Sunday, 20 December 2015

Madame de Montespan: the Real Queen of France?

Even though Louis XIV never permitted his mistresses to openly insult his wife, the Queen, he himself did nothing to prevent his consort from feeling miserable. The most dominating of the King's mistresses was Madame de Montespan whose magnificence was never matched by any other mistress at Versailles.

But how differently was Marie Thérèse treated from Madame de Montespan?

The long-suffering Marie Thérèse

The King spent most of his time in the apartment of Madame de Montespan where he would do everything from meeting his ministers to dining with their children. Meanwhile the Queen had to be contend with seeing her husband when he decided to fulfil his conjugal duties.

Usually when travelling the Queen had once been reduced to sitting with both Madame de La Vallière and Madame de Montespan. This had been the case in 1673 when Louis XIV dragged the entire court to the front-line - at this time Madame de Montespan was heavily pregnant. But when Madame de Montespan had finally gained complete ascendancy she travelled with the King in his carriage. The Queen was from then on travelling alone or with her ladies in her carriage - behind the King's.

Once Versailles was finally completely finished the difference once again became painstakingly obvious. The Queen was given eleven rooms to make up her apartment on the second floor. Meanwhile, Madame de Montespan could dance around in no less than twenty rooms on the first floor.

Madame de Montespan

Whenever the Queen and the maitresse-en-titre was out promenading their elaborate gown made it necessary to have someone carry their trains. The Queen had to make due with a simple non-titled page but Madame de Montespan had the honour of having her's carried by the Duc de Noailles.

It did not take long before Madame de Montespan even to take control over the Queen's closest circle. Marie Thérèse had been allowed 12 ladies-in-waiting when she became Queen of France. Madame de Montespan worried that having 12 beautiful ladies swirling beneath the King's eyes would be too great a temptation. The ladies-in-waiting were transformed to 12 dames du palais and Athénaïs soon made it possible to dismiss all twelve of them if only one transgressed.

At one point Marie Thérèse was reduced to imploring the favourite to not send a Spanish attendant of the Queen's home to Spain. As it happens, it had been Athénaïs who had had the attendant dismissed in the first place since she had insulted the mistress. Madame de Montespan agreed to letting the Queen keep her friend but the signal was obvious: the mistress outranked the Queen.

Despite these obvious humiliations the Queen never complained to the King. Her complete submission to the King's infidelities resulted in an odd kind of respect from Louis. Although he never treated her with more respect than a Queen should deserve upon her death Louis remarked: "This is the only trouble she has ever caused me".

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Splendour of the Crown: Royal Gifts

As an addition to my other post on New Year's festivities at Versailles I have gathered some examples of the sort of presents that were exchanged within the gilded walls of Versailles. These include presents given in all sorts of occasions.
Gifts of cold hard cash was common too but I find that these represents the splendour of the court of France. Also, posts and positions were frequently given away, especially at weddings.

When the Duchesse de Bourgogne gave birth to the future Louis XV she received an oriental casket from Louis XIV. It opened via a secretly hidden spring and once the Duchesse found it she discovered a perfect set of pearls and 4.000 louis d'or.

Louis-Philippe received two horses from the royal stables when he first met Louis XV at the age of fourteen

Marie Antoinette sent a chemise à la Reine to her friend, the Duchess of Devonshire. Once the Duchess had been seen sporting the new trend it immediately became all the rage.

Wedding Presents

Marie Thérèse sent Louis XIV a beautiful chest filled with chocolate - a treat that had not yet established itself at the French court.

Louis XIV gave jewellery worth 73.000 livres to Mademoiselle d'Orlèans when she married the Duc de Berri. The groom was given jewels worth a staggering 300.000 livres!

When the King's brother, Monsieur, married Louis XIV bestowed on him the vast palace of the Palais-Royal. It would remain in the hands of the Orlèans family.

Madame de Montespan arranged the marriage of one of her sons to the eldest daughter of the Duc d'Uzès, Julie-Françoise. She then proceeded to give the bride a necklace of diamonds and emeralds worth 40.000 écus and a basket filled with scents, ribbons, fans and gloves.

Marie Antoinette received the diamonds and pearls that had belonged to the previous Dauphine as well as a single-row pearl choker brought to France by Anne of Austria. A fan encrusted with diamonds was also a part of the King's wedding gifts; so was bracelets with her cipher written on the blue enamel clasps. As a gesture of good faith Madame Adélaïde gave the new Dauphine a key that would allow her to use the private corridors. 

