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HistoryVersailles through the centuries

The Yew Tree Ball

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25 - 26 February 1745

Held to celebrate the wedding of the Dauphin to Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain, daughter of Philip V, this famous masked ball marked the beginning of the love affair of Louis XV with the future Marquise de Pompadour. The two lovers would never spend a night apart.

A sumptuous masked ball was organised in the Hall of Mirrors to celebrate the wedding of the Dauphin to Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain. But the real interest of this ball was not in this couple: all the Court was talking about the feelings of the king for an unknown young woman, the pretty Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, wife of M. Le Normant d’Etiolles. He had met her on a hunting trip in the forest of Sénart. The date of their first meeting remained a secret.

Since the death of Mme de Châteauroux, the last official mistress of Louis XV, in December 1744, all the ladies of the Court aspired to succeed her. In this period of carnival, the king decided to organise a masked ball during which he could mingle with the crowd incognito. This ball offered them an opportunity to line up to be chosen.

The festivities began at 11.30 pm and went on until 8.30 am. Hundreds of carriages drove up to the illuminated Château. The guests, masked and without invitation cards, assembled in the Salon d’Hercule. 15,000 people waited impatiently for the opening of the big doors of the king’s grand apartment which marked the official opening of the ball. In the meantime, they could refresh themselves with splendid buffets of fish (it was during Lent), cakes, pyramids of fruit and confectionery, wines and liqueurs.

When the doors opened, only the queen appeared, in her courtly ‘grand habit’, with the Dauphin and the Dauphine dressed as a shepherd and shepherdess. Later, eight yew trees appeared. The women ran to these mysterious apparitions. Which of them was the king? Some swooned when one of them bowed: it was probably him! One yew suddenly moved off to meet a pretty shepherdess. It could only be the king with Mme d’Etiolles. The guess was confirmed in the next three balls to which he summoned the young woman. Their meetings multiplied. On 14 September 1745, Mme d’Etiolles was officially presented to the Court under the name of the Marquise de Pompadour. She was to be the king’s official mistress until her death in 1764. Another woman was picked in 1768: Mme du Barry.