Petit Trianon was built between 1762 and 1768 by Louis XV for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. It was called Petit Trianon to distinguish it from Grand Trianon which is a marble palace built by the king before Louis XV for his mistress!
Petit Trianon was gifted to Marie Antoinette by Louis XVI and she made it her home, transforming the gardens in the process. She is the most notorious and tragic occupant of this Palace and it is now set up as it once was when she lived there. We visited on a particular rainy weekend in early July but we all agreed that this was our favourite part of our weekend in Versailles.
Marie Antoinette married Louis at the age of 14 and coming to Versailles, even as a princess must have been a shock. The French had many customs and rituals that were very strict and different from that she had known. The protocols of the french court were such that she thought of Petit Trianon as her place to escape and be herself. I can see why she fell in love with this place! It is such a simple yet elegant palace in such contrast to the grandiose Château! Apparently no one was allowed to enter unless they had a personal invitation from the queen, not even the king. Here she could escape the formality and prying eyes of the court so she set about creating her ideal palace and gardens. Unfortunately, in making this palace private she created court gossip and it became known as a place for debauched royal behaviour. However, I feel she did not help herself as she continued to spend and spend her own, her husband’s and the country’s money to create the most extravagant and crazy gardens which, of course, we can now all enjoy.
Marie Antoinette is known as a leader and creator of fashion and in the garden, she was very taken with the latest landscaping trends. Influenced by the notion that unspoiled nature was healthy and invigorating, she set about creating a very English garden without the usual formality found at the gardens of Versailles using the designer, Richard Mique. These English gardens were to be created alongside the more formal gardens that immediately surrounded the palace. They were created with rivers carved into meandering shapes, grottos created with large stones and artificial lakes made to look as if they had always been there. Landscape ornaments such as temples, ruins and English buildings were built to blend into their surroundings.
Marie Antoinette removed the previous King’s Hothouses which contained many rare plant species and had them taken to Versailles. A noted gardener, The Duke of Croy, wrote, ” Instead of the great hothouses, some quite high mountains, a large rock and a river. Never has a couple of acres changed to such an extent nor cost as dearly.”
The works at Petit Trianon were excessively high and exorbitant. Because she could not afford the amounts from her own money, she often had to ask Louis to cover the costs. Sometimes, he had to pay for these changes from the State budget. on 22nd August, 1775, £100,000 were entered on the Treasury books as, “for the Queen’s gardens.” This shocked people and later contributed to her downfall at her trial during the revolution.
The Hamlet and the Farm
Not content with her spending and changes, works started in 1783 on Marie Antoinette’s latest project, a life-sized theatre called The Hamlet. Richard Mique created a Normandy village made up of 12 houses all made to look like they had been there for hundreds of years. Farm life was fashionable and here the Queen could “play” at being a milk maid or a shepherd (with washed sheep or cows, of course). The Queen’s house had 2 houses; the Queen’s cottage and the Billiard House built for the pursuit of pleasure such as music, gaming, dancing, theatre and conversation. Here she would come with her closest friends. There was even a dairy shop with a marble floor, where fresh cream and cheese were made for the Queen and her friends.
Marie Antoinette created gardens as close as her imagination could bring her to the simple, country life that she craved. Of course, what she didn’t realise was that this was not real life and all the smells and poo were removed so that she could play the part but not be surrounded by reality! She loved nothing better than walking in her gardens with her children (she was devoted mother) wearing a simple white, muslin dress away from the rigid world of The French Court. I felt sorry for her as her ending was not pleasant but I also felt that she a very indulged and naive woman. However, we are left with her creation and vision in the form of these beautiful gardens.
I will leave you with some photos of the French Gardens (created by Louis XV between 1749 and 1753) that lead to Grand Trianon which are equally as glorious but are very different. It’s as if the gardens reflect the formality of the court the closer you get away from Petit Trianon.