I loved Versailles outside of Paris, France. If you have ever been you will understand why. The palace, the grounds-it is all truly a work of ART! I am fortunate to have a guest blogger tell her creative and fascinating story, filled with historical information, of this magnificent place! Thank you Nikki Pitts!
The “E” True Story of Versailles by Nikki Pitts:
I decided to tour Versailles. Since I had such a great time on the Night Bike Tour in Paris, I booked the Versailles tour through Fat Tire Bike Tours as well. The tour lasts approximately 8.5 hours so it’s a full day of riding & sightseeing.
While in Paris, we ride our bikes from the bike shop to the train station (which is about 10 minutes away), then put the bikes on the train for a 20 minute ride to Versailles. Once we arrive, we pedal over to the farmer’s market to buy food for our picnic that afternoon. The market is fantastic! After we load up the bikes with our purchases, we bike over to the grounds of the Palace of Versailles (or as it is called in French, Château de Versailles).
Apparently, they try to keep the château & grounds true to history so the horses and sheep are there for decoration which has to be a pretty plush job for them. Our fabulous tour guides are Sadie and Matt. Okay…I hope I remember all the history correctly. If there are inaccuracies, then let me know. Versailles used to be the hunting grounds of King Louis XIII and was made the capital of France by King Louis XIV (“KL14”) from 1682 until the French Revolution which started in 1789. Three kings lived in Versailles KL14 who built the Palace of Versailles, KL15 who enjoyed it, and KL16 who paid for it…with his head.
The Palace is lavish…in fact, it’s downright gaudy. The Louis’ did not believe in less is more. All that flash came back to bite them in the end .
This place has a lot of gold. They also covered everything with flowers and paintings. It was if they had to have it all. Even if it did not quite blend in with the decor they would buy it, put it in a room and name it a certain “salon”. Apparently, the Dauphin & Dauphine (king and queen) had their own set of suites on opposite sides of the palace. And, considering all the mistresses that KL14 & 15 had, it’s no surprise.
The dining room was called the “Hall of Mirrors” and is 250 feet long, with 17 arched windows and 17 matching arched mirrors that look out at the garden. The literature states that it “reflects an age when beautiful people loved to look at themselves.”
The dining room was huge. But KL14 (or as he named himself, the “Sun King”) felt like he needed more space to entertain. So, he made all the people move out of the village of Trianon so he could build a SECOND DINING ROOM! Nothing was too good…he even had the marble brought in from Italy. KL14 spent money from France’s treasury on furnishing his home. One figure I heard was that he spent HALF of what was in the treasury. So he kicked the townspeople out of the area but named the dining hall after the village in honor of them. I’m sure they appreciated that sentiment as they were living under a bridge!
If anything, KL14 needed to be building a shower and bathtub because it is rumored that he only bathed two or three times in his life. I was reading The Raucous Royals (because I love gossip & scandal even if it’s hundreds of years old), and it stated that “In King Louis XIV’s day, people thought a good, thick, grimy layer of filth would keep you healthy and strong”. They believed water spread diseases by penetrating the pores of the skin and then infecting the bloodstream. Most people didn’t bathe more than once a year. The wealthy did change their linens throughout the day because they believed that the linen wicked away sweat and dirt, but they still stunk. And that made no logical sense. Come on, France. To combat the smells, the men and ladies in KL14’s court would douse themselves with perfumes and powders.
To be fair, the book stated that KL14 was so clean that he was almost fussy about it. “He often bathed in a big Turkish bath. When not in his bath, he rubbed spirits or alcohol on his skin (perfume gave him headaches), which acted as a disinfectant. And, as if that were not enough, he changed his undies three times a day!” The book also said that KL14 towered over his subjects at an amazing 6’10”. Unfortunately, he was only 5’4” when naked. “To compensate for his short stature, he wore a twelve-inch-high wig and six-inch red heels. But this was one look that no one could copy. King Louis XIV decreed that only the king could wear red heels.”
