FEATURED image: Manuscript 16th century (detail): Queen consort Anne of Brittany (1477-1514) receiving a Book of Hours from her Dominican confessor, Antoine Dufour (d.1509). Montfort L’Amaury returned to the crown of France after Anne of Brittany married Charles VIII “the Affable” (1470-1498) in 1491.
At the north edge of the Rambouillet forest the city of Montfort L’Amaury spreads along the restored ruins of its ancient fortified castle. Founded under the Capetian kings, the city owes its fame to Simon de Montfort (1208-1265), Anne de Bretagne (1477-1514), the Valois royal dynasty, and Henry IV (1553-1610). Its monuments begin in the 11th century, stretch towards exceptional Renaissance stained-glass windows and half-timbered houses as its civilization has attracted writers, artists, and musicians to live there. This would include the house of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) called Le Belvédère where he lived from 1921 until his death and where we were invited to sit at, and play, the piano where Ravel composed Boléro. It was in March 2002 during a visit to Paris and the Île-de France that we ventured through Yvelines by train to Montfort-L’Amaury for a day trip which included a memorable déjeuner in a restaurant that has since disappeared.
The interior of Saint Pierre church is bright and intimate. Like other French monuments, today’s Saint-Pierre was completed over many centuries. Its origin is in the 11th century. A notable reconstruction of the edifice began in the late 15th century by initiative of Queen Consort, Anne of Bretagne. There is a vast ambulatory around both sides of the nave. Since 1840, the church has been an historic monument because of its unique ensemble of 37 stained glass windows. The oldest date from the 1540s and 1570s. The others were installed in the late16th century. That ecclesial project was started by Catherine de Medicis (1519-1589) in 1562. The windows were installed during the time of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and some of the glass commemorates that event. As none of the glasswork is signed, it is not known whether its painters are from Montfort L’Amaury or elsewhere.
The role of Montfort l’Amaury as a town began to develop in the High Middle Ages when Capetian king, Robert II (976-1031), built a castle there in the forest of Yvelines which was then a royal prerogative. William of Hainaut built the castle whose walls were finished around 1050. Hugues Bardoule was captain of the castle and thus a later 16th century gateway is named after him. It is in the 11th century that L’Église Saint-Pierre and L’Église Saint Laurent begin to be built. Robert II was married three times, and excommunicated by the Catholic Church – one of the early examples of French royals who married as they wished.
In the twelfth century, Bertrade de Montfort (1070-1117), after giving birth to a boy who would become King of Jerusalem, left her husband, the Duke of Anjou, Fulk IV (1043-1109) in 1092. She married the king of France, Philip I “the Amorous” whose spouse, Bertha of Holland, was also still living.
Philip was so in love with Bertrade that he refused to leave her even when threatened and finally excommunicated by Pope Urban II (1035-1099) in 1095. Because of his excommunication Philip was prevented from taking part in the First Crusade (1096-1099).
The ramparts and castle were destroyed by the English during the Hundred Years’ War in the 15th century. After the battle of Agincourt in 1419, the English occupied the French domain and it was during this time that the castle at Montfort was destroyed. The two rebuilt towers were named for Anne of Brittany after she assisted in the castle’s restoration. From this height, the fort overlooked the old Roman road from Beauvais to Chartres.
Also from this place, troops assembled at Montfort L’Amaury in the 12th century as Amaury III raised lords and knights to fight alongside Louis VI (1081-1137) against the Emperor of Germany. Simon IV fought alongside Philippe II Auguste (1165-1223) against the English as well as to the Crusades in the Middle East and the Albigensian Crusade in southern France. The Montforts distinguished themselves especially in this crusade against the Cathars.
At the beginning of the Third Crusade (1189-1192), not wanted by King Philippe Auguste (1165-1223), the future Louis VIII “the Lion” (1187-1226) was looking for companions. Simon IV, Lord of Montfort (1175-1218), embarked on the crusade where victory was equalled by its terror.
In January 1238, Montfort married Eleanor of England, daughter of King John and Isabella of Angoulême and sister of English King Henry III. While this marriage took place with the king’s approval, the act itself was performed secretly and without consulting the great barons. Eleanor had previously been married and swore a vow of perpetual widowhood after her husband died. This vow was broken when she married Montfort and, for that reason, the Archbishop of Canterbury condemned it. The English nobles protested the marriage of the king’s sister to a foreigner who was only of modest rank. Most notably, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwell, the king’s and Eleanor’s brother, rose up in revolt over the marriage. King Henry III eventually bought off his brother and peace was restored. The marriage brought property to Montfort and when a child was born of the union in late 1238, he was baptized Henry, in honor of his uncle, the king. In February 1239, Montfort was finally invested as Earl of Leicester where he acted as the king’s advisor and became godfather to Henry’s eldest son, Edward, who became King Edward I (“Longshanks”).
