Leaving aside the presence of remnants of the original drawbridge and its surrounding towers, which give access to the central courtyard, the Château de La Vallière is a true, pure example of Renaissance architecture as practised in the Loire valley. It is a testament to the ambition of the Le Blanc family, which became the La Baume Le Blanc family in 1635 – a family which attained lengthy tenure of some of the most prestigious royal positions in France, close to the king himself (as underlined by their motto, to this day engraved on one of the chimney breasts of the house: “Ad Principem ut ad ignem” , which translates as “close to the Prince, as to the (holy) Fire”. Louise de La Vallière, christened Françoise-Louise de La Baume Le Blanc, became the instrument by which her family moved a step closer still, when Louis XIV made her a Duchess in 1667, and elevated the de La Vallière lands to the status of a Duchy. In the longer term, it was in fact the descendants of her brother Jean-François who inherited both the title and the Duchy itself. The later line lived mostly in Paris, in order to stay close to the monarch, and rarely visited their domain – one of the reasons the château was not re-designed or re-built in the course of the 18th Century. Indeed, it was not until the end of the 19th Century that a new wing was built, extending the château and enclosing the central courtyard, restoring the appearance the buildings must have had before the 1798 French Revolution.
There is not much in the archives relating to La Vallière before Laurent Le Blanc acquired it in 1542. Without resorting to archaeology, it is impossible to determine precisely how the château looked before the 15th Century (a certain Jacques de la Vallière gets a mention in 1451). Of all the structures on-site, only the tower which serves as a dovecote has origins dating potentially to the 14th Century, but its architecture makes it impossible to date it with certainty.
Both the high-roofed central house overlooking the valley and the stair-tower on the courtyard side, generally thought to date from the 1540s and considered to be the first works undertaken by Laurent after he acquired the property, might in fact have been built half a century earlier, and thus potentially by one René Morin. Their form is, after all, more reminiscent of late 15th Century or early 16th Century architecture than of the Henri II period. In its solidity and absence of sculpted ornament, the main house sits firmly in the tradition of Medieval castles, designed to impose their presence of the surrounding landscape, in this case the Brenne valley. It can in this sense be compared with the Château de Candé, built in the 1500s by François Briçonnet. Both are built to command a valley, and both are accessed via an external stair-tower taller than the roofline. The same layout is to be found at the De La Poissonière manor house, built in around 1515 – the birthplace of the poet Pierre de Ronsard in 1524.
Thus it is not until the time of Laurent’s son, Jean le Blanc, that we find the first more precisely datable modifications to the château. Two chimney breasts on the first floor of the main house bear decorative motifs suggestive of interior re-modelling at the time of the marriage of Jean Le Blanc to Charlotte Adam in 1569: the first is decorated with a painting which represents husband and wife targeted by Cupid and his arrows; the second is a marble plaque bearing the inscription “Amor indissolu” (“unbreakable love”) and a monogram formed from the interlaced letters JB-CA. IN 1578, Jean Le Blanc obtained permission from the lord of the Rochecorbon area to fortify his château with ditches and a drawbridge. The drawbridge which leads to the central courtyard appears therefore to have been built after this date – a seigneurial symbol which stands out more – with its perforated bosses – for its aesthetic qualities than its actual defensive ones. During the same period, the two smaller buildings on either side of the stair-tower were built, which thus ceased to be external to become internal. These two towers allowed the construction of two extra cabinet rooms on each floor, characteristic of Renaissance buildings, but not to be found in 15th Century architecture. The styling of the skylights, Ionic in form, typifies the château of the Second Renaissance, or the Classical Renaissance. They differ from the skylights of the First Renaissance, more prevalent in the Loire valley, and whose projections and gables are still characterised by flamboyant decoration (as in the (château de la Côte, château de Chambord, etc). Also built in the 16th Century were a number of significant service quarters, which today, like the château itself, are listed as Historic Monuments: the barn, whose entrance features a straight staircase, and the other building which enclose the central courtyard, in particular the guard house with its entrance decorated with Doric capitals and a triangular pediment. It is reasonable to suppose that an ornamental garden at the foot of the château was created at the same time, possibly with several terraced levels – as at Valmer – but which was lost some time during the 17th or 18th Centuries through neglect.
Indeed, neither of these two centuries were marked by any significant works at La Vallière. The château was primarily a marker for the local seat of its lords, but they themselves were to be found more frequently in Tours, at their town house, the hôtel de la Crouzille, close to the Rue du Commerce, which was Louise de La Vallière’s birthplace in 1644, and later in Paris during the 18th Century. No significant building works took place until the end of the 19th Century, in particular the construction of the wing which links the main château to the guard house, built around 1885 by the Count of Montessuy. The building takes its inspiration from the architecture of the historical château, copying the skylights of the two smaller buildings and the triangular pediment of the guard house. Thus, the design of the extension, neo-Renaissance in intent, in no way conflicts with the other buildings.
We can therefore regard the Château de La Vallière as a very representative example of 16th Century architecture. While it possesses none of the characteristics of the châteaux of the First Renaissance, because it was originally built too early, and then re-modelled too late in the century, it is nonetheless testament to the durability of certain features, in particular the high roofs prevalent from the end of the 15th Century to the end of the 16th, and which create a coherent ensemble which makes it all the harder to determine the original construction date of the main house. The coherence of the whole was not disturbed by 17th and 18th Century modifications, which primarily consisted of alterations to internal walls to suit the needs of the time. It was, then, eventually modified in the 19th Century, but through construction of a neo-Renaissance wing conveying a reinterpretation of the historical originals.
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