The Hameau de la Reine, the Queen’s Hamlet, was built for Marie Antoinette from 1783-1786 on the grounds of the Petit Trianon, and is located about 2.6 kilometers (1.6 miles) northwest of the Château de Versailles. Architect Richard Mique designed the space as a rustic countryside retreat, which the Queen used to escape the scrutiny of the Versailles royal court. The Hameau was a private, exclusive place where Marie Antoinette was able to go on walks with and host intimate gatherings for her closest companions. The Hameau was also a functioning farm as it contained a dairy, several vegetable gardens, and a barnyard full of animals. These facilities also allowed the Hameau to serve an educational role for the royal children.
In the map below, the location of the Queen’s Hamlet is shown in relation to the Château de Versailles. The Queen’s Hamlet is indicated by a green flag towards the top right of the map. The Château is indicated by a red pin located towards the bottom right. It takes about 30 minutes to walk between them. You can also find green flags on the map below for the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon.
The Hameau consists of a row of buildings set on the bank of an artificial lake, arranged in a crescent formation. You can see most of them in the aerial photo below (N ↖ ↘ S). The first area, located on the left (northwest) side of the lake, contains structures that were used for agricultural purposes. The central (northeast) area of the Hameau consists of buildings that were reserved for the Queen’s exclusive use. The third area, located on the right (southeast) side of the lake, contains a decorative windmill. While looking over the aerial photo, note how each of the buildings in the Hameau has its own garden.
The items shown in the picture above are, clockwise from left to right: the Marlborough Tower and the Model/Refreshment Dairy; two empty lots that contain the foundations of the Preparation/ Working Dairy and the Barn (demolished by Napoleon in 1810); the Guard House; the Dovecote/Hen House; the Games House on the left, which is connected to the Queen’s House on the right via a covered walkway; the Stove House (located behind the covered walkway); the Boudoir; and the Mill. The aerial photo above does not show the Educational Farm, which is located further to the northwest, as shown in the map below.
I’ve been having a hard time trying to figure out how to structure this post as there is a lot of interesting information to cover on top of all the visuals I want to share. What I’m going to do first is show you a few quick pictures of the buildings in the Hameau as they appear today. Secondly, I’ll discuss the development and construction of the Hameau and how it was influenced by the rise of Romanticism in 18th century British garden design. I’ll then delve into the history of the Hameau following its construction. I’ll then conduct an extensive tour of the individual cottages.
I’ve already shared images at the top of this post of the Boudoir, the Marlborough Tower, the Model Dairy, and the Educational Farm. I’ll now show you pictures of the Dovecote/ Hen House, the Guard House, the Games House, the Queen’s House, and the Mill.
The Game’s House (located on the left in the picture below) is connected to the Queen’s House (on the right) via a covered walkway. This structure was in the midst of a giant three-year restoration project when Neil and I visited Versailles in the summer of 2017, and it was completely covered by scaffolding. As a result, I had to source all pictures of it used in this post from elsewhere on the Internet (mostly from the official website of the Château de Versailles and Wikipedia). The restoration work was completed as of May 2018, and the inside of the building is now furnished and open to the public for the first time since 1848! Neil and I will have to go back and see it!
I’ve shown you a few pictures of the buildings in the Hameau de la Reine in order to acquaint you with its rustic appearance. I’m now going to explain why Marie Antoinette had a medieval-looking village built on the grounds of her beloved Petit Trianon, and why she designed it to have this “shabby-chic” feel. As mentioned in my post on the Petit Trianon, the Queen found court life at Versailles to be extremely stifling. When she was gifted with the Petit Trianon in 1774 by her husband, Louis XVI, it offered her an escape. The Petit Trianon was where Marie Antoinette felt the most free to be herself. Only her children and members of her innermost circle were welcome there—even the King wasn’t allowed there without her express permission (he often dined, but never slept there). Marie Antoinette cultivated a more informal atmosphere at the Petit Trianon. She had the rooms decorated more simply, and opted to wear more casual dress. Playful floral patterns were used in the château’s furnishings and decor to evoke a carefree country spirit. Marie Antoinette’s taste for informality was soon extended to the heavily manicured French gardens that surrounded the Petit Trianon. From 1774-1782 she had the gardens redesigned in the English style, which had become increasingly fashionable in France thanks to its more relaxed, natural, and wild appearance1. Once that project was completed, she embarked on a new one: the construction of the Hameau de la Reine from 1783-1786.
Above all else, the Hameau de la Reine was meant to add to the ambiance of the Petit Trianon by giving the small château the illusion that it was located deep in the countryside, rather than firmly situated within the confines of Versailles. The pastoral appearance and design of the Hameau, as well as Marie Antoinette’s desire to infuse a more rural quality to the Petit Trianon, came as a result of the rise of Romanticism in the last quarter of the 18th century. Romanticism was an artistic, cultural, and intellectual movement that swept through Europe from 1770-1850. Romanticism stressed the importance of emotion, individualism, nature, and history (for more on Romanticism, see my post on the Musée de la Vie Romantique here). The natural world was a central theme to the work of Romantic artists such as Genevan writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, English poet William Wordsworth, and German landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich. French painter Hubert Robert was renowned for his landscape paintings and semi-fictitious depictions of ruins in Italy and France. The work of these artists (among others) led to nature playing a prominent role in art, fashion, architecture, and garden design.
