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The Queen’s Hamlet: Marie-Antoinette’s fairy tale Rustic Village at Versailles, where she loved to act like a “simple peasant”

Alex .A

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.

 

A cottage garden By deror avi - Own work, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1716441

A cottage garden Photo Credit

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.

 

Back of the Moulin, the watermill cottage built for Marie Antoinette. CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=354081

Back of the Moulin, the watermill cottage built for Marie Antoinette Photo Credit

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.

Dovecote and Guard house By Starus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15628355

Dovecote and Guard house Photo Credit

 

 

 

Hameau de la Reine (Versailles) By Jean-Marc Astesana from Voisins le Bretonneux, France - Hameau de la Reine (Versailles), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47083286

Hameau de la Reine (Versailles) Photo Credit

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.”

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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.

 Hameau de la Reine By Sharat Ganapati - Flickr: This is where EU cultural money goes., CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17610218

Hameau de la Reine Photo Credit

 

Boudoir By Starus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15650761

Boudoir Photo Credit

 

Interior - Laiterie By Lomita - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15874987

Interior – Laiterie Photo Credit

 

Marlborough Tower By deror avi - Own work, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1716450

Marlborough Tower Photo Credit

 

 

Mill By Arnaud 25 - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7894026

Mill By Arnaud 25

 

The réchauffoir By Trizek - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15896202

The réchauffoir By Trizek – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

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.