It’s a common fact that Marie Antoinette was not a stranger to the leisure lifestyle: in fact, she practically invented it. However, living at the royal palace in Versailles surely sounds alluring, but then again all that glitz along with the pressure and responsibility of being a Queen of France can be overwhelming, especially when the queen in question was not “crazy” about responsibilities. So what one needs when drowning in champagne, gourmet desserts, endless partying and gambling becomes dull is a nice rustic retreat in the country. Regarding the fact, Madam Deficit was not a favorite among the French people; it was not like she could freely roam through the French countryside. However, the perks of having the nation’s budget in her pockets allowed her to bring the country over in Versailles.
The Hameau de la Reine (French for Queen’s Hamlet) was a fairy tale rustic retreat in the park of the Château de Versailles, built for Marie Antoinette as her private escape from all the stress of being Queen of France. Inspired by a wave of naturalism in art, architecture, and garden design, the Hameau de la Reine was constructed between 1782 and 1783 by the Queen’s favored architect, Richard Mique. As you can imagine, the Queen’s Hamlet was not your average getaway, but a complete interpretation of a rustic village. It was adorned with a meadowland where Marie Antoinette could take strolls and ease her mind, with lakes and streams, a classical Temple of Love on an island with fragrant shrubs and flowers, an octagonal belvedere, with a neighboring grotto and cascade. The Hamlet consisted of twelve cottage, from which five were exclusively reserved for “her majesty,” while the other seven had a functional purpose and were used effectively for agriculture.
The idyllic picturesque design of the Queen’s Hamlet was inspired by an actual rustic “village,” the Hameau de Chantilly, with half-timbered façades and reed-thatched roofs. A wave of naturalism and an affinity towards the “simple” life was sweeping across France in the 18th century. French aristocrats loved to act as shepherds and shepherdesses, while still enjoying the comforts of their social position. This idealism of the natural life came from the highly influential works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who emphasized the role of Nature. For one thing, history and Sofia Coppola’s biopic movie have taught us that Marie Antoinette was not only following trends but also she invented them. So, when the stress of being constantly surrounded by the Courtiers at the Palace of Versailles was too much for the Queen, she found her escape in her perfect little village where she could indulge in the perks of a simple, peasant life. Here, the Queen would dress up as a young shepherdess and act like a commoner, while surrounded by the comforts of a royal lifestyle that have had real impoverished peasants from all over France. This (not so) subtle mockery of the simple people will ultimately be the last drop in the cup that will lead to the French Revolution.
With its vineyards, fields, orchards and vegetable gardens, the hamlet was a real farm, fully maintained by a farmer selected by the Queen.Animals from Switzerland were raised on the farm, that’s why the village was often dubbed For this reason “the Swiss hamlet.”
The Queen sought refuge in peasant life, milking cows or sheep, which were carefully maintained and cleaned by the servants. Dressed as a peasant, in a muslin dress and straw hat with a light switch in her hand, accompanied by her ladies, she used buckets of Sèvres porcelain specially decorated with her arms by the Manufacture Royale.
During the Revolution, “a misogynistic, nationalistic and class-driven polemic swirled around the Hameau, which had previously seemed a harmless agglomeration of playhouses in which to act out a Boucher pastorale.” The queen was accused by many of being frivolous and found herself a target of innuendos, jealousy, and gossip throughout her reign. Although for Marie Antoinette, the Hameau was an escape from the regulated life of the Court at Versailles, in the eyes of French people, the queen seemed to be merely amusing herself.