Monday, 31 March 2014

The Kitchens - Feeding the Court

The kitchens - as well as the stables - were located outside the château itself to spare the courtiers the smells and noises. It is estimated that no less than 2000 people were employed to work in the kitchens especially during the many banquets. Normally the meals of Versailles were divided into categories: hors d'oeuvre, soups, main dishes, fruit and interval courses. For every category there were between two to eight dishes - this meant that during a day Louis XIV would have tasted between 20-30 dishes!
Since the kitchens were located so far away - and Louis XIV insisted on eating his dinners in the King's Apartments - most meals were served cold.

Another luxurious aspect connected to the kitchen are the icehouses used to store ice for the courts drinks and dishes. One of the surviving can hold 1120 cubic metres of ice! The ice was brought by servants from the Lake of the Swiss Guards and was then hacked into place - the ice was no small matter. In an age without electrical freezers it was an extreme luxury to have your own ice which meant that the ice was guarded by the palace guards!

Sadly, the kitchens that belonged to Versailles were demolished in the nineteenth century.

Nothing of the kitchen remains but here is the King's
kitchen garden

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Royal Stables

Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI were all passionate hunters and as such took great interest in their horses. The royal stables at Versailles are divided into two: the Grand Écurie (Great Stable) and Petite Écurie (Small Stable). Strangely enough the two stables are actually the same size but belonged to different parts of the administration.

The Grand Écurie
The Grand Equerry was responsible for the Grand Écurie where the horses were expertly trained for either huntings or warfare. These horses were reserved for the King and the princes alone. Since especially Louis XIV was fond of equestrian entertainments the Grand Écurie was often used for court entertainments such as horse races which would take place on the area immediately outside the Grand Écurie as well as displays of dressage. This usage is also shown in the very design of the stable which has been built with carved wooden beams and frescoes depicting horses.
It was Jules Hardouin Mansart who also added the two stables which were finished in 1683. Originally they were built to house no less than 600 horses. Chandeliers of glass hangs from the ceiling as a gentle reminder of the splendour of the nearby palace. Today the Grand Écruie is used to house the collection of coaches and carts collected by Louis-Philippe.

The Grand Écurie

The Petite Écurie
Under the administration of the First Equerry the Petite Écurie was used for housing the many carriages and carts belonging to the royal family. Here were also horses available for the courtiers who did not have the right to have a horse in the Grand Écurie - it was not uncommon that the King unexpectedly would invite a courtier to join the hunt in the last moment and then a horse had to be provided for him. These horses counted draught horses as well as saddle horses.

The Petite Écurie

Detail of the entrance

The Royal Guards

Being the absolute centre of power also means that you are always in danger and must therefore always be protected. This has always been the case for royalty but as with everything else at the French royal court at Versailles guards became a matter of honour. But lets take a look at how and what the royal guards actually were.

The royal guards were divided into two categories: the indoor guards and the outdoor guards. Those who served as outdoor guards came from either an infantry of Swiss Guards or French Guards known as the Garde du Corps. They would normally be dispatched from their regiments to Versailles where they would stand guard for one week before returning to their infantry. But naturally here was another piece of etiquette which meant that the French Guards had the right to protect the area immediately outside the bedroom of Louis XIV.
The indoor guards consisted of both Swiss Guards and the Garde du Corps. The Swiss Guards were armed with halberds with the royal arms on the blade and dressed in dark blue and red uniforms. These Swiss Guards were known as the Cent Suisses or the Hundred Swiss; they would serve the royal family until it was forced to leave for Paris in 1789. At the end of Louis XIV's reign the number of guards posted at Versailles amounted to 2960. Both indoor and outdoor guards were housed underneath what is now the Minister's Court. Once Mare Leszczynska walked by and happen to see a guard sleeping; after that it became commonplace that the guards (who slept on camp beds) were screened by screens. The right to obtain personal guards was a privilege reserved only for the King, the Queen and the Dauphin. The King's personal guard consisted of somewhat near 400 soldiers up until it became too expensive. Naturally not all of these guards could be housed on the grounds of Versailles itself but were housed in barracks. Louis XV had had wooden barracks erected for his French gendarmes on the place d'armes; this building was demolished in 1831 long after the actual guards had vanished from sight.

