Thursday, April 3, 2008

Le Petit Hameau de la Reine

In 1783, Queen Marie-Antoinette commissioned the architect Mique to build a village and farm on the grounds of her private retreat, the Petit Trianon. The "little hamlet" was to provide food for the royal family, thus giving an example of self-sufficiency to other nobles, as well as celebrating the traditional agricultural life of the French people. The queen invited several destitute families to live and work in the hameau. She saw the farm as a way that her children could experience the healthiness of country life, without actually leaving Versailles. Life in the palace had little or no privacy for the royal family; Marie-Antoinette wanted her children to have one place where they could be themselves. Like many "home-schooling" parents, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette feared that their children would grow up too isolated from the real world. The farm was a "safe" environment where they could get an idea of how ordinary people lived, see the livestock, learn about plants and nature. Most of all, it was a place for the children to play.

The farm has often been cited as an example of decadence on the part of Marie-Antoinette, particularly the dairy with the porcelain milk pitchers. However, it must be taken into account that wealthy people all over Europe were building "follies" in their gardens, such as a fake ruined castles, ornate mosques, Chinese tea houses, solely for decoration. At least, Marie-Antoinette's hameau had a practical purpose. Of course, she would not wear an elaborate court gown when spending time on the farm; she would wear a simple cotton dress and sometimes an apron. Therefore she is still accused of "playing dairy maid." I somehow do not see how milking cows with her children and friends can be regarded as extreme frivolity; it seems like a fairly innocent past time to me. In the main "farm house" there was elegant furniture, a billiard table and such amenities for entertaining in the manner expected of a queen. Foreign guests and ambassadors were occasionally given hospitality at the hameau, although it was mainly just for the family.

There was also an orchard, berry bushes, fishing in the pond, and lots of vegetables in the garden. Everyone needs a refuge, a place to be quiet. In our busy world there seems to be more of an appreciation of Marie-Antoinette's creative way of carving out a retreat for herself and her family, one which patronized and exulted French craftsmanship while simultaneously helping the poor.

(See Vincent Cronin's Louis and Antoinette, and Pierre de Nolhac's Versailles and the Trianons)



Jen said...

What a beautiful place and a beautiful idea.

Many of us today (not wealthy), set aside money for vacations in order to "get away." As you mentioned, we all need a place of refuge. And our places of refuge do not always include ways of helping the poor/needy. I love that the queen commissioned this.


Anonymous said...

i wish i could have a's so beautiful.

Marge said...

Hi Elana! I love your site! I love the fact that you are getting the truth out there about Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI.Years ago, a friend of mine went to Paris and was able to see Versailles and the little Hameau. She had taken photos of it for me and told me I would love it, it was like stepping back into time itself.It's so odd, I was just reading somewhere recently,that her Hameau was nothing but a folly, an extravagance, and today, I see your post.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you!

Wniny said...

"The queen invited several destitute families to live and work in the hameau."

Do you know anywhere one could get to know who these families was? I am very intrested in this place, thank you for all of the information!

I am so sorry for commenting on such an old post though...


elena maria vidal said...

Natalia, one family was that of Valy Bussard, who had charge of the dairy. I do not know the names of the other families but they must be recorded somewhere.