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


  1. "Whenever the Queen was about to give birth it was common practise for the extinguished ladies who resided nearby to travel to Versailles simply to witness the occasion."

    I think the word you are looking for is DISTINGUISHED, rather than EXTINGUISHED. Similar words with very very different meanings!