The diary of John Evelyn

Regular posts from the diary of John Evelyn

Month: April 1644

Friday 29 April 1644

Quitting our bark, we hired horses to Blois, by the way of Chambord, a famous house of the King’s, built by Francis I in the middle of a solitary park, full of deer, inclosed with a wall. I was particularly desirous of seeing this palace, from the extravagance of the design, especially the staircase, mentioned by Palladio. It is said that 1800 workmen were constantly employed in this fabric for twelve years: if so, it is wonderful that it was not finished, it being no greater than divers gentlemen’s houses in England, both for room and circuit. The carvings are indeed very rich and full. The staircase is devised with four entries, or assents, which cross one another, so that though four persons meet, they never come in sight, but by small loopholes, till they land. It consists of 274 steps (as I remember), and is an extraordinary work, but of far greater expense than use or beauty. The chimneys of the house appear like so many towers. About the whole is a large deep moat. The country about is full of corn, and wine, with many fair noblemen’s houses.

“Château de Chambord” by Adam Frans Van der Meulen. 17th century. Source: BnF.

We arrived at Blois in the evening. The town is hilly, uneven, and rugged, standing on the side of the Loire, having suburbs joined by a stately stone bridge, on which is a pyramid with an inscription. At the entrance of the castle is a stone statue of Louis XII. on horseback, as large as life, under a Gothic state1; and a little below are these words:
“Hic ubi natus erat dextro Ludovicus Olympo,Sumpsit honoratâ regia sceptra manu;
Felix quæ tanti fulsit Lux nuncia Regis!
Gallica non alio principe digna fuit.”

Under this is a very wide pair of gates, nailed full of wolves and wild-boars’ heads.

“Château de Blois, face regardant le couchant”. Artist unknown. 1635-1637. Source: BnF.

Behind the castle the present Duke had begun a fair building, through which we walked into a large garden, esteemed for its furniture one of the fairest, especially for simples and exotic plants, in which he takes extraordinary delight2. On the right hand is a long gallery full of ancient statues and inscriptions, both of marble and brass; the length, 300 paces, divides the garden into higher and lower ground, having a very noble fountain. There is the portrait of a hart, taken in the forest by Louis XII., which has twenty-four antlers on its head. In the Collegiate Church of St. Savior, we saw many sepulchres of the Earls of Blois.

  1. He was born in the Castle, and rebuilt it. –AD 

  2. See ante, p. 97. “His greatest delight was in his garden, where he had all sorts of simples, plants and trees that the climate could produce, which he pleased himself with studying the names and virtues of” (Reresby’s Travels,1831, p. 25).  –AD 

Thursday 28 April 1644

Taking boat on the Loire, I went toward Blois, the passage and river being both very pleasant. Passing Mehun, we dined at Baugenci, and slept at a little town called St. Dieu. ((A village 1½ mile from the Chateau de Chambord, — the Versailles of Touraine. –AD))

Detail from “Dans l’étendue des levées qui la retiennent depuis la ville de Gien jusqu’au Pont de Cé” . 1684. Shows the towns mentioned by Evelyn.

Thursday 21 April 1644

I went about to view the city, which is well built of stone, on the side of the Loire. About the middle of the river is an island, full of walks and fair trees, with some houses. This is contiguous to the town by a stately stone bridge, reaching to the opposite suburbs, built likewise on the edge of a hill, from whence is a beautiful prospect. At one of the extremes of the bridge are strong towers, and about the middle, on one side, is the statue of the Virgin Mary, or Pieta, with the dead Christ in her lap, as big as the life.

Detail showing bridge with towers from “The French city of Orléans on the Loire” by Braun and Hogenberg. 1581-88. SourceL Sanderus maps. Used with permission.

At one side of the cross, kneels Charles VII., armed, and at the other Joan d’Arc, armed also like a cavalier, with boots and spurs, her hair disheveled, as the deliveress of the town from our countrymen, when they besieged it1. The figures are all cast in copper, with a pedestal full of inscriptions, as well as a fair column joining it, which is all adorned with fleurs-de-lis and a crucifix, with two saints proceeding (as it were) from two branches out of its capital.

The inscriptions on the cross are in Latin:

“Mors Christi in cruce nos á contagione, labis et æternorum morborum sanavit.”

