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