What’s a Queen to do when the gilded glories of Versailles get to be a bit much? Early in her reign, Marie Antoinette larked around Paris, shopping and taking in theatre and opera performances. Adoring crowds applauded her beauty and grace. That was then. Things changed, for the worse. Retail therapy became a lot less therapeutic. The Paris crowds began to turn restive, then hostile, and finally lethal.
The Palace of Versailles was the perm permanent and mandatory home of at least 3,000 people, courtiers and their servants.
The Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon are elegant, smaller, private palaces conveniently close to the ever-crowded main palace. They’re great for private dinners away from the majority of prying eyes. But still, a girl sometimes needs to just get away from the whole kit and kaboodle.
Marie Antoinette’s haughty pose was set in stone, as far as the angry intellectuals and hungry mobs plotting revolution. (After all, she had been raised to carry herself like a queen). But she had fond memories of running wild as a child in the wooded grounds of Schonnbrunn Palace, with her many brothers and sisters. She had an idea: she ordered up her own personal getaway within the vast grounds of the Palace.
Le Hameau de la Reine, The Hamlet of the Queen, was built for Marie Antoinette in 1783. It was a large fenced-off area, open only to the Queen, her children, and her dearest friends. It included private gardens much more informal than the main grounds. There were pretty, grassy walks and a Temple of Love on an island.
There was a grotto–a sort of custom-made concrete movie set meant to look like a cave.
The grotto was perfect for games of hide-and-seek with the many lovers the queen was rumored to entertain. Were the rumors true? In the end, it didn’t matter one way or the other.
But the most notorious feature of the Hamlet was the Queen’s Farm. Quaint rustic buildings created a fairy-tale version of a working farm. The Queen spent carefree days dressed in simple white muslin and a straw hat. She milked carefully groomed cows using specially made Sevres china buckets. There was a special billiards room attached to the main house–naturally, an important room in any farmhouse. There was an actual working farm nearby which provided shampooed and scented cows, sheep, chicken and ducks. I’m sure her kids loved it.
Today, the Hamlet is a place to ponder the wretched excesses that led to the French Revolution. When angry mobs arrived at the gates of Versailles, they had no sympathy at all for a Queen who played at being a peasant. For Marie Antoinette, there was no escape from her destiny.