Among other duties it was the guards' responsibility to open and close the many gates found around the château; they had the right to remove any weapon of the visitors that might be used to kill or harm the King. Whenever a royal prince passed they were to present arms and it was equally required that they knew who held the title of Duc because whenever such a one passed the guards were to stamp their feet twice. Furthermore they were to guard the Masses said in the chapel and escort the monarchs to and from there. At all times 12 guards would be placed in the Queen's Guards' Room; these were part of the indoor guards. At night Scottish guards - eventually there were very few actual Scots in the regiment - took over and made sure that the royal palace was locked up as far as possible.

Eventually it was to be Marie Antoinette who broke protocol when she even invited her personal bodyguards to dance in her balls which had never been seen before. It should be said that it was not uncommon for higher ranking members of the royal guards formed friendships with the courtiers and some were even known to have had liaisons with ladies of the court. In the end - when most royal guards had abandoned the royal family - it was a wounded but still loyal royal guard who hammered on the door of the Queen's chamber to warn her that the palace had been stormed. It was he who saved the Queen's life by giving her opportunity to escape before he was brutally killed himself by the raging mob.

French guards during Louis XVI

Banquet of the guards upon the arrival of the Flanders Regiment just four
days before the mob attacked Versailles

Model of a Swiss guard as he would have looked
at Versailles

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Nocturnal Orgies

During the beginning of the 18th century a new trend had emerged among the nobility: orgies. Normally these sorts of things happen in privacy but one particular orgy took place a very public place and caused quite a scandal. During a night in the heat of August 1722 an orgy took place right under-neat the windows of the 12-year old Louis XV! Among those who were identified as participating was the Marquis de Meuse, the Duc de Boufflers, the Marquis d'Alincourt, the Duchesse de Ratz and the captain of the royal guard.
At Versailles no news travelled slowly and this was certainly not the case in this situation. Soon the windows were filled with scandalized courtiers struggling to get a good view at the spectacle and even people of the town Versailles watched on in the distance. Whether Louis XV himself actually saw what was going on is a mystery. Soon afterwards the news hit Paris to the great entertainment of nobility and commoners alike.

The more pious members of the court had a hard time seeing the amusing amidst it all. These included the Marèhal de Boufflers and his wife. They ordered their son - the Duc de Boufflers - who had participated in the orgy to repent in front of them, crucifix in hand. Following a meeting between the Duc d'Orlèans (who was Regent), Cardinal Dubois, Marèchal de Villars and the Duc de Bourbon the leading men of the Regency had different opinions on how to handle the case. The Regent was in favour of harsh punishments to make an example that this was not to be tolerated. However, Cardinal Dubois believed that occasionally a state could benefit from people who had less moral scruples to get a good working government afoot. Therefore he argued that they should simply let it pass. In the end these were the punishments:
The Marquis de Meuse was conveniently shipped away to his regiment with a lettre de cachet. The Duchesse de Ratz was sent away as was the Marquis d'Alincourt who was exiled to his country estate Joigny. Another was sent to the Bastille for a time but the punishment of the Duc de Boufflers was left in the hands of his parents which must have been punishment enough..

It is interesting to note that the Marèchal de Villars - whose granddaughter was the Duchesse de Ratz - merely speaks of it as the spirit of the times but does not mention the involvement of his granddaughter.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Not with a fizzle, but with a bang ...

