The Loire River
The Loire is at the heart of France, its land and culture. The Loire is the longest river in France. It runs 1,012 kilometres to its mouth at Saint Nazaire, draining over 20% of France's land area into the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean. Its lower valley from Orléans to Nantes is the home of much of French culture, especially its language. The Académie Française considers the form of the French language spoken in the lower Loire valley to be the standard.
How do you speak French correctly?
They way they do along the Loire.
The Académie Française is a French government council founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. It acts as an official authority on the vocabulary, grammar, and use of the language. Part of this is a struggle against encroachments of English. It recommends that the English words like computer and software not be used, as French already had ordinateur and logiciel for those concepts before the technology became popular outside academia.
Back to the river.
The Loire river starts in the Cévennes highlands along the southeastern area of the Massif Central, between St. Etienne and Nîmes. It flows north, parallel and quite close to the Rhône past Lyons, and then curves to the northwest. It reaches its northernmost point near Orléans and then runs roughly west through Amboise, Tours, Saumur, and Nantes.
The upper Loire once continued north before it reached the area of present-day Orléans to join with the predecessor of the Seine. The lower Loire of that era started near the location of present-day Orléans. Tectonic uplift during the Pleistocene epoch (about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago) changed the course of the paleo-Loire-Seine river [see here and here]. The upper Loire changed course and joined the formerly independent lower Loire to form one long river.
Humans have lived along the Loire since 40,000 to 90,000 years ago in the Palaeolithic period. Neanderthal inhabitants used stone tools to form tree trunks into boats. Anatomically modern humans arrived around 30,000 years ago. By about 5000 to 4000 BC they were cutting down trees to raise crops and livestock along the river.Marseille
Greek settlers from Phocaea founded a colony on the Mediterranean around 600 BC. They called it Μασσαλία, which we spell Massalia or Massilia. Today it's Marseille.
The Phoenicians and Greeks sailed up the Rhône from the Mediterranean coast near Massalia to the site of today's Lyons. They used horses to carry goods west from there over the relatively short distance to the Loire. They then sailed from there to the river's mouth at the Atlantic coast and back, joining the Mediterranean to the Atlantic mostly by boat with just a short overland connection by horse.
This trade between Greece and the Celts made Massalia quite wealthy. It was the first Greek settlement given the status of πολίς (that is, polis or city) in the territory of what is today's France. The colony established the Treasury of Massalia at Delphi, the major religious center back in central Greece.
The Romans came in next, subduing the Gauls in 52 BC. After 16 AD the Loire river valley became part of the Roman province of Aquitainia.
By 400 the Roman Empire was fading away. The Franks and Alemanni moved into the area from the east. An Iranian tribe calling themselves the Alan, their dialect's pronunciation of Aryan, had migrated out of central Asia in the 1st century to occupy an area between the Don river and the Caspian sea. Josephus mentioned them: "Now there was a nation of the Alans, which we have formerly mentioned somewhere as being Scythians, and inhabiting at the Lake Meotis." They crossed the Rhine in 406 with the Vandals and Suebi, and a large group of them settled along the middle Loire in 408. After the end of the 5th century the Alans were absorbed into the warring Franks and Visigoths. Many place names in today's France are related to "Alan", as are many family names "Allaines" around Orléans. The personal name "Alan", which comes from Brittany, seems to also come from these Iranian people.Norsemen in
The Norse began raiding the west coast in the 9th century. The Old Norse word víkingr has to do with the activity of raiding, and didn't originally refer to the people doing the raiding. But the Norsemen did a lot of víkingr. They went up the Loire in their longboats to Tours (destroyed in 853) and Angers (destroyed in 854 and 872).
The lower Loire was the border between the French and the English during the Hundred Years' War, which actually went on for the 116 years from 1337 to 1453.
1 Rue Volney
We were staying at the Hotel le Volney in Saumur.
There is frequent passenger rail service to Saumur. But be aware that the train station is on the north side of the very wide Loire river, putting it a kilometer away from the center of the city.
See the below map from the Perry-Castañeda Map Collection. We will travel upriver to Fontevraud, near where the Vienne joins the Loire, and then continue up the Vienne to Chinon. Another day we will drive along the Loire through Tours to Amboise and the Château de Chenonceau built along the Cher river between Blére and Montrichard, southeast of Amboise. We will go south from Saumur to Montreuil-Bellay, and then to the northwest from Saumur downstream along the Loire as far as Gennes, visiting Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Floret and Chênehutte-Trèves-Cunault.
à la Loire
The Loire, Rhône, and Seine are still used for transport today, although the railroads began competing for freight business in the 1840s. Canals such as the Canal Latéral à la Loire provided efficient water transport without the problems caused by fluctuating river water levels and shifting channels and sandbars. The name Loire comes from the Latin Liger, which is from the native Gaulish or Celtic name Liga, which means silt, sediment, or deposit. Today the Loire is officially navigable only as far upstream as Bouchemaine (as in Maine-Mouth), where its tributary the Maine river joins the Loire near Angers. Below is a view of the broad, shallow, slow-moving Loire at Saumur.
Neolithic and Chalcolithic (that is, Late Stone Age and Copper Age) people built megalithic structures around Saumur in the period 3000-1200 BC. One of them now just outside Saumur is 17.3 meters long by 5.4 meters wide and 3.1 meters high. It is the largest dolmen in France, the largest in all of Europe in terms of enclosed volume, and the second longest in Europe.
