Tag Archives: Chateau de Maintenon

Versailles Palaces: Grandiose, (Merely) Grand, and Petit


Even the Sun King himself sometimes tired of the over-the-top splendor he had created at Versailles.  He heard Mass daily in his spectacular Royal Chapel, around 10:00.

Louis XIV by Rigaud, Public Domain

Louis XIV by Rigaud, Public Domain

I read somewhere that courtiers attending mass were seated such that they looked at the King in his elevated gallery.  Right now I can’t verify that, but it makes some sense.  The chapel was built and carefully decorated to celebrate the association between Louis XIV and his namesake, the only French king who became an actual saint:  Louis IX, AKA St. Louis the Confessor.

Grand Trianon, Azurfrog, Creative Commons Share Alike Attribution

Grand Trianon, Azurfrog, Creative Commons Share Alike Attribution

Louis XIV was anything but saintly in his younger years. He built a smaller palace, the Grand Trianon, as a private retreat where he could take his mistresses and closest friends. It originally had a facade of blue and white porcelain tiles, following the rage for Delft tiles. But the tiles deteriorated quickly.  The Grand Trianon was rebuilt in red marble.  By the time it was finished, in 1688, the Sun King had repented of his wild youth and “secretly” married the Marquise de Maintenon.


Louis XV, the successor to the Sun King, built himself a smaller palace yet: the Petit Trianon. Not many tourists make the trek to see it.



Marie Antoinette famously frolicked with her friends in the Petit Trianon. It’s my personal favorite at Versailles.


Louis XIV ended up spending a lot of time away from Versailles altogether, once he had all his nobles gathered there where he could control them.  Instead he went off to the absolutely charming chateau that he gave to the “secret” wife who tamed him in his old age.

Madame de Maintenon, Public Domain

Madame de Maintenon, Public Domain

It seems that even an absolute monarch with the world at his feet eventually can settle down.  Madame de Maintenon came in for a lot of criticism for taking the King away from the goings-on at Versailles, but I like to think the two of them were very happy together.

I wrote about the beautiful Chateau de Maintenon in these previous posts:




Castle or Cottage, It’s All in the Details

MaintChateauI love architectural details: the curve of a stairwell, a finely carved door, a charming round tower. These small details make a place individual and personal.  I can imagine real people dreaming about a house or cottage or castle, debating the details, and watching their plans take shape.

The most interesting details often appear in smaller dwellings, places that were likely planned by individuals instead of royal committees. The Chateau de Maintenon, near Chartres in France, is a fine example. Building was begun in the 10th century. As ownership changed, families in succeeding centuries refined and added to this exquisite chateau, but it remains an intimate family home rather than a grand showpiece. In fact, although it is now open to the public, the family still occupies one private wing.


The north facade has rounded enclosures for stairwells with towers and an archway for carriages to pass under the building.


An interior circular stairway has sinuous curves and intricately patterned column supports.


An exterior doorway is elaborately framed in Gothic stone. Entering that ancient doorway is an occasion in itself.


An interior doorway has very old “linen fold” pleats carved from sturdy ancient oak.


This was the chateau given to Madame de Maintenon, the third and final wife of Louis the Sun King.  He was happy to escape the hubbub of Versailles in his old age and spend quiet time here.  I’d be happy to revisit this chateau anytime myself!

Previous posts about Chateau de Maintenon are at https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/05/07/chateau-de-maintenon/

and  https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/06/10/jean-de-noaill…nch-resistance/

and  https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/06/18/three-slugs-and-a-cabbage/

and  https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/05/15/louis-xiv-a-very-thirsty-king/

Wow, I guess I really liked this particular chateau! Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe.





Three Slugs and a Cabbage: Celebrating Andre Le Notre, Master Gardener


Actually, I should make that “trois escargots et un chou.” That was the tongue-in-cheek coat of arms chosen by the great French landscape architect, Andre le Notre, when a grateful King Louis XIV ennobled him.


Le Notre was born into a family of gardeners; his family lived in a house in the Tuileries, in the very shadow of the Louvre when it was still a royal palace.  He was a humble man; he always called himself “just a gardener.”  He never wrote any treatises on his work; he let his gardens speak for themselves. He developed the French formal garden into a sublime art form and an expression of the most current scientific thought as well.

photo (37)

Le Notre worked on the formal gardens at Chantilly, Vaux-le-Vicompte, Fontainebleau, and many other chateaux.  His work culminated in the spectacular grounds at Versailles.  A more modest example of his work is at the Chateau de Maintenon, home of the King’s final and “secret” wife.


While wandering in this beautiful manicured garden, I could hardly bear to think of my raggedy yard at home.  Then I came upon a photo of the staff employed to maintain even this small and modest French formal garden, and I felt better!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Jean de Noailles: A Hero of the French Resistance


The Allied forces that liberated Europe from Nazi rule received a lot of help from members of the Resistance in various countries.  Jean de Noailles was one of them.  I came upon a family photograph of him when I recently visited the Chateau de Maintenon near Chartres in France.



