Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Exile of the Comtesse de Gramont

Not many of the ladies from the older aristocracy were pleased with the ascension of Madame du Barry as Louis XV's new mistress. To most she was another bourgeoisie who took a place which was traditionally held by the upper class. 

The dispute between Madame du Barry and the Comtesse de Gramont took form in August 1770 when the court was sojourning at Compiègne. Here, the theatre was not large enough to hold the number of ladies who chose to follow the King there so most came at an early time. Due to the King's affection for her seats had been reserved for Madame du Barry and her friends. With the limited number of seats some ladies were not contented to stand and took those seats. When Madame du Barry arrived with the Duchesse de Mirepoix and the Comtesse de Valentinois - her friends - the group were met with haughty looks. 
The Comtesse de Gramont was the leader amongst the ladies who had occupied the seats and did nothing to hide her contempt for the new favourite. In deep mortification Madame du Barry had to retreat to the sounds of the insults hurled after her.

Naturally, Madame du Barry knew how to use her access to the King. She consequently went to her lover and complained of the humiliation she had suffered - and she certainly got what she wanted. The King was furious at this disrespect and had the Comtesse de Gramont exiled from court to her estate of Chanteloup. News of the exile spread like wildfire - as such things do - but most thought that the Comtesse was right to turn her back to the new mistress. The Marquise de Deffand mentioned the exile in a letter to Horace Walpole.The court was outraged at the verdict since the Comtesse de Gramont was definitely not without connections.

Billedresultat for chateau de chanteloup
Chàteau de Chanteloup where the Comtesse spent the first months of her
exile. Today, it is all but ready to crumble.

She was not only the relative of the Duchesse de Gramont (sister to powerful minister the Duc de Choiseul) and a dame du palais to the newly arrived Dauphine, Marie Antoinette. 
After lingering two months in her country estate the disgraced Comtesse pleaded with her mistress to intercede with the King on her behalf. The Comtesse complained that her exile had had such an effect on her health that it was vital for her to return at least to the capitol. This was a rather awkward position for the Dauphine whose marriage was unconsummated and as such still in peril. Nevertheless, according to the Austrian ambassador, Comte de Mercy-Argenteau, she acquitted herself well - although since the ambassador himself advised her on how to act it is natural that he would think so.
Louis XV would first make sure that the Comtesse was in actual danger and sent a dispatch to observe her. The messenger returned with a signed doctor's certificate and the King felt obliged to act.

The King was not prepared to let the Comtesse back just yet but he was somewhat softened by the pleas of the young girl. Rather than a complete recall to court the Comtesse was allowed to return to Paris but was strictly prohibited from appearing at court. The expansion of her area of exile was communicated to the Comtesse on 28 October 1770. Madame du Barry had not been informed of the scheme and was deeply angered by it when she heard the news. Although the Comtesse was not allowed to return to court it was a significant victory for the Choiseul-party; they wasted no time in rushing to the Dauphine and thanking her profusely for her aid.

It was not until 1773 - a whole three years later - that the Comtesse de Gramont was finally able to reappear at Versailles. The exile had had another impact on life at court. Madame du Barry became the out-right enemy of Marie Antoinette; although their relationship had not been good then it was not until this affair that it developed into downright enmity. 

Sèvres of Mesdames Tantes

Figurine of M. Fargon, 1774. It was purchased by
Madame Adelaide on 27 January 1776 for 144 livres

Billedresultat for madame victoire sevres
Vases purchased by Madame Victoire in 1772 for her bedroom at Versailles

This saucer and cup were part of a set originally purchased by Louis XVI
who gifted it to Mesdames Victoire and Adelaide

image (5)
Lapis chinoiserie-style vase which belonged to Mme.
Adelaide, 1781

The terrestrial globe contained the ink while that of the sky had sand within it -
it was purchased by Louis XV who gave it to his daughter, Madame Adelaide. It was
originally made in 1758 

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Massacre on the Vicomte de Belsunce

Henri de Belsunce had made his career in the King's service; beginning as a page to the King, he was given the Honours of the Court in 1785 and made Major of the Bourbon Infantery in Caen three years later. Here he had quickly made a reputation for being arrogant although handsome.

Those interested in the history of Marie Antoinette may remember his name in a less positive light. He was actually banished from his regiment for indulging in too high gambling at a ball hosted by the Queen herself.

However, it is rather the horrible manner of his death which has been his legacy. The weather had been disastrous to the harvests making wheat a dear commodity. The Château de Guillaume in Caen was used as storage for the little remaining wheat; it became known that a new dispatch of wheat was transported to the castle under guard by the Bourbon Infantry. Henri - twenty-four years old at this time - was put in charge of the transport which took place on 12 August 1789.

