Monday, 23 February 2015

Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

By comparison with the Louvre, Versailles or even Fontainbleu few visitors trouble the guides of the Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, one of the historic royal palaces near Paris. Around 1122 Louis VI had a fortified castle built on the forested plateau of Laye. The foundations of the keep or donjon known as "le Grand Chatelet" are encased in the fabric of the present castle.

Louis IX (Saint Louis) extended the original castle and had the chapel built between 1230 and 1238.

In 1337 England claimed the throne of Philip VI and as a result war broke out. The Black Prince son of the King of England sacked and burned Saint-Germain-en-Laye, sparing only the chapel and leaving the castle in ruins until the reign of Charles V who rebuilt it between 1364-1367. In 1539 Francis undertook a major reconstruction of the castle that was continued by his son Henry II after 1547.

In 1559 the chateau had more than fifty apartments for family and favourites, a ballroom, kitchens and seven chapels.

The part of the castle known as the "Chateau Vieux" became the residence of the royal children and their households.

On 20th April 1682, Louis XIV who had been born at Saint Germain, moved the court, permanently, to Versailles.

Louis gave the Chateau de Saint-Germain over to James VII and II after the king of Scotland and England had been deposed by his daughter and son-in-law in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. King James lived in exile at the chateau for thirteen years until his death in 1701.

His wife Marie Beatrice lived on at Saint-Germain until her death in 1718. Their son James left in 1716 finally settling in Rome.

At Saint-Germain King James held court surrounded by the faithful who had accompanied him into exile. The Jacobite courtiers were given apartments in the chateau and when these fell empty the caretaker the Duc de Noailles often passed them on to the widow or children thus maintaining the Jacobite predominance that continued at Saint-Germain until 1766 and the death of the Duc de Noailles.

 The last member of the Stuart Court to live at Saint-Germain was Theresa O'Connel who died in 1778. The last Jacobites were evicted in 1793 during the Revolution.

In the 19th century Napoleon I installed a cavalry school in the chateau.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Ashley Manor, Meet of the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt.

While the rest of the world goes to work on a Monday morning, at Ashley Manor near Tetbury, nearly one hundred riders turn up for a meet of the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt. Perhaps it was so popular because Saturday's meet had been called off due to the hard ground (frost). Often referred to as 'ladies day', Monday is usually the smallest field of the Beaufort Hunt, who hunt four days a week. Beanie Sturgis (glamour) was field master for the day. (Until not long ago it was six days a week). Sadly, not only is it approaching the end of the season, it is also approaching the end of an era ; Tony Holdsworth, the huntsman (really nice chap) is hanging up his horn and his boots while Captain Farhquar (legend), although remaining a joint master is no longer going to ride to hounds.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Abercorn Parish Kirk

Abercorn is one of the earliest Christian sites in Scotland. In 400 AD St Ninian visited during his mission to the Picts. By AD 600 the Northumbrians had established Abercorn as one of their four bishoprics, together with York, Hexham and Lindisfarne. The oldest surviving part of the present church is a small blocked up door that has been dated to c1100. That may have been an entrance to a chapel or even an extension to St Ninian's original church.

Not withstanding the church's great antiquity its chief glory is the Hopetoun Loft. It enabled members of the Hope family could look down on the congregation and especially their neighbors the Dayells of The House of the Binns, without themselves being seen. The loft was built above the Hope burial vault so that the family prayed above the tombs of their ancestors. The Aisle was built c1704 by architect Sir William Bruce who had earlier worked on Hopetoun House itself.

The decoration of the Hopetoun Loft is stunning. An indication of the Loft's occupants closer proximity to heaven perhaps. Rather than a loft in a church it has all the appearance of a royal box at the opera. It is richly carved and panelled with the new Earl's Achievement painted on the wall behind him by Richard Waitt. The frieze carved by William Eizat along the front facing the Church uses heraldic devices and natural forms.

The first Earl of Hopetoun's Achievement by Richard Waitt.

Access to the Loft is not through the church but through an elegant retiring room.  The Hope family had their own  private entrance to the north of the church. From there a carriage way leads through the Deer Park  to Hopetoun House, a mile away.

Squint from the Retiring Room into the Kirk.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Chateau de Malmaison

The lovely Chateau de Malmaison started out as a country house near Paris built between 1610-1620. The Revolution led the owners to sell to Josephine on 21 April, 1799, in accordance with the wishes of Napoleon who was away on campaign in Egypt to acquire some land near Paris. On his return from Egypt Napoleon completed the purchase and became the owner of the property. The First Consul appointed architects Percier and Fontaine to restore the chateau. In 1800 they began to lay out the rooms by decorating them in a neo-classical style inspired by the recent excavations of the ancient Roman sites at Rome and Pompei.

In 1801 Percier and Fontaine added a porch shaped as a campaign tent at the front to house the servants.

Inside the architects transformed  the hall by using four stucco columns to create a room that resembled the atrium of a Roman villa. Originally there were sliding mirrors in the central arcades which gave entry to the Billiard Room and the Dining Room on either side. The chairs in the hall are by the Jacob Brothers and came from Murat's library at the Elysee Palace.

The Hall

The Billiard Room was designed by Percier and Fontaine in 1800. The fifteen X-shaped stools covered with red Moroccan leather, together with two semicircular gilded tables were supplied in 1808 by Jacob-Desmalter for the gallery which was destroyed by fire in 1832.

