Haunted Versailles … The day Marie-Antoinette’s ghost returned to Versailles …

One sultry August day Queen Marie-Antoinette was sitting on a low seat on a patch of lawn in the garden bordering the northern façade of the (le) Petit Trianon, the chateau on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles which her husband, Louis 16th, had given her. She was casually clothed in a light-colored dress […]


One sultry August day Queen Marie-Antoinette was sitting on a low seat on a patch of lawn in the garden bordering the northern façade of the (le) Petit Trianon, the chateau on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles which her husband, Louis 16th, had given her. She was casually clothed in a light-colored dress and a fichu – the triangular scarf or kerchief that women wore tied around their shoulders to cover a low neckline. A wide-brimmed straw hat covered most of her abundant white-blonde hair and shielded her fair and fine Austrian skin from a hot, playful wind: all over Europe the summer was one of electrical storms and the air was heavy.

The Queen held a sketch pad on her lap and every now and then she jotted down something on a blank page. She would first look at a tree, as if she was studying it, and then she would start to scribble on the page. She was probably sketching the trees because she would hold up the page as if she was verifying that she had reproduced a true image.

Versailles Palace

One can therefore say that it was an ordinary afternoon at Versailles: While the King (Louis 16) was tending to affairs of state, his wife (Marie-Antoinette) was passing the time as pleasantly as she could there in the garden of her small (by Versailles Palace standards) chateau.

(The Petit Trianon had been built between 1762 and 1768 for King Louis 15, grandfather of Louis 16, as a residence for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. She – La Pompadour – had however passed away before she could take up residence but her successor, Madame du Barry, had eagerly moved in. Louis 16, on his accession to the throne in 1774, had kept up with tradition and had handed the chateau over to the woman in his life – his wife Marie-Antoinette – for her own personal use. He was 20 then and she was 19 and they’d been married since 1770 when he was a 15-year-old lad and unable to consummate the marriage to his child-bride, the 14-year-old Marie-Antoinette.

However, that August afternoon was not an ordinary one at Versailles.

It was Saturday, August 10, 1901, and Marie Antoinette was thoroughly dead. She’d been dead for 108 years, having been guillotined on October 16, 1793, aged 38.

What had happened that August 10 of 1901 – 110 years ago this year of 2011 – remains a mystery. But what we do know is that Marie-Antoinette and several other people had appeared to two English spinsters who were on a visit to the Palace of Versailles.

The two, teachers at St Hugh’s College for Women in Oxford and probably lesbian lovers, were Charlotte Anne Moberley and Eleanor Jourdain. Moberley was the 10th of 15 children of an Oxford don who had become Bishop of Salisbury. Jourdain was the eldest of the 10 children of a parson of Huguenot stock. In 1901, Moberley, 55, principal of St Hugh’s College and Jourdain, the college’s 38-year-old vice-principal, spent a holiday in an apartment in Paris of which Jourdain was the proprietor. The two had met the year before in Paris where Jourdain was teaching English and Moberley was on a short vacation. When Moberley had returned to St Hugh’s, Jourdain had returned with her to take up the post of vice-principal.

When the two went to Versailles on that August day, neither had ever been there before.

First, the two visited the Palace, then, after what seemed a hot and and already tiring walk along the lake to the Petit Trianon, they got lost and wandered about not knowing whether they were walking in the right direction.  (This had happened to me too once and knowing this spooky story I had a few anxious moments until I came across a gardener who gave me directions to get back to the Palace.)

Petit Trianon

In 1911 the two women would write a book about what they had experienced that August day in 1901. Fearing ridicule, as people do who have experienced an inexplicable ‘paranormal’ activity, they wrote the book – An Adventure – using the two pseudonyms of Elizabeth Morrison and Frances Lamont. In the 10 years which had passed the two had painstakingly researched the Court of Louis 16 and Marie-Antoinette and they had come to the conclusion that they had stepped back in time and what they had seen were ghosts (or spirits if you wish).

The book caused uproar, some having indeed found the two lecturers’ story ridiculous, and others calling them fantasists, even liars.

As they would write, that August day in 1901, lost and a little tired, a depression had suddenly come over them. However, given no choice, they had wandered on. They had a feeling, as they would claim, of being ‘absent’, of being not where they were, but being observers.Observers of a play. Indeed, it was as if they had walked into the rehearsal of a play.

They wrote of seeing farming equipment which looked as if it were from another era – another century. They saw old-fashioned buildings. They saw a man with a pockmarked face who wore a long cloak and a slouch hat, and wearing clothes of a century or more ago.