It was common - especially during Louis XV's reign - to give the ladies attending a wedding (such as maid-of-honour) fans as presents.

New Year's Presents

When Madame de Montespan's career as the King's maitresse-en-titre was coming to an end Athénaïs decided to grant her (soon-to-be) former lover a present in her typical splendid style. Athénaïs paid 4000 pistoles to have a book illustrating the sieges of the campaign in Holland in 1672 created. Not only was the book bound with gold it contained verses by Racine and Boileau. Louis XIV was thrilled with his present.

The first son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI was gifted with a set of dominos made from the same stone and marble used for the Bastille.

Marie Lescszynska received a golden snuff-box from the King; however, what the Queen did not know was that the box had originally been intended for the King's new mistress, Madame de Pompadour's mother.

Diplomatic Presents

Louis XIV received the speciality wine of Transylvania called Tokaji from Francis II Rákóczi. That actually resulted in wine becoming rather popular with the French court.

In 1668 Louis XIV received an elephant from the King of Portugal. The elephant had originally come from Congo and died in 1681.

In 1686 the King of Siam sent a substantial amount of gifts to the entire royal family. These gifts were as exotic as one would expect from the King of Siam since they all related to the relatively new trend of drinking hot chocolate. The King received two silver chocolate pitchers; similarly the Dauphin was also given two pitchers but these were decorated with elaborate floral motifs in gold. The Queen received a smaller but golden pitcher.

Two porcelain vases, a centrepiece and two smaller ewers were sent from Saxony to France as a part of the plan to have the Dauphin married to Marie Josepha of Saxony. In that same period another set was made for the Duc de Richelieu who had been sent to Saxony for the proxy wedding in January 1747.

In 1758 Louis XV sent the first diplomatic set of Sèvres-porcelain to King Frederik V of Denmark. It consisted of 72 plates and 164 hollow ware pieces; the cost was 34.542 livres. The set was in response to a stallion of the Frederiksborg breed sent by the Danish King earlier.

Plate from the set sent to
Frederik V

Madame de Pompadour played an essential role in getting Louis XV closer to a reconciliation with Austria and for that Empress Maria Theresia (Marie Antoinette's mother) sent the royal favourite two lacquer boxes from the Empress' own collection. The boxes were personally selected and sent from Vienna. The gift truly was magnificent since the mounts were not of ormolu as was usually the case but of solid gold and a portrait of the Empress was incorporated into the design. 

Louis XVI received two large eagles for the royal menagerie from the Governor of Kamchatka

Estate Presents

Louis XIV gave Madame de Montespan the estate of Clagny in response to the golden book mentioned earlier in 1682

In 1769 Louis XV gave the château de Louveciennes to Madame du Barry

A month after ascending to the throne in 1774 Louis XVI handed over the keys for the Petit Trianon to Marie Antoinette.

Madame Élisabeth received the estate of Montreuil - where she had spent a great part of her childhood - as a present from her brother.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Battle for the Throne: The Princes vs. the Legitimised Bastards

In the early years of the 1700's the King was old and everyone had their eyes both on the still all-powerful Louis XIV and on who were to succeed him.
After Louis XIV had legitimised his sons by Madame de Montespan the French court was primarily divided into two opposing factions: that of the Princes and that of the legitimised sons.

The Princes' faction was made up of the old garde of the French nobility; these were the proper noble families whose birth was not stained by bastardy. That last part was especially easy to publicly demonstrate since the legitimised children of the King were obliged to display a clear bar on their coat-of-arms indicating their dubious ancestry. That was not required of those born on the right side of the sheet.

Portrait of Philippe d'Orléans, Duke of Orléans in armour by Jean-Baptiste Santerre.png

Especially the houses of Orlèans, Conti and Condé were the frontrunners of the Princes' faction. The Legitimised party was headed by the Comte de Toulouse and the Duc du Maine - referred to as "the bastards" by the Duc de Saint-Simon - but had the support of the other children of the King - most of whom had been married into the noble families of France. Another supporter was Madame de Maintenon whose patronage can probably be traced back to the support from the King's natural children to see her recognised as Queen of France.

Everything depended on who were to rule France once the King was dead. Since the Dauphin was just a few years old the Duc d'Orlèans was entitled to the regency. To prevent this from happening the Legitimised faction launched an attack on the would-be regent. When the Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne suddenly died the rumours of poisoning swept through court. Thanks to the combined efforts of the legitimised sons and the King's confessor (another supporter of "the bastards") it did not take long to point out the suspect. Soon after the public took hold of the idea as well and the Duc d'Orlèans had to put up with being shouted after when he went to Paris.

