A Glimpse into the Past at Versailles
It was a sultry afternoon on August 10, 1901 when two British teachers on holiday were visiting the magnificent French Palace of Versailles for the first time. The gardens were in full bloom and sight-seers were in abundance.
Miss Anne Moberly, principal of St. Hugh’s, a women’s college of Oxford University, and Miss Eleanor Jourdain, who was soon to become vice-principal of the college was spending a few days sightseeing in Paris.
As they began their stroll through the massive grounds, there was a feeling of oppression and Miss Moberly described her feelings as being unaccountably depressed. Later, Miss Jourdain admitted having the same heavy feeling.
The two women decided to find the Petit Trianon, the miniature private chateau built and frequented the ill-fated, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. Deep in conversation, they soon noticed that they had lost their way. “I began to feel as though I was walking in my sleep; the heavy dreaminess was oppressive,” Miss Jourdain later wrote. Miss Moberly felt similarly strange, but each kept her feelings to herself.
They were surprised to see very few people which was strange for summertime holidays. They passed two men strangely attired standing near a wheelbarrow, whom they took to be gardeners, despite their long coats and tricorn hats. The men directed them straight ahead. Soon, beneath a canopy of trees, what looked to be a small bandstand came into view. Nearby sat a man dressed in a cloak and large floppy hat; that seemed to have a sinister air about him and made the women feel nervous. They moved on quickly and were later given directions by another man whose appearance seemed strangely old-fashioned too.
At last, through the trees, they caught sight of le Petit Trianon. Near the house, Miss Moberly noticed a woman sketching on the grass. She too was wearing a very large old fashioned hat that seemed from a previous era. The woman kept staring at her, much to Miss Moberly’s annoyance. Once the ladies were inside the chateau, however, their melancholy lifted and the arrival of a lively wedding party soon helped them to forget the strange atmosphere they had sensed earlier.
A week later, while Miss Moberly was writing a letter to a friend about her visit to the palace at Versailles, she experienced the same unaccountable oppressive feeling again. The feeling was so strong that she felt compelled to contact Miss Jourdain and inquiry if she thought the Petit Trianon was somehow haunted. Miss Jourdain reluctantly admitted that she did. For the first time the women openly discussed their experiences of that strange day and became convinced that something quite extraordinary had happened to them. Miss Moberly brought up the instance of seeing the lady who was sketching alone in the garden and had stared at them in a strange way. Miss Moberly was astounded to learn that Miss Jourdain had seen nothing but the garden. Intrigued on this, they decided to investigate further.
Upon researching Versailles history more, Miss Moberly discovered that on August 10, 1792 – the exact date the two had visited Versailles – Marie Antoinette and her husband, Louis XVI, were imprisoned in Paris awaiting trial by the revolutionaries. Miss Moberly believed it likely that the frightened queen’s thoughts may have harkened back to the last moments of happiness she knew – at le Petit Trianon her private chateau at Versailles. Marie had spent many hours as refuge from backbiting and often stifling atmosphere of the court. At le Petit Trianon, she could dress as a peasant and wile away the hours doing what she loved to do without prying eyes. Perhaps the queen’s memory of the time was so vivid that, as Miss Moberly put it, “some impress of it was imparted to the place,” Both wondered, “Could this be an explanation for their strange experience?”
Old plans of the palace revealed that in 1789 the lay-out and gardens were as the two women had witnessed. The odd clothes that people were wearing were the height of fashion in 1789. Miss Moberly’s discovered a portrait of Marie Antoinette which set her heart pounding. The Queen was identical to the staring “sketching woman” Miss Moberly had seen.
When Miss Moberly and Moss Jourdain returned to Versailles two years later and to their incredulous eyes, everything was different. The grounds and buildings they remembered so vividly were entirely changed from their collective memory.
After this experience, the two ladies dedicated their free time to their research on Versailles and what it was like 100 years before. In 1911 they bravely published their story in a book, called, An Adventure. The book caused a sensation and was considered to be the best authenticated ghost story of its time. Concerned about losing their professional credibility however, the book was published under pseudonyms. Upon Miss Jourdain’s death in 1924, their true identities were made known.