There was very little sign of a settlement at Saumur's location on the Loire before the Dark Ages. It emerges out of complete obscurity when the Norse leader Hasting sacked the settlement in 845. Of course, that general lack of information is why we call them the Dark Ages.
The nobility began building châteaux or fortresses in the 10th century. Thibaut the Trickster, the Count of Blois and Chartres, built the first version of the Château of Saumur in 960 to defend against Norse raids coming up the Loire. In the late 900s Gelduin, the lord of Saumur, was a vassal of the Counts of Blois, making the town an enemy of Fulk III, the Count of Anjou. The château was destroyed in 1067, and then rebuilt by Henry II of England in the late 12th century.
The French kings began building structures after the Hundred Years' War that were fortresses but with aesthetic embellishments. The nobility wanted to be near the source of power, so more construction started. The architects competed to build ever more lavish châteaux. Now over 300 major châteaux lie near the Loire from Nevers downstream.
Saint Louis added reinforcements to the Château of Saumur in 1227. Louis of Anjou replaced the earlier round towers with octagonal ones in 1367. King René of Anjou (1409-1480) made significant improvements to the entire complex, as the Italian Bartolomeo did in the 1500.
The Château of Saumur was converted to an army barracks in 1621. It was then converted into a national prison under Napoleon Bonaparte, and then into an ammunition depot.
We're cutting through some back roads on our way from Saumur to Fontevraud across the higher ground above Montsoreau. The Loire Valley wine region includes 87 appellations under the systems of Appellation d'origine contrôlée or AOC, Vin Délimité de Qualité Superioeure or VDQS, and the Vin de pays. The wines are mainly white, from the Chenin blanc, Sauvignon blanc, and Melon de Bourgogne grape strains.
Large sunflower farms are also located throughout the area.
Saumur is just off the west edge of this map. Montsoreau is along the south bank of the Loire just downstream or west of where the Vienne joins it. Fontevraud l'Abbaye is south of Montsoreau. Chinon is further upstream along the Vienne, to the east and a little south. In the coming sections we will visit Fontevraud l'Abbaye and Chinon and then stop for dinner at Montsoreau on the way back to Saumur.
Note that you sometimes see Fontevrault in English as in some of these maps, and that is an older name for the commune, but the name of the abbey and current name of the location is Fontevraud.
The Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud is a former Benedictine abbey founded in 1101. This is one of the largest monastic complexes in Europe.
This was originally a mixed monastery with both men and women in the same buildings. It was later expanded into multiple monasteries with the sexes segregated. The Counts of Anjou protected it from the beginning as it was in their territory. Then the Plantagenet dynasty that ruled England and half of France supported it, with prominent members buried in the main abbey church.
The French Revolution shut down religious establishments including this one. It was converted into a prison, and operated as such until 1963.
The complex is built from the soft limestone underlying the region. The stone was quarried nearby.
Pope Urban II visited Angers in 1096 and appointed Robert Arbrissel, a monk and hermit, to a mission position in this area. Robert traveled from settlement to settlement, establishing a large following of men and women from various social classes. He founded the Abbey of Fontevraud in 1099-1101, mixing men and women in violation of the usual rules.
There was a hermitic practice of συνείσακτοι or syneisaktisme, an ascetic practice of chaste cohabitation intended to overcome carnal desire. It came from the Desert Fathers and was more common in Celtic monasticism than in continental Europe, with Robert's group the most prominent European example. They even slept together. Robert made a point of only sleeping with the former prostitutes, not the noble women, at least most of the time.
Pope Gregory VII had initiated a series of reforms during his 1073-1085 papacy. Those reforms reached Fontevraud's co-ed abbey around 1100 and put an end to their syneisaktisme practice. In 1101 the mixed house was split into a double order: the Monastery Saint-Jean-de-Habit for the men and the Monastery of the Grand Moûtier for the women. They soon created two more organizations: the Monastery of the Madeleine for repentant sinners and the Saint-Lazare Convent for Lepers. Since we're all sinners and we should all be repentant, I suspect the Monastery of the Madeleine specialized in Robert's former sleeping partners.
The changes led to the bishop of Poitiers and Pope Pascal II recognizing the order of Fontevraud in 1106.
What is the difference between an Abbey and a Monastery?Glastonbury
Abbeys and monasteries are similar religious organizations. A simple explanation is that "monastery" is the general term, and an abbey is a monastery of higher ecclesiastic rank.
A monastery is a building or cluster of buildings containing the workplaces and housing of people following a religious way of life we call monasticism. That term comes from the Greek μοναχός, derived from μόνος, meaning alone. These could be men or women, monks or nuns, who have removed themselves from the secular world, and they might be Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or Jain. They might live in a tight-knit community, or they might be isolated hermits.Hermitages in
A monastery, at least in Christianity, might be an abbey under the rule of an abbot or abbess, or a priory under the rule of a prior or prioress (at lower rank than the abbot or abbess of an abbey), or a hermitage which is the dwelling of an individual hermit or anchorite or anchoress, derived from the Greek ἀναχωρέω, in turn from the ancient ἀναχωρητής.
By 1200 Fontevraud supported a hundred priories throughout France, and later expanded into Spain and England.
Fontevraud and the Plantagenets
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor of Aquitaine inherited the Duchy of Aquitaine, almost the southwestern quarter of today's France, from her father in 1137. Three months later, she married King Louis VII of France.
