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Blois, France

BLOIS, FRANCE, a town of central France, capital of the department of Loir-et-Cher, 35 m. S.W. of Orleans, on the Orleans railway between that city and Tours. Pop. (1906) 18,457. Situated in a thickly-wooded district on the right bank of the Loire, it covers the summits and slopes of two eminences between which runs the principal thoroughfare of the town named after the philosopher Denis Papin. A bridge of the 18th century from which it presents the appearance of an amphitheatre, unites Blois with the suburb of Vienne on the left bank of the river. The streets of the higher and older part of the town are narrow and tortuous, and in places so steep that means of ascent is provided by flights of steps. The famous château of the family of Orleans (see Architecture: Renaissance Architecture in France), a fine example of Renaissance architecture, stands on the more westerly of the two hills. It consists of three main wings, and a fourth and smaller wing, and is built round a courtyard. The most interesting portion is the north-west wing, which was erected by Francis I., and contains the room where Henry, duke of Guise, was assassinated by order of Henry III. The striking feature of the interior façade is the celebrated spiral staircase tower, the bays of which, with their beautifully sculptured balustrades, project into the courtyard (see Architecture, Plate VIII. fig. 84). The north-east wing, in which is the entrance to the castle, was built by Louis XII. and is called after him; it contains picture-galleries and a museum. Opposite is the Gaston wing, erected by Gaston, duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XIII., which contains a majestic domed staircase. In the north corner of the courtyard is the Salle des Etats, which, together with the donjon in the west corner, survives from the 13th century. Of the churches of Blois, the cathedral of St Louis, a building of the end of the 17th century, but in Gothic style, is surpassed in interest by St Nicolas, once the church of the abbey of St Laumer, and dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. The picturesqueness of the town is enhanced by many old mansions, the chief of which is the Renaissance Hôtel d'Alluye, and by numerous fountains, among which that named after Louis XII. is of very graceful design. The prefecture, the law court, the corn-market and the fine stud-buildings are among the chief modern buildings.

Blois is the seat of a bishop, a prefect, and a court of assizes. It has a tribunal of first instance, a tribunal of commerce, a board of trade arbitration, a branch of the Bank of France, a communal college and training-colleges. The town is a market for the agricultural and pastoral regions of Beauce and Sologne, and has a considerable trade in grain, the wines of the Loire valley, and in horses and other live-stock. It manufactures boots and shoes, biscuits, chocolate, upholstering materials, furniture, machinery and earthenware, and has vinegar-works, breweries, leather-works and foundries.

Though of ancient origin, Blois is first distinctly mentioned by Gregory of Tours in the 6th century, and was not of any importance till the 9th century, when it became the seat of a powerful countship (see below). In 1196 Count Louis granted privileges to the townsmen; the commune, which survived throughout the middle ages, probably dated from this time. The counts of the Châtillon line resided at Blois more often than their predecessors, and the oldest parts of the chateau (13th century) were built by them. In 1429 Joan of Arc made Blois her base of operations for the relief of Orleans. After his captivity in England, Charles of Orleans in 1440 took up his residence in the château, where in 1462 his son, afterwards Louis XII., was born. In the 16th century Blois was often the resort of the French court. Its inhabitants included many Calvinists, and it was in 1562 and 1567 the scene of struggles between them and the supporters of the Roman church. In 1576 and 1588 Henry III., king of France, chose Blois as the meeting-place of the states-general, and in the latter year he brought about the murders of Henry, duke of Guise, and his brother, Louis, archbishop of Reims and cardinal, in the château, where their deaths were shortly followed by that of the queen-mother, Catherine de' Medici. From 1617 to 1619 Marie de' Medici, wife of King Henry IV., exiled from the court, lived at the château, which was soon afterwards given by Louis XIII. to his brother Gaston, duke of Orleans, who lived there till his death in 1660. The bishopric dates from the end of the 17th century. In 1814 Blois was for a short time the seat of the regency of Marie Louise, wife of Napoleon I.

See L. de la Saussaye, Blois et ses environs (1873); Histoire du château de Blois (1873); L. Bergevin et A. Dupré, Histoire de Blois (1847).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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