From the Convent to the ancestral Chateau…

Gabrielle de Montserrat, the heroine of my first novel, Mistress of the Revolution, is eleven years old. She has been raised first by her wet nurse, then by the nuns of the Benedictine Convent of Vic, in Auvergne. Her father has died, and she does not remember anything of her mother. Then one fine day, her elder brother and guardian, the Marquis de Castel, abruptly takes her from the Convent and brings her to a home she does not know.

Chateau of Anjony Auvergne

Chateau of Anjony Auvergne


We were soon in sight of the chateau of Fontfreyde. My brother explained that the current building had replaced the old fortress that had controlled the valley of the Goul River and made our family powerful long before the time of the Crusades.

Chateau Cropieres Auvergne

Chateau Cropieres Auvergne

The chateau was situated in a low spot, in the middle of green meadows, for it rains a great deal in those parts. Oak and birch woods, which had turned gold at the time of my arrival, covered the surrounding mountains. Such was my birthplace and ancestral home, seat of the noble and ancient family of Montserrat. My true name, which I alone remember nowadays, is Marie Gabrielle Aliénor de Montserrat de Castel, or, as most people called me then, Gabrielle de Montserrat.

The trepidation with which I prepared to meet my mother chased all other thoughts from my mind. My brother
took me to the main drawing room, where she sat in a tapestry chair. Portraits of ancestors in military or court dress hung on the walls. I curtsied to Madame de Castel, who gave me her hand to kiss. I was surprised to see that I looked nothing like her. She seemed small and delicate, her hair still black with a few silver threads. She had a thin nose, a strong jaw and piercing dark eyes. Her mouth was a straight line without lips, which did not appear to be often distorted by a smile. She stared at me and turned to my brother:

“I had not expected her to be so bony. Do you think she will grow much taller? And that mass of red hair!”

I had not expected a warm welcome from a parent who had expressed no wish to see me during the first eleven years of my life, but was still mortified by her greeting. The Marquis too seemed embarrassed. He tried to reconcile the truth and my feelings.

“At her age, Madam,” he said, “many girls show little promise, but in later years improve considerably. I am sure Gabrielle will become very pretty.”

My mother, looking at me, shook her head and sighed.

Chateau de Talcy salon

Chateau de Talcy salon 18th century

Photograph of the Grand Salon of the Chateau de Talcy by Patrick Giraud

_________________________________________

All posts in the Footsteps of Gabrielle series:

Return to Fontfreyde

Cottage life

Arriving in Paris

Fashions in Paris before the Revolution

Dressing for Court

Discovering Versailles

The presentation to Marie-Antoinette in the Salon of the Nobles

The Royal Chapel

The Queen’s Bedchamber

The sweetness of living

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16 Comments to “From the Convent to the ancestral Chateau…”

  1. Catherine Delors says:

    Absolutely, Penny!

  2. Penny says:

    Beautiful! is this how you get inspirations for locations?

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  4. In the footsteps of Gabrielle: cottage life in 18th century France

    Many thanks to Dani, of A work in Progress, for giving me the idea of this post on Gabrielle’s early years with her wet nurse, Mamé Laborde. I know, I was supposed to post about Dressing for Court, but this one relates more directly to Return to Fontfreyde, which was the last published in this series. Dressing for Court will be posted next week.My heroine spent the first years of her life in a cottage similar to the one depicted here by Boilly. She shared a single room with Mamé Laborde and her five sons, only separated from the family’s …

  5. In the footsteps of Gabrielle: arriving in Paris

    The year is 1787. Gabrielle, the little provincial, arrives in Paris at the age of seventeen, under the protection of her friend the Chevalier des Huttes. Let us discover the city with her.Parisians are fond of calling provincials culs-terreux, which literally translates as “dirty asses”, but what struck me in Paris was the filth of the southern districts we first crossed. We followed narrow streets, strewn with garbage and lined with soot-coloured houses, five or six stories high. I saw bands of half-naked children. Raggedy women yelled and shook their fists at each other. A man was relieving himself against …

