Saturday, 22 November 2008

A lot of house for a little work

Mr Gnome pauses on his recent walking tour of the Marais district of Paris.

This sumptuously restored courtyard belongs to the Hotel de Beauvais, possibly the grandest of the many grand hotels (here the word means simply 'mansion') of this splendid quartier.

The house was built by Catherine Bellier, Baronne de Beauvais, to the design of Antoine le Pautre.

How did Catherine, who started out as woman of the bedchamber to Anne of Austria, come to afford such a palatial dwelling - and the style of life to go with it?

Well.... Anne of Austria was the mother of King Louis XIV, who ascended the throne shortly before his fifth birthday. When His Majesty reached the age of fourteen it was deemed appropriate that he should be, er, 'initiated into the rites of manhood'.

But who was to provide the training? Anne selected Catherine Bellier, a woman, by all accounts, of remarkably unprepossessing aspect. Courtieers referred to her as 'wall-eyed Kate'.

Louis turned out to be an attentive pupil and needed but one lesson from Catherine. He cottoned on with no difficulty, threw his L plates in the air and embarked confidently upon a lifetime of amorous adventure.

Catherine was rewarded handsomely, and like her sovereign, never looked back, and the Hotel de Beauvais became one of the most stylish addresses in Paris.

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