Mme de Sévigné and Grignan castle
My castle in Provence
Grignan is the fief of the famous French writer Mrs. de Sévigné. But not only! In the beginning, there was a fortress, raised by lords de Monteil in the 13th c.: oh, a fortress, well… rather a kind of big square keep surrounded by a rampart! Yes, in the Middle-Age, with wars and sieges, defensive functions took precedence over the comfort! So, when Gaucher Adhémar de Monteil turned up in the 15th c, he soften the fortress to transform it into a nice dwelling, more modern and easier to live. His son Louis added in 1544 the church Saint-Sauveur next to his palace (Mrs. de Sévigné was buried there). Whoa, Grignan began to look like an Italian palace, with its golden façades, nicely carved! The southern façade was even nicknamed “François I’s front”, after the visit of this king in 1533.
Sévigné mother and daughter
To see my son-in-law in Provence…
And here we were in the 17th century. Well! Here was the marquise de Sévigné. Her daughter, Françoise-Marguerite, married François de Monteil, count of Grignan. A “pretty ugly” man, said the chronicler Saint-Simon, but very nice and honest, who pursued a career in Louis XIV’s armies. He was a widower twice, but Mrs. de Sévigné liked him. Her daughter married him in 1669, and the same year, he became General lieutenant in Provence. So he was always on the roads… The first year of her wedding, Françoise stayed with her mum in Paris. The real mother hen was soooo happy! Then, Françoise left to join her husband in Grignan, in June 1671. Mrs. de Sévigné often came to see her: she discovered this nice Provençal country and stayed there… 14 months. She’ll come back 2 times only (hey, Paris-Grignan took 3 weeks with a carriage), in 1690 and 1694.
Marjoram, melons... and mistral!
Aaah, life was so good, in Grignan! Mrs. de Sévigné wrote in a letter to Françoise:
“You’re a pleasant companion, in Grignan, you have such a nice table, such a lovely taste for music… but I can’t understand the northerly wind and the horrors of winter.”Yeah, the mistral (Provençal cold wind), takes your breath away! And our marquise didn’t like that… But we discover life in Grignan through those letters between a mother and her daughter:
“Ah, what a nice smell! Those young partridges are fed with marjoram. But what about those fat quails, those doves? As for melons, figs and muscat grapes, it’s a pretty strange thing: if we wanted, for some strange reason, a bad melon, we were forced to buy it in Paris, because we have no bad melons here in Provence.”
The worst, for our marquise de Sévigné? This damned icy mistral which entered in her room… She died in Grignan and was buried here…
In short! At that time, architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart raised the aile des Prélats (“Prelates’ wing”) and they fit out gorgeous apartments. Too much luxury, too much feasts… François spent too much money! “But where did he find all this money, my dear? This is black magic”, sighed the marquise to her daughter. Black magic, we don’t know, but Françoise's daughter, Pauline de Simiane, was forced to sell the castle in 1732… Then, a colonel owned it and soon abandoned it to demolition contractors, during the French Revolution. After that, a rich inhabitant of Grignan, Léopold Faure, ruined himself to restore the old castle. Then, the Parisian socialite Boniface de Castellane sold the lesser part of the decoration… The General council of the Drôme département saved Grignan in 1979. Definitively!
The visit of Grignan
The primitive furniture disappeared, but we have here a pretty gorgeous decoration given by the département of Drôme and by the Faure family. Lovely Aubusson tapestries from the 17th c., gorgeous Renaissance Italian cabinets, paintings… Hey, did you hear that?! It’s just like the rustle of a quill on the paper! Yes, Mrs. de Sévigné is here, lost in her writings, in her quiet little study…