Fontainebleu is hardly a secret, but there have been better signs and symbols that a major tourist attraction exists. When Tom came this was one of the many residences of Henry IV, who would be assassinated two years later. He just marched in, perhaps because the guards were Scottish. He wouldn’t have had trouble navigating the numerous cake shops, and was mean enough probably not to have bought a pain aux raisin even if he’d seen one. Let him not eat cake.
“Their muskets ready charged and set on their restes…[they] “consisteth partly of French, partly of Scots, and partly of Switzers. Of the French Guarde there are three rankes: The First is the Regiment of the Gard…The second bee the Archers….the Gard of the body, whereof there are foure hundred, but one hundred of them be Scots…”
As I’ve written, Tom got quite heated about the Swiss soldiers’ codpieces, for me it was just trying to find space to look, among the crowds. This morning they are Romanian, Chinese, Japanese, French, Lancastrian…only Germans move in ones and twos.
Although the French royal family travelled, from one chateau to another palace, it is also true that they had the world right here. The size of the halls and the corridors (everything is big except the beds), the paintings, frescos, tapestries, libraries, all suggest the world (and God) is here. When at INSEAD I hear: “the world is small and all the same: four walls and a computer…” I am shocked, but there is a sense, here in this most grand of residences, that this is what we want, simply and safely: bring the world to our home and we don’t have to leave. Of course, with huge grounds with peacocks wandering, this is a very large “four walls”, and however detailed and all pervasive the art it is not “interactive”. And yet here in the forests of Fontainebleu is surely a theme: money enables us to shut out the world, not to connect with it. It is the sentiment of much of John Donne’s early poetry.
“The walkes about the gardens are many, whereof some are very long, and of convenient breadth, being fairly sanded, and kept very cleane….”
It is at the Chateau Fontainebleu that Tom meets an Irish Landowner whose “yearly revenues were two hundred thousand French crownes, which do make three score thousand pound starling.” According to the Convert Money website, this works out at about £7 million a year these days. Which is not bad: modern palaces can be mortgaged on earnings like that, even in the centre of an average city.
It was the railways, the “trains de Plasir” that changed Fontainebleu again, brought wealth not just to the Chateau but to the town which developed around it. In 1849 the rail link from Paris was established, and so too the idea of the “day trip”. Parisians, deep into their Romantic-Gothic love of nature, as long as it was safe, could visit at the weekends. So began another stage of Fontainebleu’s life.
As presented to us Napoleon’s use of the chateau is as important culturally as the royal family’s, although I think our era is more interested in the decadent royals again: that is why Sophie Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” is a good film: it shows a “Pimp My Ride” Fontainebleu. You could live here a long time without the tourists and never leave and see all of the shiny world.