As an American child, Hruby, as were millions of other young Americans, had been schooled in the French Revolution and the eventual execution of France’s King and Queen in 1793. While Hruby was fascinated at so many horrible things written about both Louis XVI and his wife, the queen, Marie Antoinette, … he fixated on her.
Who was this couple, he wondered? What were they really like? What was Marie really like? Who was she as a person? A human being? As a wife? A mother? As a woman? All this fascinated him throughout his life and by the 21st century, his obsession with Marie Antoinette had not subsided.
By 2010, Hruby was now living in Paris. Preparing to revitalize his former production company from Southern California, he now began giving serious consideration to shooting a documentary on Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Diving into research on them both led him to Versailles. The world renown palace built 10 km. north of Paris by Louis XIV in the 1600’s. This was where both Louis and Marie had been forcibly taken from by a mob in 1789 and transported, with their children, to Paris where they would eventually be executed, their daughter being the only sole survivor of the entire family.
Hruby funded his private tutoring from leading historians at Versailles and, at Marie Antoinette’s private palace and chateau, Petit Trianon, located just less than a mile away. Over the course of two years, Hruby was granted access to many places not opened or accessible to the public at Versailles or Petit Trianon. Such secret and private places of France’s Louis XVI and his Queen, brought with them such fascinating stories of both. The more Hruby learned of these two, the more he began to understand them as two ordinary people, who by circumstance, were thrusted into extraordinary and powerful moments in French and world history.
Hruby made many visits to Petit Trianon, both academic and artistic in nature. One day found him with an historian of the Queen’s chateau. While only the ground and 1st floors (2nd floor for Americans) of the building are opened to the public; on this particular day, Hruby found himself alone with the historian on the hidden floor located between the ground and 1st floors. This floor, known as the “Entresol Floor” was where the private apartments of the Queen’s 1st Lady-in-Waiting and Maid-of-Honor were located. Also located here was Marie Antoinette’s private library.
In one unique moment, the historian left Hruby alone in one of these first rooms. With the lights turned off, the only light in the room came from a window on this cloud-filled day. Standing at the window alone, he gazed out onto what was once Marie’s English-Garden down below. And in the distance, he could see the Queen’s “Temple de l’Amour” or, “Temple of Love.”
She commissioned its creation under builder, Richard Mique in 1777. The temple was completed in 1778. It stands on an island located in the middle of an artificial river (moat) just east of what was her English Garden. The temple was 14 meters in diameter and supported by twelve beautiful Corinthian columns. The dome was decorated with attributes of love while, displayed in the center, stood a statue of L’Amour carving a bow in the shape of the club of Hercules. There were seven steps leading up to it.
It fell into despair by the late 1700’s and was finally restored to its original appearance in 2005.
In his own words ….
Sometimes, we pass right by something without ever recognizing at all what we are exactly looking at. An unbelievable moment. One that is more powerful than we know. More magnificent than we realize. However, in that fleeing moment, we just do not see it. We walk right past it and lose what may have been an opportunity of a lifetime. If only we had truly known.
On this particular day, alone in this room, I was suddenly transfixed upon this simple window. For I grasped in this sudden moment, the power of what I was looking at. While many others might have just passed right by, I realized what this window truly was. It was … a window back in time
The window pulled me towards it. Gravitating towards the gray daylight that tried to seep itself through the glass and into the darkness of the room. All alone in this room, I was left transfixed on this window for reasons I did not know.
I was in the private apartments of Marie Antoinette and her court, inside her palace of Petit Trianon, just barely a mile away from the Palace of Versailles, ten miles north of Paris. Her own small palace of-a-sort, the chateau, built by Louis XV, given to her by her husband Louis XVI, the King of France, in June of 1774. She was only eighteen then.
She would spend fifteen years here at Petit Trianon and the Palace of Versailles located just shy a mile away.
I was in the room that belonged to Marie’s 1st chambermaid who was only three years older.
To be inside Petit Trianon was to be in Marie’s world now. In her most private domain. And here in the room of her lady-in-waiting, I could only imagine the years of conversations, thoughts, and emotions that these walls had silently witnessed in history.
