Susanna Rodell came across some great horse trivia about the French King Louis XVI. It just goes to show horses have always been addictive and expensive. Thanks for writing, Susanna!
HA! You think you have a tough time paying for your horse obsession – spare a thought for poor old Louis XVI. He absolutely had to keep two sets of stables at Versailles, according to a new book reviewed last month in the Times Literary Supplement. Les Chevaux et les Chiens du Roi à Versailles au XVIIIe Siècle (The King’s Horses and Dogs at Versailles in the 18thCentury) tells how the royal horses consumed huge amounts of cash.
“The daily upkeep of a horse cost twice the salary of the groom who fed it and cleaned its stall,” reviewer John Rogister informs us. Armies of such grooms, stableboys and dog handlers had to be housed, fed and provided with liveries.
The main purpose of this establishment was to make sure the king and his buddies could go hunting any time they pleased. “On a word from the king the appropriate hunting establishment would appear. Twenty-six horses were reserved for the use of the monarch (three for ceremonies, five to pull the coach taking him to the hunt, and eighteen for the hunt itself). Horses were provided for those who took part.”
The Petite Écurie (the smaller stable) housed 300 horses. Even with such equine riches, however, there was no guarantee of an easy ride. “The young Chateaubriand was once handed a frisky mare,” we’re told, “which he had such difficulty in mounting that he missed the start of the hunt. Once he was astride the mare, it charged off, almost killing a female bystander.”
Eventually the king just had to cut back. “By 1788 the cost of running the stables and kennels had forced Louis XVI to sell a large number of horses and to abolish the wolf hunt.” Zounds!
If you want to learn more about the horses of Versailles, it won’t be easy. The 775-page tome, by William Ritchey Newton, is self-published, and only 50 copies were printed. In French. But next time you’re bemoaning the cost of hay, think of the cash-strapped king and be grateful. At least your last ride won’t be to the guillotine.