The palace of Jacques Coeur is a top sight to see in Bourges and one of the finest flamboyant Gothic civilian building in France.
The mid-15th-century Palais Jacques Coeur in Bourges in France Centre is a sumptuous private residence built by a minister of finance with exquisite taste. It is flamboyant Gothic – an architectural style perfectly suited for the ostentations elegance that Coeur wanted his palace to exuberate. The palace had to reflect his recently ennobled status but in the end Jacques Coeur fell out of favor and had to flee France. Today, the palace is mostly visited to appreciate its fine architecture with a limited number of displays and art works from mostly the late Middle Ages.
Jacques Coeur (c. 1395-1456)
After the magnificent UNESCO-listed Gothic Cathedral of St Etienne, the top sight in Bourges is the Palace of Jacques Coeur, one of the most impressive flamboyant Gothic secular buildings in France. The life of its builder is as interesting as the architecture.
Jacques Coeur was born in Bourges to a rich merchant family. He traveled extensively and it was largely due to his efforts that France built up its own Mediterranean merchant fleet allowing the country to trade without Italian intermediaries. Jacques Coeur was made Charles VII’s steward of the royal expenditure (basically minister of finance of France) in 1438 and ennobled in 1441.
To reflect his new status, Jacques Coeur had a palace built in Bourges. The palace was erected in a short period (1442-51), is full of symbols and symbolism, and reflects the exquisite taste of its owner.
Jacques Coeur’s downfall was swift. His debtors and competitors – and there were many with better royal connections – accused him of several crimes including poisoning the king’s mistress, Agnès Sorel. He was arrested in 1451 and although his innocence was proven, he was still condemned to prison, public penitence, and a huge fine.
Jacques Coeur escaped from prison in 1455 and fled to Rome. From here, he participated in a papal expedition against the Turks and died of illness in 1456 on the island of Chios. Charles VII allowed his family to inherit what remained of his wealth, which included the palace in Bourges.
The Palais Jacques Coeur in Bourges
The Palace of Jacques Coeur is built on Gallo-Roman ramparts and the exterior walls thus follow curved lines. Outside the palace is still fairly fortified with windows mostly on higher floors and opening to the courtyards rather than directly to the city streets. Although its construction reflected a new willingness to take risks and construct expensively following the end of the pressures of the Hundred Years War in this region, it was still sensible for rich people to take precautions.
The façade of the palace has numerous statues and Gothic style elements. The most interesting ones are probably the two persons looking out of blind windows. The symbols of the owner – the seashells for Jacques (James) and hearts for Coeur – are repeated incessantly. Even the wooden door is protected from the heavy metal knocker by a little metal heart.
The royal fleur-de-lys is also used frequently as a reminder of Coeur’s devotion (and close connection) to King Charles VII. (These were of no use following his arrest.) An equestrian statue of the king was removed from under the Gothic canopy and destroyed following the French Revolution.
Touring the Palace of Jacques Coeur in Bourges
Inside the main gate, the palace has a large courtyard with lovely facades again reflecting the taste of Jacques Coeur. Note the three exotic trees carved into a panel above the door signaling his trading links with the Middle East. The main entrance is via the central of three staircase turrets.
The inside of the palace is lightly furnished with only a few exhibits. This makes the palace easy and fun to visit with children. The architecture is the main attraction and it is up and down flights of stairs ever so often, as only a few rooms are seen on each floor.
The interior was not completely fitted out by the time of Coeur’s arrest but the architecture still reflects his notions of style, comfort, and hygiene. Public and private rooms are separated. Corridors give independent access to rooms. Built-in toilets were ahead of its time and didn’t really catch on with the French upper classes until well into the nineteenth century.
- The magnificent fireplace with intricately carved details in the Banqueting Room is a 1920s reconstruction of the original. A row of monkeys is obvious on the lower level but many further animals, including snails, frogs, bats, and pigs are carved between the foliage on other levels.
- A copy of the monumental tomb of Jean I Duc de Berry – the original tomb is in the crypt of the cathedral with some of the mourners in the Museum de Berry. Note the bear at his feet.
- Symbols of Coeur’s merchant background including roof timbers resembling an upturned boat, a carved boat on the tympanum in the galley room above a doorway, and a map showing how Bourges was at the heart of trading routes in medieval France.
- Service corridors allowed independent access to rooms, even interconnecting ones could be reached via the passages rather than passing through the main reception rooms.
- Chapel with 15th-century painted vaulted ceilings (restored in the 19th century when the walls were also painted).
- A fireplace showing ladies admiring the jousting tournament with the competing knights carved on the upper level.
- Lastly, of no real historic importance, but in the courtyard near the toilets it is possible to see a gargoyle close up.
Visitors Information for Palais Jacques Coeur in Bourges
The Palais Jacques Coeur is open daily year round, except on some public holidays. Opening hours vary according to the season. Note the lunch break – admission closes half an hour earlier.
- May & June – 9:30 to noon & 2 to 6:15
- July & August – 9:45 to 12:45 & 2 to 6:30
- September & April: 10 to noon & 2 to 6:00
- October to March: 9:30 to noon & 2 to 5:15
In contrast to the city museums of Bourges, admission is charged for visiting the Palais Jacques Coeur. Admission tickets are €7.50 for adults. As with other French nationally owned monuments, children under 18 enter free and European Union residents under 26 also enter for free.
Combination tickets with the north tower and crypt of the St Etienne Cathedral is €11.