Saturday, July 30, 2011

Our visit to Chinon

Today we have an entry by Rebecca for your reading pleasure!

Having talked and planned this visit for several weeks, we set out bright and early this morning to visit the fortress of Chinon, carefully bagging little Céline as we went by her house.

It was not long before we arrived.  The town in itself is worth the trip as there is a medieval part which is dominated by the fortress looming overhead.  It is called, in fact, the « flower of the garden of France » — the « garden » being the Touraine region, just south of where we live.

One of Chinon's greatest claims to fame is definitely Joan of Arc (« Jeanne d'Arc »).  Now let me tell you the story...

« There was once a king of France (Charles VI) who was insane.  His charming wife, Isabeau de Bavière, thereupon assumed the regency and invited a well-to-do friend of hers to help her govern.  The two of them conspired together and signed a treaty which stated that at the death of Charles VI, the throne of France would be handed over to the King of England.

Unfortunately for him, this Queen had a son, also named Charles and his mother's betrayal of him left him quite depleted of any hopes to the throne.  In due time, of course, the king died and the English came down upon Paris to take over their rightful power.

But there was a girl in France who would not have it this way.  Young Joan, a little shepherd girl, feeling led by God, set out to stop it.  She rode to Chinon, where the French prince was staying, and managed to get a private interview with him.

To this day nobody knows what she told him exactly, but she apparently convinced him of her mission.  Taking his soldiers, she then broke through the British lines at Orléans, and pressed on to Rheims.  There, according to the custom (French kings were always crowned at Rheims), the dauphin became, thanks to her, Charles VII.

There is to this day an expression in French which apparently dates from Joan's time : « bouter les Anglais hors de la France », i.e. To kick the English out of France. »

Back to our visit: The weather was beautiful!  There wasn't very much indoor castle left to see (much of it having fallen to ruins at some point during the past thousand years of its existence), and what there was were simply bare rooms (since nobility always travelled with all their belongings, including wall-hangings tapestries, beds, furniture, carpets, etc.).

But it was still very pleasant to roam in, up the winding stairs of stone towers, to inspect the enormous fire-places that you could easily walk into, to explore all the little nooks and crannies, the little passage-ways into small, hidden rooms where we could easily imagine a plot, a treasure or a gentle lady doing embroidery while waiting for a certain knight in shining armour!

We went down into the dungeon—the very creepiest I had ever been in.  It seemed to go down for ever and ever.  There was a mysterious pit about half-way down, and we never did see the end of it because it was blocked up by a gate.  We explored the tower that Joan of Arc slept in while she was at the castle, the big moats and the small bridges that crossed to them.

There was an animation about mid-afternoon for the children, re-enacting part of the castle's history, and very fun it was indeed.

But the most interesting thought for me about this place was that it had been the home for a time of Richard Cœur-de-Lion Plantagenet and of his family, probably my very favourite of English kings—at least the most exciting!

 Luckily Dad had his camera handy and was able to catch a picture of Richard Cœur-de-Lion and his young mother Aliénor d'Aquitaine!

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