A DAY AT VERSAILLES

 Marie Antoinette Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun
 Marie Antoinette holding rose

WITH MARIE ANTOINETTE...



WAKING...

As her mother wishes to know how the days are passed; she gets up between nine and ten, and, having dressed herself and said her morning prayers, she breakfasts, and then she goes to the apartments of her aunts, whose she usually finds the king. That lasts till half-past ten; then at eleven she has her hair dressed.
— Marie Antoinette, letter to her mother Maria Theresa, c. July 1770
 Marie Antoinette's Bedroom Versailles

Waking up in her sumptuous bed, Marie would first be presented with a large book - the gazette des atours - which was filled with a multitude of fabric swatches, each one from a dress in her wardrobe. She would have to choose three each day, by sticking pins into three of the lavish swatches...

  1. The first: a formal silk or velvet court gown for the Mass of the day.
  2. The second: a more informal cotton, muslin or lawn gown for the afternoon's proceedings.
  3. The third: an elaborate evening gown for any concerts, balls and dinners.

The dresses would be brought down to her later, in large baskets covered with green taffeta. 


PETIT DÉJEUNER - BREAKFAST

Marie would either eat breakfast in bed, or at a small table set near her couch. Breakfast would normally consist of a simple coffee or hot chocolate, with kipfel - a kind of Austrian bread.

 

&

PETITES ENTRÉES

At the same time as having her breakfast, or just proceeding it, Marie would receive people into her room, including her physician, secretary and other important persons.


BAIN DE MODESTIE - THE BATH

Sometimes Marie would have her breakfast in the bath, as she bathed quite often. A large slipper bathtub was then rolled into the dove grey bathroom, with its sloping tiled floors, and Marie would don a flannel chemise buttoned from head to toe to keep her body concealed from her ladies in waiting who bathed her. 

In the bath would be placed a fragrant muslin pad filled with sweet almonds, pine nuts, linseed, lily bulbs and marshmellow roots. Marie also loved to douse herself in eau de fleur d'orange - orange blossom water.

A towel was then wrapped around the Queen, and she would change into a long chemise as her bed was being warmed. Then she could await the day's Lever ceremony while reading in bed or working on a tapestry.


LEVER | CHAMBRE - THE MORNING DRESSING

At twelve, what is called the Chamber is held, and there every one who does not belong to the common people may enter. I put on my rouge and wash my hands before all the world; the men go out, and the women remain; and then I dress myself in their presence.
— Marie Antoinette, letter to her mother Maria Theresa, c. July 1770

ROUGE

While the ladies that would dress Marie were arriving, a small escritoire à toilette was wheeled out into the middle of her bedroom, its graceful baroque roll-top lid concealing a mirror and small, silk lined drawers filled with:

powders, paints, rouges, pomades, pin cushions and wig powders stashed in wooden boxes. 

Using these, Marie would create a fashionably milky white complexion, with rosy cheeks, adding a dash of pomade to her lips and eyelashes to enhance them. 

THE SPECTACLE

Then came the dressing. This was one of the most important rituals of the day, not for the queen, but for her attendants - as only the highest members of her household, or of the court, had the right to grandes entrées, to watch the spectacle. And only the most titled of those were permitted to help dress the queen. It was truly an honour to help the Queen dress each day, and the proceedings could be interrupted as each princess entered the bedroom...

The dame d’honneur handed Marie Antoinette her chemise, while the dame d’atours would help her into her dress and put on any jewellery. If a princess of the royal family was present, the dame d’honneur would hand the chemise to her instead. Then that princess would give the chemise to Marie Antoinette. If a princess du sang was present, the dame d’honneur would hand the chemise to the dame d’atours, who would then hand it to that princess, who would then hand it to Marie Antoinette. 
 Marie Antoinette bust Verailles

MARIE'S Wardrobe

It is true I am rather taken up with dress; but as to feathers, everyone wears them and it would seem extraordinary if I did not.
— Marie Antoinette, letter to her mother Maria Theresa, 5 March 1775.

Marie Antoinette's wardrobe was housed in three separate rooms, dedicated solely for that purpose.

Etiquette decreed that she must not wear a dress more than once, and that she must change her dress three times a day. It was also politesse that moved her to order eighteen pairs of pastel-coloured, violet-scented gloves, and four new pairs of shoes each week.

Marie's taste and style was her own, though. Always impeccable, and ever fashionable, she ordered many of her gowns from her favoured designer: Rose Bertin. Two times a week, Rose would visit Versailles with new swatches and designs to show the Queen; designs with romantic names such as 'Heart's Agitation' and 'Stifled Sighs'. Rose could also fulfill Marie's desires for decorated hats, perfumed fans, hair feathers, and the like.

