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From Romantic Castles and Palaces, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, edited and translated by Esther Singleton; New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1901; pp. 245-253.


The Palace of Saint-Cloud


Black and white photograph of the Palace of Saint-Cloud, France, twelfth century on a treeless landscape, taken in the late 19th century.


THE name Saint-Cloud involuntarily carries us back to one of the most agitated epochs of our history and recalls a scene of savage violence. Clodowald, son of Clodomir, King of Orleans, saw his two brothers assassinated before his eyes: the executioners were his two uncles. The cruel spectacle was never effaced from his memory. Clodowald himself cut off his long hair, the emblem of his illustrious origin, preferring the humility of the cloister to the splendour of a crown. His pious self-abnegation received its reward even in this world. The village of Nogent took the name of its patron who was included in the list of saints: history has connected the name of Saint-Cloud with events that fill the universe. Here Henri III. fell beneath the blade of an assassin, and with him the Valois branch ended. Here suddenly died, not without suspicion of poison, the witty and brilliant Henrietta of England, wife of Louis the Fourteenth’s brother. In this same spot Marie Antoinette was preparing the most charming of royal residences when the Revolution came to drag her to the scaffold. Here the Revolution of Brumaire XVIII. overturned the French republic. In 1815, the foreigners, with Wellington and Blücher at their head, are at Saint-Cloud, where the 246 capitulation of Paris is signed on July 3d. Here, on July 28th, 1830, Charles X. signs the fatal orders which are immediately followed by a new revolution. This prince leaves Saint-Cloud on July 30th, at 3 A. M., to go into exile where he is to find his tomb.

The purity of the air, the abundance of water, the freshness of the landscape and the beauty of the banks of the Seine have always attracted the dwellers of Paris to Saint-Cloud. Nobles of the court, members of the parliament and men of finance built elegant country houses here. The masses, following a tradition which has not yet disappeared, went out there to take breath at liberty, to stroll about in the shade and to play their gambols.

It must be confessed that at the gates of Paris one could not find a more agreeable promenade nor a more attractive dwelling-place. Consequently, at the period of our internescine wars, the possession of it was bitterly wanted. In 1346 Saint-Cloud was revisited by the English, and its inhabitants were so fortunate as to drive them off. But in 1358, after the fatal battle of Poitiers, the English took the place and pillaged and reduced it to ashes without sparing the pleasure-houses established in the vicinity. Under the reign of the unfortunate Charles VI., the Armagnacs and Bourguignons alternately fell upon the village and ravaged the countryside. These multiplied disasters were promptly repaired and the hills of Saint-Cloud again adorned themselves with elegant abodes framed in verdure.

The house that served as the kernel of the royal castle of Saint-Cloud first belonged to Jérome Gonde. He was 247 an Italian who came to France in the suite of Catherine de’Medici. Like several of his fellow-countrymen, he succeeded in amassing a considerable fortune here. More fortunate than some of them, he kept in favour with the Queen Mother. It was in this house, August 1st, 1589, that Henri III. was assassinated by Jacques Clément. Devoted servants saluted Henri IV. as King of France: he was at Saint-Cloud in the Tillet house. This house, the witness of the accession to the throne of the Bourbon line, has since disappeared: its site is marked in the gardens of the castle by the Tillet alley.

The grandson of Henri IV., so passionate for the grandeur of his house, bought Saint-Cloud for Philip of Orleans, his brother, generally called Monsieur. Various acquisitions were successively made to complete this beautiful demesne: the castle was rebuilt by Lepautre, and the gardens laid out by Le Nôtre. Saint-Cloud for a long time remained the favourite residence of the Dukes of Orleans. Henrietta of England with her gay spirit, her beautiful manners, her love of fêtes, her taste for pomp, her engaging character, her discreet advances, and the friendship shown for her by her brother-in-law, rendered it the most elegant abode, the centre of the most select gatherings, and the palace of decent and delicate pleasures.

