Voltaire … and the Marquise du Châtelet. One of the most fascinating love stories of the 18th century at the Château de Cirey-sur-
Voltaire fled Paris in 1734, after his Lettres Philosophiques had been published unbeknown to himself. The Lettres heavily criticised the French institutions, so the parliament took a very poor view of them and issued a lettre de cachet ordering Voltaire’s imprisonment.
Gabrielle Émilie de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet, another brilliant 18th-century mind whose acquaintance he had made in Paris a year before, and with whom he was on close terms, offered him asylum on her property at Cirey. Situated as it was in Haute-Marne, about 250 km from Paris, on the border with then independent Lorraine, the Château de Cirey was an ideal refuge for Voltaire. Voltaire thought he would stay at Cirey until the lettre de cachet had been repealed, authorising him to return to the capital at last, but the house became his “home from home,” where he was to stay for 15 years, from 1734 to 1749.
Upon his arrival at Cirey, he found the house in a very poor state of repair. Contrary to all expectations, Voltaire fell in love with the place, changed his plans and decided to move into Cirey once and for all, turning the house into a comfortable residence.
With the Marquis du Châtelet’s consent, he embarked on a major programme of restoration work. Then, finding the château too small for entertaining, he enlarged it and had a long gallery surmounted by a terrace built.
He used the grand entrance to this gallery to set out his philosophical tenets and his attachment to the arts and sciences.
The several inscriptions include these lines, written by Voltaire and dedicated to Cirey: "Refuge of the fine arts, solitude where my heart has always lived in profound peace, you it is who grant the happiness that the world promised in vain."
The building work on which Voltaire embarked was also designed to seduce the Marquise du Châtelet. She did indeed take a while to join him, preferring the social whirl of the capital to the austerity of country life, but Émilie eventually gave up Paris and its pleasures, and joined Voltaire at Cirey. Thus began one of the 18th century’s greatest intellectual and amorous adventures between two exceptional figures. Only the Marquise du Châtelet’s death in 1749 put an end to the affair and separated Voltaire from Cirey for ever.
Not to be missed: Voltaire’s little private theatre The room, which is tucked away in the attics, is of enormous interest on several counts: it is one of 30 or so court and private theatres surviving in France, many of which are in a critical state of repair.It is also one of France’s oldest theatre stages (1735). Along with the magnificent Versailles Opera House (1770) and the delightful Queen’s Theatre at the Petit Trianon at Versailles (1780), it may definitely be said that it is one of only three 18th century private theatres surviving in France.
Last but not least, it is the only theatre designed by Voltaire that can still be seen today. Neither the Théâtre des Délices nor the Théâtre de Ferney, which he built after leaving Cirey, survives. The Cirey theatre thus takes on unrivalled historical importance. The restoration work on Voltaire’s Petit Théâtre won the Demeure Historique Prix d’Honneur 1999.