This day inside this room, I had no idea that later on, in continued research, I would read a book entitled, “Memoirs of the Court of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France.” It was written by the very woman whose room I was now standing in – Jeanne Louise Henriette Campan, Marie’s lady-in-waiting. I knew nothing at all about her on this day. Her book that I would later read would be one of the most intimate insights into Marie’s private life at both Versailles and Petit Trianon. Ms. Campan would be promoted into this position and into this room in 1786 although she had already been at Marie’s side for many years.
From her book, which was not published till after her death, I knew that she was very close to Marie, perhaps the closest of all of her servants.
Now, standing alone in this room, the window continued to draw me.
Across fifteen years here, I figured at one time or another, Marie had walked up and looked out each and every window, of every room, on every floor, for one reason or another. Each window a different view but all beautiful views to behold no matter where you looked out.
So now as I stood at this window and looked out, I had to contemplate two things.
The first was that once upon a time, not only did the queen’s lady-in-waiting, Jeanne Campan, whose book I had read every word of; had so often stood exactly where I was standing and would look out this very window but; that Marie Antoinette herself would have stood looking out her bedroom window just one floor below, and gazed out upon the very same grounds below as well.
And the second thing was that what lay before me was an unbelievable realization. For I realized that what laid before me was exactly as it would have looked then when Marie was here. I realized that I was seeing the same thing out this window, exactly as she did. Nothing had changed.
What laid out before me was the lawn of Marie’s English Garden, leading all the way to her Temple of Love that she had proudly built in 1778. Although the temple had fallen into despair over the centuries since, its restoration now brought it back to all its original glory and splendor, just as Marie would have seen it.
Although today, her Temple of Love no longer has growing near it all the Apple-Paradise and Ball-of-Snow rose bushes that once flooded the air with such heavenly fragrances, nor the Juliennes and Gilly Flowers; it does still have its water-filled moat surrounding it. A small bridge still crossing over it to walk up the steps leading inside. The statue of “Love” still as so powerfully radiant. It was ss if he had never left.
I quickly realized that I was standing at some sort of portal back into time. That at this very moment, at this very location, that the sight that now laid before me, was indeed a window back in time. I was seeing exactly what Marie had looked upon so many times, across fifteen years, from her own bedroom window. Even from this very window. Nothing was changed. It was an incredible moment.
I realized that if Marie, or even Jeanne Campan were standing right now at this very window, that they would see nothing different from any other day when they were here in this room. The moment left me breathless because it was … timeless.
Standing there, I could easily imagine this young, strawberry blond, eighteen-year-old queen who stood no more than five-foot-two, assuming control over her new palace. Her Chateau Petit Trianon. I imagined the sounds from the below floor; of parties complete with laugher, piano, harp, and mandolin. The clanging of crystal glasses. Conversations scattered throughout the air everywhere. The smell of pastries and chocolates. Maybe even the sounds of billiard balls from a young Louis, the king, playing billiards in the room down on the ground floor.
But this day, I could feel Marie. Here her essence could still be felt.
You see, I knew many things about Marie. I was very aware of where I was at. Even what I was looking at, out this window. I knew the years she spent here.
So, when I looked out at her Temple of Love this day, I imagined that night in August of 1781, when her brother, Joseph II, now the Emperor of Austria, had come for a visit. All over the grounds of the Chateau were over a hundred earthen lamps created. Each lamp boxed in with wooden sides, painted green and, the tops left open. The result was this incredible illumination of all the shrubbery and flowers in the English Garden leading up to the Temple. Their colors and splendor made visible in the middle of the night. How grand indeed it must have been.
Everyone could enjoy walking the grounds, following the lights and enjoying the beautifully lit-up views of the surrounding flowers and shrubbery. This, while musicians played music outdoors throughout the evening. However, the grandest spectacle in the night was the complete illumination of Marie’s Temple of Love. Burning throughout the night were 1,500 “fascines” (long bundle of sticks bound together). They were placed along the moat that surrounded the temple and gave off a spectacular amount of light till four the next morning. The brightness from the fires below and around the temple was thrusted upward towards the interior of the structure’s cupola, which in turn reflected all the light downward onto the statue of Love in the middle of the rotunda, and the light bounced back upward off of the bright white marble floor. It was truly breathtaking.
