Madame Elisabeth’s Château Montreuil

Portrait of Madame Élisabeth, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Portrait of Madame Élisabeth. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Madame Élisabeth was the younger sister of King Louis XVI and sister-in-law to Marie Antoinette. In her youth, Madame Élisabeth spent many wonderful days at an estate called Montreuil. In 1783, the estate belonged to the Princess de Guémenée who served as governess to the King’s and Queen’s children between 1775 and 1782. But the Princess de Guémenée resigned and was forced to sell Montreuil because of her husband’s financial issues and bankruptcy.  Without Madame Élisabeth’s knowledge, the King then bought the estate for her as a birthday present when she turned 19.

Marie Antoinette wanted to surprise Madame Élisabeth and suggested they drive out to see the estate one last time as news had leaked that it had been sold. Once there, Marie Antoinette surprised Madame Élisabeth by remarking, “Sister, you are in your own house. This is to be your Trianon.”[1] However, the birthday gift came with one caveat: The King would not allow Madame Élisabeth to sleep over night at the estate until she turned 25, and, so, each day she traveled faithfully from Versailles to her little piece of heaven called Montreuil.

Plan of the Montreuil Estate Belonging to Madame Elisabeth, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France
Plan of the Montreuil Estate as it Belonged to Madame Elisabeth. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Montreuil (today known as the “Domaine de Madame Elisabeth”) consisted of just over 17 acres. It was located one mile from Versailles near the barrier at the entrance to Versailles on the outskirts of Paris. It was “charmingly diversified with greensward and trees, and with shrubbery paths among the copses in all directions.”[2] Because it was far away from the strict etiquette required at Versailles, it offered Madame Élisabeth a comfortable, low-key existence dominated by relaxation and leisure activities.

In 1783, Montreuil was nothing more than a little hamlet inhabited by farmers, servants, and paupers, yet, its rural charm was of infinite delight to Élisabeth. This was despite it having “lanes [that] were so muddy and … full of ruts … Élisabeth had to walk to the parish church instead of going in her carriage.”[3] With her 17 acres, Madame Élisabeth created a cow pasture, dairy, vegetable garden, fruit orchard, and poultry-yard. She also soon became friends with the villagers and demonstrated her charitable nature: She gave milk from her dairy to children or to those in need at a nearby foundling hospital. In addition, the vegetables and fruits from her garden were also regularly distributed to the sick, often by her own two hands, which earned her the nickname “Bonne dame de Montreuil” (good lady of Montreuil).

Château Montreuil, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Château Montreuil. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Starting in 1788, Madame Élisabeth had the buildings of her estate updated by Jean-Jacques Huvé. The château was a white two-storied semi-circular building that had been built in 1776. The stables were located on one side and on the other side was the kitchen offices. There was also a chapel in the center on the ground floor and a drawing room that exited into the garden. In addition, there was a boudoir, library, buffet warming room, music room, billiard room, and some ante-chambers. The second story had 22 rooms, all paneled, and some magnificent windows that looked out onto the park.

Once Huvé’s renovations were completed new furniture was approved by Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville d’Avray, Intendant General of the Royal Furniture Repository. Among the items approved was furniture for four guest bedrooms. Each room required “a bed, two bergères, two firescreens and six chairs.”[4] Thus, a total of four beds, eight bergères, eight firescreens and twenty-four chairs were completed. Each chair also had to accommodate a petit point tapestry — a slanting chevron motif with friezes of flowers — that Madame Elisabeth had created. Jean-Baptiste Boulard did all the wood carving. The painting and gilding were entrusted to Louis-François Chatard, and the upholsterer, named Claude-François Capin, mounted all the tapestries into the chair frames.

As was Madame Élisabeth’s character, she shared her beloved château with family, friends, and neighbors. “Their interests became hers; young girls were dowered and married, the old and the worthy cared for, the sick were nursed, and doctored.”[5] It also became a source of respite for her brothers who came to visit often. Madame Élisabeth may have believed Montreuil would remain a slice of heaven forever, but everything changed on 5 October 1789 when a mob composed primarily of market women marched on Versailles. One person reported:

“From the terrace of her garden she saw the first coming of the populace, and mounting her horse, she rode to the palace. The king was out hunting, but messengers had gone for him and when he returned she urged him to stand firm against this vanguard of anarchy.”[6]

Against Madame Élisabeth’s wishes, the King gave in to the populace and promised to depart with the mob for the Palace of Tuileries in Paris. The following morning, the King and his family left Versailles with Madame Élisabeth by his side. Madame Élisabeth knew she would never see her dear Montreuil again. One person wrote of their departure:

“[As] the miserable processed passed Montreuil, Madame Élisabeth bent forward in the carriage to look at the trees of her dear domain. ‘Are you bowing to Montreuil, sister?’ asked the king. ‘[No,’ she gently replied,] … ‘I am bidding it farewell.'”[7]

References:

  • [1] Wormeley, Katharine Prescott, The Life and Letters of Madame Elisabeth de France, Sister of Louis XVI, 1899, p. 19.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Trouncer, Margaret, Madame Elisabeth, 1955, p. 123.
  • [4] “The Château de Montreuil,” at the Louvre
  • [5] Wormeley, p. 20-21.
  • [6] Ibid, p. 24.
  • [7] Ibid, p. 25.

Google+ Comments

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>