Count of Toulouse, an illegitimate, but the most agreeable of the king’s sons, kept an ape in his house. One winter afternoon, the ape, perhaps feeling a little cold, went over to the fire-place and stirred the coals with the fire-poker. Some coals fell out on the wooden floor and set the house on fire.
Animals lived a few interesting moments at the Court; for example, the Count’s mother, Madame de Montespan, had two pet bears: the bears were a gift of Louis XIV. These bears helped Montespan to destroy the apartment of her rival, the duchess de Fontanges, when de Fontanges replaced Montespan as the king’s favorite.
Let us not forget that Versailles of Louis XIV has started as a menagerie. First the park was planned out, the canal dug, then the menagerie was built, and only later the palace. The Menagerie was a truly baroque construction, a central ambulatory edifice with symmetrical arms. Of this architectural composition we still have the perimeter.
In his younger years Louis XIV was into animal fights. This might have influenced the arena shape of the building. Later on, as he was looking less and less toward antiquity, he just had samples of the local fauna displayed there. Under Louis XV, the Menagerie housed only the exotic creatures. This is when the rhinos were added to the collection. I already told you the story of the last royal rhinoceros slaughtered by the revolutionaries. I often imagine that it was trying to defend Louis XVI, its maladroit master.