This artistic Romantic desire to “return to nature” soon spread to the members of the upper-class. These wealthier members of society developed a taste for an idealized version of pastoral simplicity, one in which they could recreate and enjoy the pleasant aspects of country life while overlooking the hardship and the poverty of the people who actually lived it. One of the most striking ways in which they did this can be seen in a popular trend of 18th century British garden design where ornamental model farms and picturesque villages were built on aristocratic properties2. The term ferme ornée (ornate farm) was coined by British garden designer and writer Stephen Switzer in 1715 to describe a decorative property whose primary purpose was leisure, but also included productive facilities such as a dairy or barn that allowed it to function as a working farm. Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de la Reine would become the most renowned example of this 18th century gardening trend. Although the Hameau was primarily built to entertain the Queen and her companions, it did contain several buildings dedicated to an agricultural purpose.
A romanticized portrait of the Mill House in the Hameau, emphasizing its garden-like setting.
The original ferme ornée was Woburn Farm, located in England near the town of Addlestone, Surrey. It was built after Philip Southcote acquired the property in 1734. William Shenstone’s garden at the Leasowes in Shropshire followed in 1743-1763. The Larchill Arcadian Garden in Ireland, created between 1740-1780, is today the most complete surviving ferme ornée in Europe. This British trend crossed the Channel when Claude-Henri Joulet developed the first ferme ornée in France from 1754-1772; the Moulin Joly (the Pretty Windmill) was situated near the town of Colombes, 10.6 kms (6.6 miles) northwest of Paris (now a Parisian suburb). The Moulin Joly included a mill, stables, an apiary, and a dairy3. The property was visited by many notable people such as Marie Antoinette and Hubert Robert, and they both likely found inspiration there for their later project. Similar constructions followed at Ermenonville4, Parc Monceau, and the Domaine de Raincy.
There is one property that influenced the development of Marie Antoinette’s hamlet more than any other. Louis Joseph, the Prince de Condé, had a rustic village built on his property in 1774 at the Château de Chantilly. The Hameau de Chantilly was created by architect Jean-François Leroy and consists of five cottages set in a garden. There was also a working dairy, a mill, a stable for the herd of cows, and a bread oven. The cottages in the Hameau de Chantilly were built to resemble Norman half-timber architecture with their exposed timber façades and thatched reed roofs. Half-timber buildings were constructed throughout Europe from the 13th-18th centuries, with regional variations in style and technique. They were particularly popular in France and Germany. By mimicking this style, visitors approaching these cottages in the Hameau de Chantilly would get the impression from their exteriors that they were provincial, quaint, and even medieval. But this appearance was intentionally deceptive.
When a guest entered one of the cottages, they would be astonished to discover that the interior was as richly decorated and furnished as any grand room in a wealthy château. The contrast between what was presented on the outside and what was then experienced on the inside was a source of delight. The barn, for example, contained a salon with silver-fluted Corinthian columns and pink taffeta hangings, and the ceiling was painted with cherubs dancing in the clouds. The five cottages at Chantilly each had a specific use similar to the function and layout of individual rooms that could be found in a grand estate house. There was le Salon (the Parlour), le Billard (the Billiard Room), la Salle à Manger (the Dining Room), la Cuisine (the Kitchen), and le Cabinet de Lecture (the Reading Room). There were also two other structures: le Moulin (the Mill) and l’Étable (the stables). Sadly, the lavish interiors of the cottages disappeared during the 19th century. The exteriors of the cottages were restored in 2007-2008.
The success and reputation of the Hameau de Chantilly inspired Marie Antoinette to build her own at Versailles. In addition to architect Richard Mique, Marie Antoinette consulted with several French artists to design the Hameau de la Reine including painters Hubert Robert, Claude-Louis Châtelet, Louis-Barthélémy Fréret, and sculptor Joseph Deschamps. Work on the Hameau began in 1783 and 1784 with digging out the lake and rivers upon which the village is set, as well as laying out the paths. In 1784 and 1785 the walls of the eleven cottages, made of rubble stone and timber frames, were put up. The cottages in Marie Antoinette’s Hameau feature a hybrid of Norman, Flemish, and French design. These cottages are similar to their Chantilly predecessors in that they also have the characteristic exposed timber façades and thatched reed roofs of Norman design. However, the cottages of the Hameau de la Reine also include Flemish details such as stepped gables, stained-glass windows, and the use of brick. The plaster-covered façades and dormer windows are French. The windows, doors, and external framework of the cottages were painted olive green, yellow, and white.
Like the cottages of the Hameau de Chantilly, the cottages at Versailles were purposefully designed to look much older and more ruinous on the exterior than they actually were. Their façades were painted to look like they had crumbling stone, old brick, cracked plaster, deteriorated joints, chipped coatings, and moss-covered walls. The influence of French landscape painter Hubert Robert can be seen here, as he was involved with the design and placement of the cottages. His artistic knack for combining nature, history and fantasy greatly contributed to the picturesque charm of the Hameau de la Reine. His love for a dilapidated cottage can be seen in the painting below.
