When I first set out to write about the Château de Versailles on June 1, 2019 I thought it was going to be a two-post endeavour, maybe three at most. The first post would cover the main residence and its history, while a second would encompass the gardens and the other residences. Wow, did I ever underestimate myself. On December 19, 201 days and 12 posts later, I finished my last round of edits and tallied the results. I had written about 97,208 words (around 216 pages) and undertaken 451 hours of researching, writing, and editing.
It was arduous yet invigorating work. I have endured many long moments of incredible self-doubt during the process. Who is it for? What is it worth? Why bother? I have so many other places to write about! At this rate, it’s going to take me at least five years to cover everything else! Why am I spending all this time on one place? I don’t really know. The only answer I can give is because I want to. When I sit down at my laptop, entire hours fly by in the blink of an eye. I want to know everything. And I feel compelled to share what I learn—in fact, I learn even more as I shape my ideas for an imaginary audience. Maybe only a handful of people will ever manage to read what I’ve created so far. And I get it! I’m not writing a light and breezy travel blog. My posts are long enough to be book chapters. But that’s okay. Because, right now, I’m writing these for me.
For years, I struggled with writing anything. All I managed was to crank out a hundred pages here and there of boring, way less-than-mediocre fiction. I didn’t have any ideas that fired up my interest and passion in any meaningful way. Now, I have the opposite problem. I am too curious and enthusiastic about my subjects. I write twelve posts in place of two. But I would rather have too much I want to write about than nothing at all. And it’s great practice. Even if the work I put in writing about the Château de Versailles doesn’t go anywhere beyond here, the experience of doing it is preparing me for future projects. It’s teaching me that I have the discipline and stamina required to do the work. So I’m going to follow this thread of inspiration where it takes me—even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense right now.
One of the things I’ve really appreciated while writing about the Château de Versailles is the exceptional quality of its website. It has been an essential part of my digital research, and the extent of its online collections catalogue is remarkable. I’m going to really miss using it as I move onto other topics. There were many interesting photographs, paintings, sketches, and other works of art available to discover. And although I managed to find a place for many of the images I wanted to share, there are a few that didn’t quite fit in with the main narrative. So I wanted to use this post as a means to share them here and, in so doing, celebrate the end of a long Versailles journey. Most of these images I found on the collections website of the Château de Versailles. A couple of them come from other locations—I’ve made sure to indicate where. I’m going to present them in (mostly) chronological order. I have commentary for a few of them, but not all.
Below is an illustration of the procession that accompanied Marie Antoinette as she set out from Vienna for Versailles on April 21, 1770. There were 132 dignitaries and over 250 members of staff (servants, hairdressers, doctors, blacksmiths, cooks, etc.) in the party. There were 57 coaches pulled by 376 horses—20,000 replacement horses were posted along the route. The journey took two and a half weeks, with some days of travel lasting over nine hours. Marie Antoinette was officially handed over to France on a small island in the middle of the Rhine river near Kehl, Germany and Strasbourg, France. There, Marie Antoinette was stripped of her Austrian clothing down to her stockings and underwear, and then dressed in French-made garments. Etiquette required that she retain nothing that belonged to the foreign Austrian court. This included nearly all of the Austrian attendants who had journeyed with her, as only one of them (Georg Adam, the Prince of Starhemberg, Imperial Ambassador and confidant of Marie-Teresa) would continue on with her through France. Marie Antoinette was even forced to bid farewell to her pug, Mops—happily, Mops would be later reunited with his mistress at Versailles. On May 14, Marie Antoinette first met her future husband, Louis-Auguste (the future Louis XVI), as well as Louis XV and other members of the royal family in a forest near Compiègne.
On May 16, Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste were married at Versailles. Below is an invitation to their wedding ball. Admission to Versailles for the wedding was by ticket only, and around 6,000 people of all ranks attended.
I’m now going to share a few images of French court fashion in the late 18th century. The image below is taken from the “18th Book of French Costume, 12th suite of fashionable clothing in 1779.” The illustration is of a “costume of a court lady during the reign of Louis XVI, used for the balls of the Queen in 1774, 1775, 1776 and adopted for the role for the Marquise de Lenoncourt in the drama entitled The Battle of Ivry, executed in Lyon by Sir P.N. Sarrazin, Costumer of the Royal Family.”