  6. In the footsteps of Gabrielle: the sweetness of living

    Over twenty years later, Gabrielle reminisces about the lifestyle enjoyed by the nobility in the years that immediately preceded the Revolution:The Duchess took me to parties given by her friends. Some were regular dinners, some informal suppers after the play, the ballet or the opera, and others musical gatherings, where both professional and amateur performers displayed their talents. I was often pressed to sing, which, out of shyness, I avoided as much as I could without appearing affected or ungracious. Impromptu dances often concluded the pleasures of the evening. The Bishop of Autun, Monsieur de Talleyrand, who has since achieved …

  7. In the footsteps of Gabrielle: dressing for Court

    So far in this series we have followed Gabrielle to Versailles on several occasions. How was she dressed then? Well, a lady was supposed to look like the engraving to your left. By the way, the legend says “Young lady of quality in great dress, wearing an elegant bonnet or pouf called The Victory.” I had my doubts about the elegance of the pouf, though. I decided to spare Gabrielle such monstrous headgear, which was not mandatory. A lady could be content with an array of feathers or diamonds in her hair.Please note that the lady’s dress is a Court …

  8. In the footsteps of Gabrielle: arriving in Paris

    The year is 1787. Gabrielle, the little provincial, arrives in Paris at the age of seventeen, under the protection of her friend the Chevalier des Huttes. Let us discover the city with her.Parisians are fond of calling provincials culs-terreux, which literally translates as “dirty asses”, but what struck me in Paris was the filth of the southern districts we first crossed. We followed narrow streets, strewn with garbage and lined with soot-coloured houses, five or six stories high. I saw bands of half-naked children. Raggedy women yelled and shook their fists at each other. A man was relieving himself against …

  9. In the footsteps of Gabrielle: cottage life in 18th century France

    Many thanks to Dani, of A work in Progress, for giving me the idea of this post on Gabrielle’s early years with her wet nurse, Mamé Laborde. I know, I was supposed to post about Dressing for Court, but this one relates more directly to Return to Fontfreyde, which was the last published in this series. Dressing for Court will be posted next week.My heroine spent the first years of her life in a cottage similar to the one depicted here by Boilly. She shared a single room with Mamé Laborde and her five sons, only separated from the family’s …

  10. In the footsteps of Gabrielle: cottage life in 18th century France

    Many thanks to Dani, of A work in Progress, for giving me the idea of this post on Gabrielle’s early years with her wet nurse, Mamé Laborde. I know, I was supposed to post about Dressing for Court, but this one relates more directly to Return to Fontfreyde, which was the last published in this series. Dressing for Court will be posted next week.My heroine spent the first years of her life in a cottage similar to the one depicted here by Boilly. She shared a single room with Mamé Laborde and her five sons, only separated from the family’s …

  11. In the footsteps of Gabrielle: cottage life

    Many thanks to Dani, of A work in Progress, for giving me the idea of this post on Gabrielle’s early years with her wet nurse, Mamé Laborde. I know, I was supposed to post about Dressing for Court, but this one relates more directly to Return to Fontfreyde, which was the last published in this series. Dressing for Court will be posted next week.My heroine spent the first years of her life in a cottage similar to the one depicted here by Boilly. She shared a single room with Mamé Laborde and her five sons, only separated from the family’s …

  12. CATHERINE DELORS says:

    Yes, Dani, I had a very specific chateau in mind when I was writing Mistress of the Revolution (indeed all the locations in the novel are inspired by places I know.) I was very happy to find this picture, because the season, early fall, is just right. And yes, it is indeed a tapestry on the back wall of the parlour.

    And I was not thinking of a post on the nurse’s cottage, but I definitely should put it together. I will be tougher to find pictures, because poor people’s home don’t keep as well as chateaux. But I’ll try!

  13. Danielle says:

    How gorgeous! Did you have this in mind when you were writing? And is that a tapestry on the wall of the interior photo? Imagine living there! Though I wonder what the home of her wet nurse would have looked like.

  14. CATHERINE DELORS says:

    Thank you, Eva!
    Truth is, I love doing these posts, and keep thinking of new ones, so I have no idea when I will be done with the series.

  15. CATHERINE DELORS says:

    Thank you, Eva!
    Truth is, I love doing these posts, and keep thinking of new ones, so I have no idea when I will be done with the series.

  16. Eva says:

    That is so gorgeous!! I think once you’re done with this series, I’m going to reread the book and look at all the pictures at the same time. :)

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