The marriage ceremony of Louis XV and Marie Leszczyńska, conducted in the Chapel of the Trinity at the Château de Fontainebleau, was undoubtedly the most important event of the 18th century.
During the Age of Enlightenment, hunting parties continued to be held at Fontainebleau during the autumn. The French kings made the most of the fact that etiquette here was a little more relaxed than at Versailles, coming here to receive visiting diplomats from foreign rulers or even, before marriage, taking advantage of a trip to Fontainebleau to meet visiting princesses.
During the king’s minority, Czar Peter the Great was received at Fontainebleau by the Regent on 30 and 31 May 1717. On 27 October 1743, a secret alliance treaty was signed between France and Spain. In autumn 1786, King Christian VII of Denmark stayed there.
Marking the end of the American Revolutionary War, Louis XVI signed a trade agreement with England.
The two sisters Marie-Josèphe-Louise and Marie-Thérèse, princesses of the House of Savoy, were received at Fontainebleau on 12 May 1771 and again on 14 November 1773. They had just married the King’s brothers, the Counts of Provence and Artois, respectively future French kings Louis XVIII and Charles X.
In 1724, during the young king’s first visit – with the Infanta Mariana Victoria of Spain – work started on the building of a new theatre, in the Belle-Cheminée Wing ; this space was home to the creation and revival of many exceptionally stunning performances throughout the century.
However, finally, in the following year, the king returned to Fontainebleau to marry a Polish princess. 5 September 1725 was therefore the only occasion on which a royal wedding was conducted at the Château. Diarists of the time reported that the queen, done up to the nines, almost fainted under the weight of her jewel-encrusted finery. A banquet was held in her antechamber, with productions of comedies by Molière (a visitor to Fontainebleau in 1661) in the Salle de la Belle-Cheminée, and supper in the Ballroom. The three days of festivities, attended by the young Voltaire, ended with a firework display devised by Berrain.
Forty years later, on 20 December 1765, the Dauphin Louis, Louis XV’s only son, died of tuberculosis in his apartment overlooking the Cour Ovale.
As the monarchy’s theatre, Fontainebleau had its high points, as well as its dark moments. Hunting, riding, sport and theatrical entertainments were regular features of court visits.
Thus it was that Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s operatic work The Village Soothsayer premiered here in the presence of the author himself on 18 October 1752. In 1754, the theatre was renovated. It underwent a major makeover, to update its interior to reflect contemporary château décor.
1763 saw a Rameau revival with a production of his two works Dardanus and Castor and Pollux. Created at Fontainebleau on 9 November 1771, Grétry’s comedy Zémire and Azor was a tremendous success. Under Louis XVI’s reign, theatrical and musical productions contined apace.
The Ancien Régime’s last visit to Fontainebleau was between 9 October and 16 November 1786. It gave the sovereigns the chance to examine the new building works which they had commissioned the previous autumn, particularly Marie Antoinette’s silver boudoir, and to enjoy Grétry’s production of the ballet Le Déserteur, performed on 21 October. Throughout the 18th century, court life at Fontainebleau reached a peak of sophistication best summarised by Talleyrand when he famously remarked to Guizot that “Those who have not lived through the years around 1789 cannot know what is meant by the pleasure of life.”