However, like the cottages at Chantilly, the rustic exteriors of those in the Hameau de la Reine were purposefully misleading. Their interiors were also richly decorated and furnished, although slightly less so than a grand room of Versailles as Marie Antoinette preferred to keep things a little less refined at Trianon and the Hameau. Still, the difference would have been enough to be remarked on. Another similarity to the Hameau de Chantilly is that several of the cottages at Versailles were also designed to mimic the function and layout of individual estate rooms. These include the Queen’s House (which acted as a Salon), the Games House (a Billiards Room), and the Boudoir (a woman’s Sitting Room).
Sadly, I haven’t been able to find any sketches or paintings depicting the interiors of the cottages as they would have appeared during the time they were used by Marie Antoinette. The interiors were later updated while Napoleon and his second wife, Marie-Louise, were at Versailles (more on them soon). Restoration work on the cottages has focused on maintaining the look they acquired during this period. The photo below shows the inside of the Queen’s House following its reopening in 2018.
Work on the Hameau de la Reine was completed in 1787, but further changes continued being made until 1790. Eleven structures were built in total. Five of them were reserved for the exclusive use of the Queen and her companions: the Queen’s House; the Games House, the Boudoir, the Mill, and the Model/Refreshment Dairy. Four were intended for agricultural purposes: the Barn, the Dovecote/Hen House, the Preparation/Working Dairy, as well as the Educational Farm and its outbuildings. One cottage, the Stove House, was used by servants to prepare meals. The final building, the Guard House, was where Marie Antoinette’s Swiss guard, Jean Bersey, lived with his family. Each house had its own garden, and was surrounded by a hedge and a wooden fence. The gardens were planted with artichokes, green beans, cabbage, cauliflower, black beans, peas, raspberries, strawberries, and currants. The Hameau also contained trees bearing plums, pears, cherries, peaches, apricots, and walnuts. The staircases, the galleries, and balconies were decorated with flowerpots containing hyacinths, wallflowers, and geraniums. The walls of the houses and the bowers shading some of the pathways contained scented climbing plants such as Virginia Creeper. Grapes were hung from the pergolas.
Here are a couple of paintings made of the Hameau during the time of their use by Marie Antoinette. They were done by by French painter Claude-Louis Châtelet, who also provided input on the design of the Hameau. His artistic style was vey similar to that of Hubert Robert. Châtelet was commissioned by Marie Antoinette to paint the Trianon and its gardens. This work was used in souvenir albums that Marie Antoinette gifted to distinguished guests such as King Gustav III of Sweden and her brother Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor of Austria.
The Hameu de la Reine was barely finished when the French Revolution broke out. The Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789. Marie Antoinette was walking through her gardens in the Petit Trianon on October 5, 1789 when she was advised of the imminent arrival of an armed, hostile crowd—these were the protestors taking part in the Women’s March on Versailles. The next day, October 6, the Queen was forced to leave Versailles for Paris with her husband and children. She would never see Versailles, the Petit Trianon, or her Hameau de la Reine again.
There are a couple of persistent myths that have been attached to Marie Antoinette5, and one in particular concerns her behaviour at the Hameau de la Reine. It has been claimed that Marie Antoinette and her companions liked to dress up and play at being shepherdesses, even tying pretty little ribbons to her sheep! However, more reputable sources such as the official website of the Château de Versailles argue that this did not actually happen. The Hameau was a place where Marie Antoinette mostly enjoyed taking walks with and hosting small gatherings for her friends. She also used the agricultural parts of the Hameau to teach her children about the growing and care of livestock, crops, and vegetables. She did like to dress in more casual outfits while staying at the Petit Trianon, but this did not extend to wearing costumes and playing make-believe. The Queen did try to recreate a version of the countryside through the design and layout of the Hameau, but she did this in a manner that was more respectful and admiring than frivolous. The image of a spoiled Queen dressing up as a would-be shepherdess is a fun and fanciful image, but that’s all it is—fantasy. I readily believed it when I was doing some surface-level reading about the Hameau, and even included it in some of my earlier descriptions. As I delved deeper into the research, though, I learned that it wasn’t true. I have since gone back and corrected those earlier statements.
So where did this myth of the Queen as playacting shepherdess come from? It’s important to consider how Marie Antoinette’s historical reputation has been darkened by revolutionary propaganda. A lot of malicious gossip was spread concerning what the Queen was “really up to” at the Petit Trianon. Tales of the Queen’s sordid affairs and immoral sexual escapades were popular. That negative climate would have made it easy to believe that the Queen was so dismissive of the poor that she had a make-believe village built just so that she could make fun of them. A person who does something like that would certainly be deserving of punishment—perhaps by guillotine. But closer scrutiny reveals that Marie Antoinette was more than the cruel, flippant caricature she was portrayed as being6. Not innocent—she was certainly guilty of being a lavish spender. She was also out of touch with how impoverished the majority of the French populace was. If Marie Antoinette had been more politically and socially savvy, she would have seen how the construction of the Hameau was a little tone-deaf—especially in relation to the “shocking” difference between the rustic peasant-like exteriors and the rich aristocratic interiors of the cottages. However, I believe that this behaviour was committed more out of ignorance than an attempt to be malicious. Many aristocrats in France, Britain, Germany, and other parts of Europe were having similar ornamental farms and picturesque villages added to their properties. They were moved to do this as the result of an artistic movement that had made the pastoral increasingly fashionable. However, that there was enough concentration of wealth that a minority of the population was able to spend ridiculous amounts of money in constructing elaborate garden follies while the majority of people struggled to feed their families is a gross injustice. There was a lot of warranted anger with the power structures that had enabled this disparity. Privilege, corruption, and disenfranchisement are the cornerstones of a feudal system, and France was increasingly due for an earthquake.
