Friday, June 26, 2009


Bellevue was a country estate originally built by Louis XV for Madame de Pompadour. It was on a hill overlooking the Seine and the forest of Meudon; the view was said to be truly magnificent. In 1775, after he had become king, Louis XVI gave Bellevue to his maiden aunts Adélaïde, Victoire, and Sophie, the surviving daughters of Louis XV, known as Mesdames Tantes. Madame Louise having already entered the Carmelite monastery, Louis thought it would be good for his other aunts to have a retreat from the court, a house they could call their own. For all their genuine piety, Mesdames Tantes had manipulated and gossiped about Marie-Antoinette in the early years of her marriage, coining the term L'Autrichienne, an epithet that would later be taken up by the Revolutionaries. It probably helped maintain the peace at court for Antoinette to be at her Trianon while the aunts were at their Bellevue.

According to the Comte d'Hézecques, who in his capacity as a page at Versailles witnessed the inner workings of the court:

The position of Mesdames at Court being obscure and unsatisfactory, they were seldom seen there. They spent the chief part of the year either at Bellevue, on that splendid height that commands the proud city and the charming country around it; or at the Hermitage, a little garden at the other end of Versailles, by the road leading to Marly.

Madame Adelaide and Madame Victoire were the only survivors of the four daughters of Louis XV who outlived their father. The third, Madame Sophie, had died two years before ; and the other, Madame Louise, had quitted the world in one of those sudden resolutions that can only be inspired by great religious fervour, or by a quick and ardent spirit that will not be satisfied by smaller sacrifices—resolutions that always cause astonishment to men of the world, whatever be their cause....

Mesdames the Aunts only came to Paris in the winter, as they had been able to stay at Bellevue up to the 5th of October. Seeing that they were of very little use to their nephew, unable to enjoy his confidence, and fearing measures opposed to their religious opinions, they at last decided on going to Rome. Possibly in their solitude, standing in a position whence they could form a better judgment of the course of events, theirs was the surer presentiment of all the trouble that hung over their family; therefore, they separated themselves from it for life, but they could not prevail on Madame Elizabeth to leave her brother and accompany them. . . . No doubt Mesdames did not find themselves happy at Rome. The news of the fall of the throne of their fathers and the sorrows of their family came to disturb the peace they might have enjoyed in the Eternal City. They could at least carry their tears and prayers for their guilty country to the foot of the altar, till the day when they were forced to quit the hospitable city that had received them, by conquests that the noble head of the Church could neither arrest nor foresee. So they left Rome to retire to Naples; and, after several changes of their place of refuge, Madame Adelaide had the sorrow of seeing her younger sister die at Trieste. Her own mournful existence was shortened by grief, and she soon died herself at Klagenfurth.—Recollections of a Page, by Comte d'Hézecques, pp. 79-82.

Here is furniture, originally from Bellevue, that once belonged to Madame Adélaïde.

Here is a view of the orangerie and formal terrace at Bellevue. The palace was looted during the Revolution. In 1823, it was demolished.

In the 1780's Mesdames Tantes had Mique create an English-style garden at Bellevue, complete with a tower, a lake, a mill, a dairy and a grotto, similar to what Marie-Antoinette had at Trianon. It is fascinating that they were so censorious of the Queen and yet imitated her in that for which she was greatly criticized, the creation of fanciful gardens. The tower and some other structures of the gardens of Bellevue survived well into the twentieth century; little is left of it today.

Here is a picture of the grotto of Mesdame Tantes, which is just about all that is left of the Bellevue estate. Sic transit gloria mundi.

(Photos from Le Boudoir de Marie-Antoinette) Share


April said...

Wonderful posts about Bellevue and Montreuil, Elena - just what I needed after a stressful week at work. Your blog is such a refuge of civilisation and tranquillity!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, April, for your lovely compliment. I am glad you enjoy it here!

Margaret said...

What a shame it was demolished!