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Gold Entrance Gate, Palace of Versailles, France

Gold Entrance Gate, Palace of Versailles, France

Versailles Gardens

My first recollection of the Palace of Versailles was in Junior High history class when we studied World War One. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended WWI, took place at the palace on 28th June 1919. Since then, I’ve read about and seen numerous documentaries about the French Revolution and, of course, the famous (or is it infamous) Marie Antoinette.

Versailles was the focal point of France’s Royal court from 1682 until 1789. It’s easy to envision it as a Royal Playground ~ Opulence is how most people describe it. It’s that and then some. It was built by Louis XIV because he wanted to remove himself and his courtiers from the intrigues of politics in Paris. It housed over 6,000 courtiers and, from what I’ve read, the gossip, jealousies and back stabbing would make a viper pit more enjoyable. By removing the nobles from Paris, it made Versailles very insular. That’s why I’m fascinated by General Lafayette who plays a part in the history of the palace of Versailles.

Marquis de Lafayette (Gilbert du Motier) went to Versailles at the age of 17. Even though he had a huge fortune and ties by his marriage to a powerful family close to Louis XVI, his independent spirit led him to a military career rather than a highly sought after court position.  He was impassioned with the American Revolution and secretly organized a voyage to the New World against the king’s wishes. Quite a bold move for such a young man. By the age of 20, Lafayette was a Major-General in the American army and a close friend of George Washington’s. I’ve read that George Washington treated him like a son. Lafayette helped the Colonial Army win several battles, including the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 ~ losing this battle led England to grant independence to the Americans. After his experience in the Americas, Lafayette returned to Versailles and was welcomed by the King and Queen. But the ideas of liberty he learned while in the US were not forgotten and in June 1789, he drafted the first Declaration of the Rights of Man, a document closely based on the Declaration of Independence. On 14 July, 1789, the storming of the Bastille occurred and he was appointed (again against the Kings wishes) as Commander of the French National Guard. He was responsible for keeping order in Paris and so he played a large role in the French Revolution’s early days. Although he was part of the revolution, he did save Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette when people of Paris overran the château and killed the bodyguards defending the queen’s apartment. Although he saved them that day, he couldn’t keep them from being executed by guillotine in 1793. He was viewed as straddling the fence by both sides and fled France. In 2002, Lafayette was posthumously made an honorary citizen of the United States.

But let’s get back to the gorgeous Palace:

Versailles Hall of Mirrors (2)

Versailles Hall of mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors is a 235-foot ballroom lined with 17 floor to ceiling mirrors. The cost of these mirrors were staggering and, like the building of the rest of the Palace, the expenses drained the Royal coffers and sadly that meant not much left for the running of the country. It’s a very impressive room with chandeliers, statues, ceiling frescos and windows which open up to the gardens.

Chapel at Palace of Versailles, France

Chapel at Palace of Versailles, France

Louis XVI (age 16) and Marie Antoinette (age 15) were married in the beautiful White and Gold Royal Chapel in 1770. We weren’t allowed into the chapel which was OK by me since there were so many people visiting the Palace. It was nice to see the Chapel without anyone in it.

There were large paintings throughout such as this one :

Coronation Painting at the Palace of Versailles

Coronation Painting at the Palace of Versailles

One of the ceiling paintings at Palace of Versailles

One of the ceiling paintings at Palace of Versailles

I was especially enthralled with the frescos on the ceiling ~ so much so I got a neck ache from looking up for so long. They are stunning!

Versailles The Battles Gallery

The Battle Gallery was interesting but, as I looked at the names on the marble busts, it was obvious I need to study a little more about French history because a lot of the names were unfamiliar to me.

Large Fireplace at Palace of Versailles

Large Fireplace at Palace of Versailles

Versailles the Queens Bedroom

The Queen’s Bedchamber ~ not very cozy!

Statue of Artemis (Diana), Palace of Versailles

Statue of Artemis (Diana), Palace of Versailles

Versailles View of the gardens

Looking out to the Gardens ~ so beautiful.

Gardens at the Palace of Versailles

Gardens at the Palace of Versailles

Statue in the Gardens  of Versailles

Statue in the Gardens of Versailles

Versailles Gasrdens and pond

Versailles Gardens Little angels on garden urn

Loved these plant urns ~ unfortunately, they weren’t for sale in the gift shop.

It truly was sensory overload for me. I got to see a lot of the Palace and a little of the gardens but I feel I only touched the surface. We were limited on time and both of us didn’t want to miss the gardens so I felt a bit rushed the whole time I was at the Palace. I’m calling this visit a preview and will leave it on the “return visit” list. I would love to go back sometime when I can spend a day or two exploring the Palace.

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Hever Castle, located in Kent, definitely has what most would expect in a medieval castle: towers, a moat, a drawbridge, the “murder holes”, beautiful gardens, a maze and swans in the lake. Add a warm, sunny day and it made for a wonderful visit. Over 800 years old, Hever Castle was the family home to the Boleyns. Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII and her sister Mary was a mistress of Henry’s for a short time. Brother George ended up being executed along with Anne on (trumped-up?) charges of Treason. In 1539, the Castle came into the King’s possession after the death of Anne’s father. A year later, he gave it to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as part of their divorce settlement.

In 1903, William Waldorf Astor purchased and restored the beautiful house and gardens. It’s obvious he was very particular about what he wanted for the house and it can be seen in the details such as the beautiful wood paneling, antique furniture, Tudor paintings, portraits, collection of torture devices, classical statues and a portion of a Roman triumphal arch (circa 52 A.D.). The only original part of the castle is the gatehouse.My favorite treasure of the house is Anne Boleyn’s “Book of Hours” ~ a prayer-book she had with her in the Tower of London on the eve of her execution. She wrote in the book “Le Temps Viendra” (“The time will come”). There’s also the room where Henry slept during his few visits to Hever. There’s a portrait of the king in the room and I can’t help but wonder what he really looked like since none of the portraits I’ve seen are flattering. I imagine the artists “air brushed” the portraits in order to win favor from the monarch (or at least avoid his wrath) so I can only imagine how his portrait would look if the artists were completely honest.

The Long Gallery is an impressive room and chronicles Henry VIII’s six wives using mannequin images. In case anyone forgot, the wives are: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr. The guide told us the rhyme to remember what happened to the wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

Hever Castle, Kent, UK

Hever Castle, Kent, UK

Hever Castle with rental cottages in the backgound

Hever Castle with rental cottages in the backgound

Hever Castle Fountain

Hever Castle Fountain

Hever Castle Love in the Gardens

Hever Castle Love in the Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Garden Statue

Hever Castle Garden Statue

Hever Castle Garden Walkway

Hever Castle Garden Walkway

Hever Castle Statue

Hever Castle Statue

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Graveyard outside of Hever Castle

Graveyard outside of Hever Castle

Outside Hever Castle ~ Bench

Outside Hever Castle ~ Bench

Hever Castle Swans ~ True Love!

Hever Castle Swans ~ True Love!

If you want to visit Hever Castle, it’s located 30 miles SE of London and can be reached by train from Victoria Station in about 50 minutes. We went by bus and it was about a 1.5 hour drive. Click here for information about visiting Hever Castle. No photos allowed inside the castle but the grounds are gorgeous for photography.

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