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Chateau De Sully
Tucked away amid the beautiful countryside between Beaune and Autun, the Château de Sully is the largest stately home in Burgundy. And a home it still is, for although on a grand scale, the smell of beeswax, bowls of fresh flowers, books and family portraits bring a touch of reality to the scene.
Surrounded by the estate’s parkland, you enter the imposing inner courtyard, designed by Nicholas Rionnier. A corner of this enormous building is open to visitors and by wandering through from room to room, the dining room, little library, billiard room, ballroom and drawing room you can trace the history of the château and its owners.
It has been the home of the Mac Mahons, an Irish family since the 18thC. So how did an Irishman come to be the owner of a vast estate in the middle of Burgundy?
The Duchesse of Magenta takes up the story. ‘Towards the end of the 17thC after the defeat of the catholic English king, James II, a great many Irish emigrated. This exodus was popularly known as the ‘Flight of the Wild Geese’. Quite a few landed up in the Bordeaux area and started the now famous vineyard estates such as Château Barton and Hennessy cognac. Many joined the armies of King Louis XIV, while others came to study in France.
Maurice de Mac Mahon joined first the Spanish King’s
army, then that of Louis XIV.
At that time the Morey brothers owned Château de Sully but were finding life rather dull. One of the brothers, who at that time was some sixty years old, decided to jolly things up a bit by marrying their young cousin Charlotte Le Berlin from Eguilly.
Charlotte however was only 19 years old and she certainly did liven things up. Her husband may have been youthful but his health suffered and the doctor had to be called in frequently. And it so happened that this doctor was a charming Irishman called Jean Baptiste de Mac Mahon. In fact he was so charming that he ended up by marrying widow Charlotte. Louis XV recognised his noble Irish origins and accorded him the title of Marquess. They had seven children and lived happily ever after in Sully.’
Brandy Saves the Day
Something resembling a French farce then ensued. ‘Louis XVI came to the throne in 1774, the Marquess died the following year, and when the French Revolution was in full fling fifteen years later the situation didn’t look too good for the old Marchioness Charlotte or her château. Her two sons who had taken up arms with the Emigré Army and the Revolutionaires, declaring them traitors, came to Sully to confiscate their belongings. However, the old Marchioness sent them packing as she said the house belonged to her: her sons and their activities were not her problem.
Stupid old hag, thought the Revolutionaries, she’s bound to kick the bucket soon, we’ll come back in six months.
Six months later, they returned. The Marchioness had died.
However thanks to the quick-witted estate manager, Claude Beaune, the
château was saved. He had placed the body of the Marchioness in
a trough (in the fireplace of the Grand Drawing Room) filled with local
brandy and when the Revolutionaries appeared she was whipped out, propped
up in bed with a lace mob cap, the curtains drawn. Everyone went around
speaking in whispers saying the Marchioness wasn’t at all well this
week and the Revolutionaries would do better to come back at a later date
to see her…’
There is of course so much more to the history of this impressive moated château set in its own parkland. The 1st Duke of Magenta, Field Marshall Mac Mahon went on to become elected President of the French Republic. There is a background of military might, grand hunts and royalty.
But also at Sully, there is a sense of renewal as copious renovation of the park and terracing is taking place. It is a task on a grand scale.
A small part of this great Château is open to the public giving an insight into centuries gone by, and be sure to taste the wine from the Duke of Magenta’s vineyards located in Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet.
Burgundy by Request - guided visits to places of historic interest and wineries
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Pam Elson ©burgundytoday.com