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Beauty, decay and revolution touch tiny Chambray

Our charming Chambray  postcard shows a rough road, smart gates and a well dressed child being shepherded by an elegant lady with a marvellous hat.

Chambray Eure
Chambray Eure

This is not the Chambray Château at Gouville, whose history is bottomless, that would be too easy.  This is a tiny hamlet with the same name on the river Eure.

Carefully quiet in Chambray

Here there are just a few houses, some set quietly back behind walls and hedges, and an ancient church.  This appears to be all there is to Chambray which, if you are not in the mood for secular history, is not a lot. Perhaps that this is just how the villagers like it. Just a one hour drive from Paris, a part of Normandy conceals many chic properties for the discretely affluent.

Quick gate note

The first curious thing we noticed were the gates. They are large, ornate and all over the village. Identical ones as though a landlord got a job lot cheap and foisted them on his tenants. Oddly the gates in our postcard are those very ones, but they have now been replaced by wooden doors.

The gates of Chambray
The gates of Chambray

You will gather we were struggling to find much out about Chambray. Then we drove along the Grand Rue, heading north, and we saw something quite beautiful.

Disappearing beauty

Behind a long wall that edges the road and clearly on view, as the summer greenery had not taken over, stands a huge elegant 18th century stables, fit for the kings’s horses. A closer look revealed perhaps not a king but an optimistic builder.  The vast roof is failing, tall weeds choke the once smooth courtyard and a lock is backed up by ‘do not enter’ cameras to repel the inquisitive.  Us.

Perfectly private please

Stables at the château, Chambray
Stables at the château, Chambray

A gracious château set in once formal gardens still stands, comfortable and secure, between these illustrious buildings and the river Eure. This is the very private Château de Chambray, rebuilt in the 1840’s so not quite a match for the stables. The original château was 17th century and built for for Le Comte de Louviers.  Since then not a century has gone by without the house undergoing some fairly major architectural surgery.

A time of elegant living

The 18th century was a time of elegance and success for the château. It’s chapel was rebuilt in 1771 and the grand stables added in 1736. A visit by the famous poet Antoinette du Ligier de la Garde Deshoulières is proudly recorded.  She led a literary salon in Paris and, before illness tarnished her view of the world, wrote  poems about the beauty of nature.  She would have found a lot of inspiration at Chambray.

Stables at the château, Chambray
Stables at the château, Chambray

At the end of the 18th century the sedate history of the château is suddenly shaken awake by the French Revolution.  One of it’s owners was the remarkable Marquise de Tourzel.

The last governess

Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel believed in the absolute power of the monarch and was rewarded for her faithfulness with the role of governess to the children of King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette.  She was to be their last governess. In 1789 when the Bastille fell their previous governess, lovely Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron Duchess of Polignac, indulged favourite of Queen Antoinette, was forced to flee the country.  Louise-Élisabeth was asked to step into Yolande’s pretty shoes with her very sensible feet.

Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel, Madame Severe
Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel, Madame Severe

The dauphin (the second, his older brother died of tuberculosis age 7 in August 1789)  nicknamed her Madame Severe, but her serious ways were more than balanced by her daughter Pauline’s sense of fun.  Pauline was close to the dauphin.

Revolution and danger for the royal family

As revolution raged around them Louise-Élisabeth’s loyalty was tested but never wavered. She was with them when they escaped the angry, hungry, mob who stormed Versailles.  Then she accompanied the family, all atrociously disguised, as they attempted to escape Paris for royalist Montmedy.

Easily recognised they were soon dragged back to Paris by furious republicans. Louise-Élisabeth did not leave the children’s side until they were taken from her.  In 1792 the monarchy was abolished and imprisoned, separately from each other and away from Louise-Élisabeth. She was imprisoned with her beloved Pauline and the Princess de Lamballe.

In just a few weeks the prisons of Paris were under attack by revolutionary hoards. Many of the incarcerated nobility were murdered during these September Massacres.

A mysterious escape

But not Louise-Élisabeth and Pauline.  Amid the turmoil there were somehow rescued by a mysterious man.  And that is all we know of their escape. While they lived, poor Princess de Lamballe was tortured and defiled by the mob.  When they had finished with her they put her head on a stick and paraded it around Paris.

The sins of the father

Louis-Charles, successor to the throne of France and age just 10 was imprisoned alone.  He was not treated well and unsurprisingly became very ill.  But his death is a mystery.

Portrait of Dauphin Louis Charles of France (1785-1795)
Portrait of Dauphin Louis Charles of France (1785-1795)

Officially he died on 8 June 1795 but circumstances are so muddled and the people involved so untrustworthy that the royalists refused to believe he was dead.  The disease that is supposed to have killed him was not usually fatal, at least not that quickly. He had been kept apart, hidden and unseen for some time as though his identity would be questioned and most damningly his sister was not asked to identify his body. Rumours that he was helped to escape quickly spread and continue to this day. For the rest of her life Louise-Élisabeth, that proud woman who had suffered enough was continually accosted by people claiming to be him.  They were not.  He had died alone and his scarred body buried in a mass grave.

An unwanted Château reborn

During these turbulent years the Château at Chambray of course received little attention and by the 1840’s was ready for nothing but rebuilding and this rebuild is the château you can see, in the distance today. Of course there were soon more changes with renovations and a new ‘concierge’, a garden pavilion by renown architect Georges Just Antoine Lisch, of the architect family Lisch.  Father Juste Lisch designed many Paris stations including Gare-Saint Lazare while sons Georges and René renovated cathedrals and castles while building huge homes for the new 20th century rich of France.

The château at Chambray, Eure.  No updated match, this home is very private.
The château at Chambray, Eure. No updated match, this home is very private.

Nothing special….

Although the Château at Chambray has an illustrious heritage this is not unusual in Normandy. On the government website the château, under category  ‘remarkable elements’, is described as ‘common’. We cannot agree.  Google let us insert a roadside view of the stables you can swoop around here:


More about the Lisch family of architects and examples of their work incl watercolours of designs (French, pdf)

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