Discovering Versailles in the 18th century
We saw the heroine of Mistress of the Revolution, Gabrielle de Montserrat, readying herself for her first visit to Versailles. Especially for a young woman who was going to be presented to the Queen, it was a momentous experience. Let us listen to Gabrielle:
The Duchess and I left early on a fine Sunday morning for Versailles. I was attired in all of my new finery. She wore a black Court gown and the rest of her diamonds. Aimée, much to her chagrin, had to remain in Paris. Children, except those of the royal family, were not seen at Court. I dried her tears and assured her that I would be back very soon.
After the carriage had made its way through an army of street vendors peddling cheap mementos in front of the Palace, we passed two successive sets of gates and alighted in the courtyard reserved for Duchesses. I was awed by the size of the palace. Its wings seemed to extend forever on each side of the central building.
“I never imagined anything so gigantic,” I exclaimed.
“What you see is nothing,” replied the Duchess. “The main palace occupies only a small fraction of the grounds. And from here, we have not a view of either of the Trianons. Each is a separate chateau within the park of Versailles. A make-believe hamlet, complete with its grotto and farm, was also built for the Queen.”
Two sedan chairs, conveyances I had never used before, had been brought for us. We gathered our trains and, with the help of the Duchess’s lackeys, pushed our paniers into these devices. After much effort, the doors were closed on us. In that
manner we were carried into the Palace and up the Marble Staircase, which led to the Queen’s Great Apartments. I felt my chair being lowered to the floor. One of the two lackeys who followed me opened the door.
I was in the Hall of the Bodyguards, where I saw of the Chevalier des Huttes. He looked very handsome in his uniform, a blue coat, trimmed in silver braid, and red breeches and waistcoat. He was on duty and only bowed to me with the slightest hint of a smile. The Duchess’s sedan chair, covered in red velvet to mark her rank, had been allowed to advance to the next room.
She then led me out of the Queen’s Great Apartments. Followed by our sedan chairs and lackeys, we walked, or rather glided down the Galerie des Glaces, named after the giant mirrors reflecting the light from seventeen windows across the long hall. I saw statues of Roman emperors, red marble columns crowned by gilded capitals and painted ceilings celebrating the victories of the reign of Louis the Fourteenth, the Great King. I exclaimed at the number of courtiers, visitors and servants we met.
“Oh, you should have seen Versailles at the time of its glory,” remarked the Duchess. “Because of the budget troubles, much of the Households of the King and Queen has been dismissed now.”
The Duchess is right to mention budget troubles. They are becoming worrisome…
All posts in the Footsteps of Gabrielle series: