Monday, April 6, 2009

Versailles Timeslip

Versailles Timeslip
A Glimpse of Marie Antoinette the Day of her Beheading

As recounted in "Time Slip--Dreams: A Parallel Reality" by Johannes von Buttlar

In August 1901, two Englishwomen visited Paris. They were Annie Moberly, Principal of St. Hugh's College in Oxford, and a colleague, Dr. Eleanor Frances Jourdain. After a short stay in the capital, they went on to Versailles. Later, after returning to England, they published a report on their journey that describes what must be some of the most remarkable events of our century.

The two Englishwomen visited the palace at Versailles, where after touring the building itself they descended the steps into the gardens, walking toward the Petit Trianon. There they turned off along a track and passed by some deserted farm buildings, in front of which there was an old plough. On the path stood two men in long green coats wearing three-cornered hats. Eleanor Jourdain asked them the way and they replied with dignified gestures, from which the two Englishwomen gathered that they should go straight on. They went on their way without giving another thought to the strangers' period costume, assuming it to be intended as a tourist attraction. They strolled up to an isolated cottage where a woman and a 12- or 13-year-old girl were standing at the doorway, both wearing white kerchiefs fastened under their bodices. As Eleanor Jourdain described the scene, the woman was standing at the top of the steps, holding a jug and leaning slightly forwards, while the girl stood beneath her, looking up at her and stretching out her empty hands.

"She might have been just going to take the jug or have just given it up. I remember that both seemed to pause for an instant, as in a motion picture," wrote Dr. Jourdain.

The two Oxford ladies went on their way and soon reached a pavilion that stood in the middle of an enclosure. The place had a god-forsaken air about it and the atmosphere was depressing and unpleasant.

A man was sitting outside the pavilion, his face repulsively disfigured by smallpox, wearing a coat and a straw hat. He seemed not to notice the two women; at any rate, he paid no attention to them.

Suddenly, a young man in a dark coat and buckle shoes appeared and ran past shouting something like, "You can't go through there." He pointed toward the right and added, "You'll find the house over there."

Although the Englishwomen spoke French they could only partly understand the man's speech. He bowed with a curious smile and disappeared. The sound of his hurrying footsteps hung in the air for a long time.

The Englishwomen walked on in silence and after a while reached a narrow, rustic bridge, which led over a ravine. A small waterfall made its way between stones and fern leaves, down a slope covered in vegetation. On the other side of the bridge, the path wound along the edge of a meadow surrounded by trees. Some way away stood a small country house with shuttered windows and with terraces on either side. A lady was sitting on the lawn with her back to the house. She held a large sheet of paper or cardboard in her hand and seemed to be working at or looking at a drawing. She was no longer in the bloom of youth but looked most attractive. She wore a summer dress with a long bodice and a very full, apparently short skirt, which was extremely unusual. She had a pale green fichu or kerchief draped around her shoulders, and a large white hat covered her fair hair.

At the end of the terraces was a second house. As the two women drew near, a door suddenly flew open and slammed shut again. A young man with the demeanor of a servant, but not wearing livery, came out. As the two Englishwomen thought they had trespassed on private property, they followed the man toward the Petit Trianon. Quite unexpectedly, from one moment to the next, they found themselves in the middle of a crowd--apparently a wedding party--all dressed in the fashions of 1901.

The two Englishwomen took the coach from the palace back to their hotel and started their journey home.

On their return to England, Annie Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain discussed their trip and began to wonder about their experiences at the Petit Trianon. It transpired that although Annie Moberly had seen the lady with the sheet of paper in the meadow, Eleanor Jourdain had not. Annie Moberly, on the other hand, had seen neither the plough outside the abandoned farm nor the woman and the girl. Both Englishwomen naturally assumed that they had each seen the same things. Since this was evidently not the case, they decided to investigate the matter in detail. They analyzed the events of the afternoon of 10 August 1901 at the Petit Trianon -- the unusual costume of the people they had met and the inexplicable uneasiness that had overcome them. After comparing notes, they decided to gather all the available information about the Petit Trianon in an attempt to find an explanation.

