St. Cloud

By Augustus J. C. Hare


Very near the station is the Chateau de St. Cloud, set on fire by the bombs of Mont-Valerien, in the night of October 13, 1870, and now the most melancholy of ruins. Sufficient, however, remains to indicate the noble character of a building partly due to Jules Hardouin and Mansart. The chateau is more reddened than blackened by the fire, and the beautiful reliefs of its gables, its statues, and the wrought-iron grilles of its balconies are still perfect. Grass, and even trees, grow in its roofless halls, in one of which the marble pillars and sculptured decorations are seen through the gaps where windows once were. The view from the terrace is most beautiful.

The name of St. Cloud comes from a royal saint, who was buried in the collegiate church, pulled down by Marie Antoinette (which stood opposite the modern church), and to whose shrine there is an annual pilgrimage. Clodomir, King of Orleans, son of Clovis, dying in 524, had bequeathed his three sons to the guardianship of his mother Clotilde. Their barbarous uncles, Childebert and Clotaire, coveting their heritage, sent their mother a sword and a pair of scissors, asking her whether she would prefer that they should perish by the one, or that their royal locks should be shorn with the other, and that they should be shut up in a convent.

"I would rather see them dead than shaven," replied Clotilde proudly. Two of the princes were then murdered by their uncles, the third, Clodowald, was hidden by some faithful servants, but fright made him cut off his hair with his own hands, and he entered a monastery at a village then called Nogent, but which derived from him the name of St. Clodowald, corrupted into St. Cloud.

Clodowald bequeathed the lands of St. Cloud to the bishops of Paris, who had a summer palace here, in which the body of Francois I. lay in state after his death at Rambouillet. His son, Henri II., built a villa here in the Italian style; and Henri III. came to live here in a villa belonging to the Gondi family, while, with the King of Navarre, he was besieging Paris in 1589. The city was never taken, for at St. Cloud Henri was murdered by Jacques Clement, a monk of the Jacobin convent in Paris, who fancied that an angel had urged him to the deed in a vision….

From this time the house of the banker Jerome Gondi, one of the Italian adventurers who had followed the fortunes of Catherine de Medici, was an habitual residence of the Court. It became the property of Hervard, Controller of Finances, from whom Louis XIV. bought it for his brother Philippe d'Orleans, enlarged the palace, and employed Lenotre to lay out the park. Monsieur married the beautiful Henriette d'Angleterre, youngest daughter of Charles I., who died here, June 30, 1670, with strong suspicion of poison. St. Simon affirms the person employed to have confest to Louis XIV., having used it at the instigation of the Chevalier de Lorraine (a favorite of Monsieur), whom Madame had caused to be exiled. One of the finest sermons of Bossuet describes the "disastrous night on which there came as a clap of thunder the astonishing news! Madame is dying! Madame is dead! At the sound of so strange a wo people hurried to St. Cloud from all sides to find panic over all except the heart of the princess."

In the following year Monsieur was married again, to the Princess Palatine, when it was believed that his late wife appeared near a fountain in the park, where a servant, sent to fetch water, died of terror. The vision turned out to be a reality--a hideous old woman, who amused herself in this way. "The cowards," she said, "made such grimaces that I nearly died laughing. This evening pleasure paid me for the toil of my hard day."

Monsieur gave magnificent fetes to the Court at St. Cloud, added to the palace with great splendor, and caused the great cascade, which Jerome Gondi had made, to be enlarged and embellished by Mansart. It was at St. Cloud that Monsieur died of an attack of apoplexy, brought on by overeating after his return from a visit to the king at Marly…. The chateau continued to be occupied by Madame, daughter of the Elector, the rude, the original, and satirical Princess Palatine, in whom the modern House of Orleans has its origin, and here she died during the regency of her son….

The Regent d'Orleans, nephew of Louis XIV., received Peter the Great at St. Cloud in 1717. In 1752 his grandson, Louis Philippe d'Orleans, gave at St. Cloud one of the most magnificent fetes ever seen in France.

In 1785 the Due d'Orleans sold St. Cloud for six million francs to Queen Marie Antoinette, who made great alterations in the internal arrangements of the building, where she resided during the early days of the Revolution.

It was at St. Cloud that the coup d'etat occurred which made Napoleon first-consul. This led him to choose the palace of St. Cloud, which had been the cradle of his power, as his principal residence, and, under the first empire, it was customary to speak of "le cabinet de Saint-Cloud," as previously of "le cabinet de Versailles," and afterward of "le cabinet des Tuileries." Here, in 1805, Napoleon and Josephine assisted at the baptism of the future Napoleon III….

It was also in the palace of St. Cloud that Napoleon I. was married to Marie Louise, April 1, 1810. In this palace of many changes the allied sovereigns met after the fall of the First Empire. Blucher, after his fashion, slept booted and spurred in the bed of Napoleon; and the capitulation of Paris was signed here July 3, 1815.

Louis XVIII. and Charles X. both lived much at St. Cloud, and added to it considerably; but here, where Henry IV. had been recognized as King of France and Navarre, Charles X. was forced by the will of the people to abdicate, July 30, 1830. Two years after, Louis Philippe established himself with his family at St. Cloud, and his daughter Clementine was married to Duke Augustus of Saxe-Coburg in its chapel, April 28, 1843. Like his uncle, Napoleon III. was devoted to St. Cloud, where--"with a light heart"--the declaration of war with Prussia was signed in the library, July, 17, 1870, a ceremony followed by a banquet, during which the "Marseillaise" was played. The doom of St. Cloud was then sealed. On the 13th of the following October the besieged Parisians beheld the volumes of flame rising behind the Bois de Boulogne, which told that St. Cloud, recently occupied by the Prussians, and frequently bombarded in consequence from Mont-Valerien, had been fired by French bombs.

The steamer for St. Cloud descends the Seine, passing under the Pont de Solferino, Pont de la Concorde, Pont des Invalides, and Pont d'Alma. Then the Champ de Mars is seen on the left, the Palais du Trocadero on the right. After the Pont du d'Iena, Passy is passed on the right, and the Ile des Cygnes on the left. Then comes the Pont de Grenelle, after which Auteuil is passed on the right and Javel on the left. After leaving the Pont-viaduc du Point-du-Jour, the Ile de Billancourt is seen on the left. After the Pont de Billancourt, the steamer passes between the Iles de Billancourt and Seguin to Bas Meudon.

[25] From "Days Near Paris."