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Missing image
VincennesWatercolor.jpg
The 14th century donjon of Vincennes from its dry moat, showing a young weeping willow marking the spot where the duc d'Enghien was executed; anonymous watercolor, ca 1820 (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris)

The Château de Vincennes is a 14th and 17th century French royal castle in the town of Vincennes, to the east of Paris, now a suburb. Like other more famous chateaux it had its origins in a hunting lodge, set up for Louis VII about 1150 in the forest of Vincennes. In the 13th century, Philip Augustus and Louis IX erected a more substantial manor: Louis IX is reputed to have departed from Vincennes on the crusade from which he did not return. To strengthen the site, a donjon tower, 52 meters high, the tallest medieval fortified structure of Europe was added by the Valois Philippe VI, a work that was started about 1337.

Vincennes was more than the grim fortress: Philippe III (in 1274) and Philippe IV (in 1322) were each married there and three 14th-century kings were born at Vincennes: Louis X (1316), Philippe V (1322) and Charles IV (1328).

In the Chateau of Vincennes the relics of the Crown of Thorns were temporarily housed while the Sainte-Chapelle was being readied to receive them. A fragment that remained behind received its own chapel at Vincennes, which survives. Henri IV spent a sojourn imprisoned at Vincennes.

In the 17th century the architect Louis Le Vau built for Louis XIV a pair of isolated ranges mirroring one another across a parterre to one side of the keep, suited for the Queen Mother and Cardinal Mazarin, but rebuilding was never pursued once Versailles occupied all attentions. Some splendid apartments show the earliest phase of Louis XIV style, before the example of Vaux-le-Vicomte presented the Sun King with a worthy model. The unlucky builder of Vaux, the minister Nicolas Fouquet found himself transferred to Vincennes, to much less comfortable lodgings.

Abandoned in the 18th century, the chateau still served, first as the site of the Vincennes porcelain manufactory, the precursor to Sèvres, then as a state prison, which housed the marquis de Sade, Diderot and Mirabeau, and then in 1796 an arms manufactory, suiting it to its current occupants, the historical sections of the French Armed Services.

The execution of the duc d'Enghien was effected at the chateau in 1804, and during the Nazi occupation, 30 hostages were murdered on August 20, 1944.

The park was landscaped in the English landscape style in the 19th century. In 1860 Napoleon III, having employed Viollet-le-Duc to restore the keep and the chapel, gave the Bois de Vincennes (9.95 km² in extent) and its chateau to Paris as a public park.


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