A brief lesson in French history


This the Château de Bouquéron. I can see it from my front door and cannot help but stare at it every time I walk to my bus stop, morning and evening. I find it fascinating and I am compelled to get as close to it as I can. I’m not superstitious, but I am certain that this place has a certain character of its own, and it has certainly seen a lot in its time. Legend has it that it was built in the 770s, commissioned by Charlemagne’s nephew Roland, but the first mention of it did not appear until 1100. A house as old as this is bound to house some grand stories within its walls, and another local legend claims that in the late 13th century it was bore witness to a murder most foul, involving two men and their struggle to obtain the rights to the property. The daughter of the proprietor, Elmengarde, was forced by her father to marry the tyrannical Bertrand de Theys, also known as the black night while her brother was away fighting in the crusades. When he came back and demanded that Bouquéron be handed over to him, Bertrand brutally murdered him by stabbing him in the back with a dagger, thus becoming the new owner of the place. Supposedly Elmengarde’s brother brought back with him a treasure of the knight’s templar, but even when confronted with death she refused to tell her husband where it was hidden.

The manor also served as a hiding place for the Dauphin Louis II (who eventually became King Louis XI) when his father, Charles VII, sent a troop of men to try and kill him in 1456. At that time the proprietor was an textile merchant named Claude Coct. Louis appeared at his door in the middle of the night seeking refuge, and seeing as he was the son of the king Claude could not exactly refuse him. So he let him in and when the archers eventually came to the door, Monsieur Coct managed to save the Dauphin’s life by exclaiming that the room in which he was hiding was “la chambre du diable (the devil’s room).” Being the God-fearing Catholics that they were, these men quickly hurried away and Claude thus saved the future king of France’s life. Of course, he was rewarded amply once Louis ascended to the throne. He was allowed to make use of the nearby forges at the foot of the Belledonne mountains for the next 15 years, which he gladly accepted and used to restore the château.

The next big chapter for the Bouquéron was during the Belle Époque when it was converted into a bathhouse by the mayor, who happened to be a doctor and believe in the healing powers of the Isère region’s heavily mineralized water. However, the project fell through once he died and the house closed its doors to the public in 1905. In 1908 was purchased by a Parisian named Giraud and since then I imagine it has remained within his family. The building is not what you would call “homey”, and to my knowledge there is no longer anyone living within its walls. Just secrets, memories, and maybe the holy grail.



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