Monday, 30 December 2013

The Queen and her Children

Marie Antoinette with her children   Princess Marie Therese Charlotte of France and Dauphin Louis Joseph of France, by Adolf Ulrik Wertmuller, 1785.  The queen strolls trough the gardens at her beloved Petite Trianon clutching the wrist of the four year old dauphin.

A serene-looking Marie Antoinette walks with her two children Marie Thérèse and the Dauphin Louis Joseph. In the background you can just see the Temple of Love on the grounds of her Petit Trianon. For once Marie Antoinette had chosen to go with a different painter than Madame Vigée Le Brun and this time Adolf Ulrik Wertmuller who painted the portrait in 1785.

Marie Antoinette's Petticoat

Fragment of court dress' petticoat: 1780
Marie Antoinette wore this fabric during her time at Versailles - it was used for a formal gown's petticoat. When the revolution broke out most members of the royal entourages remained loyal to the royal family and Monsieur Besnard was no exception. Monsieur Besnard was a part of the royal wardrobe and when he fled to England he was entrusted with one - most likely more - of the Queen's personal dresses. He was expected to keep the dresses for the Queen's arrival after the royal family's escape from Paris.

But when the escape attempt failed and Marie Antoinette was executed in 1793 Monsieur Besnard cut out the dress in pieces and gave it to some of the Queen's friends who had survived the revolution as a remembrance of their murdered friend. The dress is based on silk while the panels underneath are of velvet; both are embroidered with golden thread, colourful flowers and silver sequins. The gown was made in 1780.

Apartments of the Marquis de Sirent

The apartments of the Marquis de Sirent consists of three rooms now dedicated to Colbert, religion and the royal houses.
The room beneath with the tomato-red walls (the Colbert-room) is adorned with a portrait of Louis XIV and several of his ministers including the Marquis de Basville who was the first President of the Parlement in Paris and Étienne Aligre who became Chancellor in 1674 - and of course Jean-Baptiste Colbert himself.

The second hall is called the "Le Sentiment Religieux" with walls covered in golden damask fabric. Obviously, the paintings and portraits in this room is chosen for their reference to religion. For example the Bishop of Ypres and the architect behind the chapel in Sorbonne are both depicted; so is Anne of Austria in prayer with her two sons in front of the Holy Trinity. The large painting taking up the entire back wall shows the plea for a recovery of Louis XIV when he suffered from typhoid fever.

© 2009 by Janine Schreiber

The third hall is dedicated to the houses owned by the royal family and paintings of their construction - including Versailles! The walls are also damask fabric but in a bright apple green. Most portraits depicts Louis XIV or Louis XV surveying the renovation or construction of a royal château such as Meudon, Marly and Saint-Cloud. Unlike the previous rooms there are other furniture than the paintings: a commode and a console table.

Apartments of the Duc de Berry

Today this room exhibit the regency during Louis XIV's minority and are decorated with large portraits of the dominating characters of this period including the Cardinal Mazarin and Anne of Austria - their portraits are below.

Cardinal Mazarin
Anne of Austria

Apartments of the Duc d'Angoulême

Today these rooms house two antechambers to the museum section concerning the 17th century, the rise of the Bourbon-family and the reign of Louis XIII. Because most of the rooms of the North Wing are now dedicated to information instead of recreating of the earlier chambers we cannot know exactly how the rooms looked back then - however, I can show you some of the things that used to be in the Duc d'Angoulême's apartments.

Above the doors hang two paintings by François-Joseph Heim that were made especially for the Duc's apartments.

File:2012-10-19 16-20-30-musee-beaux-arts-belfort.jpg
"La Force"
"La Vigilance"
This is the room dedicated to the rise of the Bourbons. The Duc d'Angoulême was the one who lived in these apartments in 1789 when the royal family was forced to leave Versailles but before him it was the apartments of the Duc de Maine (during Louis XIV) and the Duc d'Orlèans (during Louis XV).

And this is the last room in the Duc d'Angoulême's apartment, now paying tribute to the reign of Louis XIII.

