Chateau de la Grange

Courpalay, Rozoy-en-Brie, Seine-et-Marne

Dating from 1363 when it was built for the de Courtenay family, it was remodelled as seen today in the late 1600s. Situated 30-miles east of Paris, its full name is "Chateau de la Grange-Bléneau" but it was referred to by its most famous resident and future generations as "La Grange". From 1799 until his death in 1834, this was home to "The Hero of Two Worlds" the Marquis de Lafayette, who championed liberty in both America and France. He lived in the southwest corner of the chateau which remains almost entirely unchanged. It contains a veritable treasure trove of Americana from the Revolutionary years and through his descendants it enjoys links to the White House, Alice Roosevelt, New York and Cincinnati society. Since 1959, La Grange has been maintained by the Josée & René de Chambrun Foundation. Yet, despite being uninhabited and the international interest in the collection it houses, it is closed to the public....

This house is best associated with...

Adrienne Françoise de Noailles

Marie-Adrienne Françoise (de Noailles) du Motier, Marquise de Lafayette

1759-1807

Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette

Lt.-General Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette

1757-1834

Marie-Antoinette Virginie du Motier

Mme. "Virginie" (Lafayette) de Lasteyrie de Saillant

1782-1849

Louis de Lasteyrie du Saillant

Louis de Lasteyrie du Saillant

1781-1826

Jules de Lasteyrie du Saillant

Adrien-Jules, Marquis de Lasteyrie; Senator; & Seigneur de Chateau Grange-Bleneau

1810-1883

Olivia de Rohan Chabot

Anne Rosalie "Olivia" (de Rohan Chabot) de Lasteyrie du Saillant

1813-1899

Louis de Lasteyrie du Saillant

Louis Pierre Gilbert de Lasteyrie du Saillant, Counsellor-General of Seine-et-Marne

1849-1923

Olivia Elizabeth Goodlake

Olivia Elizabeth (Goodlake) de Lasteyrie du Saillant

1853-1916

Guy de Lasteyrie

Guy-Louis-Jules de Lasteyrie du Saillant, Marquis de Lasteyrie du Saillant

1879-1944

Constance Whitney Warren

Constance Whitney (Warren), Marquise de Lasteyrie du Saillant; Sculptor

1888-1948

Louis de Lasteyrie du Saillant

Louis Gilbert Sydney de Lasteyrie du Saillant; Seigneur de Grange-Bleneau

1881-1955

Henriette Chodron de Courcel

Henriette (Chodron de Courcel) de Lasteyrie du Saillant

1878-1965

René de Chambrun

René Aldebert Pineton de Chambrun, Attorney, of Paris

1906-2002

Josée Laval

"Josée" Josette Pierrette (Laval) de Chambrun

1911-1992

In about 1720, Chateau La Grange-Bléneau was purchased by Louis-François du Pré (1691-1754), Parliamentary Counsellor etc. It passed from him to his daughter, Anne Louise Françoise (du Pré) d'Aguesseau and she was the maternal grandmother of Lafayette's wife, Adrienne, who inherited the chateau from her mother in 1794. Subsequent owners of La Grange have gone to great efforts to keep it exactly how it was when Lafayette lived here; and, although more by accident than design, Lafayette's bedroom with 327-bedside books and walls that are still lined in the original striped rose and yellow silk - as well as his study in the southwest tower and his library - remain entirely unchanged.

Other rooms of interest to the visitor include: the bedroom in which James Fenimore Cooper stayed during 1826-27 while writing The Red Rover; Lafayette's library of 3,000-books on science, politics, and the natural history of the United States etc.; and, another room in the upper portion of the southwest tower displaying portraits of the first seven presidents of the United States as well as other champions of liberty that the General held in high esteem such as Bailly, Rochefoucauld, Benjamin Franklin, Kosciuszco etc.

