Fish With Gold Collars at Versailles: 1907


Ghosts of Marie Antoinette and Her Two Children Said To Again Walk in the Gardens of Versailles as Before the Franco Prussian War.

Versailles Near Paris July 22, 1907

The gentle ghosts of Marie Antoinette and her two children again walk in the forest of Versailles, foreboding change and trouble to France. Five ancient carp, with their gold collars round their necks, have again emerged from the mud of the hamlet pond, to show themselves beneath the little old stone bridge—as they did before the Franco-Prussian War.

In 1869 most Frenchmen laughed at the same signs and portents. Those who listened and believed went to the war with Prussia discouraged in advance.

“If Monsieur would see Louis XVI’s carp, let Monsieur stand silent on this bridge with me,” mumbled old Jehan Collot, who is 95, to the writer the other day. “I, Jehan, first saw them as a boy of 17 in 1829. Charles X was king. He lived chiefly at St. Cloud, but when they told him the carp had come out of the mud, he hurried here in his old black traveling coach, with six horses, troubled. He stood where Monsieur stands and he saw four of the carp swim past and disappear in the black shadows under the bridge. One year later, France lost her last legitimate king by revolution.

“When did they next show?” was asked.

“Louis Philippe, King of the French, lived much at the Grand Trianon,” replied the ancient servant. “I helped put in the heaters, the first hot-air registers in France.”

The Fish Appears.

“When I saw the carp come up again in 1847, I told my wife only. Whom did she tell? Everybody! She is dead. God rest her. The King came, very grave, and asked me. We stood on this small bridge. Five carp swam by, with gold collars shining red, and disappeared in the black shadows under the bridge. Next year came revolution and more troubles! “Three years later, in the autumn of 1850, I saw them again. They swam back and forth in commotion. I said nothing. Louis Napoleon made his coup d’etat and promoted me to be third gardener.

“Then the carp did not come up until 1869?”

“In 1862, monsieur,” said Collet. “Napoleon heard of them. He laughed: ‘They bring me luck!’ he said, as he stood with me. ‘Where monsieur stands watching for the carp as monsieur watches.’ Next year came the disastrous Mexican adventure—and the beginnings of the end. I knew it. So did Napoleon. In 1869 he did not laugh. The five old carp swam past, one by one, in a line, and disappeared in the black shadows under the bridge. Sh__!”

A horny old hand was incontinently clapped over the writer’s mouth. We stood silent, immobile. A great leathery-hided, shapeless, half-blind old fish lolled past. Round his neck, behind the gills, seemed a dull copper band. Two such fish were seen. The second was like the first. He slouched past and disappeared in the black shadows under the bridge.

It is the same little bridge, by the way, from which the Queen of Norway’s horses fell on her late visit.

Carp Were Collared.

“Changes, troubles, revolutions,” croaked old Jehan Collot. “Jehan don’t care. He is an old man.”

The historical truth of the carp appears to be certain. Louis XIV, a youth of ingenious turn of mind, learned the trade of clockmaker, then turned to locksmithing. Given to natural history, he meditated much on the long lives attributed to elephants, turtles, eagles, whales, sharks and carp. In the forest gardens of Versailles, there were no wild beasts. So he began with turtles.

He cut his name and the date on their backs with a jackknife, such as everybody has in his pocket. Finally the young Prince turned to the carp pond. He caused Jehan Collot’s grandfather to catch 10 solid young carp in a hand net. The gold collars had been prepared. There were 10 names engraved on the heavy gold bands, the date, the Prince’s name and arms, with the sonorous Latin line:

“Mari pisces currant jam! (Let the fishes run in the sea!)

Once collared, the carp were replaced in the carp pond. They have lived there ever since. Of late, they have been seen by thousands, one or two at a time, never all five together.

This pond to-day is the original carp pond, beside which Marie Antoinette’s playhouse village was later constructed. It gets none of the water of the Titanic fountains of Versailles, that had their origin in Louis XIV’s folly, but which, nevertheless, made Versailles the healthiest town in France….

The Gardens’ Ghost

To dream of it one must walk through the forest park of dark and drizzling afternoons in autumn, when there are no sight-seers. When the mist rises over the carp pond, when the leaves fall sodden, when the hamlet of the beautiful Queen fades in the great silence, as old Jehan said.

“Would Monsieur behold her, the beautiful Antoinette?”

The writer and Jehan were alone at dusk. We stood across the carp pond, opposite the house of the Queen, with its communicating bridge veranda. Beside us was the dairy where poor Marie played milkmaid, sleeves up, singing as she patted the butter.

“Monsieur, the Queen walks again, with the two children!” whispered the ancient gardener. “Let Monsieur come the night of the 25th, full moon. Monsieur shall sit with Jehan Collot, where he knows, the right spot, sit at midnight, in the full moon!”

“Have you seen her?” was asked.

“Fear not, “he answered, “no harm will come to him who sits with a Collot, father and son, son and father, back two hundred years.

“Jehan, have you seen her?”

“The Queen walked in 1829. I was a boy of seventeen. She walked in 1847. She walked in 1850, in 1862, in 1869. And now she walks again! Trouble and change! New things for France,” the old man mumbled. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 August 1907: p. B3.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The ghost of Marie Antoinette has long been said to haunt the Trianon. In fact two English lady educators, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, wrote a book about what they considered to have been a time-travelling adventure in the gardens in 1901, called, aptly enough, An Adventure. (1911) The ladies have been criticised for their lack of scholarly rigour, but it is still a fascinating story. More recent visitors have also claimed to see the Queen’s ghost.

The fish (as noted by M. Collot) seem to have been relatively accurate prophets. Whenever they appeared, something of dire import occurred within a year.

1829: 1830 the July Revolution in which King Charles X was overthrown in favour of Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans

1847: In 1848 Louis-Philippe abdicated

1850: 1851 the coup d’etat which made Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, President of the Second Republic, Emperor Napoleon III,

1862: 1863 Maximillian accepted the Mexican crown after French intervention in Mexico.

1869: 1870 Franco-Prussian War and Napoleon III dethroned by the Third Republic.

1907: 1908 It is here that the fish prophets seem to falter. Were there sabre-rattlings by the Kaiser in 1908, presaging the ruinous Great War of 1914?  That literally earth-shattering incident, The Tunguska Event, occurred in June of 1908, but one could scarcely claim that it had any significant impact on France. One wishes that one knew what the fish were trying to say.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

2 thoughts on “Fish With Gold Collars at Versailles: 1907

  1. Pingback: Marie Antoinette and the Fortune-Teller: 1782 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

  2. Pingback: Marie Antoinette’s Emeralds: 1888, 1895 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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