It’s annoying to have to change a location of scenes in the 7th draft of a novel. I’ve housed Louis XIV’s two mistresses in the old château in Saint-Germain-en-Laye: it’s an ancient castle-like fortress with a moat, turrets and all the trimmings.
I’ve visited it a number of times. There are two side-by-side chambers there that are said to have been those of Louise de la Vallière (the Sun King’s mistress #1) and Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan (the Sun King’s mistress #2). Voilá. And so it has been in both Mistress of the Sun and The Next Novel.
Gary McCollim, my wonderful historical consultant (familiar to many readers of this blog), pointed out that the King and Court were housed in Le Château Neuf, however—the “new” chateau (of which only remnants exist today).
Had I set my scenes in the wrong château? Did I need to rewrite? (Groan.)
The New Château
The sprawling Château Neuf opened onto glorious view of the Seine river valley. It was enlarged and completed by Henry IV (who conveniently housed all his children—legitimate and illegitimate both—in the old castle).
Louis XIII, the Sun King’s father, died in the newer residence, and his sons were born there. Clearly, it was the royal residence.
A timeline recap:
1648: During the French civil war called the Fronde, members of the royal family took refuge in Saint-Germain several times.
September 13, 1648, the Queen and her children stayed in the old chateau, possibly because it was more of a fortress, more secure. Neither residence was furnished, however, and the furnishings sent on from Paris were intercepted and looted.
A few months later, the King’s cousin, the Duchess of Montpensier, also came to Saint-Germain seeking asylum, installing herself at Château Neuf where “she lay in a wonderfully beautiful chamber in a ruined tower, well-gilded and large but with no glass in the windows and a meager fire.”
1660: One of the newer château’s retaining walls collapsed in 1660, and the King had the massive gardens renovated in 1662.
1668: the Court set off from the Château Neuf for the baptism of the Grand Dauphin in Sainte Chapelle of the Château Vieux.
1680: Mansart expanded and modernized the Château Vieux.
1682: the Court left Saint-Germain for Versailles, which became the seat of government.
1688: Louis XIV allowed the exiled James II of England to base himself at Saint-Germain. Some say James II took over the old castle, others that he and his court stayed in both.
So where does this all leave me, other than down the proverbial Research Rabbit Hole?
Do I relocate my scenes?
No: Because, with some rummaging around in my library, I discovered that two of the children Madame de Montespan had by the King were born in the old castle: Louis-August, Duc du Maine, in 1670, and Françoise-Marie, Mlle de Tours, in 1674.
All of which leads me to suspect that the mistresses—Louis de la Vallière and Madame de Montespan—were likely housed apart from the royal family in the old castle, at least some of the time.
However, like all research, this matter will be on-going … until publication, that is. Weigh in!
For an interesting paper on Le Château Neuf—including a floor plan (!) — see Le Château Neuf de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, une Villa Royale pour Henri IV by Emmanuel Lurin.