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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Cultural Midi Pyrenees

Brief History of Henri IV – King of France 

Henry IV was born in 1553 at Chateau de Pau (capital of the Bearn province) and died in 1610 in Paris (assassinated by Francois Ravaillac, a fanatical catholic - although many other attempts were made on his life).  He was widely known as ‘Good King Henry’ or ‘Henry the Great’ and was one of the most popular french kings during and after his reign as he showed great care for the welfare of his subjects.  He became King of the Navarre on the death of his mother, Jeanne d’Albret in 1572 (Albret family was from the Landes (Labrit); a very rich and powerful feudal family in the Middle Ages).  His father was Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre.  His genealogy traces back to Hercules’ son Hispalaus through the House of Navarre.  He was baptised catholic but was raised as a protestant by his mother.  He was a descendant of  King Louis IX and ascended to the throne upon the death of his childless cousin Henry III in 1589.  After his coronation there was a four year war against the catholic league (War of Religions) to establish his legitimacy.  Elizabeth I of England gave her support by sending money and troops.  He effectively ended this war by passing a law (Edict of Nantes, 1598) guaranteeing religious liberties to protestants.

He was married twice – first was an unhappy childless marriage to Margaret of Valois (daughter of Henry II and Catherine de Medici) which was annulled in 1599.  He then married Marie de Medici in 1600 and sired 6 children including Louis XIII, Elizabeth (Queen of Spain), Henrietta Maria (Mary Queen of Scots born 1609 married to Charles I).

His achievements were many including regularising state finances, promoting agriculture, draining swamps other public works including arts and crafts (Paris) and education.  He built tree-lined routes, canals,bridges and palaces and protected forestland.  It is said that he had great vision and courage and could empathise with peasants and workers stating that ‘everyone would have a chicken in every pot’ (no one would go hungry).

Chateau de Pau

The chateau has existed in this location from the 11th century (then a very primitive wooden structure).  It overlooks the river, Gave de Pau and its tributary, the Hedas.  Still standing from this period is the southern  Mazère tower (over 70ft high with walls 5ft thick – no wonder it survived the centuries!!).  In the 13th century the northern Montauser tower (square stone keep) was added.

In the 14th century more fortifications were added by Gaston Febus.  He erected in brick a 100ft high tower – Febus tower and later the Monnaie tower.  The chateau’s architecture was based on the Royal Palace of Majorca in Perpignan.

In the 16th century Henry d’Albret (grandfather to Henry IV) modernised the chateau bringing it into the Renaissance period and making it more of a royal palace.  Kitchens, an elaborate carved staircase, courtyards, gardens and balconies were added or improved.  

In the 18th century the chateau survived the Revolution and Louis Philippe had it restored in the memory of Henry IV.  The eastern Louis Philippe tower was added and a beautiful chapel was built.  Sadly he never visited the chateau and was banished to England.  Thus the exterior work remained incomplete.

Napoleon III and his architect Ancelet then restored all the facades in the Renaissance style and constructed Napoleon III tower - a 4 storey tower.  It was used as his holiday home with the gardens tended by Marie Antoinette.  Some holiday home!!

The chateau has been a historical monument since 1840 and in 1929 became a museum centred around Henry IV.  

The famous turtle-shell cradle can be seen in the King’s Bedchamber adorned with flags.  There are some fabulous surviving tapestries on display in many of the rooms.  The opulent furniture, carved ceilings,  splendid works of art and antiquities can be admired as you pass through the various rooms.  One can only imagine what life must have been like in those days of old!!

Museum Bernadotte

Another claim to fame for Pau is Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte who was born in 1763 in a humble little 18th century Bearnaise-style dwelling in Tran Street.  He astonishingly became King of Sweden and Norway in 1818 until his death in 1844.  He was married to Bernadine Désrée Clary who was previously engaged to Napoleon.  They had one son – Oscar.

Bernadotte was a military man and quickly rose up through the ranks from being a private in 1780 to a brigadier and general in 1794.  In 1804 he became Marshal of the Empire (french) and in 1805 was First Sovereign Prince of Ponte Corvo but was subsequently stripped of his command by Napoleon in 1809.

In 1810 he was elected heir presumptive to King Charles XIII of Sweden who was old and childless.  A swedish courtier Karl Otto Morner offered the crownship to him without the backing of the government  and for this was subsequently arrested.  Bernadotte gained favour and was elected as crown prince; a title which he accepted.  They favoured a soldier and he was popular in Sweden for showing kindness to the swedish prisoners during the war with Denmark and the current crown prince had suddenly died of a stroke in 1810.  Napoleon did neither support nor oppose him but thought the whole thing absurd!

In 1814 Norway entered a treaty with Sweden after losing the war and he became crown prince of Norway also!  He survived abdication and reigned until his death in 1844 at age 81.  Though he never spoke a word of swedish or norwegan, but lucky for him the aristocracy spoke french! 

Talk about being in the right place at the right time!!

Interestingly, Louise Mountbatten (1889-1965) married King Gustav VI Adolf in 1923.  He was the great  great grandfather of Bernadotte.

