Château Beauregard

Posted on April 28, 2016 by

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Beauregard, a small, privately owned chateau in the Loire Valley, is well worth a visit. If it were not for two very special attractions it might have disappeared into the jaws of time because it was not built as a château or a manor house; it was built as a hunting lodge for Francis I. In fact it’s possible to walk from Beauregard to the very famous Château Chambord. He built Chambord when he exhausted the hunting around Château Amboise and had to look a bit further afield, to the great forest of Russy.

The present owner is Count Guy du Cheyron du Pavillon whose great-grandmother bought Beauregard in 1926. His mother ran it alone until he took over the reins and moved in with his wife and children. He works in the textile trade in Paris but spends several days a week at the chateau.

Jean du Thier, who bought the old hunting lodge in 1545 at the end of the reign of Francis I, worked for Francis and for his son Henry II. This is the Henry who married Catherine de Medici, who he did not love, the Henry with a famous mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who he did.

Inside Beauregard is a small, extraordinary, five hundred year old room made entirely of wood, an awe inspiring portrait gallery and the original kitchen dating from when the chateau was built. The kitchen was used by the family until 1968 as was, presumably, the beautiful copper cooking pans until it dawned on someone somewhere that copper is toxic. The two fireplaces are still in perfect working order as is the old rotisserie.

Outside, in the gardens, is a quirky and quite unexpected open air art exhibition; portraits dotted among the trees are copies of those in the gallery which give visitors the opportunity to take a closer look; the Orangery is being restored (Louis IV–The Sun King–ordered the original orange trees be dug up and replanted in his Orangery in Versailles): an ancient three hundred year old Ice House, forerunner of the refrigerator. Presumably kitchen staff did not suffer from vertigo, it’s six metres deep.

Notices dotted around the grounds are also unexpected. They encourage visitors to Please Walk on the Grass. The family is keen that visitors enjoy their lovely home. Six gardeners keep the 100-acre estate in apple pie order.

Beauregard has been lived in since it was built. This is very unusual. Many chateaux were razed during the French Revolution. There was almost a thousand, today there are three hundred and fifty. Not that you can visit them all, many are private (like Pocé-sur-Cisse owned by Mick Jagger). With peasants ground down into starvation by taxes raised to fight wars not of their making and the middle classes publicly humiliated by the nobility which was exempt from taxation, small wonder that, once empowered, they gave vent to their anger. Château owners were slaughtered or driven into exile.

Some châteaux which managed to survive the Revolution did not survive two world wars. Others, because of complicated French inheritance laws were, and still are, fought over by successive generations. Under Napoleonic Law, property is inherited by all blood relatives. However much you may want to, it is virtually impossible to disinherit a child. Some family members want to sell; others want to keep it in the family. As disputes rage on, chateaux all over France are falling into disrepair to the extent that the French government is trying to do something about it.

In 1553, du Thier, commissioned the King’s cabinet maker (he worked on Fontainebleau and the Louvre) to build a study for him. Miraculously, the amazing ‘Cabinet de Grelots’ (cabinet of hawk’s bells) has survived intact. The flat pack of oak wall panels and wooden ceiling was made in Paris and assembled in situ. No nails were used. It is a masterpiece. Du Thier, whose Coat of Arms was three gold bells on a blue background, died in 1560.
In 1617, Paul Ardier, a Minister of State who served the Court for fifty-five years bought Beauregard for his retirement. He started on his Grand Project, the Portrait Gallery. He was 72. He worked on it for twenty years but did not live to see it completed. That was left to succeeding generations. The family commissioned the best artists they could find to paint the portraits but as many sitters were long dead all they had to go on was existing portraits which were copied with varying degrees of skill. It’s certainly not a gallery of Fine Art.

The three hundred and twenty-seven portraits are copies from French and European galleries. Depicted is every king of France since 1314 (Phillippe IV) and important people throughout Europe including Edward III of England. He is there because he instigated The Hundred Years War with France determined to take the throne (think Crécy and Agincourt). Henry V managed it by marrying Catherine de Valois. Her father, Charles VI (Charles the Mad) disinherited his son, Charles VII, in favour of Henry V. Charles VII, the first French king to live in the Loire Valley, is the Charles who was shamed by Joan of Arc into showing some gumption and retake France. She is here too. Disloyal Charles abandoned her in her hour of need.

Christopher Columbus is here, as is Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who married Francois II. Cardinal Richelieu, who stares down on us, was grateful for Beauregard which became his sanctuary. There are portraits of Popes, emperors, foreign princes, sultans and prominent leading figures of their day such as government ministers and army generals. Francois I is here as is his contemporary, Henry VIII of England. Despite their famous PR stunt, The Field of The Cloth of Gold, Henry betrayed him by going over to his enemy, the Emperor. Henry was not famous for loyalty. His ill-fated wife, Anne Boleyn is here too. The public beheading of a Queen of England shocked Europe.

Paul Ardier the younger commissioned the wonderful but impractical 5500 Delft tiles for the gallery floor. These delicate wall tiles were never meant for floors. Transported by sea from The Netherlands to Nantes, it’s a miracle they survived. What we see today, partially covered, are the replacements that that same family was wise to order. The chaises longues are so that visitors can lay back and admire the ceiling. Paul’s daughter Marie Ardier commissioned the spectacular ceiling. The bright blue which has never needed to be restored is of lapis lazuli which was far more precious, more rare and more expensive than gold. Then, as now, found only in Afghanistan, lapis lazuli was six times the price of 24ct gold.

The Gallery, by anyone’s standards, a masterpiece, is the largest collection of historical portraits in Europe. Go and see it. You will not come away disappointed.

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