Rearing the Royals: Architecture and the Spatialization of Royal Childhood in France, 1499-1610

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Narkin, Elisabeth Dawn


Galletti, Sara

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Investigating the manner in which architecture actively shaped and was transformed by the French royal family, “Rearing the Royals: Architecture and the Spatialization of Royal Childhood in France, 1499-1610” examines architecture's role in the monarchy’s symbolic self-representation, quotidian existence, and dynastic strategies at the châteaux of Amboise, Blois, Fontainebleau, and Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Using a range of sources from French, Spanish, and Italian archives, the project fuses archival research and close readings of buildings.

The unique relationship between the French royal children and architecture affected politics, court rituals, and architectural forms. Existent literature analyzes the construction and décor of royal châteaux, but little is known about their functions, which later renovations and a formal focus obscure. This dissertation argues that buildings engaged in mutually influential relationships with their occupants, indoctrinating the children and their entourages into the monarchy’s social hierarchy and cultural regime at a time when European politics were shifting. The dissertation contributes to and engages with architectural history, court studies, social history, and spatial theory, providing a multifaceted analysis of the royal family’s instrumentalization of architecture. By analyzing changes in the monarchy's modes of inhabiting its kingdom, from fortified towers to the socio-architectural experiment that was Versailles, this dissertation emphasizes the relationship between architectural manifestations of power and the monarchy's evolving political strategies.

Chapter 1 examines the distribution and location of the children’s apartments at Amboise, Blois, Fontainebleau, and Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the context of contemporary treatises on childhood by authors such as Erasmus and Montaigne, demonstrating how contemporary childrearing beliefs influenced the built environment. Spaces for the children’s domestic officers form the subject of Chapter 2, which asks how buildings visualized the court’s hierarchy and distinguished individuals, inviting intimacy or enforcing divisions between people. The château’s splendorous exterior concealed the disorderly life within, and Chapter 3 uses unpublished accounts to investigate the children’s unique use of their spaces and the impact the heirs exerted on architecture. Chapter 4 treats the ceremonial spaces where the children were born, baptized, and participated in events like coronations. Ceremony associated the heirs with the realm’s symbolically significant architectures, and the children’s movement around the kingdom’s network of residences constructed France as a state and the monarchy as a cohesive power. Chapter 6 examines the latter subject and its motivations of tradition, security, and health. The children’s itineraries, analyzed via a series of ArcGIS maps, reveal that the monarchs favored certain buildings under specific circumstances, each residence playing a distinct role in the monarchy’s territoriality.

In its interdisciplinary approach to the French children’s relationship to architecture, this dissertation views space as a fundamental building block of human society. Through a nuanced argument that architectural space and human activity are mutually influential, the study addresses questions at the heart of the humanities: who are we, how do we live together, how does architecture serve to mediate and unite or, conversely, to marginalize and exclude?





Narkin, Elisabeth Dawn (2017). Rearing the Royals: Architecture and the Spatialization of Royal Childhood in France, 1499-1610. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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