Among his 25,000 letters preserved here is one that Lafayette was said to have treasured most, a letter from his wife confirming her solidarity with him despite his role in the French Revolution that ended up with both her mother and grandmother being guillotined. Indeed, Adrienne herself was only saved from the guillotine when the U.S. Minister in Paris, Gouverneur Morris, intervened. Another letter written to his wife from Mount Vernon reveals: "In his retirement, General Washington is even greater than he ever was during the Revolution. His simplicity is really sublime...".

Artefacts on display at the chateau include: the megaphone/acoustic horn from which he shouted out his orders on the battlefield; the American ceremonial flag gifted to him on his last visit to the United States in 1824; the invitation letter from James Monroe and drafts of all the speeches he made during that tour; a pair of cannons given to him in gratitude by the people of Paris for his role in the July Revolution (1830), giving the Orléanists the throne; and, in the parkland, an American spruce planted by his own hand.

Lafayette à Lagrange

Although Lafayette had supported the Revolution, he did not envisage the "Reign of Terror" that very nearly cost his wife her head and saw him imprisoned for five years. During that time, all their estates were confiscated and sold bar one, La Grange, which had only survived the fate of the others having been abandoned long ago.

In 1797, La Grange was uninhabitable and Lafayette was only able to repair the roof after Thomas Jefferson had the U.S. government reimburse him money he'd spent on his troops during the Revolution. Nonetheless, Jefferson was saddened by his decline in fortunes and implored him to move to the States, offering him land from the Louisiana Purchase. But, despite his reduced circumstances, Lafayette preferred his native France and after the roof was fixed a few rooms were cleared out and made comfortable ready for him to move in.

Once settled, Lafayette added a park laid out by Hubert Robert. La Grange was gradually opened up and soon every weekend was enlivened with house guests - more often then not the leading enlightened minds in the western world - who were entertained with, "a profusion of food and wine". But, while the evenings were spent in cultured conversation, he kept the mornings for himself. Waking at five he, “remained in bed for two hours writing friends of liberty all over the world: Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, Spaniards and Portuguese, North and South Americans… and, alone on his knees, holding in his hand a small portrait of Adrienne and a lock of her hair, he would spend a quarter of an hour in meditative devotion.”

Jules & Olivia and the White House Connection

After Lafayette's death in 1834, the chateau continued its tradition of being passed down through the female line when he left it to his daughter, Virginie de Lasteyrie du Saillant. Three years before her death in 1849, she gave the chateau as a wedding present to her son, the career politician and Senator, Jules de Lastyrie, who lived here with his French-Irish wife, Olivia de Rohan-Chabot, grand-daughter of the 2nd Duke of Leinster.

Olivia was born at Leinster House in Dublin which, coincidentally, directly inspired the design of the White House. Like her, her father was also half-French, half-Irish: Louis de Rohan-Chabot was aide-de-camp to the Duc d'Orleans (later King Louis Philippe I) and his wife, Isabella (Olivia's mother) was Lady-in-Waiting to the Duc's wife, Maria.

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, German troops bivouacked in the grounds of the chateau. Finding the pair of cannons presented to Lafayette forty years before stored in one of the outbuildings, on their departure they took the cannons with them. On hearing what had happened, Olivia jumped out of bed, threw on her dressing gown and ran through the snow in her night cap for two miles until she caught up with the troops and reprimanded their commander: "I am English. My country is not at war with your country. You have no right to take those cannons." They were dutifully wheeled back.

"Une Ambience Toute Brittanique"

In 1878, Olivia had arranged for her only son, Louis de Lasteyrie, to marry Olivia Goodlake, the daughter of her first cousin. The chateau became theirs from 1899 and they divided their time between here and their apartment on the Rue de l'Université in Paris.

Louis' wife was the sister of General Gerald Goodlake who won a Victoria Cross in the Crimea - the highest award given in the British Empire for gallantry in the face of the enemy. Olivia was made of the same steel and with the Battle of the Marne (1914) raging only moments from the chateau and with the Germans advancing, she refused to move.

In Arnaud Chaffanjon's biography of Lafayette published in 1976, he claims that Louis was a Royalist and "detested" the ideals upheld by his Revolutionary forbear. Chaffanjon stated that during their tenure at La Grange, Louis and his wife retained, "une ambiance toute Brittanique... leaving the name and memories of Lafayette forgotten".

