Cháteau de Angers

Angers, France

The Cháteau d'Angers is a castle founded in the 9th century by the Counts of Anjou. It was expanded to its current size in the 13th century. Originally, the castle was built as a fortress at one of the sites inhabited by the Romans because of its strategic defensive location. In the 9th century, the Bishop of Angers gave the Counts of Anjou permission to build a castle in Angers. It became part of the Angevin empire of the Plantagenet Kings of England during the 12th century. In 1204, the region was conquered by Philip II and an enormous castle was built during the minority of his grandson, Louis IX in the early part of the 13th century. The construction undertaken in 1234 cost 4,422 livres, roughly one per cent of the estimated royal revenue at the time.

In 1352, King John II gave the castle to his second son, Louis who later became count of Anjou. Married to the daughter of the wealthy Duke of Brittany, Louis had the castle modified, and in 1373 commissioned the famous Apocalypse Tapestry from the painter Hennequin de Bruges and the Parisian tapestry-weaver Nicolas Bataille.Louis II and Yolande d'Aragon added a chapel (1405-12) and royal apartments to the complex. The chapel is a sainte chapelle, the name given to churches which enshrined a relic of the Passion. The relic at Angers was a splinter of the fragment of the True Cross which had been acquired by Louis IX. In the early 15th century, the hapless dauphin who, with the assistance of Joan of Arc would become King Charles VII, had to flee Paris and was given sanctuary at the Cháteau d' Angers.

In 1562, Catherine de' Medici had the castle restored as a powerful fortress, but her son, Henry III, reduced the height of the towers and had the towers and walls stripped of their embattlements; Henry III used the castle stones to build streets and develop the village of Angers. Nonetheless, under threat of attacks from the Huguenots, the king maintained the castle's defensive capabilities by making it a military outpost and by installing artillery on the cháteau's upper terraces. At the end of the 18th century, as a military garrison, it showed its worth when its thick walls withstood a massive bombardment by cannons from the Vendean army. Unable to do anything else, the invaders simply gave up.

A military academy was established in the castle to train young officers in the strategies of war. In a twist of fate, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, best known for taking part in the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo, was trained at the Military Academy of Angers. Still a part of the French military, the chateau was severely damaged during World War II by the Nazis when an ammunition storage dump inside the castle exploded.

Today, owned by the City of Angers, the massive, austere castle has been converted to a museum housing the oldest and largest collection of medieval tapestries in the world, with the 14th century "Apocalypse Tapestry" as one of its priceless treasures. As a tribute to its fortitude, the castle has never been taken by any invading force in history.

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Founded: 9th century
Category: Castles and fortifications in France
Historical period: Frankish kingdoms (France)

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Château de Chaumont

The Château de Chaumont was founded in the 10th century by Odo I, Count of Blois. The purpose was to protect his lands from attacks from his feudal rivals, Fulk Nerra, Count of Anjou. On his behalf the Norman Gelduin received it, improved it and held it as his own. His great-niece Denise de Fougère, having married Sulpice d'Amboise, passed the château into the Amboise family for five centuries.

Pierre d'Amboise unsuccessfully rebelled against King Louis XI and his property was confiscated, and the castle was dismantled on royal order in 1465. It was later rebuilt by Charles I d'Amboise from 1465–1475 and then finished by his son, Charles II d'Amboise de Chaumont from 1498–1510, with help from his uncle, Cardinal Georges d'Amboise; some Renaissance features were to be seen in buildings that retained their overall medieval appearance. The château was acquired by Catherine de Medici in 1550. There she entertained numerous astrologers, among them Nostradamus. When her husband, Henry II, died in 1559 she forced his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, to exchange Château de Chaumont for Château de Chenonceau which Henry had given to de Poitiers. Diane de Poitiers only lived at Chaumont for a short while.

Later Chaumont has changed hands several times. Paul de Beauvilliers bought the château in 1699, modernized some of its interiors and decorated it with sufficient grandeur to house the duc d'Anjou on his way to become king of Spain in 1700. Monsieur Bertin demolished the north wing to open the house towards the river view in the modern fashion.

In 1750, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray purchased the castle as a country home where he established a glassmaking and pottery factory. He was considered the French "Father of the American Revolution" because he loved America. However, in 1789, the new French Revolutionary Government seized Le Ray's assets, including his beloved Château de Chaumont.

The castle has been classified as a Monument historique since 1840 by the French Ministry of Culture. The Château de Chaumont is currently a museum and every year hosts a Garden Festival from April to October where contemporary garden designers display their work in an English-style garden.