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The Fascinating Mystery of the Versailles Time-Travel Incident

Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

Two respectable academics Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain claimed to have seen Marie Antoinette in 1901 at Versailles, more than 100 years after her death.

Two respectable academics Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain claimed to have seen Marie Antoinette in 1901 at Versailles, more than 100 years after her death.

They Were Respectable Academicians

If there is one factor that still makes people believe their story even after more than 100 years, it is their reputation. Both Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain were highly educated English women with stellar reputations.

As writer Nell Rose tells us.

“They were not liars, and both ladies had nothing to gain by making up this story. In fact, it could go a long way to ruining their reputation.”

In fact, both the women were so disturbed by the incident that they did not talk about it even to each other until they were back in England a week later. They knew their reputation was at stake and being from conservative English academic families meant that anything they talked about the ‘strange’ incident would prove controversial and scandalous not only to their careers but also to their families.

And when they finally did discuss it, they decided to write separate accounts of what they had experienced and then compare notes. They even visited the Versailles palace several times to identify the ‘landmarks’ and the ‘strange buildings’ they had discovered and above all get more information about the ‘beautifully dressed woman’ they had seen sketching in the garden in front of the Petit Trianon, the château of the French Queen Marie Antoinette.

But they found no evidence of what they had seen on that day. It was as if they had experienced ‘ghosts’ from a bygone age who had disappeared as abruptly as they had come. Not knowing what to do and believe, they decided to publish their experiences in a book called "An Adventure," in 1911 under the pseudonyms Elizabeth Morison and Frances Lamont.

It was only after they died in 1937, that the people got to know about the real authors. As they feared, their stellar reputations stirred more controversies and immense criticism and to this day, nobody knows for sure what did the two women actually experience on that hot August day in Versailles.

The Petit Trianon, which was built during the reign of King Louis XV of France, was given to Queen Marie Antoinette for her exclusive use by her husband, King Louis XVI of France.

The Petit Trianon, which was built during the reign of King Louis XV of France, was given to Queen Marie Antoinette for her exclusive use by her husband, King Louis XVI of France.

The Palace of Versailles

France's Palace of Versailles is a marvelous example of 17th-century architecture, spread across 2,000 acres of gardens and fountains. Petit Trianon was a small chateau within its premises that was given by King Louis XVI to his new wife Queen Marie Antoinette as her private special sanctuary. The chateau was Marie Antoinette’s ‘place of solitude’ where she can escape the prying eyes of the courtiers, nobles, and diplomats.

The Petit Trianon is the place where the story of Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain begins. After completing the Palace of Versailles, they decided to take a stroll through the Petit Trianon. Somehow, they missed the right turn and entered an unknown lane.

They kept walking and encountered some strange people on the way. They saw dignified officials, dressed in long greyish-green coats with small three-cornered hats.

They kept walking and encountered some strange people on the way. They saw dignified officials, dressed in long greyish-green coats with small three-cornered hats.

Things Were Very Unusual in This Lane

They kept walking and encountered some strange people on the way. They saw dignified officials, dressed in long greyish-green coats with small three-cornered hats. They saw a cottage with a woman and a girl standing in a doorway; the woman was holding out a jug to the girl and the girl was reaching up for it – and yet somehow the scene was lifeless, just like a painting.

They spoke to a gentleman with a ‘strange’ accent of French wearing a period ‘costume’ and a couple of guards wearing a ‘strange’ dress for the time. Both of them felt a sort of ‘uneasiness’ or ‘stillness ‘in the air as Moberly writes in her book.

“Everything suddenly looked unnatural, therefore unpleasant; even the trees seemed to become flat and lifeless as wood worked in tapestry. There were no effects of light and shade, and no wind stirred the trees.”

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The winding path took Moberly and Jourdain over a rustic bridge and they finally reached the Petit Trianon. There, the biggest surprise was waiting for them.

Marie Antoinette...

Marie Antoinette...

Did They See Marie Antoinette?

They saw a lady in a light summer dress, with long hair beneath a white hat, sitting on the grass in front of the chateau, sketching. Moberly was confused and thought the woman was a tourist who had come to sketch the gardens. But on looking closer she looked exactly like Marie Antoinette after remembering a portrait of her she had seen in an exhibition.

Can she be Marie Antoinette? Is the Petit Trianon haunted? The women were deeply disturbed by the events as they hurried back retracing their steps back to the palace gardens. On their way back they found the strangely dressed officials ‘missing’, the woman with the jug was also not there and the rustic bridge on which they had climbed was not existing anymore.

It was as if everything was a dream.

They were convinced that what they saw on that day was something unreal. Going back, they did some research and found a 1783 map that showed the missing sites. The bridge, the cottage, and the garden in which Marie Antoinette sketched, all appeared exactly where they had seen them.

In 1908, Moberly and Jourdain also found the journal of Madame Eloff, the queen's dressmaker who had stitched the same dress that they had seen Marie Antoinette wearing on that day.

They went back many times and tried to find the same path again but without any success. They finally decided to write their experiences in a book using pseudonyms as they did not want to tarnish the stellar reputations that they had earned over decades of teaching.

View of the Petit Trianon and access road

View of the Petit Trianon and access road

Can It Be Explained?

Many people have tried to explain this incident.

While their worst critics slam them saying that they made up the whole story to earn publicity, others say that they might be suffering from ‘shared delusion’ or even might have imagined things due to the hot afternoon playing on their nerves.

Some even say that the ‘stress’ of their planned visit to the palace might have ‘emotionally’ lodged within their minds which got ‘released’ out as a sort of ‘daydreaming’ that manifested on that day.

While most people agree Moberly and Jourdain did not intentionally plan to deceive anybody as this would hurt them more than doing good, the most likely explanation is that they were human beings and humans do make mistakes and sometimes wrongly interpret things, however intelligent they can be.

That said, while all of us love conspiracy theories and love to think about the impossible like time-slip, time-travel, or even ghosts, we would never know for sure what really happened on that hot, August afternoon to Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan

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