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Places of the French Renaissance: Amboise

Although Chambord receives credit for being a “typical” Renaissance chateau, the French renaissance actually began within the walls of the Chateau d’Amboise. The story of Amboise and its rise to royal residence starts with Charles VIII, the first husband on Anne of Brittany.

Charles’ life started at Amboise. Without the constant threat of English invaders, Charles was able to spend large amounts of his reign there. Once he came to the throne, the chateau was a chateau fort, heavily fortified and with little logical design. In the 1480s, Charles decided to import Italian artisans and turn the old military dwelling into a luxurious dwelling fit for a king.

Despite the fact that it is not a part of Amboise, the nearby Close de Luce is an integral part of its history. You can access either structure by an underground tunnel. Charles moved his kinsmen, Louise de Savoy there, bringing her in closer contact with her rival, Queen Anne of Brittany. Leonardo da Vinci took up residence there from 1516 to 1519, until his death. Da Vinci is buried on the chateau’s grounds.

Charles VIII continued to hold his court at Amboise until his death there in 1498. He died of a freak accident when his head hit a low hanging lintel and he suffered a fatal head injury. After his death, Ann married his successor who would become Louis XII.

Henry II and Catherine de Medici used Amboise as one of the principal residences for their royal nursery, housing there children also at Blois and St. Germain-en-Ley. To provide more stability for their children and to shield them from the chaos of the court, the royal children spent time away from the main court. In times of plague, as the summer when the disease came to Blois, the children stayed at Amboise in safety.

Since Amboise was one of the existing chateau forts that were converted from fortresses to Renaissance style villas, Amboise had few natural defenses other than the high promontory on which it stood. In 1560, the Protestants led by the English ambassador and Prince Louis de Conde, marched towards Amboise in an attempt to kidnap the young Francis II and remove him from Guise control. The Duc de Guise routed the attackers, and the captured Protestants suffered a greusome death.

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