Notice the famous portrait of Louis XIV as a child behind the bust

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Pontcallec Conspiracy

The Pontcallec Conspiracy was the second conspiracy against Philippe, Duc d'Orlèans who was the Regent during Louis XV's childhood and took place between 1718-20. Following the death of the Sun King France was in heavy debt due to many expensive wars which cause the Regent to summon the Estates Generale since especially the region of Brittany was unhappy about the taxation and had refused to pay more. Eventually the proposal that the greatest part of the nobility - that were already living in poverty since you could call yourself a nobleman by proving a noble ancestry - should pay more in taxes was declined.

On this background the Pontcallec Conspiracy took form. In the end it would be an injustice done to the Duc de Maine that would spark events. The Duc had been given leave to use his prerogatives by the will of Louis XIV but now was forced to accept that he could not. Suddenly, the Duc de Maine found himself on the side of those slighted by the Regent and shortly after rumours had it that he was planning to gather troops. Meanwhile the Marquis de Pontcallec was joined by the Comte de Noyan at the former's fortress where they planned the conspiracy against the Regent. But the these prominent names were not the only ones to set into action. An official list were drawn up by hundreds of minor nobles in Brittany and stated their grievances to the Regent. Not long afterwards the conspiring noblemen saw the opportunity of gaining a powerful ally when France and Spain declared war upon each other (the War of the Quadruple Alliance); immediately a messenger was sent to the Spanish minister in France.

However, everything had not gone unnoticed and in December 1718 the Duc and Duchesse de Maine were both arrested. This did not scare off the Marquis de Pontcallec who continued his recruitment of not only soldiers but also other noblemen. Fearing that he would also be arrested he gathered 200 supporters but no royal guards came to take him away. By July 1719 the situation was considered potentially dangerous enough to inform the Regent himself. For the conspirators good news came when the Spanish offered their support to throw over Philippe, Duc d'Orlèans and replace him with either the Spanish King Philip V or even the Duc de Maine himself.

Plaque commemorating the Pontcallec Conspiracy

The operation took a leap from being secretive to openly opposing the taxation when royal employees were sent to collect taxes and were met by peasants led by Rohan de Pouldu who forced the royal men back. That was the last drop for the Regent. 15.000 soldiers were sent out under Pierre de Montesquiou and entered Rennes. The entire plot was revealed when a conspirator was arrested and confessed everything. It all happened too fast for the Marquis de Pontcallec who never managed to arrange his defences - and that was it. Even the 2000 soldiers sent by the Spanish had to realize that there was little they could do against the 15.000 royal French men. In the end the Marquis de Pontcallec was betrayed and arrested four days after Christmas eve 1719.
Philippe, Duc d'Orlèans established a special Board of Justice at Nantes simply to try those implicated in the conspiracy. Considering that it was the second conspiracy against him something had to be done - the first conspiracy had ended in a pardon for all involved. In total 23 men were tried (16 in absentia since they had fled) and of the remaining seven men four was condemned to death. These were: the Marquis de Pontcallec and the noblemen Montlouis, Du Couëdic and Talhouët. They were all beheaded immediately after the sentence.

After the trial most of France was shocked at how severe the consequences had been for the conspirators (perhaps in light of the previous convictions?). However, it was not just the minor nobles who had learned a lesson. The extra taxation was dropped and all the land and money that had been confiscated was given back. However, those who had fled was not allowed to return to France till after 10 years.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Noble Nicknames

It has always been "fashionable" to bestow nicknames on those in the spotlight - both good and bad. In the l'ancien régieme this was no different and many of the courtiers had to put up with several nicknames that was not always particularly friendly.

Louis XIV is most famously known as the "Sun King" due to his position as the absolute centre of power in France - the entire kingdom "circled" around him, if you will.
Louis XV was for a time given the affectionate nickname "the Beloved" by his people but a series of military and political failures robbed him of the title - and his people's affection.
Louis XVI was given the offending nickname of "Louis the Last" by the revolutionaries - a scary thought considering what happened to him.

Marie Antoinette received countless nicknames by the French people but most of them was far from flattering. She was known as "Madame Deficit" and "L'Autrichienne" - the latter was a particular insulting combination of "Austrian" and "Bitch" (Chienne is French for a female dog). 

Philippe I, Duc d'Orléans had a special ability to marry his children into the Catholic royal families of Europe which earned him the nickname of "grandfather of Europe".