Alas! these brilliant entertainments of fashion were very soon to be interrupted by a terrible blow which fell suddenly like a clap of thunder. Henrietta returned from England whither she had been, charged by Louis XIV. with the negotiation of a secret treaty with her brother, 248 Charles II. Arriving in the beginning of June, 1670, she was quietly resting at Saint-Cloud, when, on the twenty-ninth of the same month, suddenly in the castle in the middle of the night the terrible cry was heard: “Madame is dying!” and, eight hours later: “Madame is dead!” This princess was twenty-six years old. The disease declared itself by frightful agony the moment after drinking a glass of chicory water. At first she declared that she had been poisoned; if she retracted this afterwards, it was under the apprehension of the terrible consequences that a false declaration might entail. Her suspicions have been shared by historians, who briefly add that Louis XIV. was happy to learn that his brother was innocent of this crime.

Monsieur showed his grief by grand funeral ceremonies. What makes the memory of these obsequies notable is the funeral oration delivered by Bossuet. It is one of the masterpieces of pulpit eloquence.

The tears, feigned or genuine, were scarcely dry before they began to think of filling the place left empty by death. The King made overtures on this subject to Mademoiselle, daughter of Gaston of Orleans, the brother of Louis XIII.; but this princess at that time was occupied with a project that became the torment of her life; she wanted to marry the Comte de Lauzan.

Four months after the death of the gentle and witty Henrietta of England, Monsieur married the Princess Palatine, the daughter of the Elector Palatine. A robust German with strongly marked features, an enemy to ceremony, detesting entertainments on account of impatience with constraint, 249 holding the toilette in aversion because it interfered with her usual habits, the Princess Palatine formed a complete contrast to the lively and delicate Henrietta. She abjured Lutheranism on the eve of her marriage. From this we may judge of the changes that followed at first in the customs of the castle of Saint-Cloud. But they did not last long. Philip of Orleans loved to hold a court and he was anxious to see it constantly filled with people who could amuse themselves. High play occurred there and many ladies came, who, says Saint Simon, “would scarcely have been received elsewhere.” At Saint-Cloud, as at the Palais Royale, there was an uninterrupted succession of entertainments. Madame often sulked at the company. She spent the greatest part of the day in her cabinet. Her husband allowed her every liberty and freely used his own, without concerning himself about her in any way.

In 1701, Philip of Orleans, the King’s brother, died at Saint-Cloud. The Princess Palatine also breathed her last gasp there. This magnificent residence continued to be occupied with the same sumptuousness and luxury by the new owners; these were the Duke of Chartres, and his wife, Mlle. de Blois, daughter of Louis XIV. This princess wanted to hold a court there that would do sufficient honour to the first prince of the blood. The King approved, provided that she took care to gather together a distinguished company free from the confused and objectionable mixture that had defiled the society of the late Duke of Orleans. The beginnings of this new court were 250 admirable. Families of the best positions in the realm crowded into the receptions at Saint-Cloud. The drawing-rooms and gardens were filled with personages belonging to the most illustrious houses. Since Louis XIV. was old and Versailles did not always afford much pleasure, the young generation gladly turned to Saint-Cloud where politeness, liberality, magnificence, fine manners and an amiable freedom attracted and held everybody.

In 1752, Louis Philippe of Orleans, grandson of the Regent, gave a splendid fête at Saint-Cloud, a detailed description of which was given by the writers of the time with great gusto. It was remarked that the populace was admitted to take part in it. This remark, which was dwelt on with a kind of affectation, shows the influence of new ideas. In 1759, this prince lost his wife, Louise Henriette de bourbon Conti, and in 1773 he secretly married the Marquise de Montesson. The latter, desiring a modest abode, induced the Duke of Orleans to sell the castle of Saint-Cloud. In 1785, this beautiful residence was purchased by Queen Marie Antoinette for six millions. By the Queen’s orders numerous changes were made. The new chapel was built at that time, and on the site of the old one a staircase of honour was built, leading to the grand apartments. Considerable additions were made to the buildings by doubling two bodies of outbuildings. The works were carried forward rapidly; but events were marching still faster; they were not yet completed when the Revolution burst. The palace was abandoned; the gardens were reserved for the pleasure of the citizens.


