History Travels with Nancy Padgett: Seeing History
Versailles: Stories from a Building 

Introduction: Stories
Louis XIV
Gardens Fit for A King
The Chateau

  The Grand Trianon and Napoleon
The Petite Trianon and Marie Antoinette
Women of Versailles

Getting to Versailles from Paris

Versailles: Stories from a Building

Americans love Versailles. Versailles: the grand chateau (palace) of the Sun King Louis XIV of the 17th century and of Marie Antoinette of the 18th. The place where World War I was finally ended. 

Our love affair with France dates back to the time of the American Revolution.  The  American colonies enjoyed the support of France against Great Britain. Without France's support--well, who knows what would have happened?

People from other European countries and Britain may think less kindly about Versailles.  France was usually their military opponent. Under the armies of Louis XIV, and later Napoleon, most of the time they lost.

Even the French, until recently, were ambivalent about the palace of Versailles. The Chateau represented absolutism and monarchy, inherited privilege and unassailable economic wealth-- the "old order."  The old order's understanding of life did not square with the "liberty, equality, fraternity" ideals of other French "people."  Eventually heads had to roll. 

Both sides had one shared obsession. Versailles represented "la Gloire," the "glorious people, ideas, and things" of France. The "things" of la Gloire included  territory and power. France was not a peace-loving state.

Versailles as a group of buildings reflects its time(s) and place(s). It has many stories to tell.
  Gates of Versailles and AW
The Gates of Versailles. In the 1920′s, the American millionaire John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated $20 million to renovate Versailles.

Louis XIV

The Beginnings of Versailles: from Windmill to Country House

Versailles is most associated with Louis XIV, the Sun King, but Versailles did not begin with him. To his father goes this honor. In the early 1600′s Louis XIV's father  acquired  a little hamlet 12 miles from Paris.  It was called Versailles. The name comes from the Latin word vertere, "to turn the soil." 

Two hundred peasant families lived in this prosperous little village. The village's windmill stood where the Chateau of Versailles now rules the countryside.

Why did King Louis XIII buy the village?  He liked to hunt deer with his aristocratic chums, and this area produced them in prodigious quantity.  In 1623, he built a country house and hunting preserve on the site of the village.

It was his private retreat: he included neither his wife, mother, or brother in his house's plans or activities.
  Versailles as Hunting Lodge of Louis XIII
Louis XIII's Versailles. Note the moat and defenses surrounding the lodge.  From an engraving of Gomboust of 1652, "Une Vignette extraite des Maisons royalles et remarquables aux environs de Paris." Current location: the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Photo: Antiquity Journal, March 2008.
Louis XIV took no interest in his father’s country estate until he became 25.  Then he discovered that the hunting lodge allowed him a private space for his extra-marital trysts.  It was miles away from the prying eyes of the royal Court.  At Versailles, he could make merry.

From love nest to power statement

Louis succeeded his father to the throne when he was but 4 years old. He was a bit of a "miracle child," as his mother and father had been childless for the previous 20 years. His mother, Anne, ruled France for the next 15 years as Regent.  The Sun King  took full control of his crown in 1661. Over the next two decades he pulled off military victories against Europe's largest powers.

Louis imagined himself as the most important monarch in Europe, not one-among-equals. He was the Sun King.

The Sun King needed a built environment--a chateau and park-- that symbolized the magnitude of his military victories.

Louis slowly manufactured Versailles into a power statement, a grand and glorious royal stage. A stage on this scale had never before been seen in Europe. How large was it?  Versailles in his day was 1/3 larger than today's Euro- Disney.
  Louis XIV portrait by Rigaud
Louis XIV (1638-1715).  The Sun King was 63 at the time of this portrait. 

From the workshop of H. Rigaud. The original hangs in the Louvre, with  a copy in the Apollo Salon at Versailles. This version: the Getty Center, Los Angeles.

The Gardens: Andre Le Nôtre

The Sun King's first great obsession was not with a new chateau but with the landscape--his parks and gardens. Louis was a good judge of talent: he hired Andre Le Nôtre. He was a genius in   French landscape design, capable of building magical outdoor spaces.

Le Nôtre came from a family of landscape designers and other connections who had long worked for royalty. He was a friend of top scientists and brilliant churchmen. His breadth of knowledge stretched from paintings to hydraulic engineering. In conversation, he charmed all.  Everyone was struck by his genius. Everyone wanted to talk with him. Not least the King.

