Louise de Clermont, Cometesse de Tonnerre, (1504-1596), Public Domain.
Louise de Tonnerre, born in 1504, was the daughter of Bernardin de Clermont and Anne Husson, Countess of Tonnerre.
Her brother, Antoine III de Clermont, inherited the main estate of the family in 1540 – most notably Ancy-Le-Franc where he began construction on its magnificent chateau – while Louise took the remaining lands.
A passion for hunting
She was a strong-headed woman, vigorous, well-educated and unusually independent. In contemporary records she is more often described enjoying a hunt in the forests of Burgundy or preparing for a great feast than doting on a gallant prince.
She entered the French court at a young age as lady-in-waiting to Louise de Savoie, the mother of the French king Francois I. Here she was schooled and revelled in the arts and literature.
She assisted in the marriage of Henri, Duke of Orleans (and the second son of Francois I) and Catherine de Medici in 1533, acquainting herself with the good and great of French aristocratic society.
And yet, following her first marriage to Jean du Bellay – cousin of the renowned poet Joachim de Belay – she returned to Burgundy and remained there for the majority of her time, rarely returning to the court.
When du Bellay died in 1556 Louise remarried, this time to Antoine de Crussol, Duke of Uzes. But her second marriage – again childless – made little difference to the passage of her life.
Refinement and the Renaissance
She was said to unify the celebrated chivalric vigour of her forefathers with the artistic refinement that was spreading over France in the high-spring of the Renaissance period.
She was said also to be excessively proud, and she spent her fortune on rebuilding le chateau de Maulnes. In the buildings pentagonal tower, she had carvings of dogs’ heads placed over each of the windows – a homage to her love of hunting.
She was not indifferent to the needs of her provincial subjects. She contributed to the cost of the rebuilding of the grand portico of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Tonnerre, together with a picturesque inn at d’Uzes a Tonnerre. In 1592 she granted to the inhabitants of Tonnerre the right to elect a mayor. She also funded alms and medical care in the hospital of Fonteneilles.
However she remained extremely unpopular with her subjects. It was written that she demanded wine and livestock by way of taxes, together with “voluntary presents” from the inhabitants of Tonnerre whenever they returned from voyages to other parts of France
What is more, she reacted violently when the inhabitants of Tonnerre asked her to pay the province’s toll charges to transport the dues to her castle.
When, on 8 July 1556 a terrible fire raged through the town of Tonnerre, it was rumoured to have been ignited by a disgruntled member of her retinue.
The cost of repairing the damage of the fire was 1,390 livres – a sum Louise could only meet by melting down the bronze bells of the town for their metal value.
But she succeeded in rebuilding the ruined city, including her prized château, which she reinforced with stone foundations taken from the ruins of the disused Chateua at Montmellian.
Louise died in 1596 at the startling age of 92. She had little money left and no children to give it to. Her lands and title went to her nephew, Henri – son of Antoine de Clermont.
Source: La Famille des Clermont-Tonnerre depuis l’an 1070, Elisabeth de Gramont, 1950