French Castles

France has been ruled by monarchs from the establishment of Francia in 486 until 1870.

All these kings, and the Dukes, Marquises, Earls and Barons that surrounded them, left a huge amount of French castles. Over 300 of these can be found in the Loire Valley alone!

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The monarchs of France

The first rulers of Francia where the Merovingian dynasty, founded by Childeric I.  His son Clovis I was the first king of the Franks. He united all the Frankish tribes under one ruler and made sure that his heirs inherited the kingdom. He ruled from 481 when his father died.

The Merovingian dynasty lasted until 751, when Pepin the Short, was crowned King of the Franks. 

Pepin was the first of the Carolingian dynasty who than ruled France until 987 (with some interruptions). 

The most famous of the Carolingian kings was Charles the Great, or Charlemagne. He united most of Western Europe during his Reign from 25 December 800 until 28 January 814.

Charlemagne, also known as Charles I and Charles the GreatCharlemagne, also known as Charles I and Charles the Great
King Hugh Capet (c. 941 – 24 October 996)King Hugh Capet (c. 941 – 24 October 996)

The third royal house to rule France was the Capetian dynasty. The male-line descendants of Hugh Capet ruled France continuously from 987 to 1792 and again from 1814 to 1848. 

More known names of this house were the branches Valois, who ruled after 1328 until 1589 and Bourbon, who ruled until the end of the monarchy.

The famous Louis XIV, the Sun king, Louis XV, his great-grandson, and Louis XVI who was beheaded under the guillotine during the French Revolution, all where members of the house of Bourbon. When imprisoned in the Temple in Paris, his guards used to call the king Citizen (Citoyen) Louis Capet, to emphasise that without his titles he was just the same as everyone else. 

The death of king Louis XVI in 1793 was not the end of the house of Bourbon. After the French revolution power switched between the house of Bonaparte and that of the Bourbon’s a number of times.

Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor of France in 1804, starting the first French Empire. After the abdication of Napoleon and his exile in 1814, the House of Bourbon was put back on the throne. This period is known as the first Restoration.  This first restoration did not last long. Napoleon escaped from Elba and got back to Paris on 20 March 1815 to regain power. He lasted for 100 days until he was captured again by the allied forces. He was sent off to Saint Helena, in the Atlantic Ocean, 1.870 km from the nearest coast, so his chances of fleeing again where minimized.

Louis XVIII was reinstated and ruled as King of France and Navarre from 1814 to 1824. This period is known as the second restoration. This king was the brother of Louis XVI and the uncle of  Louis XVII. He had spent twenty-three years in exile since the begin of the French revolution.

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the nephew and heir of Napoleon I took the throne as Napoleon III on 2 December 1852. He started the Second French Empire which lasted until 1870 when he was defeated in the battle of Sedan and went in Exile to England where he died in 1873.

France became a republic for the third time and the era of kings and emperors was definitely over.

The Kings and nobility of France had a very lush lifestyle and left many French castles and palaces.

King Louis XVIIIKing Louis XVIII

The French Chateaux

French Castles come in a wide variety, from medieval castles to rococo, baroque or renaissance palaces.  A castle or castle complex is called a chateau in French.  The word chateau is also used for a mansion and a vineyard estate, so not all chateaux are palaces.

I have of course added the most famous one, the Palace of Versailles, where large crowds of tourists are standing in line for a visit every day. You can go there yourself or book a guided tour from Paris and skip the line! 

I have also added some charming smaller or lesser-known palaces, like the palace of Saint Fargeau and Chateau de Fontainebleau.  Here you can pretty much wander around without encountering another visitor. The review on this site is by no means complete. I am planning to visit many more palaces and add them on this list!

If you are staying in Paris you can take a Loire Valley Castle Tour which wil take you to the famous Palaces Chambord, Amboise and Chenonceau in the Loire Valley, "Garden of France”.

Famous French Castle residents

Here are some stories about the French kings, their queens and their mistresses.

In France, the favourite mistress of the king had an official title,  Maîtresse-en-titre. As long as they could hold the affection of the king, they were assured of adequate income, titles, beautiful clothes and a nice apartment, close to the king's chambers. Most people cannot Name a Queens of France, but the names of the Mistresses do ring a bell. Who did not hear of Madame de Pompadour of Madame du Barry?

French Castle hotels, b&b's and campsites

Visiting a palace or castle is great, but sleeping in a royal residence is even greater! 

There are many French Chateaus that are transformed into French Caste Hotels. You can stay in a bed & breakfast or rent a cottage in the garden of still inhabited palaces where your host could be the Count himself!

Another option would be to camp in the castle garden, surrounded by the charms of castle life. Whatever you choose, it will be a unique experience!

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