From Montfort L’Amaury, the lords continued to assist the French kings in the crusades. After John I, only a daughter allowed the continuity of the Montfort family. Beatrice d’Albidon married Robert, Count of Dreux. The Comté de Montfort was related to the Duchy of Brittany following the marriage of Yolande de Dreux-Montfort (1263-1330) with Arthur II of Brittany (1261-1312) in 1294. It was in the late 13th century that Monfort established a public school in 1298.
Montfort returned to the crown of France after Anne of Brittany married Charles VIII “the Affable” (1470-1498) in 1491. The marriage contract stipulated a union of France and Brittany. If the queen were to die first and childless, the king would inherit all her property. Also in their pre-nuptial agreement, if Charles VIII died first Anne was to marry his successor. This was his cousin, the handsome and seductive Louis XII (1462-1515). By 1550, Brittany and the French Crown finally united under a single sovereign, Henry II (1519-1559).
This union of Brittany and France was beneficial to Montfort as the union with Brittany only was not particularly. In this period the castle ruins were restored and there was construction of a notable staircase to be seen today. The cemetery was relocated outside the city walls. Churches were rebuilt. Meanwhile, Montfort maintained a semi-autonomy from the crown of France.
Under the Valois the Yvelines region of which Montfort is a central part received royal favor. Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) was named the Lady of Montfort in 1561. When the Wars of Religion broke out (1562-1598), the king, Charles IX (1550-1574), offered to the city home-rule in exchange for the reconstruction of its medieval ramparts at his expense. At the end of these wars, the passage of the future king, Henry IV (1553-1610) on the road that led him to Paris to take power, allowed Montfort L’Amaury to prove its loyalty to the new king. Montfort provided Henry Navarre with weapons and later obtained special rights in exchange. During the reigns of the first two Bourbon kings of France, Henry IV and Louis XIII (1601-1643), there are frequent royal visits to Montfort L’Amaury.
A canonized Catholic saint among the Valois- Joan of Valois (1464 – 1505), sister of Charles VIII, and betrothed of Louis XII.
The second daughter of Louis XI (1423-1483) and Charlotte of Savoy (1411-1483), Joan of Valois was a fleeting Queen of France as the wife of King Louis XII following the death of her brother, King Charles VIII. Her marriage was soon annulled so that Louis could, as pre-arranged by contract, marry Charles VIII’s widow, Anne of Brittany.
Joan’s demeanor was characterized by an accepting and placid countenance. When she retired from court politics to become Duchess of Berry, the former Queen of France remarked: “If so it is to be, praised be the Lord.”
In Bourges, Joan of Valois founded a monastic order of sisters and served them as their abbess. In terms of her personality, Joan could be autocratic as an administrator of her nuns, which may have been a vestige of her former high-born role. Joan was canonized in May 1950, almost 450 years after her death.
Le Belvédère: the House of Maurice Ravel from 1921 to his death in 1937 at Montfort L’Amaury.
Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) was a French dramatist who lived in Montfort-L’Amaury in France. Anouilh’s 1944 play, Antigone, was an adaptation play of Sophocles’ play of the same name. The 34-year-old Anouilh’s work was seen as an attack on the Vichy government of Marshal Pétain (1856-1951) in World War II.
Anouiih also wrote Becket. The original French play is titled Becket ou l‘Honneur de Dieu. It was staged in Paris at the Théâtre Montparnasse-Gaston Baty in October 1959 and directed by Anouilh. The play dramatizes historical martyr and Catholic saint Thomas Becket (1120-1170), the Archbishop of Canterbury In England, whose feast day is December 29.
Becket was the best friend to younger King Henry II of England. Cunning and proud, vulnerable and lonely, pent-up King Henry is interested in hunting and women, and not necessarily in that order. Henry is bored with political affairs and as king has his one friend, Thomas Becket, who is his companion in vice and debauchery.
Becket serves his king loyally, without compromise. Wanting to strengthen his power over the Church in England and believing his idea to be an excellent one, Henry appoints Becket as chancellor of England and he later becomes Archbishop of Canterbury. But nothing goes as planned. Becket, on his path to sainthood, finds he cannot serve both king and God.
For Henry the arrangement is one of disillusionment, resentment, hatred, and torn friendship – and, later, repentance. For Becket it is a tale of courage, renunciation, and honor as the archbishop seeks to defend church freedom in England against an ambitious secular power. Such conflict provokes Becket’s murder by the king’s knights in the archbishop’s own cathedral.
Anouilh’s Becket became an international sensation. Successive productions in English translation were mounted in London (starring Christopher Plummer and Eric Porter) and in New York City (starring Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn). In 1964 Becket became a major motion picture starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole which won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
Montfort L’Amaury de l’an mil à nos jours, Marie-Huguette Hadrot, Paris: Somogy Editions d’Art, 2002.
Montfort-L’Amaury, Le Syndicat d’Initiative des Fêtes et des Arts de Montfort-L’Amaury et ses Environs, 1972.
Montfort-L’Amaury Les Verrières de L’Eglise Paroissiale Saint-Pierre(Yvelines), Laurence de Finance and Marie-Huguette Hadrot, Paris: Centre de Documentation du Patrimoine, 1994.
The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957.