Marie Clothilde de France (younger sister of Louis XVI) was another one who did not escape the courtiers' vicious targeting despite her royal status. As with both her brother and his two successors Marie Clothilde was quite over-weight which meant that she was referred to as "Gros-Madame" - "gros" meaning large or in this case plainly fat Madame.

Louis XV himself was fond of giving his unmarried daughters - Mesdames Tantes - nicknames but not the affectionate kind you might expect from a father - on the contrary! Madame Victoire thus became "Coche" meaning an ageing sow, Madame Adélaïde was "Loque" meaning rag, the disabled Madame Louise was "Chiffe" which translates into bad silk while Madame Sophie was "Graille" or scrap.

It would seem that Madame Elisabeth - the youngest sister of Louis XVI - was among the very few whose nickname was actually flattering. Due to her natural sense of duty towards her tenants of her estate Montreuil and her charity she was called "the good Lady of Montreuil".

Couriters too could receive nicknames. As most people know Marie Antoinette named Comtesse de Noailles "Madame Etiquette" due to her insistence of keeping up the strict etiquette at all times. The daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette was nicknamed "Serious Mousseline" by her mother.

The Price of a Royal Bride

In the 18th century the tradition of a dowry had already existed for centuries. It was custom that the bride's family would sent large sums of money to the groom or his family; the tradition was based on the fact that a woman was not supposed to work and therefore could not contribute to the total income of her new household. So the money paid was originally intended as payment for the expenses a wife brought with her. But the 18th century was the century of extravagance and the dowries had never been bigger - it had become a symbol of wealth to give a female relative as large a dowry as possible. Dowries were not just money but could also consist of land, jewels, plates, furnitures and so on.
This post looks further into what the foreign brides brought with them to the French court during l'ancien régieme.
NOTE: the following amounts vary in currency and it is important to remember that they were given at different points in history so the economy was probably not the same in all cases.

Marie Thérèse of Spain married Louis XIV in 1660 and came with a promised dowry of 500.000 écus. However, Spain was in financial difficulties due to continuous warfare and the full dowry was never paid.

Marie Antoinette of Austria married Louis XVI in 1770. Her family had provided her with a dowry of 200.000 crowns which was considered to be a very small dowry for an Archduchess but in this case the bride's family paid for her entire wedding trousseau. 

Henrietta of England was married to Philippe, Duke d'Orléans with a promised dowry of 840.000 livres in 1661.

And for the others?

Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon-Penthièvre brought a dowry of a staggering 6.000.000 livres to her wedding to Louis Philippe Joseph d'Orlèans as well as an annual income of 240.000!

Marie Anne de Bourbon (legitimized daughter of Louis XIV and Louise de La Vallière) was given 1.000.000 livres for her wedding to Louis Armand de Bourbon, Prince de Conti.

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Dauphin and Dauphine's Dinner Plan

Seating plan for the wedding dinner of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, 16 May 1770

Most of you have probably seen this before but I dare say you have not really read more than the first names so I will make them out for you. As the title says it is the seating arrangement for the supper on the eve of the marriage between Dauphin Louis Auguste and Archduchess Marie Antoinette.The King is sitting at the head of the table and since Marie Leszczynska has been dead for some years there is no one at the opposite side. 

On the left side, nearest to the King:
Louis Auguste, Dauphin of France
The Comte d'Orlèans
Madame Victoire
The Duc d'Orlèans
The Duchesse de Chartres
The Duc de Bourbon
The Comte de Clermont
The Prince de Conti
The Comtesse de la Marche
The Princesse de Lamballe

On the right side, nearest to the King:
Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France
The Comte d'Artois
Madame Adélaïde
Madame Sophie
The Duc de Chartres
The Prince de Condé
The Princesse de Bourbon
The Princesse de Conti
The Comte de la Marche
The Duc de Penthievre 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Giving Birth in Public

At Versailles it was the plight of not only every Queen but every royal princesse to give birth in public - that is with a large number of nobles present. To us this seems not only grotesque but also demeaning to the woman who is after all in pain and half-naked. But at the time there was a good reason for this, a vital reason in fact: to make sure that the newborn child was not substituted for another. It was feared - and with good reason considering the times - that a girl might be exchanged for a boy or even a boy might be exchanged if he was born severely disabled. It was all about securing the legacy, in royal cases even the throne.