The two soon left on the Second Crusade, the first to be led by actual Kings. Louis VII led the French forces, and Conrad III led the Germans. Eleanor's uncle Raymond was Prince of the Crusader Kingdom of Antioch and he was looking for protection. Eleanor went to Vézelay, one of the purported locations of Mary Magdelaine's grave, to organize supporters. She recruited some of her royal ladies-in-waiting and 300 non-noble Aquitainian vassals, and insisted on accompanying the army.
The French and German armies took separate paths through central and eastern Europe. "Let's split up, we can do more damage that way." Manuel I Komnenos, the Byzantine Emperor, hindered the progress of the western European armies through Byzantine-controlled eastern Europe.
Louis and Eleanor had a grand time in Constantinople. They stayed for three weeks, attending feasts and seeing the many sights. Meanwhile the German army continued across Asia Minor toward Antioch.Constantinople
Eventually it was time to get the French army back on the march. The Byzantine Emperor told them that Conrad's German army had achieved a great victory against the Turkish forces. He may have told them that in order to get them out of town quicker. Louis and Eleanor had just reached Nicaea, not far from Constantinople at the eastern end of the Sea of Marmara, when Conrad and the battered survivors of the German army staggered into camp with a gruesome story of their defeat.Ephesus
The French, joined by some surviving German forces, continued into Asia Minor. They got as far as Ephesus before being attacked by a small Turkish detachment on what happened to be Christmas Eve. The French slaughtered those Turks and took over their camp.Olimpos
Louis decided to cross the Phrygian Mountains heading roughly toward Olimpos in order to take a more direct route to Antioch. Eleanor marched in the vanguard, the point group led by her Aquitainian vassal Geoffrey de Rancon. Louis decided to take charge of the rear of the column, with the unarmed pilgrims and baggage trains.
This was as far as the Germans had reached, and the French army was marching past unburied bodies of the recently massacred German army. Eleanor and the lead groups of the army crossed the highest point at Κάδμος or Mount Cadmus, known to the Turks as Baba Dağı. Then the Turks attacked the rear groups, both the armed groups toward the rear and the unarmed pilgrims and baggage and Louis at the very rear.
The Turkish attack took the French by surprise. The body count was high. Louis had dressed in a pilgrim's tunic instead of royal garb, so while his bodyguards' limbs were severed and skulls smashed, Louis managed to escape notice and survive. He reportedly "nimbly and bravely climbed a rock by making use of some tree roots which God had provided for his safety."
Eleanor was indirectly blamed for the disaster — her vassal Goeffrey de Rancon had made the decision to continue up and over the divide. As a non-noble, he was a convenient fall guy. Eleanor was further blamed for the size of the baggage train, and for the fact that her Aquitainian forces were marching at the front of the army and not toward the rear where the attack happened.
The army split. Royalty and upper nobility retreated to the coast and sailed to Antioch while the soldiers and commoners continued marching across Asia Minor.Aleppo
Things became tense once they arrived in Antioch. Eleanor's uncle Raymond, prince of the Crusader Kingdom of Antioch, pressured Louis to attack the Muslim army in Aleppo. That made the most military sense and it supported the Pope's objective of retaking Edessa, but Louis was much more interested in making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Eleanor was fed up with Louis and wanted to stay in Antioch. Sure, they had had some good times — marching across Europe, being fêted in Constantinople, the excitement in Asia Minor — but she wanted out of the marriage. She brought up the issue of the consanguinity between her and Louis. They were too closely related. Third cousins once removed, both descended from Robert II of France. That invalidated a marriage in medieval Europe.
Now Louis was the one who had had too much. He forcibly dragged Eleanor on to Jerusalem along with what remained of his army.Damascus
Louis got his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He later organized some military support from Conrad and King Baldwin III of Jerusalem and tried an attack on Damascus. This violated a truce between the rulers of Jerusalem and Damascus and ended in failure. Louis and Eleanor sailed for France in separate ships.
Their ships were attacked by Byzantine ships acting under orders of the Byzantine Emperor. Maybe they had left some bills unpaid in Constantinople. The attack and following storms separated the ships, with Eleanor's driven south to the Barbary Coast. When she arrived in Sicily two months later, she found that she and Louis had both been presumed dead. King Roger II of Sicily gave her food and board, and then Louis's ship eventually arrived. This may have come as a disappointment.
They stopped in Italy on their way to Marseille in order to get a divorce from Pope Eugene III, but he proclaimed that their marriage was legal. He had a special bed prepared for them, and told them to get into it and get down to business. Eleanor became pregnant, the Pope said "Problem solved!", and they sailed for Marseille and France.
To Louis' frustration, the result was only a second daughter. That was the end of it for Louis. He rounded up the Archbishops of Sens, Bordeaux, Rouens, and Reims and got the approval of the Pope. "Oh, you meant third cousin? Here's an annulment."
Eight weeks later, in May 1152, Eleanor married again.
Henry of Anjou becomes Henry II
Anjou was a county, a region ruled by a man ranked as Count in the hierarchy of European nobility. It was centered around the city of Angers in the lower Loire river valley, south of Normandy and lying between Paris and Brittany. Henry of Anjou was the Count of Anjou.
Henry married Eleanor almost as soon as her marriage to Louis was annulled. They were even more closely related, being third cousins and both descended from Robert II, but neither was looking to get out of this marriage. At least not yet.
With Anjou and Aquitaine, the couple now controlled the southwestern quarter to third of what today is France. They controlled more of France than any ruler since the Carolingians, Charlesmagne and his dynasty. Meanwhile the King of France only controlled the Île-de-France region surrounding Paris, and his "control" of that depended on the cooperation of the various nobility really running things at the local level.
