Published on November 13th, 2014 | by Maureen Youngblood0
Chantilly, more than a cream, a beautiful castle
When an American hears the word Chantilly, we think of lace and cream. Few Americans realize it is an actual place with an interesting history.
Chantilly is 38 miles northeast of Paris in the Picardy region and is home to the Chateau de Chantilly. Similar to other French chateaux, the Chateau de Chantilly is grand, ornate and beautiful. In the 14th century, the Chancellor of Orgemont decided to build the chateau in the middle of the valley of la Nonette, then a swampy meadowland in a remote area. The property remained within the same family during the years 1386 to 1897 without ever being sold – a very long time to stay in one family.
The year 1560 saw the renovation of the estate by the architect Jean Bullant, who created Chateau Ecouen. It was in 1632 that Louis XII confiscated Chantilly from Henri II of Montmorency, the then current inhabitant. In 1643, the estate was given back to the Conde family. Louis II of Bourbon-Conde hired the famous gardener, Andre Le Notre, to create the magnificent park and Grand Canal. The Grand Conde turned the Chantilly estate into a place of celebration, welcoming many literary guests such as La Fontiane, La Bruyere, Boussuet and Madame de Sevigne. Along with elaborate fireworks and extravagant balls attended by many guests, Moliere performed Tartuffe for the Grand Conde at Chateau de Chantilly.
During the 1700s, the property underwent extensive changes, including a complete rebuild of the Chateau. The Great Stables, a massive housing for horses is considered an architectural and structural masterpiece of the 18th century. Shortly after, the chateau went into temporary decline. During the Revolution, the art collections at Chateau de Chantilly were confiscated and taken to the Louvre. The Chateau was transformed into a prison; many of its buildings were demolished.
The Restoration saw Chateau de Chantilly undergo its own version of restoration. In 1815, Prince Louis-Joseph decided to restore the apartments and he was also able to regain some of the artifacts held at the Louvre. Louis-Henri-Joseph, Duke of Bourbon, with no direct heir, left the entire Chateau de Chantilly estate to his eight year old great-nephew and godchild, Henri of Orleans, Duke of Aumale. Louis-Henri-Joseph was the 5th son of King Louis-Philippe. The Duke of Aumale, once of age, entered the military and served in Algeria. It was during the July Monarchy that he had his private apartments remodeled. His plans were to rebuild the Chateau; however, he was forced to leave France after the 1848 Revolution.
The Duke of Aumale was exiled near London. While in exile, he was able to collect many pieces of art, furniture, paintings, and sculptures. His exile lasted from 1848 until 1871 when he was able to return and combine his carefully chosen pieces with the collection that was already held at Chantilly. He enlisted the architect Honora Daumet to rebuild the Chateau in order to display his large, combined collection.
The Duke of Aumale became a French Institute member in 1871, after his return from London. Upon his death in 1894, the entire estate was given to the institute. On April 17, 1898, the Conde Museum opened to the public with the instructions from the Duke that the presentation be protected and that the collections not be lent to anyone. This is the same collection that can be seen today.
Unusual for a typical French chateau, Chateau de Chantilly has a racetrack for horses. The horse stables, called the Great Stables, were constructed in the 1700s and encouraged further advancing the hobby of raising horses for profit and amusement. The Great Stables could accommodate the 240 horses and 500 dogs that were typically used for the daily hunting rides.
The area was home to an English community that had strong ties to horse racing. The first horse races were held in Chantilly in 1834. The attraction of the sport saw all levels of social classes betting for their favorite horse to win. In late 1859, the opening of the nearby train station in Chantilly allowed even bigger crowds to attend the races. Records indicate that upwards of 20,000 people attended the events. In later years, attendance doubled and upwards of 40,000 people attended the Prix du Jockey Club in 1912.
With the racetrack at Chantilly, the entire area developed as a horse racing economy that included stables, horse-training and everything that accompanies the sport. As a British sport, a majority of the jockeys were from Britain – so many so that around 1870 an Anglican chapel was built for all the British that resided and worked in the area.
Interestingly, during WWII the Great Stables at Chateau de Chantilly were used as a veterinary hospital by the occupying Germans; records indicate that as many as 400 German horses were housed at the stables.
Today, the Great Stables house the Living Museum of the Horse. Horse shows are regularly held and the stables at Chantilly are one of the most visited horse racing sites in the world. Chantilly is the largest area for horse racing and training in France with over 2,600 horses, a majority of which are thoroughbreds.
Now for a bit of history of the Chantilly lace. Chantilly lace is known for its extreme detail and fine outlined pattern. The tradition of Chantilly lace dates from the 17th century when the Duchesse de Longueville controlled the manufacture of lace at Chantilly. Favored by Mme du Barry, Marie Antoinette and many at the royal court, there was high demand for this intricate and delicate fashion item. During the French Revolution, after the executions of the royalty, the lace makers of Chantilly were seen as loyalists and many were killed due to their connection with the crown.
Napoleon attempted to revive the art of lace making; however, production was moved to Normandy. Though no longer made in Chantilly, the same designs and techniques were implemented. The grandest of lace was created in the 18th century and was made from silk. In 1844, a lace making machine was patented that produced Valenciennes lace and black silk lace. The mass-produced lace was indistinguishable from the delicate, hand-made lace. With the industrial age, a majority of the lace-makers were no longer required; machines had replaced them.
Now for Chantilly cream! In reality, it is whipped cream, whether sweetened or not. Though there is no evidence to prove it, the credit for naming Chantilly cream had been given to Francois Vatel, the maitre d’hotel at the Chateau de Chantilly in the mid-17th century. The name Chantilly was also connected to whipped cream in the mid-18th century, as it was served at lunch at the Hameau de Chantilly. It is assumed that whipped cream is called Chantilly cream because the Chateau and the region became a symbol of refined French food. With this I completely agree; adding Chantilly cream to anything makes it more elegant, indulgent and worth every bite!
Now when you hear the word “Chantilly” you know that it is far more than just a place, it is a beautiful Chateau with a history of aristocracy and art, royalty and racetracks, and of course, lace and whipped cream!