A great political event was soon to happen at Saint-Cloud. After horrible and sterile agitation like that of a tempest, the Directory, far from healing France of the excesses of anarchy, was impotent, and its weakness, not less than the light conduct of the Directors, caused it to fall into discredit. All was ready for a new revolution, and it came on the 18th of Brumaire (Nov. 9th, 1799). The legislative body had been transferred to the castle of Saint-cloud. The victor of Lodi and Arcola, having recently returned from Egypt, was ripe for new destinies. Surrounded by a crowd of superior officers determined to put an end to the government of lawyers, it was necessary to act. So he went to Saint-Cloud after having taken his measure in Paris. . . . At the sight of the grenadiers advancing with fixed bayonets, the terrified members of the council dispersed in flight through the passages, or jumping out of the windows. A new era was about to open; Napoleon Bonaparte is nominated First consul, Consul for ten years, Consul for life, and lastly, Emperor.

From the year 1800, the royal residences had been placed at the disposal of the new representative of sovereign authority in France, and he chose the castle of Saint-Cloud for his summer residence. It was here that he received the decree that proclaimed him Emperor of the French. Napoleon often came here for repose after his victories. Here, in quiet, he planned new conquests, and more especially he elaborated those regulations of public administration that, together with the code that bears his name, perhaps constitute his bets title to glory in the eyes of posterity.


In 1810, on April 1st, the marriage of Napoleon with Marie Louise was celebrated in the chapel of Saint-Cloud. The castle and gardens then witnessed rejoicings that seemed as if they could never be saddened by any cloud. In 1815, alas! the scene has greatly changed. Saint-Cloud is invaded by a horde of foreigners. The conqueror wants to dishonour the palace of the hero whom Fortune has betrayed. Troops are encamped in the gardens; horses are watered in the park fountains. Nothing is respected, not even the private chamber of the Empress. A pack of hounds is put there; the furniture is soiled and torn books litter the floor. A soldier sleeps in his uniform in Napoleon’s bed and amuses himself with tearing the imperial draperies with his spurs. Those were days of mourning for Saint-Cloud and for France! The capitulation of Paris was signed at Saint-Cloud, July 3d, 1813.

Fifteen years later, also in the month of July, another revolution chased Charles X. from Saint-Cloud. It was here that that prince signed the orders of July 24, 1830. Six days later, the royal family of Bourbon was on the road of exile! The government of the Restoration had various embellishments done to the palace and gardens of Saint-Cloud. We owe to Charles X. the construction of the building for the accommodation of the servants of his establishment, as well as a fine barracks, situated in the gardens of the lower park, for his bodyguard.

Louis Philippe did not forget Saint-Cloud which recalled youthful memories. The apartments were renovated and 253 richly furnished, and new distributions still further improved this beautiful residence.

Notwithstanding the considerable works undertaken at different periods, it was easy to recognize the modern works from the ancient parts. The front on the court of honour was executed after the plans of Gerard; the two pavilions were by the architect Lepautre. The apartments of Napoleon III. and the Empress were situated on the first story in the left wing. Queen Marie Antoinette, the Empress Marie Louise and the Duchess of Angoulême occupied this part of the castle. The Apollo Gallery, inaugurated by a splendid fête given by Philip of Orleans to his brother, Louis XIV., was on the first story of the right wing. Under the Directory, this gallery was used for the sittings of the council of the Anciens. The emperor’s vestibule was in the centre of the façade, with the staircase built on the site of the old chapel. The internal decoration of the palace was of the greatest magnificence; the paintings on the ceilings were by illustrious artists, and the furniture, renewed several times, was of rare elegance and dazzling richness.

The heir of Napoleon I. was soon to reappear there: it was at Saint-Cloud, Dec. 2, 1852, that the Empire was restored.

The palace of Saint-Cloud was burnt during the siege of Paris by the German army in 1870-1871.


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