The next year, 1154, Henry, Count of Anjou and husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine, also inherited control of the Duchy of Normandy and the throne of England. He became the English King Henry II. About half of the territory of today's France was now controlled by the newly-crowned King of England.
Henry and Eleanor first visited Fontevraud in 1154. They put their two children Jeanne and John, the future king of England, in the care of the monastery.
The rapid rise to power is the good news. But otherwise, things never went well for Henry II. Squabbling within his family led to multiple armed rebellions. He fathered eight children by Eleanor and several more by mistresses, and he and Eleanor argued frequently about more than just the mistresses. Chosen heirs died of dysentery and tournament accidents. Henry appointed his friend Thomas Beckett as Archbishop of Canterbury, but then Thomas didn't remain a compliant puppet. Henry muttered something about "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest" and then four knights promptly killed Thomas. Or at least Henry said something along those lines. The awkward part was that he was muttering about Thomas and four knights took that as an assassination tasking. Finally, he had Eleanor subjected to what we would call "house arrest" today, imprisoned in a series of royal castles for the last sixteen years of Henry's life.
Henry II died in Chinon in 1189, physically and morally exhausted by fighting one of his sons and the King of France. Not just arguing, but actual military action. He had asked to be buried in Grandmont in the Limousin, but he died in the summer and no one wanted to try to transport his body that distance through the summer heat. Fontevraud made a convenient burial place.
Henry's third son Richard, known as Richard Cœur de Lion or Richard Lionheart, was crowned as his successor. As a third son he hadn't been expected to rule, but those rebellions and tournament accidents had bumped him up in the queue. Like the ultimate American country music figure, his first act was to release his mother Eleanor from prison. Once crowned as King of England, he probably spent no more than six months in England. He started by riding off on the Third Crusade.
The point was to recapture the Holy Land from the forces of Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb, known as Saladin in the west, but Richard found more to do. He massacred 2,600 prisoners at Acre, deposed the King of Cyprus and sold the entire island, insulted a number of other royal leaders, and apparently arranged for the assassination in 1192 of Conrad of Montferrat, the King of Jerusalem and ruler of the Crusader States.
Richard had planned to become the King of Jerusalem once Conrad was out of the way, but that didn't work out. Then, traveling in disguise on his way home from the Crusades, Richard was captured and imprisoned by Leopold V of Austria. Leopold was Conrad's cousin, and Richard had already insulted Leopold and refused to share his spoils from the Crusade. That might have been why Richard was traveling in disguise.
Leopold handed Richard Lionheart over to Henry the Lion, the Duke of Saxony and Duke of Bavaria. Leopold probably figured that two guys named Lion-something deserved each other's company. Henry the Lion got in touch with England. Richard's brother John had taken over Richard's unattended English holdings and let Normandy fall to Phillip II of France. Richard's ransom would cost 150,000 Marks. John imposed a 25% tax on goods and income to raise the money. This made him even less popular in England than he already was. John's pettiness and cruelty was the basis of the legend of Robin Hood.
John raised the ransom, Henry the Lion released Richard Lionheart, and Richard briefly returned to England. He got back in charge of affairs in England, forgave John, and soon left England in 1194 for what would be the last time.
Over the next five years, 1194-1199, King Richard Lionheart of England fought King Phillip II of France for control of Normandy. Château Gaillard on the Seine above Les Andely was Richard's largest military architecture project and his favorite residence. It's thought that Richard applied design ideas he had picked up from castles he had seen in Syria during the Crusades.
Then Richard Lionheart died in 1199 at Chalus-Chabrol. Eleanor had his body brought here to Fontevraud for burial. Well, most of it, anyway. His heart is buried in Rouen and his lower digestive tract in Châlus, where he died.
Then Richard's sister Jeanne died here later that year, and Eleanor had her buried in the abbey church.
At this point there began to be talk that the Plantagenet family was trying to create a "dynastic necropolis" in Fontevraud to exert a sense of possession over their ancestral lands including Poitou and Aquitaine.
Eleanor moved about 80 kilometers south to Poitou. When she died in 1204, she was also buried here at Fontevraud.
Eleanor and Henry's son John was crowned King of England in 1199. He married Isabella of Angoulême in 1200. He was not loved, with the barons forcing him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 and civil war breaking out soon afterward. Supporters of his son Henry III proclaimed Henry the legitimate King, making him the only king since the Norman Invasion to be crowned while his father was still alive. John died of dysentery while on a military campaign in western England in late 1216, and Henry's supporters were victorious.
Historians can come up with positive attributes such as "hard-working administrator", but John was petty and cruel and had reason to be the villain of the Robin Hood legends.
In 1254, Henry III organized the transfer of the remains of his mother, Isabella of Angoulême, from Angoumois to Fontevraud for burial. Meanwhile, John was buried in Worcester Cathedral.
The end of the Plantagenet dynasty hurt the abbey. Then the Hundred Years War led to even further declines. It lost about 60% of its land rents. The abbey itself wasn't raided, but many surrounding areas normally supporting the abbey were repeatedly devastated in 1357, 1369, and 1380.
Things began to improve through the late 1400s. Then there were ups and downs, nothing like the prosperous times under the Plantagenets, but further construction projects continued.
