Situated on a promontory overlooking the Loire, Chaumont’s disposition is similar to that of Amboise. From the terrace, the view of the Loire valley is wonderful. A lovely park surrounds the castle. The buildings, whose feudal harshness is softened by the castle’s Renaissance aspects, are topped off by luxurious stables, vestiges of a time gone by.
Ancient fortress, twice razed, Chaumont was rebuilt from 1465 to 1510 by Peter of Amboise, his eldest child of 17 children – Charles I of Amboise, and his grandson Charles II. The latter, thanks to his uncle, Cardinal George of Amboise, who had won great favor with Louis XII, was Grand Master of the king’s house, Marshal, Admiral of France and Lieutenant General in Italy.
In 1560, Catherine de Medici, the widow of Henry II, acquired the castle in spiteful revenge of Diane of Poitiers, the mistress of the late king. The queen forced her rival to give up her favorite residence, Chenonceaux, in exchange for Chaumont.
The passage of Catherine de Medici at Chaumont and the existence of a room connected to a tower by a stairway, sets the imagination in motion. The room was made into an office for Ruggieri, the queen’s astrologer, and the tower into an observatory where Catherine and her Kabbala master asked questions of the stars. It is at Chaumont, it is claimed, that the queen read into future the somber destiny which awaited here three sons: Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III, as well as the rise of the Bourbons with Henry IV. As for Diane, Chaumont could not hold her affections, and she lived out her days in the castle of Anet.
Mass Produced Medallions
In the 18th century, one of its owners, Le Ray, intendant of Les Invalides, hired the services of the Italian artist Nini, famous for his glass engravings and ceramics. He paid him 1200 pounds per year, plus room and heat. Nini set up his workshop in the stables and his oven in an old dovecote, which was later turned into a practice area where the children at the castle learned horseback riding. Nini created several reproductions of medallions of over a hundred well-known personalities of the time, thanks to a hollow mould.
Le Ray made a huge profit from this new, industrial method of portrait making.
Madame de Staël (beginning of the 19th century)
Exiled from Paris by Napoleon, she stayed a short while at Chaumont. To her hosts, who extolled the scenery of the Loire, she responded with melancholy, “Indeed, the sight is wonderful, but how I long for my little brook in Bac Street.”
A ten minute climb up a shaded pathway, which provides vistas of the Loire, leads to the castle – an agreeable promenade which takes you through the lovely park of old cedar trees.
The exterior façade to the west is the oldest and has a rather severe military air to it. Most of the existing windows were not there originally. The two other façades, while maintaining their feudal appearance, were influenced by the Renaissance.
At the ground floor level, one finds a frieze which carries the intertwined “C”s of Charles of Amboise and his wife Catherine, as well as the castle rebus: a burning mountain or “chaud mont”.
In front of each machicolation are the carved emblems of Diane of Poitiers: two « D »s interlaced; or the hunting horn, the bow and the quiver – attributes of the huntress Diana.
Behind the drawbridge, the entry door is decorated with the coat of arms of France with the initials of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany. On the left tower is a sculpture of the hat of the Cardinal of Amboise. On the right tower, the coat of arms of Charles of Amboise; Admiral and Marshal of France.These emblems are protected by kiosks, where Gothic elements mix with the Italian Renaissance.
Entering the courtyard, one first finds oneself on the terrace. It was built in the 18th century, where the north wing of the castle was toppled by a châtelain who preferred to have a view of the spendid scenery of the Loire.
The appartments are made up of, among others, the rooms of the two rivals, Catherine de Medici and Diane of Poitiers, as well as that of Ruggieri. They have beautiful tapestries, some fine furniture and a collection of terra cotta medallions created by Nini.
The stables are located 50 meters from the castle. Their size and their luxury give an idea of the importance these noble beasts had among princely families.