During the French Revolution the Château de Versailles, its grounds, and its associated residences (including the Hameau de la Reine) were declared national property. When the monarchy was overthrown in July 1792, it was decided that all of the furniture, mirrors, bronzes, art works, and other valuables at Versailles would be sold off with the exception of those items deemed to have historic or artistic value. This included the cottages of the Hameau, whose interiors were stripped bare. These furnishings, as well as those of the Petit Trianon, were auctioned off between August 25, 1793 and August 11, 1794. The Petit Trianon and its grounds were then leased to an innkeeper and lemonade seller by the name of Charles Langlois, who turned it into a hotel and restaurant. The farm was rented out to a farmer named Michel Souhaité. Squatters moved into the cottages in the Queen’s Hamlet. These activities were all hard on the properties and, by 1801, the Petit Trianon and the Hameau de la Reine were both in rough shape. One building, possibly the barn, in the Educational Farm burned down at this time. The cottages in the Hameau were similar to the design of a stage-set: they were insubstantial short-term constructions, and were never expected to last longer than a decade or two. Surrounded by trees and bordered by a lake, the buildings quickly deteriorated. A British artist, John Claude Nattes, visited the Hameau in 1802. He produced several works that show how poor its condition had become (a couple of paintings are shown below, some sketches will be shown later in this post when I discuss the individual buildings in more depth).
The painting below was based off an earlier sketch that Nattes had done of the Queen’s House. Note how overgrown the building has become.
Another painting showing the deteriorated state of the Hameau by French artist Pierre-Joseph Wallaert. (It was still very romantic, though, maybe even more so than its original design—Hubert Robert would have been pleased!).
Napoleon became Emperor of France on December 2, 1804. He had Versailles designated as an imperial palace, although he never lived there. He chose to have apartments set up for him in the Grand Trianon, which he occasionally used as a summer residence. He did have the grounds and the châteaux of both the Grand and Petit Trianon restored to their former glory. He did not have much interest in the Hameau de la Reine at first, although he did throw out the people who were living there illegally. On June 10, 1810 he brought his second wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, to Versailles for the first time. Interestingly, Marie-Louise was a great-niece of Marie Antoinette, as Marie-Louise’s grandmother was one of Marie Antoinette’s many sisters, Maria Carolina. Napoleon and Marie-Louise returned to Versailles at the beginning of August when Marie-Louise took possession of the Petit Trianon. It was at this point that Napoleon decided to have the Petit Trianon and the Hameau de la Reine completely restored for her. Work was carried out by the Emperor’s architect, Guillaume Trepsat, from 1809-1812. Several buildings were beyond hope of saving: the Barn and the Preparation/Working Dairy in the main part of the Hameau, as well as much of the Educational Farm. These structures were torn down, and their materials were used to help restore the other buildings in the Hameau. The Queen’s House was renamed the Lord’s House, and the Game’s House became known as the Bailiwick’s House. The interiors of the cottages were redecorated to reflect the tastes of the time, and differed significantly from their original appearance under Marie Antoinette. The rooms were refurnished with chairs, tables, sideboards, clocks, gilt bronze firedogs and sconces.
Napoleon and Marie-Louise visited Versailles for the last time in March 1813, shortly after Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign. Napoleon was forced to abdicate just over a year later in April 1814, and the Bourbon monarchy was restored to power from 1814-1830 (give or take a hundred days in 1815). The younger brothers of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X, chose not to live at Versailles, which had been their former home. It would be March 1832 before another monarch, their cousin (and successor) Louis-Philippe I, took an interest in Versailles. Like Napoleon, he took up residence in the Grand Trianon. Louis-Philippe I’s son and daughter-in-law, Ferdinand-Philippe and Hélène of Mecklenberg-Schwerin7, the Duke and Duchess of Orléans, settled into the attic of the Petit Trianon a few weeks after their marriage in May 1837. In 1838, the Hameau was updated for the Duchess. Although she kept many of the wall hangings, curtains, and furniture that had been used by Empress Marie-Louise, she had other furnishings and objects brought in to complete the decor (such as side tables and a mahogany bookshelf).
The Duchess of Orléans was the last occupant of the Hameau de la Reine. Her father-in-law, Louis-Philippe I, was later forced to abdicate during the French Revolution of 1848. This led to the rise of Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleon I), who ruled France as President from 1848-1851 and then Emperor from 1852-1870. In August 1855, Queen Victoria paid a visit to Napoleon III. She was invited to tour the Hameau before attending a gala dinner at Versailles in her honour. The Hameau was classified as a historical monument in 1862. In 1867, Napoleon III’s wife, Empress Eugénie, converted the Petit Trianon into a museum dedicated to the memory of Marie Antoinette. Eugénie had the Petit Trianon refurnished as closely as possible to how it would have looked when Marie Antoinette lived there. She also restored the gardens surrounding the Petit Trianon and the small pavilions located within them.
