THE castle of Plessis stands to the west of the city of Tours in a vast plain watered by the Loire and Cher. To reach it, you follow a road bordered with old mulberry-trees, the remains or heirs of those planted by Henri IV. in 1607, and renewed in 1690 by Louvois. Impressed by the terrible memories of Louis XI., turn not your head towards those trees to look for those hanged by Messire Tristan L'Hermite. Neither be afraid of finding beneath your feet those man-traps that were planted in the vicinity of the Castle to catch the curious and the rustics who ventured upon the lands of His Majesty. To-day the country is safe and there is nothing to be feared from the Castle, even if it is not attractive; but, in the Fifteenth Century, a safe-conduct and an experienced guide were necessary for crossing this dangerous region.
Plessis did not play any part in our national history until the reign of Louis XI. Until then, it was only an obscure lordship with a little castle on one of those rocky hillocks that still exist in the vale. This spot pleasing him much more than the castles of Amboise, Loches, or Chinon, the King bought it from his chamberlain, Hardouin de Maillé, in 1463, for the sum of 5,500 gold crowns, and abolished its old name of Montils. Here he built a castle in the Fifteenth-Century taste, simple and even severe, for brick largely figured in it, and with a glass gallery on the interior façade: a dwelling more worthy of a rich citizen than a King of France. Here, after his accession, Louis XI. spent the greater part of his life.
Towards the end of the year 1464, the King gathered together the prelates and principal lords of the realm at Plessis with the pretext of seeking their advice as to the means of remedying the discontent that was beginning to break out. In this assembly, Charles, Duke of Orleans, thought it his duty to hazard a few remonstrances; but Louis XI. replied to the duke in such harsh and offensive language that the unfortunate prince died of chagrin at Amboise a few days later. This attitude of the King drew the nobles into the League of Public Welfare, and the Duke of Berri placed himself at the head of the discontented. In order to try to calm them, the King was obliged to call together the States-General at Tours in 1468.
The opposition of the nobles drove Louis XI. towards the middle classes, not that he had the least democratic tendencies, but because he felt more at ease among these small people, whose situation rendered them supple and easy. He always liked to have them about him, and raised them to the highest dignities, in hatred and defiance of the high nobility, because they were broken into the practice of affairs by commerce, and possessed the art, always prized by governments, of managing the finances skilfully and creating resources at critical moments. His selections were not always happy: witness La Balue, whom from a simple clerk he raised to the rank of bishop and even cardinal, and who betrayed him to the profit of the Duke of Burgundy. Louis XL, carrying a certain refinement of cruelty even into his most legitimate vengeance, had the cardinal confined in an iron cage. It is said that this odious invention was due to La Balue himself, and that he was the first on whom it was tried. After languishing for some time in one of the cells at Plessis, the cardinal was transferred to Loches and then to Montbazon: he did not recover his liberty till 1480, after a long and hard captivity.
Notwithstanding the success of his policy, Louis XI. had a sad and morose old age. Separated from his wife and son, more suspicious of everybody than ever, he shut himself up closely at Plessis and there redoubled his minute precautions. But two terrible guests whom the "guard that keeps watch at the barriers of the Louvre" can never stop, disease and death, soon came to seek him. When he felt the first pangs of the disease that was to carry him off, he multiplied his vows, acts of devotion and pilgrimages. Then he sent and fetched all the way from Calabria a poor hermit named Francisco Paolo, with the hope that the holy man's prayers would obtain his recovery. As soon as the King was informed of his arrival, he ordered the Dauphin to go to meet him with the chief lords of the court and to receive him with all the respect due to so saintly a personage; he himself did not think he could do the saint too much honour and lodged him with his companions in the castle; but dwelling in the court ill suited the pious hermit and so they gave him a lodging in the Plessis courtyard. So many precautions and so many prayers failed to bend Heaven ; even the holy ampulla was powerless. Louis XI. died at the Castle of Plessis, August 30th, 1483, aged sixty, after reigning twenty-two years. His body was first taken from Plessis to the church of St. Martin of Tours, where it lay in state for eight days; then it was taken to Notre Dame de Clery, the spot which he himself had chosen for his burial. St. Francis had not been able to perform the miracle of curing the King; but he had prepared him for his approaching death, and it must be acknowledged that with a man like Louis XI. this was no small prodigy.
On the death of Louis XL the court was installed at Plessis for some time. The Dauphin Charles, born at the Castle of Amboise in 1470, had reached his legal majority; but intelligence was very slightly developed in this puny and deformed child. His sister, Anne de Beaujeu, "fine and subtle, if any one ever was," says Brantôme, "and the very image of her father in everything," unhesitatingly took the regency, and, to resist the malcontents who wanted to deprive her of it, she convoked the States-General at Tours for January ist, 1484. This celebrated assembly gave firm and vigilant attention to all the affairs of the realm and obtained quite a sensible reduction of taxes.
