Château de la Muette
Three châteaux have been located on the site since a hunting lodge was transformed into the first château for Princess Marguerite de Valois, favorite daughter of King Henry II, sister of Kings Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III and the first wife of King Henry IV, in the 16th century. The first château was extended and substantially reconstructed by Louis XV. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette lived at this second château, and the first manned flight, in a hot air balloon, set off from the château in 1783.
The old château was demolished in the 1920s to make room for substantial houses, including a new château built by Henri James de Rothschild, which is now the Paris home of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
- muete, a spelling which appears frequently up to the end of the 18th century and signifies a pack of deerhounds;
- mues, the antler shed by stags in the autumn; or
- mue, the moulting-period of hunting hawks.
It is clear that the name was connected with the hunting-lodge in the Bois de Boulogne, which mediaeval French kings used when they hunted deer in the forest.
At the end of the 16th century, Charles IX had a royal hunting lodge on the site transformed into a small château for Marguerite de Valois (popularly known as Reine Margot), the first wife of Henry IV. Although their marriage was always rocky and eventually annulled, they became friends late in life and she was able to return to Paris and set up house in the château. Marguerite bequeathed her château to the little Dauphin, later Louis XIII, in 1606.
From 1606 to 1792, the property remained part of the royal estates. In 1716, the château became the home of the Duchesse de Berry, Marie Louise Elisabeth d'Orléans, daughter of the Duc d'Orléans, Regent of France. Antoine Watteau decorated the rooms with chinoiserie. Tsar Peter the Great of Russia visited her here. When welcoming the Russian emperor, the Duchess appeared "stout as a tower" (“puisssante comme une tour”). The royal princess had been nicknamed “Joufflotte” (“chubby”) because of her generous proportions. By the spring of 1717, her increasing corpulence had begun to cause her serious inconvenience so that she had given up hunting and sold her saddle-horses. But the prodigious quantities of food she devoured, washed away with wine and strong liquors was not the main cause for her distressing embonpoint. Early July, Madame de Berry, who by then kept fully secluded in her castle at La Muette, was being “inconvenienced”, “having grown so big” that it was feared for her life ! By the end of July, the Duchess had recovered but she had been in critical condition a few days earlier when giving birth... Which is why two months earlier, the princess, already quite heavy with child, had seemed "stout as a tower" in presence of Peter the Great. This clandestine pregnancy was really an open secret. Arouet (Voltaire) was arrested in May 1717 after telling to a police informer that the Regent's daughter had retired to La Muette to wait for the time of her delivery. After the death of her husband in 1714 and of the Sun King in 1715, the young princess was said to have lost all semblance of restrain in her quest for lustful pleasures. In January 1716, she had secretly borne a girl at her Luxembourg palace. Satirical songs had then lampooned the confined young widow and her amours.
On the Duchesse de Berry's death in 1719, the château passed to the nine-year-old king, Louis XV. Later, however, Louis XV used the château to entertain his mistresses, including the three de Nesle sisters, Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry.
Loius XV had the château entirely rebuilt by the architects Jacques V Gabriel and Ange-Jacques Gabriel between 1741 and 1745. The new, much larger, building was flanked by two large wings with many smaller outlying buildings. The Dauphin, later King Louis XVI, took possession of La Muette in 1764, and his future wife, Marie-Antoinette, lodged there on her arrival in France.
Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette
Louis XVI is said to have spent the happiest days of his life at the château with his young bride, although they had no knowledge of sexual matters and thus did not have children for seven years. During this period Louis abolished certain royal taxes, and he opened the gates of the Bois de Boulogne to the populace. The Emperor Joseph II, Marie-Antoinette's brother (travelling incognito under the name of "Count Falkenstein") visited the couple here in April 1777.
Louis granted a small area of sandy ground of the château's estate at les Sablons (near les Sablons metro station to Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737–1813) to demonstrate the growing of potatoes, which had previously not been considered as safe for human consumption in Europe, outside of Ireland. Indeed, they were considered to be a source of leprosy among other things. Parmentier carried out a series of publicity stunts, which led to the acceptance of potatoes in France and then throughout Europe.
The château, together with the Château de Madrid and other properties, were put on sale in February 1788, with a view to demolition. The castle fell into disrepair, and the main building was demolished in 1793.
The first manned flight commenced from the château on 21 November 1783, with a hot air balloon manufactured by the Montgolfier brothers lifting off from the garden of La Muette carrying Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes. Among the crowd who observed this feat were the royal family and Benjamin Franklin. They flew for 25 minutes, travelling about 100 metres above Paris and covering a distance of about nine kilometres, before landing between the windmills on the Butte-aux-Cailles. Enough fuel remained on board at the end of the flight to have allowed the balloon to fly four to five times as far. However, burning embers from the fire were scorching the balloon fabric and had to be extinguished with sponges, and so the pilots decided to land as soon as they were over open countryside.
Post revolutionary history
During the French Revolution, the Château de la Muette became state property. The property was split up into several lots and sold at auction. The château returned to the royal family in 1816. One wing was given to the Minister for Finance, Louis Emmanuel Corvetto. The other wing, and most of the grounds, were purchased in 1820 by Sébastien Érard, who manufactured pianos used by Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt. In 1821, Sébastien Érard invented the double escapement action, which permitted a note to be repeated even if the key had not yet risen to its maximum vertical position, a great benefit for rapid playing.
In 1912, the château's then owner, the Franqueville family, sold much of the remaining property, and the former estate developed into a fashionable residential area.
Two large lots were sold to Baron Henri James de Rothschild, who built a new château in 1921 and 1922 as his Paris residence to a 19th-century design by Lucien Hesse. By the beginning of World War II, the old château had been completely demolished and replaced by mansions.
The new château was appropriated by the German Navy during the Second World War, and it was taken over by the United States Army after the liberation of France. In 1949, it became the headquarters of the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) set up under the Marshall Plan to help administer funds provided by the United States to promote post-war recovery and to encourage European economic cooperation. The OEEC developed into the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1961, with the new Château de la Muette as its headquarters.
- Oborne, Michael. "History of the Château de la Muette". Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved 29 September 2009.
- E. de Barthelemy (ed.), Gazette de la Regence. Janvier 1715-1719, Paris, 1887, p.180
- E. de Barthelemy (ed.), Gazette de la Regence. Janvier 1715-1719, Paris, 1887, pp.175-176, 192, 196
- Jean-Michel Raynaud, Voltaire soi-disant, Presses Universitaires de Lille, 1983, vol.1, p.289.
- Emile Raunie (ed.), Chansonnier historique du XVIIIème siècle: recueil Clairambault-Maurepas, Paris, 1880, pp.36-38