The Hameau has undergone several major restoration projects throughout the course of the 20th-21st centuries. A donation from John D. Rockefeller in the 1930s allowed for a return to the original 18th century layout for the majority of the Hameau’s cottages and gardens. The buildings were also strengthened structurally, the roofs replaced, and the gardens replanted. Various projects to restore the Mill House (1995), the Educational Farm (1996-2002), the Stove House (2000, 2015-2018), the Marlborough Tower (2002), the Queen’s House (2015-2018), the Games House (2015-2018), and the gardens (2015-2018) have also been carried out.
It’s time to begin our tour of the individual buildings! First up, we’ll check out the Educational Farm of Versailles. The Farm is a bit of an outlier, as it’s located a little further away from the bank of the artificial lake than the rest of the cottages. It’s about a five minute walk from the Marlborough Tower. The picture below shows a view of the Farm from the Tower. Note the archway in the middle, it’ll help you orient yourself when looking at the other pictures.
The Educational Farm originally consisted of a farm house, a barn (built in 1786), a stable, several goat sheds, a sheepfold, and pigsties. It was built from 1784-1789. A real farmer, Valy Bussard, was brought in from Touraine (part of the Loire Valley) on June 14, 1785 to work there. He looked after the animals, the crops, and made dairy products for the Queen. A milkman and a cowherd assisted him.
A close-up on a couple of the fluffy bunnies they had on-site when Neil and I visited.
The Farm suffered from severe neglect following the outbreak of the French Revolution. It was rented out to a farmer, and one of the buildings burned down during this time. When Napoleon set about having the rest of the Hameau restored in 1810, many of the structures in the Farm were beyond hope of saving. He had them torn down. The Farm remained virtually ignored for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. From 1992-2006, it finally underwent a major restoration that sought to return it to its 1789 condition.
A panoramic rear view of the Farm. Note the archway again.
A close-up on the wall that encloses the dugout inside the sheepfold, with a few of the local inhabitants.
An old photo of the front of the Educational Farm from the beginning of the 20th century.
I’ll now move onto the buildings that surround the lake. I’ll cover them (mostly) clockwise from left to right: the Marlborough Tower, the Model/Refreshment Dairy, the former Preparation/Working Dairy, the lost Barn, the Guard House, the Dovecote/Hen House, the Games House, the Queen’s House, the Stove House, the Boudoir, and the Mill House. I’ve reposted the aerial photo below to remind you of their layout.
First up is the Marlborough Tower. The tower gets its name from a famous song, “Marlborough Goes to War”, about the death of English General John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough8. The Dauphin’s nanny, Genevieve Poitrine, often sang the song to her young charge, Louis-Joseph. As it was located on the water, the Marlborough Tower used to have a pier that was used for boats and fishing. The base of the tower, built of stone, was used to store the boats and various fishing supplies. The upper portion of the tower is made of wood, but was painted so that it resembled stone. A fishery was originally constructed in 1784 to accompany the Marlborough Tower, but it was torn down in 1785 to make room for the Model/Refreshment Dairy.
In the photo below, you can see that there is now an apiary on the garden side of the tower. A staircase leads to a lookout at the top of the tower, which was also used as an observatory. It was also possible to communicate with the main Château from here using light signals!
Below is one of John Claude Nattes’ sketches, made in 1802 during his visit to the Hameau.
A historic photo of the tower. You’ll notice that the staircase is missing. It had disappeared by the end of the 19th century, but was rebuilt to match its original appearance during restoration work in 2002.
The Model/Refreshment Dairy is the next building we’ll explore. The Hameau originally contained two dairies: one in which the dairy products were actually made (variously referred to as the Preparation/Working/Cleanliness Dairy), and one in which the Queen and her guests tasted them (known as the Model/Refreshment Dairy). The latter building is the only one that survives, and is shown in the photo below to the right of the Marlborough Tower. In the 18th century, many dairies started appearing in aristocratic parks9. At the time, the consumption of milk was highly regarded and praised for its health benefits. The Queen and her companions enjoyed sampling various creams, cheeses, and butter.
Below is a sketch by Nattes showing a view of the Marlborough Tower and the Model/Refreshment Dairy that is similar to the one in the picture above (although the Model/Refreshment Dairy in the sketch is mostly obscured by trees).
Below is a close-up of the Model/Refreshment Dairy itself. It is one of only three buildings in the Hameau to feature a tiled roof; the Queen’s House and the Warming Room are the other two. All the other roofs in the Hameau were thatched. The Model/Refreshment Dairy also contains dormer windows (one of them shown below), if you recall my earlier discussion about French architectural design.
If you walk just a little bit to the right of the building as seen in the picture above, you’ll find the archway below facing the lake.
For fun, here are a few historic pictures of the Marlborough Tower and the Model/Refreshment Dairy dating from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th.
The interior of the Model/Refreshment Dairy was not open when Neil and I were there, so I’ve sourced the following photos from Wikipedia. The floor is made of blue and white marble. An arched ceiling is decorated with trompe-l’œil caissons. The walls are painted to imitate marble. There are four basins and side tables located along the walls.
