Monday, 27 February 2017

Home of Kings: Corps Central

As you have noticed - if you have visited my blog before - I have changed the layout for the layout of Versailles to give it a better flow. The floor plan is still divided into the various apartments which you can click on to get more information and a peek of through photos.

The Ground Floor

As of 1740

The Captain of the Guards' Apartment

The Other Apartments


The First Floor

As of 1740 - the King's interior apartment has undergone considerable changes

The Other Apartments



Sunday, 26 February 2017

Marie-Madeleine de La Vieuville, Marquise de Parabère

Marie-Madeleine de La Vieuville was born on 6 October 1693 in Paris; she was the only child of René-Francois de La Vieuville and Marie Louise de La Chaussee d'Eu. Through her parents she already had a clear connection to the court; her father was a knight of honour to Queen Marie Thérèse and her mother was a lady-in-waiting to the Duchesse de Berri.

Although her family had long been a part of the nobility it was a poor house. Consequently, it became necessary to find a husband who could provide well for Marie Madeleine. In her case the choice of a bridegroom would be a mixed affair; on one hand Marie-Madeleine was beautiful and the daughter of a Marquis but on the other she was poor and could only bring a little dowry. In the end an arrangement was made with Caesar-Alexandre de Baudéan, Marquis de Parabère and the couple married on 8 June 1711.
Marie-Madeleine had mixed feelings about her marriage. Her husband was 30 years her senior and had little to no ambition for himself. He was, however, from one of the very best families in Poitou. In the end the marriage would be very typical of arranged marriages: little affection on both sides. Marie-Madeleine was the type of woman who would be described as "high spirited"; she wanted far more amusement that her disinterested husband could provide and thus sought out her place at court. However, there was another obstacle in her way in the shape of her mother. Marie Louise was all too aware of her daughter's pendant to a "wild" type of lifestyle and wanted to prevent her becoming a court flirt.

In 1715 two deaths would have profound influence on Marie-Madeleine's life. First, her mother died after having suffered from breast cancer. There was now no one to stand in her way of pursuing pleasure. Secondly, Louis XIV died which meant a change in regime - and an opportunity to rise in the world.

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Without the restraining influence of her mother Marie-Madeleine indulged in several affairs including one with the Chevalier de Matignon. It was soon said of the young Marquise that she was "crazy about her freedom". In this manner she spent her time at court until she was a widow. Her husband died just the year after but Marie-Madeleine did not mourn him. Despite their long time apart they had still managed to have three children together.
By now she was 23 years old and infamous for her way of charming every man she met. She reached quite a level of fame in the French capital where she became the subject of songwriters. Such a lady was soon discovered by the most scandalous woman in France: the Duchesse de Berri.

It was through her that Marie-Madeleine met Philippe II d'Orléans who acted as Regent during Louis XV's minority. The two seemed to be made for each other and soon became lovers. Their affair was one of insatiable pleasures and lavish extravagance. Marie-Madeleine was a firm fixture in the infamous supper parties of the Regent where she drank everyone under the table. She soon became both admired and despised for her way of life - it was said that she needed only one hour of sleep before she could resume the life of a royal mistress.
Neither Marie-Madeleine nor Philippe were exclusive in their love for each other. The Regent had a string of minor mistresses but Madame de Parabère remained a fixture in his life. Marie-Madeleine also had an affair with the Duc de Richelieu with whom she was absolutely in love with. Sadly, her love was not returned and she is not mentioned at all in his memoirs. Although not being faithful himself the Regent was furious at having a rival but forgave his darling - only for her to cheat on him again. Marie-Madeleine had determined not to be held back in her pleasures as she had once been before.

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Madame de Parabère with the Regent

Her flings with other men meant that the children she had by the Regent was not acknowledged. He did give her a country estate in Asnieres where he would visit on orders from his doctors. Soon, Marie-Madeleine was pregnant again - and so was the Duchesse d'Orléans, her lover's wife. Marie-Madeleine was the only woman who ever had any political influence during the Regency. Philippe knew very well that she was not interested in gaining power so he was welcoming her advice. The couple suffered a rupture in November 1720 and most people thought that that would be the end of Madame de Parabère's reign. However, Marie-Madeleine and Philippe made up soon after and she was back more powerful than ever. But the damage between them was done. Marie-Madeleine was tired of hearing of all the Opera girls going to and fro her lover's bedroom and decided to leave him.

