My husband and I were warned prior to traveling from Paris to Versailles; apparently we would be sorry to spend more than a day there. “You’ll be bored silly,” people scoffed. I now realize those people must be the very ones who plan fifteen activities a day on their “vacations.” Which makes it not a vacation so much as work?
Seriously, how can people not be enchanted by losing yourself for days in the trifecta of tours? The Palace of Versailles, the Grand Trianon and the Petite Trianon? Plus, you get the Louis’ thrown in – the XIV, XV AND XVI. Or Louie, Louie and Louie, as I refer to them. Since my husband made our travel arrangements, I was appointed chief research/historian. In the hopes of keeping his patience at a maximum as I ambled around palaces and gardens, I bought Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig in Paris and began gorging on it each evening as I sipped vin blanc on the hotel balcony. As a result, I had all kinds of juicy details – in case he started to glaze over.
Without further ado, let me tell you about the ‘Real Housewives of Versailles…
You might say Louis XIV and XV were lascivious. You might say they were snazzy dressers. You might also say they needed some sort of hobby to occupy their time. Although you’d think ruling France would be a sufficient time killer…!
Louis XIV found ways to amuse himself with his mistress Louise de La Valliere. She produced four children in seven years and probably never had another free minute again. Her successor Athenais de Montespan produced seven little ones in nine years! Louis (the Randy Ruler) later married a menopausal Madame de Maintenon, who, at the age of seventy-five complained that the king demanded sex every day and often several times at that. Personally, I’m shocked he died of anything resembling natural causes.
Louis XV inherited his great grandfather’s enthusiasm for amour. He had numerous mistresses, the best known being Madame du Pompadour and her successor Madame du Barry. Interestingly, Madame du Pompadour was – according to reports – frigid. Now, I’m not judging, but I would think frigidity would be one of the LAST qualities one would want in a mistress. The other one being fertility. Regardless, Louis began construction of the Petite Trianon for her, but Madame de Pompadour died four years before its completion. Contractor’s ay! I know my friends can relate – they thought they would be dead AT LEAST four years before their projects were finished too!
Madame de Pompadour: Frigid, apparently…
So, Louis has this gorgeous little love nest and no ladybird to occupy it. What does he do? Well, a friend sets him up with Madame du Barry, an infamous Parisian prostitute who just happens to be on a “friends with benefits” basis with many of the King’s ministers and courtiers. Because of this unfortunate history, the courtiers, and even Marie Antoinette couldn’t stand the woman. We all know there is no cold shoulder like that of a teenage princess. Ouch.
Madame du Barry: Not the most ‘liked’ mistress!
When Louis XVI ascended the throne, he broke with tradition. Instead of installing a mistress at the Petite Trianon, he gave it to his wife. (Of all crazy things!) Marie Antoinette loved Petite Trianon and used it as her own personal hideaway. Hey, it’s a lot of pressure being Queen, what with having a husband who’s basically frigid, a mother telling you to STOP gambling and START making grandchildren, and the fashion expectations of the kingdom to satisfy.
While her life looked pretty-in-pink from the outside, the reality was a frustrated, neglected young woman who just didn’t quite fit in. Never a great student of politics, Marie filled her time with what she could. Frivolity. Friendship depended on her ability to provide her “friends” and their families with positions and pensions. Her husband, unlike the Louis before him, was ineffectual both in and out of bed. He preferred reading about people than dealing with actual people. His inability or lack of interest in molding his young bride into a woman of consequence rebounded on them both.
Marie became known as Madame Deficit, while Louis was both pitied and reviled by a populace that had lost patience and confidence in the monarchy. To the people, it was as if Paris Hilton had become queen of France. Well, actually, Marie Antoinette had a jewelry scandal to her name, so perhaps more Lindsay Lohan.
The ill-fated Marie Antoinette…
Only her true love to remain until the end of her days was Count Axel von Fersen, who was her comfort and faithful supporter. A man who had attempted to rescue her, only to be foiled by Marie’s own inability to travel without what amounted to a giant neon sign blinking: THIS RIDICULOUSLY LARGE ORNATE CARRIAGE CONTAINS ROYALTY. You could say a woman on the run has no need for a silver dining service, a small wine chest and a leather toilet, but Marie took them anyway.
“Whaaaat??” I’m sure she said to her hero as he stood before the monstrosity with hands on hips and eyebrows to heaven. “I NEED this stuff.” I know that’s what must have happened because my husband and I had the same discussion over the luggage I packed for our trip to France. At least my folly only led to a visit to the chiropractor and not a trip to the executioner…