Monday, August 2, 2010


Montreuil was given to Madame Elisabeth of France in 1781 by Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Since life at the royal palace afforded little or no privacy, the King and the Queen decided to give the seventeen year old princess a place to call her own. According to Imbert de Saint-Amand's Marie-Antoinette and the End of the Old Regime:
In 1781, Louis XVI., who dearly loved his sister, made her a fitting present. At No. 41 of the Avenue de Paris, at Versailles, there is a little street running north and south, called the rue du Bon Conseil. At No. 2 in this street is the entrance into a building which extends for some distance along the Avenue de Paris. This house was built about 1776, for the governess of the royal children, the Princess of Rohan-Gueménée. A lovely garden was laid out there; from the top of a hillock, eight or ten metres high, which was ascended by a spiral staircase concealed in the shrubbery, there was a distant view of Paris, lying like a giant on the horizon. This pretty place was situated in what was then a suburb of Versailles, and was called Montreuil. In 1781, the Prince of Gueménée became bankrupt, and the Princess, in order to satisfy as far as possible, her husband's creditors, sold her diamonds, her furniture and estates, including the house and park of Montreuil. Madame Elisabeth had often walked there, and she greatly admired its shade and its flowers.
In spite of her love of solitude, she was the only princess of the royal family who had no country- house. One day in 1781, Marie Antoinette and Madame Elisabeth were driving along the Avenue de Paris. " If you like," said the Queen to her young sister-in-law, we will stop at that house in Montreuil, where you used to like to go when you were a little girl." " I shall be delighted," answered Madame Elisabeth; "for I have spent many happy hours there." The Queen and the Princess got out of their carriage, and just as they were crossing the threshold, Marie Antoinette said, " Sister, you are now in your own house. This is to be your Trianon. The King has the pleasure of offering this present to you, and has given me the happiness of informing you."

Madame Elisabeth was then but seventeen years old. The King decided that she should not sleep at Montreuil until she was twenty-five.
"But as soon as she came into the possession of her dear little estate, she spent only the evenings and the nights at Versailles. In the morning she would go to mass in the chapel of the palace, and then she would at once get into a carriage with one of her ladies to drive to Montreuil. Sometimes she would even walk there. The life she led there was monotonous and like that of the happiest family in a castle a hundred leagues from Paris. The hours for work, for exercise, for reading, in solitude or in company, were carefully appointed. The dinner hour brought the Princess and her ladies together at the same table," M. de Beauchesne tells us in his life of Madame Elisabeth.
In the same book he adds: "Later, before returning to court, they would all kneel down in the drawing-room, and in conformity to the habit surviving in some families, would have evening prayers together. Then they would return to the busy palace, at once so near and so remote, and enter their official home with the memory of a happy day filled with work, lightened by friendship, and consecrated by prayer."

The first thing that Madame Elisabeth did with her new property was to give to Madame de Mackau a little house adjacent, upon the estate. She thought that the best way of inaugurating her taking possession was by sharing it with her former instructress. The Baroness of Mackau, who was not rich, accepted gratefully the gift of the Princess, and established herself at Montreuil with her daughter, Madame de Bombelles, whom Madame Elisabeth treated like an old friend.
Like Petit Trianon, Montreuil had a grotto, an orangerie, and a dairy. Madame Elisabeth donated the milk to poor children. One of her maids was a Swiss girl who had left the man she loved behind in Switzerland. When Marie-Antoinette heard of the girl's plight, she sent for the fiancé, called Jacques Bosson, and paid for the wedding. The incident inspired a popular song, Pauvre Jacques.

Pauvre Jacques, quand j'étais près de toi
Je ne sentais pas ma misère;
Mais à présent que tu vis loin de moi
Je manque de tout sur la terre.

(Poor Jack, while I was near to thee,
Tho’ poor, my bliss was unalloyed;
But now thou dwell’st so far from me,
The world appears a lonesome void.)
Madame Elisabeth was at Montreuil on October 5, 1789 when word came that the mob was marching on Versailles. Although she had many opportunities to leave France, she chose to be imprisoned with Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their children. She shared all of their humiliations and hardships in the Temple prison, without regret. The following incident is recorded from December 1792:

On 7th December a deputation from the Commune brought an order that the royal family should be deprived of "knives, razors, scissors, penknives, and all other cutting instruments." The King gave up a knife, and took from a morocco case a pair of scissors and a penknife; and the officials then searched the room, taking away the little toilet implements of gold and silver, and afterwards removing the Princesses' working materials. Returning to the King's room, they insisted upon seeing what remained in his pocket-case. "Are these toys which I have in my hand also cutting instruments?" asked the King, showing them a cork-screw, a turn-screw,and a steel for lighting. These also were taken from him. Shortly afterwards Madame Elisabeth was mending the King's coat, and, having no scissors, was compelled to break the thread with her teeth.

"What a contrast!" he exclaimed, looking at her tenderly. "You wanted nothing in your pretty house at Montreuil."

"Ah, brother," she answered, "how can I have any regret when I partake
your misfortunes?"

Grotto of Madame Elisabeth Share


Julygirl said...

What a touching story. It truly puts to rest the tradition that the King was a bumbling oaf.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, he showed great sensitivity to the needs and concerns of others.

Lucy said...

What a beautiful post Elena. I loved learning more about this piece of history:) thanks!

elena maria vidal said...

Glad you liked it, Lucy. Thanks!

Allison said...

I am always whisked away to another place with your writing. Thank you for this.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, that is what I want my writing to do.

May said...

There are some places, that seem so linked to a particular person's spirit, sensibility and style that the person almost seems to personify the place. I think Trianon was like this for Marie-Antoinette, and Montreuil for Madame Elisabeth.