Instead, she went to the country to repent her sins in a convent. She was rather devout despite her lifestyle which she had not given up. After all she had not taken the veil and still had many affairs to come. The affairs of her later years included Monsieur d'Alincourt and Monsieur de La Mothe-Houdancourt. None of these relationships lasted for long.

The final years of her life are shrouded in mystery. There were talk of her marrying the Duc de Brancas but the match never materialised. In 1739 she completely retired from the world and would die on 13 August 1755.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Marie Leszczynska & Marie Josèphe's Relationship

When Louis XV decided to look for a new bride for his son, Louis Ferdinand, there were plenty of candidates. The choice eventually fell on Marie Josèphe of Saxony to the chagrin of the Queen.

Marie Leszczynska had her own reasons to wish another young woman to be her daughter-in-law. Marie Leszczynska's father, Stanislaw I of Poland, had been dethroned by Augustus II who happened to be Marie Josèphe's grandfather. The Queen was humiliated at the prospect of having to greet the prodigy of a man who had ruined her own family's lives. When Marie Leszczynska was chosen to marry Louis XV she was living in exile with her deposed father and mother; it is very likely that the family would have had to live in poverty and obscurity had she not become Queen of France.

The Queen attempted to sway her husband to choose another bride but Louis XV would not hear it. Consequently, Marie Josèphe married the Dauphin on 9 February 1747.

Understandably, the meeting between these two women were the subject of much interest. Custom dictated that a royal bride wore a bracelet with a portrait of her father on it. Rumour has it that when Marie Leszczynska asked to see the new Dauphine's bracelet she was surprised to be shown a portrait of her own father. Marie Josèphe explained that the Duc de Lorraine - the courtesy title given to Marie Leszczynska's father - was now her grandfather through marriage.
Later, the Dauphine would continue to honour her mother-in-law's father by naming one of her sons in his honour.

Over the following years their relationship would become steadily better and they happened to become rather good friends. They were even painted together holding hands.

Here is the portrait, 1765

Ironically, Marie Josèphe opposed the match between her son and Marie Antoinette since Maria Theresia had ousted Marie Josèphe's own mother from her throne.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Death of Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle

Infanta Maria Teresa Rafaela married the heir to the French throne - Louis Ferdinand - in 1745 and thus became Dauphine. Consequently, her name would be transformed into the French equivalent of her original name: Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle.

The couple were remarkably happy together considering that the marriage had been arranged. However, Marie Thérèse would not have a long life. In the beginning of 1746 the new Dauphine found herself to be in happy circumstances and was expected to go into labour in early July. July came and as the days passed the court became increasingly impatient since the birth of a boy would mean that the line of succession would be far more secure. Finally, the Dauphine went into labour on 19 July and gave birth to a healthy girl.

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Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle

Louis Ferdinand was absolutely besotted with is daughter although the rest of the court was less enthusiastic. It soon became clear that all was not well, though.

In the days following the birth the Dauphine had been unwell but the doctors had not considered her to be in any danger. On the night of the 21 July her condition suddenly deteriorated. Thanks to the vigilant Duc de Luynes we know that she had a high fever which doubled at about three o'clock in the morning. The physician was sent for and the priest soon followed. She did not improve during the night and when her husband came to see her - he had been wakened at seven - she could not recognise him.
A few hours later she became unconscious and the doctors immediately decided to bleed her. She was bled twice: first at ten o'clock and then at eleven. Naturally, it did nothing but weaken her. Marie Thérèse died half an hour after she was bled the second time. She was just 20 years old.

Her death sparked grief as well as curiosity. Death in childbirth was nothing new and would continue to be a real threat (and still is). The odd thing was that the delivery had gone without complications although it had been a bit long. As a result the doctors were left with a mystery on their hands: since the Dauphine had gone through the birth just fine then why did she suddenly die?

Custom dictated that her remains was to be autopsied. The doctors concluded that her death had not been due to the childbirth since her faculties were normal. They only noted that she had an "abundance of milk". This led the doctors to the - to us - odd diagnosis that she had died from being smothered by the excess of milk! The physicians felt certain about their sentence when they found "milk" in her brain - the white fluid was most likely pus from infection.

