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History of the château de Champs-sur-Marne

Vue aérienne du château de Champs-sur-Marne

Discover the amazing history of the château de Champs-sur-Marne and its 85-hectare park.

A story that often rubs shoulders with the great

A turbulent end to the reign

On September 1st, 1715, King Louis XIV died. And almost immediately, Paul Poisson de Bourvallais, accused of financial embezzlement, was sent to the Bastille. To avoid the worst, i.e. death, the financier made a proposal to the Regent, guardian of the young King Louis XV! 

In exchange for his freedom, he ceded to the State his Champs estate, comprising almost 2,000 hectares of land (an area larger than the Paris of 1700!) and a private mansion he owned in Paris (so splendid and well-placed that in 1718 it became the residence of the Crown Chancellor, now the Keeper of the Seals, and has remained so ever since as the current Ministry of Justice, Place Vendôme!)

Plan ancien du château et du parc de Champs de 1727
Map of Champs château and grounds, 1727

(c) Pascal Lemaître / Centre des monuments nationaux

Illustrious occupants, illustrious visitors!

From the Princesse de Conti to the Marquise de Pompadour

In November 1718, the Princesse de Conti, illegitimate daughter of Louis XIV and Mademoiselle de la Vallière, acquired the Champs estate. The widowed, childless princess turned her affections to her maternal cousin, Charles François de la Baume Le Blanc, whom she made her heir.

From 1739 to 1763, the château was occupied by the Duc Louis César de la Vallière, Charles François' eldest son. Louis César, a close friend of Louis XV, was also a close friend of the Marquise de Pompadour, his mistress.

From July 1757 to January 1759, he rented her his Champs estate, where King Louis XV came to visit.

Angle nord-est de la chambre d'honneur, dite chambre de Madame de Pompadour.Portrait de femme au mur.
Alleged portrait of Madame de Pompadour, in the chambre d'honneur.

© David Bordes / Centre des monuments nationaux

Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet

The Duc de la Vallière, a great bibliophile, maintained circles of artists and literati. He was a fervent supporter of the Enlightenment, the philosophical movement of 18th century French. On several occasions, Champs welcomed Voltaire and his friend Madame du Châtelet.

Voltaire greatly appreciated this country residence, but was distressed when his health prevented him from staying there :

(...) sick, languishing, sad, almost philosophical. I suffer patiently and I cannot go to Champs.


Portrait de Voltaire peint par Maurice-Quentin de La Tour
Portrait of Voltaire, by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788) Kept at Château de Voltaire (Ferney-Voltaire)

© David Bordes / Centre des monuments nationaux

After the Revolution

From the Duc de la Vallière to the Duc de Lévis

And how we understand it! Château de Champs is the quintessential example of the welcoming 18th century pleasure house surrounded by gardens.

With its floor plan, rotunda overlooking the garden and innovative interior layout, Champs is a remarkable example of the perfection of French architecture and the evolution of society towards greater comfort.
The château retains some marvellous rocaille decor from this period, in particular a chinoiserie decoration painted by Christophe Huet in the salon chinois and the salon en camaïeu.

But the upkeep of all his estates, his expensive taste for books and his easygoing, libertine lifestyle gradually ruined Louis César! Riddled with debt, the Duc de la Vallière sold his estate in August 1763 to Gabriel Michel de Tharon, director of the East India Company. It was his daughter, the Marquise de Marbeuf, who entered the turbulent period of the French Revolution. Although she was attentive to the well-being of all her staff and the inhabitants of her estate, this was not enough. She lost her life in 1793.

The château was reclaimed by the revolutionary state and stripped of all its furnishings.

In 1800, at the start of the Empire, the Duc de Lévis, nephew of the Marquise de Marbeuf, was reinstated as a French citizen. Removed from the list of émigrés, he regained the use of his family's châteaux at Champs and Noisiel. Throughout the Empire, he remained a discreet and secretly royalist citizen.

In March 1816, Louis XVIII admitted him to the Académie française, where he became an immortal!

Vue d'ensemble du salon chinois
The Chinese Room

© Patrick Cadet / Centre des monuments nationaux

The Cahen d'Anvers family

The renaissance of the château

From 1831 to 1895, the Château de Champs became "bourgeois". Lacking regular maintenance, the château lost much of its splendor throughout the 19th century. However, the occupation of new owners Jacques-Maurice Grosjean (1831-1858), a luxury coachbuilder, and Ernest Santerre (1858-1895), a stockbroker and his son Sébastien, saved Champs-sur-Marne château from almost certain destruction.

Passionate about 18th century art, Louis and Louise Cahen d'Anvers acquired the 600-hectare estate on August 5, 1895: in addition to the château, whose attic storey had been destroyed in the 19th century, there were two farms, farmland, a wood and a hundred-hectare park in a state of neglect... In short, there's work to be done!

And the bankers return to Champs! Louis Cahen d'Anvers is the son of Meyer Joseph, founder of the Paris-Bas bank. His considerable fortune enabled the couple to carry out a thorough restoration of the château and grounds.

Portrait de Louis Cahen d'Anvers
Portrait of Louis Cahen d'Anvers, by Léon Bonnat (1833-1922)

© Pascal Lemaître / Centre des monuments nationaux

A sublime yet comfortable restoration!

On the château side, architect Walter Destailleur took charge of the restoration. Based on 18th century plans, he had the attic floor rebuilt and restored all the château's rooms with the greatest respect for 18th century art. But Louis and Louise were not above adding modern comforts:

  • installation of electricity,
  • heating system ,
  • and the creation of 11 bathrooms equipped with every convenience, including running water and a flushable water closet.

18th century furniture collected by the Cahen d'Anvers family completes and furnishes the château to this day. They are signed by some of the greatest names in cabinetmaking of the Age of Enlightenment. Today, you have the chance to admire this ensemble, bequeathed to the State in 1935 by its last owner, Charles Cahen d'Anvers.

Le grand salon du château de Champs-sur-Marne
The grand salon

© Jean-Pierre Delagarde / Centre des monuments nationaux

On the park side, the park was transformed to follow the fashion of the mixed garden. Are you familiar with this principle, which shaped all European parks at the end of the 19th century?

In the park of the Château de Champs-sur-Marne, Henri and Achille Duchêne created something new by retaining part of the regular French garden with its embroidery and perspectives. All around, the park escapes into a "natural" or English garden.

Discover the mixed garden!

Vue d'un bois du parc
The park's woods

Yann Monel / Centre des monuments nationaux

The Cahen d'Anvers family

The National Palace

Residence for foreign heads of state

From 1959 until 1974, the château was the residence of foreign heads of state on official visits to France. In the 1960s, it hosted a large number of African heads of state, including Léopold Sédar Senghor, President of Senegal, Félix Houphouët-Boigny , President of Côte d'Ivoire, and King Hassan II of Morocco... All were received in France by General de Gaulle.

Since 1974, the château is definitely open to you, dear visitors!
Plan your visit now!

Le général de Gaulle accueilli pour déjeuner au château de Champs-sur-Marne par le président ivoirien Félix Houphouët-Boigny et son épouse le 9 juin 1961
General de Gaulle welcomed to lunch at the Château de Champs-sur-Marne by Ivorian President Félix Houphouët-Boigny and his wife on June 9, 1961.

© reproduction Benjamin Gavaudo / CMN