We are in the lap of 19th century luxury this week on the blog, which is surprising considering the building on our postcard had burnt down.
One afternoon in 1902 a chimney in the fabulously extravagant and importantly historic Château d’Eu caught fire. Unfortunately whoever put it out did a poor job and later the household was horrified to see huge flames leaping out of one wing. It was the beginning of a disaster, and a hundred years of work.
The event was reported in depth by the Paris correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph:
Daily Telegraph, 12 November 1902:
French Château fire, great destruction, art treasures saved
General regret. and this without distinction of party prejudice, is felt at the sad fate which has befallen that fine historical edifice, the Château d’Eu, situated near the town from which it takes its name, in close proximity to the sea coast, about seventeen miles to the east of Dieppe. A great part of the structure has been destroyed by fire, which broke out in formidable proportions last evening and raged far into the night.
The disaster originated, as so often happens in such cases, from a very trifling accident. During the afternoon a chimney in one of the wings had caught fire, and the engine of the Château having been promptly brought into play, all mischief had, as was fondly imagined, been speedily averted.
Some hours afterwards, at eight o’clock, however, as the porter and his wife, who were the sole tenants of the mansion, were about to seat themselves at their supper’table, they noticed flames issuing from the wing where the chimney fire had occurred. They rushed off and gave the alarm.
The local pompiers hastened to the spot, soon to be followed by firemen from other parts of the district, but the conflagration had already taken such hold of the edifice that all their efforts to arrest its progress proved fruitless.
The fire developed into an extremely serious affair which for a long time baffled all the energetic exertions which were made to subdue it. Columns of smoke rose high in the air presently, enveloping the town of Eu with a thick black canopy, and for a while all hope of saving any portion of the doomed Château was well night abandoned, so desperate did the situation appear.
No time, it was clear, was to be lost in the attempt to rescue all the works of art and other priceless treasures which had been collected by the late Comte de Paris, father of the present owner, the Duc d’ Orleans, and by their ancestors.
The authorities of the town of Eu and many of the inhabitants as well had rushed off to the chateau as soon as the gravity of the state of affairs had been ascertained, and they devoted themselves bravely and actively to the work of rescuing these splendid collections of pictures, tapestries, books, ancient furniture, and countless other objects of special interest.
It is most satisfactory to be able to record that according to intelligence received here this afternoon, their efforts in this direction have been crowned with success. Everything of value has, it is stated been saved, but, unhappily, although the chapel has been spared, three out of the four wings of the building have been destroyed.
It was not until five o’clock this morning that it was found possible to confine the conflagration within the area in which it was then raging. For many an hour afterwards the engines were being kept fully employed in hurling volumes of water on the still smoking ruins. Messages were dispatched last night to the Comtesse de Paris; informing her of the catastrophe, and this morning telegrams of the same tenor were forwarded to her son-in-law, the King of Portugal, and also to the Duc d’Orleans.
The Château and the collections are said to have been heavily insured.
Our Paris correspondent kindly went on to explain just why this Normandy Château was historically important:
Château d’Eu is a former royal residence in the town of Eu, in the Seine-Maritime department of France, in Normandy For many reasons the history of the Chateau d’Eu is of special interest. It formed the successor to an ancient castle which had been built to arrest the incursions of the Normans, and which, as the years rolled on, had fallen into their hands, being strengthened by Rollo.
Around this fortress were grouped houses in the course of the centuries, and they were the beginning of the town of Eu. The, castle had, however, deliberately been burnt in 925 by the French, but it was soon rebuilt.
Duke William, afterwards the Conqueror, took it by assault in 1049, and it was there that his wedding with Matilda of Flanders took place, and that in 1065, the year before the memorable battle of Hastings, he entertained Harold.
According to tradition, Joan of Arc was kept in the dungeon of the keep in 1430. Louis XI gave orders in 1475 that it should be burnt, as he feared that it would be taken by the English. Rather more than a century later the rebuilding of the edifice which has just been almost entirely destroyed, was commenced by the Duc de Guise, surnamed “Le Balafre,” whose wife, Catherine de Cleves, was the Comtesse d’Eu.
When it was finished the chateau was sold, with the Comte de’Eu, by Joseph Louis de Lorraine grandson of “Le Balafre,” to Mademoiselle de Montpensier, known as “La Grande Mademoiselle” who completed its construction and surrounded it with a large and magnificent park.
This lady was very fond of Eu and spent much of her time there, but this did not prevent her from selling the Comte d’Eu to the Duc de Maine, by whose youngest son the domain was bequeathed to the Duc de Penthievre, whose sole heir, after the loss of nine of his children, was his daughter, the Duchesse d’Orleans, wife of the notorious Philippe Egalite, and mother of King Louis Philippe.
