Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Chateau des Ormes

The Chateau des Ormes is an imposing building hidden behind great walls and outbuildings in the small town of Les Ormes, between Tours and Poitiers, in Vienne, close to its border with Indre et Loire. The chateau estate is bounded on one side by the Vienne River. Nowadays the extensive farm is divided up into smaller parcels and owned by several people. The chateau itself is privately owned, but often opened up to the public for concerts and academic conferences on subjects with a connection to the chateau and the influential Argenson family who owned it. From June to the end of September you can visit and view the courtyard and some rooms.

Central wing of Chateau des Ormes, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Central wing of the chateau.


The chateau was built starting in 1642 by the Pussort brothers, who were the uncles of Louis XIV's great First Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert. It was acquired in 1729 by Comte Marc-Pierre Voyer d'Argenson, War Minister to Louis XV and friend of Diderot and d'Alembert, who dedicated their Encyclopedia to him. He hosted many celebrity guests there, including Voltaire.

Pavillion at the entry to Chateau des Ormes, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
One of the pavillions at the entrance.

 

Les Ormes had been a seigneurial seat since 1392. In 1434 the Marans family acquired the estate and retained ownership until 1608, when it passed to one of Marie de Medici's courtiers. In 1642 creditors seized the estate from the then owner and it was sold to the Pussort brothers. One of them was described as "Very rich and very stingy, moody, difficult, proud, with an angry cat's face that announced what he was, a malignity that was natural to him; mixed in with all this much probity, great capacity, much intelligence, extremely industrious (...). A dry man, with no friends, hard and difficult to reach, a bundle of thorns, without any amusement, who wanted to be master everywhere, and who was master because he was feared, dangerous and insolent, and who was very little regretted." These men were instrumental in helping their nephew Colbert bring about the downfall of his great rival Nicolas Fouquet.

Goat, Chateau des Ormes, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
This goat appeared from behind a hedge to inspect us as we peered through the big wrought iron gates.

 

On the last brother's death the vast estate was shared amongst the nieces and nephews, with Louise-Henriette Colbert, Duchess of Beauvilliers inheriting the chateau. She and her husband promptly sold it to Charles Chamblain, First Gentleman of the Bedchamber to the King. He sold it in 1720 to Pierre Boutet de Marivatz, one of Philippe d'Orléans, Regent of France's courtiers.

Chateau des Ormes outbuildings along a street in Les Ormes, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The chateau outbuildings along a street in Les Ormes.

 

In 1729, Marc-Pierre de Voyer de Paulmy d'Argenson, Chancellor, Head of the Council and Superintendent of Finance to the Regent, bought the Barony of Les Ormes and all its dependencies (Mousseau, La Motte de Grouin, Morte-Veille, La Chevalerie, La Garenne de Séligny, Villiers, Châtre, La Pouzardière, Salvert, Lesteigne, La Fontaine de l'Epinelle, Le Grand et Le Petit Coupé) from his colleague Boutet de Marivatz. The estate also included a lock on the Vienne River, a mill, a community oven, rights to fairs and markets, measures, stalls and market hall, as well as the right to sit in justice and fine people for all levels of misdemeanours within the Barony. 

Back entrance to the Chateau des Ormes, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Back entrance.


Becoming Minister of War to Louis XV in 1742, he at first earnt the respect and friendship of the King for his wise counsel and their shared passion for the arts. But this closeness to the King earnt him the jealously of Madame Pompadour, the King's mistress. Fifteen years later there was an attack on the King and thanks to Madame Pompadour the King deemed Argenson responsible and he was decommissioned and banished to his estate at Les Ormes. The King advised him to spend his time agrandising his chateau and grounds, and that is precisely what he did for the next seven years.

Barn, Chateau des Ormes, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Street side of a vast barn along the perimeter of the chateau park.

On his death in 1782 his son inherited but by this time the chateau was in a poor state and required a lot of the work. He also interested himself in new agricultural practices and was the first to cultivate clover and sainfoin in the area. When his son in turn inherited he concentrated on creating a vast equestrian facility, including a stud, gigantic stables opposite the chateau entrance and a post relay inn [link]. He was director of the King's Stud and keen on innovative equestrian husbandry ideas coming out of England at the time. In order to fund the work he eventually sold off one of the pavilions at the entrance.

18C stables, Les Ormes, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The central entrance to the vast stables across the road from the chateau.

 

The Marquis d'Argenson at the time of the Revolution is known as 'the Red Marquis' for his socialist and egalitarian ideals. He managed to survive the Revolution and the restoration of the monarchy, keeping the estate intact. In the early 19th century he created a herbarium, a botanical garden and plant nursery, built a windmill and a second ice house, and had the dining room ceiling repaired. Finally, in 1823, despite his austere lifestyle, his generosity combined with poor business sense, meant that the estate was split into 29 parcels and sold off, although the family retained the chateau and park. However, the central part of the chateau was demolished, leaving only the wings. Click on this [link] to learn more about botany at the chateau.

La Tourelle, Chateau des Ormes, Vienne, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
La Tourelle, a small tower built around 1770 on the corner of the park where it meets the old ford on the River Vienne.

 

After 80 years of a gap between the two chateau wings, the Count Pierre-Gaston d'Argenson had the central block reconstructed between 1903 and 1908.

The last Argenson heir died in 1975 and the remaining estate was sold off in parcels. The chateau itself was bought by a couple of teachers, who opened it to the public and rented out the salons for functions. During one of these functions a Parisian doctor, Sydney Abbou and his wife discovered the chateau and decided to buy it in 2000. Since then they have undertaken an award winning restoration and refurnishing of the chateau.


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