Hôtel de Soubise – when lovers started flying

Rue des Francs-Bourgeois is definitely one of the most enchanting streets in Paris, thanks to the row of palaces alongside it, and the fact that the boutiques located there usually ignore the custom of closing the stores on Sundays, which makes the street a very vibrant place even on the weekends. If you stroll around this street and reach the corner of Rue des Archives, you’ll see a lovely palace from the beginning of the 18th century, with a small, medieval tower. This palace has a story that contains all the ingredients for a good movie – meaning, violence, sex, violence, and some more sex – and today we’ll tell its story.

Hôtel de Clisson

The palace was built in 1375 for the knight Olivier de Clisson, and was initially named after him. Mr. de Clisson was famous in French history for being a close friend of the kings Charles V and Charles VI, and as the commander of the French army.

Being an important figure, de Clisson had quite a few enemies, and in 1392, Pierre de Craon, servant of the Duke of Brittany, tried to assassinate him in a dark Parisian alley. De Clisson survived the assassination attempt by the skin of his teeth, and together with King Charles VI he went hunting for the assassin.


Hôtel de Soubise. A photo by Marco Kudjerski
Hôtel de Soubise. A photo by Marco Kudjerski

During their hunt, de Clisson and the king entered the forest, where they met a leper beggar, who shouted at the king, “don’t enter the forest, you’ll be betrayed”. The group ignored his words and continued forward, however, the king seemed irritated and nervous after that encounter. Several hours later, as they were walking in the forest, one of the servants accidentally dropped his spear, and the king, as a result of his earlier fright, lost his sanity and attacked his friends.

From that moment on, the king has never regained his sanity, and from “beloved Charles” he became “mad Charles”. The courtiers blamed Olivier de Clisson for this disaster, and he was forced to escape his palace in Paris to Brittany, where he made peace with the duke, and lived as a very rich man until his death in 1407.

Before we continue: some very interesting exhibitions in Paris

The duke of Guise give the lover of his wife a flying course

Over the years, the palace has changed several owners, until in 1533 it was bought by the Dukes of Lorraine, and was later passed on to the younger branch of the family, the dukes of Guise. The most famous tenant in the palace was Henri I (1550-1588), whose nickname was “scar face”, due to the large scar that “decorated” his face after he was injured in battle in 1575. Henri was the leader of the Catholic league, and one of the contenders to the French crown.

As he was a gifted politician, he quickly won the favor of the Parisians, after he made a habit of greeting and chatting even to the most common men on the street.  Since the 1570 and the 1580 were one of the most turbulent periods in the history of Paris, the duke left the gothic tower facing Rue des Archives standing, for strategic purposes, and we get to benefit from its beauty today. Another tower in that same palace, which used to stand in the corner of Rue des Archives and Rue des Quatre-Fils, and is no longer with us today, had another historical function.

In 1578, Henri I caught his wife, Catherine de Cleves, with her lover, Mr. de Saint Megrin, and without thinking twice, he threw the poor lover from the top of the tower and all the way down to the street. Unfortunately for the lover, he never learned to fly, and the duke’s soldiers finished the job on the street with a few thrusts of their swords. Much like the lover, Henri I also didn’t get to die of natural causes, and in 1588 he was murdered in Blois castle by order of Henri III, King of France.

The palace becomes the National Archive of France

Over the 17th century, the Guise family remained one of the richest families in France, and its descendants have been among the most important art patrons in Paris. One of the most important composers, who got to benefit from the funds of the Guise family, was Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), who lived in the palace until 1688, and there he started writing his famous Te Deum, which you can hear in the beginning of every Eurovision contest today.

However, in 1696 the last of the Guise family members passed away, and the division of their treasures marked not only the end of the family line, but also the beginning of the downfall of the Marais neighbourhood. The palace also started deteriorating, and after it was sold to the Portuguese embassy, they turned it into a gambling den… Despite all that, the palace had not yet said the last word, and within a few years it was destined to become one of the most impressive palaces in the Marais, all thanks to a royal lover.

Anne de Rohan Chabot – Louis XIV’s lover

Anne de Rohan Chabot, who married her relative, Prince of Soubise, was one of the most beautiful women in the court of King Louis XIV. Naturally, the king could not have ignored her beauty, and began to woo her vigorously. And so, when Prince de Soubise and his wife were looking for a place to live in Paris, the king offered to buy them the crumbling palace of the Guise family, and to build, at his own expense, a magnificent palace.

Unlike the Duke of Guise who lived there before him, the Prince of Soubise wasn’t bothered by his wife’s love affairs, including the fact that his younger son looked like a copy of Louis XIV, and he decided to ignore the royal love affair. So, in 1700, the new and splendid palace, which today is called Hôtel de Soubise, was built on the ruins of the Guise palace. Some “kind sous” said that while the king donated the wood (a pun on the not-so-secret love affair), the duke’s friends provided the stones (or, in other words, laughed at him).

In the 18th century, the palace was occupied by Charles de Soubise, Louis XV’s good friend, who was famous for being one of the worst generals in France (and as we know, he had much competition in this field), but also for the famous onion sauce that bears his name to this day.

During the French revolution, the palace was looted by revolutionaries, and functioned as a storage house for gunpowder, while in his gardens they built a lottery-tickets sale stand. The palace was saved thanks to Napoleon, who decided to place the French Archive there. Over the years, the palace had been renovated, and today you can find there a museum exhibiting historical documents, such as Louis XVI’s journal, and the last letter of Marie Antoinette.

You can also find here a historic reconstruction of the chambers of the Duke and Duchess of Soubise, as well as murals painted by Boucher, Van Loo, and other famous 18th century artists. However, the real beauty of the palace is found not only in its chambers, but also in the splendid courtyard, and in a row of small gardens, located on its grounds, which have only recently been opened to the public.

And so, on your next trip to the Marais, don’t miss this beautiful palace and its gardens. And just remember to look up from time to time as you walk around, and beware of a lover falling on you from above…

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