A large white marble table in the centre of the room was where the Queen and her companions tasted the dairy products that were brought in from the nearby Preparation/Working Dairy. The table below is a replica of the original, made in 1811 by sculptor Pierre-Claude Boichard for Empress Marie-Louise. The decorative “L”s refer to her.
The dairy products were served to the Queen and her companions in porcelain dishes, such as the ones shown below. This porcelain service was ordered by her architect, Richard Mique, and delivered to the Hameau on November 28, 1786. The service contained 78 pieces in total, including: 48 milk terrines of three different sizes (12 of the 1st size, 24 of the 2nd, and 12 of the 3rd); 6 cheesemongers and trays; 6 cups and saucers; 2 round butter dishes; 8 jugs; 6 plates; and 2 butter bats. The service was made by a porcelain factory located on the Rue Thiroux in Paris, in the district of Chaussée-d’Antin. The manufacture was under Marie Antoinette’s patronage, even though it was in competition with the royal porcelain factory of Sèvres. The porcelain dishes were auctioned off during the French Revolution. 44 pieces were sold to a man listed as “Citizen Berton the Elder” on November 17, 1793 (27 Brumaire Year II in the revolutionary calendar). Six milk terrines are known to survive today.
Three milk terrines (all of the second size) have returned to the collections at Versailles. Two of those three milk terrines were gifted to Versailles in 1999 by the Society of Friends of Versailles. Since those terrines are identical, there is only one picture of them available on the Versailles Collections’ website (shown below). You can see that the dishes feature a simple yet playful floral pattern typical of the country spirit that the Queen cultivated at the Petit Trianon and the Hameau de la Reine. The terrines each contain a milk-spout.
A third terrine, shown below, was reacquired by Versailles in 2010 during a public sale.
A fourth milk terrine, shown below, sold for €96,750 at a Sotheby’s auction in 2012. This terrine was one of the 12 made in the first size.
The terrines are marked by a letter A, crowned in red, in reference to Marie Antoinette.
The next two buildings in the Hameau would have been the Preparation/Working Dairy and the Barn. As previously mentioned, their condition was considered too poor to be saved when Napoleon took on the project of restoring the Hameau. They were both demolished in 1810, with only their foundations remaining. Those of the Preparation/Working Dairy are shown below.
The Preparation/Working Dairy was originally built in 1783 for a different purpose. It contained two rooms with a fireplace in each, and was known as the Bake House. The dairy products were probably made at the Educational Farm. In 1785, the Bake House was transformed into the Preparation/Working Dairy. The building was outfitted with the equipment necessary for processing dairy products. One of the fireplaces was removed and replaced by an alcove that contained a stone trough, which was supplied with running water from a tap in the wall—a real novelty at the time! The water was stored in a tank in the attic, and filled by a lead conduit that brought water from 140 metres (460 feet) away. In 1785, records indicate that a tinsmith delivered several utensils to the Preparation/Working Dairy: two small pitchers for the milk, a measuring cup, three spoons for skimming, a butter syringe with three different nozzle patterns, and a tub with three compartments that held ice brought over from the icehouses of Trianon. The ice was used to keep the dairy products fresh. The centre of the main room held a stone table flanked by two side tables. Other tables were set around the walls.
A series of small rubble walls, shown in the picture below, indicate the former location for the demolished Barn. The Barn stood between the Preparation/Working Dairy and the Dovecoat/Hen House. The barn was originally used to store hay and grain; it also contained living quarters for the Hameau’s head gardener, Monsieur Bréval, who was responsible for all of the vegetable gardens. However, the Barn’s distance from the Educational Farm meant that it was not entirely useful. In 1786, a new barn was built within the complex of the Farm itself. Although the gardener retained his residence, the rest of the Barn was transformed in 1787 into a rustic ballroom. It may have occasionally been used for dances, although there are sadly no details to be found about any of them.
The only image I could dig up of the Barn is the sketch done by Nattes in 1802, shown below. I have not yet been able to find any of the Preparation/Working Dairy.
The next building, happily still standing, is the Dovecote/Hen House (known in French as “the Colombier”). It was home to several pairs of pigeons, laying hens, roosters, and chickens chosen especially by the Queen. The ground floor served as a hen house and aviary, while the top floor was the dovecote. Like each building in the hamlet, the Dovecote/Hen House had its own vegetable garden.
A sketch by Nattes, below, shows a similar view as the one in the picture above.
The Guard House was where Marie Antoinette’s head of security, Swiss guardsman Jean Bersey, lived with his family. The Guard House was fit with an underground passageway, which allowed him to patrol discreetly. There was an increased need for security towards the end of the Queen’s reign, when Marie Antoinette’s popularity was at its lowest.
Below are a couple of sketches by Nattes of the Guard House.
The Queen’s House is located in the centre of the Hameau. This structure actually consists of two separate cottages, the Games House on the left (north) and the Queen’s House on the right (south), connected by a covered walkway. These combined buildings are often considered to be one structure, referred to collectively as the Queen’s House, which can be a little confusing. I’m trying my best to number them and refer to them separately, which is a little contrary to common practice.
The photo below shows a closer view of the Games House on the left (north), and the Queen’s House on the right (south). A covered walkway, filled with potted flowers, connects them.
