Domaine de la Garrelière
In the autumn of 1585, a family of rather minor noble status in Poitou was blessed with a child, their fifth if truth be told, and their third son. The child’s mother was Susanne de la Porte, the daughter of a jurist; his father was François III du Plessis de Richelieu (1548 – 1590), seigneur of Richelieu and a soldier. Although a frail child, their son Armand led an eventful life, making his mark on history. He died in 1642, at the age of 57 years, reputedly from a combination of malaria, strangury, tuberculosis, osteomyelitis and migraines, the latter probably having been the least of his worries if the first four were all true. At his passing, however, nobody referred to this powerful clergyman as Armand, as by this time he was much better known as Cardinal Richelieu.
Cardinal Richelieu is one of France’s most famous (or rather, infamous) historical characters, and it is certainly not my role to recount all of his deeds here, no matter how much I would enjoy doing so. One of his less widely appreciated undertakings, however, is certainly relevant to the story of Domaine de la Garrelière. When Richelieu wasn’t thumbing his nose at the Habsburgs and the Huguenots, and liberating the French nobility of their feudal dwellings, Richelieu put his mind to the development of a small town, with his king’s permission. Built around the place of Cardinal Richelieu’s birth the town, roughly 30 kilometres south-east of Chinon, is today known simply as Richelieu.
The town of Richelieu is a remarkable sight, pre-planned from scratch, and laid out on a rectangular grid. As such it is surely the most striking example of 17th-century urban planning in existence. Louis XIII granted Richelieu the right to build the town in 1631, and the cardinal immediately commissioned the celebrated architect Jacques Lemercier to draw up plans. Lemercier had already made his mark with the design of the Palais Cardinal in Paris, which Richelieu had filled with paintings and Roman sculpture.
In a similarly grand fashion Richelieu commanded the construction of a great château, with ornamental moats and gardens, all enclosed by a long stone wall. Then, adjacent to the cardinal’s park, the town plan was drawn up, Lemercier working to a strict rectangular pattern. In typically cunning fashion Richelieu did not pay for a single stone of the town; instead he encouraged newcomers to built the properties by abolishing the city tax for Richelieu. As all the new buildings had by law to follow the plans lodged in the town’s court, and only the cardinal’s appointed builders were eligible to work on them, before long Richelieu’s dream town had risen from the ground. Within a few year there were two thousand inhabitants. Two thousand thirsty inhabitants.