The Secret of Le Château de la Reine Margot

 

Château de Saint-Projet

Château de Saint-Projet

‘Queen Elizabeth I slept here.’ It’s well known that Tudor monarchs imposed on their subjects’ hospitality to reduce their own household expenses. But if Elizabeth I stayed in all the places that lay claim to it, she would never have been at home. So it was with some scepticism that I visited ‘Queen Margot’s Château’ at Saint-Projet last week.

The original château dates back to the 12th century, built on a Gallo-Roman mound. It was besieged several times during the Hundred Years War and, after the French defeat at Crécy, the king of France ceded it to the Black Prince, along with other territories. It reverted to the French at the end of the war. A suit of armour belonging to the Black Prince is on display in the salle des gardes. He was of surprisingly small stature.

Black Prince's armour

Black Prince’s armour

Salle des gardes

Salle des gardes

Marguerite de Valois

The Margot in question was Marguerite de Valois (1553-1615), daughter of Henri II of France and Catherine de Medici. On 18 August 1572, she married King Henri of Navarre, later Henri IV of France, in an attempt to reconcile the Valois and Bourbon families and to unite Catholics and Protestant Huguenots in France. But six days after their wedding, targeted assassinations of prominent Huguenots, who were in Paris to celebrate the event, took place, known as the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

I won’t give you her life story or try to unravel the politics of the French court during the Wars of Religion. She didn’t get on either with her husband or with her brother, Henri III of France, who exiled her from the court. Cutting a very long story short, she went to Agen, which belonged to her, and tried to engineer a coup d’état from there against her mother and brother. However, the townsfolk rebelled against her after a few months and she had to flee. During her flight, she was sheltered at the Château de Saint-Projet, 26th-27th September 1585.

Secret Room

Reine Margot's bedroom

Reine Margot’s bedroom

Now to the secret. Her bedroom remained undiscovered for four hundred years until restoration work uncovered it in 1999. There are several possible reasons for this. The bedroom was blocked up after she left, presumably to conceal the fact that she had been there. Her brother, Henri III, destroyed all the other châteaux that had sheltered her but Saint-Projet remained intact. After the Revolution, the château became a bien national and was divided up amongst various owners. It became dilapidated and the floor of the ante-chamber leading to the bedroom collapsed.

Entrance to Margot's suite, complete with murderous nails

Entrance to Margot’s suite, complete with murderous nails

It was easy enough to guess by looking at the outside of the château that there must have been a room there but nobody was either curious or brave enough to investigate further. When they finally opened up the room, however, they found various items of furniture that had remained untouched since Margot’s visit. They included the bed – which still sports the original tester –, a buffet and a chest containing books belonging to Margot. Documentary evidence also exists to prove that she stayed there, so my scepticism was misplaced.

Loose Morals

From the various portraits of her, Margot does not appear to have been particularly attractive. However, she had a reputation for loose morals and took a number of lovers. In her book Aveyron: A Bridge to French Arcadia, Thirza Vallois relates that, while staying at the Château de Carlat in northern Aveyron in 1585, Margot was entertaining a new lover when the lords returned unexpectedly from hunting. In her haste to dress, she put on her bodice the wrong way round, thus exposing her bosom. To cover herself, she stuffed a bouquet of flowers into her cleavage and started a new fashion for the women of the area. Whether Margot was any worse than her contemporaries is a matter of some dispute.

Evangelist's face, desecrated during the Revolution

Evangelist’s face, desecrated during the Revolution

Today, the château de Saint-Projet is impeccably restored. The present owners have put on display all the items they found during the restoration work, including this massive coffer that required three separate keys to open it.

Massive coffer for soldiers' wages

Massive coffer for soldiers’ wages

Well worth a visit. See their website here.

P.S. By coincidence, blogging pal Evelyn wrote about the same place on the same day. Read hers here.

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

 

 

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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11 Responses to The Secret of Le Château de la Reine Margot

  1. Pingback: Tour de France 2016 | Life on La Lune

  2. Arnold Winterbottom says:

    I too was watching the TdF coverage on ITV4 and wondered if it was the same Reine Margot as in the wonderful Isabelle Adjani film. (It is).

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      It is indeed the same, although I have not seen the film. She was clearly a very interesting character. Thank you so much for answering my query. I hope you enjoyed the coverage. We saw it live not far from chez nous!

      Like

  3. Charlie Chump says:

    Hello, in response to you comment at the top of the post I thing the large number of hits today I think it is because this chateau was shown on ITV4s coverage of the Tour de France today, and ex cyclist David Miller was commentating and told the interesting story of the bricked up room! That’s why I looked anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Thank you so much for answering my question. I did wonder! The chateau is not on the Tour de France route but it’s not far away. We live not far from the route and saw it today in the company of neighbours. Great fun.

      Like

  4. Sue Whatmough says:

    A fascinating post. The whole secret room idea always intrigues me. We had a priest-hole in the house I was brought up in. It was a wonderful place to hide when the washing-up needed doing. Funny my mother never cottoned on.
    It’s great that the present owners of the chateau have restored with such care and that visitors can appreciate so much of the original.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      You must have lived in a fascinating and very old house when you were young. I love the idea of priest-holes and secret rooms. The one at Saint-Projet is surprising in that either no one knew it was there or no one could be bothered to investigate.

      Like

  5. Anita says:

    I’ve meant to visit the Chateau on numerous occasions, but never have. Reading yours and Evelyn’s blog posts has made me more curious and now, with the link to the website, I have the opening hours so no excuse.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      We’ve also been meaning to do so for 16 years! We went to a concert many years ago in the salle des gardes but, before last week, had never done the guided tour. It’s well worth a visit and the history of Queen Margot is almost like fiction!

      Like

  6. nessafrance says:

    She certainly led an eventful life. Although pawns in the political game, some women still managed to have an impact within the confines of the time. Our guide was a young women who was very ‘sympa’, so I’m glad we made the visit in the end.

    Pleased you got to the Art Festival in the end.

    Like

  7. Evelyn says:

    Fun to read your post since I just posted mine this afternoon about the Chateau! That Margot was quite a gal, huh? Your photos turned out much better than mine in the low light conditions. I thought the Chateau was well worth the visit. I even liked the ‘home movie’ DVD and bought one! To answer your comment on my blog…yes, I made it to the Art Festival in Parisot…returned Sat. morning (at the right time!) I enjoyed it very much.

    Like

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