Marie Antoinette’s lady in waiting part two

22 August 2009

drouias chimay fitzjames

After a few moments the portly footman would come to the door and call for ‘le service’ at which point all twelve of the ladies in waiting would enter the bedchamber and the four who were on duty that week went forward to offer their assistance – something that Lucrèce dreaded as she hated drawing the attention of the other jealous ladies upon herself. The titters and whisperings when she had clumsily dropped one of the Queen’s precious diamond earrings had been intolerable and mortifying.

When not on duty, Lucrèce would often find herself in the company of the youngest ladies – the Comtesse de Maillé, the Comtesse Mathieu de Montmorency and the lively, blonde Madame de Gouvernet and they liked to stand together in a little group by the door, well out of the way of the arch gossips. Lucy de Gouvernet had also passed on the advice that she had been given by the Duchesse de Duras who had once told her never to stand facing the windows when the Queen was present as she did not like to be confronted with complexions more dazzling than her own and more able to bear the harsh daylight.

ma bedroom

Marie Antoinette was generally to be found seated in front of her opulent lace bedecked dressing table, surrounded with a very feminine mess of diamonds, powder puffs and ribbons while the great Léonard fussed around her hair and her femmes rouges, maids dressed in a cherry red uniform, fluttered about the scene. She greeted each lady in turn with a gracious smile and a kindly word or compliment and there was some genial but nondescript conversation before the doors were opened to admit the ladies who came from Paris on Sundays to pay their respects. At this point the already heavily scented and flower filled room became horribly hot and stuffy and Lucrèce would do her best to slip away from the crowd and seek refuge in one of the large window embrasures behind the embroidered white gros de tours silk curtains until the King arrived and it was time for them all to proceed in a stately procession to the chapel for Mass.

Lucrèce had never been very impressed by the King and this did not change. He was just as shuffling and slow as ever and age had not improved either his posture or his manners. He was a strange man – solitary and awkward, especially in the presence of ladies other than his wife and immediate family. It was said that he had a telescope set up on the roof of the château which he employed to spy on the courtiers as their carriages pulled up in the courtyard. He also spent a great deal of time, when he was not hunting, sitting in a little workshop that he had made under the eaves of the château. Here he liked to fashion locks and keys although no one knew what he did with them once they were made. It was considered an extremely eccentric and undignified pastime for a King of France.


The procession to Mass was a solemn affair. The First Gentleman of the Bedchamber walked at the very front, followed by the Captain of the Guard and other high ranking officers. The King and Queen came next, walking very slowly so that they could exchange pleasantries and smiles with people who lined the beautiful hall of mirrors waiting to see them go past. After them came the ladies in waiting, in order of rank and four or five abreast. As Duchesse de Saliex, Lucrèce was near the front and had an excellent view of their majesties. She also took care to walk on the outside so as to be able to nod and smile at her friends and occasionally be given cause to blush by the odd compliment from young men of the court. Sometimes they would even attempt to pass her notes but she would always smile and shrug her white shoulders before passing on.

Thanks to her lessons from the fashionable dancing master Huart, Lucrèce was able to walk as though she never actually lifted her feet from the ground – the ladies of Versailles were expected to propel themselves along the wooden parquet with a sort of elegant gliding motion that made them look as though they had wheels instead of mere feet beneath their voluminous panniered skirts. It was an immensely difficult effect to achieve but when done properly it looked glorious. Once the endless state rooms and finally the enormous salon d’Hercules with its vast Veronese painting had been safely traversed in this manner, each lady would lift up her train in order to be able to move more quickly and rushed to take her place in one of the side galleries of the exquisite white and gold chapel, making sure that their waiting pages who had gone ahead and been lounging by the chapel door had seen them and were thus able to jump to attention and bring them the large, fringed red velvet bag that contained their missal.

Mass was always dreary and Lucrèce entertained herself as everyone else did by looking about her and seeing who was there and what they were wearing. When Mass was finished everyone stood up, waited for Marie Antoinette to curtsey to the King and filed out in the exact same order and went back in yet another, slower, procession to the Queen’s rooms where they waited in the card room until dinner time.


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