Revealing the Secrets of a Mansion II

Earlier this week I started dissecting a 350 year old French country mansion, and telling you about its owner and fascinating history.

Vaux-le-Vicomte

Vaux is nothing short of magnificent, just as Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis of Belle-Ile, Viscount of Vaux and Melun, intended it to be.  Hundreds of years later, it still stands in all its glory.  At the height of his day, Fouquet was the Superintendent of Finance for Louis XIV.  He held the country’s purse strings.  Not just any country.  France was the most powerful nation in Europe at the time.  Population: over 20 million.  The population of Paris alone was over 100,000!  That’s HUGE for 17th c. standards!

Fouquet purchased the Vaux estate in 1641. The construction on this enormous and very expensive project began in 1656 on a stretch of property that spanned the area of three villages. It took 18,000 men and a constant supply of funds made by Fouquet before Vaux-le-Vicomte was completed. He even had a river rerouted through his estate to add to the scenic landscaping. (See the bottom right-hand corner of the pic above.)

At times it was said that Fouquet co-mingled his personal funds with the Crown funds. Though this practice wasn’t illegal at the time, it was used against him at his three-year-long trial. 

In fact, it was the most sensational trial in French history.

Louis XIV was a young king when Mazarin — his godfather/First Minister — died.  In his early twenties, King Louis XIV was more interested in dancing (he opened the first school of ballet!) and in being with his favorite mistress.  Running the country was boring to the twenty-two year old.  He left matters in Mazarin’s hands, who had run the country for him since he was a boy.  Now that Mazarin was dead, Louis realized just how powerful Fouquet had become.  Some were actually calling Fouquet the true King of France.

That angered Louis — and frightened him.  He wasn’t about to lose his throne.  Not to anyone.  So how do you reassert power when your subjects have written you off?  Why, you take down the most powerful one around you — and your biggest threat.

Nicolas Fouquet.

By all accounts, Fouquet was a brilliant man.  A lawyer, a member of parliament, a patron of the arts, a man who’d replenished the realm’s depleted treasury with his financial skills.  Yet, he never foresaw his own doom.

He got too cocky.

But what really helped to sealed his fate was none other than the opulent mansion he built for himself –Vaux-le-Vicomte.  Oh….and the teeny, tiny party he through on August 17th, 1661 once the chateau was completed. . .

For six thousand of his closest friends. 

The party was in honor of the King, and to show off his spectacular Vaux.  You see, Vaux-le-Vicomte was superior to any chateau that belonged to the King. The lesson here: never eclipse the Sun King (a name by which Louis XIV is known). And never consider yourself indispensable.

Each guest was served on gold and silver plates, and given gifts of silk, diamonds, horses and jewelry. Fouquet spared no expense in entertaining and catering to those in attendance. Now that’s a party I would have loved to have been at!  He even had the King’s favorite playwright, Molière, write a play in honor of Louis. It was quite an elaborate performance, performed that very night for the King and the French court in the gardens at Vaux.

The King’s Bedchambers at Vaux.

This is part of the King’s apartments built for King Louis at Vaux-le-Vicomte, if ever he came to visit. Ironically, no King has ever slept here. On August 17, 1661, the night of Fouquet’s infamous party, Louis arrived at 6:00 p.m. and left by 1:00 a.m.

There are many who say the King became jealous after seeing Fouquet’s wealth and popularity that night. But Louis had carefully planned Fouquet’s arrest long before. True, seeing Fouquet’s popularity rubbed in his face, the expenditure of funds for Vaux and the over-the-top grandiose party did anger the King that evening, and he did want to have Fouquet arrested on the spot, but his mother, Anne of Austria, convinced him to wait.  He did. Two weeks. Fouquet’s arrest date: September 5th, 1661, Louis’ 23rd birthday. A present to himself? :-)

The charges: embezzlement of Crown funds.

Original architectural plans for Vaux!

See the highlighted secret passages? In actual fact, those are the servants’ corridors.  Servants were not to be seen.  They moved in the darkened hallways between rooms to serve the master and mistress of the house.  If you click on the image, you will get a larger view of the pic.

Entertainment at Vaux

I promised I’d mention the entertainment available at Vaux. (Besides throwing the one and only extravagant party).

Books anyone?

Fouquet is every author’s dream!  He loved books. This isn’t what his original library looked like.  All those books are gone.  It was said he had up to twenty-seven thousand volumes, including Korans, Bibles and Talmuds.

How about some games?

This is the Game Room at Vaux where popular games like backgammon and basset were played. In The Princess and the Diamonds, found in my latest release, THE PRINCESS IN HIS BED, I use the King’s ban on Basset (which came years later) as part of the backdrop to Princess Gabrielle’s and Mathias’ story.  :-)

How about simply enjoying the gardens?

There are a number of optical illusions in the gardens of Vaux. It was specifically designed that way so that a stroll through the garden was an “experience”.  Today, in the evenings, the staff at Vaux light thousands of candles throughout the gardens and in the chateau itself.  If you’re ever in France, don’t miss this! You can sit in these incredible gardens, with candlelight all around you and a vast starry sky above you, and sip champagne. 

Does it get better than that? *smiles*

 This long path runs beside the manicured gardens at Vaux.  I was told it was often used by lovers. ;-)

I fell completely head-over-heels in love with this time period when I first set eyes on this 17th c. masterpiece.  I could easily see myself living here!   It sleeps 800.  Want to come by for a stay?  Do you think the current owners, Count Patrice de Vogüé, and his wife, the Countess Christina who live at Vaux would notice if we moved in?

Time to reveal some secrets!

Yes, I promised that I would reveal some secrets about Vaux.  And me! 

First cool secret, I have an email written to me personally from Count Patrice de Vogüé!  It’s true!  I’d written to the staff at Vaux to ask some research questions.  I never expected the response would come from the actual count himself!  What a delightful man.  His English was perfect….and he colored the background of his email a pretty pink!  When I realized the email was from the count, I screamed and called my dear hubby and all my friends!  *grins*

Okay, second secret.  

The roof on Vaux is made of slate tiles.  Every hundred years, the state tiles must be replaced.  The cost is enormous.  And the Count and Countess are in a constant struggle to keep Vaux in the black.  It’s very expensive to run such a large estate and maintain the vast grounds.  They had to find funds for this very necessary renovation.  So, they got an idea.  

They decided to sell the old over-one-hundred-year-old slate tiles removed off the roof of Vaux in their gift shop to tourists!  And they sold like crazy!!  It’s a little piece of history!

Though I’ve been to Vaux twice, Mr. DiPasqua has been there three times.  On a business trip to France without me, he stopped into Vaux during their roof reno.  He purchase one of these slate roof tiles for me.  Oh, but that’s not all!  For an additional charge, you could purchase a new slate, carve whatever message you wanted on it, and it would be placed on Vaux as part of the new roof!

This is what my darling carved in my tile.  It now sits on Vaux’s roof and will remain there for another hundred years!!!!

It was so sweet of DH! — Just one of the million things he does that makes me love the man.   :-)

Be sure to come back next Monday to learn Fouquet’s fate at his trial!

Wishing everyone a very Happy Valentine’s Day!  Hope it’s a day filled with love for you all! *muah*

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