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Life at Versailles When Louis XIV made Versailles his home, he wanted the aristocracy and nobles of France to join him there. It was a way to keep them from plotting against the royal family as much as anything. But it wasn’t a life of luxury. Rules for how to dress, where to sit, what to say and where to be at certain times were rigidly adhered to. Even with more than a thousand fireplaces, the castle was bitterly cold in winter. It was recorded in 1695, that the King’s glass of wine froze on the table as he sat dining alone, watched by hundreds of courtiers. I was amazed that the room where this dinner ritual took place was quite small, you can really imagine everyone squashed in, eyes on the king and his heavily laden table, stomachs rumbling, hot and bothered in summer, shivering in winter! We pretty much know what Louis XIV did every day of his life as courtiers kept copious records detailing the minutiae of life at court right up until the king’s death from gangrene. It was rare for courtiers to have their own kitchens so they would send their staff out for food. A sort of shanty town grew around the castle and there were food booths and tuck shops on site. The wings of the palace were essentially apartments. Lots of records have survived from the days when courtiers lived there, there are logs of repairs and renovations and plenty of complaints, a princess without a bathroom, moaning about the cold and the fact there was nowhere to cook.
While in the winter it was wildly cold, in the summer it was roaring hot. In the King’s bedroom, sheets would be soaked in water and hung over the windows to try to cool it down. The palace is a labyrinth of rooms and for the royal family it was almost prison. It was said that Marie Antoinette, desperate for privacy would roam the palace, going through room after room locking doors behind her. One time a lock broke and it took hours to find and rescue her. Louis XVI liked to sit on the roof of the chateau with a telescope watching the comings and goings in the town. Etiquette and snobbery ruled the lives of all who lived there until the day when a mob turned up demanding access to the King and Queen. When they stepped onto the balcony, Marie Antoinette curtsied to the crowd, it was an extraordinary thing to do. Within hours the famous etiquette was destroyed. The Trianons and the Queen’s Hamlet The grand Trianon was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1670 and built by architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1687. Today it’s more 19th century in style than it was at the time of the Bourbon royal family, after being renovated by Empress Marie- Louise, wife of Napoleon I and Marie- Antoinette’s great-niece. The Petit Trianon was built in the park of the Grand Trianon was a gift to Marie Antoinette from Louis XVI but was originally built for Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV. The Petit Trianon later became a favourite with Marie Antoinette to escape the rigours of court life. She redesigned the Trianon gardens and created a model village round an artificial lake.
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