This custom of giving birth in public is the reason for why the Queen's Bedroom is one of the largest rooms in the private apartments simply because there had to be room for so many people. This room alone saw the birth of 19 enfants de France or Children of France. There is another little interesting fact about birth-giving at Versailles. In 1682 when the first grandchild of Louis XIV was to be born he demanded that the birth was to take place within his splendid palace. Ever since then every single birth of a child who was in the direct line of succession had taken place in Versailles.

Whenever the Queen was about to give birth it was common practise for the distinguished ladies who resided nearby to travel to Versailles simply to witness the occasion. Allow me to walk you through how a royal birth took place. When the lady in question felt the first pangs of labour pains the doctors would be called and this was just about the same as alerting the entire palace. Immediately - no matter what time it was - the courtiers would hasten to the chamber of the mother-to-be which meant that the room itself would be filled up quickly - consequently the antechambers would also be filled to the brinks not only with the most important people in France but simple valets and guards were let in. It was not uncommon for even these noble ladies to hurry so much that they simply did not bother to put their entire ensemble on but merely went in their under-dresses!
On this occasion some of the otherwise rigid etiquette seem to have been slacked quite a lot. Both men and women sat down despite being in the present of the King; during the birth of Louis XV's son some courtiers even had the nerve to sit on the sofa right opposite Marie Leszczynska who was not even shielded by the bed-curtains! Every now and then the King would shortly leave the room to give an up-date to those who could not see for themselves.

It was not until after the near-fatal first laying-in of Marie Antoinette during which the Queen became unconscious that the rule was changed. However, this did not mean that the mother-to-be was allowed the privacy of a modern day woman since the Princes of the Family, the Chancellor, the Princes of the Blood and some ministers were still allowed in during the actual birth.

Drawing of the birth of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI's
daughter, Madame Royale

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Fabrics of Versailles

This post is not so much about the actual history about the fabrics but focuses more on the beauty of the many fabrics ordered by the royals of Versailles. Keep in mind that some of these fabrics might not be the original ones but are made from original design sticking to the original colours.

The Queen's Bedroom - chosen by Marie
Curtain of Madame de Victoire

Chair of the Dauphin's bedroom
The Dauphine's bed

The tapestry of the King's Bedroom
Fabric of the Queen's small chambers
on the 2nd floor
Apple-green damask from the
Salon of the Nobility
Salon of Abundance

Clocks of Versailles

Clocks were a very difficult and intricate piece of technology but by this time a clock did not merely have to tell the time they also had to be a great work of art and preferably with an extra little finesse to set it apart. Versailles is filled with many clocks which blends in perfectly at Versailles but is magnificent pieces in themselves.

This is the astronomical clock delivered to Louis XV in 1750 and is the design of Claude-Siméon Passemant. Not only does this clock shows "average time" and "real time" but also the date, the phases of the moon and the movements of the planets according to the Copernican theory. This clock is designed to work until 31st December 9999! Notice the crystal orb above the actual clock. It contains the Earth and its rotation but that is not all - each country's border is engraved on the bronze ball and the main cities highlighted!

Louis XIV was offered this clock by its creator Antoine Morand in 1706. The fascinating thing is that we can see through the mechanism and in this way the entire clockwork is exposed through the four glass windows all around the cabinet. There is a gilded figure of Louis XIV crowned by Victory. This clock has a neat little trick of its own; on certain fixed times during the day a mechanism would trigger a reaction causing small robots to perform a little "play". The clouds part and the doors opens to display a dwarf laughing. Small fleur-de-lis adorns the very top of the cabinet itself.

The work of Lepaute Jean-Baptiste this clock made of white marble, bronze and glass was in the collection of the Comte d'Artois but is now exhibited in the Queen's Golden Cabinet. Its main decoration are the two sphinxes that flanks the clock itself as well as the Comte's monogram which is written in gilded letters on a dark background right underneath the clock. If you look closer you can find symbols of science and small cornucopias.

This clock still stands on its original place in the hall where the treaty that ended the American war of independence was signed in 1783. Therefore it is very likely that this clock was designed for Louis XVI. The three dials within the pyramid shows the phases of the moon, the month and the dates. The two women each holds something in their hands: one holds a book on which the words "Peace Process 1783" has been engraved and the other holds a blank piece of paper and a compass. The whole thing is topped with a little ball of white marble.