Le Nôtre was not a member of the nobility. The position of royal gardener or designer was an "office," a property right that, with permission of the King, a person inherited or purchased. The "office" of the royal gardener brought with it membership in the royal court. 

Le Nôtre had something beyond his "office." Louis spotted in him a special genius, giving him permission to "always feel free to speak (your) mind." Very, very few were granted this by the Sun King.

The Goal:  From Le Nôtre's readings and conversations with other geniuses like Descartes, he concluded a landscape fit for a King must have long, sweeping, unobstructed vistas. The (King's) eye should be carefully led through a series of terraces, gardens with fountains, and flanking forests to a 'vanishing point' on the far horizon.

Within the park, French gardens were laid out in intricate geometric patterns, with geometrically precise lanes of white rock connecting the various pieces of the garden design.

A Le Nôtre garden was not complete without an astounding use of water. Water everywhere:  fountains and fountain sculptures, lakes and basins. The fountain must shoot high jets of water into the air, not gurgle gently like a fountain of ancient Rome.

The Science of the French Garden

Le Nôtre's garden designs reflected the latest in scientific thinking on geometry, optics, and perspective. Descartes would have been proud.

In the 17th century, educated people became quite interested in the questions of how we see and know.  "How do we see? What do we see from different places? How do we see a distant point --with one eye or both eyes? How to construct a vanishing point? " 

The engineering and infrastructure of the Versailles gardens were as important a statement of royal power as its eye-pleasing trees and fountains.  Gigantic waterwheels lifted water from the river. Aqueduct towered over the landscape to transport the water. Raised reservoirs provided water pressure. Pipes were made of the new material cast iron; cast iron ensured the water pressure did not rupture the pipes.

All was publicly displayed and based on the latest science. Le Nôtre knew to never miss a chance to show everyone  the King's prowess.

The Art of the French Garden

French landscapes advertised a specific  sensibility.  What artistic statement was Le Notre trying to make?  

French gardens were to be populated by trees and by water. There were to be few blossoming flowers and little color. Tree-lined walkways, terraces, outdoor "rooms" called bosquets, large hedges, and dense woods defined the new aesthetic.

Trees: If trees were the body and soul of his garden, what kinds of trees were best?  Le Nôtre needed trees that could be  severely pruned, clipped, bent, and otherwise bludgeoned into shape to produce that marriage of art and science most pleasing to the King. 

Although a botanist, Le Nôtre was faced with using only the trees already growing in France--hornbeam and elm, with a bit of lime, oak, yew, and spruce.  New types were imported from the Mediterranean. They did not thrive. The orange and pomegranates which delighted visitors at the Grand Trianon  could not be planted in the ground to become groves. They withered and died in the cold winter of the Little Ice Age of northern Europe. 

The King's officers turned to the New World. New species from France's colonies across the Atlantic were   eagerly bought.  Slow sea transport killed them off.

That left the Balkans. This time there was success. The horse chestnut tree from this area proved to be easy to transport and to train into linear orderliness. The chestnut tree became the backbone plant for the promenades (allees) of Versailles.
Water. Nature itself was to be rigidly controlled and improved upon. 

Nature refused to cooperate. It refused to supply a warm enough climate for the Mediterranean orange trees. It refused to supply Versailles with a vital ingredient--water.

Without water, the basins would be small. Sculptures within the basins would be modest, perhaps dreary. The fountains would burble gently rather than shoot majestically into the air.

Rather than live within the natural supply, Louis commanded more water to appear.  His engineers, equal to the ancient Romans and their glorious aqueducts, diverted the River Eure, 52 miles away.  More laborers died in the effort than Louis cared to admit.

French engineers devised a gigantic feat of hydraulic engineering:  the "Marly Machine." It supplied Versailles with water. The Marly Machine was a state-of-the-art hydraulic pump driven by 14 large waterwheels. It could pump substantial amounts of water from the river up the hill to an aqueduct and onward to a series of underground reservoirs.
  Versaille GardensVersailles Gardens Today. In Louis XIV's day, Versailles gardens and basins required much more water.

Andre Le Nostre Versailles Landscape Designer
Andre Le Nôtre  (1613-1700).
Competent, loyal, and possessing the high moral standards valued by the King. Painting by Carlo Maratta, 1679. Current location: Versailles. Photo : courtesy Wikipedia.