Musée des Beaux Arts

A smallish art gallery on rue Matthieu Lalanne which is one of the most important galleries in Aquitaine.  It houses a good collection of works from the dutch, flemish, spanish, italian and french schools ranging from 15th to 20th centuries including Rubens, Degas and other famous names and more modernist works of Jeannette Leroy.

Well worth a visit!!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Medieval (K)nights ?: Here in 'Le Gers' they take their medieval history...

Musketeers but not Marketeers ??

In this region of South West  France ( Le Gers) there is undoubtedly a wealth of history
and this evidenced by the large numbers of very old buildings and of course, 'bastide' style villages
which adorn most hilltops.

Recently we chose another day out at the famous village of Lupiac.   Here they were celebrating
all things 'D'Artagnan' as they have for just 2 years now.  
It proved to be a colourful day, with much ancient costume on display.  To get the feel of the day
it was necessary to visit the mock 'bank' and to change your  Euros for 'Louis' coins a local style of
groat I think !!    Anyway, having safely got your currency you were free to roam the village and
buy food, drink and other bibs and bobs.    Food was a little restrictive, BUT, there was a totally
dedicated area for this, and providing you were willing to enter into the spirit of it all, then an
opportunity for refuelling could be found- bon appetit !!

Enactments were of course part of the days events, to include of course 'jousting' and mock mini
sword fighting battles for the amusement of the crowds.   All this was fine and a chat in another
area with a guy suitably dressed in his 16th/17th century garb with a long musket to boot would
have been great, were it not for the 'jump out of your skin' moment when his counterpart decided
to fire the canon standing just 10 feet away.   The blast and shock waves from this were immense
and most people certainly jumped or responded in a similar way.   Later on in the day, the 'fuse'
lighter guy took to announcing his intentions just before lighting it, enabling you to retreat a little
further away should you feed the need !!.  No harm done though.

Feeling jaded, we decided to visit the Musee, just away from the centre of Lupiac.  A guide took
us around the museum (musee) and chatted away merrily for about 20 minutes, followed by a
video.  Unfortunately it was all in French, and in this regard perhaps a little difficult for those whose
grasp of French is not all it might be.  However, it is interesting nevertheless, and beautifully

So, to sum up, we found the Musketeers to be an enjoyable day out.   The marketing side of things

could be a little better, but heh this is just there second year at it, so as they say here 'plus en plus' !!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

D'Artagnan & 3 Musketeers

D'Artagnan was born in a village called 'Lupiac' here in the Gers in South West France.  Unlike the 3 Musketeers and the film/theatrical renditions of stories, D'Artagnan did exist in the early 1600's and
was indeed a soldier or 'mousquetaires' .  In 1630 he quit Gascony and the Gers and left for the
capital of France - Paris, to further his career.  In 1646 the dissolution of the Musketeers occurred.

A museum can be found in his small country village of 'Lupiac' for all tourists to enjoy, along with
the chateau Castelmore, which has family links to this name.

In the principal town of 'Condom' ( unfortunate or a great name for a town ?) you can find a statue
of bronze as a tribute to the Musketeers of France and this region- all 4 are standing in the classic
pose for the line ' all for one, and one for all'  !!

(Footnote: The town of Condom is said to loose its signs from the roadside many times over the years !)

The Gers itself boasts 146 castles or chateaux in its arsenal of properties, but not all are in fact of
a habitable condition - BUT - you can enjoy a most ameniable stay in this beautiful and rural region
largely unspoilt, and with one of the lowest populations of any department within France.

Soothe your soul !!##

Monday, 5 August 2013

Here in 'Le Gers' they take their medieval history and enactments seriously.   We recently enjoyed a
full day and evening out at the 'petite' village of 'Termes d'Armagnac.   The day includes a visit to the
stocks !!   A chance to see the beautifully refined tower and museum with interesting regalia and 
wonderful views to the south.  With jousting, fighting enactments, archery, crafts and history, metalwork, and mountains of chainmail, it was certainly a day to remember.

In the evening, everyone is given an ancient style 'smock' to wear as you are escorted from the 
battlements by 14th century music and a torchlight procession to your table.   ( Hands are washed
with fresh lavender and rose water before sitting you at your table). 

Horses, serving wenches and occassional rivalry to include mock jousting/fighting enactments between
the different houses e.g.  'Gascoines' versus the 'House of Aragon' are part of the evening entertainment
as you dine.  Certainly, on this occassion the moody presence of the 'Lord' of Gascony added to the
overall ambience - as you were not quite sure if he was going to leap up and threaten to lop your head
off in the middle of the second course !!!    No- just a 'blag' as they say here ( a joke ).

Ah the food !! - well this was based on an ancient recipe from this region again from the 14th century
with a cereal base for many dishes.   Our apero was peach wine, followed by a flower salad with ginger sausage and pate.  The main course was pork (cooked so tenderly) with root veg followed by cheese and then a yoghurt based concotion for dessert.  The wine flowed freely!!  Unusual food and with a modern twist of course.

Finally to round off a great day, there are fire eaters, fire demonstrations, and an altogether merry chap
who insists on lighting fireworks on the end of a rope and then swinging these with both arms up and
around himself !!    Certainly a spectacle - or a 'spectacular' as the French say!

Find us on Twitter       Ray Parker @frenchcycling32