In July 1904, the two Englishwomen returned to Versailles. They discovered that the cottage outside which Dr. Jourdain had seen the woman and the girl looked totally different. And the place where they had met the two men in 18th-century costume was also completely changed. The path on which the man had shown them the way was no longer to be found; in fact, all the features of the landscape seemed to have changed. There was no wooden bridge and no waterfall, and in the place where they had seen the lady sitting in the meadow a bush was growing. The house on the terraces, too, did not remotely resemble the one that they had seen three years before

Faced with all these anomalies, the Englishwomen decided to undertake a systematic investigation. The task took them several years. They procured old maps and plans of Versailles and its surroundings, examined documents in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and enlisted the help of historians. Gradually, a clearer picture began to emerge as many details could be explained or accounted for.

The plough that Eleanor Jourdain had seen, for example, did not belong to the Petit Trianon, but there were records to show that it had once been kept there and had been sold after the French Revolution.

In 18th-century Versailles, the only people who wore green livery were royal servants at Versailles. The two men in green coats could be identified as the Bersy brothers, who had been on watch on 5 October 1789, the last day that Marie Antoinette spent at the Petit Trianon.

The cottage was shown on an old map near the entrance to the Petit Trianon. And a general plan of Versailles in the year 1783 showed that a round pavilion with pillars had existed around the time of the French Revolution, as well as the still existing Temple d'Amour.

Both the girl and the pockmarked man were identified from historical sources. The 14-year-old girl was the gardener's daughter, Marion, and the man with the straw hat over his pockmarked face was Count de Vaudreuil, a Creole who had played a significant part in the downfall of Marie Antoinette. In 1789, the sombrero was just coming into fashion.

The running man with the buckle shoes must have been de Bretagne, a page who, according to historical sources, was sent by the palace's majordomo to the Trianon with an urgent message for the queen. He was to tell Marie Antoinette to escape immediately, as the mob was already on its way to Versailles from Paris.

The door that had banged shut behind the servant had been nailed up since the French Revolution. The man was possibly Lagrange, the doorkeeper.

The Englishwomen also discovered from the historical sources that the queen had been in the gardens on 5 October 1789 when the messenger brought her the news that she should return directly to the Trianon, from where she could be brought to safety. Having delivered his message, the man ran straight off to fetch a coach.

The archives even contained the name of the dressmaker who worked for the queen. She was called Madame Eloff, and it appeared that in the year 1789 she had made two green silk fichus for Marie Antoinette.

In 1902, Annie Moberly happened to set eyes on a portrait of the queen painted by [Adolph Ulrich] Wertmüller and was amazed to find that it had the features of the lady in the meadow near the Trianon.

In her account of this sudden appearance of a landscape from another century, Annie Moberly said: "Everything suddenly looked unnatural, therefore unpleasant; even the trees behind the building seemed to have become flat and lifeless, like a wood worked in tapestry. There were no effects of light and shade, and no wind stirred the trees. It was all intensely still."

Dr. Jourdain had evidently received a similar impression: "The whole scene -- sky, trees and buildings -- gave a little shiver."

We must now consider how the Englishwomen's strange experience can be explained. There are several alternatives.

Possibly the most obvious is that on touring the grounds of the palace, they were unconsciously reminded of historical events which they had once read or heard about, and these, triggered off by the surroundings, unfolded in their mind's eye. However, it seems a remarkable coincidence that they should both have had such an experience simultaneously, albeit in a slightly different form.

Another possibility is that the Englishwomen invented the whole story purely in order to attract attention. But this can probably be discounted in view of the fact that the publication of the events at the Petit Trianon only took place many years later, and both Annie Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain were women of great personal integrity.

A further explanation would be that the two of them experienced a daydream. However, this can surely be excluded on the grounds that it would be too much of a coincidence for them both to have dreamed about the same thing at the same time and in the same place. Unless, of course, one supposes that either consciously or unconsciously they each influenced one another.

There is one further explanation, albeit a rather far-fetched one, and this is that the two Englishwomen for some unknown reason were displaced into another temporal dimension in which a fragment of this past era appeared before them.

It is interesting to note that on 10 August 1901, the day of their experience, electrical storms were recorded over Europe and the atmosphere was laden with electricity. Could this have led to an alteration in the local temporal field around Versailles?

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