Tuesday, 17 November 2015

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.

1 comment:

  1. The picture is of Liselotte, the wife of the Duke of Orleans, not the Princesse d'Harcourt.