On the pedestal:

“Rex in hoc signo hostes profligavit, et Johanna Virgo Aureliam obsidio liberavit. Non diu ab impiis diruta, restituta sunt hoc anno D’ni 1578. Jean Buret, m. f.”—”Octannoque Galliam servitute Britannicâ liberavit. A Domino factum est illud, et est mirabile in oculis nostris; in quorum memorià hæc nostræ fidei Insignia.”

To this is made an annual procession on 12th of May, mass being sung before it, attended with great ceremony and concourse of people. The wine of this place is so strong, that the King’s cup bearers are, as I was assured, sworn never to give the King any of it: but it is a very noble liquor, and much of it transported into other countries. The town is much frequented by strangers, especially Germans, for the great purity of the language here spoken, as well as for divers other privileges, and the University, which causes the English to make no long sojourn here, except such as can drink and debauch2.

The city stands in the county of Bealse (Blaisois); was once styled a Kingdom, afterward a Duchy, as at present, belonging to the second son3  of France. Many Councils have been held here, and some Kings crowned. The University is very ancient, divided now by the students into that of four nations, French, High Dutch, Normans, and Picardines, who have each their respective protectors, several officers, treasurers, consuls, seals, etc. There are in it two reasonable fair public libraries, whence one may borrow a book to one’s chamber, giving but a note under hand, which is an extraordinary custom, and a confidence that has cost many libraries dear.

The first church I went to visit was St. Croix; it has been a stately fabric, but now much ruined by the late civil wars. They report the tower of it to have been the highest in France. There is the beginning of a fair reparation4. About this cathedral there is a very spacious cemetery. The townhouse is also very nobly built, with a high tower to it. The market place and streets, some whereof are deliciously planted with limes, are ample and straight, so well paved with a kind of pebble, that I have not seen a neater town in France. In fine, this city was by Francis I. esteemed the most agreeable of his vast dominions.

  1. This statue was broken in pieces by the Revolutionists of 1792 to melt into cannon. –AD 

  2. They are at ye Cabaret from morning to nightquot; — says Addison of the Germans at Orleans — “and I suppose come into France on no other account but to Drink.” (Addison to Mr. Stanyan, February, 1700) –AD 

  3. Perhaps referring to Gaston, Duke of Orléans, son of Henry IV of France.  As a son of the king he was refereed to as “Fils de Franc” or son of  France -GS 

  4. The Cathedral of St. Croix was begun by Henri IV. in 1601, and continued under Louis >XIII., XIV., and XV. –AD 

Wednesday 20 April 1644

The next day, we had an excellent road; but had liked to come short home: for no sooner were we entered two or three leagues into the Forest of Orleans (which extends itself many miles), but the company behind us were set on by rogues, who, shooting from the hedges and frequent covert, slew four upon the spot. Among the slain was a captain of Swiss, of the regiment of Picardy, a person much lamented. This disaster made such an alarm in Orleans at our arrival, that the Prevôt Marshal, with his assistants, going in pursuit, brought in two whom they had shot, and exposed them in the great market place, to see if any would take cognizance of them. I had great cause to give God thanks for this escape; when coming to Orleans and lying at the White Cross, I found Mr. John Nicholas, eldest son to Mr. Secretary. In the night a cat kittened on my bed, and left on it a young one having six ears, eight legs, two bodies from the middle downward, and two tails. I found it dead, but warm, in the morning when I awaked1 .

“ The French city of Orléans on the Loire” by Braun and Hogenberg. 1581-88. SourceL Sanderus maps. Used with permission.

  1. This passage (says Forster) has not been printed since the quarto editions, and it would be difficult to say what induced its omission in the octavo editions, unless Evelyn’s apparent confusion as to the name of the inn at Orleans where the adventure occurred (for he calls it the White Lion as well as the White Cross) may have caused the original editor to doubt the miracle altogether. as printed in the quarto [1819, i. 57], it begins “I stay at the White Lion, where I found Mr. John Nicholas, eldest son to Mr. Secretary,” etc.  (see note 1, ante, (see post, p. 14.) –AD 

Tuesday 19 April 1644

The summer now drawing near, I determined to spend the rest of it in some more remote town on the river Loire; and, on 19th of April, I took leave of Paris, and, by the way of the messenger, agreed for my passage to Orleans.

The way from Paris to this city, as indeed most of the roads in France, is paved with a small square freestone, so that the country does not much molest the traveler with dirt and ill way, as in England, only ’tis somewhat hard to the poor horses’ feet, which causes them to ride more temperately, seldom going out of the trot, or grand pas, as they call it. We passed divers walled towns, or villages; among others of note, Chartres and Etampes, where we lay the first night. This has a fair church1.