Duc du Maine2.jpg
The Duc du Maine

After considering the case news reached the Duc d'Orlèans at his estate of Saint-Cloud that the King had found him to be entirely innocent. Just like that everything changed once again for the future Regent - and the bastards.

In 1715 on the first day of September Louis XIV died and all hell broke lose. However, since the Duc d'Orlèans had been publicly cleared of the charges made against him he stood in a strong position to claim the regency. But the will of the late monarch disappointed him; rather than naming the Duc d'Orlèans as Regent, Louis XIV had established a regency council - with the Duc du Maine and Comte de Toulouse. Although the Duc would still be presiding over the council he would have no actual power.

Portrait painting of Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse by Hyacinthe Rigaud.jpg
The Comte de Toulouse
The end to the bitter feud came swiftly and dramatically. Already on the day after the King's death the Duc d'Orlèans swept into Paris and declared that he had law and tradition on his side (which was true). The "bastards" could only sit and watch as the Duc d'Orlèans easily gained the approval of the gathered parlament. By the end of that day it was settled. The Duc d'Orlèans became Regent while the King's legitimised sons quickly went into an embarrassing retreat.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

The South Wing - First Floor of 1775-80

A) Duchesse de Tallard (Governess of the Children of France until she was replaced by the Princesse de Lamballe)

B) Apartments of Mesdames Tantes

C) Unknown

D) Mademoiselle de Roche-sur-Yon

E) Comte d'Estrées

F) Grand Prior

G) Comte de Toulouse

H) Governor of the Dauphin

I) Marèchale Berwick

J) Madame de C.

K) Unknown Monsieur

L) Duchesse de Duras

M) Prince de Rohan

N) Captain of the Guard

O) Duchesse de Luynes

NOTE: Apartments D and E were given to the Princesse de Lamballe when she became Governess of the Children of France

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Porcelain Case

This beautiful porcelain case bears the arms of the Duc de Choiseul while he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is estimated to have been made in 1765 by Niderviller. It is currently in the collections of the Louvre.

The Grand Dauphin's Secret Marriage

The Grand Dauphin had already once married for politics - to Maria Anna of Bavaria - and when she died after ten years of marriage he decided that his next wife would be of his own choosing. However, when the most eligible bachelor in France suddenly becomes single it will not do to have him married of to a maid-of-honour.

The court had long been aware that the Grand Dauphin was very much in love with Mademoiselle Choin, maid-of-honour to the Princesse de Conti. It was rumoured - and is quite likely - that the two were lovers while Maria Anna was still alive. Actually, there is one big clue that can hardly be overlooked: Mademoiselle Choin was pregnant at the time of her wedding.

The Grand Dauphin

Their wedding took place in the first half of 1694 but it is uncertain exactly when. Mademoiselle Choin was never given the title or honours belonging to a Dauphine nor was she acknowledged as the Grand Dauphin's wife. Actually, she would keep the title of Mademoiselle Choin for the rest of her life. The Grand Dauphin, however, did refer to Mademoiselle Choin as his "legal spouse" in a letter to Madame de Maintenon dated 19 July 1694.
That child she expected was born in 1694 and was quickly dispatched into the countryside. Here the little baby boy died nearly two years later without having received a name.

Normally, Mademoiselle Choin lived at Meudon which was the Grand Dauphin's private residence. Whenever she did go to court she was sure to find a friend in Madame de Maintenon with whom she was particularly good friends.
Even though the actual status of the two's relationship was not fully acknowledged it was completely obvious to the prying eyes of Versailles that something had happened. For one, Mademoiselle Choin was allowed to sit in the presence of the royal family despite not being a Duchesse. Also, she addressed the royal family by their first names.

Mademoiselle Choin

One of the reasons why Louis XIV accepted the marriage was undoubtedly the discretion showed by both the Grand Dauphin and Mademoiselle Choin. The latter never tried to meddle in politics and proved herself to be a modest addition to the royal family since she had no interest in displaying any extravagance. The Grand Dauphin never pressured his father for these honours and never made any scandal of the matter. All in all it was as discreet as Louis XIV could wish.

The marriage seems to have been based on genuine affection. When the Grand Dauphin died in 1711 Mademoiselle Choin left court and went to reside in private. Although the Grand Dauphin had left her a large sum of money she refused them with the phrase: "when he was alive I needed only him and now after his death only a small income".
Louis XIV awarded her with a pension which she mostly spent on charity before dying 21 years later.

