The Royal Château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Most of the French Royal Palaces began in a modest way as fortified hunting lodges, and Saint-Germain-en-Laye was no exception. It was begun in the year 1124 on orders of King Louis VI (1081-1137), so he could go hunting in the forests of Saint-Germain and Marly-le-Roi.

Over the centuries, this fortified hunting lodge evolved into an elaborate (but not especially comfortable) palace, with expansions particularly in the reigns of Louis IX (1214-1270), Charles V (1338-1380) and François I (1494-1547).

History of the Château

According to this text panel, King Louis XIV and his court left Saint-Germain for good on April 20, 1682, taking their furniture with them.

The exiled English King James Stuart (1633-1701), accompanied by his family and supporters, arrived at this practically empty and uninhabited Château in 1689. A few indispensable pieces of furniture, such as beds and chairs, were provided by the warehouses of the French Crown. No major transformation took place, and there were frequent complaints about the lack of maintenance of the building, which was impossible to heat and whose trenches were filled with “general filth”.

Starting with the Revolution, the Château had various military uses. It served as a temporary prison for suspects during the Terror from September 1793 to July 1794, then as a garrison for veterans in 1798. Napoléon I established a cavalry school here from 1809 to 1814.

Courtyard of the Château

The courtyard of the Château has been carefully restored to look very much as it did in the 16th century during the reign of François I.

Text panel in the courtyard

According to this text panel, the courtyard was open to the public in the 16th century, permitting the king to show himself to the people when he went over to the chapel. In the 17th century the balconies had cast-iron railings which supported flowers and bird cages. The courtyard served as an annex to the chapel, which was too small to receive all the invited guests, during two royal baptisms.

King Henri II and (later) Louis XIV lived in the wing to the right, on the first floor (i.e. one flight up). The apartments of the queens were situated above this balcony. The apartments of the ‘favorites’, such as Madame de Maintenon and Mademoiselle de La Vallière, were located on this floor in the extension of Hall VIII. The left wing of the Château was reserved for the royal children and their servants.

Sainte Chapelle

This chapel in the Château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye was built around the year 1238 on orders of King Louis IX, now better known as Saint Louis since he was canonized 27 years after his death.

This chapel is no longer used for religious services. It served as the prototype for the later and much more elaborate Sainte Chapelle in Paris, which was also built on orders of King Louis IX.

Louis IX (Saint Louis) at age 24 or 25

In the chapel of Saint-Germain-en-Laye I was surprised to find this plaster cast (moulage) of a bust of King Louis IX at age 24 or 25. I find he looks strangely indecisive here, unlike later depictions of him as a saint or warrior or both.

Location and aerial view on monumentum.fr.

My photos in this post are from 2015. I revised the text in 2019.

See more posts on Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France.

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