In 1757 a gold watch was stolen from Louis XV at the Chateau of Versailles! Hm… this makes us wonder about the effectiveness of the palace security. The Hundred Swiss, whom Saint-Simon calls the hundred stooges of Binet, are mostly responsible for the crowd and fire control and don’t snoop around. The First Valet, in charge of this force, is not concerned with the petty theft either. Who is? The Prevot of the Hotel has his own plain-clothes agents do all the internal investigations. These investigations may or may not be fruitful and may need some outside help, sometimes even the police, all depending on the scope of the crime.
Two cases treated in the book of Jaques Levron, Les Inconnus de Versailles, show us how it works. The first case involves a diamond theft from Marie-Josephe of Saxe, the mother of Louis XVI. The police was involved there and eventually a Paris jeweler helped to locate the stolen item. Gently pulling the thread, the Privot’s office had traced it back to the entourage of Marie-Joseph and Lo! to a relative of Mr. Binet himself. Needless to say that the story was pretty much swept under the rug, the guilty wife went to convent and her ashamed husband wouldn’t kick up dust.
The second case is about none other than Monsieur Greban, the Privot of the Hotel. He fell a victim to an international trio of pick-pockets who stole from him some precious golden thing right in the War Room of the Chateau on the King Saint’s Day, 23 August, 1763. The Privot’s people did manage to arrest the three Italian adventurers as they were retreating through the park, but their French accomplice had already escaped with the loot, and so, after three months of beating around the bush, and in absence of any material evidence, the prosecution had to send the Italians back to Italy, and the small gold box was never recovered.
The frugality of Louis XVI government would cut deeply into the security of Chateau of Versailles. Already in 1775 the two companies of the Royal Musketeers were disbanded. Later on the guard was further reduced to its third, which had saved two million livres to the crown; but, on the eve of the Revolution, one thousand people in three rotations had to protect the park and the palace. This means that at any given time only one-third of them was present. Three hundred people over the park of this size? From the memoirs of the courtiers we know that at night Louis XVI routinely walked just accompanied by two valets bearing torches. When the angry Parisians come, who is left there to defend Versailles?
In the days of Revolution the National Guard plays the role of the keepers of the peace. Their effectiveness is demonstrated by the sign at the intersection of Orangerie and Satory. The sign says that on this spot, on 9 September 1792 the forty-four prisoners, while transferred from Orleans, are massacred by Fournier, the American, and his accomplices. The National Guard escorts the prisoners to the location where they are robbed and killed! Then the murderers move on to the Queen’s Stables. The Stables at this point serve as a political prison. There thirteen more are robbed and killed. The heads are severed. At the end of the day fifty-seven heads are impaled on the spikes of the grill in front of the Chateau….