Versailles Apollo Fountain The Apollo Fountain (detail) by Charles Le Brun, constructed 1668.

French Landscape Design Chatelain Grand Trianon

How to Read a French Landscape Design:

--Is there space for the King and his guests to walk about and socialize? 

--Would they see formal terraces, each leading to a fountain with a sky-reaching jet of water?

--Beyond the fountain, is there a vista?  Preferably one that seems to stretch endlessly until it reaches the vanishing point on the horizon.

--Are the trees are trimmed at even height, with each side the same? Are they flanked by denser forest about 20 yards in?

--What colors are in the gardens? The trees should frame formal gardens with few blossoms or color.

--Are there gravel paths laid in strict geometrical form?  Do they pull the garden into a coherent whole?

Painting: "Louis XIV on Promenade at the Grand Trianon, 1713," by Charles Chatelain, 1714, hanging at the Museum of Versailles.

"The Marly Machine" Versailles Waterwheel

How to Get Water:
"View of the Machine at Marly," by P-D Martin, 1722, currently hanging at Versailles. Photo: Wikipedia


The Chateau: Louis Le Vau

Louis XIV next turned his attention to his father's old dwelling.  Louis'  fêtes showcased the park and gardens. But he could not control the high nobility with only a park, no matter how grand.

Louis zeroed in on constructing a chateau that would provide three things: a home for himself, a place of government, and on-site lodging for the "Court."

Unlike the palaces of his ancestors, Versailles was not to be a fortress. It must be moat-free.  Although Louis had the most personal bodyguards of any monarch in Europe, Versailles the Chateau must give the impression he was secured by his "grandeur," his magnificence as the Sun King.

The architect Louis Le Vau was chosen to transform the modest hunting lodge. It was to become a huge establishment.

Le Vau was himself a rich and powerful man. He was a successful real estate developer and entrepreneur as well as architect. In Paris today, you can see his  work on the Louvre, the Tuileries Palace, and the College Mazarin, also known as the College des Quatre Nations.

The Chateau built by Le Vau and his successors was much larger then than today. In its multiple wings were hidden courts, private rooms, and rooms sequestered deep within its walls.

Over 300 lodging units, designed to house thousands of people, were scattered throughout. To support all the occupants, it had huge kitchens, extensive stables, and chapels. 

Lodging rooms might be grand and large but might be awfully tiny.  Sanitary facilities, water, heat, and especially private kitchens could be hard to come by. No wonder the wealthier aristocrats pined for their more comfortable villas in Paris.

The Versailles project began in earnest around 1670. Twenty years later, it was large enough for Louis' purposes. In 1682, the Sun King officially abandoned the royal palace in Paris as the seat of the Crown. He moved both the royal family and the court to Versailles.

Versailles became the one and only seat of power.  If you wanted royal favor, to hold high royal office, or were simply commanded by the King, you too trundled off to Versailles.

As for Le Vau, one of his projects ended up scandalously over budget. Officials charged him with embezzling crown funds meant for the project.

  Versailles as modern 17th c palace
Louis XIV felt secure; his palace needed no moat or defenses. Versailles, by Pierre-Denis Martin. Current location: Versailles Chateau Museum

Versailles Royal Chapel
Versailles: the Royal Chapel

Versailles Blue Room

Versailles Marble Room
Versailles: Marble Room
  Versailles Visitors under the Gaze of Louis XIV Visitors under the Gaze of Louis XIV
The Salons and the Hall of Mirrors: War and Peace:

For his first  twenty-five years,  Louis XIV was King of the Hill in France and in Europe. France could mobilize an army of over 250,000 soldiers. Other European powers of the day gasped at their size.

France's navy ruled the Mediterranean. Louis  took on all of Europe--England, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, and the German states, by land and by sea.

Throughout Versailles, look up, look straight ahead, look around into the nooks and crannies in the magnificent rooms. Everywhere, images of war and of Louis XIV as victorious military leader assault the senses.  French military "glory" was displayed even in the design on the dinnerware. 

The Hall of Mirrors, stretching across almost the entire facade of Versailles, was the most intimidating. The route for a foreign dignitary to see the King was laid out precisely, to overawe the visitor even before the King became visible.

