Everyone loves to admire the beauty of the châteaux and wander through the inspiring gardens, but just what is the history of these places? What was life really like for the people of the court or the peasants working there? Let’s take a leap into history and find out.
Loire Valley became a favorite place for French royalty
It was during the Renaissance (1498 – 1547) that the Loire Valley became a favorite place for French royalty. Beautiful chateaux sprung up, replacing or remodeling little by little the fortresses of the middle-ages. Each one has its own story and architectural beauty.
We’ll start our history review in 1515 when France was under Francois I’s rule. It was under Francois I that he centralized France’s authority and declared an absolute monarchy. He reorganized state finances and imposed the French language. After being crowned in Reims, hailed in Paris, he brought his court to the Loire Valley.
Francois I was impressed by the Renaissance art and lifestyle while he was fighting battles in Italy (family disputes over inheritance – Francois I was also Duke of Milan). He convinced Leonardo DaVinci to return to France with him and offered him a small chateau Clos St Luce. Leonardo thus brought his genie to France influencing many of the chateaux under construction notably parts of the architecture of Chambord, whose construction was supervised by his assistant Domenico Bernabei da Cortona, another Renaissance architect hired to build a hunting quarters for Francois.
t’s not surprising Francois I chose Clos St Luce for Leonardo DaVinci. François, himself was raised in the nearby Chateau d’Ambroise by his mother and aunt after the death of his father. Since Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne failed to have a son and an heir to the throne. It was decided that their daughter Claude de France betroth her cousin Francois and that the throne would go to him. They invited Francois to grow up in Amboise and as an adult loaned him Chateau de Blois.
The Loire Valley and its chateaux are recognized world-wide, classified as a UNESCO heritage site
Life in the courtyard of Francois I meant lots of parties and costumed balls. DaVinci was also in charge of designing costumes for these parties. Francois I liked to travel and see his kingdom. Each time he planned a trip that meant decorating or remodeling a chateau, preparing a parade, and costumed balls. It’s said that when he arrived in Paris for the first time as king he wore a silver costume decorated with jewels and as he rode through the crowd on his horse he threw out pieces of gold.
Little to say, the state’s finances dropped. And it wasn’t in an easy context that his successors took over France.
What does remain are the monumental chateaux, marking an important period in the history of France. Today the Loire Valley and its chateaux are recognized world-wide, classified as a UNESCO heritage site.