Guy de Lasteyrie and the New York Connection

In 1912, their elder son, Guy de Lasteyrie, was married to the American sculptor Constance Whitney Warren, a member of a large and distinguished New York family. Among just her paternal uncles and aunts she included: Mrs Edith Miller of 1048 Fifth Avenue; Mrs Harriette Goelet, of 591 Fifth Avenue; the prominent architect Whitney Warren; and, the eccentric founder of the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, Lloyd Elliot Warren.

After their honeymoon, they lived between La Grange and Paris where Constance became a well-respected sculptor working with bronze. They divorced in 1920 and three years later Guy married a Swiss woman, Sophie Schneider, and died at Paris in 1944.

Louis, the Last Lasteyrie

When Guy's father died shortly before Guy was remarried in 1923, the chateau was left to him and his brother, Louis. Louis was by then long separated from his wife and with Guy and Sophie spending most of their time in Paris, he now became the principal resident.

In 1935, the family coffers were all but depleted and while Louis was given tenancy for the remainder of his life, the brothers sold La Grange to their cousin, René de Chambrun (who shared their descent from Lafayette through his daughter, Virginie de Lasteyrie) although in fact it was bought on his behalf by René's father-in-law, Pierre Laval.

According to the history of the La Grange as written by René de Chambrun, Louis lived here as a recluse with an elderly man servant and had no interest in Lafayette, holding on to the chateau as a monument to his mother and grandmother. The impression given by Chambrun is that it was he and his wife who first brought Lafayette's treasures to the public eye in 1956, yet he neglects to mention that it was in fact Louis who opened it up as a museum to Lafayette in 1938 and Louis remains the only person to have ever done so.

"Pilgrimages" here were quite common in Lafayette's day and it was Louis who rekindled the tradition. In 1938, he welcomed 100-members of the Paris Post of the American Legion and led the tour through all of Lafayette's rooms, "filled with souvenirs of the American Revolution" while regaling his guests with relevant stories and anecdotes. From 1939, he opened the doors to the public from 10am to noon, and 2pm to 6pm, when, "some member of the Lasteyrie household, who knows the history of the castle, accompanies the tourists and explains the historic aspects of the art treasures to be found within".

The Roosevelt Connection

Despite his French name, René de Chambrun was in fact half-American. His mother, Clara Eleanor Longworth came from one of Cincinnati's best known families and her brother, Nick, was married to Alice Lee Roosevelt, the eldest daughter of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, although Clara was reputed to have disliked her sister-in-law.

René and Josée de Chambrun

René's wife, Josée, was the only child and devoted daughter of Pierre Laval - the most reviled leader of the Vichy French, beyond even Pétain (a great friend of Chambrun's father, General de Chambrun). As previously mentioned, it was Laval who put up the money that allowed René to buy La Grange, but just ten years later he was found guilty by his countrymen of treason for collaborating with Nazi Germany and was executed by firing squad. Despite being placed as Chief of the Government by the Nazis, openly wishing to see Hitler victorious in Europe, and not to mention all the very obvious atrocities signed off by his pen, the Chambruns were defiant in Laval's defence and spent the rest of their lives attempting to redefine his image in the eyes of history.

As a lawyer, René de Chambrun had considerable success - Coco Chanel owed her millions to him and he cleared the name of Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos following the death of his second wife. Chambrun also authored several books concerning the German occupation of France during the war, notably his defence of his father-in-law who he argued was a patriot who only ever had France's best interests at heart. It is a well-known fact that neither Laval nor Lafayette had a shred of love between them for the British, but when it comes to the definition of a "patriot" the two men would seem to be world's apart.

The Treasure Trove

The Chambruns took possession of La Grange in 1955. They never lived here - in fact over a period of 25-years they only slept in the chateau three times - but they almost immediately set about restoring the building. In 1956, they stumbled across no less than 14 walled-up attic rooms off the "Polish Corridor" (named in honor of the Poles after the November Uprising of 1830) leading to the north west tower. Inside, they found a veritable trove of 25,000 papers relating to Lafayette and his family, going back as far as 1457.