Henri de Belsunce at the age of 19

An enraged mob ambushed the regiment and got hold of the Vicomte. It should be mentioned that the Vicomte did not have a good reputation with the populace of Caen. His superiors had previously reprimanded him for brutal behaviour towards both civilians and his soldiers. On the day he grossly underestimated the seriousness of the revolt and allegedly even had the audacity to mock the starving people. 

Nevertheless, the punishment meted out was hardly proportional. The days leading up the that fateful day had been full of tension and when rumours spread that the Major was going to retake the Château de Guillaume (occupied by revolutionaries a few days earlier) anger increased. Finally, when an angry exchange resulted in a death near the soldiers' barracks. In an attempt to calm the crowd he decided to appear before them and he was promised a safe conduct by the Provisional Committee. However, making his way to the Hôtel de Ville he was immediately surrounded by revolutionaries. They beat him with cudgels and shouted insults at him as he passed by. On the steps of the Hôtel he was essentially sentenced to death - although the atmosphere was far more like that of a lynching than a trial.

Billedresultat for hotel de ville caen
The Hôtel de Ville where the Vicomte was slaughtered

First, he was shot (allegedly 150 times even after his death) and then Henri was beheaded but that was not enough to satisfy the blood-thirst of the mob. They cut off his legs and then his arms, tore open his rib-cage and continued to devour him. The head was harder to get off but eventually they succeeded. Especially, the spectacle of a woman literally eating his heart extracted cheers from the watching crowd.
The remaining spectators amused themselves with playing ball with the head and dismembered body parts. A make-shift grill was quickly erected and pieces of his flesh were put on it. The intestines were pulled out and punctured so that faecal matter splatters the streets and mixed with the blood running down them. Finally, his head was skewered on a spade laying nearby.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Staircases: Ground Floor

1) The Queen's Staircase

The Queen's Marble Staircase is also known simply as the Marble Staircase. When you reach the top of the Marble Staircase you will enter the Queen's Guards' Room and thus enter her apartments. The staircase derives its name from the incredible amounts of marble that went into the building of the staircase. Beautifully gilded reliefs of bronze has been added above the doors - one of them is adorned with two sphinxes and dates back to 1681. Golden engravings continue all the way near the ceiling and includes the arms of France flanked by palm leaves and the iconic fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy. Red, white and black marble has been used to make out the foundation of the staircase. Occasionally pilasters are crowned with golden tops.

A large painting by Jean Belin, Blain de Fourtenay, Meusnier Philippe and Poerson Charles-François. Remarkably enough two false doors has been added to create the much sought after symmetry - both doors are made of glass. One of the main "attractions" of the room is the golden sculpture on the landing of the first floor. Two large intertwined L's adorns a shield topped with a crown and flanked by olive branches; the shield is carried by two cherubs. On the first floor three large windows illuminates the staircase.

When Versailles was stormed in 1789 the infuriated peasants ran up the Queen's Marble Staircase and gained access to the Queen's Guards' Room.

Billedresultat for versailles escalier de la reine

Billedresultat for versailles escalier de la reine

Billedresultat for versailles escalier de la reine

Billedresultat for versailles escalier de la reine

Billedresultat for versailles escalier de la reine

2) The Fleury Staircase

Named after the Cardinal Fleury who was tutor to Louis XV the Fleury Staircase connects the Queen's apartment on the first floor with the private apartment of the Dauphine. The staircase will soon only be a memory of the past since it has been scheduled to be demolished to make room for air vents. 

Rez de chaussée - Aile centrale - Escalier - 57d Escalier Fleury

Photos by Christophe Duarte

3) The Billiard Staircase

The Billiard Staircase is well hidden away, tucked in as it is between three of the Dauphin's most used chambers and several of the private ones - consequently there are no windows so all lighting would have been by candlelight. The style follows the same simplicity used for the other private staircases.

Billedresultat for versailles escalier de billard

4) The Staircase of the Dupes
Marie Antoinette would use this particular staircase to reach her bathroom on the ground floor from her small apartments on the first one. The staircase is made of stone and is still hidden behind the panels. It is one of the many personal staircases that were not to be used by the public and has not been decorated accordingly - this one has bare stone walls and resembles more something from a medieval castle.

Billedresultat for escalier des dupes

5) The Semi-Circular Staircase of the Dauphin

The Dauphin's private staircase is uncommonly plain considering that it was made for the most important member of the royal family save the King. The staircase actually opens up unto to Antechamber of the l'Oeuil de Bouef which meant that the Dauphin could get directly to his father/grand-father if he needed to.

6) The Water Carriers' Staircase
Given the name and the proximity to the Queen's bathrooms it is likely that these stairs were used by the servants who carried the water to the royal bathtubs.

