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    New Year postcards from Aubigny-sur-Nère and French Berry…

    Aubigny-sur-Nère Stuart Castle by night © 2013 Scotiana

    Dear readers,

    I’m very happy to be back again on Scotiana after celebrating New Year Day in Berry, France, not far from Aubigny-sur-Nère, a favourite place of us not only because it is a very picturesque town with its half-timbered old houses but also because of its historical links with Scotland.

    Aubigny-sur-Nère mural © 2014 Scotiana

    Situated in the valley of the river Nère some 30 miles (48 km) north of Bourges, the so-called ‘French City of the Stuarts’ is still very attached to the Auld Alliance, due to its 400 years of French-Scottish history and it is indeed the only place in France that still celebrates this long association each year, on Bastille Day (July 14th).

     The Auld Alliance was particularly strong during the Hundred Years’ War * fought against England, the common enemy of France and Scotland at that time.

    3rd december 1425 Charles VII, the French King,  gives the Seigneury of Aubigny-sur-Nère to John Stuart of Darnley, High Constable of the Scottish army, by deeds passed at Mehun-sur-Yèvre .

    12 February 1429 Tragic and glorious death of John Stuart of Darnley the first Lord of Aubigny.

    1429 Alain Stuart, son of John Stuart of Darnley is assassinated during a journey to Scotland and his brother John II Stuart succeeds him till his death…

    Twelve Stuarts would succeed in Aubigny-sur-Nère with the title of ‘Seigneur d’Aubigny’ until the last of them died without heirs in 1672.

    But let us begin our tour now…

    Courtyard of Aubigny-sur-Nère castle  © 2014 Scotiana

     

    Nobody there, no bagpipe sound in the  silent and deserted courtyard to cheer us up in this rainy and wintry day… just a coat of arms reflecting in a puddle to remind us that Aubigny castle was once Scottish territory and that it remains today a strong symbol of the Scottish-French Auld Alliance.

     

    Aubigny-sur-Nère flying saltire © 2014 Scotiana

    Across the road the Scottish saltire proudly hoists its blue and white colours against a desperately grey sky,  trying to unfurl its sacred cross  above the moving memorial which recalls to the forgetful passersby that the Auld Alliance ‘was not written on a ewe skin parchment but engraved on the living flesh and skin of men, traced not in ink but in blood’.

    France Aubigny-sur-Nère Auld Alliance memorial © 2010 Scotiana

    Aubigny-sur-Nère Auld Alliance memorial France © 2010 Scotiana

    L’Auld Alliance n’a point été écrite sur un parchemin de peau de brebis

    mais est gravée sur de la chair vive et de la peau d’homme,

    tracée non par l’encre mais par le sang.

    (Alain Chartier, French poet and diplomat of the XVth century)

     

    Scottish flag and sword © 2014 Scotiana

    No Arthur will ever take the sword out of the Scottish rock where it has been bound!

     

    Mary's Cottage Aubigny-sur-Nère © 2014 Scotiana

     The old houses of Aubigny let out a murmur with a Scottish accent and we listen to them, trying to find, as in a treasure quest, Scottish clues on the old façades …

    Aubigny-sur-Nère Rue du Pousse Panier © 2014 Scotiana

    We did find a number of them along the streets with so funny names ;-).

    The name ‘Rue du Pousse Panier’ evokes the women who, on market days, were queuing along this street which leads from ‘La place du marché’ to St Martin’s church. The good ladies were going to confession, pushing their baskets 😉

    Beast and thistle on an old façade in Aubigny-sur-Nère © 2014 Scotiana

    Here’s the wooden sculpture of a beast and thistle on the very old façade of ‘La Maison du Bailli’, 13, 15, 17 rue du Bourg-Coutant.

    Aubigny-sur-Nère La maison du Bailli © 2014 Scotiana

    You can’t miss the house of the ‘bailli’! It is very old, dating back to the beginning of the 16th century and, though its engravings have worn away with time,  we can guess on the top of one of its pillars the shape of a coat of arms, probably that of Robert Stuart and of his two wives, Anne Stuart et Jacqueline de la Queille. Indeed a sign representing this coat of arms hangs on the façade. The  latticed half-timbered patterns are remarkable: we recognize the St Andrew’s cross (under the two left windows) and the lozenge form which generally ornates the most luxurious houses.

    Aubigny-sur-Nère is situated on ‘La route Jacques-Coeur’ and this road is full of Scottish-French reminiscences. So, let’s drive on. Each trip there brings its lot of golden nuggets 😉

    Dusk walk in Parc du château de La Verrerie © 2014 Scotiana

    Dusk walk in Parc du château de La Verrerie © 2014 Scotiana

    We entered this mysterious park at dusk! It is a vast wooded park with a lake and crossed by the river Nère. It shelters a charming little castle, the very castle which inspired Alain Fournier to describe the romantic setting for Le Grand Meaulnes.

