It is often forgotten that the royal family of France were seen as belonging to the people. As described in the novel Trianon, the palace of Versailles was open to the public; anyone could enter as long as they were appropriately attired. For gentlemen this meant wearing a sword; swords could be rented at the palace gates. The tradition of freedom and openness meant that the royal family often dined surrounded by crowds of people; the princesses were required to give birth in public. Merchants set up stalls in the grand salons, selling ribbons and snuff; beggars roamed the corridors. Security did not seem to be an issue. Unfortunately, such liberty led to Marie-Antoinette being stalked by a mental patient, but she refused to have the culprit arrested.
The grandeur of Versailles was already in place when Marie-Antoinette came to France as a fourteen year old girl. As queen, it was her duty to patronize French artisans and artists and by doing so put the money went back into the lagging French economy. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette did a great deal to economize as time went on. When the Queen tried to simplify her clothes and lifestyle, people objected that she was not living and dressing grandly enough for her rank.
Many people think that Versailles was solely a place of pleasure and luxury. That is not the case. Versailles was not only the residence of the royal family; it was the seat of government. Ambassadors were received at the palace; they expected to see French culture at its height and be lavishly entertained. There were many civil servants and government officials who had incomes paid by the King; there were retired servants who had life pensions. There were regiments of soldiers stationed there. There were the extensive benefactions of the King and Queen. All the cost of running the government was part of the expenditures of Versailles. The budget, and indeed, the tax system of the entire country certainly was in need of reform, which was why Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General in 1789. Simon Schama has a great deal more about this in his excellent work Citizens.Share