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Visiting Guise, northern France: castle walls which tell a tale
Past seat of vigorous dukes
The Dukes of Guise were central actors in the Wars of Religion which France experienced in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Dukes were very closely associated with the Roman Catholic party to the conflict, and are believed to have spearheaded many of the sanguinary conflagrations. Henri, 1st Duke of Guise , was largely behind the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572.
In the town of Guise, near Vervins, in northern France, is the ancestral home of the Dukes. The walls of the caslte, now largely ruined, still loom over the town, as a reminder of the once powerful influence which the Dukes of Guise once exercised in the district and, indeed, in France as a whole.
When I visited Guise, student guides were showing tourists around the sizeable castle site, giving excellent descriptions and anecdotes. All credit to them, but it also strikes me in retrospect how vastly different would have been the experience of any involuntary guests of the Guises at the castle who were on the receiving end of their zealous severity.
Henri, 1st Duke of Guise , was famously assassinated at the castle of Blois, in 1588, on the orders of King Henri III (himself assassinated by a supporter of the Guises the following year). This sombre event was made the subject of a widely known painting by Paul Delaroche .
It was also the subject of an early French motion picture, itself called The Assassination of the Duke of Guise , released in 1908. This work was produced as an historical film, and the film score was written by Camille Saint-Saëns . However, when the film was also released in the United States, it is probable that the relative lack of popular empathy for the film's historical references may have contributed to the fact that it saw little success there.
More about the town
Also situated in the town of Guise is the Familistère community settlement building, a 19th century establishment. This building has been recently restored.
Guise is administratively included in the Aisne department of the Picardie region.
A notable individual associated with the town of Guise includes the journalist and revolutionary politician Camille Desmoulins (1760-1794), who was born in the town. If the Dukes of Guise may be described as extreme conservatives, then Desmoulins would probably be categorized as an extreme radical — among many other radicals of his era.
Also worth seeing
The 12th and 13th century cathedral at Laon (distance: 40 kilometres) combines with many Medieval buildings in the city to make an architectural and historical treasure store.
Valenciennes (distance: 60 kilometres) has a city hall with a striking façade and a well-appointed Fine Arts museum (musée des Beaux-Arts ).
Chimay , Belgium (distance: 67 kilometres), the seat of a former principality, has a Medieval castle and a well preserved old church.
Saint-Amand-les-Eaux (distance: 74 kilometres) has some remarkable ecclesiastical architecture, including an abbey tower, now housing a museum.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Guise: 170 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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