Le Grand Conde was born in 1621 and died in 1686. He was born Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Conde, and inherited a castle in Chantilly from his mother, Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, which had been in the family since the 15th century.
Louis II was also related to the King of France, through his father. His career as a military leader was tremendous. His conquests include the great Battle of Rocroi on May 19th, 1643, the first of his many triumphs. On that day, as the Spanish army advanced into Northern France, the Prince entered into fierce combat and Spain was defeated with cavalry and foot soldiers. The strategy and execution of that decisive victory is still considered to have been extremely skillful and impressive for a twenty-two year old officer. Thus ended 100 years of Spanish military supremacy. The Prince waged many campaigns and increased his reputation as a great commander of armies. This reputation earned him the title, Le Grand Conde.
In between military appointments Conde was able to retire to his castle at Chantilly, where he undertook extensive improvements to the estate.
Andre Le Notre, the renowned designer of the gardens at Versailles, was called upon to landscape the property. Art was purchased, salons were decorated and of course, a whole lot of entertaining was going on. Some of the greatest minds of the era were guests of the Prince. The illustrious playwrights, Moliere and Racine spent a great deal of time at Chantilly. Hunting parties, feasts, and receptions were lavishly contrived. Royalty, artists and intellectuals collected here for some of the most extravagant galas of the century.
FRANCOIS VATEL (born 1631, died 1671)
The mastermind of this perennial gastronomic festival, the Maitre d’Hotel, was a man by the name of Francois Vatel. His ability to design and orchestrate the carnival of feasting, was second to none. Food was sculpture. Whipped Chantilly Cream, a culinary invention from the castle kitchen, was dolloped on everything sweet. The overall effect was staggering. An army of meat and produce suppliers, cooks and servers, bakers and dishwashers were rigorously supervised by the perfectionist,Vatel. An invitation to the Chateau de Chantilly was a coveted ticket to the season’s best event. One was assured of being uproariously entertained, fed, and delighted by the well-staged production of a visit to Chantilly.
THE SUICIDE THAT COULDN'T STOP THE PARTY
Thursday, April 23, 1671 marked the arrival of the King of France, Louis XIV at Chantilly.
It was to be a weekend of great revelry, of hunting and feasting and parading through the gardens, all done up with a prodigious amount of pomp and ceremony. It is estimated that as many as two thousand guests were in attendance. Francois Vatel had complete control. Every detail of the elaborately planned convocation was assiduously attended to. His already impeccable reputation would be elevated further by the smashing success of playing host to the King. There was no greater honor than this.
On Thursday, there was a hunt and then a dinner. The lord of the manor, Le Prince de Conde, was confident that the King would be delightfully regaled and sufficiently honored and impressed by the itinerary. Poor Vatel, however, by the time the guests began to arrive, was already suffering from a succession of sleepless nights, so consumed was he, with the planning and execution of this three-day party. Every guest must be heard squealing with delight, or the job has not properly been done.
During supper on Thursday evening, Vatel fell prey to great despair and shame over a shortage of roasted meat. Somehow the number of diners exceeded the number of invited guests. Two tables did without the service of roast. The unthinkable had happened; a disgraceful, unforgivable shortage of meat, the ruination of a perfect performance. In the service of the King this happens! Vatel was shaken. Sleep-deprived and disconsolate, he could not have been prepared for the next lamentable hitch in the proceedings.
The early Spring night was getting on. It was time to announce the commencement of a celebratory display of fireworks, which had been purchased for the extravagant sum of 16,000 livres. To please the King, to honor the King, no expense is too great. A thick fog began to envelop the castle. It settled heavily upon the gay attendees but most heavily upon Vatel, whose grandiose event was falling to pieces. No roast, no fireworks.
Most likely, the guests were enduring no hardships in relation to these events, as there was no shortage of luxurious provisions and diversions were plentiful. However, Vatel confessed that evening to feelings of deep shame and dishonor. He could not sleep and focused instead on the meticulous preparations for the next day’s agenda.
There was to be a meal starring fish. Fish had been ordered from every possible source. It was coming from coastal towns cross-country, by carriage. Prodigious amounts would soon be delivered, providing a fresh opportunity to regain lost stature, to dazzle the Court with gastronomic wizardry.
At 4am on Friday morning, Vatel began to fret about the delivery of the seafood. Guests and servants alike were fast asleep. Finally, one vendor appeared at the door, carrying only a minimal amount of fish.
Vatel panicked. “Is this all there is?” he asked, incredulously. The fishmonger, unaware that goods had been ordered from many ports in huge quantities, answered, “Yes.”
Faced with the grim prospect of another disaster in the making, Vatel went to his room. There was only one way to preserve his honor and that was through death. In the service of his monarch, he would take his own life, which he did, with his sword.
Day broke. The fish arrived. Laughter and intrigue was interrupted by suppers and games, which lasted all the way through Saturday.
Chateau de Chantilly
By Train from Gare Du Nord
Then by Bus or Taxi To Chateau
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