Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The King's Birdcage

Many activities at court were wildly exaggerated in the countless rumours that circulated Paris. One of the rumours that damaged the reputation of Louis XV was that the King had a harem at a house in the Parc aux Cerfs! But - as always - the truth was far more down-to-earth although there was something about the rumour.

Depiction of the entrance used by the
young mistresses (notice the sculptures
of stags - Parc aux Cerfs translates into
Park of the Stags)
Madame de Pompadour had been the maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV for a some years when the name "Parc aux Cerfs" began spreading through court. It was also referred to as the King's "Birdcage". At this time Madame de Pompadour was no longer sharing the royal bed but was still the King's favourite - just as a irreplaceable friend. However, Madame de Pompadour knew that the King could not be expected to give up on his activities in the bedroom and after the King had begun his brief affair with Marie Louise O'Murphy (an embarrassment to the maîtresse-en-titre) she decided that no young woman was to take over her place through the King's bed.
So, with this common understanding, the King and his maîtresse-en-titre organized a rather strange "institution". Pretty young women were installed in a minor house at the town of Versailles just near the palace - of course the women had to be virgins so the King was not exposed to sexually transmitted diseases.

Madame de Pompadour herself supervised the house and - above all - made sure that none of the pretty little bourgeois girls would rise to be a rival to herself. It occurred that some of the young girls became pregnant after their encounter with the King but that was taken care of too. The girls would be married off to some remote member of the royal family and their groom would accept the paternity of the child - it might seem like a harsh way to deal with the girls but many of them would otherwise have married someone with far less money which would eventually have meant a poorer life (with regards to providing food, a house and a respectable living). The King himself would actually never visit the house himself; instead the girls were brought very discreetly to the palace and would carefully be escorted back.
These girls would never pose a threat to Madame de Pompadour's position - as planned - and the marquise was happy with the settlement. In this way she would not have to endure another embarrassing period like the one when Louis XV was sleeping with Mademoiselle O'Murphy and still remain his faithful friend, attentively attending all his needs without complaint.

The public knew that the place existed but had no idea of what was actually going on there. Soon it was said that the Parc aux Cerfs was nothing less than a brothel where the King could enjoy himself undisturbed. But the conditions of the actual Parc aux Cerfs was probably far better; the King actually cared about the well-being of the girls and everything would be provided for them. Considering that the girls were chosen by their looks they did not necessarily come from wealthy households - to some it was an improvement by far.

When Madame de Pompadour had died the King continued his visits to the Parc aux Cerfs where he would find his next - and last - maîtresse-en-titre: Madame du Barry.


  1. What are your sources for this information? I would like to look more into it, but I cannot see any sourced material.

    1. Sorry for the delay! I use memoirs from the reign of Louis XV and books on his reign but I am afraid I cannot remember the exact memoir

  2. Did the king deflower a girl and use her for a while, or did he deflower a group of them and choose from among them when he wanted sex? Is there any record of the girls going astray with other men? Was he as lusty as his father was reported to be? Was there any form of birth control used? Thank you.

    1. Hi Chuck
      Usually, the King's affairs were like most other men's meaning that he slept with a girl for as long as he - and she - wanted to. There is little to suggest that actual rape was the case since these girls were not "abducted" and taken there. Sadly, those are some of the stories around Louis XV but they are not true. When the King no longer had any interest in a girl she would be given a pension and could do as she pleased - including going with other men (sometimes marriages were arranged for the sake of respectability). The tales of his "lust" are largely exaggerated but both he and his great-grandfather (Louis XIV) were sensual men. As for birth control the options were rather limited. Actually, you might just have inspired a new post, so thank you :D