    As we followed the wet wooded path which goes around the small lake we stopped because a tree which had fallen across it blocked the passage and we stayed some time here, listening to the cry of wild birds and the hoot of an owl…

    The Lost Domain - The Grand Meaulnes - Alain Fournier   Centenary Edition 2013

    Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Domain) is the only novel by French author Alain-Fournier who died at the age of 28 during WWI.

    In the novel, fifteen-year-old François Seurel narrates the story of his relationship with seventeen-year-old Augustin Meaulnes as Meaulnes searches for his lost love. Impulsive, reckless and heroic, Meaulnes embodies the romantic ideal, the search for the unobtainable, and the mysterious world between childhood and adulthood (…)  (from Wikipedia)

     

     

    Château de la Verrerie 'La maison d'Hélène' © 2014 Scotiana

    Not far from the castle a charming old cottage seems to be asleep in the winter season. A sign at the entrance tells us that it is called ‘La maison d’Hélène’ and that you can  take some refreshment and food here during ‘la belle saison’ for it is an inn. This picturesque house was once part of a farm, inhabited for sixty years by Hélène Morizet, a beautiful and courageous woman.  It became an inn in 1978 and there, after a long walk in the wooded park, you could enjoy, in this remarkable setting, Mme la comtesse A. de Voguë’s chocolate cake 😉

    Le Château de la Verrerie © 2014 Scotiana

    No wonder that  The ‘château de la Verrerie‘ has often been called ‘The enchanted castle’. It was closed at this season of the year, except for the few privileged people who can afford to rent a room there.  We had visited it during one of our last trips there and had fallen in love at first sight.

    How great it was to end this cold day in such a magical atmosphere. We’ll come back again…

    Château de la Verrerie chapel and east aisle © 2014 Scotiana

    Château de la Verrerie chapel and east aisle © 2014 Scotiana

    The castle was built at the end of the XVth century (1495-1505) by Bérault Stuart on a site previously occupied by glassworks. Bérault Stuart is responsible for the building of the East Aisle including the built-on spiral case in its hexagonal turret and of the Chapel in the north . The chapel is remarkable for its wooden vault painted blue and dotted with golden stars. Among the Scottish details:  the thistle of Scotland represented with the lily of France, two angels on the wooden vault, one holding the banner and shield with Robert Stuart’s coat of arms, the other the coat of arms of Bérault Stuart and that of his wife, Anne de Maumont. The château de la Verrerie remained in the hands of the Stuarts up to the death of the 12th Seigneur d’Aubigny in 1672 who died without heirs.

     

    Château de La Chapelle d'Angillon © 2014 Scotiana

    Château de La Chapelle d’Angillon © 2014 Scotiana

    And if you want to know more about Alain Fournier and Le Grand Meaulnes  I greatly recommend the visit of  The château of La Chapelle d’Angillon which shelters the Musée of Alain Fournier who was born in the village of La Chapelle d’Angillon. We had first visited this castle with a charming young lady studying Beaux-Arts but this time we were lucky to be guided up and down the castle and the Museum by the ‘châtelain’ himself, comte Jean d’Ogny 😉 This was an unforgettable visit for not only our guide proved to be a very obliging and erudite gentleman but he did not lack humour and told us a number of very funny and quite fascinating anecdotes about the history of the place and the furniture. Indeed, is not ‘le maître des lieux’ the  best placed person to tell the tale of the castle?

     

    Half-timbered old houses in Bourges © 2014 Scotiana

    Half-timbered old houses in Bourges © 2014 Scotiana

    On January 2nd we decided to spend the whole day in Bourges,  “un retour aux sources” since it is my native town ;-).  It is a paradise for the amateur of old houses for many streets are lined with magnificent half-timbered houses.

    A typical half-timbered house in Bourges © 2014 Scotiana

    A typical half-timbered house in Bourges © 2014 Scotiana

    Most of them are very well restored and well preserved! They would not be out of place in Balzac’s novels, as in La Maison du chat qui pelote for example (At the Sign of the Cat and Racket)

    Bourges statue of Louis XI © 2014 Scotiana

    Bourges statue of Louis XI © 2014 Scotiana

    On our way to the cathedral, we fell upon the statue of Louis XI,  the famous French King to whom  Walter Scott devotes many pages in Quentin Durward

    Quentin Durward Walter Scott Collins' Pocket Classics

     

    The age of the young traveller might be about nineteen, or betwixt that
    and twenty; and his face and person, which were very prepossessing, did
    not, however, belong to the country in which he was now a sojourner. His
    short gray cloak and hose were rather of Flemish than of French fashion,
    while the smart blue bonnet, with a single sprig of holly and an eagle's
    feather, was already recognized as the Scottish head gear. His dress
    was very neat, and arranged with the precision of a youth conscious of
    possessing a fine person. He had at his back a satchel, which seemed to
    contain a few necessaries, a hawking gauntlet on his left hand, though
    he carried no bird, and in his right a stout hunter's pole. Over his
    left shoulder hung an embroidered scarf which sustained a small pouch of
    scarlet velvet, such as was then used by fowlers of distinction to carry
    their hawks' food, and other matters belonging to that much admired
    sport. This was crossed by another shoulder belt, to which was hung a
    hunting knife, or couteau de chasse. Instead of the boots of the period,
    he wore buskins of half dressed deer's skin.
    