The visitor first passed through a series of Salons (rooms) named after classical heroes:  Hercules, Mars, Apollo. Room after room is decorated with sumptuous fabrics, regal marble, glittering glass chandeliers, and gold gilt.

The last Salon on the route was the Salon of War. Its visual center is the huge marble medallion on the wall of Louis. The Sun King is trampling the enemies of France.

From the Salon of War, the visitor entered the Hall of Mirrors. Visitors were (and still are) stunned with sensory overload: mirrors, gold, and chandeliers. One foreign ambassador has been recorded as soiling his breeches before reaching the end of the Hall and into the presence of the Sun King.

Visitors staggered out on the other side into the Salon of Peace.

The message of the route was clear: without Louis as victor, there could be no peace. France was destined to be the protector of peace for all of Europe.

AW in the Hall of Mirrors
              In the Hall of Mirrors

  Palace of Versailles Hall of Mirrors, Versailles France
Versailles: The Hall of Mirrors. Photo: Myrabella, Wikipedia

Versailles Mars Salon
Versailles: Salon of Mars

Versailles Salon of War Louis XIV Coysevox Medallion
Salon of War. Medallion of Louis XIV as Military Victor:  Louis tramples his enemies. Versailles. Stucco. Antoine Coysevox.

Who Was "The  Court?"    
In 1682 Louis moved both the royal family and the court permanently to Versailles. "The Court" meant the vast royal entourage.  It started with the 250 or so people classified as "people of quality."

The grand nobles preferred to stay in their Parisian town houses. There they had better quarters and more freedom.

Who was invited to visit Versailles?  Not just the high aristocracy of France. Lesser nobles from the provinces and the rich burghers of Paris were also welcomed to the fêtes. The provincials came willingly and eagerly.

People of quality included only the princes of the blood, the rulers of large provinces within France (the peers and dukes), those very wealthy noblemen of ancient lineage (with rank of marquis), important clergy, and military officers of high rank in the army and the navy, and their families.

In public and court ceremonies Louis treated the princes, peers, and dukes as his "cousins. " He liked to be surrounded by those from his own social sphere. They in turn acted as if they were set apart from the rest of humanity. Social respect they held onto, but Louis was careful to keep them away from real power.

  The Court also meant the thousands of domestic employees needed to provide food, shelter, and services for all of the nobility.

Why did Louis provide for these thousands?

Louis was trying to secure his throne. The high nobility had led the many rebellions,  civil wars, and coups of the era. If they were in the Sun King's sightlines and their welfare in his control, his reign and those of his descendants would be secure.

The nobility for their part some of the King's ever-expanding patronage, pensions, offices, and court spotlight. The high nobility held most of the "offices" of the household, such as the Grand Master of the Wardrobe, of the Pantry, of Ceremonies, of the Hunt, of  the Stable, and of the Kitchen. 

"Offices" came with a yearly salary, and all of them were for sale, right down to the cook's assistant. Positions could be hereditary, if the King agreed. If the King wanted a new face, the ambitious noble on the make bought the office from his predecessor. The price was set by the King. Presumably the King's coffers got a cut from the sale. 

From Grand Chateau to Financial Sink-Hole

Once started, construction at Versailles seemingly could not be stopped. Louis XIV's brilliant Finance Minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, became alarmed at the endless amount of spending.  Louis' wars against his European foes were already about to bankrupt France.

The King loved luxury. The Court loved luxury. Foreign dignitaries were overwhelmed by the luxury at Versailles, as they were meant to be.

To the entertainments, clothes, jewels, the hunt expenses, add the expense of construction.  Versailles became a white elephant  because it was the product of a bad architectural decision:  the Sun King and his architect Le Vau did not demolish the old country lodge first. Instead, they tried to build around it.

The architectural styles of the old and the new were too different.  It always seemed to need an expensive design fix. Building and running Versailles became a financial monstrosity. Colbert must have died weeping.

  Colbert, Louis XIV's Finance MinisterColbert (1619-1683) , Louis XIV's Finance Minister

Colbert combined the roles of Finance Minister and Arts Minister

Louis XIV died in 1715. His great-great-great grandson, Louis XVI, was the last Bourbon monarch to live at Versailles. Less than 100 years after the Sun King, the Bourbon monarchy fell during the French Revolution. A Paris mob carted Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette, and their children off to Paris in 1789. A few years later the King and Queen went to the guillotine.