Confiscated by the Revolution, the chateau was in 1795 converted into a hospital, but the first Napoleon made it an Imperial residence, and with the Restoration it went back to the Orleans family.
In 1821 Louis Philippe repaired and greatly enlarged the structure, giving it a facade of fully one hundred metres. It was built of brick and stone, like most of the chateaux of the Louis Treize period but the original style had been faithfully copied, and the front was rather imposing than artistic.
Louis Philippe, indeed, improved the whole of the estate all round. Confiscated a second time, when the Second Empire was established, the property came into the possession of the Comte de Paris some little while after the fall of Napoleon III.
The father of the Due d’Orleans devoted particular attention to its repair, and was in the habit of spending part of every year there until having been again driven into exile he returned to England, where he died. The chapel, which is said to have been saved, was restored by Louis’ Philippe, and is a real work of art.
Louis Philippe, who was fond of the English country style, lived, when he was at the Chateau d’Eu, in a very homely but comfortable manner. Hardly a day passed without bringing some guest from Paris. Sweet simplicity was the rule. and the Queen willingly bowed to it. her daughters following the example set by their parents, more or less reluctantly according to their tastes, but her sons were usually in uniform, which with the presence of the Royal aides-de-camp threw some glamour on a rival Court in which the civil instinct predominated.
Of special interest during- this period were the visits paid by Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort to Louis Philippe at the Chateau d’Eu in 1843 and 1845, when they passed some little time there, leading a very quiet life in a mansion whence everything in the shape of formal etiquette was banished.
It was on 24th June, 1886, that the late Comte de Paris beheld the mansion for the last time.
Annoyed by the ceremonial observed by the Comte de Paris in connection with the marriage of his daughter, the Princesses Amelie, with the present King of Portugal, the Government laid before Parliament a bill for the banishment of the heads of the ex-reigning houses and their eldest sons.
The law having been promulgated the Comte de Paris left the Chateau d’Eu with his family on the following day, amid touching demonstrations of sympathy from the inhabitants of the district. The Chateau d’Eu has, as will have been seen, passed through many vicissitudes. It was itself the descendant of several burnt castles, which had in their time played a part in history.
Our Paris Correspondent completes his report
A telegram from our correspondent at Eu, published by the “Temps” this evening,-says: “The damages are not appreciable. In any case, they are considerable.” He confirms the statement that one wing and the chapel have been saved. The Eu firemen had such a task before them when they started on their work that help had been sent for in every direction. The only subject for marvel is that the chateau was not totally destroyed.
Daily Telegraph, 12 November 1902
You will notice our match is not crumbling ruins but a shiny, near perfect Château. This is the result of a 100 year journey and there is still a little more to do.
First the chateau was sold in 1905 to Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil and her husband the prince Gaston d’Orléans, Count of Eu and grand-son of Louis-Philippe the last king of France. Isabelle has a fine place in history as she was responsible for abolishing slavery in Brazil during a time as regent for her father. When her father, king Pedro II, was deposed by a military coup in 1889 Isabelle spent the rest of her life in France in exile. She died at the chateau in 1921.
The family restored much of the destroyed building but work is still ongoing. It was sold in 1953 and, as the guidebook says ‘after many twists and turns’ became the property of the town of Eu in 1964.
In 1973 the Louis-Philippe Museum was created and the collection, that can be seen throughout the chateau, has grown through some impressive donations and hard fundraising. The quality is outstanding and this is a particularly good visit for fans of porcelain, portraits and 19th century interiors and carpentry skills.
Restoration to the highest possible standard
A jewel in the chateau’s crown is the Guise gallery, a room completely destroyed by the fire. It was rebuilt, but true restoration was not completed until 2012 after 10 years and nearly €2million.
The interior design is based on old paintings, photographs and drawings of the original and is home to 141 family portraits collected by La Grande Mademoiselle, owner of the chateau in the 17th century. They had found their way to a Scottish castle when the fire broke out. The town of Eu, National Heritage Fund, the State, the Region of Normandy and the Department of Seine Maritime all came together to ensure the paintings could return home when they came up for sale in 2000.
This film gives a glimpse of the restoration work:
What did we think of chateau d’Eu?:
24 year old Queen Victoria said it best after her stay in 1843
“Being in Eu is like a dream. I have the impression that my favourite dream has come true. But it is not a dream, it’s a charming reality. The chateau is a delight.”
We found our report of the fire in the 13 November 1903 West Gippsland Gazette