Pranksters and Princes

Life at court is often enough portrayed as an endless succession of glittering balls and magnificent intrigues. However, the reality was somewhat different. Actually, for the common courtier life was remarkably dull and most days were spent lounging around waiting for something to do - or for the King to pass by. Understandably, some found it irresistible to indulge in practical jokes to both their own amusement and now ours.

The Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne decided to take their practical jokes to the King's retreat of Marly. The Princesse d'Harcourt was often bound to a sedan chair that was wheeled about. Knowing that the Princesse would want to go from the château of Marly to a garden attraction the two planned ahead. They planted a series of firework bombs along the gravel path they knew the Princesse would use. Once she was in the middle of the path they ignited them and watched the poor, terrified Princesse d'Harcourt shriek from within her sedan chair. Her porters were not of much help - they ran away immediately and let the Princesse guard herself! Meanwhile the courtiers invited to Marly all enjoyed the spectacle from afar.

Billedresultat for princesse d'harcourt
The poor Princesse d'Harcourt

Sadly, this was far from the first prank played on the Princesse d'Harcourt by the two. During another visit to Marly which took place during the winter. The Duchesse de Bourgogne and her inner circle gathered snowballs. Then, using an extra key, they locked themselves in and threw snowballs on the sleeping Princesse! Yet another time the Princesse's sleeves were fastened to her chair before a page put fireworks under it. That particular antic even drew a smile from Louis XIV.

Actually, the Duc de Bourgogne was infamous for laying small traps all around his estates so that visitors might be unexpectedly become the butt of a joke.

Madame de Chartres and her sisters got a hold of petards and decided to disturb Monsieur who was staying at the Trianon. The let off the petards until the smoke was heavy enough to drive the poor man from his chamber.

The Duc de Lauzun was another great prankster and due to his close friendship with Louis XIV he often got away with it. One such prank was played on his own nephew; Lauzun had managed to make the young nephew Commander of the Gendarmerie and on the day that the boy was to thank the King for his appointment Lauzun struck. Lauzun had promised to give his nephew an exquisitely fine suit for his first meeting with the Sun King. To be fair the suit might have been very fine indeed but there was a catch: it was styled in the fashion of 50 years ago. So, the poor nephew was made the laughingstock of Versailles while he tried to maintain some dignity.
For everyone feeling bad for the nephew just keep in mind that Lauzun treated him excessively well and granted him not only generous presents but also bequeathed him a large inheritance.

Duc de Lauzun

The Duc also played a clothes-related prank on the Colonel of the Dragoons Tessé. Tessé did not now exactly how he was to appear in front of the King to give his thanks for his new promotion so Lauzun advised him that it was tradition for the Colonel of the Dragoons to always wear a grey hat. Unbeknownst to Tessé, Louis XIV hated the colour grey so much that he had had that particular tradition abolished four years prior.

On one Christmas Eve Louis XIV had announced his intention of going to a midnight Mass which saw the grand ladies of the court hurrying up to get their fine dresses on. When they were back a guard informed them that the King had changed his mind and off to bed they went. We can only imagine the astonishment of Louis XIV when he arrived to find no one there!

Years later it would seem that even the otherwise reserved Louis XVI was fond of innocent pranks. The secret hallway leading from his apartment to that of Marie Antoinette was lined with benches where servants could often be found asleep. It quickly became a common joke to either spray water into the open mouth of a sleeper or draw a moustache with a cork if the sleeper had their mouths shut. Allegedly, this was a great source of amusement to both King and servants.

Monday, 16 November 2015

A Scandalous Love Affair

Although Louis XIV looked the other way when it came to most of his courtiers liaisons, he drew the line when a scheme emerged that might undermine his own power. Such a scheme took the shape of a love affair that became a little more public than originally intended.

The Princesse de Conti (favourite daughter of Louis XIV) met the impoverished Comte de Clermont at the Grand Dauphin's private retreat of Meudon. She immediately fell in love with him which the Comte was very well aware of. For a time the two of them exchanged numerous love letters but whether the Comte was actually sincere is to be guessed at.
As it happens an impoverished nobleman needs a "sponsor" and the Comte de Clermont had attached himself to the Duc de Luxembourg. At the time it was well-known that the Grand Dauphin was very much in love with Mademoiselle Choin (he would later marry her in secret) who was a maid of honour to none other than the Princesse de Conti.

