Friday, May 23, 2008

Gardens of Trianon

They walked together to the Belvedere. To Madame Elisabeth, coming to Trianon was like entering another world. At Montreuil she had gardens which were quite beautiful, but there was something magical about Antoinette's arcadian retreat. One always had a sense of expectation, as if there were some hidden enchantment only waiting to be discovered. She experienced a repose in the solitude of its groves and winding paths, where one could easily and happily become lost.
~from Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal
Shortly after her husband's succession to the throne of France in 1774, Marie-Antoinette was given the little Trianon as a refuge from the public life at the main palace of Versailles. Part of the reason for Louis XVI's generous gift was that he wanted to keep his Austrian born wife from meddling in politics. He also thought by secluding her, she would be safe from her enemies at court.

Marie-Antoinette loved nature, gardening and solitude. She enjoyed gardening with her own hands and found it a healthful exercise, soothing for her nerves. She remodeled the Trianon gardens in the informal English-style and she started a farm. The farm was a working farm, not just a folly for her amusement. Horticultural and agricultural experiments were tried there, including the potato, introduced to France at Trianon in 1785, for the benefit of all the people. Occasionally, the gardens were used for entertaining foreign guests, in a simple manner which did not add overmuch to the national debt, such as the evening garden party for the King of Sweden, shown below. As Baroness Oberkirch remarked, "Other people spent a great deal more on their gardens." Most of the nobles had very extravagant gardens and unlike theirs, the queen's were not just for pleasure, but had a purpose.

(Sources: Vincent Cronin's Louis and Antoinette, Nesta Webster's Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the Revolution, Baroness Oberkirch's Memoirs and Antonia Fraser's Marie-Antoinette:The Journey)

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