France – Marly-Le-Roi

It as a royal chateau has ceased to exist. It is not even a museum like Saint-Germain or Versailles. At the time of the Revolution it was destroyed, and the fragments sold for building materials. But the ancient forests by which it was surrounded have not entirely disappeared, nor the great stretches of water, to which it owed its value in the eyes of Louis XIV. De Luynes, in his ” Memoirs,” says that the King charged the great Mansard to find him a site near Versailles, possessing a good view, plenty of forest land, and an abundance of pure water. Versailles had forests, Saint-Germain, Louis’ birth-place, an unrivalled view, but neither had drinking water, and Louis never took wine without. Therefore, as Marly possessed forest land and, by removing an intervening hill, was provided with a pretty outlook, it was the site selected for the new palace, and purchased from its owner, the father of the great Bossuet. Nothing was impossible when Louis gave the order, and Mansard was at hand to carry it out. Water was conducted into huge ornamental reservoirs, terraces and gardens sprang up as by magic, well-grown trees being transported from distant countries, and from the woods around. The lakes were stocked with pedigree carp, upon whose beauties minor poets wrote sonnets, and at last the ” Hermitage,” as Louis called the luxurious palace, was completed, with its central pavilion, and twelve smaller dwellings, six on either side, all enclosed by a huge ornamental grille beyond which no visitor dared venture to disturb the privacy of the great Louis. He was forty-six years of age when he first came to Marly, and had just privately married Madame de Maintenon. His timid queen, Marie-Therese, who never entered his presence without trembling, had died the previous year, and the rooms prepared for her were given to the new wife.

He would drive out to Marly with a party of ladies and courtiers, and many amusing anecdotes are told of the gay doings which took place on these occasions. Saint Simon, in his ” Memoirs,” writes: ” You cannot imagine how pleasant is this life at Marly. The Court seems quite different from that at Versailles. There are only a few guests, all personally chosen and invited by the King. Everyone therefore feels honoured, and all are in good temper. The King is very free and affectionate—at Versailles he seems wholly taken up with business, at Marly he is just himself, and gives himself over to pleasure.” It was Louis’ custom to present his lady visitors with rich gifts on their visits to Marly; they might even find a whole outfit of clothes awaiting them in the apartment provided for them.

The young ladies were particularly free and easy, considering the presence of that redoubt-able Mrs Grundy, Madame de Maintenon. Thus we hear of the Duchess of Chartres and her friend being discovered, with an officer of the Swiss guards, all smoking pipes, and of the King giving her a severe lecture the next morning. And there is the story of the Duchess of Burgundy, Marie Adelaide de Savoie, seating herself familiarly on the King’s knee, and stretching out his cheeks, pulling his ears and his nose, and pushing off his great wig to stroke his bald head. While the King cried, ” Ah, Harlequin is not dead! ”

And there were the plays performed in the grounds, ” Le Bourgeois gentilhomme,” les ” Precieuses Ridicules.” And the suppers! Louis thought nothing of four plates of soup, a whole pheasant, a partridge, a plate of salad, a plate of mutton with onions, two good slices of ham, a dish full of pastry, fruit and sweetmeats. After supper he would be attended to his room by the first physician, whose duty it was to watch the process of digestion. Madame de Maintenon did not often share in these feastings. In 1698 she writes to the Archbishop of Paris complaining of the difficulty of keeping her days of abstinence and fasting, and of the manner in which Sunday was spent at Marly. But she retained the King’s affection and respect to the last, and there is a charming picture of Louis walking in the grounds each morning beside her chair, taking off his great feathered hat, and bending down constantly to speak to her, or point out some beauty in the landscape. While Madame, afraid of the air, withdrew the glass for a moment to answer, and hurriedly raised it again. She was three years older than Louis, and at the time this picture was taken was sixty, a very handsome woman still, almost always in black, with a white lace shawl over her arms and shoulders, and a white guimpe hiding her neck.

Sometimes there would arrive from Saint-Germain James II. and his wife, once King and Queen of England, for Louis and he were friends of long standing. And in 1701 Death himself arrived at Marly and struck down the Duchess of Orleans, second wife of the odious little widower of Henriette d’Angleterre, of whom we shall hear when we visit Saint-Cloud.

After the death of Louis XIV., Marly continued a royal residence, as we shall see by the incident which is given by Madame le Brun in her ” Memoirs.” She says, ” The sight of this ravishing place made such an impression on me that, after my marriage, I often returned to Marly. One morning I met the Queen (Marie Antoinette), who was walking in the park with several of the ladies of her court. Ail were dressed in white, and so young, so pretty, that they seemed to me an apparition. I was with my mother, and was hastening away when the Queen had the kindness to stop me, and made me promise to continue my walk and to go where I pleased. Alas, when in 1812 I returned to my noble, laughing Marly, the palace, the trees, the cascades, the fountains, all had disappeared. I could find but one stone marking, as it seemed, the centre of the Salon.” And here we must leave the short-lived Marly, and find our way to Saint-Cloud.