Philippe Ist and the castle of Amboise is placed under sequestration. This place is again allocated to the detention of a leading prisoner, Emir Abd el-Kader (1808-1883) leader fallen of the Algerian rebellion, who is imprisoned there with his staff from November, 1848.

The promise made to the Emir during his surrender to transfer him in ground of Islam will be honored only four years later by prince-president Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-1848/1852-1873), who came to Amboise to inform him of his release in October, 1852.

The Emir leaves France for Brousse, Constantinople (Turkey) then Damascus (Syria). But he leaves behind him sincere friendships knotted with people from Amboise and memory of 25 members of his staff died then interred in the Castle. People from Amboise contributes moreover to the construction of a mausoleum on a terrace of the castle in 1853 (the "Garden of East", designed by Rachid Koraïchi, was fitted out on the place of graves and mausoleum in 2005).

The return of the domain in the holdings of the Orléans

The fall of the Second Empire (1852-1870) and the advent of the IIIth Republic (1870-1940) mark the return of the domain in the holdings of the Orléans. A vast program of catering of the castle is hired to the initiative of Philippe (1838-1894), Count of Paris and grandson of Louis Philippe Ist. The castle being inventoried from now on as an ancient memorial, the State appoints an architect to lead the construction work. He calls upon Victor-Marie-Charles Ruprich Robert (1820-1887) and his son Gabriel after him, both inspectors of historic monuments. They realize a work of remarkable restoration on the Chapel Saint Hubert, the lodging house Charles VIII and the Tour des Minimes (1874-1879), then of the Renaissance wing (1896-1897) and of the Heurtault Tower (1906).

The duke of Aumale (1822-1897) makes accelerate the works. He dies three years later and the castle, which already sheltered a workhouse, is transformed in 1901 according to its wishes into a health center for the former servants of his family. The castle of Amboise is integrated into the heritage of the Civil society of the domain of Dreux created in 1886 to manage the historical heritage of the House of France.

The Second World War

The last tragic episode for the Castle and the city of Amboise takes place during the Second World War. From September 4th, 1939, the castle is requisitioned. The access of the tourists to the chapel and to the covered way of the Tower Heurtault is maintained until May 22nd, 1940.

In June, 1940, the French army in full collapse withdraws gradually in the South of the Loire. From 4th till 15th June 1940, the royal lodging house of the castle is so the short-lived seat of the Ministry of the Air which pursues then his fold towards Bordeaux.

On June 18th and 19th, 1940, a regiment of Senegalese infantrymen resists with a remarkable bravery to the entry of the German troops in Amboise. Damage to property is important (a hundred of shells falls on the castle) and affect the Chapel, the Garçonnet tower and that of the Minimes. After its evacuation, the castle suffers during 15 days from the uncontrolled influx of refugees and from German troops. Then it is used by the troops of occupation as warehouse of weapons and post of communication and air detection.

In July, 1944, it undergoes an allied bombardment which damages the facades of the lodging house, the stained-glass windows and the roof of the chapel Saint Hubert. On August 1st, 1944, the castle is left by the last units of the German army.

The inventory of the damages is realized a few days later. The State brings its help to the campaign of catering hired from 1952.

The Civil society of the domain of Dreux is transformed in 1974 into the Saint-Louis Foundation thanks to the evolution of the legislation on the management of cultural property. The Foundation, owner of the place, launches an important program of restoration and development of the monument.