The new French Republic paused. It was uncertain what to do in an age of democracy with Versailles, symbol of "absolute monarchy."  The need for money to fight wars decided the matter: The Republic  sold much of the land and the furnishings and mothballed royal residences

A few years later, Napoleon became Emperor and made his own kind of "absolute monarchy," He wanted nothing to do with the Bourbon variety. He kept rooms in the Grand Trianon and stayed away from the Versailles Chateau.
  In 1871 the Germans defeated the French in the Franco-Prussian War, and forced the French to sign the treaty of surrender at Versailles. The King of Prussia was proclaimed "Kaiser" (Emperor) in the Hall of Mirrors.

The French didn't forget this humiliation. At the end of World War I, the Germans and allies were forced to sign their own humiliating treaty, called The Treaty of Versailles, in the same Hall of Mirrors.

Today, the French government, a Republic, is resurrecting Versailles to the days of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.  To fund the effort, Versailles has become a "destination" for high-end events. The fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has held fashion photo shoots there. In 2004 Versailles was rented to the Indian steel tycoon, Lakshmi Mittal, for a sumptuous private wedding feast.

The Grand Trianon and Napoleon

Versailles, in whatever phase of construction it was, succeeded as a place of political and court business. It was a stage where the King could see and be seen. 

Over time, it became less of a home for Louis. Everyone minded everyone else's business. Royalty was scrutinized constantly. Louis XIV most of the time did not distinguish between his public life and his private one. He was king "wherever he was and at all times." His bedchamber was where he slept, ate, and held court.

Sometimes he wanted a bit less of it all. Where could the Sun King go? A more intimate chateau was needed.

In 1668 the Sun King purchased the nearby hamlet of Trianon. Here, he commissioned Le Vau to build a "porcelain" compound of five pavilions for him and his mistress the
Marquise de Montespan (Athénaïs). Porcelain referred to the facade and roof, which looked as if they were built of blue  porcelain.

Twenty years later, the material had  deteriorated and Louis' tastes had moved on, in both mistresses and architecture. The new mistress was the Madame de Maintenon, the new house was designed in the Italian style, and the new architect was Jules Mansart.

At the Grand Trianon, the Sun King could take his leisure, having lunch on the outdoor patio, surrounded by flowers and orange trees. Many were in container pots so the gardeners could move them around daily to please the King's eye, and transport them indoors for the winter.

The Grand Trianon of today has Louis XIV's  exterior.  It's a one-story, elegant pink marble building.  The interior furnishings are from a much later period, Napoleon's,  100 + years later. Almost nothing in the interior remains from the Grand Trianon of Louis XIV.

Napoleon installed various female members of his household and had their rooms redecorated in the  early 19th c. "Empire" style.

Palace of Versailles, the Grand Trianon Red Room, Versailles France
The Grand Trianon: The Empress' Bedroom, or Red Room.  

Versailles Grand Trianon Blue Salon
The Grand Trianon: Salon of Mirrors. Furnished in the Empire style, from Napoleon's reign.
 The original Grand Trianon, called the Porcelain Trianon

Grand Trianon Versailles entrance

The Grand Trianon, Versailles. The second Trianon.  The famous gardens are on the other side of the building.

Grand Trianon Peristyle
The Grand Trianon:  The Peristyle . The passageway, made of light-colored, Italian marble connects two pavilions.

Versailles Grand Trianon Napoleon's Study
The Grand Trianon: Napoleon's Study. Napoleon as Emperor sometimes used the Grand Trianon. More often he was in Paris, at the Fontainebleau Chateau, or off campaigning. 


Grand Trianon Emperor's Room
The Grand Trianon: The Emperor's Room or Malachite Room.

Napoleon used one room as a display case for one of his most costly objects, a piece of rare Siberian malachite. The Russian Czar, Alexander I, gave the precious stone object to Napoleon. The two had just concluded a treaty at Tilsit. The Treaty of Tilsit changed the course of the Napoleonic Wars, at least for a time.


The Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette

After Louis XIV. Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793) was the best-known person to live at Versailles.  Her husband was Louis XVI, the great-great-great-grandson of the Sun King.

 "The Court" grew to 15,000 or so by their reign, much larger than in the days of Louis XIV. It was housed in buildings around the grounds and in the town of Versailles.