Marie Anne de Bourbon par Rigaud c.1706.jpg
Princesse de Conti

The Duc de Luxembourg knew that Louis XIV had never liked him and thus it was unlikely that he would ever advance during his reign. But the King was old and the Grand Dauphin was next in line to the throne. The Duc de Luxembourg thought that he could ingratiate himself with the future King by ensuring that Mademoiselle Choin became a Comtesse. This was to happen by the Comte de Clermont marrying her which the Comte readily agreed to and abandoned the Princesse de Conti in the process.

Louis XIV was aware that something was afoot and quickly had the letters of that the Comte de Clermont had exchanged with Mademoiselle Choin intercepted. The King feared that if Mademoiselle Choin married the Comte they would attempt to control the Grand Dauphin. As could be expected the King quickly deduced that the instigator was the Duc de Luxembourg.

At around the same time the Comte decided to betray the Princesse de Conti by sending all the love letters she had written to Mademoiselle Choin. It was most likely from her that Louis XIV was informed of the Princesse's letters.

Mademoiselle Choin

Louis XIV was infuriated at his daughter's behaviour and decided to give her a lesson she would never forget. He summoned her and showed her the letters from the Comte de Clermont to Mademoiselle Choin in which the former ridiculed the Princesse in the strongest of terms. The King then made her read the letters aloud!

The Princesse was devastated and fell crying to her father's feet where she begged him that he would avenge her. Convinced that the Princesse had learned her lesson Louis XIV agreed.

The King banished Mademoiselle Choin and ordered the Duc de Luxembourg to strip the Comte de Clermont of his offices and send him to the farthest region of France. As need hardly be said, the Duc de Luxembourg certainly did not get closer to Louis XIV's favour and when the Grand Dauphin died before his august father those plans were squashed too.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The King at the Forge

Louis XVI proved to be a man of very few interests and pleasures in the midst of the whirlwind of entertainment that was Versailles. One was the hunt and the other was his amateur blacksmithing.

A small forge was installed above his private library to indulge the King in his pursuit of this particular hobby. Here there were two anvils and every tool that could possibly be needed was available. As it happened, locks were of a particular interest to Louis. The room was filled with all kinds of locks: common locks, hidden locks and elaborately gilded locks.

The château's blacksmith by the name of Gamin was employed to teach the King all he knew - probably in all secrecy . When he was not with the King he was in charge of all the locks at Versailles. From him we know that Louis was eager to conceal this hobby from his courtiers and his Queen which resulted in the two coming up with countless stratagems for removing and bringing in the anvils. Sadly, Gamin would eventually betray Louis during the revolution.

The court was not very approving of their King's hobby. It was thought to be a profession for the lower classes - not a a hobby for a King. Even Marie Antoinette had the occasional complain about this hobby but for a far more practical reason: the work left the King's hands blackened and he would often visit her without washing them first much to the damage of her furniture.
Louis XVI seemed to have paid them little mind. Instead, he agreed with Rousseau that every man should know a manual craft. Meanwhile, the pamphleteers had a field day making the King's interest in keys and locks a fitting symbol of his ... marital problems.

Once a delegation of professional locksmiths came to visit their sovereign to present him with a special, secret lock. The King insisted on finding the lock himself which he did indeed and when he touched the spring a small dolphin wrought in steel emerged. Louis was delighted.

Even when the royal family had been forced from Versailles Louis refused to give up this hobby. Once in the Tuileries he taught his son how a lock worked and explained the use of the different tools used by the locksmiths - who had come to change the lock on the King's prison door.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Smoke and Ash: Tobacco hits Versailles

Ever since the beginning of the massive colonisation exotic goods flooded the European market. Tobacco was one of these and as the foremost in fashion France was no exception. Louis XIV, however, was not pleased. He detested snuff but not even he could prevent it becoming popular with his courtiers in the 1650's. It should be said that snuff had been a trend with the French court since the reign of Louis XIII so it was hardly new altogether.

Ladies smoking pipes

Smoking tobacco was hitherto seen as a remedy against pain but it quickly became clear that it could be used for far more than just that. One of the more common ways of using this drug was to inhale it in powder form through the nose! It is estimated that around 90 % of the tobacco used in France before the French revolution was used in this manner. Surprisingly enough, quite a few of the French Princesses took up this vile habit. According to the Duchesse d'Orlèans (nicknamed Liselotte) it made them look as if they had rubbed their fingers in the gutter. As she wrote to her sister:

"It is better to take no snuff at all than a little; for it is certain that he who takes a little will soon take much and that is why they call it "the enchanted herb" for those who take are so taken by it that they cannot go without it."