Now, this book also said that Queen Elizabeth 1 would bleach her teeth with dog urine so keep that in mind when judging the veracity of their information. Regardless of bathing or not, whatever he did it must have paid off because KL14 lived to the ripe old age of seventy-seven and was king for seventy-two years, longer than any other French monarch in history.
So, KL14 builds up a lavish palace and dies then KL15 assumes the throne (after a regency period since he was only 5 when his great-granddaddy went to the gilded gates). KL15 was known as the playboy extraordinaire. He claims to have had 5000 mistresses. One mistress, Marie Anne de Maillynesle, put together a business plan for her future when her looks started to fade. She figured out that KL15 liked his women more than ruling so when she felt like she was getting too old she procured women for him. However, she wanted more power…and since he didn’t really want to govern anything outside the bedroom, he let Marie Anne run the country. She would just start wars (like the Seven Years War) so she could resolve them and have even more power. The most famous of his mistresses are Madame du Pompadour and Madame du Barry.
We then pedal over to the Hamlet of The Domaine de Marie Antoinette (aka The Hamlet). In order to understand the significance of The Hamlet, I’ll give you a bit of background about the events leading up to the French Revolution. As I stated above, KL14 & 15 were living the high life by spending money on buildings, wars, clothes and women.
Then, KL16 comes along. He was set to marry Marie-Antoinette after the Seven Years War as a way to solidify peace between France & Austria. The story goes that KL16 was a nerdy kid who, at 15 (the age he married Marie-Antoinette), preferred to collect bugs & locks than look at women. Marie-Antoinette marries KL16 at the age of 14. Her primary goal was to deliver heirs but KL16 wanted to spend time collecting fireflies and pick locks. MA tries to seduce KL16 to no avail. People start looking at her suspiciously because she was not pregnant. So she did what most women do when they are depressed. No, not eat chocolate and binge drink (or maybe that’s just me). She went shopping. And spent MASSIVE amounts of money on all of the latest fashions. Where did that money come from? The treasury into which folks paid their taxes.
Finally, 7 years later, MA gets pregnant. She had four children. After having her children she decided that she wanted to know what it was like to live like a peasant…so she had The Hamlet built.
This “peasant village” was basically a big dollhouse & playground. She had sheep that she would have dyed a different color each day depending on her mood. She would then pretend to milk a cow into a porcelain bowl. Her peasant dresses were tailored. You can only imagine from the pictures how much this little playground cost the taxpayers. And, apparently, when the villagers saw her making a mockery of their lives…well, let’s just say that karma is a ______.
Meanwhile people were starving because taxes had risen dramatically to pay for such a lavish lifestyle in Versailles. So, they ended up signing the “Tennis Court Treaty” where they wrote a constitution and basically decided to revolt. I don’t know why KL16 didn’t see this coming. While KL16 was collecting butterflies, the French were collecting guns. So, the French Revolution starts in 1789 and the people started marching on Versailles and surrounded the Palace. Finally, KL16 & MA surrendered under the condition that they would live under house arrest at the Louvre.
They lived at the Louvre for a few years but when they saw the guillotine had been built and folks were getting beheaded…well, they came up with an escape plan. I think it’s now pretty obvious that KL16 is no mastermind. MA passed out her tailored haute couture peasant clothes and they sneaked out of the Louvre in the dead of night and probably would have made it to freedom had KL16 not refused to take a nondescript peasant carriage. He said he’d only ride in the royal carriage. Sigh. They were caught and beheaded. KL16 first…and MA almost a year later after she had been humiliated. People hated MA by this point too every opportunity to ridicule her. In the end, the whole family (except for 1 daughter) ended up dying. Definitely sad.
As is obvious by the pictures and my story, Versailles is gorgeous and full of history. The Palace itself is okay if you are into over the top glitz and extravagance. However I thought the grounds, gardens and the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette were the most interesting.
Nikki Pitts can be found on twitter @nikki_pitts and be sure to check out her website: internationaltravelchick.com