Posted on: June 23, 2011

Charlotte Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain were two venerable middle-aged ladies, principals of an Oxford college, on holiday in France in August 1901. On the 10th August they paid a visit to the Palace of Versailles, just outside Paris, and there claimed that they both accidentally slipped back into the 18th century. They remarked that the day had a dream-like feel to it, and the landscape looked flat, as though it was two-dimensional. There was also a marked absence of noise. They saw two gardeners in old-fashioned tri-corn hats, and at the Temple de l’Amour they claimed to see a man of “repulsive appearance” who directed them to the Petit Trianon, which was Marie Antoinette’s idyllic semi-rural retreat, her fantasy life away from the excessive protocol and formality of the Palace itself.

Behind the Trianon was an attractive woman sitting on the lawn below the terrace. She was wearing an 18th century summer dress with a green fichu. Curiously it was only Charlotte who saw her. Soon after they both saw a grinning man leave the back of the house, slamming the door behind him.

Back at their hotel once more, Eleanor and Charlotte discussed their strange dream-like afternoon, and Charlotte joked that she may have seen Marie Antoinette. Not surprisingly, their odd afternoon continued to intrigue them. A few months later, on 2 January 1902, Eleanor returned to Versailles. This time she visited the Hameau, the little farm that the Queen had created for the amusement of herself and her friends. Eleanor said she felt “the old eerie feeling … it was as if I had crossed a line”. She saw two labourers in pointed hoods loading a cart, heard the rustle of silk dresses, and heard women talking. There was also the distant sound of music.

When she returned to the Petit Trianon with Charlotte, this time in 1904, they both found that the patch of lawn where Charlotte had seen the attractive woman was now a rhododendren bush, many years old. The two ladies wrote up their strange experience and published it in a little book, accurately titled ‘An Adventure’ in 1911.

Soon after they heard from a couple who lived in a house overlooking the park at Versailles. They had had similar experiences so many times they no longer took any notice of them. Another couple, the Crookes, reported that in July 1908 they too had seen the lady sitting on the grass. She was sketching something. When John Crooke tried to get a better look at what she was drawing she flicked the paper away in a gesture of annoyance. They also heard faint music, and felt a curious vibration in the air.

In 1928 two other English ladies visited Versailles. They said they hadn’t read ‘An Adventure’, but they claimed to have see a man in old-fashioned green livery costume. They asked him directions, but moved quickly on because they said they felt something hostile about him. When the women looked back he had disappeared. It was later discovered that the royal gardeners in the 1770s had worn green livery.

Of course the story has its sceptics. J E Sturge-Whiting, a member of the Society For Psychical Research, said that the women had probably just witnessed a fancy dress party. A fancy dress party did take place at Versailles, but in 1894, seven years before the visit of the two ladies.

Some believe that all these witnesses have seen a replay of the day the mob stormed the Palace of Versailles. That day had been 10 August 1792. Just before their arrival, Marie Antoinette had been at the Petit Trianon, and had had to run back to the strong walls of the Palace for her own safety. She had adored the Petit Trianon and the Hameau, and perhaps her spirit has impinged itself on the only place where she probably knew true happiness. If Marie Antoinette was going to haunt anywhere, I would expect it to be the Petit Trianon! In her excellent biography of the Queen, Antonia Fraser describes Marie Antoinette’s last summer at Versailles as having an “eerie” feel to it, not surprising considering all the tensions building up outside the Palace walls. Perhaps it’s that eerieness which has been sensed by some visitors to the area.



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