Châteaux of Ill Fortune
Robert Knecht visits two of France’s most remarkable châteaux, which stand as monuments to the ambitions of their upwardly mobile creators Thomas Bohier and Nicolas Fouquet.
The châteaux of Chenonceau and Vaux-le-Vicomte – today among the premier tourist sites of France, and seen as shining exemplars of the glories of the nation’s architectural heritage – also bear witness to the insolvency and ingratitude of the French monarchy across two centuries.
Their owners – Thomas Bohier and Nicholas Fouquet respectively – represented a class of important officials in the royal fiscal administration. Having risen from the ranks of the bourgeoisie, such men became wealthy enough to lend money to the crown when its traditional sources of income failed to meet its urgent needs. But the fiscal practices of the day exposed them to the charge of corruption. At regular intervals during the ancien régime, the crown rounded on its own fiscal officials, accusing them of fraud, if only to rid itself of tiresome creditors. The confiscation of their châteaux by the crown exemplified the fall from grace of these once-wealthy men.