Vaux-le-Vicomte is pronounced “voe (like woe is me, but with a v) – le-veekont“. You want to make the o a tight little sound, like that of a disapproving old lady. Vicomte, of course, means viscount, which, in English, is correctly pronounced vie (like fee fie fo fum kind of fie, but with a v) – count. (Not vis-count, like it’s spelled). Just in case you care about these sorts of things.
It took quite a bit of sleuthing, in both French and English, to figure out why the place is called Vaux-le-Vicomte, and the answer finally came when I was staring at the genealogical tree of Nicolas Fouquet, who “created” Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1641. He was the viscount (vicomte) of Vaux (thus, Vaux-le-Vicomte) and Vicomte of Melun, as well as the Marquis of Belle-Isle, the Lord of Maincy (where the château is situated), and – this is important – the superintendent of royal finances.
The most important thing you need to know about Vaux-le-Vicomte is that it inspired Versailles, even if it was done in a fit of jealousy. Fouquet bought the manor and small castle in Vaux because it was strategically situated between the two royal residences of Fontainebleau and Vincennes. He then spent 20 years using his considerable wealth (and how much of it came from the king’s coffers was the question du jour) to transform the estate into what it is today.
What’s most remarkable is that this is not a hodgepodge of architects doing add-ons over the centuries. He concentrated his efforts over 20 years and employed Louis Le Vau, the first architect of the king, Charles Le Brun, a celebrated painter, and André Le Notre (or Nostre), the royal gardener and had them work in sync to create something harmonious. The end-result is just that. Here are a few pictures that show the architecture. From the front:
From the back:
From the side:
A close-up of the glass doors.
The vista (with the golden Hercules statue in the distance):
More of this round marble room.
It contains the busts of famous Roman politicians.
Here are some of the paintings and the tapestries.
I love details like this painted strip next to the geometric, hand-blown window panes.
Such artistry – a painter hired just to paint and coordinate all this! Although I don’t know how much of this is the original. I’m guessing the stuff painted on the walls and ceilings is original, but anything not tacked on was whisked away in Louis XIV’s fury at being upstaged.
Here are some pictures of the garden.
Oh, and let me not forget to tell you about the carriage museum, which is in part of the stables. Very interesting, especially if you like Regency because you get to see a lot of those carriages close up.
We didn’t make it over to the statue of Hercules at Rest because we didn’t have time to walk around the canal. It’s worth it to rent the golf carts, available for the purpose of visiting the extensive gardens if you don’t have time and energy to go on foot.
And here are a couple more shots from the interior of the chateau.
I love old floors.
The game room:
(even royalty has needs)
which is next to the dungeon. They have this cheerful fellow stationed here because he was once a real prisoner. The Man With the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas was inspired by a mysterious prisoner who stayed here, whose face was never shown, even upon death. He was probably the illegitimate son of a king who posed a threat to his crown (my guess).
And that sort of brings us back to our story of Fouquet. On August 17, 1661, Fouquet had the unhappy idea of inviting Louis XIV to see his finished creation – the overwhelming splendour that was Vaux-le-Vicomte. The furious Sun King didn’t stay past dinner, and before he was back at the royal residence, he had already made plans to have Fouquet arrested for siphoning royal funds.
The trial lasted three years.
Those in favour of banishment outnumbered those in favour of death, but the king couldn’t bear to think of this offender living freely in another country so he had him imprisoned for life, which lasted for about 20 more years.
Louis XIV then had Versailles built. Like Vaux … only better.
Madame Fouquet was allowed to keep her château, though it took her ten years to recover the estate. All the paintings, tapestries, even the orange trees were requisitioned by the king and I’m not sure if she got any of that back. She finally sold the estate in 1705 on the death of her son.
Marshal de Villars held the château and passed it on to his son, who sold it to Duc de Praslin in 1764. The duke’s family held it for more than a century and it was auctioned off in 1875 to Alfred Sommier,a sugar magnate, who took over its restoration. His son Edme died without having children and the estate passed to his sister, Lucie de Vogué’s son, Jean de Vogué.
He is handsome, is he not? (If a bit severe). And Jean passed it on to his son, Patrice, who married Christina, and it is now in the hands of their three sons, Ascanio, Jean-Charles, and Alexandre de Vogué who own the château, but open it for the public. When you tour the château, you see personal touches, like these framed photos, that remind you that this is not just a museum, but a family home in the not-so-distant past.
Châteaux are always best when there’s a bit of life to them, wouldn’t you say?
I got most of my information directly from the website and from signs posted at the château, but I scouted around other sites trying to verify facts or clarify the history as I understood it. If you like this post, check out my FRANCE tourism page to read about other places we’ve visited in France.
Hey guys, I want to tell you about two memoirs that have just come out (or are on pre-order) because they both have to do with France and are really good! Both are sequels, and if you’re a francophile, I think you’ll like them (the original and the sequel).
The first is by Samantha Vérant, author of Seven Letters From Paris.
Here’s my review:
This is the second book I’ve read by Samantha Vérant and my conclusion is : to know Samantha is to love her. I found this book touching. I loved the first one, but there was something about the sequel (can you say that for a memoir?) that I connected to more deeply. Maybe it was the struggles she faced in adapting to a new culture, which is something I can relate to. Perhaps it was the particular trials she faced pertaining to motherhood that many of us have faced, no matter what country we live in. I think it was the vulnerable humor with which she seasoned the strange pot-au-feu kind of life she found her self plunked into, and the way she let it simmer until the flavours produced something divine.
P.S. Recipes in each section not to be missed (seriously).
P.P.S. I was given an advance copy via NetGalley; the opinions are mine.
P.P.P.S. Max you earned your 200 bucks. I’m not sure it’ll work a second time though. 😉
The second is by Janice MacLeod, author of Paris Letters (okay, so both books have the word ‘letter’ in it but the stories behind them are vastly different).
I don’t have a review for this one because it’s on pre-order, but this is my review of her original book:
If I could pick one word to describe this book, it would be ‘delightful’. The love story is delightful, the writing, the sketches, the descriptions, the author herself – all delightful. I cried a lot when I was reading this memoir, and only once was it from something even remotely sad. The writing was just so whimsical and funny, so … poignant that I found myself blinking hard in public places to whisk away the tears that threatened to fall.
Janice chooses her words delicately, as if she were mixing paint on a palette to get the perfect shade. And she accomplishes these portraits of Paris with her words even before you get to the actual sketch at the end of the chapter. When you’re done reading, you’re left undecided about whether you’ve just had a chat with your pragmatic best friend, or whether (and I’m laughing as I type this) a pixie has just spirited through, spreading fairy dust that leaves you dreaming of adventure, freedom, and PARIS.
I love supporting fellow authors, and you can buy their books by clicking on each of the book covers. Both books delight the senses. Samantha’s has the best French recipes, and Janice’s contains original paintings and sketches.
Do you like reading memoirs about France? And have you read anything by either of them yet?