Billedresultat for escalier des porteurs d'eau

7) The Semi-Circular Staircase

Not much of interest can be said about this staircase except for the fact that it connects the King's private apartment on the first floor with a corridor connecting to the apartments of Mesdames Tantes on one side and the vestibule on the other. It looks out onto the Courtyard of the Stags.

Billedresultat for escalier semi circulaire versailles

8) The Staircase of the King

The King's Staircase was created in 1754 and in order to make room for it the cabinet des Coquilles was removed completely. It is located in the midst of the King's private apartments which makes it possible that it was for his use only - after all who would dare to use the King's private staircase without permission? Also - quite conveniently - the staircase leads up to the second floor where it opens up into Madame du Barry's apartments. The style looks as if it has been taken straight from the Petit Trianon of Marie Antoinette, so perhaps the Austrian Queen got some inspiration there? The staircase has a view of the Courtyard of the Stags.

9) The Epermon Staircase

The Epermon Staircase leads from the first floor - with direct access from the King's private chambers - to the second floor where it leads out into Madame du Barry's chambers. The staircase is designed with the characteristic simplicity that implies that it would not have been used by other than the King and his most intimate relations - notice that the steps themselves are made of wood rather than stone as is otherwise the norm.

Rez de chaussée - Aile centrale - Escalier - 82b Escalier d'Epermon

10) The Louis-Philippe Staircase

The Louis Philippe Staircase is of a simple construction compared to other staircases that can be found in the palace. The floor's pattern changes between black and white square tiles; this pattern is continued on both levels of the staircase. The surrounding walls are made of green and grey marble. It has been named after Louis Philippe who became King of the French in 1830 with the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. The sky-light lets in light through most of the day; otherwise there are the two standing candlesticks.

View from the bottom of the staircase

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Madame Adélaïde's Apartment

1) Inner Cabinet

This room was made famous by Madame de Pompadour when she had begun her liaison with Louis XV. By 1750 the room was widely known as being the red lacquer room of Madame de Pompadour. It was in this very room that the King's influential mistress died. When Madame de Pompadour died the room passed on to the King's favourite daughter, Madame Adélaïde.
The furniture is brought to the palace from Bellevue which also happened to be the favourite residence of Mesdames Tantes and strongly show the taste for luxury that Madame Adélaïde was known to adore. Above the doors hangs carved panelling depicting the four seasons - and named the same. Also, four portraits adorn the walls of the room. Those of the Comte de Provence and the Comte d'Artois are made by Van Loo and those of Madame Elisabeth and Madame Clothilde are by Drouais.

2) Bedroom

Several members of the nobility used this room for different circumstances - including some of the King's favourites. In 1724 Madame de Montespan took over the room and in 1764 Madame de Pompadour died in this room. It was intended that the room should then be occupied by the Dauphine Marie-Josèphe of Saxony but she died before she could ever use the room - she lay in state in this room as well. Madame Victoire then took over the room before it was passed along to Madame Adélaïde in 1769.

The wood-work was commissioned for the Dauphine who sadly never had the chance to enjoy it; only the overdoors' frames are still the same as they where when Madame de Pompadour used this chamber. Portraits of Louis XV by Charles van Loo and the Mesdames Sophie, Victoire and Louise (both by Drouais) are used to adorn the walls. Madame Adélaïde had a bust of her brother, the Dauphin, placed on the marble chimney. The chairs were created in 1770 just a year after Madame Adélaïde took over the room. The wood-work on the white panels are exquisite and inspired by flowers. Unlike many of the other ceilings at Versailles this one has not been decorated with a large painting but left bare to complement the soft décor of the bedroom.

3) Grand Cabinet

Madame de Pompadour left her mark on many of the salons at Versailles and this was one of them. This was a part of Madame de Pompadour's apartments at Versailles until her death in 1764. The slight curve in the very shape of the room was by her design and the marble chimney was created for Madame de Pompadour. This mistress of the King had the walls decorated with the finest and most elaborate wood-work but none of it survives to the present day - instead the present walls are simply done in white wood-work without any further decoration to them.
After Madame de Pompadour's death this salon was transferred to the ownership of Madame Adélaïde who transformed it into her Grand Cabinet. The present cornice is restored to the style it had when Madame Adélaïde occupied the room. The lovely instrument belonged to Madame Adélaïde which is most likely also the case with the violin - Madame Adélaïde was renowned for her excellent violin-play.
The two large paintings are of Madame Adélaïde's elder sisters, Madame Henriette and Madame Elisabeth - both painted by Nattier. Three of Madame Adélaïde's other sisters - Mesdames Victoire, Sophie and Louise - are portrayed in a portrait that hangs above the door but this is painted by Douais. The chairs are gilded and lined with Beauvais tapestry.