La Chatelaine of Château Cingé

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Not so long ago, we spent a magical afternoon in a privately owned Château. How cool is that?

Like most things in Life, it came about through serendipity.

First it was jump off the cliff time, moving from England to France, a decision taken, thank goodness, years before the Brexit fiasco. One evening we went for a nightcap in Le Shaker on the Loire facing Château Amboise, the nearest we have to a local pub. There we met Susan and Simon who run a business driving tourists around in their vintage Citroën. ‘We are hosting a picnic next week’ say they ‘would you like to come along’? We would.

At the picnique, we gravitate to someone, who, having lived in London, spoke perfect English. ‘What do you do’? says she. ‘I photograph the châteaux of the Loire’ says himself.
‘Oh’! says she. ‘Châteaux. I know someone who owns a château. She speaks no English so would you like me to ask her if you can see it’? We would.

Madame Suzer, La Chatelaine of Château Cingé, graciously said yes.

The afternoon in La France Profonde – deepest rural France – had a little more in store than her Château.

Driving in convoy at great speed, in itself hair raising (we learned later from her daughter Madame La Châtelaine has an impressive collection of speeding tickets) we begin by visiting the estate of one of her friends. She wants to show us their ancient private church. Jaw dropping.

Next, through a gate, we hurtle across fields, not a misprint, trying to keep up as we career behind her Toad of Toad Hall fashion, to see more friends just to say hello.

Then off we go again to god knows where – and end up at an old mill by the stream.
Madame tells us that the mill belonged to her forbear who bought the Château.
After, to put it mildly, an eye popping few hours, we finally pull into the long drive leading to Château Cingé. Impressive.

Madame La Chatelaine tells us that Cingé is one of the few châteaux which survived The Hundred Years War against the English probably because the Baron of nearby Preuilly gave the owner permission to build defensive walls around it.

Preuilly and Bossay sur Claise bordered territories under English rule. The arrogant English who had the effrontery to settle there established a village they called Warton. Their descendants were still living there in 1850.

Nearby Château Preuilly, taken by the English in 1369, was retaken by Bertrand du Guesclin. A gifted tactician and a loyal, disciplined warrior, Du Guesclin had reconquered much of France from the English when he died on a military expedition. He was so highly thought of, he was buried in the Basilica of Saint-Denis near Paris, the traditional burying place of the Kings of France.

Madame accepted our apology for the English invasion of her country.

The history of her Château can be traced back to 936. The first building was a lodging house where the feudal overlord stayed as he travelled around the country.

When it was converted into a fortress, a guardian looked after it. Built in the 1100s deep in the woods, it was virtually inaccessible, even more so when the swamps were channelled into deep moats. A drawbridge, two defensive towers and a square Keep were added in the 1200s. The Keep was burnt down in 1450 by a jealous neighbour, Pierre Frotier, the Baron of Preully, known for his violent temper. Frotier married the heiress of Preuilly and inherited the baronetcy.

Frotier was the right hand man and chief advisor of the disinherited Dauphin Charles de Valois. He saved his life during The Hundred Years War and was rewarded handsomely when the Dauphin became Charles VII.

Frotier was put in charge of the Princesses Marie, Charlotte and Jehanne de Valois, the King’s legitimised daughters by his mistress Agnès Sorel. They were educated in Château Preuilly, not far from their mother who lived in Château Loches.

Froitier’s moment of glory came in 1449 when he helped Charles VII liberate Rouen from the English. He headed the six hundred archers under his command at the Grand Victory Parade. When he died in 1459, he was buried in the Abbey of Preuilly, near his wife.

Above the main entrance door to the Château are what remains of the Coat of Arms of the House of Crevant. In 1532 François de Crevant married Louise de Ronsard, maid of honour to Queen Eleonore, second wife of François I. She was the daughter of Louis Ronsard, the King’s butler and the sister of famous French poet Pierre Ronsard who stayed with her in the Château.

In 1624, René de Crevant built a chapel in the grounds. It’s still there. René’s son, who was born in the Château, became King of Yvetot in Normandy. Salic Law meant that his wife cold not inherit the Crown. Lucky residents were exempt from all taxes and military service. The kingdom was independent until the French Revolution.

Many châteaux were burnt, destroyed or abandoned during the Revolution. Many were dismantled by locals to build their own houses. When the owners emigrated to escape Robespierre’s Terror they were branded as traitors who deserted their country. Their châteaux were confiscated. Known as Emigré Property, they were sold for a song.

Château Cingé was one. It was sold in 1793. The owner, Charles de Livenne, is probably in the Emigrés dossier in the Archives de Paris. Amidst the turmoil of the Revolution, aristocrats who left France were enrolled on the émigré list by the Revolutionary government. Inscription on the list meant that the state could confiscate property. During the Terror lawmakers used the term “la glaive de la loi,” the sword of the law, to punish the thousands who fled France.

In 1874, Château Cingé was bought by Trappist monks who established what was known in England as a Borstal for young offenders. In 1840 a judge by the name of Demetz was concerned with the custom of sentencing juveniles to live in prisons among hardened criminals so founded a farm colony in Mettray near Tours. Delinquents learned a trade in workshops and did hard physical work outdoors.

The Reformatory in the Château closed in 1939 at the outbreak of war which is when, presumably, Madame La Chatelaine’s relative bought it.

What a history, what a lovely Château, what an experience.
Merci bien Madame Suzer.

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