In my last post, I introduced to to the Chateau de Brissac and showed you the principal rooms on the main floor. Today I want to take you further.
As promised, I’ll take you through a dramatic episode in the history of the French monarchy, we’ll talk about the arts and I’ll reveal how it is that hunting at Brissac is not reserved for men only! I’ll also tell you about how you can spend a night there and live like a Duke or Duchess yourself!
The Great Hall
If guests to Brissac were too numerous to eat in the dining room there was always the great hall.
Ascending a grand staircase you’ll note, on the first landing, the same diamond layout of black and white tiles as in the entry way. Two large banks of windows bathe the stairway in light and draw you further up, where you arrive at the hall.
Also bathed in light, this hallway is 32m (105′) in length and your eyes naturally come to rest on a red-cushioned bench sitting at the far end under a large mirror and a discreet canopy or baldaquin.
The ceiling is a more traditional French-style coffered ceiling but stands out due to the more than 100 small painting of biblical and mythological scenes painted on individual beams; this, in addition to the normal painted ornamentation. A number of tapestries adorn the walls of this great hall which, along with a number of other rooms on the estate, can be rented for private or corporate functions.
When King Henri IV died in 1610, his son Louis XIII was only 9 years old – definitely too young to reign. His mother, Marie deMedici, was named regent but it was really her close (Italian) adviser who called the shots.
By the time Louis XIII was 19, he’d become old enough to reign in his own right. He took back power from his mother (by force) and confined her to a castle far away from the halls of power. She eventually escaped and recruited an army to march against her son but the latter easily defeated this haphazard militia and Marie deMedici would be forced to surrender and pay homage to her son. By this point, however, he was more her king than her son.
It was in this room, Louis XIII’s bedroom at Brissac, that the reconciliation took place. The two pressed metal plates over the fireplace bear the effigies of his parents. The firm establishment of Louis XIII is important to France because it is he who, together with Anne of Austria would give birth to France’s most well-known king… Louis XIV, the sun king who built Versailles.
The Hunting Chamber
Louis XIII’s bedchamber was as regal by it’s brilliant red, as the hunting chamber was soothing and tranquil by it’s harmonious blueish-green. The photo doesn’t quite do it justice.
The three walls surrounding the canopy bed were completely covered in 16th century Belgian tapestries which depict hunting scenes in incredible detail. Their overall tone was that akin to a light-mossy green, so while the dominant colours in my photo appear to be blue and yellow, it was really a more green-ish hue that caught the eye upon entering.
On the headboard of the canopy bed, you can easily see the main heraldic symbol of the Cossé-Brissac family: the three saw blades, in an oval crest, surrounded by a carved floral wreath.
My Choice: If the Duke or Duchess were ever to offer me a night or two at the castle, this would be my bedroom of choice. Louis XIII’s room is impressive, but this one is brighter and more relaxing.
Duchess on the Hunt
Last week I referred to the fact that hunting at Brissac was not just a man’s pursuit.
The grounds surrounding Brissac castle covers 70 hectares (173 acres) of land of which a certain percentage remains forested. Hunting still takes place on the castle grounds but was not limited to them.
The greatest chapter of hunting history at Brissac was inspired (if not written) by Anne de Mortemart, Duchess of Uzès (whose youngest daughter married the 11th Duke of Brissac, 1894).
She was a fierce defender of women’s involvement in various causes and occupations. She was the first woman in France to have a driver’s license for an motorized car (and ironically, the first French woman to get a speeding ticket for driving through Paris at – get ready for it… 12 km/h).
She was also an able horsewoman and huntress and killed some 2,000 animals herself. This helps explain the abundance of antler trophies in the dining room from last week’s post. This photo of her was on display in the family’s portrait gallery.
The grounds of Brissac are not known for deer but rather for wild boar. Many of the deer were killed elsewhere, most notably in Rambouillet.
The In-House Theater
The last room available for public viewing, on the guided tour, is the theatre, built in the late 19th century by the wife of one of the Marquis de Brissac who also happened to be an accomplished singer. A mannequin is on stage, wearing one of the Marquise’s dresses, alongside a piano.
While renovating the castle she had walls and a section of the ceiling/floor removed in this part of the castle (the room essentially spans the height of 2 stories). The guide assured us that had such renovations been attempted today, they would never have been allowed due to historical preservation laws.
Fortunately for the Cossé-Brissac family, such laws were not in place at the time, affording them a very special performance facility within the walls of their castle. The family are not alone, however, in their ability to appreciate musical expression in this venue. Brissac en Fête, a type of annual village fair, includes musical performances in the theater, along with other activities outside.
Speaking of outside…
As I mentioned above, some 70 ha make up the estate surrounding Brissac. Time didn’t allow me to explore more than just that area immediately surrounding the castle, but that was enough to give me a taste for more.
In the top photo, beyond the soaring trees, you can clearly see the 16th century structure rising from the darker foundation of the medieval fortress. In the foreground, the Aubance River which winds it’s way through the estate.
In the second photo, looking across the lawn to the south-east is “la vigne des cinq siècles” (vineyard of the 5 centuries). Not that the vines are 500 years old… but I suspect it’s so named because grapevines have been growing on that hillside for some 5 centuries.
There is a ton of wide open spaces on the estate which is regularly open to the public during summer and school holidays. Not only is it possible to do five different walking trails on the grounds, but the public is invited to take part in a massive Easter Egg hunt (some 50,000 chocolate eggs are hidden around the grounds) and a hot air balloon festival each August.
As I drove away from Brissac and looked back over the vineyards to see both village and castle punctuating the horizon it occurred to me that the story of Brissac is not one of a cold castle at arm’s length from the rest of the world. Rather, it is a story where old-world aristocracy invites the local community, and those from farther afield, to take part in a common project, bringing to life this magnificent…
“New castle partially built, in an old castle partially destroyed”.
I was thrilled to make this discovery, thankful for an incredible guide, and so happy to share it with you!
For more information on the castle
see the following links…