The Gilded Room, Salon Dore is still furnished with six original mahogany armchairs adorned with Egyptian heads attributed to the Jacob Brothers and covered with blue velvet. The chairs covered with gros de Tours came from Josephine's Room at Saint-Cloud Palace.

The Gilded Room

The Music Room was designed over three small rooms to form a gallery to display paintings by contemporary artists in the troubadour style favoured by Josephine.

The Music Room

The four armchairs and two of its original four settees had been returned to the Music Room together with the harp that belonged to the Empress Josephine.

The Dining Room

Between 1800-1802 France was governed from Malmaison and the Tuileries. One hundred and sixty nine councils were held at Malmaison in the Council Room, which discussed among other things the creation of the Order of the Legion of Honour and ratification of the Treaty of San Ildelfonso which returned Louisiana to France. Portraits of Josephine and Madame Mere hang on  walls lined with striped twill to give the appearance of a campaign tent.

The Council Room

The Library at the opposite end of the chateau to the Music room was similarly formed by removing the partitions of three smaller rooms to create one large space. The wall are lined with mahogany made by the Jacob Brothers in 1800. Concealed behind a mirror is a hidden staircase by which Napoleon could make his way discreetly to his apartment on the first floor. The magnificent bureau was used by Napoleon in his Cabinet at the Tuileries, throughout his reign.

The Library

When they first moved to Malmaison Napoleon and Jospehine shared what is now known as the Empress' Bedchamber but in 1803 Napoleon decided to move his quarters to two small rooms in the south wing above the library and Council Room. The room is now used to display portraits of the imperial family including a portrait of Empress Josephine by Reisner, son of Marie-Antoinette's cabinet maker.

The Emperor's Drawing Room

The octagonal pedestal table purchased by Napoleon III is part of the chateau's original furniture.

Sphinx  firedog.

The bed by Jacob-Desmalter in the Emperor's Bedchamber had been delivered in 1806 for Prince Eugene's bedchamber at the Tuileries Palace and while the chairs came from Saint Cloud they have been covered with a reproduction of the original fabric.

The Emperor's Bedchamber

The Emperor's Bedchamber

The Arms Room and the Marengo Room have been transformed into museum rooms displaying mementoes belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte, General and First Consul and works dating from the Consular period.

Stool shaped as crossed swords (a pair) c 1813-1814 attributed to Martin-Guillame Biennais (1746-1843)

Prince Eugene, Viceroy of  Italy

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825),
Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul,
Crossing the Alps at Great-Saint-Bernard Pass, (detail)
oil on canvas 1801

The Austerlitz Table displays around Napoleon crowned as emperor, the portraits of his joint chiefs of staff on the day of the battle of Austerlitz (2nd December, 1805).

Austerlitz Table (detail)
Manufacture de Sevres 1806
Painted by Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767-1855)

The three rooms formerly part of Queen Hortense and  Prince Eugene's apartment have been used to display mementoes belonging to Empress Josephine. As part of her divorce settlement Napoleon gave  Malmaison to Josephine together with the 14th century chateau Navarre in Normandy. She kept the Elysee Palace maintained her rank of empress, and all her honours and prerogatives. And if that was not enough, all her debts were paid off and she was awarded an income of 3 million francs per annum for life.

How ironic when the reason Napoleon divorced Josephine was to get an heir for his empire when it turned out that it was her grandson, rather than any children of napoleon who would be the next emperor of France (Napoleon III). Today her direct descendants occupy the thrones of Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Luxembourg while  Napoleon's sit on none.

Empress Josephine,
Gobelins manafacture

The most spectacular part of the collection is of almost fifty pieces of the two ceremonial services commissioned by the Empress and her son Prince Eugene to the Dihl et Guerhard porcelain factory after her divorce. After the collapse of the Empire they were taken to Munich and were used used by Russian descendants of the prince before being confiscated during the Russian Revolution. the pieces now at Malmaison were sold by the Soviets between the two World wars.

Manufacture de Dihl et Guerhard, Paris
Dessert plates commissioned by Empress Josephine after the divorce
hard-past porcelain c 1811-1813

The Frieze Room occupies the bedchamber of Mlle Avrillon, the Empress' chambermaid, along with  Josephine's bathroom.

The Empress' Bedchamber was redecorated by the architect Berhault after the divorce while the Empress went to Milan in the summer of 1812. He created a magnificent room shaped as a tent. The gilded wood bed by Jacob-Desmalter (1812) was where Josephine died on May 29 1814.

The Empress' Bedchamber

During the Consulate when the couple shared the same bedchamber the Ordinary bedchamber was used whenever one of them was ill. After becoming Empress Josephine turned the room into her Ordinary Bedchamber as opposed to the ceremonial one next door. She used the room to read and write letters and was where she kept her jewels.

The Ordinary Bedchamber

Pompeian motifs on the walls of the Dressing Room

The Boudoir was used as a sitting room and as a small dining room for small intimate gatherings. On occasion she would invite a female orang-utan dressed in a white chemise to eat turnips among her guests at a table.

The Boudoir

The estate at Malmaison grew to be three hundred acres of gardens, woods and pasture and a magnificent collection of statuary. Josephine kept a menagerie of exotic animals including kangaroo, emu, flying squirrel, gazelle, ostriches, lamas and a cockatoo that only knew one word (Napoleon) which it repeated endlessly.

The last resident of Malmaison was Napoleon.  After Waterloo he spent a fortnight there, before his embarkation for St Helena.