The Games House, also known as the Billiards House, consists of two floors. The bottom floor contained the billiards room and the top floor contained a small apartment, which may have been occupied by architect Richard Mique. The apartment consisted of five rooms, including a library.
The Queen’s House also has two floors. The ground floor contained a dining room and a small salon for playing backgammon. The top floor contained a large living room, a small living room, and an antechamber known as “the Chinese cabinet.”
As previously mentioned, the interior decoration of the cottage was updated by Napoleon and Empress Marie-Louise to reflect current tastes when the Hameau was restored from 1810-1812. Restoration work on the Queen’s House has focused on maintaining the look it acquired during this period. Below are a few before-and-after photos of the restoration.
A historic photo showing the backgammon room in the Queen’s House, taken around 1920.
The dining room of the Queen’s House, taken prior to the start of the restoration work in 2015. Its deteriorating state meant that the Queen’s House had been closed to the public since 1848!
A picture of the backgammon room taken after restoration work was completed is shown below. The yellow silk hangings on display are copies made in 1957-1958 of the 1811 originals. The replacements have been on display since the middle of the 20th century, while the originals have been carefully stored.
The dining room of the Queen’s House following restoration work.
The restored billiards room in the Games House.
One of the restored apartments in the Games House.
For fun, here are some historic images of the Queen’s House, arranged in chronological order. The first is one of Nattes’ sketches.
The Stove House, also known as the Warming or Reheating House (Réchauffoir in French), was used by servants to prepare meals for the Queen and her companions while they were in the Hameau. It was originally intended to be a place where food was reheated after being brought over from the main kitchens of Versailles (hence the name). However, it soon included the facilities necessary to actually prepare the meals themselves including a large stove, a bread oven, a pantry, and an adequate service of dishes, porcelain, and silverware.
The next cottage we have to explore is the Boudoir. It was originally nicknamed “the little Queen’s House.” It is the smallest cottage in the Hameau, and is where Marie Antoinette would spend time with only one or two companions (including rumoured Swedish lover, Count Axel von Fersen the Younger, who tried to help Marie Antoinette and her family escape to Varennes in June 1791). The Boudoir was not open when Neil and I visited, nor was it part of the major restoration work from 2015-2018. I haven’t been able to find any pictures of the interior. The intimate space is said to have had a white marble fireplace, wooden floors, and the walls alternated between being decorated with mirrors or tapestries. The windows are made of Bohemian glass.
A sketch made of the Boudoir by Nattes, looking a little overgrown.
A historic photo of the Boudoir.
The last cottage we have to explore is the Mill House. It is the most picturesque building in the Hameau, and all of its four sides have a slightly different appearance. Below is a distant view of its front (north) and side (east) façades taken while standing at the Queen’s House. A small creek runs along the front of the Mill House and the flow of the water was once slowly used to turn the water wheel, but never with enough force to grind grain. The wheel currently in place is the seventh installed since its original construction; it is now turned by an electric motor.
The ground floor of the Mill House contained a salon, and the top floor was used as a small dining room. Both of them had a marble fireplace and were panelled in fake mahogany wood. In the picture below, you can see that to the right (west) of the main house there was a small detached structure build on stilts overtop of the creek. This served as a small cabinet room. It is accessed from the top floor of the Mill House using a footbridge. To the left (east) of the building is a beautiful pergola and spiral staircase, both decorated with potted flowers.
A washhouse was also built on the west side of the main cottage, located at the edge of the small stream that fed the decorative water wheel.
Below is a picture of the west-side façade of the Mill House, taken further towards the back of the Mill House.
A few gardens are located behind and around the Mill House.
A closer view of the cottage and one of its gardens.
A few pictures of the other gardens follow.
A picture of the ivy covering the walls of the Mill House.
A couple of sketches of the Mill House by Nattes.
A couple of historic photographs of the Mill House.
Thank you for reading my post on the Hameau de la Reine! Although there were many wonderful things to see at Versailles (as my other posts can readily attest), this was really the highlight for me. I hope that one day you’ll get the chance to visit it as well. I have one more post forthcoming on my Versailles series in which I’ll be discussing the Grand Trianon.
1 The lawn at the Petit Trianon is only cut twice a year. This allows it to have a more natural look and feel.
² It is certainly ironic in some cases that these model farms and picturesque villages were being built on these aristocratic properties as, in previous years, the expansion of these grounds meant that actual farms and medieval villages were relocated and/or destroyed in order to enhance their aesthetic value. Get rid of the real thing and then, a generation or two later, build a fake, but cuter, version of it! The Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon are actually named after a medieval village that Louis XIV had relocated in 1668, when be embarked on his ambitious rebuilding project at Versailles. He had the Grand Trianon built on the location of the former village for which it was named. And then, 115 years later, the Hameau de la Reine was built within its grounds by Marie Antoinette.
3 In her memoirs, French painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (an official court painter of Marie Antoinette) commented of the Moulin Joly: “Ah! I would have loved, dear friend, to walk with you in the woods of Moulin Joly! This is one of those places we do not forget: so beautiful! so varied! picturesque, Elyos, wild, delightful at last. Imagine a large island, covered with woods, gardens, orchards, which the Seine cut through the middle. We passed from one side to the other on a deck of boats, garnished on both sides by crates full of flowers, which were renewed every season, and benches, placed at a distance from each other, allowed you to enjoy for a long time with a perfumed air, and admirable points of view; from a distance, this bridge, which was repeated in the water, produced an effect. High trees, very vigorous, bordered the river on the right; to the left, the bank was covered with enormous poplars and great weeping willows, whose soft-green branches were falling into cradles; one of these willows, among others, formed an enormous vault, beneath which we rested, we dreamed with delight. I can not tell you how happy I felt in this beautiful place, to which I did not see anything comparable.”