The problem with this was that although gentlemen might get away with this practice it was certainly not acceptable for a lady. Likewise was smoking a pipe considered unladylike.
Even at Marly Louis XIV could not escape the heavy smoking. The Duc de Saint-Simon recollects an incident where several Princesses were caught smoking pipes which had disturbed the King who had gone to bed.

The problem for Louis XIV was that although he truly hated the habit he could not ban it. After all, the taxes were too dear to miss out on. Instead the Sun King contended himself with banning the practice in his Grand Apartment.

Billedresultat for versailles snuffbox
Gilded snuffbox featuring a portrait of Louis XVI, 1778

The trend appears to have continued into the 18th century and it quickly became obvious that here was another way of emptying the aristocracy's pockets. Not only through the tobacco itself but by beautifully and expensive snuff boxes decorated with enamel, gemstones and gold. Another popular way to use tobacco - or rather the smoke - was through enemas...

It would seem that the dislike towards smoking was not as strong with Louis XV as it had been with his predecessor. He would often offer elaborately decorated snuffboxes to dignitaries as presents. Marie Leszczynska's wedding to Louis XV in 1725 saw the creation of an exclusive snuffbox made of amber. It was priced at 1200 livres and was sent as a present to the Queen of Poland.

This snuffbox was given by Louis XV to Cornelis Hop,
ambassador of Holland in 1726. It cost 7270 livres and
is currently the oldest snuffbox held by the Louvre. It
is made entirely of gold and contains the portraits of
Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska

Other such gifts has been registered: one was given to the ambassador of Poland on 27 April 1733 when he came to announce the death of the King of Poland. The snuffbox also had a portrait of the King and Queen and the cost was 10.680 livres. The other was given on 13 January 1766 to the ambassador of Spain. It featured a portrait of the King surrounded by diamonds - to the cost of 23.601 livres!

When Marie Antoinette arrived in 1770 a part of her wedding gifts were no less than 52 golden snuffboxes. The tradition of giving snuffboxes continued with Louis XVI.

Dogs, Cats, Parrots: Pets at Versailles

Versailles was not only inhabited by people but also by animals. Pets were quite common among the nobility and the royal family had the luxury of been able to fully indulge in their passion for their pets.

Dogs were already an established companion at Versailles from the time of Louis XIV. The Sun King had several Great Pyrenees which were bred in Spain. Marie Thérèse, too, indulged in a love for pet dogs. Cats were not a common pet at this point. The superstitions of the medieval world meant that cats were often connected with evil forces and as such scorned as pets.

No less than two dogs are featured in this family portrait of Louis XIV

Cardinal Richelieu was one who nevertheless were fond of his feline friends. More than a dozen could be seen strolling through his apartments and casually lying on his state papers. Unlike most other courtiers in France the Cardinal actually had two caretakers employed to look after his cats - the cats lived in a separate room next to his bedroom and it is said that upon his death the fourteen cats and their caretakers inherited quite a large sum of money as well as a house to live in.

Surprisingly enough, the names of all fourteen cats has survived: Soumise (Richelieu's favourite), Mounard le Fougueux, Gazette, Ludovic the Cruel, Mimi-Paillon (an Angora), Felimare, Ludoviska (a Polish cat), Rubs sur l'Ongle, Serpolet, Pyrame, Thisbe, Racan and Perruque.

Cardinal Richelieu and his cats

Louis XV seemed to have been fond of both dogs and cats. He dedicated a salon in his private apartment to his hunting dogs - these lovely pups would sleep in there and the King would often come there to play with them after a hunt. It has been claimed that during the reign of Louis XV the poodle was mascot-dog of the court.
The king himself had poodles; a favourite of his was given the name Filou. Both Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska were fond of cats as well; a particular favourite was white Angoras. Madame de Mirepoix also favoured Angora cats but she preferred a grey sort.

Ponne, Bonne and Nonne - hunting dogs
of Louis XV. These were probably allowed to
sleep in the King's antechamber
Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette were both great dog-lovers and a particular favourite with them both were Papillon dogs - these had been introduced during the reign of Louis XIV. Madame de Pompadour also had two Phalenes with the names of Inez and Mimi.