ROSE BERTIN CATALOGUE:
Decorated silk hat: 60 Livres.
Plain straw hat: 20-40 Livres.
Court Gown: 1,900-2,800 Livres.
 Curtain of red at Versailles
 Painted ceilings of Versailles

THE MASS

Then comes mass. If the king is at Versailles, I go to mass with him, my husband, and my aunts; if he is not there, I go alone with the dauphin, but always at the same hour.
— Marie Antoinette, letter to her mother Maria Theresa, c. July 1770.

Leaving her apartments, Marie would be trailed by an large entourage on her way to mass, including members of her own household, the princesses of the court, their attendants, and the courtiers who attended her Chambre ceremony that morning. The walk to mass was often a time of great gossip, which sometimes continued during the solemn ceremony of the mass, held in the chapel of Versailles.

 

 Hall of Mirrors Versailles

DINING - THE MIDDAY MEAL

After mass we two dine by ourselves in the presence of all the world; but dinner is over by half-past one, as we both eat very fast.
— Marie Antoinette, letter to her mother Maria Theresa, c. July 1770

We cannot ignore the hint of humour in Marie's description of the midday meal, which was a grand spectacle: the King and herself placed at the table for all to see, the public peeping through the ranks of Swiss Guards to get a peek, and those most noble persons of the court having the privilege to sit behind the royal couple. All watching.

The dishes would be served in a formal fashion, with many courses laid onto the table - pheasant and other fowl, fish, beef and other red meats; all laid onto the table in strict symmetrical patterns of diamonds or squares, with the larger dishes forming the points and smaller ones filling in the pattern. Servers would offer up glasses of drink on silver platters, and drinks would not be placed back onto the table, but onto the silver platter. Marie would not eat much during these lavish banquets, and would prefer to eat a more sensible meal of boiled chicken and vegetables later in her own apartments.


AFTERNOON AMUSEMENTS

From the dinner-table I go to the dauphin’s apartments, and if he has business, I return to my own rooms, where I read, write, or work; for I am making a waistcoat for the king, which gets on but slowly, though, I trust, with God’s grace, it will be finished before many years are over. At three o’clock I go again to visit my aunts, and the king comes to them at the same hour. At four the abbé comes to me, and at five I have every day either my harpsichord-master or my singing-master till six. At half-past six I go almost every day to my aunts, except when I go out walking.
— Marie Antoinette, letter to her mother Maria Theresa, c. July 1770.

After the midday meal, Marie would often change into her less formal dress, picked that morning from the gazette des atours. She would then pursue any variety of cultured activities - from working on her tapestries and needle-work, to reading in the library, to walking about the grounds.

 pastel room in Versailles
 Versailles gold gates

CARD GAMES

At seven we play cards till nine o’clock; but when the weather is fine I go out walking, and then there is no play in my apartments, but it is held at my aunts’.
— Marie Antoinette, letter to her mother Maria Theresa, c. July 1770.

Card games were a big attraction at the palace, and gambling at them was one of Marie's favourite pastimes. Many courtiers would get dressed just for the occasion, Marie would don her evening dress, and the games would begin at nine or so. Again, the public were allowed to watch, and even bet on the players, but the highest tables - in the King's and Queens apartments, were closed to only a small entourage. 

When she was only eighteen, Marie, while attending the wedding reception of the Comte d'Artois, won a staggering amount of 1,200 louis, (each louis was worth around 24 livres). She seemed embarrassed, and the next day she gave 50 louis to each parish of Versailles, and then gave the remaining amount to her servants and the poor.

 

 Versailles boiserie wall painting and gold edges

RETIRING FOR THE EVENING

At nine we sup; and when the king is not there, my aunts come to sup with us; but when the king is there, we go after supper to their rooms, waiting there for the king, who usually comes about a quarter to eleven; and I lie down on a grand sofa and go to sleep till he comes. But when he is not there, we go to bed at eleven o’clock.
— Marie Antoinette, letter to her mother Maria Theresa, c. July 1770.

DÉJEUNER
- DINNER -

Etiquette required that if the king was not eating with the Queen, she would be attended by women only. The last meal of the day was usually a light one, with the midday meal being more alike to our 'dinner.' Instead, Marie's supper consisted of white meat, broth, and a few biscuits dipped in water. 

LE COUCHER
- THE EVENING UNDRESSING -

Getting ready for bed, Marie would undress while her maids readied a nightgown and cap brought to her in a basket. She would settle into bed and wait with the Femme de Chambre for the King to arrive and to be put to bed also. Then her maids would retire.
 

 
 Versailles chandelier trianon
 Marie Antoinette bed pattern


SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:

Marie Antoinette's letter to Empress Maria Theresa, c. 12 July 1770. The Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, Charles Duke Yonge, 1876.

Memoirs of Madame Campan on Marie Antoinette and her court, transl. G. K. Fortescue, 1909.

The Private Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and Navarre, transl. R. W. Phipps, 1889.

A Banquet for Louis XIV: recreated at the Palace of Versailles, www.telegraph.com, 2010.

Marie Antoinette's Beauty Secrets, madameguillotine.org.uk, 2011.