The ‘Ladies’ Château’: Château de Chenonceau

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages
By Phil Butler
Phil Butler
Phil Butler
Phil Butler is a publisher, editor, author, and analyst who is a widely cited expert on subjects from digital and social media to travel technology. He's covered the spectrum of writing assignments for The Epoch Times, The Huffington Post, Travel Daily News, HospitalityNet, and many others worldwide.
July 12, 2021 Updated: July 12, 2021

If there was ever a monument of architecture dedicated to the feminine soul, Château de Chenonceau should be that testament. The medieval castle that dominates the right bank of the Cher River in France’s Loire Valley exists only because of the women who loved this regal residence.

Built upon the ruins of a 12th-century medieval structure, Château de Chenonceau is now a far cry from the dark bastion it was once. Instead, today’s visitors see the evolution of a shimmering masterwork built by France’s royal treasurer Thomas Bohier, between 1513 and 1576. However, the grand vision that spans the river today is that of his wife, Catherine Briçonnet, and a succession of women throughout history who followed in her footsteps. Also known as the Château des Dames or “ladies’ château,” the stunning palace has a long history of resilient women who called it their home. After Catherine Briçonnet, women including Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de’ Medici, Louise de Lorraine, Louise Dupin, and Marguerite Pelouze would inextricably link their names and influences to Château de Chenonceau.

The château is also unique for its transitional architecture, a dramatic blend of late Gothic and early Renaissance influences. Its uniqueness is magnified by the fact that it bridges the Cher River, a tributary of the Loire River. A place of pomp and splendor, tragedy and triumph, controversy, and even intrigue, its history is woven into the fabric of French and European culture—here, philosophers discussed, queens reigned and mourned their kings, and the wounds of warriors were tended to.

Surrounded by immaculate gardens and forests, the château is the second most visited palace right after Versailles.

Epoch Times Photo
An aerial view of Château de Chenonceau bridging the Cher River. (Marc Jauneaud/Château de Chenonceau)
Diane de Poitiers BR
Many of the château’s most beautiful spaces are the bedrooms of the nobility. The bedroom of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henry II, who lived here at his leisure, is accented with masterpieces by artists such as Murillo and Ribalta and rare tapestries depicting scenes from the Old Testament. (Dennis Jarvis/CC-BY-2.0)
Chateau gardens
When King Henry II died, his widow, Catherine de’ Medici, expelled Diane de Poitiers and took Chenonceau as her home. As she was the mother of kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, the span of their reigns would later be referred to as “the age of Catherine de’ Medici.” She had parts of the lavish gardens designed and built to aid her in hosting some of France’s most extravagant parties. (Marc Jauneaud/Château de Chenonceau)
D Green Room
The Green Study (Le Cabinet Vert) of Catherine de’ Medici, from which she governed France as regent after the death of Henry II. Adorning its walls are masterworks of art, including “The Queen of Sheba” and “Portrait of a Doge” by Tintoretto, and “The Drunken Silenus” by Jordaens. (Courtesy of Château de Chenonceau)
DA Five Queens Room
The Room of Five Queens is one of the most lavishly appointed rooms. Ornate tapestries adorn the walls, and masterworks by Rubens and Pierre Mignard look down on the elaborately embellished bed used by Catherine de’ Medici’s daughters Margaret of France and Elisabeth of Valois. The bed was also used by her daughters-in-law: Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots; Elisabeth of Austria; and Louise of Lorraine. (Krzysztof Golik/CC-BY-4.0)
Drawing Room
Chenonceau is famous for its extravagant Renaissance furnishing and finishing touches, like the magnificent gold-embossed Renaissance fireplace in Louis XIV’s Drawing Room. (Dominique Couineau/Château de Chenonceau)
E The Chapel
A favorite for visitors, the small chapel has a gallery where nobles attended Mass. On the walls of the chapel are the inscriptions of Mary Stuart’s guards, written in English. On the right at the entrance, bearing the date 1543, “Man’s anger does not accomplish God’s justice.” Another, dated 1546 reads, “Do not let yourself be won over by Evil.” The stained glass had to be re-created after being destroyed by the bombing in World War II. Louise Dupin managed to save the chapel during the French Revolution by transforming it into a storehouse for wood and masking its religious nature. (Charles Jacques/CC-BY-2.0)
F Gallery
Catherine de’ Medici had the former horse stables of the castle transformed into a magnificent Italian-style gallery and ballroom lit by 18 windows that look out over the river and the countryside. At the far end, a door gives access to the opposite bank of the Cher River. (Dominique Couineau/Château de Chenonceau)
F Salon
François I’s Drawing Room (above) features a portrait of Diane de Poitiers as Diane the Huntress by Primaticcio, among many artworks. The literary salon of Louise Dupin attracted writers and philosophers from the Enlightenment movement, including Voltaire and Montesquieu. (Zairon/CC-BY-4.0)
G Kitchen
In the mid-1800s, a woman of the world and socialite Marguerite (Wilson) Pelouze and her husband, Eugene, bought the château from the Bourbons. With the help of architect Félix Roguet, she returned Château de Chenonceau to its 16th-century glory. The kitchen, of course, received an upgrade from all the earlier versions. It also features a small platform, underneath which supplies used to be offloaded from riverboats. (Dominique Couineau/Château de Chenonceau)
Hospital
In 1913, Henri Menier of the famous chocolatier family purchased the château. He managed to restore and maintain the castle before and after it was used as a hospital during World War I. Over 2,254 wounded soldiers were treated here from 1914 to 1918. Today, a room serves as a museum and shrine to this period in the château’s history. (Dr. Avishai Teicher/CC-BY-4.0)
I gardens
The gardens at Château de Chenonceau are arranged as a series of individual spaces that were created by Catherine de’ Medici, Diane de Poitiers, and others over the centuries. They feature an Italian maze, a green garden, and a vegetable garden. (Marc Jauneaud/Château de Chenonceau)
J Flower Gargen
Château de Chenonceau has a massive flower garden and workshops bordered by apple trees and Queen Elizabeth rose bushes. About 2.5 acres are devoted to the cultivation of some hundred varieties of flowers for the château’s floral displays. (Courtesy of Château de Chenonceau)
moat
The château sits in one of the most idyllic locations in France, near Amboise in the Loire Valley. A forest of unique beauty surrounds the manicured gardens. Visitors can picnic, take nature walks, even canoe in the moats and the river surrounding the château. (Cristian Bortes/CC-BY-2.0)
Overall Chateau_de_Chenonceau.
This view of Château de Chenonceau from the northeast shows the chapel and the library with their medieval and Gothic architectural influences. (Yvan Lastes/CC-BY-3.0)

Phil Butler is a publisher, editor, author, and analyst who is a widely cited expert on subjects from digital and social media to travel technology. He’s covered the spectrum of writing assignments for The Epoch Times, Huffington Post, Travel Daily News, HospitalityNet, and many others worldwide.

Phil Butler
Phil Butler
Phil Butler is a publisher, editor, author, and analyst who is a widely cited expert on subjects from digital and social media to travel technology. He's covered the spectrum of writing assignments for The Epoch Times, The Huffington Post, Travel Daily News, HospitalityNet, and many others worldwide.