The dome’s six-foot-in-diameter cupola, shining brightly its crowns of roses, arrows and quivers, and ribbons entwined with olive branches and roses. All surrounded by 120 carved rosettes.
That night, Marie was twenty-five years old. Her mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, had just died the previous year. Her daughter, Marie-Therese, was only two-and-a-half years old. And on this night, Marie was seven months pregnant with her second child (of four), Louis Joseph, the Dauphine.
Lighting up her English Garden and Temple of Love for parties at night became quite the conversation with the aristocrats and their wives at the Palace of Versailles. Even more so as Marie, having separated herself from Versailles as much as possible, chose to invite very few outside her closest circle of friends.
So, talked about was the beauty of Marie’s gardens and Temple of Love being lit up at night parties held at Petit Trianon, it was repeated numerous times. However, since many at Versailles were not invited by Marie to her parties, there was often not-such-pleasant things said, as well as intrigue by many of what this spectacle indeed looked like?
On one particular night, just as Marie had done for her brother, the Emperor Joseph II, she had her English Garden and the Temple of Love completely illuminated for a party hosting the Grand Duke. Although he was not invited nor allowed to attend, the notorious Cardinal de Rohan, now in his late forties, coaxed Marie’s porter into letting him sneak inside the Chateau grounds to view the spectacle. The porter only allowed this after the Cardinal promised him that he would hide in the porter’s lodge until Marie, the Grand Duke, and their courts left in carriages to return back to Versailles.
However, the Cardinal did not keep his promise and as the parties came out to load into the carriages for departure, Marie saw the Cardinal. He had put on a greatcoat over his robes to hide himself as he had ventured out into her garden to see the lights. Twice, out of curiosity, he came forth to observe everyone getting in the carriages and leaving back for Versailles. His greatcoat only went to just below his knees thus exposing his red stockings and his identity. This incident greatly upset Marie who discharged the porter from Petit Trianon the very next day.
As I looked out this window, I wondered of the next seven years or so of Marie’s life here within these walls. Eventually, she would have her four children along these hallways and whom she loved so very much. Unlike what was expected of a French Queen, she was much more involved with the raising of her children on these chateau grounds.
I thought as I looked out this window, I knew she could have never imagined the French Revolution that was coming. Nor of the severity of the hated that would be directed towards her, especially by the people of Paris. She would be blamed for so many things including influencing the King to finance a war back in the United States against England. This, while so many people in France were starving to death and the State’s coffers having now fallen empty.
She would be horribly and publicly humiliated throughout Paris in many sketched depictions showing her committing every sex act imaginable and in every way. This queen, this mother, would be so falsely slandered and libeled, ridiculed and the butt of sarcasms everywhere. Such horrible things said and depicted of her. None of which were true but would result in dire consequence.
No ….. during these good years here at Trianon, with her children and closest friends, she could have never imagined of what was coming. What was coming one day …. on October 5th, 1789. When a mob of over a thousand Parisians would march from Paris to Versailles wanting her head on a pike.
She could have never imagined that the very next morning following that day, she and her husband, and their children, would all be taken away forever from Versailles and Petit Trianon, never to return. Not in her wildest dreams could she have imagined such.
While this and so much more occurred just outside this window; despite that all of them were now so long gone, across centuries and time, and legends still told, the sight that Marie and Jeanne Campan beheld out their bedroom windows on this side of the chateau, …. it was still here. It hadn’t left. Perhaps standing in silent testament to Marie indeed.
Despite the grounds falling into ruin over centuries, despite the chateau itself falling into despair, abandonment, and odd occupants on occasion such as even a tavern once, it all eventually sat here in silence.
Waiting perhaps for one more time for her … to see once again that breath of life breathed back into her beautiful and wonderful chateau. For Marie to once again be allowed to return back to her beloved Petit Trianon.