  1. Although there are several churches in Etampes, I think that Evelyn was more likely referring to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres – an impressive Gothic cathedral – GS 

Tuesday 12 April 1644

I took coach, to see a general muster of all the gens d’armes about the city, in the Bois de Boulogne, before their Majesties and all the Grandees. They were reputed to be near 20,000, besides the spectators, who much exceeded them in number. Here they performed all their motions; and, being drawn up, horse and foot, into several figures, represented a battle.

“Louis Le Grand Commandant son armée devant Cambray” [Louis Grand Dauphin] by Jean Dieu de Saint-Jean. Date: 17th Century.

Wednesday 6 April 1644

Iv sent my sister my own picture1 in water colors2, which she requested of me, and went to see divers of the fairest palaces of the town, as that of Vendôme, very large and stately; Lougueville; Guise; Condé; Chevereuse; Nevers, esteemed one of the best in Paris toward the river.

I often went to the Palais Cardinal, bequeathed by Richelieu to the King, on condition that it should be called by his name; at this time, the King resided in it, because of the building of the Louvre. It is a very noble house, though somewhat low; the galleries, paintings of the most illustrious persons of both sexes, the Queen’s baths, presence-chamber with its rich carved and gilded roof, theater, and large garden, in which is an ample fountain, grove, and mall, worthy of remark. Here I also frequently went to see them ride and exercise the great horse, especially at the Academy of Monsieur du Plessis, and de Veau3, whose schools of that art are frequented by the nobility; and here also young gentlemen are taught to fence, dance, play on music, and something in fortification and the mathematics4. The design is admirable, some keeping near a hundred brave horses, all managed to the great saddle.

  1. This picture no longer exists -GS 

  2. In the first and second editions of the Diary — says Forster — many trifling personal details, such as this mention of the author having sent his own picture in water-colours to his sister, were omitted, It is not necessary to point them out in detail. They are always of this personal character; as, among other examples, the mention of the wet weather preventing the diarist from stirring out (see post, 15th November), and that of his coming weary to his lodgings ( 6th November). –AD 

  3. It must have been at this establishment, or at that of Monsieur del Camp, which Evelyn mentions elsewhere, that he first made acquaintance with Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory (see post, under 26th July, 1680). –AD 

  4. This was the recognised curriculum. “I followed here (at Paris),” says Reresby in 1658, “the exercises of music, fencing, dancing and mathematics, as before” (Memoirs, 1875, p. 36). These accomplishments, according to Howell (Forreine Travels, 1642, Sect. iv.), could all be acquired for about 150 pistoles (£110), including lodging and diet. Reresby lived in a pension of the Isle du Palais (see ante, p. 29.).-AD 

Sunday 3 April 1644

The next morning, I was had by a friend to the garden of Monsieur Morine, who, from being an ordinary gardener, is become one of the most skillful and curious persons in France for his rare collection of shells, flowers, and insects.

Sketch of the garden of Pierre Morin in the faubourg St Germain by Richard Symonds. 1649. BL Harley Ms 1278 f.81v. Source:

His garden is of an exact oval figure1, planted with cypress, cut flat and set as even as a wall: the tulips, anemones, ranunculuses, crocuses, etc., are held to be of the rarest, and draw all the admirers of that kind to his house during the season. He lived in a kind of hermitage at one side of his garden, where his collection of porcelain and coral, whereof one is carved into a large crucifix, is much esteemed. He has also books of prints, by Albert [Durer], Van Leyden, Callot, etc. His collection of all sorts of insects, especially of butterflies, is most curious; these he spreads and so medicates, that no corruption invading them, he keeps them in drawers, so placed as to represent a beautiful piece of tapestry.

“Forty-one insects.” by Wenceslaus Hollar. 1646

He showed me the remarks he had made on their propagation, which he promised to publish. Some of these, as also of his best flowers, he had caused to be painted in miniature by rare hands, and some in oil.

Example of Ranunculus byBasilius Bessler. 1620. Source:

  1. Evelyn was probably referencing this design when design his garden at Sayes Court – GS  Book:A Passion For Trees: The Legacy Of John Evelyn 

Saturday 2 April 1644

The next day I was carried to see a French gentleman’s curious collection, which abounded in fair and rich jewels of all sorts of precious stones, most of them of great sizes and value; agates and onyxes, some of them admirably colored and antique; nor inferior were his landscapes from the best hands, most of which he had caused to be copied in miniature; one of which, rarely painted on stone, was broken by one of our company, by the mischance of setting it up: but such was the temper and civility of the gentleman, that it altered nothing of his free and noble humor.