Detail of a dog belonging to Marie Leszczynska in her
coronation portrait
The Austrian ambassador Mercy-d'Argenteau wrote back to Empress Marie Theresia that Marie Antoinette was very fond of dogs and had requested that another pug (tawny with a black nose) be sent from Vienna. In the same letter he also comments dryly on how unclean the dogs she already had were. For one the carpet in the Antechamber of the Grand Couvert had a hole in one corner where the two dogs had scratched through; her apartments were often covered in muddy foot-prints.

As can easily be imagined these pampered pets were not trained and could be quite a pestilence to the servants who had to clean up after them. Some could be aggressive but few as much as a dog owned by the Princesse de Conti - it was said that she trained it to bite her husband!

The young Louis XV walking his two dogs
It was not everyone who appreciated the hordes of dogs and cats that could be found everywhere. The young son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Louis Charles, were easily startled and did not care for the loud barking of the many dogs. The dogs also contributed to the often disgusting smell that haunted the galleries and private chambers. Since no servants were charged with tending to the dogs they would usually just relieve themselves wherever they pleased.

Pets became such a trend with the court that they are often seen in the official portraits of both royalty and nobility. Even foreign statesmen who made the court of France their home joined the trend. The Swedish ambassador Carl Gustav Tessin brought a Dachshund with him which was promptly featured with him in the official portrait of the ambassador.

Mimi, Madame de Pompadour's King Charles Spaniel by
Christophe Huet
Not only the traditional pets (or what we would class as such) such as cats and dogs were in vogue. Exotic animals were in high demand and this was not meant for the menagerie. Parrots and monkeys were especial favourites since they could escort their owners and make a fashionable statement. Goldfish were introduced by Portugal during Louis XV but they never really caught the hearts of the French aristocracy.

Madame du Barry was one who had a great passion for parrots and the ornate birdcage of hers has returned to her former apartment at Versailles. It was quite likely the home of an emerald-green parrot given to her by an officer of the navy who received a knighthood in return. Once she was banished on the death of Louis XV her colourful companion accompanied her. Another fan of parrots was the Duchesse du Maine.

Madame du Barry's bird-cage

Likewise, it was not uncommon to give a beloved pet a good send-off when it died which usually meant erecting special tombs.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Wedding of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska

The wedding took place on Wednesday 5 September 1725 but not at Versailles which had been abandoned since the death of Louis XIV. Instead, the ceremony took place in the chapel at the Château of Fontainebleau - it would be the only royal wedding conducted there.

The twenty-two year old bride arrived at half past nine and was quickly settled into the Queen's apartments. The King was at this time already in his own apartments where a minor army of gentlemen prepared him for the ceremony.

Marie Leszczynska's wedding gown was so heavily adorned with jewels that she nearly fainted. Over this magnificent gown was a purple velvet robe with golden fleurs-de-lis and was lined with ermine. The gown's train in itself were ten metres long! The Queen's hair was elaborately done up and pinned with a magnificent fleur-de-lis of diamonds.

Having been properly dressed the Queen was escorted to the King's cabinet where they met for the first time - the King's entire entourage was ready and waiting.
The fifteen year old Louis XV wore a suit of rich gold brocade with a hat with a plush white feather and large diamond.

Wedding of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska

The ceremony was to take place in the chapel built by Francis I. The couple's arrival was heralded by trumpets and drums and the two walked past row on row of the infamous Hundred Swiss Guards. Knights of the Order of Saint-Esprit marched into the chapel in lines of two followed by the Great Officers of the Households: Comte de Charolais, Comte de Clermont and Prince de Conti.

The royal couple was positively surrounded by people - most of whom Marie Lezczynska had never seen before. Behind the Queen was the Marèchal de Villeroy, the Duc de La Rochefoucauld and the Duc de Mortemart. In front of her (leading her to the altar) was the Duc d'Orlèans and the Duc de Bourbon as well as the Marquis de Nangis, the Comte de Tesse and the Duc de Noailles. The Queen's train was carried by the Duchesse de Bourbon, the Princesse de Conti and Mademoiselle de Charolais. The Duchesse d'Orlèans followed immediately behind the Queen and she was in turn followed by Mademoiselle de Clermont and Mademoiselle de La Roche-sur-Yon. The rest of the Queen's train was made up by the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, maids of honour and Princesses of the Blood.

Etching of the wedding

The King was announced by two officers of his House and the captain of the Hundred Swiss.

