The story of the Castle

The Feudal Castle

 

It was around 1122 that Louis VI, “Louis the Fat”, had a fortified castle, known as the “Grand Châtelet”, built on the Laye plateau, then covered in forest. Louis IX, Saint Louis, enlarged this feudal castle, one of his favourite residences, with a series of buildings: the “Petit Châtelet”. Between1230 and 1238, he had the chapel erected, separate from the other buildings, and the entire complex was surrounded by a defensive wall.
In 1337, France went to war with England, which laid claim to the throne of Philippe VI of Valois. The troops of the Black Prince, son of the English king, burned down the village that had gradually grown up and then the castle itself in 1346. The chapel was spared. It was not until the reign of Charles V, “Charles the Wise”, that French kings returned to Saint Germain.

Charles V, the richest monarch in Europe, demolished the burned buildings, and between 1364 and 1367, rebuilt a château on the site of Saint Louis’ defensive walls. The chapel was then linked to the main building. We know very little about these constructions, except that the keep housed the king’s “study”.

 

The Great Years

 

Francois Ier
François 1st lived in the château without initially undertaking any work on it. In 1539, he had the old building demolished, and constructed another on the foundations laid by Charles V. After his death in 1547, his son Henri II continued the works following the same plans, and with Pierre Chambiges directing the building work.

By 1559, the château covered a surface area of 8,000 m2. It comprised 55 apartments, a ballroom, 7 chapels and a kitchen. The vaulted basement of the keep was used as a prison. The present day courtyard, surrounded by 5 main buildings (the service quarters) was once the lower courtyard for members of the King’s entourage. A real tennis court was laid out at the end of the dry moat. At the far end of the current terrace, Henri II had the ‘Château Neuf" (New Château) built, later to be completed by Henri IV. The reigns of Henri IV and Louis XIII would see the construction of what would henceforth be called the ‘Château Vieux’ (Old Château) and given over to the royal children and their domestic retinue.

In 1660, Louis XIV abandoned the Château Neuf, which “was letting in water everywhere”. He moved to the Château Vieux, refurbishing parts of the interior. The Court, accommodated in 63 apartments, lived here in rather cramped conditions. A project to extend the château was then entrusted to Jules Hardouin Mansart who, in 1680, made the building look rather ugly by adding five corner pavilions (now disappeared), which were never finished. Le Nôtre designed the terrace overlooking the Seine. The days were filled with hunting, theatre performances, boat trips on the Seine, concerts and balls. The favourite ladies of the court lived together in relative harmony. The famous Poison Affair mainly took place at Saint Germain. On 20 April 1682, the king finally left Saint Germain to live at Versailles, to the great disappointment of the inhabitants.