Friday 1 April 1644

I went to see more exactly the rooms of the fine Palace of Luxemburg1, in the Fauxbourg St. Germains, built by Mary di Medicis, and I think one of the most noble, entire, and finished piles that is to be seen, taking it with the garden and all its accomplishments. The gallery is of the painting of Rubens, being the history of the Foundress’s Life2, rarely designed3; at the end of it is the Duke of Orleans‘ library4 , well furnished with excellent books, all bound in maroquin and gilded, the valance of the shelves being of green velvet, fringed with gold. In the cabinet joining to it are only the smaller volumes, with six cabinets of medals, and an excellent collection of shells and agates, whereof some are prodigiously rich. This Duke being very learned in medals and plants, nothing of that kind escapes him5. There are other spacious, noble, and princely furnished rooms, which look toward the gardens, which are nothing inferior to the rest.

“The Meeting of Marie de Médicis and Henri IV at Lyon.” by Peter Paul Rubens. Part of a series of 24 paintings illustrating the life of Marie de’ Medici present at the Palais Luxembourg during John Evelyn’s visit. Between 1621 and 1625.

The court below is formed into a square by a corridor, having over the chief entrance a stately cupola, covered with stone: the rest is cloistered and arched on pilasters of rustic work. The terrace ascending before the front, paved with white and black marble, is balustered with white marble, exquisitely polished.

Only the hall below is low, and the staircase somewhat of a heavy design, but the facia toward the parterre which is also arched and vaulted with stone, is of admirable beauty and full of sculpture.

The Palais de Luxemburg and gardens as shown in the “Plan de Turgot” by Louis Bretez. 1739.

The gardens6 are near an English mile in compass, inclosed with a stately wall, and in a good air. The parterre is indeed of box, but so rarely designed and accurately kept cut, that the embroidery makes a wonderful effect to the lodgings which front it. ‘Tis divided into four squares and as many circular knots, having in the center a noble basin of marble near thirty feet in diameter (as I remember), in which a Triton of brass holds a dolphin, that casts a girandola of water near thirty feet high, playing perpetually, the water being conveyed from Arceuil by an aqueduct of stone, built after the old Roman magnificence. About this ample parterre, the spacious walks and all included, runs a border of freestone, adorned with pedestals for pots and statues, and part of it near the steps of the terrace, with a rail and baluster of pure white marble.

The walks are exactly fair, long, and variously descending and so justly planted with limes, elms, and other trees, that nothing can be more delicious, especially that of the hornbeam hedge, which being high and stately, buts full on the fountain.

Toward the further end, is an excavation intended for a vast fish-pool, but never finished, and near it is an inclosure for a garden of simples, well kept; and here the Duke keeps tortoises in great number, who use the pool of water on one side of the garden. Here is also a conservatory for snow. At the upper part, toward the palace, is a grove of tall elms cut into a star, every ray being a walk, whose center is a large fountain.

Engraving of various tortoise and turtles. Author unknown. Source:

The rest of the ground is made into several inclosures (all hedge-work or rows of trees) of whole fields, meadows, bocages, some of them containing divers acres.

Next the street side, and more contiguous to the house, are knots in trail, or grass work, where likewise runs a fountain. Toward the grotto and stables, within a wall, is a garden of choice flowers, in which the duke spends many thousand pistoles. In sum, nothing is wanted to render this palace and gardens perfectly beautiful and magnificent; nor is it one of the least diversions to see the number of persons of quality, citizens and strangers, who frequent it, and to whom all access is freely permitted, so that you shall see some walks and retirements full of gallants and ladies; in others melancholy friars; in others, studious scholars; in others, jolly citizens, some sitting or lying on the grass, others running and jumping; some playing at bowls and ball, others dancing and singing; and all this without the least disturbance, by reason of the largeness of the place.

What is most admirable, you see no gardeners, or men at work, and yet all is kept in such exquisite order, as if they did nothing else but work; it is so early in the morning, that all is dispatched and done without the least confusion.