The chapel's upper balconies were hung with blue velvet embroidered with the royal arms of France while the rows of benches were covered in purple velvet with golden fleurs-de-lis. The choir produced their beautiful tones on Persian carpets; the front row was reserved for the highest ladies and lords of France as well as Officers of Saint-Esprit.
The heralds carrying the royal arms stepped to the bottom of the steps leading to the altar. Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska knelt on two cushions for the ceremony. While the two were being escorted onto their pillows the courtiers took their places on the church benches - each was meticulously calculated according to the guest's rank.

The acts of wedding now held in Strasbourg which happens to be the stage of
the proxy wedding

When the two had exchanged rings the symbolic act of handing each a candle was performed. The King received his from the Duc d'Orlèans while his wife, the Duchesse, handed one to the Queen on a satin pillow. Both the Duc and Duchesse kissed the rings of their newly wedded sovereigns. This particular act would seem odd but it was a signal of precedence at the time. The symbolic candles held by the King and Queen represented the submission of the crown to the church.

While the orchestra played a Te Deum the royal marriage contract was signed; a brief prayer for the King was said and then everyone took the same stands as the procession that led the couple into the chapel. From there on, they were escorted to the King's apartments were the celebrations were to begin.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Friday, 30 October 2015

Twenty-Three Jewellery Sketches

Sothesby auctioned off a wonderful collection of twenty-three design sketches for jewellery clearly made for the upper class. The sketches date back to the third quarter of the 18th century which would place it in the reign of Louis XV. According to the curators of Sothesby it is likely that these were intended to be distributed among goldsmiths in Paris. Also they are most likely drawn in the size they would be produced in.
The drawings are thought to be the work of Vander Cruycen. Some of his other designs are housed in Vienna which meant that the curators could compare them.

Collection of twenty three jewellery designs on twenty two sheets, second half of the 18th century | Lot | Sotheby's:
A bow-shaped stomacher brooch and bouquets for the bodice or hair

Collection of twenty three jewellery designs on twenty two sheets, second half of the 18th century | Lot | Sotheby's:

Collection of twenty three jewellery designs on twenty two sheets, second half of the 18th century | Lot | Sotheby's:
Frame for a miniature with militaristic decoration, a shoe-buckle and several

Collection of twenty three jewellery designs on twenty two sheets, second half of the 18th century | Lot | Sotheby's:
Another military-inspired miniature frame and several pendants - the official
website of Sothesby does not mention it but to me the top chain looks like
either a bracelet or a necklace

Collection of twenty three jewellery designs on twenty two sheets, second half of the 18th century | Lot | Sotheby's:
A stomacher brooch, a chatelaine (with what appears to be room for a miniature),
two flower bouquets and two smaller pendants

Collection of twenty three jewellery designs on twenty two sheets, second half of the 18th century | Lot | Sotheby's:
One large aigrette with a bow and a tassel suspended from it, one stomacher
brooch and four brooches that could be attached to the sleeves, hat or bodice

Collection of twenty three jewellery designs on twenty two sheets, second half of the 18th century | Lot | Sotheby's:
Three designs for girandole earrings and pendants

Collection of twenty three jewellery designs on twenty two sheets, second half of the 18th century | Lot | Sotheby's:
Miniature frame and four bouquets to be attached to the hair or bodice

Collection of twenty three jewellery designs on twenty two sheets, second half of the 18th century | Lot | Sotheby's:
One frame for a miniature portrait, one bow-shaped stomacher brooch and
two bow-shaped earrings

Three chatelaines, a snuffbox and two flower bouquets

These are aigrettes which were pinned to the elaborate hairdos - in the centre
is a button which could be attached to the sleeve, hat or bodice

Girandole earrings and a few small ornaments

Ornaments for the bodice and sleeves

Detail of a design for the Order of the Golden Fleece - it is believed to be
the work of Vander Cruycen

Richly adorned sword hilt with several designs for clasps (for orders)

An impressive stomacher mainly decorated with flowers

The two orders marked with red are the Order of the White Eagle (Poland)
and the Order of Malta. Also, a diamond chain that either would have been
attached to a lady's bodice or laid on a gentleman's shoulders.

A large bow-shaped stomacher brooch, another large stomacher brooch,
three smaller bouquets

Two large ornaments for the bodice, two bouquets and two smaller pendants

A bouquet intended to be worn either on the bodice or in the hair and six
pendants including one shaped like a butterfly

Miniature frames

Two frames for portrait miniatures

A stomacher brooch in the shape of a bow, two pendants and a snuffbox