Daily life at Versailles went by a strict set of rules of etiquette and routine.
Marie Antoinette wrote her own account of the “maddening” and “ridiculous” routine to her mother in Austria in 1770. She woke up between nine and ten and dressed informally. She would then say her morning prayers, eat breakfast, and visit her husband’s aunts.
She wrote, “At 11 o’clock, I have my hair done. At noon, all the world can enter – I put on my rouge and wash my hands in front of the whole world. then the gentlemen leave, and the ladies remain, and I am dressed in front of them.”1
A scene from the 2006 Marie Antoinette film, which gives a good indication of how it went.
After this, she went to Mass and was joined by her husband and the King if he was at Versailles. After Mass, she and her husband dined together in front of the whole world.”2
“Then I am with the Dauphin for a time, and when he has business to do, I retire to my own room, where I read, write or work. Needlework, for I am embroidering the King a coat, which gets forward very slowly, though I hope that, with God’s grace, it will be finished in a few years from now. At three o’clock, I go again to my aunts, with whom the King is at this hour. At four, the Abbé comes to me, and at five, my clavecin teacher or singing-master, till six. At half past six, I almost always go to my aunts unless I go out. I should tell you that my husband almost always goes with me to my aunts. From seven till nine, we play cards; but when it is fine, I go out, and then the cards are not in my room but at my aunts’. At nine o’clock we have supper. We wait there for the King, who usually comes about a quarter to eleven. While waiting, I lie down on a big sofa and go to sleep until the King comes. When he is away, we go to bed at eleven. That is how I spend my day.’3
After she became Queen in 1774, her routine changed a little bit. “The Queen usually awoke at about eight o’clock. A woman of the wardrobe then entered, carrying a basket which contained two or three chemises, some handkerchiefs, some towels; this was what was called the ‘offering’ of the morning. The first waiting-woman presented a book, in which were pasted samples of gowns, full dress, undress, etc; there were ordinarily, for each season, twelve full toilets, twelve demi-toilets, twelve rich dresses with panniers. The Queen marked with a pin the garments which she chose for the day – a full dress, an undress for the afternoon, an evening dress for the play and for the supper. The book of patterns was immediately carried away, and the garments chosen were brought in, in a large taffeta.”4
Marie Antoinette bathed nearly every day, and a large tub was rolled into her room, followed by the bathers. “The Queen wrapped herself in a long robe of English flannel, buttoned to the bottom, and when she came out of the bath, a sheet was held very high to screen her entirely from the sights of her women.”5 Then came breakfast at nine o’clock, which she sometimes had in the bath or in bed.
At noon, the grand toilet happened. Folding chairs were put out for the ones allowed entry as her hair was being dressed. This was also when the dressing of her body took place. Marie Antoinette would later abolish this practice and would go into her boudoir to dress herself with her own women. After the toilet was complete, she would attend Mass and then came dinner. On Sunday, the dinner was in public, in the cabinet of the nobles. She usually ate very little and hardly ever had wine. She then returned to her rooms to prepare for the evening.
Visits to her husband’s aunts continued after she became Queen, and she also had music or singing lessons in the afternoon. In the evening, playing cards remained a favourite pastime, but there could also be a masked ball or a play. Supper followed at 9 o’clock, and at 11 o’clock, a ceremonial evening dressed the Queen for bed.
Marie Antoinette longed for a simpler and more private life. She began to enjoy private theatre performances; she wore plainer clothes in private and abandoned the use of heavy make-up. Nevertheless, she would never quite be able to escape from her public life at Versailles – she was, after all, the Queen of France.