Revolution and Conversion into a Prison
The French Revolution changed everything. On 2 November 1789 all church property was declared national property. There were about a hundred religious and lay members living here, and the community continued for several months. In April 1790 most of the remaining religious community left.Mont
In 1804 Napoleon signed a decree converting several former religious institutions including this abbey and Mont Saint-Michel into prisons. The Revolution marked the real starting point of the French penitentiary system, with the conversion of the château of Saumur, Fontevraud and Mont Saint-Michel and many more monasteries, and other historic structures. Prison population tripled under Napoleon's rule. By the early 21st century the incarceration rate in France had increased to 103 per 100,000, one-seventh the 693 per 100,000 rate in the United States.
The main structures of most of the abbey buildings were preserved, although there were heavy modifications. The nave of the main church had two floor levels added in order to house prisoners. The many windows and doors were blocked to make escape more difficult. The first prisoners arrived in 1812. The prison was designed to accommodate 1,000 inmates, but by 1830 up to 2,000 were confined here.
Prisoners built workshops and factories. These, along with guard positions, provided work for the local people.
In the 1950s and early 1960s the prison population here was down to the 600s, back up to 818 near the end. Most of the prisoners were transferred out in 1963, except for 40 of the more trusted ones who were kept there to maintain the green areas and work on the demolition of the added prison-specific structures. In 1985 the last prisoners were finally transferred out.
The cloister, now restored, is about 60 meters on a side.
The main kitchen has a distinctive roof with several chimneys.
Chinon is on a rocky outcropping overlooking a shallows on the Vienne river, on the borders of Touraine, Anjou, and Poitou. A fortress has been here at least since the Gauls. Saint Martin of Tours described the city and its surroundings before his death in 400. One of Martin's disciples, Mexme or Maxime, founded a convent here and was the first abbot of the monks.
The Norsemen showed up in 845 and sacked Chinon.
Thibaut the Trickster, Count of Blois and Chartres, restored the fortress in 950.
The fortress was one of the favorite residences of Henry II. He set up his royal court here and brought prosperity to the city.
The region of Touraine, including Chinon, was given in the 1410s to the dauphin, the heir apparent to the French crown. This was the middle of the Hundred Years War (1337 to 1453). The dauphin, the future Charles VII, then 14 years old, fled Paris for Chinon.
The Battle of Agincourt on Saint Crispen's Day, 25 October 1415, was a major victory for the English under Henry V.
Henry V died young, at 36, and suddenly, from dysentery. It was August 1422, and his son Henry VI was just nine months old. Charles VI of France died two months later, making the now eleven-month-old Henry VI of England nominally the King of England and King of France. The nobility of England swore loyalty to Henry VI and set up a regency council to govern until Henry came of age. Fifteen years of Adult Supervision with the nobility fighting each other for influence.
Things were ill-defined and chaotic.
The followers of Henry VI claimed the throne of France for him. They saw Charles VII as merely the "King of Bourges", much as Hamid Karzai was President of Afghanistan from 2004 to 2014 but was often dismissed as little more than "Mayor of Kabul". Charles set up his small court in the fortress in Chinon in 1427.
Joan of Arc
Jeanne d'Arc, called Joan of Arc in English, said that she had received visions since the age of 13 in which the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria told her to support Charles VII and free France from English domination.
She made a prediction about French defeat in a battle. When news arrived confirming her prediction, a garrison commander believed that she must have known through divine revelation. Of course the pattern of events so far in the Hundred Years War made another French defeat the obvious bet. He granted her military escort to take her through hostile Burgundian territory to Chinon to visit the Dauphin.
She greatly impressed Charles in their meeting. The legend is that Charles stood behind others as they presented an imposter as the Dauphin. But then Jeanne went directly to Charles and addressed him as the King of France.
Most everything else had failed for French forces over the past century, so why not put Jeanne at the head of the army marching on Orléans?
Jeanne's involvement effectively changed the Hundred Years War into a religious war. Charles' advisors were worried about this development. If Jeanne was not recognized as absolutely orthodox (in the Roman Catholic sense, not the actually Orthodox Christian sense), then Charles' opponents could claim that his crown was a gift from Satan.
Charles called for a thorough background check and theological examination. Jeanne had met him in Chinon on March 7th. In April the commission of inquiry "declared her to be of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of the virtues of humility, honesty and simplicity." They didn't go so far as to vouch for the divine revelation or inspiration, hedging their bet with a "favorable presumption" that she was on a mission from God.
They recommended putting her prediction to the test by having her lead the march to break the siege of Orléans. Charles set her up with weapons, armor, a horse, and a banner.
Jeanne dictated a scathing letter to the English, referring to Henry VI as the "so-called" king and similarly disrespecting the English commanders. She described the English presence in France as an illegitimate occupation, and said that the English "should go away to their own country, in God's name", if they wanted to avoid death and destruction. Oh, and pay for all damages they had caused.
Historians debate the extent of her actual military involvement. Even if she did wield a sword during a significant part of the battle, her role was primarily motivational. Whatever she did, the army did have a series of successes leading to the first major French victories of the Hundred Years War.
Jeanne led the army around the southeast and east of Paris to Reims, where French kings were traditionally crowned. Reims opened its gate to Jeanne's army on 16 July 1429, and Charles VII was crowned King of France the following morning.Rouen
Jeanne d'Arc was captured by English forces at Compiègne in May 1430. They took her to Rouen and put her on trial around Christmas of 1430. After a long church trial, she was burned at the stake in the Rouen market square on 30 May 1431.
Charles VII recaptured Rouen in 1449, ending 30 years of English occupation. The Hundred Years War finally ended four years later, in 1453. This freed up the English to immediately start their domestic Wars of the Roses, an on-and-off series of civil wars between the Lancaster and York branches of the royal House of Plantagenet over the years 1455 through 1587.