    (Sir Walter Scott - Quentin Durward - Chapter II - The Wanderer)

    Quentin Durward is a historical novel by Walter Scott, first published in 1823. The story concerns a Scottish archer in the service of the French King Louis XI (1423–1483).The age of feudalism and chivalry was passing away, and the King of France was inciting the wealthy citizens of Flanders against his own rebellious vassal the Duke of Burgundy. Quentin Durward had come to Tours, where his uncle was one of the Scottish body guard maintained by Louis XI, to seek military service, and was invited by the king, disguised as a merchant, to breakfast at the inn, and supplied by him with money. Having narrowly escaped being hanged by the provost-marshal for cutting down Zamet, whom he found suspended to a tree, he was enlisted by Lord Crawford, and learned the history of Jacqueline. In the presence-chamber he was recognised by Louis, and the royal party were preparing for a hunting excursion, when the Count of Crèvecœur arrived with a peremptory demand for the instant surrender of the duke’s ward, the Countess of Croye, who had fled from Burgundy with her aunt to escape a forced marriage; and proclaimed that his master renounced his allegiance to the crown of France. In the chase which followed Durward saved the king’s life from a boar, for which service Louis, after consulting with his barber, entrusted him with the duty of conducting the Countess and Lady Hameline, ostensibly to the protection of the Bishop of Liege, but really that they might fall into the hands of William de la Marck. After proceeding some distance they were overtaken by Dunois and the Duke of Orléans, who would have seized the countess, but were prevented by Lord Crawford, who arrived in pursuit and made prisoners of them. Then Hayraddin came riding after them, and under his guidance they journeyed for nearly a week, when Quentin discovered that the Bohemian was in league with De la Marck. He accordingly altered their route, and they reached the bishop’s castle in safety.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quentin_Durward

    St Etienne Cathedral in Bourges  © 2014 Scotiana

    St Etienne Cathedral in Bourges © 2014 Scotiana

    In Bourges, we visited  the magnificent gothic cathedral and climbed the 398 x 2 steps up to the top of the steeple where those who are not afraid of heights (like me) can get a panoramic view of the city. Really terrific! On the top there is a huge metallic statue of a pelican, a symbol of Christ. Saint Stephen cathedral is probably the only one in France surmounted by a pelican. One generally finds a cock up there!

    Bourges Palais Jacques Coeur façade © 2010 Scotiana

    Bourges Palais Jacques Coeur façade © Scotiana

    We arrived just in time to visit the Palais Jacques Coeur, which is an architectural and historical jewel. It was night when we got out of this magnificent and emblematic building…

     

    Bourges by night © 2014 Scotiana

    Bourges by night © 2014 Scotiana

    We ended our visit of Bourges lingering in the town which is particularly beautiful  at this time of the year, when the old streets and monuments are illuminated with colourful Christmas tinsels.

     

    The bookshop Pass'age in Bourges© 2014 Scotiana

     

    Of course,  we couldn’t pass ‘Pass’Age’ without having a browse in this paradise for booklovers. We had not much time left but I finally got out with two detective novels by Lilian Jackson Braun. Good books to read by the fireside in our gite.

     

    Bourges tea-room window © 2014 Scotiana

    Bourges tea-room window © 2014 Scotiana

    Don’t hesitate to plan a trip to this beautiful part of France which is deeply attached to its Scottish roots. We’ll probably go back  to Aubigny-sur-Nère on 14 July 2014 for the Scottish French festivities.

    Bonne lecture.

    A bientôt.

    Mairiuna

    …………….

    * Hundred Years War  (1337-1453)

     

    Hundred Years' Wars montage Wikipedia
    Hundred Years’ Wars montage Wikipedia

    Belligerents: France and Scotland against England and Burgundy

    The Hundred Years’ War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France for control of the French throne. Many allies of both sides were also drawn into the conflict. The war had its roots in a dynastic disagreement dating back to the time of William the Conqueror, who became King of England in 1066 while retaining possession of the Duchy of Normandy in France. As the rulers of Normandy and other lands on the continent, the English kings owed feudal homage to the King of France. In 1337, Edward III of England refused to pay homage to Philip VI of France, leading the French King to claim confiscation of Edward’s lands in Aquitaine.

    Franco-Scot alliance

    The Kings of England had been trying to subjugate the Scots for some time. In 1295 a treaty was signed between France and Scotland, during the reign of Philip the Fair. Charles IV formally renewed the treaty in 1326, promising Scotland that if England invaded then France would support the Scots. Similarly, the Scots would support the French. Edward could not succeed in his plans for Scotland if they could count on French support.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Years%27_War

     

     

     

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