Very few are the Ministers of Treasury remembered fondly throughout history. One of those few is Maximiliam de Bethunde, duc de Sully (1560-1641), who, together with King Henri IV, managed to restore the French economy, which entirely collapsed between the years 1559-1598, during the civil war. Like most Ministers of Treasury, duc de Sully had managed to accumulate respectable sums of money, and the result was the charming Château de Sully-sur-Loire, in the Loire valley, and Hôtel de Sully in Paris, which is not only an impressive structure, but also has a fascinating story behind it.
The history of Hôtel de Sully
The structure of which we speak is located on 62 Rue Saint Antoine, and it was designed by the architect du Cerceau for Mr. Gallet, who won a fortune gambling. However, as unfortunate Mr. Gallet found out soon enough, money that comes easily goes easily too, and shortly after the construction had been completed, the owner had to sell it in order to repay his heavy gambling debts. Duc de Sully was very impressed by the building, and decided to buy it.
Although at that time, duc de Sully was already quite advanced in age, he remained a womanizer until his last day on earth. However, unlike many other men of his time, he didn’t mind at all that his wife, who was many years younger than him, would have a similar lifestyle. He even built a special staircase with the sole purpose of allowing the lovers to get directly to his wife, without passing in his vicinity and disturbing his rest.
The next generation of the Sully family continued heading in that same direction. Sully’s daughter, Marguerite, duchess of Rohan, had an illegal daughter from one of her lovers, and when it turned out that her legal daughter, incidentally also called Marguerite, was following her mother’s footsteps, it was decided to send her to live on the other side of Place des Vosges.
Unfortunately for Sully’s granddaughter, she didn’t have the financial capabilities of her grandfather, and had accumulated heavy debts, which caused her to be evicted from her home. However, while Marguerite was unlucky with money, at least she was lucky when it came to love. In 1645, after a difficult struggle, she managed to marry her lover Henri Chabon, and to avoid the threat of emotionally void “political marriage” to someone from her own class (during her struggle, the duchess said the unforgettable sentence: “I don’t know if I would manage to marry Henri, but I know that I can’t live if he marries another”).
The couple had several children, one of which, Anne Julie de Rohan (1648-1709), became one of Louis XIV’s lovers, and that love story resulted in Hôtel de Soubise. Voltaire was also involved in the history of Hôtel de Sully, as one of its owners, the Prince of Rohan, had a fight with him after the premiere of Oedipus.
The prince didn’t settle for exchanging verbal insults (something Voltaire, who was known for his wit, excelled in), and ordered his servants to catch Voltaire in the street and beat him up quite well. The enraged Voltaire called the prince to a duel, and in return he won a full-pension vacation in the Bastille, which was located a few minutes’ walk from Hôtel de Sully.
Today this magnificent building belongs to the French Monuments Fund, and unfortunately, not all of its rooms are open to visitors. However, it is possible (and highly recommended) to visit the lovely garden in its courtyard, as well as the bookstore of the fund, with its charming wooden ceiling from the period of Louis XIII. And who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky and bump into a lover sneaking up the stairwell?