This clock was made by Martinot and is now placed in the King's Council Chamber. It was delivered in 1754 and might have been commissioned by Louis XV. Previously it was a part of the King's apartments at Fontainebleau.

Charles-Nicolas Dutertre was the man behind this pretty little clock which is a part of the Queen's Interior Apartments. It was delivered in 1739 which means that if it was made for the Queen it would have been commissioned by Marie Leszczynska.

More to come...

Friday, 6 December 2013

An Exotic Creature

Louis XV was given the unusual gift of a rhinoceros by the French governor Jean-Baptiste Chevalier in Chandernagore in 1769. This meant that the rhinoceros - which was a male - was sent on its way from India to France where it landed on 4 June 1770. However, the strange creature did not arrive at the menagerie at Versailles before 11 September because there was no vehicle capable of transporting the heavy animal so one had to be built first.
For 22 years the rhinoceros made spectators at Versailles gasp at the strangeness of the animal but sadly the rhinoceros had a sad ending. During the revolution a revolutionary saw the animal as a sign of royalty and hacked it to death with his sabre. The mutilated corpse was then brought to the natural institute in Paris where it was stuffed and its skeleton was taken out and is now on display. There was one strange little discovery made as late as 1992 when it was found out that the horn actually belonged to a black African rhinoceros instead of the Indian rhinoceros' horn which is much smaller. After this the horn was exchanged with a horn of a Indian rhinoceros.

Louis XV's rhinoceros

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Menagerie

It has always been common for royals to have exotic animals and the Kings of Versailles was no different. Louis XIV had his architect - and namesake - Louis Le Vau built a menagerie in the south-west part of the Versailles gardens. The menagerie itself was centred around the building and from there seven areas separated by walls spread out in a fan-pattern; each area is closed off with a fence facing the pavilion.
The first animals (including birds) arrived there in 1664. This menagerie was the first to be built in the Baroque style in Europe. However, the menagerie was not just for the entertainment of the King and his courtiers it also contributed to natural science. Whenever an animal died Louis XIV gave the remains to scientists which meant that the knowledge on this area experienced a boom in this period.

Map of Versailles, by Delagrive (1689-1757), 1746.
Location of the menagerie, 1746

Louis XIV had another menagerie built at the château of Vincennes but the purposes of the two menageries were vastly different. The one at Vincennes emulated the animal fights seen in Ancient Rome where exotic animals were pitted against each other. Such a fight was staged for the amusement of the Persian ambassador who got first row seats to a fight between a tiger and an elephant. The menagerie at Versailles was completely different. No such ferocious fights were to be held near the King's permanent residence. The menagerie at Versailles was made to enhance the King's prestige as well as to provide interesting sights for the courtiers.

It is a sign of the Grand Monarch's fondness for his grand-daughter-in-law, Marie Adelaide of Savoy, that he granted her free use of the menagerie as a present. Consequently, the young Duchesse de Bourgogne would entertain her guests there for evening soirees as well as daytime parties.

Drawing of the menagerie during Louis XIV
The Kings would take their companions and royal guests with them for a stroll in the menagerie; often they would sail there via the Grand Canal. Louis XV was not that interested in the exotic animals and left the care of the menagerie to his mistresses. During his reign that the menagerie - and the conditions of the animals - declined dramatically. No effort was made to receive an elephant which had been gifted to the French King and it consequently was sent marching from the coast to Versailles. The walls were crumbling from lack of maintenance which eventually caused the escape of an elephant in 1782.

But Louis XVI also had a fondness of the animals and sent out a list of animals he wished to add to the menagerie including an elephant, two zebras (one male and one female), baboons and 6 guinea-fouls. Louis XVI would never actually receive the elephant and only got one zebra but that did not mean that all life went out of the menagerie. During this period a lion, a panther, a tiger, hyenas, ostriches and monkeys made out the inhabitants.

