Topless in Chenonceau

I remember, almost nostalgically, the fuss that was made when the first topless bars opened in Vancouver. It was, we were told, the beginning of the end! But when one of them opened across the street from our ad agency offices, we ignored this dire prediction and the following Friday at lunchtime, we sallied forth to savour this latest fleshpot. But the attraction quickly faded and we gravitated back to our favourite watering holes, feigning indifference to that sort of show, which inevitably became so commonplace.

But the baring of flesh has had a colourful history.

In the Loire Valley of France stands the oldest, and some claim the most beautiful, Renaissance castle, among the several hundred dotted around. And it was there at Chenonceau in the late 1500s that Catherine de’ Medici hosted a party for the Duke of Aragon that hasn’t been equalled since. Her guests enjoyed mock naval battles and a grand regatta staged on the nearby river Cher, plus a bunch of satyrs chasing lightly clad nymphs in a colourful tableau.

But at the banquet, Catherine outdid herself. She had recruited the most beautiful noblewomen in all of France to serve at the long tables as waitresses…. and you’ve guessed it…they were all topless.

This castle already had a history of feisty females. It was largely built by Catherine Briconnet around the time that fat Henry was flexing his Tudor muscles on the other side of the Channel. The estate passed to the French crown, so his majesty gave it to his mistress, Dianne of Poitiers. A little later, he was killed in a boar-hunting accident. His long-suffering wife, Catherine de’ Medici promptly took over, punted Poitiers and turned the place into the hub of high society.

The extravagances she staged are the stuff of legend. In fact one for her son lasted four days and four nights. On her death, the castle was willed to her daughter Louise, who also didn’t have much luck in marriage. Her husband Henry lll was assassinated and she turned the place into a gigantic funeral parlour, hanging black on every surface. The whole of France was virtually stripped of black velvet and damask by the grieving widow. The castle changed its image after Louise passed on, because Duchess Marie of Luxembourg, a very religious lady, turned it into a convent and housed all the nuns in the drafty old attics.

Chenonceau then hit its low point, as all the Court action had by then, shifted to Versailles. So it was plundered, shuttered and headed for ruin. But again a woman saved the day. In 1773, Madame Claude Dupin took possession and nursed it back to its former splendour. Being a kindhearted aristocrat, she earned a reputation for doing good among the local folk and so survived the wrath of the French Revolution. Chenonceau was spared the fiery end of so many noble houses and Madame Dupin avoided the grisly trip to Madame Guillotine! Over the years Chenonceau has mostly remained in the care of determined women.

And if you ever get to visit this magnificent place, like me, you’ll be impressed.

(Bill Greenwell prospered in the ad agency arena for 40 years in the U.K. and Canada. He retains a passion for medieval history, marine paintings and piscatorial pursuits. His wife Patricia indulges him in these interests, but being a seasoned writer from a similar background, she has always deplored his weakness for alliteration. This has sadly had no effect on his writing style, whatsoever.)

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The CVRD introduces new app to contact residents during emergencies, a tool that chairman Aaron Stone says will improve communications. (File photo)
CVRD launches new app to spread information during emergencies

Cowichan Alert is a free app that can be downloaded onto smartphones, computers

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

The Malahat SkyWalk will open to visitors in July 2021. (Malahat SkyWalk photo)
Malahat SkyWalk will open to visitors this July

Highly anticipated attraction will take guests 250m above sea level

FILE PHOTO
Editorial: Time to roll up our sleeves and pitch in

They’re just not quite sure they want to get a vaccine — yet

Brian Thacker, owner of Cowichan Bay’s Pacific Industrial & Marine, is disappointed the province didn’t provide funding for a proposal from PIM, in partnership with the Cowichan Tribes, to remove derelict boats from local waters. (File photo)
Application for funding to remove derelict vessels in Cowichan area fails

Province announced $4.5 million for new program on April 28

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Most Read