Places Mentioned in “Marie Antoinette’s Confidante” (Part 1)

The story and relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe is a fascinating one. As both women were well-to-do, they traveled much more extensively than an ordinary person of the 1700s. To write Marie Antoinette’s Confidante, I wanted to see the places frequented by Marie Antoinette and the Princesse and this took me to France. Among some of the interesting places that I traveled to are Passy, Versailles, Rambouillet, Fontainebleau, and Château de la Muette. To help you gain a better understanding of these sites mentioned, I have written a brief paragraph describing each. To give you an idea of the distance between the various locations, please note that from Rambouillet to Fontainebleau is approximately 80 kilometers or 50 miles.

Map of Locations in "Marie Antoinette's Confidante," Author's Collection

Map of locations. Author’s collection.

Passy was a bucolic place that used to be on the outskirts of Paris but was annexed by Paris in 1860. It overlooks the Seine and in the 1700s was known for its healing mineral water spring. During the 1770s, it became the resident of several famous or well-to-do people. Among the residents were the Founding Father of the United States Benjamin Franklin, an Irish soldier named Charles Edward Jennings, and, of course, the Princesse de Lamballe. You can easily visit Passy, which is in the 16th arrondissement of Paris and you can easily find Avenue de Lamballe, the street named in honor of the Princesse. However, if you want to see her home, it is somewhat difficult. Her home passed through several owners before eventually ending up in the hands of the Turkish government in the 1950s. Today it serves as their embassy and is surrounded by a high fence and monitored by cameras and guards. 

Avenue de Lamballe, Author's Collection.

Avenue de Lamballe. Author’s collection.

The Palace of Versailles is usually on everyone’s list , and it was on my list too. It is well worth the trip but easily takes more than one day to see all the sights. Louis XIV made Versailles the official resident of the royal family during his reign. It is an expensive estate, which PBS estimated in 1994 cost between $200-300 billion in today’s dollars to build. Besides Louis XVI and his immediate family, many other people associated with the court also lived in apartments provided by the King. Among some of those who lived at the palace during Louis XVI’s reign were the princess de Lamballe, Madame de Polignac, and the King’s aunts known collectively as the Mesdames — Adelaide, Victoire, Sophie, and Louise. When visiting, I took time to not only see Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s apartments but also the apartments of the Mesdames.

Ceiling and Balcony Shot Within Versailles, Author's Collection

Ceiling and balcony  within Versailles, Author’s collection.

Apartments within the palace were not the only thing to see. There was plenty to see outside. Royal gardener André Le Nôtre widened the Royal Path and installed the Grand Canal during Louis XIV’s reign, and “this vast perspective stretches from the façade of the Château de Versailles to the railing of the park.”[1] Another interesting spot is Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, about a two-mile walk from the palace. Petit Trianon was a gift to the Queen from her husband and much of the Queen’s time was spent there. Near Petit Trianon is also the Queen’s Hameau de la Reine, a quaint hamlet that consists of 86 acres, numerous cottages, and other buildings.

Rambouillet was a spot close to the heart of the Princesse de Lamballe. Her father-in-law, the Duke of Penthriève, inherited the estate from his father. The Duke, the Princesse, and the Duke’s daughter, the Duchess  of Orléans, spent many wonderful days at the Château de Rambouillet, located in the commune and town of Rambouillet. In the 1700s, Rambouillet was also a day’s carriage ride away from Versailles and a highly desirable spot for hunters because of its well stocked forests. Louis XVI longed to own the estate and eventually purchased it from the Duke of Penthriève.

Among some of the interesting things to see at Rambouillet, besides the château, is the charming Chaumière aux coquillages (Shell Cottage), located a mile or so away from the château. This thatched roof cottage was built in 1779 by the Duke for the Princesse de Lamballe. She used it as a retreat to entertain guests or to spend time alone. After Louis XVI acquired Rambouillet the Laiterie de la Reine (Queen’s Dairy) was built. Marie Antoinette’s Dairy is in many ways a work of art. The entrance has sandstone walls and opens into a circular pavilion with architecture that imitates dovecotes and has panels painted by Belgian painter Piat Joseph Sauvage. The pavilion was used to allow visitors to sample dairy products and with its rotunda and skylights it’s truly magnificent. There is also a grander and larger room called the cooling room. It contains a surprise figure sitting in a spring — Jupiter as a child suckling Amalthea’s nanny-goat — inside a grotto, and water from under the figure was directed back to cool large bowls of milk.

Shell Cottage (Top) and the Queen's Dairy (Bottom), Author's Collection

Shell Cottage (Top) and the Queen’s Dairy (Bottom). Author’s collection.

Southeast of Paris and miles away from Rambouillet is Fontainebleau.  It took a train ride and short bus trip to reach it. The first mention of the Fontainebleau château occurs in medieval times, and similar to Rambouillet, Fontainebleau became famous for hunting because of its well-stocked forests. The sprawling palace consists of 1500 rooms and four architecturally different palaces, each with its own garden.

Fontainebleau also became known for gambling as Marie Antoinette spent a great deal of time playing lansquenet and faro — two fashionable card games that had high stakes. In fact, it was practically impossible to see the Queen if you did not gamble. Princesse de Lamballe was not much of a gambler, but she did hold card parties so she could see the Queen. Reports are that women who attended the Princesse’s parties came away with their dresses so blackened, they were forced to change clothes before attending dinner.

Hallway with Numerous Busts at Fontainebleau, Author's Collection

Hallway with numerous busts at Fontainebleau. Author’s collection.

Louis XVI’s court went to Fontainebleau regularly, and, for a time, Marie Antoinette arrived by water. Unfortunately, it was expensive to travel that way and to save money, Louis put a stop to her trips soon after they began. Although the Queen’s watery arrivals stopped, the Queen still enjoyed boating on nearby lakes in boats decked out with awnings called the Queen gondolas. One of the last visits by Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to Fontainebleau occurred in 1786.

The Château de la Muette was another place the King and Queen visited. It was located on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne Forest. It was completely rebuilt by Louis XV in the 1740s, and before the Dauphin became Louis XVI, he and his young bride spent many happy days there. It was also a joyous time for Marie Antoinette when her brother Joseph II came to visit there in 1777.

One of the most exciting events that perhaps ever happened at the château occurred on 21 November 1783. It was a manned balloon flight involving a balloon manufactured by the Montgolfier brothers. Spectators at the event included the royal family, the Duke of Polignac, and Benjamin Franklin. The balloon was navigated by Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes. It lifted off from the château’s gardens at “precisely eight minutes after mid-day.”[2] However, instead of rising vertically the balloon flew off horizontally and was damaged. The rents in the fabric were repaired, and fifty-four minutes later it lifted off again. The flight lasted twenty-five minutes and the balloon traveled nine kilometers landing in a field between some windmills and a hilltop called Butte-aux-Cailles.

During the French Revolution the Château de la Muette became state property, and, in 1816, it reverted back to the royal family. From that point forward it went through several owners until Henri James de Rothschild bought it. He demolished the old château in the 1920s. Thus, what stands there today is the château Rothschild built in 1921 and 1922, which today houses the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OEEC).

La Muette in Louis XV’s Time (top) and Rothschild’s Château today (bottom). Public domain.

Interested in Part 2, click here.


  • [1] “Gardens and Park of the Château,” on Chateau de Versailles
  • [2] —, in Hereford Journal, 11 December 1783, p. 4.

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