“Le Petit Trianon in the gardens of Versailles was Marie Antoinette’s between 1783 and 1787 and is also where Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain claim they saw her in 1901. Chesnot/Getty Images
France’s Palace of Versailles is an enormous, gorgeous feat of 17th-century architecture, spread across 2,000 acres that include gardens and fountains. Once a "humble" hunting lodge for Louis XIII, Versailles has a long history. But it didn’t become the grand palace we now know until Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, took an interest in it. While king, he acted in the role of architect and built a masterpiece with which he’d forever be linked.
The residence gradually grew from a demure hunting lodge to a glamorous palace for hosting elegant parties and prestigious ceremonies. In 1682 Versailles became the main residence of the French Court, government and aristocracy. But after the death of Louis XIV in 1715, Versailles was far from complete. And eventually, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette took up residence there, also hosting elaborate galas. His marriage to Marie Antoinette at Versaille’s Royal Opera House was one of the greatest events to take place there during the 18th century … until the French Revolution quite literally cut their reign short.
This magnificent palace has survived everything from the Middle Ages and monarchs to the French Revolution. But with a history like that, what about spirits? Yes. We mean ghosts. Could Versailles have one — or even several walking its hallowed halls or roaming its famed Hall of Mirrors? Or could Versailles even be home to a rip in the space-time continuum? That’s what Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know hosts Ben Bowlin, Noel Brown and Matt Frederick want to find out in this episode of the podcast, Is the Palace of Versailles Haunted?
First, about that space-time continuum. The story goes like this: Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain were touring the Palace of Versailles one hot summer day in August, 1901 as part of a three-week sightseeing trip to get better acquainted before they began working together at St. Hugh’s girls’ school as principal and vice-principal. The two decided to get a look at the Petit Trianon, which was at one time Marie Antoinette’s personal chateau.
As the women wandered through the gardens, they had some strange encounters: a man, with a pockmarked face as if he had had smallpox, stood staring at them for a time, then disappeared. They both also noticed multiple people wearing old-fashioned clothes. Moberly also saw a woman sketching. Both women spoke of a feeling of dread, and a strange energy to the area. Then, a footman happened upon them and told them they were going the wrong way. They went where he directed, happened upon a wedding party, and realized the strange, sad feeling had lifted.
Neither woman spoke of their experience to the other until months later, when they compared notes about their trip. That’s when they discovered they’d witnessed some inexplicable things and felt uncomfortable and spooked. They even realized some of the trails they walked and buildings they’d seen were not present on the Palace grounds. At least, not in 1901. But they had been there during Marie Antoinette’s time, in the 1790s.
After some research, Moberly and Jourdain deduced that the clothes they had seen were from the 1790s, and Moberly decided that the woman she had seen sketching was actually Marie Antoinette. But was it the ghost of Marie Antoinette? Or did Moberly and Jourdain inadvertently traveled back in time to a summer afternoon in 1792? Or was something more mundane afoot?
Together, they published an account of their trip in a book called "An Adventure," in 1911 under the pseudonyms Elizabeth Morison and Frances Lamont. The book was controversial. After all, the women claimed to have seen Marie Antoinette. In 1901.
Still, theories abound about what really happened that day in Versailles. Perhaps the women stumbled into an historical reenactment; Versailles was a popular tourist destination at the time, just as it is today, and it’s possible they could have had actors parading around pretending to be pre-Revolution royalty. There was also an artist living on the property who was famous for his tableaux vivant, a type of performance art where people are arranged to create a scene or represent an incident. However, it seems no such events were scheduled to take place the day Moberly and Jourdain visited.
The women themselves were also examined closely; it’s been theorized that they had a romantic relationship, and possibly had a shared delusion. Some have even suggested they simply allowed their memories to warp their feelings and facts until something very innocent became sinister. Both women claimed to have had hallucinations in their past; maybe they were gifted with the second sight?
It seems easy to dismiss this story, but the Moberly-Jourdain incident as it’s known, is by far the most famous. It certainly can’t be the only time ghostly encounters have occurred at a place as old and historic as Versailles. What do you think?