A breach of étiquette at Versailles
Versailles étiquette may sound daunting, but it fell by the wayside on special occasions. Such was the case during a masquerade in the Hall of Mirrors on the 25th and 26th of February 1745. It was given in honor of the Mardi-Gras period that precedes the Lent fast, and in celebration of the marriage, two days earlier, of the sixteen-year old Dauphin Louis-Ferdinand, son of Louis XV (and future father of Louis XVI) with his cousin, Infanta Maria Teresa Rafaela of Spain.
Queen Marie Leszczynska, wearing no mask, appeared at midnight. She was very elegant in a white gown, all embroidered with pearls, and the enormous Régent and Sancy diamonds in her hair. With her were the Dauphin, dressed as a gardener, and his lovely bride as a flower vendor. The new Dauphine danced all night with the utmost grace, only to discover in the morning that the elegant masked Spaniard who had been her dancing partner was not a grandee, as she had believed, but a cook!
The Princesse de Conti, a member of the royal family, was tired of dancing and went to a nearby salon where refreshments were served. Alas, all the chairs were already taken by other ladies. She took off her mask to reveal her identity and rank, but everyone pretended not to recognize her, and not one guest gave up her seat to her. She left the ball, furious.
What about King Louis XV? He was part of a group of eight gentlemen, identically disguised as the trimmed yew trees that decorate the park of Versailles (do you notice them to the left of the picture?) This gave this famous ball its name: Bal des Ifs (“Ball of the Yew Trees.”) And among the ladies eager to attract His Majesty’s roving eye was an ambitious young woman who would soon be known as the Marquise de Pompadour…