Princess of Versailles
Princess Marie-Adelaide of Savoy was quite a bright spark
in the generally staid and conventional court of the later years
of the life of the Sun King.
Arriving at the court of Versailles as a young girl of 10, with strict instructions
from her family to obey Madame de Maintenon when she arrived at court,
readily made friends of Madame de Maintenon and the king, Louis XIV.
endearing attributes and natural precocity and exuberance of child-hood, she was
a fresh and lively personality in the hallowed halls of Versailles.
Charles Elliott's book of “Princess of Versailles” offers a fresh and wonderful
perspective of life at Versailles during the reign of the Sun King, the life of
Princess Marie-Adelaide who had come to the court to marry the grand-son
of the Sun King, the Duc de Bourgogne.
The book follows the fortunes of Princess Marie-Adelaide's father, Victor Amadeus II,
Duke of Savoy, who often seemed to be living in the shadow of the Sun King and as a
consequence could at times be fickle with his loyalties. There are wonderful
descriptions of the court of Savoy given in the book describing the beauty and refinement
of the court and also
a spiritual essence as Princess Marie Adelaide's mother with her ladies would
painstakingly repair the Shroud of Turin with golden thread. The world of the
court of Savoy was far removed from the more worldly court of Versailles.
Princess Marie-Adelaide was in effect brought up by the king and Madame de
Maintenon. Perhaps because Marie-Adelaide had become accustomed to the king
and Madame de Maintnon over the years she would also interrupt the king in important
meetings, but also over time the king did come to rely on Princess Marie-Adelaide to
attend entertainments in the evenings, even when she was not well with tooth-ache.
Marie-Adelaide also suffered from a mis-carriage at one time as she travelled against
doctors' instructions so as not to displease the king. This may or may not have been a
cause of her miscarriage and the king most likely felt very guilty about this as afterwards
he did seem not to be quite so affable and people did not like to approach him for about
15 minutes. The king was most likely very upset. At another time when his soldiers had
been defeated with many losses Madame de Maintenon had to bring this sad news to him.
Madame de Mainenon and the king spent many years together and for much of the time
these must have been happy years. Madame de Maintenon became involved in her school
of St Cyr and the education of the pupils. The pupils put on a play of “Esther” on the stage which the king attended. The king often attended the plays
with Madame de Maintenon and would have enjoyed these shows. The king was supportive
of Madame de Maintenon's involvement and work at the school.
St Cyr had been established by
Madame de Maintenon to support and educate impoverished young girls of the nobility. Their
future prospects were assured as they had the opportunity of becoming a teacher, entering a
convent or becoming married, in which case a suitable husband would be found for them.
Entertainments and balls were often held in Princess Marie-Adelaide's honour. She was bright and happy.
Princess Marie-Adelaide was as the belle of the ball. Dances and music brought back an echo
of earlier times when Versailles was a bright and welcoming place full of amusements
and entertainments. In later years the wonderful spectaculars and plays of earlier times
had waned. Earlier there had been Lully and Quinault who had staged magnificent
music and opera. There were beautiful sets and magnificent costumes.
There is a coloured
illustration of a dream scene from Lully's opera “Atys” depicted as a wool and silk tapestry
in the book “Baroque” Style in the Age of Magnificence 1620-1800 by Michael
Snodin and Nigel Llewellyn and assisted by Joanna Norman. The colours and displays
of the stage look magnificent. “Atys” had first been performed in 1676 and became known as
the king's opera. “Phaeton” which became more popular in Paris became known as “the people's
opera.” There were so many wonderful entertainments of the earlier times at Versailles.
In the same book there is also a wonderful depiction of an engraving of the inauguration of the
equestrian statue of Louis XIV in place Louis-le-Grand, which is now the Place Vendome. It looks
to have been a magnificent occasion and I am also reminded of a similar occasion for the unveiling of the Bronze Horseman in St Petersburg. This also looks to have been a spectacular occasion from the pictures which have have been depicted.
The duc de Bourgogne had been brought up by a religious tutor, Fenelon, who later
had been banned from the court because of his views. However, his teachings had
influenced the young duc de Bourgogne, who would have liked nothing better than to read
and study religious texts and writings. At one time when the duc de Bourgogne was not
present at an evening's entertainment the king was known to say that as a prince of the court he
should be present at the royal functions. The king was probably not impressed or put out
by the duc de Bourgogne's absence.
At one time, during severe economic hardship, the Duke and Duchess of Bourgogne
sold their jewellery to assist less fortunate people.
After the demise of Monseigneur, the king's son, from smallpox, the duc de Bourgogne
was being made ready for his time to take over the crown from Louis XIV as next in line
of succession. Great things were expected of him and Louis XIV proudly did introduce
him to clerics and people of the church.
Unfortunately, in those times, there were not vaccinations available for small-pox and
many people also in Paris succumbed to this disease.
Princess Marie-Adelaide fell ill and passed away with the duc de Bourgogne also passing
away not long after. This couple seemed ideal and would have made a wonderful king
and queen. Two of their children were also lost from small-pox and a governess, Madame de Ventadour, refused
to allow the doctors to treat another son, who was very young at the time. This child subsequently
reigned as King Louis XV many years later.
I found “Princess of Versailles” to be rich in content and wonderful to read. The book shows
Versailles to its best advantage, the wonderful place which at times it could be. Charles Elliott
did devote a few pages to the earlier years of Versalles as a background to the story.
Princess Marie-Adelaide was popular at court, loved and admired by many people and sadly missed as also had been her grand-mother
Princess Henriette, Madame, who was known as “Minette” who had also died at a young age many