4 The garden and ferme ornée at Ermenonville was planned in 1762 by a close friend and patron of Romantic writer and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Marquis René Louis de Girardin. The design drew inspiration from Rousseau’s philosophy on the nobility of nature. Rousseau was invited to stay at a cottage in the garden in May 1778, and spent some time writing there before he died of kidney failure in July 1778. Rousseau’s tomb was designed by Hubert Robert, and it is located in Ermenonville. It is situated on a small island in a lake, within a grove of poplar trees. Girardin described the purpose of his garden in his book, De la composition des paysages (“On the Composition of Landscapes”), published in 1777: “If you wish to have true joy, you must always search for the simplest ways and find amusements which conform to nature, because those pleasures are the only ones that are true and lasting.”
5 The most popular myth being that, when Marie Antoinette was told the French people were suffering due to widespread bread shortages, she replied: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!”/“Let them eat cake!” (Brioche was a luxury bread enriched with butter and eggs). This phrase first surfaced in book 6 of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography, Confessions, which he wrote in 1765. Marie Antoinette would have only been nine years old at the time of his writing, and not yet Dauphine of France. The passage reads: “I remembered the last resort of a great princess who, when told that the peasants had no bread, replied: ‘Then let them eat brioches.’” Rousseau does not name the princess, and it’s possible the anecdote was made up as his autobiography is not strictly factual. So which came first, a “great princess” saying this phrase and Rousseau later coming to know of and repeating it? Or Rousseau coming up with this phrase and it later being attributed to one? Other candidates have been put forward as possible sources for this expression including Marie Antoinette’s mother, Maria Theresa; two of Louis XV’s daughters, Madame Sophie and Madame Victoire; and even Louis XIV’s wife Maria Theresa of Spain. Contemporary accounts from French revolutionaries did not attribute this quote to Marie Antoinette, and they would have certainly been happy to do so if she had said it as there was a lot of negative propaganda being spread about the Queen. Its first attribution to Marie Antoinette did not come until March 1843 by French writer Alphonse Karr in March 1843, 54 years after the alleged incident in 1789 (and Karr was born in 1808, almost 20 years later).
6 As a woman and a foreigner of Austrian birth, Marie Antoinette’s image was also darkened by contemporary sexist and xenophobic attitudes. For generations, the French had viewed Austria as their enemy. The new alliance with Austria, which was cemented by the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, had resulted in France’s humiliating defeat by the English in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Consequently, the French public had soured on this French-Austrian alliance and Marie Antoinette would bear the brunt of that animosity. Many anti-monarchists also blamed Marie Antoinette (incorrectly) for single-handedly driving France’s economy into ruin, calling her “Madame Déficit”, conveniently forgetting that their country had engaged in generations of costly wars—including the financing of the American War of Independence.
7 The Grand Duchy of Mecklenberg-Schwerin was a territory in northern Germany. Hélène of Mecklenberg-Schwerin, the Duchess of Orléans, daughter-in-law of Louis-Philippe I, introduced the German custom of decorating a Christmas tree to France in 1840.
8 General John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, lived from 1650-1722. He and his wife, Sarah Jennings Churchill, are ancestors of Sir Winston Churchill. He is remembered as one of Europe’s great Generals. He was in command of the Allied forces of Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, Austria, and Denmark at the Battle of Malplaquet on September 11, 1709, facing off against the French army of Louis XIV. This battle was part of the War of Spanish Succession: Louis XIV’s grandson had been crowned King of Spain after the childless Charles II (a Hapsburg) died in November 1700, and the other European powers did not agree with France controlling that much power and territory (especially other Hapsburg rulers of the Holy Roman Empire). Although the Battle of Malplaquet was determined to be an Allied victory as the French withdrew, leaving Marlborough’s army in possession of the battlefield, the Allied forces numbered twice as many casualties and losses as the French (24,263 versus 12,500). A rumour that Marlborough had died inspired the writing of the folk song, “Marlborough Goes to War” (also known as “The Death and Burial of the Invincible Marlborough”). The lyrics portray Marlborough’s wife waiting for her husband to return from battle and being given the news of his death, while a nightingale sings over his grave. Sarah Churchill had a close relationship with Queen Anne of Britain (their relationship was fictionalized in the recent Hollywood movie, The Favourite, starring Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman). Of course, Marlborough was not actually killed in 1709, and later died in June 1722 following a stroke. In the 1780s, “Marlborough Goes to War” became immensely popular thanks to French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais, who referenced it in his play “The Marriage of Figaro.”
9 Catherine de Medici had a model dairy installed at Fontainebleau as early as 1560, and the trend continued to gain in popularity from there. Louis XVI also had one built for Marie Antoinette at the Château de Rambouillet. Even Josephine Baker had her own dairy in France as late as the early 1950s.