By 1775 ideas of privacy for the individual were changing. Marie-Antoinette thought these ideas could be applied to her, the Queen of France.

Seeking even more privacy, Marie-Antoinette persuaded her husband, King Louis XVI, to give her the secluded house in the royal gardens known as the Petit Trianon. 

The Petit Trianon was built about 100 years after Versailles Chateau. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette began to hold court at Versailles Chateau less and less often; in mid-week, Versailles was deserted.

Other members of Louis' close family built similar rural idylls close to the palace. Why was her place regarded as unusual, even sinister? 

As Queen she ordered a system of mirrors that could rise by pulleys from the beneath the floor of her new boudoir to cover the windows when needed.  A mechanic named Mercklein received about 13,000 livres for this ingenious system. 

She entertained "informally," at least by court standards.

She had a Medusa medallion at the head of the grand staircase.

She built a "hamlet" of 11 cottages near the main building. The hamlet had a grotto with a secret lookout point. 

What was going on? For females of royal blood, adultery could be treasonous. Future offspring might not be the King's. The very foundation of dynastic succession would be threatened.

Versailles Petit Trianon Door Lock, Versailles France
Petit Trianon: Door Lock on Interior Door for privacy.

Petit Trianon Medusa Head

Petit Trianon: Medusa Medallion at the top of the Grand Staircase
   Petit Trianon north exteriorPetit Trianon North Exterior. Photo: Wikipedia

Petit Trianon Entertainment Room Petit Trianon: Entertainment Room. Green was the interior color of choice at the Petit Trianon.

Versailles Petit Trianon Grande Salle, Versailles France
Petit Trianon: Grand Salle, the Large Dining Room

Petit Trianon Grand StaircasePetit Trianon: The  Grand Staircase 


Women of Versailles

Madame de Montespan (Athénaïs)

The Marquise de Montespan, Françoise-Athénaïs, was Louis XIV's mistress for over 30 years. Together they had seven  children. The Sun King legitimized six of them. 

Montespan, called Athénaïs, even accompanied Louis XIV to war in 1667.  Of course, so did his wife the Queen, his other mistress at the time who was the "official" mistress, his brother, and several other ladies of the court.  The Queen, the official mistress Louise de la Vallière, and the upstart Montespan often rode in the same carriage. They shared living quarters near each other in Versailles.  It must have been a merry party.

There was one big problem for the Sun King. Madame de Montespan was already married. Her husband was a man so bizarre he held a "funeral" on his estates for his wife once it became widely known she was the King's mistress. He was not going to keep quiet.

French society was scandalized: two married people committing open, and seemingly endless, adultery. Athénaïs came from a creakingly old and noble family. Her father was a Duke, her uncle, an Archbishop,  who was especially outraged.  The King could not be seen to be acting as a tyrant--a wife stealer--toward a member of his high aristocracy like the Marquis de Montespan.

The solution: the Montespans must get a legal separation.

It took six years for the Sun King to get the highest court in Paris to agree to a split between Montespan husband and wife. The husband was promptly bought off. Madame de Montespan became the top mistress.

Athénaïs was a great beauty. She was witty. She was well-read. She supported France's leading literary figures.  She gave generously, from her own funds,  to hospitals and convents.  She did not allow her six children to get in the way of her public life.

Her lodgings at Versailles were on the ground floor. The lodgings were entered from an imposing vestibule. Marble columns gave it soaring majesty. She loved flowers. Flowers and statues of classical deities abounded. She played the roles of party-giver and socialite admirably.

In 1670, Louis XIV built the "Porcelain Trianon" for the two of them. The Sun King and Montespan wanted to escape the deep rigidity and incessant spotlight of court living. The Porcelain Trianon was relaxing, enhanced by a riot of flowers in the gardens.

Eventually, Athénaïs too was overturned in favor of a younger woman. After bearing all those children for Louis XIV, she had put on quite a bit of weight. She became unattractive to the King. So much for true love and loyalty.

In 1691, thirty-some years after becoming the Sun King's mistress, Madame de Montespan was shoved off toward the convent. She was not even invited to her daughter's wedding to the Duc d'Orléans.

Happily for Montespan, she was dispatched in style. The King gave her a "severance package" or pension of half a million francs. She lived at the convent for ten years, dying at age 65 in 1707.

