Life at Versailles

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Courtiers attending to Louis XIV dring the Coucher

  So, besides playing the games of political and social advancement, what was there to do at Versailles? 

 

Daily Ceremonies

 

  Everyday there were a variety of ceremonies for courtiers to attend, including that of levee (rising), debottier (when the king took off his boots after hunting), and couchee (bedtime) that were performed by not only the King but also by the other important members of the royal family. 

 

Cards and Gambling

 

  Gambling was very big at Versailles.  Although it was decried by the clergy as sinful, and had for a time been banished at the Court of France by Louis XIII, it returned in full force dating from the reign of Louis XIV.  High stakes was the only way for these games to be played, and people could really be ruined in a single evening if they had a streak of bad luck.  For the members of the royal family, and for the king’s mistress, the stakes weren’t as high because they were sure to be bailed out by the king if their debts were too high for them to personally pay off.

 

  There were also a great number of spectators at the gambling tables.  Not all courtiers played every night, or even at all.  It was just that when you played, you had a chance to get a little more attention than if you were just looking over someone’s shoulder and watching them play.  It was a stroke of luck in its own way to get to sit at the table with the king, his mistress or some other important person at court and get some “face time.” 

 

 

Parties

 

  Three nights a week there were receptions called “Appartement evenings” in the Venus drawing room with tables full of food and drink. Next door to the Venus room, in the Diana drawing room, there were billiards.  On the other side of the Diana drawing room was the large Mars drawing room with a variety of gaming tables set up as well as musicians playing. 

 

  There were also special balls and receptions held on a semi-regular basis in these rooms. 

 

Traveling the Court Circuit

 

  Versailles was not the only chateau that the Court of France inhabited.  There was also Saint-Germaine-en-Laye (In 1688 Louis gave it to his cousin James II, deposed King of England, 1688 to live in), Chambord, and Fontainbleau, where the courtiers hunted with the king in the fall.

 

Maisons de Plaisance

 

  There was a succession of smaller homes built for the king and his family to escape from the extreme formality of Versailles. These were places one could visit only by invitation of the king or queen.  

 

  The first was the Porcelain Trianon, begun in 1670.  It was set in the midst of a great and beautiful garden, reached after perhaps traveling down the Grand Canal of Versailles.  There the orange trees were planted in the ground- not kept in tubs as they were elsewhere at Versailles.  In fact, the gardeners would erect a large greenhouse over the gardens when the season changed.  It was called the Porcelain Trianon because it was covered with blue and white Delft tiles.

 

  In 1687 the plan was made to tear down the Porcelain Trianon and replace it with a building more suited to parties and dancing for a larger number of people to attend-  the Grand Trianon could accommodate at least 100 guests.  At the Grand Trianon, Louis XIV would invite ladies of the Court, with the understanding that their husbands were invited only if he specifically invited them also.  When Louis XIV’s nephew Philippe, Duc d’Orleans became regent of France during the minority of Louis XV, his mother Madame (Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine) lived in the wing called Trianon-sous-Bois.

 

  At the Chateau de Marly, perhaps the finest of Louis XIV’s maisons de plaisance, when Louis invited a lady, the invitation was also extended to her spouse. 

Courtiers hoping for an invitation would approach the king, perhaps on his way through the Hall of Mirrors to Mass, and say, “Sire, Marly?”  Also in attendance were gentlemen who would attend the Court but then drive back to their own residence when it was time to go to bed.  This was called “en polisson.” While the literal translation of polisson is “rascal,” Madame Campan explains that this expression meant “I am here on the footing of all whose nobility is of a later date than 1400.”[1]

 

  At Marly the atmosphere was jovial and etiquette was relaxed.  Men were allowed to keep their hats on at all times and Ladies were not required to stand in the presence of a ranking superior.

 

  Although Marly fell out of use during the reign of Louis XVI due to the enormous expense of use, it survived until 1806, when it was demolished.

 

Madame Campan gives us a description of Marly:

 

  “The very extensive gardens of Marly ascended... to the Pavilion of the Sun, which was occupied only by the King and his family. The pavilions of the twelve zodiacal signs bounded the two sides of the lawn…The pavilions nearest to that of the sun were reserved for the Princes of the Blood and the ministers; the rest were occupied by persons holding superior offices at Court, or were invited to stay at Marly.

 

  The diamonds, feathers, rouge and embroidered stuffs spangled with gold, effaced all trace of a rural residence; but the people loved to see the splendor of their sovereign and a brilliant Court glittering in the shades of the woods.

 

  The trees planted by Louis XIV were of prodigious height, which, however, were surpassed in several of the groups by fountains of the clearest water; while among others, cascades over white marble, the waters of which, met by the sunbeams, looked like draperies of silver gauze, formed a contrast to the solemn darkness of the groves.”

 

  In 1762 Louis XV and Mme de Pompadour commissioned Gabriel to build the Petit Trianon. Mme de Pompadour passed away before it was completed and so instead it was her successor, Mme du Barry, who enjoyed it with Louis XV. 

 

  Years later Louis XVI gave it to Marie Antoinette as her personal retreat.



 

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