I have been the larger in the description of this paradise, for the extraordinary delight I have taken in those sweet retirements. The Cabinet and Chapel nearer the garden-front have some choice pictures. All the houses near this are also very noble palaces, especially Petite Luxemburg7. The ascent of the street is handsome from its breadth, situation, and buildings.

I went next to view Paris from the top of St. Jacques’ steeple8, esteemed the highest in the town, from whence I had a full view of the whole city and suburbs, both which, as I judge, are not so large as London: though the dissimilitude of their several forms and situations, this being round, London long,—renders it difficult to determine; but there is no comparison between the buildings, palaces, and materials, this being entirely of stone and more sumptuous, though I esteem our piazzas to exceed theirs.

Hence I took a turn in St. Innocent’s churchyard9, where the story of the devouring quality of the ground (consuming bodies in twenty-four hours), the vast charnels of bones, tombs, pyramids, and sepulchers, took up much of my time, together with the hieroglyphical characters of Nicholas Flamel’s philosophical work, who had founded this church, and divers other charitable establishments, as he testifies in his book.

Here divers clerks get their livelihood by inditing letters for poor maids and other ignorant people who come to them for advice, and to write for them into the country, both to their sweethearts, parents, and friends; every large gravestone serving for a table. Joining to this church is a common fountain, with good relievos upon it.

  1. Of which the architect was Salomon Debrosse, d. 1626, who may have recalled the Pitti Palace at Florence, where Marie de Médicis had passed her younger days. Addison certainly noticed a similarity. “It” (the Pitti Palace), he says, “is not unlike that of Luxemburg at Paris, which was built by Mary of Médicis, and for that Reason perhaps the Workmen fell into the Tuscan humour.” (Remarks on Italy, 1705, p. 409). The Luxembourg, now known as the Palais du Senat, was built 1615-20 –AD 

  2. Evelyn is referring to the “Marie de’ Medici cycle” of paintings detailing the struggles and triumphs in her life. -GS 

  3. Now in the Louvre (twenty-one pictures). They were painted between 1621-25. –AD -Austin says twenty-one but I believe there are 24 -GS 

  4. Gaston-Jean-Baptiste, Duke of Orleans, 1608-60, the King’s uncle, second son, by Henry IV., of Marie de Médicis, who bequeathed this palace to him. He was Lieutenant-General, and Governor of Languedoc. –AD 

  5. “There is no man alive in competition with him for his exquisite skill in medailes, topical memory, and extraordinary knowledge in plants: in both which faculties the most reputed antiquaries and greatest Botanists do (and that with reason) acknowledg him both their prince and superiour.”(Evelyn’s State of France; Miscellaneous Writings, 1825, p. 55.) –AD 

  6. They were also designed originally by Debrosse. –AD 

  7. This, now the residence of the president of the Senate, was a dependency of the greater palace, erected ahout the same date by Richelieu, who lived here till the Palais Royal was built. –AD 

  8. St. Jacques-la-Boucherie, of which the tower only now remains, the church having been pulled down in 1789. In climbing it Evelyn was following Howell’s suggestion (Forreine Travell, 1642, Sect, iii.); and also Lassels, who says (Voyage of Italy, 1670, i. p. 121): “I would wish my Traveler … to make it his constant practise (as I did) to mount up the chief Steeple of all great townes.”.   Richard Lassels, often referred to in the succeeding notes, was a Roman Catholic divine who died at Montpellier in 1668. He had been professor of classics at the English College at Douay. His travels (in two volumes) were published posthumously at Paris by Vincent du Moutier, under the care of his friend, S. Wilson, who inscribed them to Richard, Lord Lumley, Viscount Waterford.   Evelyn was probably familiar with the book; and perhaps employed it occasionally, when writing up his Memoirs, to refresh his memory. –AD 

  9. “Tis all one to lie in St. Innocent’s churchyard, as in the sands of Egypt,” Hydriotaphia, 1658 (final par.).

    The church and churchyard were closed in 1786, and the Rue and Square des Innocents now occupy the site. A later visitor than Evelyn thus describes ths spot: — “St. Innocent’s churchyard, the public burying-place of the City of Paris for a 1000 years, when intire (as I once saw it,) and built about with double galleries full of skull and bones, was an awful and venerable sight: but now I found it in ruins, and the greatest of the galleries pulled down, and a row of houses built in their room, and the bones removed I know not whither: the rest of the churchyard in the most neglected and nastiest pickle I ever saw any consecrated place.” (Lister’s Travels in France, 1698). –AD