Extravagant hairstyles and dress were already the fashion of the French court by the time Marie Antoinette arrived on the scene in 1770. For years, members of the French court had already been required to powder their hair. Marie Antoinette was expected to match and even surpass the example of those around her. In order to do so, she enlisted the services of hair stylist Léonard-Alexis Autié and milliner Rose Bertin. In April 1774 one of Léonard’s other noble clients, Louise-Marie-Adélaïde de Bourbon, the Duchess d’Orléans, debuted a hairstyle he had invented known as a pouf. When Marie Antoinette wore her hair in a pouf at Louis XVI’s coronation in June 1775, the style became wildly popular with other members of the upper-class. Below is an illustration of Marie Antoinette with her hair styled in a pouf.
Hours were needed to create a pouf. First, a thin metal frame was used to base and structure the hair. A triangular pillow made of fabric or cork could also be used for support. Real hair was then threaded through the wire frame and intertwined with wool, flax tow, and other padding to acquire the volume that was needed for these exuberant coiffures. Heated clay curlers lined with strips of thin paper were used to curl the hair. Generous amounts of hair pins and pomade (variously composed of bone marrow, hazelnut oil, pork lard, and mutton fat) were used to hold it in place. The requisite white powder was applied. Then, the elaborate decoration could begin. Feathers, flowers, gauze, jewels, ornaments, and a large variety of novelty items were used for embellishment. The height of the hair usually varied from one to two feet, but Marie Antoinette’s was known to reach three! The higher and more elaborate, the more fashionable a style was considered to be. Below is a painting of the Princess de Lamballe, one of Marie Antoinette’s closest friends, sporting an exceptional pouf.
One of Marie Antoinette’s most famous poufs is shown in the illustration below, which I sourced from the website of the Musée Franco-Americain. The hairstyle, designed by Léonard and Rose Bertin, was inspired by the events of June 17, 1778 when a French frigate, La Belle Poule, battled an English ship, The Arethus, off the coast of Brittany. It was a minor naval engagement that took place prior to the official declaration of the Anglo-French War (June 1778-September 1783). The battle was celebrated as a victory by both sides. Marie Antoinette chose to commemorate the occasion by having a miniature version of La Belle Poule added to her coiffure.
Hot-air balloons became all the rage in dress and pouf-iture (not a real word but it should be) thanks to the demonstration held at Versailles by the Montgolfier brothers on September 19, 1783. This sudden passion for hot air balloons became known as balloonomania. If I were to ever go all-out on a Halloween costume, this would be a top outfit contender.
Below is an illustration of Rose Bertin who, in addition to hats and hair, designed dresses for Marie Antoinette. She is celebrated as the first French fashion designer, and was called “the Minister of Fashion” by her detractors.
Below is a sketch of fireworks that were held by the city of Paris to celebrate the long-awaited arrival of Louis XVI’s and Marie-Antoinette’s first son. A fireworks celebration held nearly twelve years earlier on May 30, 1770 to celebrate their marriage had tragic consequences: a gust of wind blew several partially exploded rockets onto the crowd below. The audience panicked and raced down the narrow Rue Royale to escape, trampling many in their haste to escape. The official government death toll was 133, but many people felt that massively underestimated the true number of casualties. It is still considered the world’s deadliest fireworks accident, and may have been seen as a bad omen for the royal couple. Presumably, the fireworks company (the Ruggieri brothers) and Paris city officials managed to sort some issues out in time for the 1782 celebration.
The sheet below, dated to 1793, discusses the discovery of a monument at Herculaneum. My French is not good enough to translate anything more, but I thought it was a cool find. Herculaneum, like Pompeii, was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E. Also like Pompeii, Herculaneum was buried in layers of ash and other volcanic material. Both cities were forgotten by time until they were rediscovered in 1709 (Herculaneum) and 1748 (Pompeii).
Below is a political cartoon that is critical of the relationship between Queen Victoria and several prominent French political figures.
While looking for the first photos of Versailles taken by French photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, I came across a charming image of his on the website of the J. Paul Getty Museum. Visitor calling cards, known in French as a carte-de-visite, were used by members of the upper-class when paying social visits. If an individual went to see a friend or acquaintance at home but found them absent, the individual would then leave a card behind to inform them of their attempted encounter. One side of the card was decorated and personalized with the individual’s name, address, and maybe an image, while the other was left blank so a hand-written note could be added. The proper use of these cards signified one’s social status. Disdéri noted the popularity of these calling cards in the mid-1800s and seized upon the idea of pasting photographs to these cards. They quickly became a hit, with images of celebrities and performers being in high demand. One of these cards is shown below, and it features a collection of dancers’ legs—one pair belongs to the famed Russian ballerina Marie Petipa.
In my fifth post on the history of the Château de Versailles, I mentioned that Napoleon III liked to use Versailles as a venue to receive important state figures. Queen Victoria was one noted example in 1855. In the image below, the King and Queen of Netherlands are seen touring the Hameau de la Reine in 1862.