Chinon in World War II
Jumping to the 20th century and World War II, constant convoys of refugees arrived in Chinon in June 1940 until German forces arrived on the morning of 21 June 1940. The city council had persuaded the French military not to set up a defensive line and blow up bridges in Chinon, leaving the town largely undamaged. The Nazis established administrative offices and barracks in Chinon.
The Germans deported 35 people from Chinon to the death camps. A few local people were able to hide young Jewish citizens.
The French Resistance organized a cell within the perimeter of L'Île—Bouchard—Saumur—Richelieu, concentrated in the Scévolles forest. Twenty-five citizens of Chinon joined the Resistance, five of whom were killed.Normandy
After the Allied landings in Normandy, a Free French aviation officer parachuted in to take command of the Resistance operations in the area.
The Allies liberated Paris on 25 August 1944. American forces arrived in the Chinon area two days later. Most Germans in the Nazi headquarters in Chinon fled. A few remained. The Allies ordered them to leave on the 28th, and liberated Chinon on the 30th.
Château de Chenonceau
The Château de Chenonceau spans the Cher river, a tributary of the Loire. It is southeast of Amboise, between Blére and Montrichard. We will drive along the Loire to Tours and then follow the Cher to Chenonceau. Notice that the château is Chenonceau while the nearby village is Chenonceaux. After visiting the château we will go north to Amboise, and then return to Saumur along the Loire.
An estate here was mentioned in writing in the 11th century. Part of what you see today, a large structure on its own, was built in 1514-1522. This section was built on the foundations of an old mill close to the north bank of the river. It extends slightly into the river with a small archway beneath its center providing a sheltered water passage with access into the lower levels of the building.
In 1556-1559 they built a bridge with five stone arches. Then in 1570-1576, a multi-story building was constructed across the bridge. The section spanning the river is mostly composed of two large galleries spanning most of the bridge area.
It's a stunning design and a popular place to visit. After the Royal Palace of Versailles, Chenonceau is the second most-visited château in France.
The Marques family owned the land in the 13th century. A fortified mill was there in 1230. In 1412 the current owner, Jean Marques, was accused of an act of sedition and the original château was burned in punishment. He rebuilt a fortified mill and château during the 1430s, near but not exactly on the earlier location. A moat was cut between the building and the bank, limiting access to a bridge with a section that could be raised, drawbridge style.
The Marques family was indebted by 1513, and had to sell the property. Thomas Bohier, the Chamberlain to King Charles VIII of France, purchased the property and demolished most of the existing buildings.
Bohier retained the keep of the 15th century castle and built an entirely new structure on the mill's foundations in 1515-1521. His wife, Catherine Briçonnet, is credited with much of the design.
Bohier died in Italy in 1524, and his wife died two years later. A government audit then revealed massive embezzlement, and in 1535 King François I of France seized the property for unpaid debts owed to the Crown.
François I died of septicemia in 1547, after being hit in the eye by a splinter of a broken jousting lance at a tournament. Henry II took the throne and possession of the château. He presented it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, the Duchess of Valentinois, as a gift. The Crown owned it but she was in charge, first commissioning the design and construction of the bridge spanning the Cher. After that, the large formal flower and vegetable gardens set up on stone buttresses for protection from river floods.
Henry II died in 1559, and his widow (and the reigning regent) Catherine de' Medici forced Henry's widow out of the place. However, it was just a slight downgrade to the Château Chaumont-sur-Loire overlooking the Loire between Blois and Amboise.
Catherine spent enormous amounts expanding the château and hosting parties. In 1560 her son was ascending to the throne as François II, and she put on the first fireworks display seen in France. She commissioned the design and construction of the gallery across the bridge, and added a number of rooms onto what had been there when she took over. She had grandiose plans for a complex that would have expanded out around the gardens, making the château just a small part of the overall complex. But all the construction, festivals, furniture and art had run through even Catherine de' Medici's fortune.
The château passed through a series of hands, often prominent women, leading to it being called "the castle of the ladies". After Catherine's death it went to her daughter-in-law, the wife of King Henry III. Then Henry III was assassinated by the monk Jacques Clément, and Henry of Navarre became King Henry IV of France. Henry IV paid the accumulated debts of Catherine de' Medici, which must have been enormous, and gave the château to his mistress, Gabrielle d'Estrées. It then was owned for over a century by the Duc de Vendôme and his descendants, the Bourbons. None of them were particularly interested in the place, and it changed hands on down the ladder of nobility.
Henri Menier bought the château in 1913. He was a member of the famous chocolate-making family, and the Meniers still own it today.
Gaston Menier set up a hospital in the gallery in early August 1914, just a few days into World War I. A marker there commemorates the treatment of 2,254 injured men. Many lords of castles personally established hospitals during the Great War. Gaston Menier put his son and daughter in charge as manager and senior nurse. There were 70 beds in the upstairs gallery, 50 beds plus an operating theatre in the lower one. Heating and electricity are set up, along with an electric pump for water, all of those relatively new innovations. The physicians and nurses were paid by the government, but Menier paid for the renovations and all the food.
During World War II the War Department of France requisitioned the castle as they moved southwest after evacuating Paris. A record-breaking flood in May 1940 heavily damaged the gardens, and then in June 1940 the Germans first shelled the building with 105 mm rounds, then fired rockets and strafed from aircraft.