The haul also included 90-large filing boxes that were found in the cabinets - concealed behind false book-bindings - in Lafayette's study which included personal items such as his military decorations, diplomas, quills, and a steel book stamp. The pristine condition in which everything was found was attributed to, "tightly closed windows and shutters and thick stone walls that defy humidity (as well as) the lack of heat and electricity".

News of the discovery immediately made headlines in the U.S. and several distinguished historians offered their services for free to help archive the papers. But, the Chambruns would allow no-one access except for one French historian, André Maurois, who they authorized to write a history of Adrienne. Chambrun himself used the papers to write a book on Lafayette's years in captivity as well as the only informal history of the chateau.

It was not until forty years later (1996) when Chambrun had finished going through all the papers himself that he finally allowed a team from the U.S. Library of Congress access to microfilm the papers for posterity. Two years and 64-reels later, the team finished their job - not made any easier by having to work in just one room of the chateau, the kitchen, which was the only room with electricity and some warmth. Since then, Cleveland University (enabled by John Horton) and the Archives de France have acquired full copies.

Eradicating the Past, or Preserving the Future?

No-one knows for sure when or why these 14-attic rooms containing Lafayette's papers were sealed off. We're led to believe by the Chambruns that they were the first to open up the southwest tower since 1883. We are told that its chatelaine back then, Olivia - apparently because she was ostensibly British and her French family were monarchists - closed it up after her husband's death as a sign of her disdain for the Revolutionary. But we know that isn't entirely true as the tower was very much open when her grandson was welcoming visitors into his home, "filled with souvenirs of the American Revolution".

Between 1870 and 1945 this part of France was over-run three times by three separate armies each intent on depriving France of its liberty. There is every reason to believe that should Lafayette's papers have fallen into the hands of the enemies of France and America, they may not have survived. It seems unlikely that the same woman who ran two miles through the snow to retrieve Lafayette's cannons is the same woman we are led to believe maliciously intended to deprive future generations of Lafayette's memory - a bonfire would have solved that problem. For my two cents, it seems that someone purposefully placed the papers out of harms way to preserve his memory, not eradicate it.

Chateau La Grange-Bleneau Today

The Josée and René de Chambrun Foundation was created in 1959 to oversee management of both La Grange and Pierre Laval's home, the Château de Chateldon. Aside from the chateaux, the Foundation also guards over the papers of both Lafayette and Laval. Its early administrators were all connected to Laval's political inner circle and even within the last 15-years the Foundation has courted controversy for its rumored links to the Far Right. Worth in excess of $100 million, the Foundation has made several significant purchases connected to U.S. history including a gilded sword gifted to Lafayette by Congress in 1779 and Washington's Cincinnati Medal that was bought in 2008 for $5.3 million. 

Since the Chambruns took possession of La Grange it has remained closed to the public. Access is occasionally granted to scholars but no photography is permitted inside and there is very little information on hand that gives any idea of the extent of the collection. 

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 17/03/2021 and last updated on 02/04/2021.
Lafayette Home Open, The New York Times, February 5, 1939; Memories of Lafayette: the Château of La Grange-Bléneau, by Rodama1789; Auschwitz and After: Race, Culture, and "the Jewish Question" in France (2014), by Lawrence D. Kritzman; Laval, La Collaborateur, (Documentary, 2020) directed by Laurent Heynemann; La Fayette et "L'âme de Lagrange" (1972) by René de Chambrun; John Horton and The Marquis de Lafayette Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections; Unused Tower of a Chateau near Paris Yields Trove of Lafayette's Papers; The New York Times, June 19, 1956; Lafayette: His Extraordinary Life and Legacy (2014) by Donald Miller; Pictures from Monumentum of the chateau and its chapel; Lafayette, Nous Revoilà (December, 2007) par Morice pour AgoraVox

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