Below is a visitor pass that grants “Ch. O’Conor” access to visit the “Imperial Palace of Trianon” in July 1868 from noon to 4:00 pm.
At the beginning of my sixth post on the history of the Château de Versailles I included a picture that had been taken inside the Tuileries Palace after it was burned during the Paris Commune of 1871. I did this in order to show the damage that Versailles may have suffered if the demonstrators of the Women’s March had similarly decided to storm the Château on October 5-6, 1789. Below are a couple of other pictures taken of the interior of the Tuileries in 1782-1783. The ruins remained in place for 11 years until the palace was finally demolished in 1883.
Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, visited Paris and Versailles in October of 1896; this took place a mere five months after their own coronation in Russia. Their arrival was eagerly anticipated and warmly celebrated by the French people. This might seem surprising, considering the anti-monarchical stance of the Third French Republic. However, the Franco-Russian Alliance had been recently signed in 1894 and both countries were interested in working together to contain the growing power of Germany. Paris was richly decorated in anticipation of the royal visit, with all of the city’s chestnut trees being covered in artificial blooms.
Tsarina Alexandra’s favourite part of the trip was the time spent at the Château de Versailles. Several of Marie Antoinette’s rooms were allocated for her personal use. Below are a couple of pictures of the rooms that show how they were decorated for the Tsarina’s visit. The Tsarina was delighted, but her superstitious companions were quietly horrified—they did not think it boded well for their Empress to stay in rooms that had once belonged to the doomed French Queen. They might have been on to something, as Empress Alexandra and her family would be brutally murdered by their own political opponents some 22 years later.
On a lighter note, one highlight of the Russian couple’s evening at Versailles was a theatrical performance held in the Hercules Salon that featured famed French actress Sarah Bernhardt dressed as a wood nymph.
The photo below shows a few visitors standing outside the Model/Refreshment Dairy around the turn of the 20th century.
My favourite random finds from the collections website of Versailles can be found below. There is a program, a pair of admission tickets, and several photos from a celebration that was held on the grounds of the Petit Trianon (including the Hameau de la Reine) on June 27, 1901. The festivities included dancing, tea, a luncheon, and fireworks.
I love these photos of the Hameau de la Reine during the party that can be seen below. Until time travel becomes a viable option for me, these photos are the closest I’ll get to witnessing the legendary celebrations hosted at Versailles during the Ancien Régime. Well, this and maybe attending one of the night-time musical fountain shows… if I felt I could handle the crowds.
An interesting detail is that this party took place six weeks prior to the day, August 10, 1901, on which two British academics would later claim to have had a haunting experience while wandering the gardens of the Petit Trianon. I previously tried writing about the Moberly-Jourdain incident, as this is known, back in November but found I wasn’t able to fit my account of it into the main narrative of my history posts without having it take over the entire discussion. I may return to the subject in the future as I would love to write about it still—perhaps for a Halloween-themed post!
The photos below were taken around the Château de Versailles on the day that the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. It looks like a thin wooden fence was erected to limit access to some areas of the Château and its grounds.
The fence appears to have been taller in some areas than others.
In the photo below, a man is setting up one of these short barricades. The caption for this photo is interesting, reading: “surrounded by enemy plenipotentiaries.” “Plenipotentiary” is a fancy word for “diplomat.”
I really like the photo below, which was taken from behind the crowd and several statues as they overlook the Château de Versailles.
Below is a cute picture of a woman dressed in the style of a flapper as she visits the gardens of the Petit Trianon. Have you heard of “Disney-bounding”? It’s when visitors dress up as Disney characters when they go to Disneyland. I’m sure “Versailles-bounding” is a thing, but dressing as the woman below would probably be more practical than going as Marie Antoinette or Madame Pompadour.
Speaking of Versailles-bounding, the photo below shows actress Norma Shearer in costume for her lead role as the tragic French Queen in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette.
There were a few interesting pictures in the digital collections of the Versailles website that show Nazi soldiers on the grounds of Versailles during their occupation of France in World War II. A couple of those photos did make it into my sixth post about the history of the Château de Versailles; a few more are shown below.
The caption of the photo below only has one word: “Humiliation.” It appears to have been taken during the arrival of the occupying Nazi forces at Versailles in 1940. Check out the crop lines! They probably indicate how the photo was trimmed for use in a newspaper publication.
That’s it! Thank you for joining me on this miscellaneous tour of the Versailles digital collections. I hope you enjoyed the images I’ve shared as much as I did! Also, if you’re keeping score (which I am), this now makes: 213 days; 13 posts; 101,495 words (225.5 pages); and 463 hours. A New Year means new topics on the horizon!