Creepy Château de Chaumont & Catherine's Shady Squad

The first time I visited Chateau de Chaumont was in the winter of 2003 - a brief visit that lingered in my imagination for years after.  Since the castle was closed to tourists, I wandered the grounds alone in hopes I might encounter the spirits of inhabitants past.  

This might seem an unusual pastime unless you pause to consider the castle's rather unusual history. 

Chaumont was once the home of Catherine de Medici, queen to Henri II of France.  Catherine practiced what some called "the darker arts" at Chaumont, inviting astronomers, numerologists, and a host of shady characters.  
The astrologer Nostradamus was one of the member's of Catherine's shady squad.  He visited her at Chaumont on several occasions.  Legend has it Catherine attended ritualistic animal sacrifices in the castle's front hall (this told to me by a groundskeeper I encountered).  

On that first visit, when the wind eerily whispered through the ancient pine trees, it wasn't difficult to imagine the queen and her astronomer strolling through the gardens, their heads together as they tried to decipher the meaning of his convoluted dreams.  

I didn't see a ghost that day - the queen politely declined to materialize - but then, I don't practice her dark arts.  Nevertheless, a chill trickled down my spine when a trick of light created a shadow that moved between the trunks.  

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Chaumont again.  This time, the castle was open for visitors and I found it as strange and haunting a place as I did all those years ago.  I hoped to learn more secrets about the castle's history - titillating tales about seances and sacrifices, visions and predictions.  I wanted to see the front hall and learn the details about the sacrifices purportedly held there.  I wanted to know if Nostradamus warned Catherine she would become a widow before she turned forty.  I wanted the opportunity to buddy-up to one of the guides, to get them to share stories about sightings and things that go bump in the night.

Much to my disappointment, the spirits failed to materialize and the guides offered no spooky stories. I wandered through the rooms, sat quiet in the empty stairway, listening for echoes.  Though it was a pleasant visit, I learned nothing of the darker side of Chaumont's history.  

As I walked back to my car, I thought about Catherine's final days at Chaumont.  On a bright summer day in 1559, Henri II was jousting at Place des Vosges, a lovely square in Paris, when his lance shattered into a million pieces.  One of the shards penetrated his eye.  Henri II lingered for several long, agonizing days before taking his last breath.

Catherine would don widows weeds and mourn her prince for the rest of her life.  Grief didn't stop her from trading up, though...

A slight, though important, digression:  Henri II had a mistress named Diane de Poitiers.  Diane was pretty much Catherine's polar opposite - stunningly beautiful, gay, stylish.  Henri loved Diane so much he gave her the most beautiful, fairy-tale castle in all of France: Chenonceau.  Naturally, this vexed old Catherine, who burned with jealousy.

Henri was barely cold in his marble tomb when Catherine snatched Chenonceau's keys from Diane's hot little hands.  In exchange, she gave Diane the deed to Chaumont, which had a leaky roof and walls stained with sacrificial blood.  

I will be posting an article about my visit to Chenonceau so be sure to check back or subscribe to this blog.

All photographs on this blog were taken by Leah Marie Brown and are protected by copyright. Please ask permission before reproducing. Merci.

Inner courtyard.

Well located inside
the courtyard.

View of the Loire.

Strange and slightly creepy art inside
the chapel at Chaumont.
Another shot of the chapel.

Church  located near castle.

The stairs are worn and uneven
from years of use.  If you sit quietly,
you can almost hear the rustle
of stiff gowns, the tap-tap of slippers
moving over the stones.

Looking up from the stairway.

The royal chamber with a portrait of
Catherine de Medici hanging on the wall,
glaring down at all who pass.

The Royal Reception Hall - Catherine would
have received dignitaries here.

Beautiful tapestry and painted

Through a glass darkly
- stained glass window
looking out at the courtyard
at Chaumont.

Close up of window.

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