Billedresultat for versailles menagerie
Digital rendition of how the menagerie looked

When the revolution swept the royal family away it would seem that time was running out for the animals as well. However, by this time the interest for natural science was greater than ever and the newly established government became concerned about the animals. Instead of killing them it agreed that they should be moved to a zoological garden in Paris exactly in the menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes. The politicians had seen with concern the rise of exotic animals among commoners and it seemed like a perfect solution to confiscate the animals and at the same time gather the remaining animals of Versailles in one place. We know that the lion made its way to Paris but - like all the other animals - it had to make due with living in the basement of the menagerie because the parks for the animals had not yet been finished. Finally, the collection in 1794 counted the lion from Versailles, a leopard, a sea lion, a polar bear etc. All together 32 mammals and 26 birds made up the collection. Sadly most of them died in the great starvation of 1795.

Billedresultat for versailles menagerie
Air-view of the menagerie from 1724

The King's Eagle Brooch

Billedresultat for louis xiv eagle brooch

Louis XIV owned the Eagle Brooch and may have acquired it from Marie-Louise de Gonzague who was the widow of two Polish Kings when she died in 1667. The body of the brooch is made of garnet and has been adorned with square rubies with the exception of two rubies on the tail piece - these are heart-shaped. The eagle is holding both the sceptre and the orb which are both symbols of royalty. The rest of the body is painted in white enamel except for the feathers in black enamel. Despite the possibility of having belonged to a Polish Queen the style of the brooch indicates that it might have been made in Paris. 

Adressing Everyone

Even a courtier could not life forever bolted up within his château but had to make his way out in the world of peasants and non-titled citizens - and of course there was an etiquette here too. The difference is that this etiquette was not known to the courtiers alone but to the common man and woman as well, it was common knowledge if you will. Since it was unlikely that a nobleman would have any occasion to talk to a commoner the rules of etiquette was often regarding the quick address when meeting each other.

First of all you could never just say "yes" or "no" without adding a "Madame" or "Monsieur" afterwards. In some situations it would not only be a titled person who had the right to be addressed a certain way. Whenever anyone walked into a shop it was expected that they would be greeted as either "Madame", "Mademoiselle" or "Monsieur" as well as being greeted with a polite wish of good day - both on entering and leaving the store.
In other cases it could be gender that decided what level of civility you would receive - remember chivalry had not died yet. This was - and still is in France - especially applied in restaurants where a waitress would be addressed as either "Mademoiselle" or "Madame" whereas a waiter would simply be a "garçon" meaning plainly "boy". Of course in ruder establishments (perhaps a brothel or a cheap inn) the tone would of course be very different.

In the army there was no need to pay any extra respect to women since they were simply not there. A soldier would always be addressed according to his rank and in this way his rank became a part of his title. If you met with a General you would say "mon Général", if it was a Captain "mon Capitaine". Notice that in these cases "Monsieur" was completely left out but the address was still respectful. Dealing with the clergy was something that was far more likely for both men and women since it was normal for noble families to send their daughters to a convent until they reached a certain age and their son (if he was the second or third son) to become a clergyman. Addressing a nun was not different from what it is today and she would always be "ma Sæur".
Finally there was the addressing of those who held a title and this was not solely those who was of noble descent. For example a professor would also be considered to fall under this category and would therefore be "Monsieur le Professeur". Of course this means that a nobleman could be "Monsieur le Comte" or "Monsieur le Duc".


Naturally the King had to eat but not every meal was performed the same way. The Souper (supper) was at 10 at night but the King would also have another meal called the Diner (dinner). Often this meal took place in the King's own bedchamber and only men were allowed to be present. Only the King was allowed to sit during this ceremony which means that even those who had the right to sit otherwise was expected to stand. There was only one person whom this rule could be broken for: the King's brother who had the privilege of handing the King his napkin and would be invited to sit with the King once in a while (well, it is family is it not?).

Remember that when this meal was over the King had already gone through plenty of dishes before the Grand Couvert had even taken place!
"In all professions, every person affects a look and a countenance to appear as he would like to be perceived; thus one can say that the world is composed of nothing but outward appearances”

Monday, 2 December 2013

Wonderful Enlightenment

Bernard Tartinville is the (master)mind behind this gorgeous photo series inspired by the art of the Enlightenment in the 18th century. It is decadent, extravagant and exquisite to the very detail. It seems only appropriate that this series is named "Marie Antoinette".