Dampierre castle: the Vivonne ladies and an adultery

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Claude-Catherine - ©ÖNB / Public domain Claude-Catherine - ©ÖNB / Public domain
Dampierre-en-Boutonne castle Castle Adultery Claude-Catherine de Clermont

A travel through time

In the beginning, Dampierre was an austere and massive medieval fortress, raised in wood in the 10th c., then rebuilt in stone by the Maingot family. François de Clermont decided to completely rebuild the building, destroyed by the Hundred Years War, a bit further on the river Boutonne.

Between 1495 and 1550 the building site took place and the current castle was created, with its nice Renaissance galleries decorated with friezes. Jeanne de Vivonne, Claude de Clermont’s widow, added the sculpted coffers to the galleries. When her daughter Claude-Catherine married the future marshal of France Albert de Gondi, the castle fell to this one, who, never came in Dampierre…

Next? Destroyed by prince of Condé’s troops in 1587, plundered during the French Revolution and during the World War II, Dampierre suffered a lot from the men’s madness, before the new owners undertook a complete restoration…

Ladies’ tiff

Our story began with the family Clermont. Claude de Clermont, King’s first gentleman, governor of Ardres, was very estimated in the Court of king François I. But… he quarrelled with Diane de Poitiers, François I’s mistress, in one of his letter! About who, what?! About the new mistress! A more beautiful one… she was the duchess of Etampes, Anne de Pisseleu.

Diane started to gossip about her, saying that this lady slept around with every men, especially with Claude de Clermont! The gossip said La Pisseleu and the lord of Dampierre liked to look at the ceiling’s joists, together, if you see what I mean… The lord was expelled from the Court. Claude’s wife was Jeanne de Vivonne, one of Dampierre’s strong ladies. Let’s meet her now!

The ladies Vivonne

Claude died at war in 1545. So Jeanne was a widow at the age of 25… so hard! Nevertheless, she was pretty, smart, virtuous. King of France Henri III even appointed her lady-in-waiting for queen Louise of Lorraine.

Her daughter, Claude-Catherine de Clermont, was also a pretty and smart lady, the smartest lady of her time! Mathematics, poetry… hey, for instance, when the Polish ambassadors arrived in Paris to elect the duke of Anjou (future Henri III) to the throne of Poland, she was their interpreter and talked to them in Latin…

She married first a man in 1558, she was 15, but the husband died quickly. Here we go again, at the age of 22, she married an old chap! He was Albert de Gondi, from a famous Italian family. One of their child will be the famous cardinal of Retz! Catherine was the first one who set the fashion of “precious salons”, with her friends Marguerite of Valois and Hélène of Surgères.


What? An alchemist lived in Dampierre, in 1550? That’s what the gossip says, but we wonder if it’s true: maybe, just look at those strange sculpted coffers! Oh, we have seen lots of alchemical places, in France: the cloister of the cathedral of Fréjus (Var), the castle of le Plessis-Bourré (Maine-et-Loire), the Lallemand house of Bourges (Cher)...

Here, the two Renaissance galleries seem to refer to alchemy, with those 90 carved coffers: we can see on them snakes around caduceus (maybe the symbol of Mercury, alchemists’ patron saint?) or the philosopher’s egg… and sentences written in Latin French and Spanish! Heures malheur, “good fortune, misfortune”, La prudence est la gardienne des choses, “Carelfuness is the warden of things”. So, alchemist sentences, really?

The visit of Dampierre

A terrible fire totally damaged the castle in 2002… but no worry! It was restored and now its’ brand new. The visit starts with a little film about the restoration, with the story of the famous Renaissance gallery.

Then, inside, let’s discover the nice 16th century’s ceiling in the Guards room, but also a beautiful period chimney where we can read the sentence: Estre, se conestre et non parestre, “To be, to know, and not to seem”

Don’t miss the medieval and Renaissance alchemical gardens overlooking the river Boutonne, a fresh and quiet place.

And also!