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Urban Legends Investigated: The Ghosts of Versailles

Urban Legends Investigated: The Ghosts of Versailles

Have you ever been to Versailles? I visited the famous Palace of Versailles and its magnificent gardens a few years ago. While it was amazing to wander through the Palace and imagine how the Kings and Queens of old lived in the sprawling estate, it was the gardens that really drew my interest.

Which is peculiar because I’m usually not that fond of gardens. Don’t get me wrong, I like spending time in a garden, and I find it relaxing, but when visiting castles in Belgium or abroad, I usually spend most of my focus on the castle and its interior, and not on the gardens.

But with Versailles, it was different. I don’t really know why, but there is something mysterious about the gardens of Versailles.

Something… haunting.

About a century ago, two women felt the same, and much more, when they toured the gardens of Versailles.

Moberly and Jourdain

In 1911, Charlotte Anne Moberley and Eleanor Jourdain published a book entitled An Adventure. They did so under two pseudonyms: Elizabeth Morison and Frances Lamont.

The book describes a visit Moberley and Jourdain made to Versailles – in particular to the Petit Trianon, a small castle on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, where they claimed to have seen the gardens as they had been in the late eighteenth century. They also claimed to see ghosts of people who lived on the castle grounds during that time, including the ghost of Marie Antoinette.

The incident that gave rise to the claims of these two women is also referred to as the Moberly-Jourdain Incident.

Background

Moberly became the first principal of a hall of residence for young women, St. Hugh’s College, in Oxford. Jourdain was asked to become Moberly’s assistant, and that is how the two women met. Jourdain was the author of several textbooks, ran a school of her own, and was asked to become the vice-principal of St. Hugh’s College: because it was decided the two women should get to know each other better, Moberly went to stay with Jourdain in the latter’s apartment in Paris. Jourdain lived in Paris at the time, where she tutored English children.

10 August 1901

Modern-day picture of Petit Trianon

On the day of the women’s visit to Versailles, 10 August 1901, they fist visited the Palace of Versailles itself. Thereafter, they wanted to walk through the gardens to the Petit Trianon. They became lost after missing the turn for the main avenue, Allée des Teux Trianons, and entered a lane, where they bypassed their destination. Moberly reported she saw a woman shaking a white cloth out of a window, while Jourdain witnessed an old deserted farmhouse.

They passed by some men who looked like palace gardeners, who told them to pass right on. Both women felt the atmosphere change: everything suddenly looked unnatural.

Moberly noticed a lady sketching on the grass, wearing a light summar dress and a shady white hat. The dress appeared to be quite old-fashioned. Moberly believed the lady was Marie Antoinette.

Eventually, they were redirected back to the Palace, and met up with a group of tourists. Things seemed to be back to normal, and according to both women, neither of them mentioned the incident to one another until a week after leaving Versailles, when Moberly, in a letter to her sister, wrote about the incident. She asked Jourdain if she thought the Petit Trianon was haunted, and Jourdain told her she thought it was.

An Adventure

Three months later, back in Oxford, the women compared their notes and decided to write seperate accounts of what happened. They believed they had seen events that took place on 10 August 1972, only six weeks before the abolition of the French monarchy.

Both women claimed to visit the Trianon garrdens many times afterwards, but were unable to trace the path they took on that fateful 10 August 1901. Various landmarks were missing.

They published their story in their book, An Adventure under pseudonyms. The book caused quite a sensatation, but many critics did not take it seriously because it contained many inconsistencies.

The identity of the authors of An Adventure was not made public until 1931.

Jourdain died in 1924 and Moberly died in 1937. Both women claimed to have several other paranormal experiences throughout their lives.

A movie was made about the incident called Miss Morison’s Ghosts in the 1980s.

What really happened on 10 August 1901?

A lot of debate has been held about what exactly happened to Moberly and Jourdain on 10 August 1901. Some people believe it was a slip in time, an incident of time travel that temporarily transported the women back in time to the 1700s. It would not be the first or only time someone claimed to slip back in time: in 1935, RAF pilot Victor Goddard claimed to have seen the Drem airfield, then long abandoned, bustling with activity while on a routine flight.

Other people believe what the women saw was a haunting of some kind; specters from the past that lingered at Versailles to this day. However, given that the women interacted with some of the people they encountered while they traveled to the Petit Trianon, it seems unlikely they saw ghosts of the pasts, because how would those ghosts have been able to interact with them?

If you don’t believe the explanations of a time slip or a haunting, then there are three possible answers: either there was a re-enactment party going on, although this could never be proven, the women suffered from a folie-à-deux (which seems unlikely considering they did not suffer from any other shared delusions afterwards), or the women were lying.

Or, a softer response, perhaps they were both mistaken. Perhaps they saw some things they considered baffling, they were annoyed because they got lost, and they misinterpreted what went on around them. The accounts of the women do slightly differ – for example, only one of them claimed to have seen Marie-Antoinette, and they did not witness the exact same thing. This can either be considered as proving they were lying or misinterpreting things, or it can actually serve as proof that they were not lying. Because if they were lying, and they went so far as to publish a book about it, why not get their stories straight first?

In 1903, an old map of the Trianon gardens was found, which showed a bridge the women claimed to have crossed that had not been on any other map, and that no longer existed in 1901. During their trip, the women claimed to also have spotted a small circular building with pillars and a low surrounding wall, which no longer existed in 1901-Versailles, but which had existed in the 1700s.

The Verdict

We will probably never know for sure whether Moberly and Jourdain traveled back in time on 10 August 1901, if they witnessed a residual haunting, stumbled upon a fancy historical party, or simply misinterpreted what they saw, or made the whole story up.

I’m inclined to believe they didn’t make the story up, simply because they chose to initially write their book under pseudonyms, and because although their accounts were conflicting – which, both being educated women, I am sure they must have noticed – they chose not to ‘get their stories straight’ before publishing it, which I assume they would have done if they were making all of this up.

Having visited Versailles myself, and having witnessed paranormal events myself, I am leaning towards believing that for a brief period during that fateful 10 August 1901, Moberly and Jourdain did slip back in time.

Of course, that’s just a personal opinion, and like I said, we will never know for sure. It will remain one of the eerie mysteries of this world, and perhaps that’s for the best.

Urban Legends Investigated

Previously in this series:

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