Sonnet to Chillon

Sonnet to Chillon

It is one of the most visited castles in Europe: Château de Chillon or Castle Chillon. This castle has inspired many, including no other than Lord Byron. He wrote the poem The prisoner of Chillon, about the Genovois monk François Bonivard. He was held prisoner in this castles on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Castle Chillon
Castle Chillon.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

About Sonnet to Chillon

The poem Sonnet to Chillon is a prelude to the larger poem The prisoner of Chillon. Byron wrote this poem, after he visited this castle in Switzerland. He heard about Françios Bonivard (1493 – 1570), a patriot and historian. He was involved with the Protestant Reformation and was held captive in the castle, that belonged to his family. He was the son of Louis Bonivard, Seigneur de Lunes, part of the family of Savoy. He was set free in 1536, when Bernese troops invaded the department of Vaud.

The signature of Lord Byron is still visible in the catacombs of the castle. This castle has been part of the historic battles in Switzerland for centuries. Though, the history of the castle dates back to the Romans, when it was used as an outpost. The location was considered as very strategic; it was close to the road through the Alpine passes.

The castle as we know this today, dates probably back to the year 1005. Probably, because it is uncertain when the construction work started. The House of Savoy used this castle as a summer home. In 1248 the castle was expanded. During the period of the religious wars of the sixteenth century, the castle was used as a prison. This ended, when Bernese troops invaded the castle in 1536. In 1733, the castle was again converted to a prison.

In 1798 the Vaudois period began. The French-speaking troops conquered the German-speaking troops from Bern. This marked the start of the Lemanic Republic (1798 – 1803). The republic invited French troops and they turned the castle into a weapon depot.

The signature of Lord Byron
The signature of Lord Byron.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Lord Byron was one of the first tourists to visit the castle in the nineteenth century. He was certainly not the only one, to use this castle for his creativity. Henry James wrote the book Daisy Miller (1878) and the 1989 version of the movie The little mermaid was shot at this location.

Sonnet to Chillon

Sonnet to Chilon

Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty, thou art;
For there thy habitation is the heart—
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned,
– To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom—
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind.
Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor and altar, for ’twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace,
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard.—May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.
—  Lord Byron

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