The Château d'Amboise was built on a promontory overlooking the River Loire to control a strategic ford, later replaced by a bridge. The château began its life in the eleventh century, when the notorious Fulk Nerra, Count of Anjou, rebuilt the stronghold in stone. Expanded and improved over time, on 4 September 1434 it was seized by Charles VII of France, after its owner, Louis d'Amboise, was convicted of plotting against Louis XI and condemned to be executed in 1431.
However, the king pardoned him, in exchange for his chateau. Once in royal hands, the château became a favourite of French kings; Charles VIII decided to rebuild it extensively, beginning in 1492 at first in the French late Gothic Flamboyant style and then after 1495 employing two Italian mason-builders, Domenico da Cortona and Fra Giocondo, who created some of the first Renaissance decorative motifs seen in French architecture.
The gardens at Amboise were the first examples of the Italian-style garden design to be seen in France, on the site of the origin of the French formal garden. At the time of Charles VIII, an Italian priest, Pasello da Mercogliano, is credited with laying it out. Charles widened the upper terrace, to hold a larger parterre, enclosed with latticework and pavilions; Louis XII built a gallery around it. The parterres were recreated in the 20th century as rectangles of lawns set in gravel and a formal bosquet of trees.
King Francis I was raised at Amboise - which belonged to his mother, Louise of Savoy - and during the first few years of his reign the château reached the pinnacle of its glory. As a guest of the King, Leonardo da Vinci came to Château d'Amboise in December 1515 and lived and worked in the nearby Clos Lucé, connected to the château by an underground passage.