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The history of Azay-le-Rideau

Azay-le-Rideau has its roots in 1119. Its name comes from one of its first lords, the knight Ridel, who undertook the construction of a fortress to protect the road between Tours and Chinon.

Azay is located in the ancient province of Touraine, first under the control of the Counts of Blois, then of Anjou from 1044 (the Counts of Anjou were the Plantagenets from 1060, and acceded to the throne of England in 1154 with Henry II who died in 1189 in Chinon). The first medieval castle in Azay was built around 1119 by one of the first lords of the place, Ridel (or Rideau) d'Azay, mentioned in a charter from Marmoutier, who built a defensive fortress to protect the road between Tours and Chinon. A Ridel or Curtain of Azay and Rillé is mentioned in 1143 and 1153. The Capetian Philippe Auguste, King of France in 1180-1223, ousted the Plantagenets from Touraine around 1204 by defeating the last son of Henri II, Jean sans Terre, and finally re-established the Ridel/Rideau family that Henri II had despoiled: thus, Hugues Ridel and his brother Geoffroy Ridel are knights of Philippe Auguste; the abbey of Marmoutier still cites a Guy d'Azay en 1290. We then lose track of the sires of Azay, a domain that probably passed to the Crown.

Lords of Azay3 appear again from the second half of the 14th century: the scholar Jacques-Xavier Carré de Busserolle cites the first marshal Boucicaut around 1360 (who also bought La Bourdaisière): this remains to be confirmed.

Azay was then in the hands of the de Marmande family, allied to the de La Haye-Passavant family, Pierre de Marmande and de St-Michel-sur-Loire having married Isabelle de La Haye-Passavant. Their daughter Marguerite de Marmande (around 1335 - around 1371), lady of Marmande (in Vellèches and Marigny), La Haye-(Descartes), Azay, Cravant-les-Côteaux, La Roche-Clermault, Saint-Michel-sur-Loire, Chezelles and Savary, Faye-la-Vineuse, was in 1357 the wife of Jean III Count of Sancerre (1334-1402/1403).

Their daughter Marguerite de Sancerre (c. 1355-1418), countess of Sancerre and lady of Azay, did not pass on all her numerous fiefs to her descendants (the Orléans-Longueville, the Bueil, the Chaumont d'Amboise), who were the offspring of her second marriage to Beraud II, dauphin of Auvergne (1333-1499; countess Marguerite's first husband was Gérard V Chabot de Retz): she left Azay and La Haye to her fourth and last husband, Marshal Jacques de Montb(e)ron (c. 1350-1422; married 1408). In fact, Jacques de Montbron sold La Haye, and his sons François I and Jacques de Montbron were to be challenged for Azay by Countess Marguerite's son, the dauphin Beraud III (1380-1426), who finally sold Azay to Jean le Gallois du Puy-du-Fou († c.1441) on 14 May 1422.

The fort of Azay was burnt down by Charles VII in 1418 when the king, staying in Azay on the road to Chinon, was provoked by the Burgundian troops occupying the stronghold. The captain and 350 soldiers were executed, and the village kept the name Azay-le-Brûlé until the 18th century, which is also the name of a commune in the Deux-Sèvres and Azay-sur-Indre.

Described by Balzac, who once lunched there, as "a faceted diamond set by the Indre", Azay-le-Rideau is one of the most famous châteaux of the Loire.

Relatively small, the main building consists of a main building and an angled wing, squared off with horizontal bands, surrounded by the Indre and a wooded park. Each corner has a turret. The centre of the building is designated by the monumental entrance, as well as by the main staircase with its straight banisters, which disrupts the rhythm of the windows: it has three floors of paired bays forming loggias and an elaborate pediment, which are offset from the network of windows in the rest of the building. This element of great decorative value is composed of several ornaments in the Italian style: columns, pilasters, shells, medallions, etc.

The salamander of Francis I and his motto: "Nutrisco et extinguo".

The entrance door, similar to the Roman triumphal arches, is decorated with the initials of Gilles Berthelot and his wife, while the lower part of the bays is decorated with the salamander and the ermine, in reference to King François I and his wife Claude.

The flights bearing the ceiling of the main staircase are decorated with caissons framing sculpted medallions representing faces or busts of characters seen in profile, some of them from the 16th century, a series that was continued by the addition of "the filiation of the kings and queens of France from Louis XII to Henri IV" commissioned by Armand-François de Biencourt. The keystones have very elaborate sculptures.

But this Italianate inspiration alternates with feudal references that have become elements of decoration. Thus, one can see the trace of machicolations on the roofs and a parapet walk on the outer walls, whose layout - running along three sides and extending behind the windows open in the parapet - recalls that of the Château de Montsoreau. All of this is combined with high roofs.

Source: Wikipedia

Photo: Touraineloirevalley

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