The history of the fortress of Chinon is associated with many famous people.
Henry II, Plantagenet king of England
Among the many illustrious ancestors of Henry Plantagenet are William the Conqueror and Foulques Nerra. Born in Le Mans in 1133, Henry led a wandering life, following his parents between England and France. In 1152, he married Eleanor, recently divorced from the king of France and ten years his senior. She brought him Aquitaine in her dowry. In 1154, he inherited England through his mother and became king of England under the name Henry II. Chinon was among his continental possessions. He decided to hold the royal treasure there and stayed there often. He held his court at Chinon for the last time at Christmas in 1172, surrounded by his wife and sons, who were already quarrelling about their territorial inheritance. Abandoned by his children whom he could not or would not associate with his power, sick and fleeing Philip Augustus, he died in the fortress of Chinon in 1189.
Jacques de Molay
Jacques de Molay was the last Grand Master of the Order of the Temple, the elite body of warrior monks founded in the 12th century in order to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. He led the Order from 1292 until its dissolution by the king of France in 1312. From 1307, Philip the Fair used the excuse of deviations from the Order to arrest all its members and accuse them of heresy. Several months later, Philip the Fair agreed to send seventy-five Knights Templar before the Pope in Poitiers. However, on the way, the king had five of the order’s officers held in Chinon, including Jacques de Molay. They were imprisoned in the fortress from June to August 1308, leaving lots of graffiti in the Coudray Tower. Between August 17 and 20 1308, emissaries from the Pope came to the fortress to hear the prisoners at their trial. This resulted in an important document for the history of the order, the “Parchment of Chinon”, which is kept in the Vatican’s secret archives. At the end of the trial, Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake in 1314.
Since 1328, the Hundred Years War had been raging between the French crown and the English who were claiming the Plantagenet inheritance. In 1419, the English seized Paris, forcing the Dauphin (the future Charles VII) into exile in Bourges. By the Treaty of Troyes, signed in May 1420, the parents of Charles VII, under the influence of the Burgundy clan, disinherited their son in favor of Henry V of England. The Dauphin did not accept the treaty and had himself proclaimed king of France, but he could not be crowned in Rheims which was under Anglo-Burgundian control. His realm, known as the “kingdom of Bourges” comprised most of France south of the Loire. He married Marie d’Anjou in Bourges in 1422. Chinon then became his summer residence where the court did not assemble until 1427. There, in March 1429, he received Joan of Arc who had come to persuade him to have himself crowned in Rheims.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc came to meet Charles VII in the fortress of Chinon. That famous episode in Joan’s history is usually described as a mythical and miraculous event: “The Recognition”, but it is not true because not one but two interviews took place at Chinon. The first occurred on February 25 1429, two days after Joan’s arrival. She was taken to the King’s apartments where the King received her with a small committee. She was accommodated in the Coudray keep. Her virginity was verified by a gathering of women, presided over by the Queen of Sicily, Yolande of Aragon. Then Charles VII sent Joan to Poitiers to enable his advisors and doctors of theology to assess her honesty. On her return, the King received Joan again, between March 27 and April 5 1429. The second audience, called “the sign”, was assigned the official and public aspect usually attributed to the first interview. It marked the end of the Poitiers investigation and acted as Joan’s official presentation. She then brought the King a golden crown which was the physical “sign” of her promise to bring the king to his coronation. She then withdrew to a neighboring chapel.
The first Inspector General of Historic Monuments, Ludovic Vitet, was appointed by King Louis-Philippe in 1830. During his first tours of the provinces, he wrote the founding report for the Historic Monuments Service, before being succeeded by Prosper Mérimée in 1834. Mérimée's deputy was the young Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. In 1839, Mérimée became Vice-President of the Historic Monuments Commission, a position he would hold until his death. From 1837, Mérimée proposed the creation of a Historic Monuments Commission which would comprise seven members, most of them related to King Louis-Philippe. The service was concerned first with the outstanding sites and monuments of prehistory and the Renaissance. Documentation (in the form of notes, plans, drawings and photographs) and lists of sites were compiled. On site, the architects attached to the Historic Monuments Commission supervised the construction works and the maintenance of the buildings on the lists. In 1840, the fortress of Chinon was classified as a historic monument, but the ruins were still dangerous and, in 1854, the municipality requested the demolition of the buildings. The citizens of Chinon called in Napoleon III to avoid that plan and mobilization was organized. The intervention of Prosper Mérimée in 1854 was decisive. In a long report, he described the state of the castle and deplored the damage done to the monument by the residents themselves. Stones had in fact been dragged from the base of the curtain walls to make staircases, for example. Thanks to Prosper Mérimée, the castle received a subsidy from the Historic Monuments Commission for restoration work which began in 1857.
In 1182, Henri Déverin, the chief architect of the Historic Monuments Commission, presented the first draft for the restoration of royal residences (five watercolors), for which he won a silver medal at the Paris exhibition. Those architectural paintings followed the troubadour spirit so popular in the 19th century which offered a fantasy vision of the Middle Ages. The restoration project contained several errors due to an inadequate archeological study. The whole plan was rejected by the senior body of the Historic Monuments Commission for being too audacious. In 1905, the Friends of Old Chinon (now the Historical Society of Chinon, Vienne and Loire) met Henri Déverin and acquired these new pictures which are now on display in the fortress. On the southern façade overlooking the river Vienne, Henri Déverin has restored a loggia in the Renaissance style, whereas, in the drawing entitled “Pignon et Perron de la Grande Salle”, the bridge leading to the Coudray tower is clearly visible, although it ought to be concealed by a covered way.
Departmental Council of Indre et Loire
Christophe Raimbault - CD 37
Joël Pairis - CD 37
The Historical Society of Chinon, Vienne and Loir