Versailles post-script: When Athénaïs left the court, her lodgings at Versailles passed, not to a member of the Royal Court governing group, but to the second son of Athénaïs and the King.  Upon this son's death, his widow "inherited" the magnificent lodgings.
  Versailles Marquise de Montespan, Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan (1640-1701).  Portrait possibly by the circle of Pierre Mignard.

Versailles Interior CorridorInterior corridor at Versailles. Even bedrooms were open. At the foot of the bed was a long corridor that connected all the rooms.  Everyone at Versailles lived their lives in public.

Sketch of exterior of the Porcelain Trianon, Versailles FranceThe Porcelain Trianon, main pavilion. It lasted about 20 years. The roof was painted to resemble porcelain tiles; inside tiles in the Chinoiserie style were everywhere. Nothing remains today. Drawing: Architectural Watercolors. by Andrew Zega and Bernd Dams
Madame de Maintenon (Françoise)

Françoise de Maintenon became Louis' favored one in place of Athénaïs.

Françoise d'Aubigne  was a pious woman who did not participate in some of the more excessive behaviors at Court. She loved children and became the governess of the children of Athénaïs and the King. The children loved her more than their own mother, who paid them little attention.

The Court was baffled when Louis XIV chose Francoise. She was of somewhat inferior birth to most of the Court, with a questionable marriage behind her. She was not especially beautiful, plus she was older than the middle-aged King! Was she now the governess of the King, as she had been of his children?

Evidently Louis was ready for seriousness, piety and friendship as well as wit and verve. He couldn't get along without Maintenon. It is thought they married, in a private, religious ceremony blessed by the Church. Since the marriage did not take place as a State marriage, Madame de Maintenon never became Queen of France. The King and Françoise, for example, could never dine together in public.

For Françoise, Louis demolished in 1687 the original Grand Trianon (the Porcelain Trianon) and rebuilt it in pink Italian marble. This is the Grand Trianon the visitor sees today.

The King and Maintenon walked through the garden, full of exotic and heavily scented flowers. They enjoyed musical events and dining al fresco. They stayed together for 22 years, still enjoying intimate times into their seventies.

Françoise came from a mixed Catholic-Protestant background, and her piety was well-known. She kept a series of notebooks. In them she jotted down an unorganized collection of religious sayings and texts. A rag-bag they may have been, but they evidently empowered her to write, and believe, "I may not keep from the King anything of the things he needs to know from me and that nobody else has the courage to tell him."  Bold words, indeed.

Francoise gave away most of her money to charities. She particularly believed in  education for (a few) girls. She started a free school at nearby St.-Cyr for girls from well-born but poor families.  It was a type of finishing-school training camp for marriage. Upon finishing, the girls would then function as useful, virtuous wives to well-off gentlemen. They were the backbone of French society.

Louis died in 1715, four years earlier than she. After the King's death, she retired to seclusion at St.-Cyr, where she died at age 84 in 1719. Not popular at Court for her sense of order and decorum, her arch-rival wrote: "I just learned that old Maintenon croaked last night. If only it had happened thirty years earlier."
  Francoise Madame de Maintenon Françoise, Madame de Maintenon, (1635-1719). By Pierre Mignard
Marie Antoinette

Charming and graceful, she partied. Her husband, the King, piddled with small stuff like his lock-making

She gave mixed signals about compliance with the ancient "etiquette of decency", still in place, especially for the royal females.

The rules for royals required two ladies-in-waiting  to follow a Queen around at all times to protect her virtue.

A Queen was never to eat with men, even the King's brothers, in the King's absence.

Royal females were segregated from nonroyal men at meals, even when the King was present.

A gentleman was never to put his hand on the back of a woman's armchair. And so forth...

Despite the rules, recent work by historians has led to renewed speculation Marie Antoinette had a lover. She met with him at both Versailles Chateau and at the Petite Trianon. Marie-Antoinette installed a secret door in her Queen's Bedchamber in the Versailles Chateau. Behind it lay private rooms. For her two bedroom chambers, she installed a set of complex, unusual inside locks which she operated from her bed.

Unfortunately for her, Marie-Antoinette was caught in the expectations of the public set by Louis XIV a century earlier.

The King and Queen of France must be constantly observable, at least by the aristocracy at court. The French equated a royal life lived in public with a morally reputable life, despite any evidence  to the contrary.