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State funeral of the Dauphine at Saint-Denis

Today, we know that although a woman goes through labour without complications she is not out of the woods yet. There is a great risk of both haemorrhages and infections following the birth. In our days these are luckily far less dangerous since most births take place in clean environments under the care of doctors with greater knowledge than those who attended to the Dauphine.
It is far more likely that the death of Marie Thérèse was in fact caused by an infection following the birth. Puerperal fevers are known to occur after the birth itself is over and one of the characteristics of this particular fever is an excess of milk "production". The cause of such a fever can be due to either poor hygiene or that a piece of the placenta is stuck in the uterus. It is all but certain the she developed an infection in the blood - called septicaemia - which required urgent medical treatment. It also explains why she could not recognise her husband since the infection had gone to her brain through the blood.

Sadly, Marie Thérèse could have survived if her doctors had known more on the subject. The only consolation is that the doctors are not personally to blame; medical science simply had not gone far enough to shed light on such a phenomena.

The little girl was christened Marie Thérèse by the request of the father who wanted to honour his late wife. Sadly, the infant would die herself just three years later.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, Comte de Toulouse

Louis Alexandre was born at the château of Clagny as the natural son of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan on 6 June 1678. As the illegitimate son of the King he could not be taken to court nor could he be shipped to Madame de Montespan's estate. Instead, he joined his sister in the care of Madame de Montchevreuil.

Luckily for Louis Alexandre - and the other illegitimate children - he was legitimised in 1681; thus he was instantly entitled to a court title. The choice fell on the Comte de Toulouse which he would be known at court as. A more ridiculous appointment was given when he was just five years old; he was appointed grand admiral. A year later he could add the title of colonel of his own regiment.
All through his childhood military titles would continue to rain down on the little boy. Consequently, those of maitre-de-camp of a cavalry regiment and Marèchal de France were bestowed on him as well. During the War of the Spanish Succession he was put in command of the French fleet in the Battle of Vélez-Malaga in 1704.

Portrait painting of Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse by Hyacinthe Rigaud.jpg
Louis Alexandre

Louis Alexandre would seem to have been destined for a naval career from an early age. He was made Minister of the Navy and thus came to have actual power at court. As a legitimised young man with a promising career ahead of him he was a very eligible bachelor. Charlotte de Lorraine was proposed as a potential bride but Louis XIV resolutely forbid the match. Instead, Louis Alexandre married Marie Victoire de Noailles in a private ceremony in 1723. To avoid stirring the animosity of the Regent this was kept a secret until the Regent's death.
The couple would have a single child: a son, Louis Jean Marie de Bourbon.

Unlike his brother, the Duc du Maine, Louis Alexandre was less interested in the intrigues of court life. However, he still became the focus of attention in 1715 when Louis XIV decided that either the Duc du Maine or the Comte de Toulouse would inherit the throne should every other line die out. There can be little doubt that Louis Alexandre relished the thought of being now officially in the line of succession which is supported by he and his brother's keen interest in the following procedures.

As can be expected the news were met with shock. It did not take long after the death of the Sun King before the codicil was reversed. Given the mood at court - which was decidedly against him and his brother - Louis Alexandre retired to his château of Rambouillet. He had bought the palace in 1706 from the man who would eventually take over as Minister of the Navy.

Louis Alexandre died at Rambouillet on 1 December 1737.

The Disastrous Wedding Night of Louis Ferdinand

The young Dauphin Louis Ferdinand - son of Louis XV - had contracted his first marriage in 1745 to Marie Thérèse Raphaëlle and had quickly fallen in love with his wife. To his despair his Dauphine died after just little over a year of marriage.
But time waits for no one and he needed an heir. Louis XV was quick to find a new bride for his son and by 1747 Louis Ferdinand was once again at the altar. This time his bride was Marie Josèphe of Saxony.

That night the couple were put through the ritual bedding ceremony but once the attendants had left things went awry. It was not unheard of that royal marriages were not consummated on the wedding night. Frederick II had spent a mere hour talking to his bride before spending the rest of the night promenading in the garden. Louis Ferdinand's own son, the later Louis XVI, would take a notorious seven years to consummate his marriage to Marie Antoinette.

Louis Ferdinand

However, few royal wedding nights had gone quite this way. Before anything could happen poor Louis Ferdinand burst into tears. The ceremony had reminded him so much of his beloved late wife that he could not hold back his grief. Thankfully for their marital bliss Marie Josèphe was a patient and kind woman. She patiently comforted her new husband and from that moment a new relationship sprung up.

The couple soon found out that their natures suited each other and eventually had eight children - including three Kings and a Queen!

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Periwig

The periwig - or perruque - was quite a popular wig-style during Louis XIV's reign but it lost a good deal of its popularity after the Sun King's death. Actually, it had been popular with his father's, Louis XIII, court but waned a little during Anne of Austria's regency.