Amid the shock of intrigues and diverse ambitions, the lady of Beaujeu conducted herself with so much address and prudence, that the States confirmed the last wishes of Louis XI. in her favour.
The little King, as he was called, was not long in shaking off his sister's yoke, and began his reign with an act of magnanimity by himself going in despite of his council and breaking the chains of the Duke of Orleans. Since the battle of Saint-Aubin-du Cormier, that prince had been confined in the great tower of Bourges. One evening with a small suite the young King set out, or rather fled, from the Castle of Plessis under the pretext of a hunting-party, and went to free his prisoner. The Regent thought that Charles VIII. was going to return at the head of her enemies to proscribe her in turn. Happily she was mistaken. The reconciliation took place at Plessis, and from that day Louis of Orleans became the most faithful subject of his King.
The Castle of Plessis was a fortunate place for the Duke of Orleans. After the death of Charles VIII., he was proclaimed King under the title of Louis XII. and visited Touraine several times and stayed at the castle where his reconciliation with Anne de Beaujeu had been effected. There he convoked the States General in 1506, and the opening of this assembly took place in the great hall of Plessis on the fourteenth of May. The purpose of this assembly was to free the King's word and by the intervention of the nation to break the treaty, impolitic as well as onerous to France, that had been signed at Lyons in 1503 and by which Louis XII. had promised to give his daughter Claude, then only seven years of age, in marriage to Charles of Luxembourg, who afterwards became the Emperor Charles V. and to whom she was to take as a dowry the duchies of Milan and Brittany and the county of Blois. It was a veritable dismemberment of France and the ruin of that wise policy which by the two marriages of the Duchess Anne with Charles VIII. and Louis XII. had secured Brittany to France. The States rose in force against the treaty and demanded the marriage of François of Valois, then twelve years old, with Claude of France. These wishes were favourably received, and Cardinal Georges d'Amboise proceeded to the ceremony of betrothal on the twentieth of May, in the great hall of Plessis.
Beginning with Francis the First, the court made only rare appearances at Plessis : the more splendid castles of Chenonceaux, Amboisc, Blois, Chambord, and Fontainebleau received the preference. Henry III., however, when tossed about by events, found himself there; and when Paris embraced the cause of the League, he transferred his little court thither in 1589. Mayenne followed to attack him. The King of Navarre, who had recently signed a truce with Henry III., hastened to help him, and set his troops in battle array on the right bank of the Loire near Saint Cyr. Thence he sent to say that if His Majesty would deign to come as far as the faubourg, he would kiss His Majesty's hands and take his orders. Henry III., not thinking it wise to go, invited the King of Navarre to pass the Loire and come to visit him at Plessis. Some of the Huguenot captains feared a snare; but the Bearnais, as loyal as he was brave, did not hesitate for a moment and set out accompanied by his nobles. The interview took place in the great alley of the park of Plessis, and the crowd was so great that the two kings, with outstretched arms, had great trouble to approach each other. At last, having embraced, they mutually exchanged evidences of the most sincere affection. This touching scene occurred amid the liveliest acclamations of the public, who saw in this reconciliation of the two princes the end of the evils of the civil war. The two kings afterwards held a two hours' council, and, when the King of Navarre departed, Henry III. accompanied him as far as the St. Anne bridge.
This was the last memorable event that occurred at Plessis. Pre-occupied with the ever-increasing political importance of Paris, Henry IV. left Touraine for good, and transported his court to the capital, so as to be at hand to supervise and direct its movements.
For a century and a half, the royal garden of Plessis, under the management of able gardeners, has been the most active and fruitful school of French horticulture. Here have been produced the "good Christian pear," the Queen Claude plum dedicated to the wife of Francis the First, and doubtless a host of other excellent fruits and charming flowers. In the Seventeenth Century, the gardens were abandoned, or transformed into mulberry nurseries: they no longer gave impulse to local horticulture, but they contributed in another way to the prosperity of the province. From 1744 to 1762, the Plessis nurseries distributed not less than four hundred thousand feet of mulberry trees in Touraine, and which gave a vigorous impulse to the silk industry. The castle underwent a new transformation in 1778, became a place of confine-merit for vagrants. Finally, it was alienated in the Revolution and partly demolished. By the cruel irony of Fate, the terrible abode of Louis XI. has become a depot for fertilizers!Romantic Castles and Palaces, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, Edited and Translated by Esther Singleton. 1901.
Plessis-Les-Tours by J. J. Bourrassée. Note: From original text; may contain OCR errors.