The Germans restricted access to the seized château, because it would be a way of escaping from Nazi-occupied France to the territory controlled by the puppet Vichy regime. The Cher was the border between Occupied France in the north and Vichy France in the south. The "front door" of the château is on the north side, in Occupied France at the time. Pass through the long gallery and out the "back door" on the south end, and you were in Vichy territory.
Amboise is situated on high ground next to the Loire. Leonardo da Vinci lived here for the last three years of his life.
The high ground where the castle now sits was one of the largest Neolithic sites found along the Loire. Archaeologists found a remarkable female idol when they excavated in the 1950s. In the newer layers above, they found a late Bronze age foundry. There was a Roman settlement, not the grand palace with a colossal statue of Mars as fanciful 12th century chronicles speculated, but just a temporary camp where the Romans spilled some of their booty from raids. In the late 200s AD, local or regional tribes chased the Romans out for a while.
By the 300s Latin text referred to the location as Ambacia, Ambatia, and Ambasi. In 504 Theodoric the Great, the king of the Ostrogoths, convinced Clovis, king of the Salian Franks of northern Gaul, to meet here with Alaric II, king of the Visigoths. Grand promises were made. Nothing came of them after Alaric was killed in battle in 507, and that's about all we know until the middle 800s. That's why it's called the Dark Ages.
In 840 the Norse made it far enough up the Loire to burn the wooden bridges across the river. They came back to sack the castle in 853 and 878.
Things were much better in Amboise during the Renaissance. Actually, much better for the upper classes across much of Europe, that being why it's called the Renaissance. The Royal Castle was the home of the courts of King Charles VIII and King François I. François I invited Leonardo da Vinci to live in the Château du Clos-Lucé.
Leonardo was born in 1452 near the town of Vinci, in the region of Tuscany. No family name, just Leo from Vinci or, as they said there and then, Leonardo da Vinci. He was the illegitimate son of a legal notary and a peasant. He had an informal education in Latin, geometry, and mathematics. At 14 he was apprenticed to an artist in Florence. At 20, in 1472, he qualified as a master in the Guild of Saint Luke, the guild of artists and physicians.
In 1482 he went to Milan. French forces invaded in 1499, and Leonardo fled to Venice. He returned home to Florence in 1500, and in 1502 began working for Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI.
Leonardo's work as military engineer and architect for a part-time Archbishop and full-time Borgia kept him busy for a year, moving throughout the Italian peninsula with Cesare.
Leonardo returned to Florence in 1503, and then returned to Milan in 1506 (with a stay in Florence in 1507 to settle his father's estate).
In 1513-1519 he worked for Pope Leo X in the Vatican. Michaelangelo and Raphael were both working in Rome then. They were 23 and 31 years younger than Leonardo, respectively, eager young whipper-snappers getting on Leonardo's nerves. When François I of France met Pope Leo X in late December of 1515, after François had captured Milan, a position in France looked very attractive.
François set Leonardo up in the Clos Lucé manor house, near the King's residence. It was a quiet place for Leonardo to work on his projects. He had brought along one of his favorite pupils, his loyal servant, and three paintings including the one he called la Gioconda or The Laughing One, commonly called the Mona Lisa.
Leonardo was "First Painter, Engineer, and Architect to the King." He designed a system of canals to connect the Loire to the Rhône. He designed a château for the King, and urban layouts for cities.
He lived and worked here until his death in 1519, becoming close friends with François.French Wars
Things were going pretty well in Amboise — kings lived there, even Leonardo for a while — but then there were the Wars of Religion. The Conspiracy of Amboise is said to have started it in 1560, although tension had been building for some time as more and more of the nobility converted to Calvinism. This posed a threat to the royalty who were obligated to remain Roman Catholic in order to maintain the Pope's blessing and thus the power. Thousands were massacred and other thousands sold into slavery.
Henry II had died from that infection in 1559, and the crown had passed to his young son François II. François was only 15 years old and was married to the 16-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, giving her very pro-Rome family of the House of Guise an enormous amount of power.
In 1560, a group of disgruntled Protestant nobles led by Jean du Barry, seigneur de la Renaudie, tried to abduct François II and eliminate the Guise and thus Roman influence over the French throne. The royal forces discovered the plot, and arrested and executed hundreds who were suspected of being involved. François II died later that year anyway, the crown passed to his 10-year-old brother Charles IX, and Mary returned home to Scotland. Four years later she married her first cousin, and three years after that his home was destroyed in an explosion and he was found murdered in the garden.
Catherine de' Medici, ruling as regent until her son Charles IX reached 16, was Catholic. But the royalty was losing power compared to the private armies of the House of Guise on the Catholic side and the Protestant nobility on the other. Catherine dealt with the Protestant House of Bourbon to counteract the too-powerful House of Guise.
The government issued the Edict of Saint-Germain in January of 1562, allowing Protestants to worship privately within town and also enraging the House of Guise. A group of Guise retainers attacked a Calvinist service in Vassy-sur-Blaise, killing the worshipers and most of the residents of the town. That led to open hostility, with military forces fighting in the name of the King besieging cities seized by Protestant forces.
Catherine negotiated the truce formalized by the Edict of Amboise in 1563, which (at least on paper) granted rights to the Protestants, but was largely ignored. There were more military battles, and civilian massacres, and years of what was basically civil war with a religious basis, until the mid 1590s.
We will stop in Montsoreau to get dinner on our way back from days spent upriver or east of Saumur. It's a small town near where the Vienne river joins the Loire.
Montsoreau was mentioned in written sources in the 6th century, and there had been a Gallo-Roman settlement here before that. Eudes I, the Count of Blois, built a fortification here in 990. It was absorbed into the Anjou realm based to the north in 1001.
