If you are contemplating or at the planning stage of a trip to Europe, the Palace of Versailles needs to be on your must-see list. Versailles became the resplendent location of the French royal court, beginning when King Louis XIV took up residence in the magnificent palace in 1862.
The Royal Presence at Versailles
Before embarking on your own trek to Versailles, a number of misconceptions about the royal residence and its occupants must be addressed. Louis XIV is the monarch responsible for creating the magnificent palace that is Versailles. With that said, only three reigning French monarchs ever called Versailles home, including Louis XIV.
After reigning as King for over 72 years, Louis XIV’s great-grandson ascended to the throne at the age of five. He reigned, from Versailles, as Louis XV, for 59 years. Upon his death, his grandson became King at the age of 19 and would reign for 18 years, before being overthrown and ultimately guillotined. Louis XVI, his wife Queen Marie Antoinette, and the rest of the court abandoned Versailles in 1789, three months before the French Revolution commenced. The resided in Paris proper until the monarchy was brought down in the Revolution, in 1792.
Much is written about the opulence of Versailles and the Louis and Marie Antoinette, including the Queen’s purported “let them eat cake” statement. The reality is that Marie Antoinette never uttered that statement, according to reliable historians. If it were uttered at all by a French royal, it occurred about a hundred years before Marie Antoinette was the Queen of France. It was a statement made by the wife of King Louis XIV. As one of Marie Antoinette’s most recent biographers, Antonia Fraser, has written, “Let them eat cake] was said 100 years before her by Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV. It was a callous and ignorant statement and she, Marie Antoinette, was neither.”
Entertainments at Versailles
Although the French royals may not have been as brutal as some historians have claimed through the years, indeed until very recently, there is no doubt that the French court was found of games, gambling, and entertainments. Indeed, it was during the reign of Louis XIV that what really has become the modern-day version of pinball was conceptualized at Versailles.
The French court during the reigns of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI, were known for extravagance and gaming of different types. This represented a period in time when many games that historically were played out of doors, were transitioned to be enjoyed inside the Palace of Versailles.
Pinball at Versailles
A prime example of a game that underwent transition under the reign of Louis XIV was what ultimately became pinball, and survives into the 21st century. During the reign of Louis XIV, ground billiards, played in gardens and on lawns, was brought indoors and played on tables. These became precursors to modern day billiards, pool, and pinball.
Ultimately, during the reign of Louis XIV, some billiard tables were narrowed in their construction. Pins were affixed to the table, and holes placed onto the surface. A player, using a stick, could attempt to land balls into holes, using the pins as a means of ricocheting to a hole.
Also during the reign of Louis XIV, the stick gradually became replaced by with a coiled spring and plunger at the base of the table, where a player stands. This derivation of the game actually originated in Japan but made its way to the court at Versailles. With this alteration, the true birth of what remains pinball today occurred.
A Tour of Versailles
When touring Versailles, you will be able to take in a great many of the entertainments and games enjoyed by the French royals and their court. You may even be able to take a gander at one of the precursors to pinball machines that are still on the grounds of the royal palace. You will likely be amazed at how familiar a version of the game from over 250 years ago will look to you today.
Of course, pinball, and its associated table games were not the only entertainments of the King and Queen of France. For example, although Queen Marie Antoinette never uttered the infamous “let them eat cake” quip assigned to her for generations, she did order the construction of farm on the grounds of Versailles. She had a farm replica placed on the grounds of Versailles so that she and her ladies-in-waiting could pretend that they were milk maidens as a means of entertainment.
Jessica Kane is a writer for The Pinball Company, the best online source for new, used, and refurbished pinball machines, arcade cabinets, and more!