Thursday, 21 January 2021

Chateau de Beauvais

 Chateau de  Beauvais, a neo-Gothic country house near Azay sur Cher, offers guest accommodation [link], surrounded by an extensive park and easy access to the bike path along the Cher. It is a great location, between Tours, Amboise and Chenonceau. General de Gaulle has stayed here, and it was the place where conspirators met to plot the overthrow of Napoleon at Marengo. There was a previous chateau dating from 1490 on the site, but the mainly 17th century building was profoundly modified in 1853 to what you see today. The park was redesigned in the English style by the landscape architect Edouard André in 1869.

Chateau de Beauvais, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Chateau de Beavais.

Just before the Battle of Marengo, a group of high ranking French officials, plotted to remove Napoleon Bonaparte from power and take over the government themselves, headed by a triumvirate of Talleyrand, Fouché and Clément de Ris. They were banking on Marengo being a defeat for Napoleon, and when it turned out quite differently they had to abandon their plans. Napoleon was informed of the conspiracy and summoned his Chief of Police, Joseph Fouché, who was secretly involved in the plot, to explain and provide the names of conspirators. Napoleon wished to avoid a situation which would destablise the country, so he told Fouché to sort it out discreetly. Fouché's first move was to send his agents to the Chateau of Beauvais on 23 September 1800. The owner, Senator Dominique Clément de Ris was holding a great many compromising papers which would implicate Fouché himself, including posters proclaiming a change of regime, and Fouché's agents seized and destroyed them. Then in an excess of zeal they grabbed Clément de Ris, hauled him out of a window and rode off with him to a farm near Ferrieres sur Beaulieu. They subsequently held him there in an underground cellar for nineteen days. This caused Fouché no end of trouble, as his idea had been simply to burgle the house and take the incriminating papers.

Sign for Chateau de Beauvais, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The sign at the entrance.

On discovering that Fouché had kidnapped a high ranking member of the government, Napoleon was not pleased. This was exactly the kind of scandal and disruption he had wished to avoid. So Fouché was forced to engineer a miraculous but mysterious release of the Senator. Clément de Ris was taken into the forest of Loches at night by Fouché's agents. They stopped at the Pyramid of Chartreuse and four other riders came up to them and conversed with them. Then the party of 'kidnappers' moved on, followed by the newcomers at a distance. After a while some shots rang out and the kidnappers vanished into the night. Clément de Ris was joined by his 'rescuers' and his blindfold taken off. The whole thing was a set up of course, with all players being agents of Fouché. By this time Fouché needed to find a 'culprit' to blame for the kidnapping and he named a couple of Chouans (royalist diehards) with whom he had a personal feud, and who he had arrested. He only just got away with it, as although the judge they went before thought they were a pair of mouthy troublemakers, he did not believe they were guilty of the crime they were accused of. But Fouché was powerful enough to make the charges stick, and the two unfortunate young men stayed locked up.

In the end ten people stood trial for the kidnapping, but Clément de Riz refused to participate in the trial, for fear of incriminating himself, and it had to be annulled. The affair dragged on, with a special inquiry and another trial. Finally, three of the accused were sentenced to death, the others acquitted. Further attempts were made to get the condemned men off, including approaching Josephine, but finally they were executed by firing squad on the morning of 3 November 1801 at Angers. 

Entrance to Chateau de Beauvais, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The entrance to Chateau de Beauvais.

Balzac used the 'Affaire Clément de Ris' as the basis for his novel 'Une ténébreuse affaire' ('A Murky Business'). Balzac heard much of the story from his father, who had been Dominique Clément de Ris' protegee, and knew him well.

In 1815, the son of Dominique Clément de Ris was accused of having hidden boxes of gold and silver in the park, which was searched from top to bottom. In June 1940, when the French government of Paul Reynaud withdrew to Bordeaux, Charles de Gaulle, then Under Secretary of State for National Defense, stayed a few days in Beauvais.



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