Marie-Antoinette embraced more modern ideas of privacy. In the end, her informality became a fatal liability.

  Marie-Antoinette Queen of France portraitMarie Antoinette (1755-1793), 8th daughter of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Painting by Gautier-Dagoty, 1775, shortly after Marie-Antoinette became Queen of France/span> (detail). Photo: Joconde; location: Versailles Chateau Museum.

Versailles Marie Antoinette's BedchamberVersailles Chateau: Marie-Antoinette's Bedchamber.  
The Queen's "secret door" (left corner) led to interior corridors, staircases, and very private rooms.

Napoleon's Second Wife,
Marie Louise of Austria.

Marie Louise's father was the Habsburg Emperor Francis I of Austria and her mother was his second wife. Marie Louise had an impeccable royal ancestry. Her lineage was highly prized by Napoleon, by then Emperor of France.

Marie Louise  was also young and could  bear children. Napoleon's first wife and great love, Josephine, could not. Marie-Louise was fluent in English, French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, in addition to her native German.

She was married off to Emperor Napoleon in 1810  when she was 18, and he 41. A year later she fulfilled her role and gave birth to their son, Napoleon II.

Three years after that, Emperor Napoleon was defeated in battle by a coalition of  the other major European Powers and sent into exile. Marie Louise never saw him again, nor seemed to want to.

She couldn't very well continue as the Empress of France after Napoleon's final defeat. On the other hand, she WAS a Habsburg and former Empress.

The European Powers in 1814 made Marie Louise a duchess of an independent duchy-state in Italy, Parma. She and the residents of Parma seemed happy with each other. br />
She remarried twice, had two more children and died in Parma at age 56.

Her son by Napoleon died unexpectedly in Vienna of tuberculosis at age 21. He had no heirs.

At the Grand Trianon,  Empress Marie Louise was assigned Louis XIV's old  bedroom.

She furnished it in this striking red.  

  Versailles Empress Marie Louise Grand Trianon
Empress Marie Louise of Austria (1791-1847) Painting by Robert Lefevre, 1812. Current location: Museum of Glauco Lombardi in Parma.

Versailles Empress' Bedroom Grand TrianonThe Grand Trianon, Versailles: The Empress' Bedchamber, or the Red Room  

Napoleon's Mother
occupied the Salon des Glaces, or the Room of Mirrors, at the Grand Trianon.

Her name was Letizia Ramolino Bonaparte. Napoleon was devoted to his family. When he became Emperor, his mother received the title of Madame Mère de l'Empereur in 1804. Napoleon supported her with an allowance of 25,000 francs per month.

Letizia had 13 children. Eight survived. Napoleon in his new version of Europe made most of them monarchs .

Although she never learned French, she still got to live at the Grand Trianon. She died in 1836, aged 85.
  Napoleon's Mother location Bowes Museum
Napoleon's Mother, Letizia Ramolino (1750-1836). Painting by Louis-Leopold Boilly, early 19th c. Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, U.K.

How to Get to Versailles from Paris

IMPORTANT:  Leave Paris early even if you already have a Chateau entry ticket.  Hordes of tour busses rumble into the parking lot around 9:30 am. The security lines at the Versailles Chateau clog up.

1. Find your nearest RER-C station or stop. The stations are often shared with the Paris Metro.

2. Buy a return (round trip) ticket to Versailles Chateau on the RER-C line. Best to buy in advance as ticket machines may not work or the station agent window may not be open.  Your Metro ticket is NOT valid for this journey.

3. Find the RER-C platform headed in the direction "Versailles."

4. Take the train named “VICK.” The name is on the top part of the engine face as the train enters the station. Do not take any other train labeled “Versailles.”  If in doubt, look for other tourists and French school-children, all of whom are going to Versailles.

5. The journey takes 45 minutes.

6. The name of the station where you will get off is Versailles Rive-Gauche. You can't go wrong: the train deadheads at this station and everyone gets off.  Follow the crowd to Versailles Chateau about ½ mile away.

A note: The RER train system covers the “Ile de France.” What the heck does this mean? “Ile de France” means the greater Paris area, similar to "the San Francisco Bay Area." RER trains are part of the Ile de France greater transportation system, running from the suburbs into and around Paris.

You may contact me, Nancy Padgett, at NJPadgett@gmail.com