(I wrote about this chateau in two previous posts, “Chateau de Maintenon” and “Louis XIV: A Very Thirsty King”). The de Noailles family still occupies the chateau they inherited from the “secret” wife of King Louis XIV.  They are justifiably proud of their lineage–in fact, a very grand gallery displays large portraits of various illustrious ancestors.

Jean de Noailles would have been the 9th Duke, but he died before his father. During World War II, he was an active member of the French Resistance.  Born in 1893, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942. he was imprisoned and tortured first at their Paris headquarters on avenue Foch, then sent to Compiegne in France, then to Buchenwald-Flossenburg, and finally to Bergen-Belsen.  He died there just a few days before the camp was liberated at the end of the war. By all reports, he never handed over any useful information to the Nazis.  They may have kept him alive in hopes of eventually getting information, or they may simply have been reluctant to actually execute a member of a noble family.  (In Germany, the ruling Wittelsbachs were placed in a concentration camp, but given private lodgings and more food than the run of political prisoners).

What would make a Duke risk his life to resist tyranny, when so many ordinary French people went quietly about their lives during the war, and so many cooperated enthusiastically with the Nazis? When I ask that question, I have to ask what I would have done.  We can be grateful to those who did give their lives in the cause of freedom.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!


Louis XIV: A Very Thirsty King

Louis XIV by Rigaud, Public Domain

Louis XIV by Rigaud, Public Domain

When Louis XIV, aka the Sun King, decided to build the palace to end all palaces at Versailles, he was as interested in the grounds as in the palace itself.  He envisioned a paradise of gardens, 50 fountains, many interconnected canals and little wooded glens.  All this took a tremendous amount of water–which the landscape of Versailles did not have.  But he was the King, and ALL the water in the land was his by right.  So he set his engineers to work changing the course of every river he could get his hands on.

Versailles, Copyleft Free Art License

Versailles, Copyleft Free Art License

It was impossible to operate all or even very many of the fountains at the same time, even as they were being built. Workers developed a system of tracking the king and warning other workers with whistles, so that whenever the king strolled into view of a particular fountain, water could gush forth.

By 1685, Louis had exhausted all the nearby sources of water.  By this time, he had taken up with Madame de Maintenon–whose Chateau happened to sit directly on the River Eure.  Never one to do things by halves, Louis ordered his engineers to divert the water 50 miles from Maintenon to Versailles.  And he wanted the job done in grand fashion, as the Caesars had done it.  So a viaduct was begun.  During the year 1685, 10,000 troops were pressed into service for the grand building project.  In 1686, 20,000 troops were hard at work.  Unfortunately, Louis had embarked on one of his many wars, and it was hard to justify using 1/10 of his entire military force to water his gardens. He was short of cash, too. The project was abandoned, still 18 miles short of Versailles.


Today the viaduct is a romantic ruin that only adds to the charm of the Chateau de Maintenon.


The River Eure runs undisturbed, and the Chateau’s gardens are well watered.  Louis XIV had to do without, for once in his long life.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!


Chateau de Maintenon


MaintChateauMy new second-favorite chateau is one I had never even heard of until my recent trip to France. (My favorite chateau is the incomparable Chenonceau, which was built spanning a river in the Loire Valley). The story of how a penniless woman, born in a prison, came to be the second wife of the Sun King is strange but true. Chateau de Maintenon is close to the cathedral city of Chartres, and I came across a brochure about it in the Chartres tourist office.

Madame de Maintenon, Public Domain

Madame de Maintenon, Public Domain


The woman who eventually became Madame de Maintenon was Francoise d’Aubigne, born in the prison where her ne’er-do-well father was incarcerated in 1635.  She married an invalid older man, an aristocrat who brought her into the highest social circles before obligingly dying and leaving her with a sizable royal pension. After awhile, though, Louis XIV suspended the pension and she was left high and dry. One of her friends was the current favorite mistress of the King, the Marquise de Montespan. Francoise became the caretaker of the King’s many illegitimate children with his favorite mistress, about 8 as far as anybody knows.  Francoise was discreet and did her job well.  The King rewarded her with a pile of money, which she used to buy the Chateau in the town of Maintenon.

Eventually the King tired of the ill-tempered Montespan, and took up with Francoise, giving her the title Marquise of Maintenon. The King’s wife died.  He was in his early forties, beginning to feel like an old man, and beginning to be concerned about his sins.  He married the Marquise sometime in 1685-1686. She remained at his side for 30 years, his most trusted confidant for the rest of his long life.  The marriage was officially secret, but courtiers had to accept the low-born Marquise de Maintenon as a permanent fixture, like it or not. It was a seventeenth-century version of an old story:  the rich man marries the nanny. (In this case, the nanny was actually a few years older than the King, and considered overly pious in the French court. But Louis appreciated her qualities).


Today the chateau and its gardens are lovely and as inviting as they must have been when the King used the Chateau as a homey escape from the crowds at Versailles. The Marquise was given rooms adjoining the King’s at Versailles and in all the other royal residences, so she rarely had time to visit her own beloved chateau once she was married.  For the rest of her life, though, she had flowers and foods grown on her estate delivered to her.

Join me next time for more explorations in the fascinating art and history of Europe!