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Dampierre castle: the Vivonne ladies and an adultery

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

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 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 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 men’s madness, before a complete restoration…

Ladies’ tiff

Our story began with the Clermont family. Claude de Clermont, King’s first gentleman, governor of Ardres, was very estimated in king François I's court. But… he quarrelled with Diane de Poitiers, François I’s mistress, in a letter! About who, what?! About the new mistress! A more beautiful one… she was duchess of Etampes, Anne de Pisseleu. Diane started to gossip about her, saying this lady slept around with every men, especially with Claude de Clermont! The gossip said La Pisseleu and 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 became 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 would 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.


Gossips said an alchemist lived in Dampierre, in 1550.

Just look at those strange sculpted coffers!

Here, the two Renaissance galleries seem to refer to alchemy, with those 90 carved coffers: we can see 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 it was restored and now it's brand new. 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.

About the the author

I'm fond of strolls and History, with juicy and spicy details!