The Princesse d'Harcourt was widely known at court to be somewhat of a harpy in the words of Saint-Simon. Her fiery temper and greed for money combined with a less fortunate appearance at a court that worshipped beauty meant that her circle of friends was limited. The Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne loved teasing the hot-headed Princesse and would often play pranks on her knowing how easy she was to agitate. For some reason their pranks concerning this Princesse often involved firecrackers...

One of these pranks happened while a smaller group of courtiers were staying at the Château de Marly. The Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne had placed fire-crackers all along a foot path where they knew the Princesse d'Harcourt would pass - as it would happen the Princesse was "horribly afraid of everything" again according Saint-Simon. Having bribed the footmen who carried the Princesse in her sedan chair they waited until she was in the middle of the path before the firecrackers were ignited. Screaming the Princesse immediately went into a panic and her two carriers set her down and ran off. The Princesse was furious and continued squealing while she struggled to get out of her chair. By now the noise - and the rumour of the appending scheme - had attracted the courtiers who now hasted to her aid thought mostly for their own amusement. Screaming abuses to all around her especially the Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne the Princesse eventually took her leave.

A Possessive Affair

Comtesse de Verrue
It was no secret to courtiers that the Comtesse Jeanne de Verrue - daughter of the Duc de Luynes - was the mistress of Monsieur de Savoie and had been so for quite some time. Having been only fourteen years old when Jeanne married the Comte de Verrue she soon draw to her the attention of Monsieur de Savoie who had fallen in love with her in 1688. For quite some time the young woman had resisted the powerful Savoie's advances but was soon encouraged by Louis XIV himself to take advantage of the devotion Savoie had for her. Jeanne had kept both her husband and her mother-in-law up to date with the advances made towards her by Monsieur de Savoie; both praised her for good fortune. However, they drew the line when she requested to go to the countryside. Actually, Monsieur de Savoie had by this time spoken to her several times which leads us to wonder whether he might have suggested a meeting there? Anyhow, the Comtesse de Verrue was not inclined to take no for an answer and pretended to have been taken ill which meant that she was sent to the health-giving waters of Bourbon.

Now that she was away from Turin Jeanne's father and the Abbe de Verrue agreed that she should stay there in the hope that Monsieur de Savoie would move on. However, all was not as it seemed. As it would happen the Abbe de Verrue was himself deeply in love with the far younger Comtesse de Verrue and used her stay at Bourbon to make advances of his own. Jeanne was far from interested causing the Abbe to become bitter - he would from then on take every advantage of slighting Jeanne. Eventually, the Comtesse de Verrue had had enough and she finally gave in to Monsieur de Savoie whom she had managed to keep in touch with. As for the Monsieur himself he was thrilled to finally find himself the lover of the woman he had adored for years. The Verrues were far from sharing his point of views. Back in Turin the Comtesse became the most powerful and influential woman at the Court of Savoy now that she held the complete confidence of Monsieur de Savoie himself. Her new position quickly went to her head and she became reviled for her haughtiness. During their time together the Comtesse gave birth to two children (a boy and a girl) who were both recognized as Monsieur's offspring.

Monsieur de Savoie
Things took a turn for the dramatic when the Comtesse was poisoned in an obvious attempt at getting rid of her - luckily her devoted lover was there and quickly provided her with an antidote which saved her life. Entirely, devoted and completely in love with the Comtesse Monsieur de Savoie even nursed his mistress himself when she fell ill with small-pox not long after her assassination attempt. The Monsieur de Savoie might have been devoted but he was very possessive as well. Little by little he had isolated her from the remaining court in an attempt to have her all to himself. Naturally this could only go on for so long and eventually the Comtesse was tired of her solitary way of life.

Reaching out to her brother the Chevalier de Luynes they arranged to take advantage of Monsieur de Savoie's upcoming trip to Chambery. While he was away the Comtesse was hastily removed and with her brother's aid she made it to Paris leaving both her children behind; here she sat up a salon. This was the end of the turbulent affair of the Comtesse de Verrue and Monsieur de Savoie.