They saw a woman and a young girl standing on the stone steps of a solidly-built cottage, the likes of which one no longer came across. The woman and the child were dressed in crinoline dresses that came to their ankles; the girl was about 14 years old and wore a white cloth cap.

They asked a man who had come running up to them the way to the Petit Trianon. He also wore a long cloak and slouch hat. He told them to walk right rather than left. They could not understand everything that he said (they knew French but he was speaking too fast), but the words cherchez la maison (look for the house) stuck in their minds.  He seemed to have gone right through a large rock when he was running towards them. Following the direction he’d pointed out, they crossed over a quaint little bridge straight from yesteryear.

They saw two farm workers loading a cart. The workers wore brown tunics and short capes.

Getting more depressed as the minutes ticked by, they became aware of an odd stillness around them. The trees were not moving and there were no shadows anywhere.

Getting to the Petit Trianon they saw a door open and a man stepped out and walked past them. He too was dressed in an old-fashioned way.

Then, they saw the woman in the light-colored dress sitting on a low seat sketching trees. They walked around her and thought that her fichu was pale green rather than white.

The ten-year research that Moberley and Jourdain did included studying the French archives and speaking to dozens of French historians. Not even to mention the biographies and autobiographies they had not only read but studied. It made it possible for them to put names to all the people they’d seen that August day.

And it put a name to the woman sketching trees.

They were adamant that she was none other than Marie-Antoinette. After having described her to historians, they were directed to the 1788 painting of the Queen done by the Swedish artist, Adolf Ulrike Wertmüller., and they knew the identity of the woman. (According to the memoirs published as Premiere Femme de Chambre of Madame Campan, Marie-Antoinette’s First Chambermaid, that painting was the best likeness of the Queen.) See the above photo of Marie-Antoinette.

Their research also put a date to the day into which they had stepped to experience a time slip as it is called by spiritists (as followers of Allan Cardec would say) or spiritualists.

The date they had returned to was October 5, 1789. It was the day that the King and Queen were taken from Versailles to be imprisoned in Paris. That day, according to Madame Campan’s memoirs, Marie-Antoinette had gone to the Petit Trianon from where she had to be fetched.

As for the date of August 10: What terrible thing had happened to Marie-Antoinette on an August 10 from which she had sought escape by returning in her mind’s eye to a happier day – perhaps the last really happy day of her life: her last day at Versailles, sitting sketching trees in the Petit Trianon’s garden.

Moberley and Jourdain’s research had found an answer to this too.

I will quote from their book, An Adventure:

… On August 10th, 1792, the Tuilleries was sacked. The royal family escaped in the early morning to the Hall of the Assembly, where they were penned up for many hours hearing themselves deposed, and within sounds of the massacre of their servants and of the Swiss guards at the Tuilleries. From the Hall the King and Queen were taken to the Temple …

(NB: After having been taken from the Palace of Versailles, Louis and Marie-Antoinette were held captive in the Tuilleries Palace in Paris. The Temple was a fortress prison from where Louis was taken to be guillotined in 1793. Marie-Antoinette was then imprisoned in the Conciergerie from where she was taken to be guillotined, also in 1793.)

Moberley and Jourdain would eventually step from behind their pseudonyms, yet, knowing that they were two respectable and respected academics did not lessen the ridicule they had to face.

Even to this day the controversy continues: Did the two make up the story? Or did they really experience a time slip? Indeed does such a thing exist?

Their book was republished in 1988, and again this year by Createspace. It’s a good read.

The 1988 edition. Sill available on the internet.

Createspace's new version

If you would like to read another interesting and very enjoyable book, read Susie Kelly‘s Valley of Heaven and Hell. She and her husband cycled the route of Louis and Marie-Antoinette’s abortive escape from the Tuilleries. It is also available on Kindle.

And who knows perhaps when you visit Versailles next you may see a lady sitting on a low seat …




Marilyn Z. Tomlins

4 Responses

8-7-2011 at 12:08:11

[…] Haunted Versailles … The day Marie-Antoinette's ghost returned to … […]

1-10-2012 at 12:37:25

Your Comments

1-10-2012 at 12:40:17

Great blog piece about an interesting tale!

Leah Marie

[…] today the Palace of Versailles is a renowned museum. Despite its grand history, the location is not without spiritual unrest. Many ghosts have been seen by visitors and employees, with some even turning up in photographs. […]

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