The long, flowing hair that Louis XIV had in his early years became the ideal for a wig. Unfortunately, the Sun King was prone to baldness and used wigs to cover up the increasing number of bald spots. Consequently, the periwig became all the rage amongst his male courtiers - Charles II of England was another big fan of the periwig ensuring its popularity in England as well.
Thus, the periwig re-entered the fashionable circles in 1660 and already in 1665 it was considered an absolute necessary part of a gentleman's attire.

A periwig had to have curls or at least waves. By the 1670's the style favoured was long rows of cork-screw curls and by the 1690's the periwig would rise high above the wearer's head and would often be parted in the middle.

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A periwig made from horsehair which happens
to be in a terrible state

The style of the periwig changed to and fro over the decades. At some point it became fashionable to powder it more white which would later be transferred to other types of wigs. The styling aside, periwigs for the upper classes were made of human hair. The hair used for the wigs could be collected from a wide array of "donors": novices entering a convent had their hair cut for example. It became a symbol of power to have a "natural" wig compared to those made of goat or dog hair.
Cardinal Mazarin was concerned about the expense of importing hair and attempted to turn the court towards "domestic goods". However, he soon gave up when he discovered that the expense was equalled by French trade.

It was rather unfortunate that the wigs had a tendency to emit an unpleasant odour; that they were never washed but pomaded and powdered did not help. To combat the smell the wigs were often scented with flowers.

With Louis XIV's dependency on wigs for his illustrious appearance it is no wonder that the artistry of wig-making flourished during his reign. Rumour has it that the King had forty wig-makers in his personal employ; it is more certain that he issued a decree naming them artists. The odd thing was that his courtiers were so eager to follow their master's fashion that they often had their heads shaved even if they were equipped with a full head of hair.

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The style favoured by soldiers due to practicality

The fashion was not merely confined to the upper classes and the trend quickly spread. However, it was not always practical to have long and luscious hair tumbling over one's shoulders. Soldiers and sportsmen were annoyed by the style and tied their locks at the nape; this did only became acceptable elsewhere after 1710.

As stated, the periwig became less popular after 1715 when Louis XIV died. The periwig would still be used in formal instances and some professions - such as lawyers and financiers - used it as a part of their working uniform. Although the periwig became less popular it did not quite disappear but was seldom used in the latter part of the 18th century.

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Louis XIV wearing a dark periwig

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The Grand Dauphin wearing a powdered periwig

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Mansart with the characteristic wig which has been parted
in the middle 

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A whole array of powdered periwigs

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A perfect example of a late 17th century periwig

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Robe à la Circassienne

A robe à la Circassienne was a variation of the robe à la Polonaise only it was adorned with so-called Oriental tassels or fur. Another difference was that the robe à la Circassienne had small "over-sleeves" which was inspired by the fashions of the Middle East. These over-sleeves were normally shaped like a funnel and overlapped tight-fitting long - or three-quarter length - sleeves. The long sleeves would often end in cuffs; the skirt would often be fitted with frills

The style seems to have become popular in the 1770's and would remain in style till the revolution. In France the style would continue to be puffed up whereas the English version would eventually become less full in the back. The bodice of this type of robe was often very low

Comtesse de Vauban wearing a robe à la
Circassienne, 1776

Robe circassienne :1780
Robe à la Circassienne, 1780
This is a proper robe à la Circassienne with tassels,
frills and the over-sleeves


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Galerie des Modes: Court Ladies of the 18th Century

Marie Antoinette wearing a robe à la
Robe à la Francaise,
Robe à la Francaise,
Grande robe de cour
Grande robe de cour
The Comtesse d'Artois in a grande
robe de cour
Robe de cour
Mourning version of a grande robe
de cour
Robe à la Polonaise,
Robe à l'Anglaise,

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Galerie des Modes: People at Louis XIV's Court

Lieutenant of the guards
Court lady in hunting habit
A page of the King's
A dance master
The King's Swiss Guard
The King's Guard
Gentleman in the King's household
Knight of the Order of St. Louis (1672)
King's Guards (1688)
Musketeers (1663)

Mounted King's guard and Officer of the
King's regiment (right)

Galerie des Modes: Court Gentlemen of the 17th Century

Duc de Chartres
Duc de Bourbon
Prince de Conti
Duc de Bourgogne
Duc de Vendôme