Château de Candé

Route du Ripault, 37260 Monts, Indre-et-Loire

Built from 1508, what is today the east wing was started in 1499 by the Mayor of Tours and was completed nine years later by his daughter, Jeanne Briçonnet, Seigneuresse de Candé. It wasn't until 1853 that the chateau took its present form when it was restored and tripled in size to 60-rooms by the Anglo-Hispanic multi-millionaire Santiago Drake del Castillo whose father had made a fortune as a sugar planter in Cuba before marrying into Cuban/Spanish aristocracy. He lived between here and the Hôtel del Castillo in Paris, but it wasn't until after his time that his chateau sprang to fame when the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson were married here....

This house is best associated with...

Santiago Drake del Castillo

Santiago Drake del Castillo, of Paris & Château de Candé, Indre-et-Loire


Clara (Spitz) Drake del Castillo

"Clara" Charlotte Claire (Spitz) Drake del Castillo


Charles Bedaux

Charles-Eugène Bedaux, of Château de Candé


Fern (Lombard) Bedaux

Mrs Fern (Lombard) Bedaux


Edward, Duke of Windsor

H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor, formerly Edward VIII of England


Wallis Simpson

Bessie Wallis (Warfield), Spencer, Simpson; Duchess of Windsor


Drake's father - the son of an English innkeeper in Devon - married the beautiful niece (who was twenty years his junior) of the 3rd Marques de San Felipe y Santiago and retired to Paris in 1830. Drake established a horse-drawn omnibus line between Havana and Puentes Grandes, and a steamer line at Sagua la Grande, before he too retired to Paris. Having purchased the chateau, he hired local architect Jacques-Aimé Meffre of Tours to add the Neo-Gothic north wing while other improvements continued until 1867.

French Grandeur with American Luxury

The chateau was inherited by Drake's eldest son, Jacques, who lived here quietly and made no major changes but improved the vineyards and modernized the winemaking apparatus. His son, Jean, relocated to Cannes and in 1927 sold the chateau for $32,000 to the shady Franco-American businessman, Charles Bedaux, and his American wife, Fern Lombard.

By 1930, the Bedaux' had spent a further million dollars adding modern American luxury to their old French chateau. Overseen by Henri Lafargue, the French Architect-in-Chief of Historic Monuments, they updated the electrics and installed a full plumbing system, central heating, a telephone, and a $40,000 electro-pneumatic organ made by Ernest Skinner in Boston. The eight bedrooms were all given Art-Deco en-suite bathrooms with baths that could be filled in less than a minute, and they also added a gymnasium and solarium. They put a stop to the logging started by the cash-strapped Jean Drake and hired landscape architect Louis Decorges to beautify the parkland that included laying out an 18-hole golf course over 7.4-acres, and building a tennis court and swimming pool.

"An Ideal Solution to an Intolerable Situation"

In December, 1936, Charles Bedaux was still friends with Edmund Pendleton Rogers whose brother, Herman, was then sheltering Wallis Simpson from the press at Villa Lou Viei while her lover, King Edward VIII, was busy abdicating himself from the British throne. While history was unravelling, Edward asked Herman if his brother might have a discrete word in Bedaux's ear about the feasibility of him and Wallis getting married at Candé. Katherine Rogers had suggested to Wallis that with its secure and private park it, "would be an ideal solution to an intolerable situation". Bedaux was only too happy to host and on June 3, 1937, Edward married Wallis in a private ceremony held in the library.

Far from this being a grand affair, only seven people attended the wedding of the man who six months before had been King of England - none of the Royals attended and only Bessie Merryman represented the bridal family. Wallis' old schoolfriend, Mary Raffray (at whose house Wallis was introduced to her second husband, Simpson), observed from New York: "Much as I loathe Wallis, I can't help feeling half pleased half sorry for the slap in the face she's had to receive not being Royal Highness and to me much worse, none of their friends or sycophants going to the wedding. The Brownlows felt it bad for home work and so did most people and I think she was too proud to ask her American friends".

Getting into Bedaux with the Devil

But if relationships between the new King and the ex-King were already sour, they were about to get a whole lot worse. Bedaux' Nazi sympathies were no secret and while the Windsors were his guests he - almost certainly in collusion with the Nazis - took the opportunity to arrange their first official tour as a couple: not to the United States, Wallis' homeland and the world's largest democracy, but to Adolf Hitler's dictatorship in Nazi Germany that was increasingly at odds with the democratic world. The Nazi PR machine ensured the would-be king and wannabe queen were greeted with rapturous approval.

War and Peace

In June, 1940, the Bedaux' allowed the chateau to be used by American diplomats as a retreat. For a month (October) in 1942 it was occupied by the Germans before it was returned to them, but Mr. Bedaux was not to enjoy his chateau for long. In November, he was arrested by the French and transferred to the Americans at the request of the OSS. Two years later (1944), while awaiting trial for trading with the enemy and treason, he was found dead in his cell having committed suicide. His widow, Fern, remained at the chateau until 1972, but this was only possible through a deal she made with the state that gave them part possession in 1951 which became full possession after her death in 1972.

The Château de Candé Today

Fern had hoped that the chateau would one day become a Presidential residence but this was not to be. All the furniture was removed and placed into the care of the Mobilier National that stores state-owned furniture, and much of it was dispersed throughout the Palais de l'Élysée, the Hôtel de Marigny, and the Fort de Brégançon. However, since 2014, the Mobilier National has started to return the original furniture and Fern's principal wish has been respected in that, “the domain is neither divided up nor subdivided, and the château retains a cultural, artistic, academic or high national and regional interest status”. The chateau has been open to the public and a popular tourist destination since 1974.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 07/10/2022 and last updated on 13/10/2022.


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