The construction of the fortress led to a market town that became prosperous. It was a busy river port, trading in the wines from Chinon and Poitou, and wheat from Loudunais. Its population included artisans, fishermen, and winemakers, and it has never exceeded 600 people except during the early 1800s when it jumped to over 1,000 due to a boom in the local limestone. The local specialty stone, very soft and easily worked, was mostly depleted within 25 years. The stoneworkers left, and the population dropped back to about 600. Now there are about 450 people in Montsoreau.
The Château de Montsoreau, seen below along the road passing through the town's riverfront, was built in 1455. The châteaux or castles were transitioning from military fortresses to stately pleasure domes. The large windows made for a pleasant interior while reducing defensive strength. The large increase in the number of chimneys meant that the interior could be kept at a higher temperature more comfortable for the civilians. The castle was built right on the bank of the Loire at the base of the hillside leading up to the vineyards and sunflower fields we saw above.
After dinner we will follow the setting sun back to Saumur.
We will make shorter trips out of Saumur, south to Montreuil-Bellay on one day, and to the northwest, downstream along the Loire, to Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Floret, Trèves-Cunault, and Cunault.
Fulk Nerra built a donjon style of castle at Montreuil-Bellay by 1026. A small monastic settlement was established here, and the parish church of Saint Peter was built soon after, near the priory of Saint Nicholas, called Les Nobis, which was founded between 1097 and 1103.
Fulk V the Young became the Count of Maine and Anjou in 1109. He forced several rebellious vassals to submit to him, capturing several castles include the one in Montreuil-Bellay in 1124.
Several years later the barons of Anjou rebelled. It took several years of siege by Geoffrey V of Anjou, starting in 1148, for Montreuil-Bellay to fall.
The lords of Montreuil-Bellay undertook some improvements in river transport, and were granted lettres patent by King Charles VII allowing them to impose a tax on the wine being transported through the area.
The regional administrative center was moved to Saumur during the Revolution, reducing the commercial and administrative importance of the city.
From November 1941 until January 1945 the occupying German forces set up a concentration camp at Montreuil-Bellay on the site of a French artillery depot. The Vichy government operated it, imprisoning Gypsies or Roma from the region. In July 2010 the camp ruins were listed as a historical monument to prevent their total disappearance.
The villages of Saint-Hilaire and Saint-Florent merged into one community, and now they have been absorbed as an outlying district of Saumur, just downstream along the left or south bank of the Loire. The church of Saint Hilaire-des-Grottes is found there.
The Church of Saint Hilaire-des-Grottes in Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Florent houses the tomb of a man said to have known Jeanne d'Arc.
Small settlements along the Loire bank have been amalgamating. Upstream from Gennes there was Trier, more recently known as Trèves-Cunault, which merged with Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux to become Chênehutte-Trèves-Cunault, which even more recently merged into a larger community of Gennes-Val-de-Loire.
Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux was mentioned in Latin documents in the 6th century as Carnonensis pagus, although that is thought to be a cacography or misspelling of Canotensis pagus. It was then mentioned as Canauthia in 1044-1055, as Caneutia in 1055-1070, as Chenchute in 1793, before becoming known as Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux in the 19th century. Chênehutte is a modern invention, based on the words for oak and hut
Trevie was mentioned in 1036, Trevis castro in 1035-1053, Treves in 1793, Trier in 1801, and then it merged into a relatively new settlement to become Trier-Cunault.
A castle, Château Trier, was built here soon before 1026 by Fulk Nerra when he was besieging Saumur.
In 1230, the war between the kings of France and England inspired the authors of the prose tale of Lancelot. Castle Trier is described in this long novel as one of the strongholds of the allies of King Arthur, and the birthplace of Lancelot.
Castle Trier was mostly demolished in 1750, leaving only the ruined dungeon. A large staircase leads down toward the dungeon where remains of some vaulted rooms including the kitchens can be found.
The old church in Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux is right on the road following the south bank of the Loire river.
The church is very Romanesque in design with very simple geometry. The ceiling of the nave is a simple half-cylinder, and semi-circular arches supported by thick columns separate the side ambulatories.
The first building in Trèves-Cunault was a monastery founded in the 4th century by Saint Maxenceul, an evangelist of the region.
The monastery was destroyed and the monks driven away by the Norse raiders in the 9th century. The monks took refuge in Tournus in Burgundy, and became a dependency of the Abbey of Tournus.
The current priory Church of Our Lady was built between the 11th and 13th century from the limestone of the region. It became a pilgrimage site, as it possessed what was believed to be the Dust Vial of the Grotto of the Nativity. This was a glass vial containing the now dehydrated and powdered milk of the Virgin Mary. With such an auspicious relic, the church benefited from the support of the lords of Anjou and other nobility. It now contains 223 carved column capitals and mural paintings.
Loire valley wine-making began in the 1st century. By the High Middle Ages, Loire valley wines were the most valuable in England and France.
Enjoy a sparkling Saumur wine as you explore the Loire valley. Most of the distinctive sparkling white wines are made with the Chenin Blanc grapes. This style of wine has been made in this area since the 4th century. Pétillant is the term for moderately effervescent wine. In detail, perlant or perlé wine is slightly carbonated, pétillant moderately so, and mousseux has the highest carbonation. But I think you mainly see just pétillant until you get into specialist discussions.
1,000 hectares produce the red and 400 the white. As of 2016, there were 312 wine growers and 187 wine makers.