Date of Award

2004

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Language

French

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

French

Advisor

Cathleen Bauschatz

Second Committee Member

Jennifer Gosetti

Third Committee Member

Kathryn Slott

Abstract

In this thesis my aim is to examine the various roles of the Loire Valley Castles throughout the history of France. These buildings are often collectively seen as a symbol of the itinerant French capital under the Valois kings, and the valley has the distinction of being the birthplace as well as the culmination of Renaissance architecture in France. The early castles, appropriately called fortresses, were large, formidable buildings often lacking in decoration. Their principal roles were the defense and protection of the local population. In addition, their lords also used them as strategic military posts from which to gain control over neighboring regions. These strongholds also attracted the kings of France to the valley, and it was here that Charles VII fled after the English invasion during the Hundred Year's War. After the war against England, the French monarchy prospered during a long era of peace. The kings continued to wage warfare, mostly in Italy, and from these escapades they brought back several Italian artists, architects and gardeners to France. These artisans and the kings together created several large and luxurious royal castles in Renaissance style. Not only do these castles show the power and wealth of the monarchy, but they also reflect the tastes of the individual kings who had them built. During this period, the number of royal buildings in the Loire Valley grew to a point were each important member of the royal family (such as the king, the queen, the official mistress, and the legitimate children) had his own castle. Building these sumptuous buildings severely drained the royal treasury and heavy taxes were often issued in order to have enough money for the royal constructions. The unfair taxes, coupled with the disastrous Wars of Religion, eventually led to the decline of the monarchy in the Loire Valley. With the accession of a new royal house, the government moved bak to Paris and the importance of the royal castles in the loire diminished. The construction of castles in the Loire Valley did not cease, however. Smaller castles, known as country houses, imitated the architecture and the opulence of the royal castles. The owners of these buildings often thought of themselves as equal to the kings, and were not afraid to steal from the treasury in order to complete their houses. Of course, any discovery by the government ministers of their acts ended up with the arrest of the owners and the repossession of the house. The country houses also helped to usher in a new phase of architecture in France, classicism. In addition, gardening achieved an important position in the layout of the building and grounds. In a sense, the architecture of the gardens of the castles became fused, and to this day one cannot picture one without the other. The country houses also show how the castles have evolved from prominent strongholds to dominant, luxurious palaces to hidden refuges among flowers and water.

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